Birthdays are a time for celebration; a time to get together with mates for cake and beer; a time to lament the passing of youth; or, as was the case for me this year, a time to throw myself into a four hour spiral of mountain biking fun (and pain). My partner graciously agreed to the birthday plan, and entered with me in the four hour solo category of round one of the Rocky Trail Entertainment MTB Grand Prix Series.
I was well prepared; I had my layers of bike clothes carefully arranged in my CamelBak and a buffet of race snacks and drinks set out on the bench. Yet all this preparation went completely out the window, when, in true ‘Jay and Em’ style, we rocked up to the race incredibly late. Registration had closed twenty minutes ago, and the racers were assembled at the start line ready to go. Thankfully the organisers forgave our tardiness and gave us our plates; although nothing could really rectify the fact that I was still putting on my arm warmers when the rest of the four hour solo crew headed out into the bush. Rattled, I threw whatever nutrients I could find – which constituted a single pack of caffeinated energy jellies – and sprinted to the start line. The commentator saw me bumbling through the start line, and was kind enough to give me a push as I threw myself onto the trail.
Despite the hectic start, the first lap was pretty slow going, like being stuck in Sydney traffic on a Sunday; every time a section of track opened up before me, I’d turn a corner into a sea of riders. There were the cruisers, happy to take their time; there were drag style racers, dead set on flattening anyone in their path; and there were the riders who sat somewhere in the middle, patiently waiting behind the cruisers, much to the frustration of the drag style racers. It was the only point in the race were camaraderie was eclipsed by poor sportsmanship. I had one guy so hell bent on getting passed me, that he lunged at the first centimeter-wide gap he saw and ended up tumbling (and cursing) into the trees. I couldn’t help but giggle
The next three laps were a glorious, mystical blur. The track was so flowy I hardly noticed the up hill sections; and so hard packed I could curve through the bends at crazy-fun speeds. It was seriously like a roller coaster; a thrilling series of up and downs.
It was until the fifth lap that the up hill sections started to differentiate themselves from their down hill counterparts. By the sixth lap, what had seemed like a seamless roller coaster, became more like a trek through the mountains. The tight feeling in my thighs was probably exacerbated by the fact that despite my pre-race good intentions I had not stopped to eat or drink any of the energy-filled items from my homemade buffet. I had a chomped down a few of the energy jellies, but they were doing little more than making me shake and leaving a sugar sweet taste in my mouth.
During the sixth lap I convinced myself that this would be it; that I would pass through the finish line after the four hour cut off period to a pat on the back and some gatorade. So when I saw Jay cruise through the transition area back into the bush, my heart sunk. For the first half of my seventh lap, I was convinced I would either fall off or faint before making it back to the finish. I am well versed in the art of crashing – even when I am satiated and well rested – so I expected a spectacular spill of some kind. But I didn’t crash, or faint, but rather bumbled along to the finish line, stopping once or twice to give a brief pep talk to my sore and tired legs. Once past the finish line, I bee-lined straight to the car to sample my homemade food and replace the army of electrolytes I had shed along the way.
Now I am more of the ‘have fun and give it a go’ type racer, than the ‘I want to blitz the competition and get on the podium’ type racer. So when I heard over the loud speaker that I had come second, I was a bit taken a back. Surely someone had made a mistake. But sure enough, come ceremony time, they called me up to get my second place certificate and bottle of European vodka. Stoked.
As I nursed my show bag of prizes – and sore legs – on the way home in the car, I pondered the role of bike riding in my world. At 28 years of age, I feel privileged to share my time, my living room and my birthday with my bikes.