“I know what I’d be doing, I’d be sacking it off rather than walking all that way” the marshal said as he watched me struggle to get a 26 inch tube into a 29er wheel for 20 minutes. I’d been given the tube by Paul who I’d met as I’d just started the 3 mile walk to the next checkpoint in the Kielder 100, a race that had started well for me but gradually an Incident Pit ™ opened up and I fell head-first into it….
Arriving the evening before, meeting up with friends, catching up with familiar faces (but only seen at races), and signing on, all was well. I’d prepared the bike and the rest of my kit at home before setting off as the race was going to start horrendously early the morning after but it didn’t matter, everything was cushty.
The horrendously early start happened without too much trouble. I’d forced down a fruity breakfast and managed to leave the caravan on time to meet up with Phil and Dave for the start line banter. No problems.
Following the couple of miles of following a (rather slow) van, we were off. Was feeling good. Could see Dave up front a bit, chatted to the Leisure Lakes lads for a bit then rode away from them..I reckon I was well into the top 20. Ace!
It was at a certain part of the course that it started to go a bit wrong (this bit is a bit hard to explain so bear with it). Following the marshal’s pointing finger up a grassy climb and onto another gravelly fireroad I rode with a small group of others. I thought it was a bit strange that they all seemed to be going slow all of a sudden, as if the upward gradient was hurting them more than it was doing on the last climb. Never mind, I rode past but started to notice a lot of pairs of baggy shorts and flat pedals…something’s not right. Robot-like I continued to climb then recognised a familiar pile of rocks…hang on…I’ve been here before. About an hour ago in fact. It turned out that the marshal should have (somehow) been directing riders up here the FIRST TIME they got to that junction at the bottom of this hill then down to a checkpoint the SECOND TIME. I’d been directed, with this group, up the ‘first time’ route instead of to the checkpoint and a mixture of one bit of trail looking very much like the rest and me being a bit mindless, I’d blindly followed the incorrect instruction.
I hurtled back downhill to the checkpoint, dodging surprised-looking riders who were climbing the hill. Checked in at the checkpoint then cracked on with the job of regaining the places I’d just lost! Maybe I was going a bit too fast as I smashed my rear wheel into a rock and got a puncture. Fixed that, set off again. Started to claw back some places. Then, slid further down into the Incident Pit and got another puncture….this time I was cursing my bad luck and also my laziness in the last few months in getting my tubeless setup sorted.
Rather inconveniently, the spring from my spare pads had pierced a hole in my second innertube in my backpack. As I slid further down into the pit…I attempted a repair with my patch kit but that was crap (Lezyne puncture repair kit, in case you were wondering).
Phil arrived eventually. Told him to crack on with his race. Started walking to the next checkpoint, about 3 miles away. Not many riders appear to carry puncture repair kits these days and understandably even less are willing to stop, so onward I marched. Then Paul arrived and gave me a 26″ tube that I thought I might be able to stretch around the 29″ rim. I did manage it eventually but then it’d just pop off again when I tried to reseat the tyre. The marshal who was sat nearby offered to call in and arrange a lift back to Kielder from the next checkpoint and pointed out a shortcut to it. I considered it for a minute or two but then decided that despite my ‘race’ being well and truly over, I was hours away from the cut-off time and besides, the weather was fine, something would probably turn up and I still had 38 miles of riding to enjoy if it did.
Onward I marched.
A chap stopped and offered me a puncture repair kit that turned out to be similarly useless. I willingly accepted and started the whole tube repair rigmarole again. This time I was attacked by a dense cloud of carnivorous insects and was bitten so much that small dribbles of blood ran down my legs and worse still, I was bitten ON THE EYE.
Onward I marched (actually I ran away this time).
Almost at the Newcastleton checkpoint, a South African guy skidded to a halt. He was on a 29er. He gave me a tube. After about an hour and a half of this crap I wanted to hug him. I didn’t. I said ‘thanks’, fitted the tube, re-packed my now-bulging-with-extra-tubes-and-puncture repair kits backpack, filled my bottles with water at the checkpoint and unleashed some pent-up fury.
The next 35 miles were spent mostly overtaking people. I’ve not idea how many I went past but it could have been a hundred, nay, a thousand other riders. every now and then I’d remember that I wasn’t actually in this race any more (not really) so I’d slow a little bit and admire the view. Then I’d remember that Deb would be waiting anxiously at the finish line, wondering what had happened to me as I was by now a couple of hours later than I was expecting to be and I’d start to cane it again.
Eventually I finished in 111th place, in just short of 11 hours. So happy to get to the finish, so pleased not to have retired, proud to have stuck it out to the end. Oh, and yet another race to add to the Big Book Of Unfinished Business…