Sunday – Riding Frankenstein’s monster and Doc falls in love
The event was a relay for teams of two. Riders had to take it in turns to find two checkpoints before handing over to their partner. In all, eight checkpoints had to be found. We had split into three teams, and would all ride together to ensure the safety of the poor sap riding the Dead Bike. And the first poor sap was to be me.
Armed with maps and a full bottle of Newcastle Brown, we awaited the gun. As my comrades, Matt and Jon, agued over the best checkpoints to aim for, other, enthusiastic and more organised, riders shot off in all directions.
Eventually we set off (just as some of the faster teams were coming back in from their first leg) and headed off up the longest hill we could find. The loose surface played havoc with my erratic steering and I discovered that I could only stay in my lowest gear by keeping my thumb firmly pressed on the shifter. Before long, my thumb was in more pain than my legs. Eventually we crested the hill to find a short loose roller coaster between our checkpoint and us.
Matt and Jon waved to me from further up the track – they had found the first checkpoint. From there it was a short trip to the second checkpoint followed by a long descent back to the handover area. Higher up, the tracks seemed smoother, and taking some confidence from the fact that the brakes at least seemed to work quite well on this bike, I started to enjoy myself on the descent. Jon and Matt sped down the track and I followed their wheels, dodging roots and ruts. Perhaps I was even getting used to the strange handling. For the first time all weekend, Dead Bike felt alive rather than just reanimated.
Predictably enough, the feeling didn’t last. The final few hundred yards to the finish were loose and stony I hit it way too fast. Each pebble felt five times its size as I ricocheted around the track. I struggled to keep my feet on the pedals while the bike danced down the trail like Fred Astaire with St Vitas dance.
Finally the finish area came into view and I was able to aim for a firm piece of ground where, thankfully, the brakes held up their end of the deal by bringing me safely to a halt. I handed the bike on to Doc with a sense of relief.
After another improbably long handover, Doc, Si and Di set off. Jon handed me a two-litre bottle of Dr Pepper that I was surprised to find he had been carrying with him on the whole ride. A quick search of his rucksack showed that it was full of similarly ‘essential’ cycling gear: a brand new pump (still in its packaging) some light reading, a signed photograph of Jimmy Greaves and a slinky. I might have made some of those up, but I was glad he wasn’t going on a wilderness expedition.
It was around this time that the winners finished. We weren’t even halfway through our ride and a couple of fit looking blokes had ridden the whole course! Still, at least we weren’t on our own. A large bearded fella with a midlands accent carried his bike into the clearing. He had got a flat tyre and had fixed the hole but lost his pump, so had walked back to borrow his team mates. He hadn’t got his checkpoints yet, so once he had reinflated the tyre he would have to go out again to finish his leg. Oh, but first he had to go back to where he had punctured because he had left his helmet there.
More finishers came in. By the time our second leg returned we were already out of the medal positions. Out on the trail we met Rob, the hairy midlander from the changeover. He was still looking for his checkpoints and had still not been reunited with his helmet. Realising we had left most of our maps back at the start, we decided to follow him, even if his credentials made him entirely the worst guide we could choose. Rob was irrepressibly cheerful and didn’t seem to mind having hangers-on.
Sure enough, within a few minutes we were lost. A quick check of the map told us that we had missed our intended turn some way back, but luckily, another track nearby would rectify the situation. The next climb led us to a rutted track littered with forestry debris, which Jon, still on Dead Bike, tackled fearlessly.
Having tagged our last check we turned back, led by our adopted guide. Rob told us he knew a shortcut back and lead us onto a narrow track that was too steep to even walk down. We scrambled down with our bikes, clinging onto whatever vegetation would hold our weight, struggling past fallen trees and through lavish overgrowth. We emerged into the open, a short ride from the handover area where we handed on to the others for the final leg.
Most of the other teams had already finished and the organisers were starting to pack up all their stuff. A late finisher came in looking pretty unimpressive but still a whole leg ahead of us. Nick had turned up again in our absence and offered to guide the last group to their checks because, let’s face it, it could take all night otherwise.
Si was all ready to take his turn on the Dead Bike, but surprisingly Doc wouldn’t let him. He seemed to have formed an unlikely bond with the machine, even declaring an intention to take it home with him. This solved a bit of a problem. The best suggestions for what to do with it up to then had been to bury it under the big pile of sawdust by the adventure playground, or just prop it against Mr Pants’ tent and drive off.
Finally they rode out leaving Rob, Matt, Jon and myself alone. The organisers drew straws and the loser had to wait and check the last of us in, while the winners got to go to set out the course for the next event.
Rob’s mate arrived, disappointed that he wasn’t last and they left too. Eventually, Nick appeared, speeding down a hill and the others straggled in after him. Last of all was Diane, who in fairness had never seen a hill before in her life.
The challenge was completed; the Dead Bike had been built and raced. We christened the steed with a slosh of Newcastle Brown.
On my way home I tried to think of what I had learned from this weekend; the stupidest ideas are sometimes the best, and, appreciate your bike, because it sure as sh!t ain’t as bad as Dead Bike.