After a week of lead-up shenanigans, it was time for the big one: two 20km laps of rolling Redwoods trails, over 1000 colourful competitors from 30 countries, and a perfect clear, blue sky. There were two beer shortcuts per lap which is where I thought all the action would be, but the action in fact was out on the course – a course lined by so many spectators full of cheers and encouragement for everyone who was pedaling past them. This is a community that really loves riding, and lucky for me, the riding was brilliant!
After riding the Robmobile at the AuSSie Nats – and having an experience that was as much about riding with no gears as it was about reliving the joys of bike technology from the year 2000 – I decided to modify the Merida 96 race rig so I could flow instinctively through the technical stuff and get a more zen feel for the ride experience provided by a 32 tooth chain ring at the front, and an 18 at the rear.
The course linked in some of my favourite trails on the bottom half of the map of the forest, and with so many people out pedaling, it was fun just sitting back, relaxing, enjoying the flow when there was a gap in front and enjoying the company of other costumed riders when we formed a bit of a train. I was in no rush at all to be fast having pedaled myself into oblivion several times already in the past week and a half, although I was a bit surprised when it took 50 minutes to get to the first beer tent. “How long to the next one?” I found myself thinking with a sense of urgency. And “No wonder no one’s hanging around here, it’s far away from everything and there’s too much fun to be had on the course!”
I practiced drinking for two weeks leading up to this race, which is to say I managed a beverage a day most days and had no hope of holding it together for four beer stops during the race. I rolled through tent number one asking for sugar instead and to my delight was handed a Red Bull shot – a double serve of Red Bull magic in a fizz free mouthful and a half. Wondering if I still would have chosen to have three coffees before the race had I known what the day had in store, I pulled up to tent number two ready to down the sugar option once more.
After the first tent, my skills got better, my attention zeroed in to the task at hand and, quite simply, I felt like I could ride my bike like Kelly Slater rides the waves. After double-shot number two, everything got really 3D. By beer tent number three, I reached for a bubbling ale, so hungry I ate it as though it was a really good sandwich. Tent four was at the finish line and one of the happiest things that ever a rider will see, especially when you add in the fact that a whole bunch of friends were just around the corner, and my altimeter told me that the 40kms of gearlessness had almost as much climbing in it as the 50km loop I broke myself on at the Whaka 50 the week before. The grass was my friend and whoever thought to bring three bags of potato chips over deserves a medal. No medals for the race winners however, they got tattoos and will be winners for life.
So how was the bike? It couldn’t have felt more perfect. How is it that this bike always feels like the best bike of anyone out on the trails, and so well matched to any type of terrain? The gear ratio worked well, which was somewhat of a relief as I wouldn’t have picked myself as someone with the leg strength to get up some of the steep pinchy climbs. Maybe it was all the spinning I did earlier in the week at the top of my rear cluster while everyone else was wearing himself or herself out early. It was nice just riding at whatever comfortable speed came out of the wheels at each section of the course, although the hill climbs did feel a little bit like I was on a step machine at the gym, the pedaling was that slow. Would I do it again? Definitely. Would I go out and buy a whole extra bike so I could do it with ease whenever I wanted? Probably not unless I lived near some trails as good as these, which is kind of funny as that night I won a Kona Unit, a rigid singlespeed perfectly suited to winter riding on the smooth Redwoods trails. See the next post for the story about what happened then. Meanwhile, how good are these waffles?!!