Sleepless in the Saddle: Hit the lights

This year saw my first ever mountain bike race. It also saw my second – as previously mentioned, in a fit of madness, I’d volunteered my services for Sleepless in the Saddle.Sleepless is a little different from Mountain Mayhem. For a start, the maximum team size is five, rather than ten. It also a bit smaller, and quite a bit less hilly. I loved it.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Mayhem, and fully intend to do it again next year, but I found the course was there to be endured rather than enjoyed. Sleepless’ course was swift, swoopy, and bloody good fun! It started well with me actually sleeping on the Friday. My teammates commented on the marked difference between my cheery disposition on the Saturday morning, compared to my surly and possibly nearly murderous demeanour on the first day of Mountain Mayhem.

I was up fourth for our team, the noble Chase Trails Pixies. We had wings and everything.

It was about 5-ish when I started my first lap, I think, and although it had been sunny all day it was starting to cloud over. With some warnings about loose corners fresh in my mind, I set off into the unknown. Generally I got on very well with the course – the climbs were relatively short, the descents not too gnarly, and the singletrack tight and fluid. There were a few rooty corners that caused me a bit off grief, and I nearly had a comedy moment on a sharp turn after a descent, but otherwise I could ride it quite merrily.The only other issues I had on the first lap were a couple of Elite Riders barging past me,the one forcing his way in front just as I approached the triple down, causing me to brake right on the edge. I stood at the edge, rolled back a little, then rolled down. It was a slope, really nowhere near as harsh as the ones at Mayhem. Yay!

The other issue was the weather – I was a good way around and on one of the later climbs up a field when the heavens opened. I muttered darkly, wondering what I’d done to upset the god of 24 hour racing. The last woody section was a bit slimy and began to remind me of Mountain Mayhem.  I approached the end soaking and a little bit narked, failing to get around the uppy downy hairpin bit – given it was a bit slidey I was worried about bombing down the slopes to catapault myself up the next.  Truth be told, I’ve been slightly worried about these sorts of things ever since my spectacular off last year under similar circumstances, so I tend to take them more cautiously, and not quite make it up the other side as a result.  Small children mocked my inability to reach the top.  “Mommy, mommy, why did she stop?”

As I rolled over the line to complete my first lap, I began to feel slightly anxious about my impending night lap.  This unease wasn’t helped by both Liam (my Pixie successor) and Mr Toast (racing his second lap for the Chase Trail Trolls) posting mammoth times – the mud had turned severely claggy, and was blocking forks, mechs, chainstays, and was generally a pain in the arse.

After setting up my lights, I grabbed a couple of hours sleep, and woke at midnight to Mr Toast having a mild rant about me misplacing lights. Suddenly the cold, harsh reality that I was about to do my first ever night ride, on an unfamiliar course, and probably a massive mud bath. I took it with my usual stoicism, and promptly started weeping quietly in our tent.

I was cheered slightly by the reassurances that it had dried up a lot, and was actually riding quite nicely. I also have to give massive thanks to the Clan Pearson, who had the foresight to bring spare gloves – mine still hadn’t dried from my first lap!Abby came in, and off I went. I wiggled the lights around, trying to get the optimum coverage. I had my one and only off of the race on one of the earlier woody sections, as I swooped into it and promptly fell sideways after hitting a root. As I rode, I realised that night riding didn’t mean imminent death. It wasn’t only doable. It was actually… Fun!

Riders seemed to be a bit more aggressive and surly at night, and I spent even more time than usual pulled over letting people past – I was being a bit more cautious on that front. However, when I was riding it felt as if I was going faster, and I felt a bit more confident as I knew what to expect from the first lap. I did have to strip a few layers, which was a decidedly surreal experience: It’s one in the morning, I’m riding my bike in a race, I’m on the top of a hill, I’ve got a light strapped to my head, I’m taking off a couple of tops, and other riders are passing comment on my wings.I passed the baton to Liam, grinning and telling him how awesome the course was riding – my dreaded night lap had actually been far more entertaining than my first lap, down to being drier and knowing what the course actually involved. And then it was off to bed, trying not shine the torch in the face of the snoozing Mr Toast.

I awoke later in the morning to blue skies and sun, ready for porridge and my third lap. Given that we were all getting a bit knackered by this point, we were instructed to take our time getting around, so the earlier riders wouldn’t be forced into doing additional laps. So although I went as speedily as I could through the singletrack sections, I did my team proud by doing the climbs very… very… slowly. And stopping on hills, admiring the view. It was a tough job, but somehow I managed it. I still came in faster than I expected – I honestly thought I’d taken at least two hours – it was my longest lap though.

I finished my lap and then had the best.  Shower.  Ever.  I’d take this opportunity to post a picture of me riding triumphantly, but, as with Mountain Mayhem, I managed to avoid every single race photographer.  So, here’s the Professor:

All in all a huge amount of fun though – a great atmosphere with most people being patient, encouraging and friendly (and the wings got a lot of comments), and obviously awesome teammates.  Good to see some of the other teams there too, including the Grimey Limeys and the Swinnertons.  Also, lots of awesome dogs – the sausage dogs being a particular favourite.  I’m hoping that next year I’ll be a bit fitter and better at climbs, and generally faster.  Best start training!

