“It was definitely type 2 fun”, I overheard someone say as we milled around the finish line at round three of the PMBA Enduro series at Graythwaite, and looking down at my cut, bruised, sun burned and mud-caked limbs, I couldn’t help but smile in agreement. The seven-stage race being billed as “The Epic” was also an EWS qualifier, so there was never any illusion that this was going to be anything other than tough. However, greasy trails, and what was reported to be the hottest early May Bank Holiday on record, ramped the difficulty levels up further still.
Having competed in the previous two races at Graythwaite, I had a good idea of what was in store, but with two brand new stages, and one that hadn’t been used for two years, it was set to be even bigger and better than before.
Sandwiched between Grizedale forest and lake Windermere, Graythwaite is a private estate that has become home to some of the best natural trails in the Lake District. Groups of local trail builders built the five original trails for the first PMBA enduro there two years ago, and in the run up to this year’s event, some of the same guys were hard at work creating another couple of great stages to throw into the mix.
Despite being only 17km long, the course clocked up almost 1000m of vertical, which made for a lot of strenuous pushing up on the transitions, and some very steep and technical race stages. As it was such a tough course, the event was run over two days, with practice on the Saturday and the race on Sunday. As always, the tracks were pretty congested with riders sessioning tricky sections, of which there were many, so it was difficult to have a proper run at the stages. Despite this, and my best intentions not to go all out in practice and save energy for the race, I was seriously flagging by the time we neared the end of the loop.
Despite being knackered, I didn’t get a particularly good night’s sleep, so wasn’t feeling much more energised by the next morning. As this is a fairly common occurrence on race weekends, I felt certain I’d at least get a lease of life once the race got underway, although wasn’t particularly reassured by the fact that it already felt very warm as we set off at 9.40am. After a steep climb up to the top of Stage 1, I was absolutely roasting, and couldn’t wait to start the descent, to cool down apart from anything else.
Stage 1, which was one of the new trails, had been dubbed ‘Lemon Squeezy’ as, compared to the other stages, it was, well, easy peasy. Although it was intended as a bit of a warm-up, in this case it was more of a cool down. After a fast and featureless top section, we dropped into the woods for a muddy, rooty, and off-camber second half that provided more of a challenge. Other than a bit of a dabbing on an awkward rooty corner, it was fairly plain sailing, which is more than can be said for most of the stages that followed…
The transition up to Stage 2 consisted of an energy-sapping slog through deep mud, up a steep track through the forest, and then an even steeper clamber up a boulder-strewn hill to the top. As I hauled my bike up the final stretch, I wondered how the hell I was going to manage this climb another two times, not to mention three other precipitous transitions.
Stage 2 was the longest and one of the toughest of the stages, featuring plenty of roots, big drops and steeps. The precedent was set from the very start with a tricky drop-in, followed by a tight left corner down to a collapsed wall that led us into the dense forest and a nadgery, undulating, tight trail with loads of off camber roots, which made it nigh on impossible to find any flow. After a while, the gradient increased but it was still hard to pick up much speed on the tight, twisty trail. Arriving at a steep, techy chute with a sharp right turn presented the opposite problem, but I managed get round, only to crash shortly afterwards. Picking myself up hastily, I set off again and managed to hold it together down the steep section before popping out of the forest for the fast blast to the bottom.
Relieved to get Stage 2 out the way, I pushed up to Stage 3, looking forward to a bit of an easier ride. Having ridden ‘Gary the Polar Bear’ several times I knew it fairly well, and was happy with all of it, except for the first corner, which is a notoriously difficult to negotiate. Unfortunately this time I made more of a meal of it that usual, and despite setting myself up for it ok, I stumbled on the narrow rocky rut that followed. This small mistake seemed to throw me off for the rest of the stage and I felt like I was all over the place. I finally managed to regain some sense of composure for the fast dash to the end, but I certainly didn’t cross the finish line feeling stoked about my run.
The transition to Stage 4 was long, but refreshingly rideable, until the final section, which required all the strength I could muster to push my bike to the top. ‘Nick’s Party Time’ was another new trail, built by Nick and Nigel from Sublime Rides, as well as some other willing volunteers. Starting on a deforested hilltop with stunning views over Windermere and beyond, the stage started with a rollercoaster of sharp dips and climbs littered with sniper roots and tree stumps. It was one of these roots that caused my most spectacular crash of the day – a superman over the bars to land face first in the loam, which was captured for posterity by the ever-present Dialled In UK photography! After frantically scrambling to my feet and untangling my bike, I set off again, trying desperately to regain my composure. Just as I was starting to find some flow again, I hit a rocky jump, only to be greeted by the ominous hissing sound of a punctured rear tyre, after landing on the stray rocks that had become spread across the trail. Unsure of just how bad the damage was, I decided to keep going in the hope that it would reseal and maintain enough air to get me down. However, the uncertainty was enough to shatter my nerve and concentration, and I made a bit of a meal of the off camber traverse through the woods into the catch berm. To make matters worse, the next section involved a climb, which was going to be hard enough to pedal with a full compliment of air in my tyres, let alone with a flat, so I had to jump off and run until the trail started to descend again. All in all, a pretty disastrous stage!
