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Dusk ’til Dawn 2009

Sunday, October 4th 2009

Preparation

Dusk 'til Dawn was the first endurance race I ever entered so you might think I'd have some affection for the event. But you'd be wrong. I enjoyed our first race, back in 2005, when I had a completely inadequate bike that broke after a lap and a half, but when we came back in 2007 I thought we would do better. So when I crashed after three quarters of a lap and injured myself enough that I couldn't carry on, I was hugely disappointed. Then in 2008 it rained, and rained, and rained, and there was nothing but misery in Norfolk.

In 2009, we'd done pretty well at Mayhem, and very well at SITS. But given previous disasters I wasn't looking forward to D2D very much at all. And when the weather forecast said there would be wild wind and heavy rain, I gave serious thought to feigning illness and pulling out. But the day came and I thought I might as well go up and see what happened.

Eldrik's horrible knee injury, sustained all the way back in April, meant he was still not cycling. So for the second year in a row, Andrew and I entered the race as a pair, and Eldrik came up to offer encouragement, tyre geekery, and bike cleaning services. The three of us drove up to Norfolk and got to Thetford in the early afternoon. As we set up camp, all around there were scenes of slapstick as people chased down errant tents and gazebos which were being torn from the moorings by the gales. I had experience of this kind of thing - in the Faroe Islands I had to spend about twenty minutes spreadeagled across my tent, unable to move as another wild north Atlantic storm threatened to sweep me and it into the sea. Eventually we got all the tents set up. And just as we finished, the wind dropped away.

We went out for a practice lap. Last year's practice lap had been great, and this year's was even better. I was fitter than ever before, and we'd done much more off-road practice than ever before in the run-up to the event, so we blazed around, taking it easy but still lapping in what would once have been a decent racing lap time for us. It was a seriously fun course, at least in the daytime. Everything changes at night but I began to think that I might actually enjoy the race.

Race time

I have never yet taken on the first lap of a race. I don't know why but I really don't fancy taking on the crowds and congestion. Andrew did the first lap last year and he did it again this year. I watched the hundreds of riders stream by, then made sure all my lights were working, parts oiled, and bolts tightened. I headed down to the arena for the changeover, and found that it was so rammed with riders that I couldn't even get into it. I left my bike just outside the changeover area, fought my way inside, and just got there in time to meet Andrew coming back in.

I set off into the night. As I pedalled off, I wondered what could possibly go wrong this time. Soon enough I had my answer - as I bounced over some jumps a mile into the course, I suddenly found myself in far too hard a gear. I tried to change it but nothing happened. My gear shifter had broken, and I was stuck in the outermost cog at the rear. So I was down to three gears, one slightly too easy, one a bit too hard and one that was just entirely inappropriate for off road riding. I set off pedalling at an insane cadence, and soon found that I was actually going pretty well. It was one less thing to think about, and for most of the lap my one viable gear was doable. The only problem was that there was no chance at all of getting out of the bomb holes. I found the chicken runs at a couple, fell off in another couple, and finished my lap in just less than an hour. It was probably the best lap I've ever done.

Teamwork failures

Andrew missed the changeover. He sauntered towards the arena a few minutes late, somehow having thought that my racing lap would be much slower than our practice lap. He set off for his second, and I went to see what I could do about my gears. Eldrik was vital here - not only did he know a friendly mechanic who said he'd have a look, but he could also translate between me and the mechanic, who was speaking a language that sounded quite a lot like English but with a totally incomprehensible vocabulary. "The gear thing's broken, and I can't change gears except for on the other gear bit", I said. Eldrik explained this to the mechanic. "Well, I'll just have to take the topknobber off, put a dab of spaff on the clunge, tighten up the weeble and you'll be good to go but I can't do it until I've prepped my rider", he said. Eldrik translated: "Go out for another lap and he'll fix it when you get back."

So I went back out, for another lap with extremely limited gearage. The high cadence was pretty tiring and I was a bit slower, but still happy to get back in just over an hour. But then I was livid when again there was no sign of Andrew at the changeover. I'd felt all superior at SITS when one of the elite teams had messed up their very first changeover but now I was doing exactly what they had done - I stomped around the changeover area shouting "Andrew!" and waving my arms in disgust. It wasn't the lost time that was bothering me - more the fact that it was a freezing cold night and after a hard lap I urgently needed to get back to the camp and put extra layers on. Almost ten minutes later, Andrew finally appeared and set out for a third lap.

By now our team was legal, having completed the required two laps each. The friendly mechanic sorted out my bike, and after a quick doze in the van I was ready to try out the course with working gears. It was just after 1am when I set off, and despite the repairs I was a little bit slower than before. It was getting tiring out there.

When I got back, not long after 2am, I found Eldrik waiting for me with a warm coat. Andrew apparently needed a few more minutes to rest. We went back to the camp and for a while I dozed in the cab of the van. But after an hour Andrew hadn't yet emerged. I decided that if he was going to factor a relaxing sleep into his race plans, then I was going to do the same. At 4am I headed for my tent and slept.

The finish

At 6.30 I got up to find dawn breaking and Andrew getting ready to set off for a lap. He went out and I made myself such a fearsomely strong coffee that I got tunnel vision. At 7.45 it was broad daylight, and I headed towards the arena. Annoyingly I met Andrew on his way back - after all my anger during the night I'd missed the changeover. I headed out for our last lap, and had a great time now that it was light. It was only the second time I'd been the one crossing the line to finish a race, but unlike Mayhem in 2008 where there was a party atmosphere at the finish, on a cold October morning most people seemed to have shipped out already. I crossed the line in front of a crowd of about three in dead silence at 8.52am.

A gap of four hours had obviously killed our position, but against all expectations I'd had a great time. My four laps meant that I'd done twice as many racing laps in this one event as I'd managed in the three previous D2Ds combined. And two of them had been done with only two gears. I felt triumphant. We'd done well.

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