After competing in my first enduro at the end of last year, I was desperate to enter another, so when entries opened for the two 2015 Tweedlove enduros, Dan and I were straight on it, and although we weren’t quick enough for the Vallejulah in May, we managed to sign up for August’s King and Queen of the Hill Enduro just before it sold out.
Having cut my mountain biking teeth on the trails of Glentress, I was keen to enter a race on familiar trails, although as the event drew closer, picking up the slightly ominous titles of ‘The Scottish Open’ and ‘Scottish Championships’ along the way, it started to become apparent that the race wasn’t going to be taking place on the red and black runs that I was familiar with.
Rumours that a couple of the stages were to be held at the notoriously gnarly ‘Golfie’, aka Caberston Forest, near Innerleithen were confirmed a couple of days before the race, when details of the course were released officially. The other two stages were to be over at Glentress, on some trails that had been built for the Enduro World Series race there earlier in the year. I’d been meaning to check out the trails at the Golfie for a while, but moved down to Liverpool before I got the chance. Riding them as part of the Scottish Enduro Championships wasn’t quite how I’d envisaged my first foray onto these steep and technical natural trails, but hey…
Race prep consisted of a Friday night out at the Edinburgh Festival, which, predictably enough, didn’t set us up particularly well for the biggest weekend of mountain biking either of us had ever done. After surfacing a little later than planned, we eventually made it to Glentress at around midday on the Saturday to register and do a practice run of the course. Practice was a pretty relaxed affair and we were free to ride the route in whatever order we liked, cutting out as much of the slog as possible by driving between Glentress and Innerleithen. As we were already at Glentress, we decided to ride Stages 3 and 4 first, so took the most direct route up to the mast, which marked the start of Stage 3. At 4km long, Stage 3 was by far the longest on the course. After a relatively pedally top section through the trees, the trail suddenly plummeted into thick forest, and by the time my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I was already hurtling down the steep, narrow trail, holding on to the bars, and brakes, for dear life, doing my best to weave through the tight trees. It was one of the steepest sections of trail I’d ridden – even steeper than a lot of the stuff in Morzine – although by the end of the day it would be ranked way down the list.
Needless to say I came off a couple of times, whacking my head on a tree at one point, but I eventually emerged relatively unscathed for the final section on Deliverance. Being part of the usual black route at Glentress, this section was comparatively easy, although I knew its length would be the biggest challenge on race day.
Next it was the all too familiar Redemption climb up to the top of Stage 4, which was also a bit of a killer on the day. The final section incorporated a couple more sections of the usual black descent (Double X and The Bitch) along with some more ‘off piste’ sections, and although steep in places, it wasn’t too intimidating.
Back at the car park we got chatting to a few people who’d already done the stages at the Golfie, and suffice to say that it certainly didn’t help to ease my anxiety any, particularly as I already felt a little bit out of my depth after riding the Glentress stages!
The climb to the top of Stage 1 at the Golfie was pretty epic so by the time we arrived, I was so desperate to ride downhill that I no longer cared how steep it was. Stage One, or New Wolf, as the trail had been christened, was a newly built trail through thick forest, and was very muddy. It was steep but not unmanageably so, and once I got used to the sensation of sliding through the mud, which isn’t too dissimilar to snowboarding, I actually really enjoyed it.
Stage 2 was a different story though. Everyone I’d spoken to who’d already ridden it had said how steep and technical it was, and they weren’t wrong. On the plus side, it was fairly dry and grippy, although that didn’t stop me crashing and face planting. After that I lost my nerve and ended up getting off and walking down a couple of tricky bits, which was far from ideal seeing as I was meant to be racing it the next day.
Despite being absolutely knackered, I didn’t sleep particularly well that night, worrying about how I was going to fare on race day. I kept going over the runs in my head, a devil on one shoulder telling me that I was out of my depth and should just pull out, and an angel on the other insisting that I was capable of doing it and just needed to believe in my ability. Or maybe that was the devil? I’m not sure. In reality I knew that there was no way I was going to back out, and just needed to (wo)man up for the steep stuff, although rather than striving to do it in a certain time, I decided that I’d just be happy to get round.
If I wasn’t nervous enough already, the sound of extremely heavy rain hammering down outside heightened my anxiety further still as I imagined what it was doing to those, already tricky trails.
Fortunately, by morning the rain had stopped and it at least looked like were going to get decent weather for the race, even if the trails were likely to be mud slides.
