This will probably be my last post for the year, so first up I want to thank you for reading. It is cool seeing folks from all the over the world hitting my blog to see what's happening and I hope in the years to come I can visit a few of your favourite tracks outside downunder.
It's taken a week to gather up the energy to write this post and to be honest I am still not quite sure what I will type. The reason being that the last round of the STM 8 hours series at Awaba turned into a bit of a tragedy, but then again, there is always something good to take away from any time spent whizzing around a beautifully crafted purpose built xc mountain bike trail, and a better venue than Awaba to finish the year on, you couldnt wish for. If I knew my Shakespeare a little better and had the mental agility I might have crafted this post into 3 acts; the first being "The Promise", the second being "The Expedition" and the final I might have titled "The demise of MightyMike", but it's not really that bad, so settle back and let's get into it.
The Sunday before had me setting off in the fastest group of 90+ riders for the 190km Wisemans Ferry Gran Fondo, and what a day it was. Perfect conditions, superb support courtesy of Turramurra Cyclery, and an awesome bunch to ride in. The pace was on from the start and the bunch worked like clockwork as we each took our turn on the front and keep the pace well over 35kph. The challenge was to catch the other bunches that had left between 40-60 mins earlier and to finish in 5hr 30 mins. As expected the bunch finally started to splinter on the climb to Mangrove Mountain and while I lost touch with the lead pack of 10 or so riders, I was feeling good considering I had done a good share of the work on the front and gradually picked up (and was picked up by) 4 or 5 similar riders and we worked together to keep our pace up to Peats Ridge. The second food drop was mayhem with many riders electing to ride through and I had to bring my MTB skills into play to hop a few obstacles out back onto the road and join a healthy bunch of 10 riders.
The rest of the way was a battle of attrition as riders came and went, but by Berowra we had a good bunch of 5 and we went as hard as we could all the way back to Turramurra to clock in at 5:20, just 5 mins before the main lead bunch. Huge kudos to Simon M who rode off the front and got back in 5 hours flat, simply awesome. All this boded well for the final 8 hour planned the following weekend.
The expedition consisted of leading 12 Knox boys on the annual Year 10 Mt Kosciuszko expedition; comprising 4 nights and 5 days hiking across the highest peaks of the Great Dividing range. I have been fortunate enough to lead on this camp a couple of times and was looking forward to getting away from all the email, social media and mobile phones and just enjoying the great outdoors. The 5:30am start from school was a little tough after the big ride the day before, but the hope was that the week long walk would consolidate the legs without wearing them out too much and leave me fresh for Sunday. Starting out from Guthega, the legs were definitely feeling the exertion from the day before and climbing the track to White's River Hut with the fully laden pack with food for 5 days was quite a challenge. Overall the week was fantastic with perfect weather, a great guide from Land's Edge and a group of young guys who apart from the odd question like "how far have we got to go?" were awesome all week. Getting back to civilisation Friday night, I was a little concerned to feel how weary the legs felt but hoped 48 hours recovery would be enough.
So here we are, ready to roll at Awaba and still the legs feel ouch, that feeling you get walking up stairs..you know what I mean? Well it was there and all I could do was hope that with a warm up lap the legs would start to fire. Warm up it did and before long the temp was ready 35 deg in the shade. This spells trouble.
I had a great spot on the grid and rode wheel to wheel with Gary up the firetrail and into the single track with Camo on the my wheel. I kept leaving space for Camo to pass, but for some reason he was happy to sit tight, perhaps that should have told me something. OK so far so good and the laps started to tally up. Before long the temp was pushing 40 and alarm bells started going off in my head, had I gone out too hard? By the 5th lap the engine was really starting to cough and splutter and Jason was steadily creeping up on me. There was the matter of a little crash with my good buddy Anne who in an attempt not to hold me up hit the descent a little too quick, clipped a tree with a handle bar and down we came. Jase saw it all from the back of a train of 6 riders and was good enough to wait and make sure we could all continue but now the wind in my sails had disappeared and pretty soon the wheels really started to fall off, I was dropping bottles and chains left, right and centre and most worrying of all the legs were telling me there was nothing left to give. Jase tapped it out up Camelbak hill and all I could do was wave bye bye. It seemed I had gone into an 8 hour race with only 4 hour legs. Worrying still was the fact that Phil had moved into second and a little voice in the back of my head said "series honours", I knew Phil wasnt far behind me in the series rankings at 4th, it was just possible with a 2nd place finish today he could pip me at the post. After a good rest and lot's of rehydration I decided to get back out and do a couple of more laps just to keep me in some sort of touch, but at lap 8 the legs said enough and I had to sit out to see Phil produce a terrific result and take 3rd in the series by a single point. Heartbreaker.
Sometimes the toughest lessons are the best ones so there is plenty to take away and ponder what might have been, but the real gold came when I stopped thrashing my body into a sweaty dizzy mess and took some time to catch up and really talk with a few of the good friends I have made from this sport. In the end I couldn't have asked for a better day and while the little trophy might have charmed my ego for an instant, this sport has so much more to offer than just what place you come in a race.
Finally I want to thank the guys that made this season one to remember, Garry J, Jason M, Phil W, Peter S and Chris T. The 6 of us have been riding hard against each other all year and every round has been a nailbiting finish (with the exception of Garry who smashed us all!) and all the while our mateship has gotten stronger through the blood sweat and tears that is solo 8 hour racing. One of my favourite sayings is "Iron sharpens Iron" and you guys have made me a better rider.
It has been a fantastic year of riding and racing with good mates new and old. I have no idea what's in store for next year, but right now I am happy to forget about training, get out and ride for pure enjoyment as we wind down for Christmas and celebrate the things that have mattered for all eternity.