It’s been a long time between drinks as they say, over 20 years.
My first mountain bike race was in 1989. Fresh back from a season of road racing, the buzz around my home town of Auckland, was the new kid on the block had arrived. Mountain biking. Keen to get in on the action, with a severe shortage of bikes, it was a scramble to find a team to enter in one of the first races in the area. Held in a forest north of Auckland, Riverhead, known for its deep clay base, that held the water like a swimming pool, you would certainly class it as a pioneering day out.
I walked the bike more than I rode, which made the tennis shoes I had on very handy, yes SPD pedals were still a glint in some clever sods eye. In one of the deeper mud sections I actually lost my shoe, spending the next 5 minutes digging it out, to the amusement of the assembled family and friends. I had a blast, and within weeks had my own mean machine, a Park Pre from the USA, a proud addition to the riding stable.
The few years that followed could only be described as an explosion, mountain biking truly arrived. SPD’s, Rock Shox, Rapid Fire, lighter faster equipment and a flood of new events to test all skills and fitness. Although many road riders dabbled in mountain biking, it always maintained its own culture, friendly, competitive participation and encouraging. If road racing was the city, then mountain biking was the country.
Then for me it ended as quick as it started. Kids, jobs, mortgages and life made mountain biking a luxury. For us in Auckland mountain biking was a 35-minute drive each way, a 2hr ride and 45 minute clean up. Running shoes and gyms, too many dinner parties and corporate events, a few kilos, and mountain biking was a distant memory.
Then, last Sunday I found myself on the start of the Evocities 6 hr in Wagga Wagga. Originally down to ride as a team, I elevated myself to be a solo competitor due to a flu ridden team mate. Coming off what could be best described as a two-day beer explosion on the Gold Coast, my ambition and abilities were in deep conflict with each other. But I was on the line.
I had a hoot, and I’m still buzzing.
I’m classing it as a finish, a technical one, but still a finish. After just over 3 hours I was cooked, and as I made my way to discreetly exit the circuit for an honourable discharge, they announced due to the sodden nature of the course, the event was reduced to 4 hours. Even better news, unless you could complete a lap and be back in under 4 hrs, then it would not count towards the overall result. I was so cooked if I headed out for another lap, it wasn't when I would get back, but if.
So what’s changed in 20 years? None of the good things. Firstly, you can wear clothes out the house that your wife wouldn’t let you wear anywhere else. Grab your worst tracky dacks, throw on a fleecy that you mow the lawns in, and your favourite beanie that embarrasses the kids, and no one goes boo. It’s a dress down dream without all the hassles of a dodgy shopping mall. I would go for this alone. Where else can I have adult conversations in a green leisure suit and gumboots?
Second, to all you people who fight for land usage, design and build the courses. Legends. Back 20 years ago single track was where you adventured off fire trail, most likely following the worn path of a feral bush pig, and in unfortunate cases, you found the pig. Now, yee-haa. At times when I was on the single track it felt like I was skiing. Moving the weight from one side to the other, in a blissful trance. In pioneering days, so much of the course design was a thrill factor for the minority and a scare the sh#t out of you factor for the majority. Today that has totally reversed. The course had a perfect mix of speed and skills for every rider.
Third, you put the hard work in over many years. The battles to get land and access, the hours of commitment to build your trails shines through in your pride in keeping them that way. Great people have stuck to the task of providing awesome facilities for everyone to enjoy.
Fourth, nothing has changed. You guys are still cool. The rider briefing reminded me not to be a d#ck head, that I’m not the most important rider on the planet, and my attitude can have a direct impact on other people’s enjoyment on the day. Out on the trail I had fun with other riders, doing dumb stuff was met with laugh, while fast riders said thank you as they passed. I didn’t get to say thank you, but received so many, that I’m sure if there had been a good Samaritan award, I would have gone home with a medal.
Lastly. I don't how these fancy Dually’s are working for you rocket ship riders, but for the guy you said thank you to, a lot, it was a lazy boy recliner. And to think I was trying to be stubborn about staying hard tail hard core. After 5 minutes I didn’t bother changing lines or moving out of the seat for bumps. As big a revolution as the water bed in the 80's and rides the same.
So thanks Wagga Wagga MTB club. Cool event, awesome people and a day in my leisure suit. I had a blast, was privileged to ride your course and can't wait to come back.
And for the record, I loved the mud, it took me back 20 years.