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Dusk ’til Dawn 2005

Saturday, September 17th 2005

With the benefit of hindsight I can see this one was always going to be difficult. Eldrik had persuaded me and Andrew to do an endurance cycling event, a 12 hour night race in the forests of Norfolk, but neither of us really knew what this would involve. My brother had won a mountain bike in a competition, which I borrowed, not realising that while it was fine for cycling to work, it was totally inadequate for serious off-road cycling.

But I didn't know this beforehand, so I was quite excited when we drove up to Thetford on Saturday 17 September 2005. On arrival at the site we soon realised we should have arrived hours earlier, because we ended up camped about a mile from the course - a serious pain for doing any spectating or arranging changeovers. But we were still ready for the 8pm start, which Eldrik took on - a short run behind a quad bike to get everyone a bit spread out, and then the lap.

Despite a puncture and ensuing trackside repairs, Eldrik came back from the 10.5 mile lap in a bit under an hour, and then it was Andrew's turn. Our plan had been to do one lap each and then hand over, but somehow in his enthusiasm Andrew forgot all the team orders, and when he passed the start he went straight through, shouting 'I'm going for another!' over his shoulder as he passed. An hour later and he finally decided to hand over and I went out.

Not knowing how rubbish my bike was, I thought I was having a great time. Cycling between the trees on a dark night in September was much more fun than I'd imagined, and I loved sweeping through the single track. The only problem I had was the occasional hill. This being Norfolk, they were hardly very big, but they were long and slow and relentless, and in the darkness I could hardly even tell I was on a hill, except that I'd suddenly start getting incredibly disheartened and wondering why I was suddenly going so slowly. One particularly depressing climb seemed to go on forever, but then the course turned sharply to the right and suddenly I was back in the arena. I'd hauled my bike round in an hour and ten, and handed over to Eldrik. It was just after midnight.

Now I found that Andrew's double lap had been an error. He had not drunk enough water during the second lap and was feeling ill because of it. He thought he would feel better after a lie down, but it proved not to be. He was not in a fit state to go out when Eldrik came back, so I went out for a second lap. I had just as much fun as the first lap, even when I smacked my shoulder on exactly the same tree I had done first time around, but then as I shifted down the gears for a climb after about seven miles, there was a nasty crunch. When I tried to shift back up, the chain fell off, and it didn't take much experimentation to find out that the only gear that now worked was first. It was a very long three miles to the end of the lap, and by the time I got there I could hardly feel my knees.

Unless I could get my bike fixed, my race was over. Andrew was still ill and Eldrik needed a bit more recovery time, so we had no-one out on course. I went to see the on-site mechanic, but apparently he'd gone to bed. I wondered if there was much use in a mechanic at an overnight race who was going to go to bed at 2am. My bike was going nowhere, and Eldrik was now the only man on the team left standing. He went out for another lap, which proved to be his fastest of the night, but with no-one to go out afterwards, it didn't look like we were going to go any further. Eldrik thought about going for another after a bit of sleep, but then it started raining and we decided it was not worth it.

So our first endurance event ended slightly ignominiously with a retirement. But we'd all had a good time and we knew that having done so many things wrong we'd gained a lot of experience. The next race would surely be much more fun.

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