Onwards and upwards, quite literally, it was time for round two of the long steep push-up, which also accessed Stage 5. The top of Stage 5 offered yet more stunning views over Windermere, which served as a welcome distraction from the tech fest that lay in wait. Having also been used in the previous two enduros here, I was pretty familiar with the stage, but with all the traffic that’s been down it over that time, certain parts have steadily become more and more difficult. After starting with some lovely loamy corners, the first real obstacle was a tight drop between a slab and a tree, which offered next to no margin for error. Fortunately, I generally tend to get it right, so I was already focused on the next section, which I generally don’t. The steep S bend is a notoriously tricky section that has tormented me since the first race there. Despite having cleaned it in the first Graythwaite race, I did find myself clinging to a tree while my bike plunged over the “catch” berm in a previous attempt, which is the scenario that sticks in my mind. Last year they built a chicken line, but the tricky traverse across the top of the A line followed by a 90 degree turn into a steep drop and another sharp right hander is also pretty difficult, and also resulted in me getting up, close and personal with a large tree in last year’s race. This year, I’d gone into practice determined to nail the S bend, but after sliding into the first steep and stepped corner of the deep rut that had now formed, I changed my mind.
Fortunately my race run attempt at the B line was more successful than last year’s efforts, although I didn’t set myself up particularly well for the drop, and had to track stand at the top to regain composure before dropping in. An off-camber, muddy traverse and lethal exposed slab, which led into another sharp drop presented another series of challenges, but it was nothing a bit of power dabbing couldn’t sort.
With the worst of the stage out of the way, I relaxed a bit, only to go flying off the newly-constructed narrow bridge, which had apparently become pretty slippy since I rode it in practice. Annoyed at having managed to negotiate the tricky sections of the stage relatively successfully, only to lose time crashing on an innocuous feature, I stomped furiously through the flat boggy section that ensued, in a futile attempt to regain some momentum. I was eventually rescued by an increase in gradient, which allowed me to pick up some speed for the final section, but it was a little too late.
Wondering whether or not I’d manage to get another clean run before the day was out, I started the killer transition up to Stage 6. As if embarking on the long push up for a third time wasn’t bad enough, this time the journey continued into the depths of Graythwaite forest, before eventually arriving at the top of ‘Hddn Gem’. Although not a new stage, with it not having been used in last year’s race, it felt as though it may as well have been, and until practice, all I really remembered was that it was steep and great fun. Unfortunately, when it came to my race run, that was still about all I could remember, and half the way down I found myself perched at the top of a steep chute marked “extreme caution”, as opposed to the one that required ever so slightly less caution. Usually, in that situation, I’d just go with it, especially with race adrenaline flowing, but as I looked down the near vertical drop lined with large boulders, I just knew that if I sent myself down, it wasn’t going to end well. At this point, the only other option was to dismount and shuffle a metre or so to the left so that I could rejoin my intended line, which I figured was going to be less time consuming, not to mention less painful, than a crash. Fortunately the rest of the stage was plain sailing though, and I made it to the bottom with nothing more than a bit of arm pump.
With the end in sight, I set off up the final climb to Stage 7, trying my best to save as much as energy as possible for what was a pedally stage with an almighty climb towards the end. That climb should’ve been the most challenging part of the stage but before I got there, I clipped my bars on a tree and was spat off my bike just ahead of a tricky chute. Shortly after, I was off my bike again, although this time it was a planned dismount in order to carry my bike up the “sadistic surprise” of a climb towards the end. With heavy legs and heaving lungs, I reached the top and jumped back on my bike for the final sprint to the arena and the crowd pleasing KS drop. This year there was only one, relatively small drop, but hitting it with speed allowed you to get airborne for a fair bit of time before a mad dash to the finish line. Arguably not the fastest line to the finish, but definitely the most fun!
Having notched up three crashes and a puncture, I wasn’t expecting a great result, so was stoked to discover that I’d finished second in my category, and second woman overall. From chatting to other riders at the end, I discovered that I hadn’t been alone in having a few crashes, and the general consensus was that it had been a tough course, particularly in that heat. Out of 300 riders, only 7 women had finished the entire course, which in itself, seemed quite telling.
Big shout out to everyone who tackled it, and massive thanks, as always to the organisers, trail builders, marshals, medics, photographers, and supporters, who all helped to make it yet another awesome, fun-packed event, of both the type 2 and type 1 variety.
That’s the thing about type 2 fun; as soon as you’re chilling in the sun with a cold beer, basking in the post-race afterglow and sense of achievement, it’s all just fun.