Since our beloved forests in the Stromlo area went up in flames in the fires of 2002 and 2003, it is now held in the ACT's Kowen forest, to the East of Canberra. A truly magnificent effort has transformed it into a remarkable course. It combines 19 km of rather well-maintained fire trails with single track - stretches of dirt through the forest winding between the trees. The top of the course, which I call the Fire Tower, is just a little over half way. I take over an hour to do a lap. You'll have to do a lot better than that if you want to win it though.
Most of the competitors are, like myself, in teams (in my case, of 6). There are some super fit athletes riding in teams (alas, I'm not one of them) but the highest accolades go to the solo riders, who always get a cheer from the crowd. Especially Josh Street wearing number 1. But in this sport, you don't have to be Josh Street or Tory Thomas and even if you are (and if you are, you guys rock!), it is not so much a race against the other competitors as against the terrain, the clock and yourself. You are out on the track alone and have something to prove to yourself.
The race starts at noon on the Saturday and nominally finishes at noon on Sunday except that if you set out before noon, you can finish your lap. In fact, you have to! Every year there's an accumulation of riders just before the finish waiting for noon so they don't have to go out again. I used to think that they were solo rider (and who can blame them) but I noticed a lot of team players as well. With a team you have a baton, which is actually a plastic strip on a shoelace. At the transition area, you had it over to the teammate who is doing the next lap. You have to walk through transition, which is a bit rough sometimes. You see people who have leg cramps having trouble getting off there bikes.
The noon lap always sucks. You have to run (or walk) 800 m. Believe it or not there are people who will happily ride 100 km who will gripe about walking 800 m. The idea is to stretch everybody out so they won't bunch up. So much for that idea - there was a line up for the first downhill at the Switchback. A day lap at 3:00 pm was hot and dusty, despite recent rain. There was only one spot where you had to ride through water and there was no mud. I got a cramp in my right leg at the Fire Tower and while it hurt like Hell, there was nothing for it but to ride on. Anyhow, it got better after a klick or two. Or I forgot about it. Or ceased caring.
Manufacturers of sports drinks and the like had a bumper weekend. Conventional wisdom (derived, I believe, from astrologers in the pay of a major sports drinks company) says that you should load up on carbs. White bread, fruit juice, yogurt and bananas were all popular. And sports drinks are said to be better for you than plain water. These days, with what they charge for tap water in bottle, they're probably cheaper as well. I topped up with one of them after the cramp on my afternoon lap, and it didn't recur that night, so it maybe it does work. I also given given packets of this stuff called GU after each lap. Apparently it's a gel that contains carbs and essential amino acids, comes in various odd flavours and goes quite well with Red Bull. If you're hungry or thirsty then your already down on energy or dehydrated, so you have to eat and drink on autopilot, which takes a while to get used to.
My next lap was at night. I set off at 9:30 pm all rigged up with lights. Somehow, the course seems quite different by night. And weird things happen. Like a streaker. When I got back I immediately took my lights over to the recharging tent. There were hundreds of batteries there on recharge. I had felt tired before I went out but didn't feel the least bit tired when I got back. Tried to get some sleep and probably did but all too soon I was woken up at 5:30 for my next lap.
I should put in a word here for Mal Adjusted bicycles in Dickson. My Kona went around the course without a hitch or a clunk. They got my bike around the track and it got me around it. And the Mont 24 is hard on bikes. There was no shortage of people with all manner of mechanical problems.
Believe it or not, people are already talking about next year.