There are always clouds over Mountain Mayhem, literally, this year they were big, broody, black and grey ones who seemed to treat the place like Waterloo station – they breezed through, looked around, thought about stopping for a quick leak, then hopped on another train and were out of there.
Perhaps fortunately, given the event’s reputation as the mountain biking equivalent of the Somme, none of them chose to hang around. They were also the reason that, as a last minute call up for a mixed team decimated by apathy, the only bike I chucked in the car on Friday night, was a singlespeed…
So what was it like? Well, for a start, let’s kick one thing into touch, Mayhem’s not really about the riding. If it were I’d be bettter off staying home in the Peak and hammering rocky tec, na, it’s about, well, if not ‘the love’ then at least the people and the atmosphere and the event and yes, even the brooding threat of a deluge.
Some snapshots of ‘why’ – rolling up on Friday evening to find a bunch of mates I haven’t seen for far too long, a cold beer, a barbecue, new faces, old faces, faces somewhere in between.
The first changeover, hanging over the barrier trying to remember our first rider’s name and bike and jersey colour, then ‘Me! Me! Me! Pick me!’ Wristband on and the first roll out of the arena. The familiarity of legs easing into life, pedals turning, a little apprehension, a big grin.
The first steep climb. On 32:17. And the relief of finding it’s not so bad after all. Bits of track familiar from previous years but stuck together in the wrong order. Slithering amusingly through slippy-surfaced singletrack after a brief shower on the second lap of a double with the front tyre writing cheques its nobbles couldn’t cash. Ooops…
Waiting. Eating. Chatting. Night-lapping, a small pool of self-contained, creaking ti in a bubble of bright, white light. And bantering. ‘Yes, the cat’s a magic cat, it steers the bike, I just pedal…’ Bikes that pass in the night, fellow singlespeeders – ‘what ratio are you on?’ – Wayne on his rigid P7 who turns out to be a friend of a friend of a friend. Small world.
Crashing. A blur of walker avoidance and a bad line and whoops, whoomph, over the bars and head-first into a handy tree. Blowing, at the top of the big climb on lap two of my second double and wobbling home with legs vaguely attached to brain by a length of limp string. Floaty.
Sleep. Wake. Dawn.
Morning laps with tired riders in slow motion interspersed with kingfisher flashes of the proper fast boys and girls rattling through. Chatting to spaced-out soloists and feeling a proper fraud when people think that singlespeeding is hard, because really it’s not. Not compared to riding for 24 hours. Or teetering down a steep, slippy descent on a unicycle. Or riding your first Mayhem, with no idea of what’s coming.
Funny things – high fives from kids along the side of the track, being offered chocolate buttons on the Kenda Climb where I can’t take my hands off the bars, bloody singlespeeds, the ‘Jump of Doom’, the sound of geared riders fumbling for ratios at the bottom of climbs, smugness. The guy who sort of caused my crash later buying me hot chocolate and cake after a weird serendipidous meeting. Nine Inch Nails on repeat in my head.
The final lap of a triple stint, that could have been a quad, but I hopped the barrier on the far side of the arena and I chose a bacon and sausage roll, I chose laziness, I chose to chat and wait while the clock counted down.
And finally I got to shake Pat Adam’s hand, with a daft grin on my face. Tired, warm legs, tired bike. A post-finish chat with soloist Rob Dean, who’d gone out held together with tape and come apart when someone banged into him.
The steady roll back to the tent and tired, post-race chatting. Slowly folding everything back into the car as the place empties and tents and cars are hoovered away and the place reverts to a big, green, lush field again.
Until next year.