The second round of the Choc Foot 7 hr season beckoned, but after my lackluster 5th in round 1, and given the chilly forecast (0-12), it was one I was entirely ready to swap for staying under the doona. But the Salmon collective were keen, and I do like the Wingello trails, so I found myself on the road at 5 am en route to a Campbelltown rendezvous with Ben and Mikey.
And in any case, once the gun goes I tend to perform better in the cold. According to the inter web it was -3 overnight, but had warmed to a balmy 1 C for the 8 am start amidst a fog that wasn't destined to lift till after midday.
Although opinions about courses vary as much as courses themselves, in my view this is the most pleasant of all the tracks I've squiggled. That's an understatement. I love this course: predominantly sandy loam in ancient tall forest. Flowing, forgiving, buttery smooth (generally), with understorey peacefulness punctuated by lyrebirds strutting their stuff. Nothing too rough, and perfect for the hard tail. A scale model could be constructed by starting with an ice rink the size of a tennis court. Dump on a thick slab of sorbet of various hues and varieties, infiltrated with lumps of chocolate and assorted nuts. Use a bobcat and shovels to contour (this would be messy), then grab an ice cream scoop and carve the sinuous track over its surface. Delicious.
Some days the engine just feels good, and today was one of them, although maybe we just perform better on tracks we like. Not expecting too much I didn't go bezerk at the off and spent a few laps settling in, learning the course, and earmarking lines which might be explored later. A couple of guns were entered in the masters field and were presumably up ahead. My immediate concern was Mr Locke, betrayed by impressive calves astride his trademark titanium steed. We spent the first three hours shadowing each other. I'd lose Clayton through the downs, then gain him on the ups. After sitting rooted to his wheel for a lap I sensed I had his measure so on one of the fire-road pinch climbs upped the tempo to see if he'd let me go. This seemed to work, so I kept the pressure on to incrementally consolidate a gap I could cash in later.
The temperature was perfect. A generous helping of smooth fire road made feeding a breeze. In contrast to all the other 7 hrs I've done this felt easy. Splitting consistently just under 30 min I had a real sense this would be the first 7 where I'd clock a magical 15th lap, and perhaps more significantly, actually relish going out one last time. I read of others anticipating a final swing, but never quite understood how such desires are possible.
Of course it wasn't going to last. Somewhere through the event, hidden amidst bottles of staminade, coffee milk or half a dozen gels, I ingested something that didn't agree with me. Five and a half hours in I popped a gel and about 10 min later an avalanche of internal rumbling ensued, but not the benign type pleasantly relieved by the venting of gas. Greg Lemond's “bad peach” episode immediately sprang to mind. This was starting to get really uncomfortable with no simple solution.
I wasn't sure where I was running but on-course chats with Wendy and Cory suggested I might be in contention. What was clear, however, was that the increasingly frequent and painful stomach cramps were going to force a change of strategy (hello survival!), not to mention dashing thoughts of 15th-lap bravado.
The cramps came in waves, endured through an anguished face and gritted teeth...then they'd ease and I’d momentarily forget what all the fuss was about… until the immense pressure returned, with episode frequency increasing. In short, the last two laps were agonizing. I almost crawled off the track and into the bushes half a dozen times, but that would have taken the whole Soggy Bottom thing a touch too far. Somehow I completed my 14th lap with the clock at 6hr55min, did a U-turn and bee-lined it to the row of portaloos, where I remained cocooned for about 10 min, listening to Joe on the p.a. welcome riders home and count the clock down to the 7 hr finish.
Fortunately for me, Clayton missed the cutoff for a 15th lap to gift me a most unexpected win in masters, with Cory rounding out the podium. One of the guns, Mr Morgan, was actually present but changed categories and raced the 4 hr instead, and the other, Mr Speering was a no-show. That's just the way it goes sometimes.
Ben and Mikey had good days out as well, even though Ben was way underdone in the miles department and Mikey was nursing a cold. It was nice to see them every now and then out on track and exchange a few words. And I was most grateful for the company on the way home. On top of three trips to the can prior to leaving, another two pit stops were required just to make Campbelltown. Despite it all it was still a grand day out, and I suppose also means that doing the third and final round in Nowra is in order.