Test valley tour - Hot MTB challenge
A while ago, Kate and I submitted our entry for the Test Valley Tour "Hot" MTB challenge. Held in North Hampshire, the 50km event looked like just the sort of thing we enjoy doing... How hard could it be ?
The answer is, of course, very hard ! We got to the event quite late due to having to drive for nearly 2 hours to get there, and we were pretty much the last riders to start, with only 30 minutes to go before the start closed. This in itself didn't really worry us, we'd done events of this distance before and were happy we could keep a decent pace.
Our confidence began to be shaken almost as soon as we started... within half a mile, we were starting a long ascent.. no real warm-up time and no gentle start to get comfortable. Obviously we plodded on and got on with things.
As the miles clicked by, it became evident that we had significantly under-estimated the toughness of the course. Mile-after-mile of long, slow climbs on washed out gravel tested our resolve, not so much in a physical sense, but equally in a mental one. We hadn't come to the event with the mindset of it being tough, so everything felt hard.
Eventually, we settled into the right frame of mind and started to enjoy the event a bit more, but once again the route came back to bite us. We arrived at an ascent which seemed impossible. It was incredibly steep, but also was very slippery. Kate had come off her bike once already, and so was being fairly cautious, opting to just get off and push. I, foolishly was not and decided that I could ride it. After falling off 3 times in quick succession as my back wheel just spun out, I got off and pushed too.
At this point we were both pretty grumpy. The route so far had been anything but fun, and I had fallen into a massive gorse bush (we were so grumpy, that it wasn't even funny !)
We carried on to yet another massive climb and were eventually rewarded by some incredible views as we traversed the top of the mountain we'd just cycled up. This euphoria was, sadly pretty short lived as we descended and were faced with another painful climb again.
This was pretty much the pattern for the day... a massive climb on a horrible surface, a short descent and then another massive climb.
We eventually reached some of the woodland sections. The weather had made the ground very wet, so the going was slow. We were plagued by punctures on Kate's bike, mostly due to the crappy Maxxis tyres she was running (they have since been replaced with a set of Continentals).
At this point, believe it or not, the day got worse. Running down a track at some speed, Kate snagged a pedal on the side of a rut and was pitched off her bike. She hit the ground hard and had clearly hurt herself. We stopped for a while shilst she regained her composure and she decided that she would carry on. Not least of all because at this point we had pretty much no idea where we were or how to get help (aside from dialling 999).
From this point on, the event turned into a mission to get to the end by any means. The course marking led us on what felt like an amazingly contrived route of tracks and overgrown paths. One moment we would be battling our way through the undergrowth, and the next we'd be presented with singletrack DH sections. Kate had a pounding headache and we were both tired. We had both had enough.
We tried to figure out where we were, tried to see if there were any shortcuts to take to get back to the event start, but the map was pretty unhelpful without many reference points so we just had to slog on.
At one point, probably 3-4 miles from the end, we stopped for a quick drink and both descended into a state of what can only be described as delirium as we both started laughing for no apparent reason.
As we got to the end of the event, we reckon that with the 4 punctures and Kate's accident we had been stopped for a good hour. As we rode to the finish, the organisers were taking the tape down and packing up. It was a bit of a sorry end to a tough event.
Now, retelling the tale makes the whole thing sound like some kind of nightmare, and at the time, it felt like one. The event was very tough... brutally so. We went into it with the wrong mindset and that put us on the back foot from the very start. A combination of constant climbs and horrible, washed-out surfaces took most of the enjoyment out of the first part of the ride, whilst mechanical issues and a bad fall (it turns out that she had concussion as a result) just added to the harshness of the seemingly endless woodland tracks.
The irony is... we're already booked on the next event. Next time, we'll be there eariler... we'll warm up more thoroughly and we'll expect it to be painful.. at least that way, we shouldn't be surprised !