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!

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