Sunday, May 25, 2008

5 Days of Mountain Biking around Alice Springs
DNS (did not start) Stage 1 - Ok in the others (197th out of just over 200)

For days my imagination had been running wild producing all sorts of dusty red images of “The Alice”. It didn't produce the MacDonnell Ranges however, and it didn't even come close to creating the drama of the scarred landscape that I first saw from the aeroplane window. Alice Springs itself appeared as a fairly insignificant moment in the story of the land. The ridges loomed over it and when we landed the streets and buildings were dominated by the red rocks around. I instantly wanted to explore and to be here with a bicycle was very exciting.

Thank goodness they put a race here. I can’t imagine a better way to experience it. At the outset we had five days of adventuring in front of us: five days of exploring the land, five days of struggles and rewards. For tens of thousands of years people have been experiencing its intensity and just for a moment we were amongst them.

I was totally dependent on the trails for direction and distance in this landscape that I didn’t know. Fortunately the organisers marked them carefully and I followed them through the intricate parts of the land: down amongst the sand, the thorns and the pebbles of old storms; up over the ridges, over the rocky limestone outcrops and finally back to where I was safe – not a moment too soon usually.

The best moment in a ride came after a very tough sandy straight. I was in need of a rest physically and mentally and was steadily climbing up a ridge. When I got to the top everything was revealed, the land unfolded in all directions and still 70 kilometres from Alice, I was exhausted and isolated enough to feel part of it.

Later in that same ride I was tired, we were tired. I needed to stop to go to the toilet and lost the group I'd been riding with. I peddled along a corrugated road as a lone cyclist thinking of home. My pace started to drop. I heard voices and laughter and along came Celia and her crew. You meet the resilient types out there on the long days. Celia seemed to be leading the pack and the conversation, a rare combination really. I joined the group and the festivities. We rolled into the next aid station and two little girls came out with lollies and fruit cake, Celia chatted to the girls and complimented them before going anywhere near the goodies.

My friend Carrie was volunteering all week. She came back each day with stories of riders at the drink stations. Carrie's hero of the race was Celia's mum Coral. Coral was one of the older women doing the race and had cut her kneed quite badly on the first day. Against advice she'd snuck out of the aid station to finish the stage. I met Coral after I'd met Celia. She had the same huge smile, with a few more lines around it and was having an amazing time.

We raced one night and from the back of the field I watched a spectacular line of lights stretch out into the night as the leaders climbed up into the hills and we followed. I felt like I was riding fast, to fast and not fast enough. There was dust and lights everywhere, at times the dust replaced the track and I followed the red light of the rider in front. I felt sorry for the man behind me as I blundered through rocks and sand. After a while I came up with my own personal joke to lighten the load on my mind and get me riding smoothly: "style and grace” I repeated to myself, whilst remember walking with a book on my head in high school. It helped I laughed, and I smoothed out the load on my bike. I spoke to a few women who'd got frightened in the night race and a few who loved it. Those who loved it had great lights, namely Ay-ups, those who didn't either had bad lights or were going really fast. I had great lights and I rode just fast enough to feel the adrenalin so I had a great time.

Whilst most of us were enjoying the festivities and the survival element of the race I was very aware that Naomi and Imogen, the leading two females were under enormous pressure. Each day that we went out to survive, they went out to race and survive. With only minutes between them the pressure built throughout the week. Each day they seemed to be working harder and it was great to see the huge smiles on each of their faces when it was all over.

For me and many others I think the Anaconda Mountain Bike Enduro was more of an adventure than a race. It was an amazing week, in an incredible landscape with an enormous group of fantastic people. It will take a long time for the images and experiences to make their way back from the forefront of my mind and it’s unlikely I’ll miss the next one.

Monday, May 12, 2008

First Place Solo Women

I was looking forward to this race. Six hours might sound like a long time but after doing a 12 hour race and attempting a 24, 6 hours seemed like a sensible amount of time to spend on a bike. Break it into three 2 hour blocks, nutritionally, mentally and physically: it all adds up to a nice day in the forest.

Someone asked me how the track was after the first lap, “great," I said. There were some really nice parts to it, some great challenges and it was nice to be riding somewhere new. After three or four laps I wasn’t so sure. The one and a half hour mark felt like the two and a half hour mark, the two and a half hour mark felt like the 4 hour mark. A long day was emerging.

I’m lucky; I’ve inherited the services of Jeff’s support crew for these races. His sister Karen and her husband Ratty had left home when we were still in bed and by the time we had arrived, the tent was up, the esky out, and their faces plastered with smiles and encouragement. They set the benchmark for what support is in these races. As my spirits started to shrink, they picked it up another notch. The most enthusiastic face you can imagine greeted me each lap on a section of course that somehow made my wheels square! For some reason Karen was saying I looked fantastic. It must have been the square wheels. As I came around the next bend, there was ratty, cold drinks, food and best of all something to set me laughing up the hill. “How’s Jeff going?” i said
“oh, he’s going great. Missing you though.” I got some good mileage out of that one. These guys were going to make it really difficult for me to give in.

After three hours I started gaining confidence in a suspicion I’d had earlier, this was a really tough course for endurance. With no rest sections, no easy down hills and lots of rocks, we were working all the time. Jeff passed me every three or four laps. We'd chat for the brief moment it took him to disappear. By the third time I had a confession, “ooh, I’m tired Jeff.”

There were lots of riders doing their first race and with the hills, the rocks and the sand there just wasn’t time for gentle peddling and scenic riding. It took me back to my first race the previous year. It was a lesson in staying positive and looking for the entertainment value in every rock. It was amazing how many people were obviously going through this process, the Matrix and KBR guys were so impressive: without the experience of other races, many of them didn’t have the satisfaction of knowing they were doing a really tough course.

As the day wore on, the crowd gathered around the start finish area. The teams started to gather and for once we got to see them all together in their matching outfits and dusty faces. They’d obvio
usly had an adventure. I rolled in to the finish area. I was looking forward to seeing Jeff knowing he’d had a great race, I was thrilled to see Karen and Ratty still full of enthusiasm and sat down next to Cam who looked how I felt!

I think the race was a bit of an equalizer really. There was no easy way to get around that course consistently. It just demanded and demanded, so more experienced riders and beginners all ended up in survival mode. It’s not always pleasant there but gosh it feels amazing after.

Jeff won the Mens Solo (20 Laps) and 2nd overall including the teams. I won the Women's Solo.