While driving up to a bike race, JJJ were engaging their listeners for the greatest forms of Splendour that could be experienced on the weekend of the festival, Splendour in the Grass.
As a fan of singletrack through wilderness, a cup of tea on a manicured lawn is not really my proverbial cup of tea. One listener, however, was much more in tune with my resonance: the Splendour in the Mountain Biking.
After a busy week, I wasn’t entirely engaged with the prospect of riding 7 hours around Awaba. There was healthy competition with Andrew Lloyd and Callum McNamara on the start line, and the prospect of the monstrous climbing metres that laps of Awaba dish out with impunity.
However, one practice lap later, with numerous mentions of a self-twerking bum, a giddy aunt, and far too many “whoops”, and things were looking rather brighter. Some chocolate in the vestibule of the Tent Mahal, and the world was looking distinctly rosy.
Splendour in the Farce (it even rhymes with grass!)
One of the odder aspects of mountain biking is its ability to shine a disturbingly specular mirror up to life. For instance, it reveals the relationship between self-perception, and reality. The hilarious manifestation of this tortuous relationship is always a self-seeded start. The day began with the calling up of a staggered start – with the first group to be approximately a quarter of the field, appropriately, approximately 75% of the field pulled themselves to the start line. Yes, for all the wonders of modern education – apparently self-awareness at a mountain bike race is still the mystic inscription and smug wisdom of the oracle at Delphi. Perhaps the start banner should also say “know first thyself!
Of course, if there’s any way to atone for such behaviour, it’s the projection of the self to the world. In the past, this was a challenge usually reserved for human conversation. Through the wonders of social media (he says, blogging), the truth can be willingly distorted to suit whatever metanarrative of self-glorification – or the rationalisation of self pity. In some cases, the truth can be distorted entirely – to impune, impede, impress, imbue – generally, behave like imps.
Of course, within a couple of kilometres, the reality of racing makes itself well known with a certain inexorable exertion.
It’s occurred to me of late that blogs provide an interesting insight into the race, in that history can be completely re-written to suit the perspective of the writer – whether chronicling who was the “driver”, or even taking cheap shots and spelling out the “dirty tactics” of the competition. Therefore, dear Reader, know that what follows may have absolutely nothing to do with the actual race, and really be a continuation of the Splendour in the Farce.
Splendour in the Racing
If there’s anything better than riding great trails, it’s racing them. However, today I was determined to restrain the desire for speediness, and regress instead to the status of a chugger, in an effort to retain better late-race pace. Mogo had shown me that, as fun as XC racing most certainly is at the start of a 7 hour, it can come with a heavy price. With conservatism on the mind, the first lap passed in a blur of following wheels, and restrained pace.
Soon, the trio of Callum, Lloydy and myself was riding together. 7 hours are always interesting in that there’s an odd spirit of competitiveness buried beneath a tacky veneer of friendly conversation. Lloydy was descending with all the skill of a motorcross champion, and Callum was climbing with the effortlessness usually reserved for the Quintanas of the world, although fortunately, with a marginally wider spread of facial expressions. I was meanwhile complaining of just how flat I felt to anyone who listened, in a spate of disingenuous sandbagging most reminiscent of the absent and almost mythical Green Lantern.
An early attack from Callum up the horrendous Camelback climb soon grabbed a small gap. Lloydy and I plugged slowly across the gap, and the games soon began. In the midst of trash talking, the pace remained high across the climbs, descents and swooping trails. I complained of feeling rather flat, and began eating and drinking in preparation for a long race ahead.
On the fifth lap, Callum again laid down the pressure on Camelback, and succeeded in riding around from Lloydy. Scrambling, I matched the move and began to observe Callum’s riding. With a body waking up from a slow start, I took a leap of faith and went to the front. Over the course of the next lap, I gradually pried open a gap and put the head down. Ah yes, the splendour in the racing kept the brain engaged.
Splendour in the Trails
Pushing on with the race, it was time to gear up some intrinsic motivation. It’s a well known chronicle of mountain bike racing to start counting down the laps at some point in the race. While this can be a useful way of abstracting a big task, it’s also a way to focus on the negative instead of the positive.
Instead, I usually find its best to indulge in wild, quasi-spiritual romanticism, heavily induced by a strong cocktail of endorphins and fatigue. There are few things better than immersion in nature on a beautiful day with the natural secretion of endorphins into the brain. Awaba delivers these in spades through flowing, dream-like sections of fern-lined singletrack, grinding climbs, and spectacular scenery. To this potent mix, it adds another quixotic ingredient: adrenaline. With heart pounding on the descent, and a Giant Anthem 650B proving to be far too much fun, it was easy to find intrinsic motivation to roll out lap after lap and bask in the splendour of the trails.
Splendour in the Mountain biking
The laps rolled by and the pace stayed nice and consistent, wary of the gap back to a very speedy Callum. However, Callum had suffered the misfortune of a snapped chain, unbeknownst to me, but finished a strong second despite a second snappage. I stayed on the pace, with the added incentive of trying to maintain a high overall finish in the race, and the opportunity to practice my awful wheelies rolling through transition.
Rolling in to finish my 12th lap at 6:54, there was never really a question of whether I’d do the last lap or not – with nothing to race for, it could be a lap of soaking in the splendour of mountain biking. Of microadventures around fun singletrack, of fun, achievement, heckling, and an excuse to binge on food for the next 24 hours. Rolling around in the evening light, I came to the conclusion that there was no splendour to match the splendour in the mountain biking!
This post would be remiss without a few thanks:
- Onya Bike Civic for “de-edifying” the Anthem in the days leading up to the race. It ran like clock-work. Believe the 650B hype people – if for no other reason than too enjoy corners again!
- Team Onya Giant and all its sponsors
- Hunter Valley Mountain Bike Association and Chocolate Foot for a great race on amazing trails