3:30am alarms usually mark the start of a significant day. A long drive to the Alps, a flight to Bora Bora, or perhaps a reminder to leave the after party you’re at and get yourself home for a few hours kip before church tomorrow. In my case none of these were accurate but something equally significant lay before me, my first mountain bike race. It coincided with about my fifth ever mountain bike ride, and it would be my longest by some way, a 100km ‘century of dirt’. Delicious.
Shortly after waking I checked my phone to find bad news, my partner in crime had been taken down by a stomach bug. The same man that has laughed stomach bugs in the face on 5 day benders and special forces selection exercises, but alas we must now do this alone.
Breakfast is a Coles egg and cress sandwich and long black which almost leads to the century of dirt commencing earlier than I hoped. Thankfully I arrive at the race to empty portaloos as I’m about 2 hours unfashionably early. I start preparing my valiant stead, it looks worryingly shiny and unused. I am next to much burlier men who ask me scientific questions about my suspension. I smile sweetly back which results in all round confusion and suspicion.
Race start. I commence in the middle of the pack after much advice from my new mates that I shouldn’t go out too hard. Reach first climb and immediately hit max heart rate travelling at c.3km/h up a cliff. This comes to a hault when I hit a wall of riders walking their bikes up the mountain. Not me I say to myself, I can ride up this. My faint rasps of “rider right” do not result in my anticipated parting of the Red Sea and I too am forced to walk my mountain goat slowly towards the summit.
The next 50km follows a repeatable pattern of max heart rate climbs followed by max heart rate descents as I hang on for dear life. Refuelling is treacherous. Eating is a bit like when you throw popcorn at your mouth in the cinema, drinking is like long arming your first pint at Uni.
55km in and I make one of the most rash and poorly thought out decisions any mountain bike rider could ever make. I go to grab my sunglasses from their precarious docking station in my helmet. Within approximately 0.02s of making this decision I am mid air, hurtling towards the ground. Shoulder first is always an interesting bio mechanical choice. It ends poorly, shoulder immediately exiting its usual comfy and snuggly socket home.
I stumble around like I’m also now 5th day into a bender before my hero arrives behind me, Dazza. Dazza must have just finished up on Drive To Survive Season 3 because he has the organisational efficiency of Toto Wolff. Within 5 seconds he’s notified race organisers and medical teams and has a doctor on the phone instructing him on how to relocate a shoulder. Despite the best intent, this shoulder had just got a wiff of the free world, and he really liked it. I told Daz to leave me and finish his race, but he was too good a bloke. We were now bound together like Frodo and Samwise, an unlikely pair on a desperate mission to throw my shoulder back into Mordor.
The next obstacle we faced was our current location. We were miles away from anyone, on a piece of trail that I think was only discovered by Bear Grylls about 6 months ago when he got choppered in with Obama before staying at the local Sheraton. The result of my poorly chosen crash location was a 3 hour wait for our rescuers. During this time we had 2 doctors cycle past who stopped and tried to send my shoulder back to its natural habitat. However, it was now really loving this Covid travel bubble way too much, “maybe I’ll never even go back to that dingy socket” I heard him slur at the local bicep bar. In the words of Jordan Belfort it laughed back at the doctors in their mountain biking paraphernalia, “I ain’t f’n leaving”.
When the unmistakable revs of an all terrain buggy approached I got giddy with excitement. I could hear my shoulder saying it’s goodbyes to its new Scandinavian backpacker friends and pack its bags to head home. Things really picked up when I was given the magic green whistle which I latched on to like a baby orphan lamb. Steady on there Ted, you ain’t out of the woods yet. Quite literally. To get out of the woods we then drove for an hour in the buggy, every bump making my shoulder stay at the local hostel bar for another jaeger bomb with his new mates. Half way through the drive I was offered morphine, I produced a vein at concerning speed. Said vein was missed with the first canular. Oh and the second. Confusion and panic descends and morphine is injected into my arm nonetheless. With a ballooned arm of morphine we continue to the mythical medical centre.
Upon arrival my shoulder had now been on vacay for almost 5 hours. Dave the rave is my new designated Dr and I know we’re going to get along. A few drags on the green whistle and he performs some kind of exorcism, it’s all a blur but I think I saw into the future and then back to the dawn of time all at once as my shoulder cracked back to where it belongs. It’s now sat in hotel quarantine weeping like the self entitled millenial it is.
Overall verdict: 9/10. This race has it all, they don’t advertise the 55km option but it’s probably the most varied of them all.
Dazza Fullerton this is dedicated to you, beyond grateful for you sacrificing your race to sit in the woods with me 👊🏻