Three Years!

Yes, a horribly late update again, I know!

Last month for our anniversary we went, as always, to Scotland.  Every year is good fun, but this year was particularly entertaining as my fitness is the highest it’s ever been.  It really does make a huge difference, and this time around we ended up riding every day.  I was quite chuffed because I rode a lot of stuff at Glentress I’ve normally chickened out of on previous years – mainly the rocky obstacles and some of the skinnies on the climb up and… er, the red route.  I’m pleased to report that this year I didn’t fall off once – although I was very cautious on Pennel’s Vennel this time around!

The first two days had fairly atrocious weather, and both bikes and riders got absolutely filthy.  I stuck to the blue route these first two days, which is still ridiculously fast and grippy in the wet.  I was chuffed to see the Trail Fairies have replaced the downhill fireroad to the Buzzard’s Nest car park with a new section – Berm Baby Berm.  Or ‘Berm Bermy Berm’, as I misheard Mr Toast call it, and thus it was renamed.  Berm Bermy Berm is very bermy.  You know that bit in Spaceballs, where they talk about going ‘ludicrous speed’, and the star field turns to tartan?  It was a bit like that.  We also spent a bit of time on the skills course, which unlike the rest of the trails at Glentress actually seems to be losing features – the bumpy northshore section is gone, along with the rock spanning skinnies.  Still, I actually rode down the rocks on the skills course that have freaked me out in previous years, so that was nice.  

After flying around the blue for the first two days I decided to have another crack at the red.  Long time readers (assuming I have any) will know that I last rode the full red two years ago.  Last year’s attempt, the first time I’d tried it in the wet, ended in disaster on the first section.  This time I was a lot more confident, managing to tackle stuff quite easily and never feeling like I was out of control.  I was also more cautious, however – if there was anything I didn’t fancy, I’d walk it.  For me it’s a much better approach than riding it and falling off – I’d prefer to be able to ride again.  Being over 300 miles from home and the only driver always weighs a bit on my mind, as does the fact that my offs last year left me a bit battered and struggling to ride comfortably for the rest of the holiday.

The red at Glentress is interesting, because again for the most part it’s all about speed.  There’s a few climbs, but for the most part the main thing you take away from it is the blazing descents.  Unfortunately I did still have a few knee problems on holiday, most of which could be ignored or cancelled out by copious amounts of ibuprofen.  More of a problem this time around was a recurring burning pain in my left thigh, I think in the Vastus lateralis muscle.  It was fine when I was in the saddle, but boy did it smart if I spent any time out of the saddle – needless to say, this made some of the downhill sections quite interesting, particularly Spooky Wood!  I don’t know whether it was just strain from doing so much biking compared to what I normally do, or whether my saddle was at a slightly iffy height, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem at the moment so… meh!

Despite the slight inability to ride with 100% correct positioning, Spooky Wood was bloody good fun, and I avoided the chicken runs for the most part and flew off the features… mainly because I was going too fast to actually think about it.  I admit I walked down what we dubbed ‘Handstand Hill’, due to the fact I’d… well, gone headfirst over the bars and ended up walking on my hands two years earlier.  Whilst most of Glentress red looked friendlier and less terrifying than I remembered, Handstand Hill actually looked worse.   I felt awesome on some of the later sections as I manoeuvred around roots and tighter turns, which reminded me a bit more of Cannock Chase.  I came out of the bottom of the red and said, “Oh, it that it?”, which made Toast chuckle – when I’d done the red two years previously I was pretty much dead halfway round. 

Due to the leg pain I’d been having around the red route, we decided to have a day off riding.  We went to Kailzie Gardens (go see the Chicken Village there, it’s great, especially the goth chickens), then I dragged Mr Toast to see X-Men First Class (which I’d been wanting to see for weeks but we’d not got around to it – great film which makes surprisingly good use of Azazel, given he was created for the universally loathed Chuck Austen Uncanny X-Men run).  We came out of the cinema and the sun was blazing again – our first sunny day of the holiday.  Well, it would have been rude not to have an evening ride, wouldn’t you agree?  We spent a few hours on the freeride park, appreciating the ability to be gnar in the dry.


The following day we decided to try one of the other Stanes.  The original plan was to go to Kirroughtree, but given the distance, the cost of petrol and our lack of money we elected to try Mabie instead. 

Mabie wasn’t too bad – the skills course and freeride is a bit sparse, and the trail is fairly bland and has a lot of climbing.  It does have some really good fun sections though, it’s just a shame they all seem to be in the first third of the trail.  It may have been because my legs were distinctly tender by this point in the week, but Mabie didn’t really make me want to return any time soon – it just seemed like a lot of long climbs with unsatisfying descents. It did have a nice Stane though:

I think Mabie has a lot of ‘off-piste’ stuff though, so it’d probably be worth an explore or getting someone with local knowledge to act as a guide.  It also has a field of cows that stare at you accusingly as you eat Shed Burgers. 

I’m hoping we get to go to Kirroughtree next year, hopefully it won’t be too far above my skill level.