Saturday saw the West Drayton Mountain Bike Club put on a fantastic Hallowe’en themed night-time cross country mountain bike race.
What better way to throw yourself into Mountain Bike racing, than to do it in the pitch darkness of Black Park.
There was a nice family atmosphere at the sign-on. The small hut near the car-park and a number of tents around the start point were all lit up with sparkly lights. It felt a little more like Christmas than Hallowe’en, well, except for a few mortally injured riders wandering around mummified in blood-soaked rags. Fortunately there was a fancy dress theme to the evening, and despite first appearances everyone was fine… for now. This is how those horror movies always start isn’t it? a bunch of kids playing around in the forest until something horrific happens…
Whilst waiting for the start I spotted a guy with whom I had ridden around the Surrey hills, a friend of a friend named Xavi, or Havi, of Javi. I called out a mumbled mixture of all three names and was happy to see he forgave my memory and popped over to say hello. We decided to ride a test lap together.
The course was flat and fast. Lots of very twisty singletrack interspersed with smooth bits of bridleway, It was tight but not particularly technical, just a couple of obstacles to clear; a double-plank bridge over a small ditch, a very steep near-vertical incline and a rather large log. Somehow the fading light made these all seem that bit tougher.
I decided to have a very close look at the double-plank bridge, unfortunately I did this whilst flying over the handbars when my wheel slipped off of it. No harm done to the bike, and a few minor scrapes for me. First rule of mountain biking, never look at stuff, just ride using your peripheral vision – I know this, but I never bloody learn.
With the darkness creeping in the test lap was done fairly slowly, and yet we still managed to get completely lost, the mix of yellow signage and red/white tape was fairly good, but in the dark you really need to look out for them. After a while we came across a woman walking her dogs around the park who was a tad surprised to see us (judging from her language). We took this as a sign we were probably going the wrong way. We found our way back to the start, although our 3 mile test lap ended up being a 4 mile scenic loop.
I had borrowed a fantastic light (an Exposure MaXx D) off a friend (thanks Jason) and had borrowed the wife’s front light and attached it to my helmet (with elastic bands and cable ties). The combination of the two lights could have probably lit a premiership footie game. At least light wouldn’t be an issue.
Back at the start I was dead chuffed to find Nici, Tony, Lauren and Kirsten (a bunch of Savages!) who had come along to watch the race and cheer me on. It was lovely to have some Willesden support and I think I spent 20 minutes trying to thank them for turning up. Unfortunately I should have spent 20 minutes getting ready for the race. Unprepared as always, I approached the start line with my full winter kit, and a rucksack full of tools, on. It was too late to mess about now.
As expected the race was fast from the outset, even though I had entered the easier of the two available categories. The first 20 riders shot away at an insane speed down the bridleway. Being a fairly short race there was no point holding back, so I did my best to follow them. I soon realised I had all the wrong kit on, I was absolutely dripping with sweat by 5 minutes in, the light/steam-iron on my head wasn’t helping. The group split apart very quickly leaving me to chase down a small group of about 5 riders. Despite the floodlights attached to my person, I did not want to ride the course alone and ended up sitting with the riders for the rest of the lap.
During the second lap more of this group peeled off just leaving myself and one more rider. With no one around us it really was quite spooky, the woods seemed almost too quiet and I became even more convinced that if I broke away from this rider I would be lost in an instant, So I started plotting where I would overtake him on the last lap – somewhere that was near enough to the finish where getting lost would be impossible.
I needn’t have worried, as there were now marshals on almost every bend of the course and even the plank bridge was framed by some lovely red Christmas lights (the organisers had really gone to town on this event!).
Stupidly I left it to the last minute to make my attack on a bridleway, rather than overtaking on the singletrack where I kept making up my time – mainly due to my insane lighting rig. With great respect to him, he absolutely hammered it on the last part of the lap and my opportunity was missed. Fantastic race though and lovely course. Quite possibly the best fun I have ever had on a bike.
I finished outside of the top 10 in 13th place.