The MTB Report 6 May 2012

shambolic  (ʃæmˈbɒlɪk)
— adj
informal  completely disorganized; chaotic

That's the word I'd use to describe yesterday's attempt at a 50km circuit of Kangara-Boyd National Park by myself, James Taylor and Dave The Happy Singer. Getting in what we thought was an early start, we decided to take my car, a small car, out to the trail rather than convoying. So we loaded three bikes onto the rack and started out. Breakfast in Blackheath was grabbed, laughs were had at adverts for a "Homeopathic First Aid" course, and soon we were driving down Victoria Pass towards Jenolan Caves Road, all ready to do a first recce for our entry in the 2012 Kanangra Classic 100km race.

"Not far now", I thought.

I was wrong. The road to Kangara Boyd is narrow, winding and above all slow. And longer than I estimated. By the time we arrived at the National Park entrance, it was approaching midday.

Bikes unloaded, banter had, lack of 3G reception cursed and route scanned out, we set off up the Budthingeroo Firetrail. We knew we'd have to put on a decent pace, and we also knew that Dave, as the least experienced rider, represented our benchmark for how much riding we'd get in before darkness started to fall. I'd pre-planned against this, and knowing Dave was a bit prone to fatigue, swapped out the saddle on his bike and adjusted his riding position. As it turns out, Dave was not the limiting factor at all, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

A couple of kms in and my optimistic declaration that the trails were fast and hardly steep at all was taking a slight battering. You see, there's a zen state one reaches after a certain point, where hills are looked upon as a joyous opportunity to get out of the saddle and ride hard, not as a hardship to be endured. James, as the fittest of the group, reached the state quickly, and I followed shortly after. Dave, for his part, got rapidly disillusioned. And who can blame him? Our average speed wasn't high, and the 22.5km/h leading pace of the 2011 100km race seemed like a distant, unattainable goal. Meanwhile, I was still not over my chest infection of the last few weeks, and coughing my lungs out at semi-regular intervals. James's brakes were dragging, and Dave was struggling to manage flat pedals and wet shoes after the first river crossing. Things were begining to unravel.

I asked if anyone else had checked the route plan other than me. Crickets chirped from the distance. My own conscience said "well, yeah, but you didn't check how far it was to drive out here, either, did you, dickhead?". I told my conscience to shut the fuck up.

Soon, we were onto the Mount Emperor Firetrail and the first real descending of the day. James got a headstart on the downhill and I, foolhardy and competitive young idiot that my brain thinks I am, was off in pursuit. My speedometer showed forty-something as I started to gain some ground, and I stopped noticing the speed after that. I cut a switchback bend completely, crashing through the undergrowth, recovering, then getting back on the power for more. Another near-spill saw me just off the side of the track as the creek crossing came into sight, and I saw James splash through safely. Some more power down and I hit the creek, which was deeper than expected. My weight came too far forward on the bike as my suspension hit its limit. I bounced out the other side and I threw the bike forward to compensate. This unweighted the front wheel just as I needed to correct my line, and then the back wheel lost traction completely, throwing me sideways.

Now at this point in an inevitable crash, many people report time slowing down. I don't know if I actually felt time slow, or if it's merely a post-hoc rationalisation cobbled together by a brain overdosing on adrenaline, but I recall thinking, quite clearly, "oh fuck, this is going to hurt" as the bike pitched into its last direction change. As the bike heaved right over flat I remember thinking that I might dent a brake rotor, buckle a wheel or snap a brake lever - which would mean a long walk back to the car - if I hit the rocky centre line of the trail.

Just then I hit the rocky centre line of the trail.

I impacted hard with my left thigh. My upper arm and shoulder went into the wet, muddy rut to the left of the trail, and the bike ended up with a wheel either side of the ridge. I relaxed, allowed my head to sink to the ground and laughed like a drain as my brain lapped up the chemicals rushing around my system. At the top of the hill, James joined in the laughter as I brushed myself down and inspected myself for actual physical damage.

A decent-sized graze on my left thigh, about eight inches in length. Some bruising. A couple of knocks to my other leg. An aching shoulder. Small stones under my fingernails and a torn pocket on my shorts. Lots of mud. Nothing broken. Speedometer showed a max of 53.0km/h, so I'd been travelling pretty quickly in the lead-up. My first proper high-speed crash since I started mountain biking again and no major harm done. RESULT. Aside from the insistent gooey cough, I was completely healthy

As Dave came down the hill, more sensibly, we were stil laughing. My bike was intact, I was a bit bruised, but we were going OK. Onward we trudged, through another river crossing at which James picked up a leech. Dave goggled a little at this. I inspected my legs and found nothing.

James found another leech. Dave crossed on foot, then frantically searched for more leeches. To his relief, nothing.

Wicked. One crash, two leeches. Average speed: not fast. The brakes on James's Rumblefish 29er were binding even more, so we stopped to try and tweak them. Nothing much helped. We rode on a bit. We tried again. Dave caught up. We rode on. We swapped bikes for a while, James taking my Speedfox and me sampling James's 29er. We stopped, Dave caught up. James dropped my bike. We swapped bikes back. We rode on. There was an unspoken feeling in the air that we weren't going to make the full distance, and that October's Kanangra Classic was going to be tougher than we'd hoped.