The race started with a leisurely pedal from Glentress to the golf course at Innerleithen, which is the gateway to the mountain biking Mecca of Caberston Forest, aka ‘The Golfie’. We were some of the last to set off so by the time we arrived at the feed and water station at the entrance to The Golfie and end of Stage 2, there were already plenty of riders emerging from the forest absolutely covered in mud, exclaiming just how fast and muddy it was.
Feeling a little apprehensive, we started the climb up to the top of Stage 1. By the time we arrived, there was a huge queue of riders waiting to race, which gave me even more time for the nerves to build. Although it had been one of my best stages in practice, I knew it was going to be a very different beast this time around. However, rather than being the fast and slidey run that I was expecting, by the time we went down, it had been churned up so much that it had turned to thick clay, which was nigh on impossible to move through. Rather than dreading the steep sections, I found myself wishing there were more of them as they were the only parts I was able to get any kind of momentum. I didn’t remember there being many flatter sections in practice, probably because they’d only required a little pedaling, but now my wheels were so clogged up with mud that I could barely pedal at all. There were several times where I had to get off and wade through the mud, carrying my bike, and at one point I had to stop and scrape the mud away with my hands. It was such hard work that I was absolutely knackered by the end, not to mention pretty deflated.
After a quick breather and debrief about how hard it had been, we started the climb up to the start of Stage 2, where we were met with yet another long queue. The marshal advised us that we were going to have wait for a while as someone had crashed and hurt themselves, and had decided to try to get down on foot, or more likely, bottom. In all honesty, I was glad of the opportunity to get my breath back and psyche myself up for the next descent, which I had ridden so badly in practice. Amazingly though, I rode it relatively well, and got down the sections where I had faltered the previous day, with relative ease. That’s not to say I didn’t come off – my reaction to the marshal’s shouts of praise and encouragement was to promptly stack it – but all in all, I felt pretty good about it when I got to the bottom.
Relieved to get what were widely considered to be the most difficult sections out of the way, we started the long slog from Caberston to the mast at the top of Glentress. Along the way we passed markers advising us how high we’d climbed in relation to famous landmarks such as Arthur’s Seat, The Eiffel Tower, The Empire State Building and Sears Tower, which I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, particularly as the mast still looked like a miniature structure on the horizon.
When we finally arrived at the top, we took advantage of the well-needed feed and water station, and had a quick breather before hitting the epic, 4km long Stage 3. Despite its length and steep section, which no longer seemed so steep compared to some of the stuff I’d ridden since, I felt pretty good about Stage 3. However, while I rode it pretty well for the most part, I managed to mess it up with a couple of stupid mistakes. The first one happened not far from the top, where I got confused by a fork in the trail (something that had also happened at the same point in practice!) and ploughed through the tape, which ended up wrapped round my helmet having wrenched the peak off. Feeling a bit stupid, I untangled myself and got going again, but the whole fiasco would have cost me a good couple of minutes. The steep section went relatively well, as did Deliverance, until, that is, my nose started to stream, and I learned a valuable lesson, the hard way: when riding at speed, do not, under any circumstances, take your hands off the bars. Much better to get snot all over your face than go arse over tit OTB. Fortunately all that was hurt was my pride and race time, and at this stage in the game I wasn’t really bothered about either.
The Redemption climb up to the top of Stage 4 is a slog at the best of times, but at this stage in the weekend, it was even more of a struggle. However, spurred on by the fact that this was the final climb and riding it with junior champ, Martha Gill, I kept on pedaling.
By the time I rode Stage 4, I had very little left in the tank and had to dig deep just to hold it together down the steep sections. Unfortunately though, I didn’t manage to dig quite deep enough and came off another couple of times. My body had clearly decided that enough was enough, and it took a bit of a beating for its refusal to cooperate. However, thanks to the adrenaline pumping through my body, accompanied by a rush of endorphins from dibbing out of that final stage, I could barely feel the tennis ball shaped lump protruding from my thigh. Fortunately it was nothing more than a hematoma caused by bad bruising, but it’s been hanging around ever since as a souvenir of the weekend.
The whole thing could have been pretty scary and intimidating, but the friendliness, support and camaraderie going round the course was incredible. I may have been more of a jester than a king or queen (those titles were won by the golden couple of Enduro, Greg Callaghan and Katie Winton) but I was delighted to get round such a tough course in one piece, even if that piece was a little bruised and battered. It was a pretty steep learning curve, quite literally, but it made me realise that I’ve been doing too much cruisey trail centre riding and need to get riding more in the way of steep, technical trails so that I’m better prepared for next year. Bring it on!