Ace pic by Paul from http://www.paulmassonphotography.co.uk/
It’s funny, I know people seem to say “ooo it’s like no time has passed at all since [insert whatever here]“, “I can’t believe it’s been a year since [more whatevers here]“, but driving up the muddy fireroad towards where the rest of the JMC lot had set up camp, I genuinely couldn’t believe that a whole year had passed since I last packed up the car and drove home with fewer brake pads and sorer legs that I had arrived with.
A lot may have happened (and, equally, nothing at all happened for a while!), but it was almost reassuring to see the trails shooting off in all the right directions, from all the right places once again, as the Zafira lolloped and lurched it’s way over the potholes.
Crashing, wondering if I’d be able to race again, the forest seemed happy to let me put it away as “the past” and start again. Course tape and cones marking the route I already knew it would take seemed to welcome me back as if nothing had happened in the months between: the hills were still there, I was here, nothing else mattered.
The gazebo was set up as it always is; gas fire in the corner to keep the helpers (and non-racing racers) warm and comfy, tables covered in weird foods and drinks neatly arranged, enough spare bike parts to run a bike shop stuffed wherever a space appeared, with everything kept in it’s place by a thick dose of sarcasm. Home sweet home, pretty much.
Pits organised, a retreat to the hotel (and the pub, ahem), for some pre-race face stuffing and a semi-early night meant the early start on race day wasn’t too much of a shock to the system. Even if it had been, I found myself happy to be suffering it again. The bleary eyed attempts at getting chammy cream and winter embrocation the right way round, the “where’s all the stuff I neatly laid out and put somewhere safe, aaaarg, oh wait there it is, right where I left it” panic. I’d forgotten just how integral a part of a race it is. For me anyway, Rich Rothwell didn’t seem to be suffering from it, in fact if there’d bee a hammock available I got the impression he’d be asleep in it!
And the race itself? Every rock seemed happy to see me again. Almost as much as I was to see them. I threw in a few decent paced laps, grinning from ear to ear for a few hours as the joy of racing again overflowed. Corners were nearly overshot. People I wasn’t really racing against were raced against simply because they were there. Dougie Vipond asked me (on camera) if I was planning on going for the win due to me not letting the front runners get much of a gap…I was slouched against my bike outside the pits, clutching a mug of tea of being offered a slice of cake at the time so couldn’t really answer “yes” with any conviction, but that wasn’t really why I was there. I was there to race in it’s simplest sense. No long-term training had brought me to the start line in peak fitness, nothing like that, just the ownership of a bike and a desire to hammer it for a long time. I was there to see if I still wanted to immerse myself in the whole “scene”. If I did, this was a beginning, if I didn’t, this was a fitting swansong.
Turns out I did.
I may have allowed myself plenty of time in the pits to “relax”, soak up the atmosphere and generally not run myself into the ground, but I still got caught up in the whole experience. Still raced to not be last and, as I watched Jase, Phil, Rich, Budge and Andy smash the front end of the race apart, knew that I needed to get back ‘up there’ soon.
Bring on the future, I’ll be ready for it