Something to do with the anticipation of a big event I’d been waiting months for meant once again I hardly slept. We all made it to the eight o’clock start – although it was touch & go for Bobby (the fourth of our group), with his real wheel only coming back from the mechanics minutes beforehand.
Bobby, AD & Sean sporting their Boys on Bikes for Babies shirts, me representing the Combe Raiders
For some reason, faffing most likely, we rolled out of Brackenhurst (on the same start course as the prologue) near the rear of the field. Annoyingly, my rear tyre had another tubeless issue of not sealing a puncture two kilometres in – something similar happened only a month ago on Dartmoor. We tried pumping it up, but after two stops to do that AD & I let Bobby & Sean ride ahead while we quickly fitted a tube. When I return to the UK I must sort out my rim/tyre combination for tubeless – what I’m running now clearly isn’t working as the tyre is too loose on the rim.
As we had to get to a certain park gate by eleven o’clock and with fifteen minutes lost to three tyre stops we had to pick the pace up a bit. That part of the park required a motocross escort leading groups of riders through due to elephant activity (we saw none, just had to avoid many large droppings). Our pushing the pace as we steadily climbed to 2400 m continued for about half to an hour, until I worked out that we should make the cut-off comfortably. AD was pretty exhausted by the end of the day, which I may well have had something to do with.
Another rickety bridge crossing – not quite the Bridge of Death.
Getting to the first feed station and park gate with ten minutes to spare we relaxed and refuelled while the last of those to make the cut-off ambled in down the road. It would seem that Bobby & Sean had carried on through the park in the previous group without us. There was a misleading downhill before the climbing for the day started proper – the sun came out & it was pretty hot as we climbed 350 m up to over 2700 m overlooking the Great Rift Valley. By now we’d reunited our little group at the second feed station; higher up things cooled a little as we got into more cloud – but that did rather spoil the view, just as well I knew what the valley looks like from the last visit.
With a fair bit of ridge-riding above the valley through little villages, we eventually plunged down on a gravel road with the race organiser’s warnings of fast uphill motorcycle taxis ringing in our ears. Inexplicably an air bubble in Bobby’s rear brakes manifested itself approaching one tight corner (he lost all rear brakes) & he completely wiped out – thankfully the only real damage being a rather cracked helmet. A new section for the race this year was Dead Drop, which started off with an all too brief rocky downhill before turning right and following the top of a canyon down to the Lunatic Express railway line – it was OK, but I found it didn’t flow well.
What followed was the toughest climb of the day, the first section was steep and very technical – I rode most of the first half & then found I had to dab every so often before the trail started traversing the hill rather than going straight up it. We climbed & climbed & finally it was time to go down the Lunatic Express downhill – easily the best of the day down a huge open hill to the valley floor. We hit the valley floor eventually and followed the rails to the final feed stop of the day.
With only twenty-five kilometres across the valley floor (with the odd climb & down), we set off – I hung back with AD trying to motivate his wary legs with the draw of a rather yummy (as far as gels go) rhubarb & custard gel. Just as we approached camp we finally started to see some wildlife in Hells Gate National Park (it has geothermal activity, just like Hells Gate in NZ) – giraffes, various antelope, baboons and so on. With an excellent little downhill strewn with babyhead rocks to finish we were at camp. I was pleased with how I survived an almost ten-hour ride (total time), 100 km & with over 2000 metres of climbing. However, I didn’t realise how tired I was until I sat down & tried to eat a pizza – pretty exhausted. Strangely, I couldn’t really eat all that much or even finish a well-earned beer – I wasn’t expecting that.