No Mountains, not much Mayhem.
In fact I’d shoot for “Lumpy Slackness” to best describe my own take on the OSMM 24 hour mountain bike race held just down the road from here. Every year I make a special effort to attend while adhering to a firm committment not to get involved with any of that riding nonsense. I mean why would you? Ace riding on the doorstep, almost none of it encircled by a private deer park filled with desperate IT middle managers* properly hurting themselves to secure 321st place.
No I grooved a well worn record of scouring the vast campsite for familiar faces, stashing away any freebies before adjourning barwards to watch the start. This time I had family and mad mutt in tow so had to answer some slightly uncomfortable questions regarding my non participation. Straying away from bare faced lying for a change, instead I employed displacement tactics pointing out everything that was wrong with a thousand people crammed into a localised methane cloud waiting for the start.
After saving my cheers for the slowest, oddly shaped and fully paid up members of “Team Chubb-a-Lubb”, a navigationally challenged rendezvous with some old friends reminded me of a vague promise to ride an entire lap in exchange for beer. Thankfully my carefully studied slackness had ensured a ride-readiness state scoring about zero what with no bike, no riding clobber and a pair of wellington boots** which sadly merely postponed the horror until the following day.
But this is a team which would present Team Hardcore Loafing as a race-tuned, podium chasing professional outfit. So in keeping with the sleepy ethos, I turned up late only to shockingly discover a member of the team WAS OUT ON THE COURSE. Not to worry, a more than ample excuse for a sit and chat in the sunshine. That’s the fella out doing a lap I’m talking about who had located a grassy bank much to his liking, and passed a convivial half hour chatting with the real – if somewhat bemused – racers.
Eventually Tim found sufficient energy to roll back to Apathy Central and sent me on my way with a stern admonishment not to get back too early. The final member of the team was engaged in a full on race simulation and couldn’t be disturbed for at least an hour. Or revived really since he was entirely unmoving other than some jowly snoring. I rolled onto the course in a unique position of being entirely fresh and light limbed, while every other poor bugger had travelled 21 and 1/2 hours into a place where pain and suffering live.
This is what fitness must feel like. I easily out-climbed the heavy legged, dusty and weary riders who were turning slow circles in tiny gears or – more frequently – getting off and having a walk. On enquiring how they were doing, most would bang out a pained grimace declaring “Six laps in and this bastard is the last one” before trying to reconcile my fresh faced pace, body shape and entirely inappropriate bicycle. “You?” they’d ask with some incredulation “Yeah, last lap for me too, be glad to get it done” I’d reply in shared companionship.
I didn’t feel it necessary to add that this was my first and indeed only lap. Important not to over-communicate when people are under such obvious mental strain. So back to the course which I fully expected to but shit, boring and unchallenging. The first section didn’t do much to dispel such a hypothesis with rutted, tight scalextric weaving pointless between trees. No wonder everyone looks a bit miserable I pondered as riders pulled aside to let me pass.
I did feel like a bit of a fraud, but this was easily offset by the shallow joy I took from it. But I stopped thinking about that as the course suddenly became properly interesting. Some lovely, steep rutted descents, a few singletrack climbs, a more than pleasant flowy ribbon of hardpacked dirt that had me chasing fast riders and passing them before considering why they might be slowing down. The one disadvantage of my uni-lap strategy was that everything around the next corner was a total mystery. Which partially explains a couple of off-course transgressions and a eyes wide shut brush with one of the innocent marshalls.
So course was pretty good, quite challenging in places, brutal for multi-lappers with a halfway round campsite sashay leading to a climb that started tough and kept on giving. The end of which we were rewarded with another sinewy wiggle through the trees, doubly enjoyed after some proper racer elbowed past without so much as a “Out of my way Underling” at the entrance. I challenged him to show some bloody politeness next time to which I didn’t even receive the expected finger. Now I don’t mind being stuffed by those with proper riding skills, but that’s just disrespectful.
Fuck. Slack Mode off. Race Face On. Catching him was easier than expected although not due to any fantastic riding on my part, more because he was, well, a bit shit really. Race-Car on the straights, pedestrian in the corners. Hard to know if his concentration was broken my the sound of my Northern up-his-chuffness offering such pithy snippets as “Did you steal that race kit?” and “You don’t deserve that bike, you’re too fucking slow to ride it“.
This went on for a couple of happy minutes. As we hit the fireroad, I beamed my best smile and innocently asked if he’d enjoyed that previous section as much as I had. Not a word, nothing, he merely vibrated a bit and spun off with the demeaner of an angry hamster stuck in a washing machine. Ace, only one lap and I still managed to properly irritate a cock with a self-important complex. Mission accomplished I think.
Everyone else was lovely. Tired but feeling – quite rightly – pretty damn heroic. Tough course in the dry and had the rain come, most people probably would have left. But in the continued sunshine, we finished on a proper old school fast grass-track descent that had even us clipped-in riders, clipping out moto style. I even managed a reasonably styling jump over a lip where the photographer was apparently lurking. I’m sure his published image will clash poorly with that in my mind’s eye.
Arriving back in just under an hour, my reward was a nice cold beer and the chance to wave in the finishers come 2pm. I did feel slightly cheeky accepting the “riders medal” especially as some nutty singlespeed solo riders sprinted past the start/finish pylon in order to get another lap in. Aliens, the lot of them. Not for us, our laps were so few as to be designated “DNF” More Did Not Start really.
But this is exactly the way to treat such events. It’s not a race strategy because we’re not racing, but as a fine way of passing a weekend with old friends with some bike riding thrown in, it’s hard to beat. However next year I’m aiming for a stretch target.
** For the first time in epochs Mayhem was dry and warm***, but having endured the great floods of 2008 and 2009, there was NO WAY I was trusting some dodgy forecast.
*** Except for Saturday night which was frigging chilly apparently to the point where some neshers went home. FFS not even I’d do that.