In November 2009, a friend had asked me to ride in a team of two at the Fat Tyre Festival at Ourimbah and I readily accepted the invitation. Although I had never even considered racing before, I had just started to commute the ten kilometres to work and even managed to squeeze in a few hours of social mountain biking on weekends. How hard could approximately four hours of racing be?
The night before the race I received a call. My team mate was out - his daughter was sick and he needed to be at the hospital. I was now thrust into a team of one. Okay, this would be a lot tougher but I had built up a reputation as an endurance athlete from my younger years playing semi-professional rugby league. And I had the mental toughness and tenacity to just persevere when situations became more difficult. Still no problem. I was actually looking forward to the increased challenge.
Ourimbah is still one of my favourite mountain bike trails but today it was unleashing unrestrained devastation on a great many riders. Ambulances were appearing far too frequently as riders succumbed to the sizzling temperatures. It was announced that the race would be cut short for safety reasons. On the last lap my chain snapped but with help I was able to limp back to transition. Unbelievably, I finished 3rd in the Masters category and would podium in my first ever race. The seeds to the next few years’ obsession had been sown!
That night I had a restless sleep. What had I done? Was it too late to get my money back? Firstly, I had only raced five times the longest being of six hours duration. I would have to ride eighteen hours more. Secondly, I was poorly equipped with a single bike that was more suitable for social riding, lights that lasted a mere hour last time out and, probably the most pertinent point, there were only two weeks’ before the actual race. As I struggled to sleep I resolved to dramatically increase my training to 24 hours in the first week and then taper the week before the race. I slept a few nervous, uneasy hours.
Incredibly, I found the time to train as I had planned and so I went to Majura Pines in Canberra fairly confident I could survive the ordeal. Greer insisted I sleep for a few hours during the night and with this I lined my bike up at the start. In honour of James Williamson there would be a parade lap, a fitting tribute to the recently passed solo World Champion.
During this slower first lap and about three kilometres in, my chain snapped once again. With so much practice I was now extremely adept at fixing this issue and I was able to rejoin at the back of the race. At the end of the lap I came into transition, found my tent deep within the camping paddock and replaced the ridiculously short chain with a new one. The next few hours involved overtaking the slower riders. I gradually clawed my way back into contention in the Masters category moving from 25th and last to 9th as the sun fell beyond the horizon.
Then disaster struck. I had brought several vista halogen light batteries but their charge level had dropped with age and soon the final battery’s rapidly fading light flickered into oblivion. It was only 2.30 am and I panicked believing my race was almost certainly over. I had been feeling quite strong so this was a mighty body blow. However, Jason Dreggs was alongside me in transition and he came to my rescue lending me a spare light and battery and his pit crew swiftly went to work to fit my newly acquired night guide. I rolled away into the forest with enough illumination to ensure I made the dawn.
I started to stand at every opportunity in order to squeeze the last of the strength from my race-wearied legs. I was passing several people on track but I had no idea which category they were in. My last two laps were as fast as my initial day times and as I crossed the line to start my penultimate lap I glanced at the large Castech timing board and I was 5th. I was elated and I held up five fingers shouting in stunned disbelief to Greer, my own personal soothsayer. Brett Bellchambers calls the last lap of a 24 hour race the ‘Glory Lap’ and this was certainly how it felt as I bid farewell to every hill climb, pine tree and mushroom that adorned that course.
I had qualified for the World’s in Canberra and as I crossed the line I was asked by the event compere if I would race at Mt. Stromlo. I remember saying ‘I’ll have to now’ and this was affectionately repeated for the other competitors and support crews to chuckle about.
In April 2010, I bought my first genuine cross country bike for the Worlds, a Scott Spark 20, and managed to place 12th in Masters and 74th overall. In February 2011, I won for the first time at Rocky Trail’s 6+6 at a blistering hot Del Rio Resort at Wiseman’s Ferry. Further success in races followed and the highlight of 2011 was winning the Chocolate Foot Singletrack Mind Series.