Soon we reached another junction in the trail and stopped to take stock. Dave's face told a tale of hardship and woe. The new saddle wasn't helping. The trails were tougher than expected. We'd done maybe 12km of a hoped-for 50km. We'd had one crash, one minor mechanical and some leeches. My GPS was lying about our average speed and riding time. James's GPS was lying about our distance. Dave's arse wanted to go home. Threats to leave people in the wilderness to be eaten by quolls were made. Cider was spoken of. 

We opted to press on a couple of kms for the next junction and most likely turn round from there. Dave led off, followed by James, followed by me. As James pulled alongside Dave, there was a loud bang.

Dave jumped. James braked. I pulled alongside.

Flat tyre. LOUD flat tyre. Not a great sign.

James flipped the bike over and had a look. There was a two-inch, T-shaped tear in the sidewall The tube, likewise, was visibly gashed. Repair operations commenced.

I walked back up the track a while and found the culprit. In a thousands-to-one chance, James had hit a piece of sandstone that had neatly split in two, the loose part forming a sharp natural knifeblade, which had clearly sliced straight through tyre and tube.

Patching operations took the biggest patch in our arsenal, and some deft back-patching to stop the adhesive catching the other side of the tyre. Pumping began. Nothing. More holes?

Another snakebite puncture was found and patched. More pumping. Nothing. Dave wandered off and started singing songs to the wildlife. James began a kind of weird tyre-patching yoga. I coughed up more matter from my ever-deteriorating lungs.

Still, the tyre remained flat. My pump was cursed at and disbelief expressed.

"Stick a new tube in it", said I.

"Ummm.. I haven't got a spare tube", said James.

"Oh bugger", said I. "I have a 26in tube, but your bike, as has been discussed, has 29in wheels."

Still, we gave it a try, and can scientifically confirm that attempting to get a 26in tube into a 29in tyre does not work. This confirms the findings of modern spatial physics and is expected to win at least one Nobel Prize for the team.

Undeterred, we kept looking at the old tube. Another puncture was found, and repaired. Then another. In all, four patches were deployed to the tube and one to the tyre itself, to strengthen the tear, and the tyre began to show signs of inflation. Cheers, tickertape, trophies.

Then the pump slipped and the valve stem bent at a precipitous angle.

Cheers turn to gasps. Eyes gape wide. Will our heroes triumph? Will the tyre hold? Is James in for the long walk back to the car?  Will Jason finally succumb to pneumonia? Will Dave ever stop singing songs from the hit musical Jesus Christ Superstar?

Deftly, the valve was teased back into shape and the bike prepared to be rideable.

All thoughts of completing the 50kms were pushed aside. There was maybe 15-20psi in the tyre, and with four patches and a rapidly expanding tear in the sidewall, we were doomed. We headed back to the Mount Emperor Firetrail and cut across the loop back towards the Kanangra Walls road, which we could take back north to the car. We burst from the undergrowth onto the main graded trail, and Dave got a second wind, shooting past the ailing Rumblefish and inspiring a quick run back.  I took the last opportunity to put down a fast pace, pushing the max speed indicator to just under 60kp/h. This section is clearly where the average speed will go up on race day. This straight is as fast as the backwoods section is slow, and if the maps are to be believed, it's like this for about a third of the track. All may not be lost for October, but since we didn't complete the loop, that remains to be seen.

Back at the car, we found we'd done under 20km, at an average speed of well under 10kp/h, though since our GPS devices were malfunctioning, we can't be sure of that. Noted serial liar iMapMyRide initially thought we did about 17km, which it later adjusted to 12.7km for reasons unknown - it has a habit of the figures on the screen changing once they're saved to the web. It thought we did that in two hours eighteen minutes, whereas James's device noted over three hours - though MapMyRide pauses when it detects no movement. MapMyRide also missed out the final section closing the loop to the car. So the GPS devices had a bad day out too.

Then, as if to top it all, the pub in Blackheath ran out of pies.

That's it, Universe. Any more of this nonsense, and me and you are at war. Consider this your final warning.

In summation: If you revel in tragedy, this was a fantastic day. From disaster springs comedy, and this was one of the funniest - but most frustrating - days I've had on a mountainbike, ever. I don't think I've ever heard so many cock jokes in rapid succession. And as a bonus, the high-speed crash I'd accepted as an inevitability has come and gone without major injury, and we did at least figure out the logistics of getting to the trail. Which is something, I suppose. And we didn't end up feeding each other to the quolls.

I also got to drive through a cave. I bet you didn't do that on Sunday, did you?

posted @ Monday, May 7, 2012 4:30 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: The MTB Report 6 May 2012

Left by Ruby at 5/7/2012 7:27 PM
Did you guys stop off somewhere to watch the moon rising? I saw it via a plateau at Wentworth Falls. Fricken GORGEOUS it was!

# re: The MTB Report 6 May 2012

Left by Ripples at 5/9/2012 2:16 PM
I have found that I have learnt more from adversity on the trials than my success. Also I must say the comedy fodder is spectacular in adversity especially when people start doing parody songs in your honour.
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