Four of us went to the first SAMS (Southern Area MTB Series) race at Highclere Castle, Berkshire. Jez and Andrea went early Saturday to do the downhill. Rather, Andrea did the downhill and Jez went to cheer her on. Andrea did fine, condsidering the incredibly muddy conditions (due to much rain during the weeks preceeding). She placed something like 9 out of 15.
Kate and I came down Saturday night to stay at Jez's parents' place. Sunday morning we all headed to the race course, as Kate, Jez and I were planning to do the XC race. It rained as we loaded up the bikes, but the rain petered out as we drove there, and not long after we arrived at the course the sun came out and stayed out.
We got there just as the first races were about to start, so there wasn't time to do a practice lap. My race was first. I registered (19 pounds!) and warmed up for the race. Finally we started. I noted that going at a not-very intense speed I was leaving a few ladies behind during the start on a grassy area. I felt good. I won't be last! Then we went into the woods, and it got really muddy. My tires clogged up with mud and I couldn't get any traction. I got off and pushed a bit, then the mud packed into the fork bridges and the seat stays, so I couldn't even push it along, I had to sort of drag it. I kept trying, pulling the mud out, trying to ride, but it was useless.
So I quit, only having gone a few tenths of a mile. Major shame!
I pushed my bike around a bit looking for the rest, scraped out the worst of the mud, then rode it along the road. I found another part of the course, and they were there, watching. This part of the course went down a grassy slope at an angle, and it was very slippery. The only way to ride down it was to have your right foot on the pedal, your bum way back on the saddle, and your left foot acting as an outrigger to keep you upright when the bike slid out from under you.
We watched this for awhile, then crossed the race track and dragged our bikes towards the top of the hill, following the course of the downhill track. This required an incredible amount of effort on my part, since my bike was still largely mudcaked and wouldn't roll, so I was dragging/carrying a very heavy bike around. We got near the top of the hills and watched the riders pedal by. This was a doubletrack farm road, and they were actually able to ride here. As we watched I grabbed a stick and extracted the mud from my bike.
Then we crossed the XC track again and went to the top of the hill to the beginning of the downhill course. Jez hopped on his bike when it began to level out a bit, and I did too. It was still damned steep, but I felt that I had to prove to myself that I could still ride the bike after quitting the race. I made it to the top without putting my feet down. It was very steep and I was proud that I had done this. We admired the view for awhile, and then went down the first part of the downhill course (very slowly). I did this OK too. Maybe I'm not such a loser of an MTBer.
Kate had been oscillating: do I do the race or not? Her race had been cut down to one lap (mine would have been two), and it would cost 19 pounds to enter. Should she spend 19 pounds to do one lap of a course, and end up pushing her bike much of the time? Time was slipping past, and she didn't head down to the registration booth to enter. Finally, her race started, and now there was no question about her doing it. I think Jez was happy to have an excuse not to race...
When we got back to the XC track we watched the riders for awhile, then I thought, I'll follow the rest of the course back to the registration area: I was still dressed for the race, and I had my now much less muddy bike with me. So I got on, and discovered it wasn't all downhill, and even the parts that were downhill were extremely challenging. They were in deep mud, going at an angle across a slope. I ended up walking most of it, as did the Masters men riders who kept passing me. And my bike clogged up again, so I was more dragging it than pushing it. I'd had enough.
When the race track crossed a road I left it and followed the road back the the registration area. I changed back into normal clothes, and when everyone came back, we put our bikes away and then pushed each others' cars out of the extremely muddy field that acted as a parking lot. At least we didn't have to wait for the tractor, which was pulling cars out all day long.
The funny thing is that Saturday evening, when I picked Kate up, I noticed that she had some new tires, Continental Cross Country 1.5". She said that she got them to use as mud tires. I admired them, noting that I had my trusty 2.1" Smoke & Dart, and they had served me pretty well, in most conditions, except when there's really sticky mud. Hummm.
Guess what I'm going to be buying real soon now?