Last Sunday was the first race of the year, round one of the PMBA Enduro series at Gisburn. As ever I entered as a bit of fun, with the aim being to get round without breaking myself, and ideally not coming dead last as a bonus to aim for. I’m not a natural racer really, I can’t be bothered training properly, and I definitely don’t have the skills to make up for lack of form, but I do enjoy getting out onto closed trails with crowds of people who love riding mountain bikes. Someone has to pad out the bottom of the results sheet, and it might as well be me, right?
The day dawned gloriously bright and calm and followed a week or two of dry weather, so Gisburn was in about as good condition as you could care to ask for. The van kicked up dust along the access road, and the queue basked in the warmth of the sun as we waited to register and collect race numbers. Riding out for practice the trails proved to be dusty even under the trees and everything was shaping up nicely for a cracking day out.
Unfortunately, in spite of the lovely weather and previous dry days the first race stage was pretty grim. Slimy rooty ruts lurked in dark, grotty pine woodland, punctuated only by bits of woodwork, unrideable swamps, all finishing into a greasy bombhole. Practice was unpleasant enough, but I had such a bad race run I’ve actually asked for advice from the internet on how to ride the rooty, muddy horrors of surface-cut woodland trails. I’m sure it basically boils down to practice, and I don’t usually ride that sort of thing so it completely caught me out. I shall have to hunt out some muddy forest lines near to home and spend some time working on controlling a bike when you have zero traction, and lots of trees to crash into.
Stage one was fortunately just a brief dark spot on an otherwise unblemished day of splendid riding. Stage two, three and four were all enjoyable, comprising the Home Baked, Whelpstone Crag and Hully Gully trail sections respectively, all of which are ace, rocky, swoopy, grippy fun. I didn’t place particularly well here either, naturally, but I had a much more enjoyable time riding than on stage one, and felt I did pretty much my best on each of them.
Stage five was the big finale, based on one of the easier downhill runs, with four big drops, a decent sized tabletop, and then a final flourish through rooty, muddy trees. One poor sod properly nailed himself on the tabletop in practice, and the course was closed for a good hour while paramedics stretchered him off for a trip in the air ambulance. Fortunately he turned out to be fine, but seeing him being carried back up the course strapped into a neck brace added significantly to the sense of trepidation I felt queuing up to try my luck. After enjoying the nice little introductory roll-in section, I skipped the first drop (the chicken line was faster, honest, even the quick boys took it) but hit the next three and surprised myself by managing to get down in one piece without securing myself a free helicopter ride. For all the roots and mud and ruts I actually found the lower woodland section much easier than stage one, due to it being a bit steeper, allowing you to keep your wheels rolling even if you got a bit out of shape. I even managed a grin when one of the Cotic team riders yelled “nice bike” at me as I slithered past (unfortunately just being on the same bike as them isn’t all that you need to be properly fast). On my race run I was pretty tired, made a mess of the top section, then got caught in a bit of traffic at the bottom, and thereby lost a fair bit of time. I didn’t mind, I was already more than happy with myself just for clearing the drops – these were bigger than anything I’ve ever ridden before and I actually felt pretty good going over them.
The roll back to the finish over, we grabbed a burger, packed up and headed home. I was pretty happy with my efforts in the most part, the swampy slipperiness of stage one being the only thing I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. I just need to get some serious practice in on wet, muddy roots before the next time – yes, there will be a next time.