I woke to find a slightly damp ground that had obviously been drying for a few hours, which filled me with hope that the forecast rain had come and passed. Just like winter lift passes; I had the option of buying a full day or afternoon ticket. I figured I would make around 4 or 5 runs before getting too tired so waited until just after midday to leave the house. Whilst getting ready, I ummmd and aahhhd about what protection I should take, and was very undecided about wearing my Alpine Stars Protection jacket, figuring it might possibly be overkill for what would be a fun day exploring a new run. I wasn’t sure how full body armour was viewed in the cool kids in the MTB world. Would wearing it give me away as a punter before I even got my leg over, or was the space age gladiator look “in” this season?
Normally for me, fashion is everything – I simply can’t leave the house without spending a few hours in front of the mirror, and making sure I’m dressed in the latest Mark McCarthy. However, reason thankfully took a firm hold, and figuring it would perhaps turn the odds back in my favour, dressed myself in plastic and padding from head to toe.
The journey up to the Seegrube mountain station was very enjoyable. From the congress centre in the middle of town, you and your bike are taken to the Hungerberg station, 300m above the clean streets of IBK. From here, you change to a cable-car which whisks you a further 1000m to the Seegrube, allowing you to view almost the entire singletrail – well you can normally but today the trail was invisible, shrouded in thick wet mist!
Out of the cable-car, and down the loose gravel road to the start of the run the heavens opened. I stopped at the entry point to check out as far as I could see, and was immediately unsure if I was in the right place. Rather than the fast, well-packed trails leading into sweeping berms I had expected to see, I was faced with steep, loose, rocky steps into steeper and looser right angle bends. Figuring maybe this was just the initial section that leads to the main meat, I cautiously set off. With my arse over the back wheel, I uncomfortably began to ride/slide down the mountain, feeling like I was riding a psychotic mule who was hell bent on throwing me off. He didn’t have to wait long, and after hitting the floor from my first tumble of the day I was incredibly glad for the armour I had almost left at home.
I remembered advice from MTB friends about speed being your friend, and tried to put this into practice, but inevitably, the faster I rode, the harder I hit the floor when I next lost either my balance or the traction under my wheels. Maybe it was just me, but the trail seemed too continuously rough to ride at any sort of speed – and even If I made it through one of the sections, the 90 degree bends every 10 meters, with no burms, soon saw me back on the floor.
After losing count of how many times I went down, I began to see the day as more of an endurance exercise. I had to get to the bottom of the hill and there was only one way to do this (excluding escaping onto the fire road which intersected the single trail at regular intervals, but this was just not cricket!). The trail was now so slippery and steep (did I already mention it was steep?) that it was harder to push the bike down than to ride it. One section at a time was how I tried to focus, and after a while I started to feel like I was improving slightly, only falling once or twice a minute, rather than every few seconds.
Occasionally I came across some north shore’esc structures that I stopped at, checked out from every angle before deciding to attempt them or not. After taking a bit of a smash on the first when I didn’t realise the wet wood would be as slippery as ice, I smartly decided to leave a couple of the more dangerous ones for another day. Out of the ones I did attempt, the ratio of success to failure was about 1:1 and fortunately any injury sustained was minor at worst.
Finally, the epic was almost at an end and I found myself at the final section of the course. A 15ft tabletop led you quickly into a big step up to a wooden platform known as house 2.0. A slight right turn then led you off the other side, over a biggish drop and gap to a steep wooden landing and easy left back onto the trail. I eyed this up a few times and knew this was something I could have ridden back in’t day but was now unsure because of how much energy had been used and how beet up I felt thanks to the last 4km of epic. I decided to leave it and rode out over another section of easy north shore, but then for some reason turned back and clambered up onto the platform with ideas of only riding the drop-off.
Because the platform was quite short, I was a little worried about having enough speed to clear the gap. Paranoid about not going far enough, I idiotically pulled up too hard on the bars as I rode off the lip, putting me on the landing heavily on the back wheel. With no control over direction, I ploughed straight off the ramp, across the trail and into the trees.
Something must have caught on my foot, pulling it off the peddle and bending it backwards, which if nothing else served as an effective brake. Pain shot up my leg, and I scolded myself for being such a tit. As I hobbled around, an uncomfortable few seconds passed when I was unsure if it was broken before realising it was nothing too serious and breathing a big, if a little pain filled sigh of relief.
I rolled the rest of the way to the bike wash at the bottom to give my trusty steed a bit of TLC. On the way down It felt like I had been stung by nettles on the back of my right calf, but I hadn’t bothered to check. It was only as I washed my bike, and took off my shin guards that I saw the blood dripping down my leg. I washed off the bloody muddy mixture with the hose and the cause of the injury was immediately clear, 10 or so punctures in a neat curve, complete with oily residue. It seemed strange to me that there was no pain, and I decided to take advantage of this fact and try to clean the worst of the grease out of the wounds. Turning the nozzle of the hose to create a narrow jet, I pointed it at the worst hole and pulled the trigger. The wound ballooned as it filled with water and the pain came instantly. Summoning the cold face (read Hal Iggulden’s excellent books about Genghis Kahn) I kept the jet there till the water was clear before moving onto the next hole and repeating the process.
The ride back into the city was fun but soggy and eventually I arrived back at the apartment and ran a nice warm bath. Whist soaking , I contemplated the mixed emotions I had felt that day and smiled to myself at how similar they were to feelings felt from climbing and many other sports so many times before. Firstly there was the excitement, then the nerves, then the worry, quickly followed by the “this is shit, what am I doing, I’m going to sell my bike”. Soon after, once you become used to the discomfort, you actually start to enjoy the test, or at least appreciate how it will make you stronger in the long run. Then you get the relief when its almost over, the never again feeling, and finally, a few hours later, the “I can’t wait for the next time”.