Monday, 4 April 2016

The best laid plans of Mike and Mudge

Sometimes everything runs like clockwork.  But the beauty of a machine not missing a beat can sometimes only be fully appreciated when things don't go quite to plan.  And even when things are looking rosy they can head south in a split second.  Such was the case with some of the Soggies at the Mont, 2016 edition.

It all started well enough. We fielded two teams; a mixed 40s four (Anita, Ham, Mikey and yours truly), and a mixed team of 6 (Sara, Giles, Dave LB, Nicky, Andrew and Ben).  It's fair to say there was a little bit of expectation weighing on the quartet, given that the Soggies won the mixed 40s category last year.  The competition this year looked to be stiffer, with teams from Tathra and Jindabyne (both with quality local trails), also in the mix.

Ben and I kicked things off in a cement-dust whirlwind, which severely hampered visibility for large chunks of the dry, sketchy and loose 17 km circuit.  The quartet had Ham at second, followed by Mikey, then Anita.  The sextet had Sara at second, followed by Andrew, Dave LB, Nicky then Giles.   Pit support was bolstered by Moira, who kept the race log, as well as Frazer and Jeremy, complete with light sabers to help keep us all in line.

Dust aside (which gave everyone pursuit cough and sore eyes), the first few laps were uneventful until Mikey washed a front wheel resulting in a thumping hip graze, sore thumbs, and dented pride, but conceded little time.  A full rotation later, however, he upped the ante with another washout.

The quartet was into its 7th lap when Mike phoned through to let us know that this time things were a little more serious, including a head knock, and that he'd be unable to complete the lap.  Anita hastily kitted up and headed out to restart the lap as I let the guys at Timing know the lap would be aborted, then spoke with the race director, who let me know that a vehicle had already been dispatched to collect the fallen.

As the sun dipped Sara and I waited anxiously at the forest access road before eventually the vehicle showed.  They offloaded the bike and proceeded to the hospital tent where it was decided that stitches to the elbow were required.  Mikey doesn't do things by halves, and squared up grazes collected in his first crash with a matching set, in stereo, on the other side of his body.  

At this point it was pretty clear that Mikey's race was done, and once dinner had been organised for the boys Ben took the ensemble to a clinic where a local was administered and bits of pinus radiata removed from a deep puncture near the elbow.  A final clean and stiches would be administered back in Sydney on Monday.

It was dark, the track was progressively deteriorating, and at this point the quartet was down to three, and had dropped from third to fourth in the standings.  It's fair to say that when you are worried about the status of one of your own, racing doesn't seem quite so important (this was not a game of Squatter), and we collectively agreed that enjoying a more social conclusion to the race would be preferable to flogging ourselves through the night as a team of three.  Ham, Anita and I each rolled a night lap then pulled up stumps at 11:15, had hot showers, and enjoyed a beer at midnight with some of the sextet, who, btw, were still circulating smoothly, before hitting the hay.

Sleeping at these things is difficult at the best of times, but given that the night was mild I got itchy feet and at about an hour before dawn set out to do a double.  Anita followed, then Ham, myself, and finally Anita set off with an hour to run.  

Anita had been lapping very close to the hour, so if she could pull off a similar split then Ham would be able to slip through for an 18th and final lap.  No pressure.  Unfortunately, 30 min into the lap she phoned with news of an off at speed and that finishing the lap would be unlikely.  Those who've ridden at Kowens will know what a maze it can be.  Sometimes the easiest way out is to follow the ginger bread crumbs of the race route, which is what transpired, and she started to feel better on the run home.

Like Mike, however, Anita also doesn't do things by halves, and literally half a km from transition ended up on an unintended A-line, courtesy of the passage of another rider, and went over the bars, again at full tilt.  This one really hurt, and she limped to transition looking like she'd tried to devour Moira's birthday cake with her arms tied behind her back.  Hobbling the short distance from the hospital tent to the showers took the best part of 10 min.  She returned to the hospital tent, which was doing a brisk trade with multiple bodies on stretchers; this is what happens when a chopped up track and last-run ski-fever collide.  Christo would have approved resultant dressings, which threatened to outdo Mikey in the coverage department.  Thankfully, she is basically OK with some heavy bruises and surface scrapes, sure to make for a few uncomfortable nights.

Credit where it’s due. Yet again, the dirt-tracker sextet ran a tidy race and showed up the show pony quartet.  Hats off!  Ben quipped early in the piece he was relieved to be on a less frequent lap schedule.  However, once the change in tack for the quartet became known, he lamented not being able to kick back and do the same with beers in hand. This is all well and good – provided, of course, that finding yourself in bandages isn’t the reason for feet up in the first place.

It's easy fronting at transition during the daylight changes, but going about the process late at night, including the solitary ritual of kitting up in the dark and cold is part of the special charm of 24s, requiring a quiet resolve and determination.  This is the less glamorous but perhaps even more important part of the teamwork equation, and is quite satisfying in the light of the second day, everyone having done their bit for the cumulative outcome.

Dave LB showed us that darkness is no reason not to be splitting just as fast as day laps – two of each, all at close to 57 minutes!  Makes you wonder how quick he’d go if he took training seriously.  Nicky also got through the night without incident, although got a little banged up the next morning, but displayed enough self respect not to require a trip to the hospital tent, and might have gone even quicker if we'd sorted out some brake-drag issues earlier in the piece.  

Giles upset the apple cart a little, not to mention exciting his global Strava following, by splitting way faster than….well, faster than it appeared Ben expected....twice, if missed transitions are anything to go by.   Tut tut!  Sara again brought her special brand of humor and roadie legs to the party.  She is now being mistaken on track for Anita (without the bandages).  She also has bragging rights of having recorded the fastest lap, given the warping of space and time associated with the changing of the clocks.  If she'd gone faster still she might have proved Einstein wrong by finishing the lap before she started.  She is obviously enjoying the medium to the extent that she was overheard proclaiming that more track time in a team of 4 might be the go next time.

The rider I had most concerns about prior to the race was Andrew; his first 24 outing, on a bike he'd never ridden before, on a rough and tumble track, and under lights.  I needn’t have worried – he stayed upright and put down some tidy times.  Andrew obviously had his own concerns about the night part, turning up with enough non-AYUP lumens to terrorize riders he was catching, not to mention giving the rest of us lumen envy.  Camp debate included the possibility that there might be finite lumens in the universe, galactic black lumens (or is that lumen holes), and physical laws concerning the conservation of lumens, such that greed on his part might be at the expense of the rest of us.  We’ll have to nip this in the bud and put it to the committee as a possible SBB rule breach, or before you know it he'll be turning up with something non-GIANT between his legs.

Ham was also of concern in the lead up, courtesy of a knee that just didn’t seem to want to get better.  Fortunately, it didn't seem to bother him too much and he had an incident-free and largely pain-free run.  I say largely, as a bit of pain is all part of what you’ve signed up for, doing stuff at breakneck speed in the dark that would make your mother wince.  Ham's foresight in bringing an esky containing craft beers was also stroke of genius, and I’m sure is in no way related to the calamities that befell some of us….although superstitious ponderings involving physics, and every action prompting a reaction….well, it could make you wonder.  In any case, I’m not sure that repeating the experiment in the absence of said esky is a good idea either.

Calamities aside, the weekend just past rates as one of the most enjoyable Monts I've partaken in.  Great atmosphere amongst fine people.  I can’t speak for the others but I for one am already looking forward doing it all again next year.

Almost forgot, best bird for me was identified on call during my pre-dawn lap; Grey Currawong piping its clinkier version of the Pied’s call, which was also being broadcast in nearby forest, allowing direct comparison.