This story starts in a party supply shop. I was standing in front of a wall of cheap, nasty wigs during my lunch break.
I snapped a photo of the wig wall and sent it to two of my workmates, with a message saying “Which one?”
My phone buzzed twice in quick succession.
BZZZZZ-zzzz “Gandalf beard, all the way” said JV.
BZZZZZ-zzzz “The pink one is amazing” said TP.
I grabbed both items and took them to the checkout. My phone buzzed again. I had another message from the guy that had voted for the beard.
BZZZZ-zzzz “By the way…. What is this for?
It was for the 2018 PBM Hardrock 6 Hour Mountain Bike Race.
The event website had a checklist of things you should bring to the race. Like a bike. And a helmet. And a wig!
It claimed that “The best wig will win the owner free coffees all day (for 1 person only!) and BRUCIE PAIN will wear it at the Presentation Ceremony at the end of the day!”
I’d never met Bruce, but I do love my coffee, so I decided to commit to the #wiglyf.
I arrived at the Kiwarrak Mountain Bike Park, early on Sunday morning. There were hundreds of bikes and people milling around. None of them in wigs.
I set up my snacks and waterbottles in my little pit area. I started peeling off all my warm layers and getting race ready. The wig was still in my backpack. I thought I would wait until a few other riders had their costumes on before I revealed my wondrous magenta wig.
15 minutes til the pre-race briefing. No wigs to be seen. 10 minutes. Still nothing.
With 5 minutes to go, I pulled out the magenta monstrosity and placed it on my noggin. I offered the Gandalf beard to some other riders in the Momentum is your Friend crew, and the infamous El Cocko took it off my hands.
We tried to look as serious as possible, and went off to the race briefing looking like this:
At the briefing, we learned that we would be riding around a 10km course, made up of pristine singletrack and dusty firetrails. The course would open at 9am, and be open for 6 hours. If you finished a lap before 3pm, you could keep riding. If you finished from 3:01pm onwards, you were done and dusted for the day. The aim of the game was to complete as many laps as possible, solo or as a relay team.
The clock struck 9. Someone said “GO!”. Over a hundred riders charged along a section of firetrail that had not seen rain in many months. The dust cloud created by all those riders was insane. You could hardly see two bike lengths in front of you. I blinked and coughed strands of pink hair out of my mouth. It was absolute madness.
Things calmed down a few kilometres into the singletrack. The field spread out and I got to enjoy the gorgeous trails through Kiwarrak State Forest at my own pace.
My plan was to try to ride consistently for the whole 6 hours. I had already signed myself up for a 24 hour solo race in September. My training regime, if such a thing existed, basically involved spending as much time as possible with my butt in a bike seat.
Committing myself to 6 hours of racing, seemed like a good way to achieve that goal.
The first three hours flew by.
My lap times were getting slower, but I still felt good. I was drinking lots of water, eating lots of snacks and chatting to friendly folks on trails. I lapped up the extra encouragement I got from complete strangers who would smile and yell “GO PINK WIG GIRL!”.
A small posse of 5 year olds, led by a pig-tailed girl in unicorn t-shirt, laughed and clapped enthusiastically each time I rode past their little tent.
After 4 hours, Jonno told me that I was in third place in the solo women’s category. The first two girls were a long way ahead of me. There was no way I would catch them. But I did have a decent gap over the other solo women.
Before this race, I had only ever ended up on podiums by default, because there weren’t enough female racers. This time, there were plenty of women having a crack. And I was in third place! Go pink wig girl!
After 5 hours, all the short climbs became towering mountains. My thunder thighs were losing their thunder. Getting my wheels up and over small logs was becoming difficult.
I kept on plodding around the course, glancing at my watch. On the easier sections, I tried to figure out when my race might end.
I was going to finish third no matter what. The big question was about how many laps I could complete. I was curious to see what my trusty little bike and I could do together.
If I reached the end of the lap before 3pm, I would be allowed to keep on riding. I could take as long as I wanted to finish my final lap. That meant that there was a decent prospect that I would still be on my bike at the 6.5 hour mark.
If I reached that finish line after 3pm, it was all over. I would be able to get off the bike the second I crossed the line. I could eat all the food and cheer on fellow riders who were still coming in. I wouldn’t have to sit on a bike seat any more.
My tired brain did the maths.
I realized that I would only beat the cutoff if I pushed really hard for hour or so. I would need to pull out lap times similar to the ones I had been doing at the start of the race. If I keep going at my current pace, I would miss the cutoff.
I thought about intentionally slowing down. That way, I could just toodle on around the course and pretend to be disappointed when I crossed the line at ten past 3. Surely no one would notice.
But, as I pulled into the pit area to fill up my drink bottle for what might be my final lap, super coach Steve was there, with live race results on his phone. He had analysed my lap times and knew that I could choose to cruise, or to challenge myself.
As whacked a new drink bottle into its cage, Steve said things like “This is where you find out what you’re made of” and “This is the most important lap of the day”. He reminded me that I was training for a 24.
I groaned as I swung my leg back over my bike and must have looked like toddlers do, in that split second before they throw an epic tantrum.
Steve was right though. I apologised to my tired legs and pedalled away into the bush, with my head down. I tried to hold onto every little scrap of momentum, because it was hard to build it back up. Members of relay teams, whizzed past me on their fresh legs. I tried to hold onto their wheels for as long as I could. I kept looking at my watch. I was on track, but only just.
I crossed the start/finish line at 2:56pm.
4 minutes to spare! The timing equipment beeped. One of the volunteers yelled ‘Yep, you’re good to go’.
I rode past Steve and yelled screaming “I BLAME YOU FOR THIS!”
I started lap number 10 and hour number 6. On the one hand, I had no time pressure anymore, and I could take it easy. On the other hand…. I wanted the lap to be over as soon as possible. Those two thoughts battled one another throughout the lap. Faster, slower, faster, slower. I started wondering if I was the only rider left out there.
By some miracle, I finished my lap and collapsed at my pit area in a little nest of snacks, water bottles, clothing and spare tubes. I coughed up trail dust and strands of pink hair. I untangled my now-filthy wig from my helmet. I lay with my back flat on the ground and grinned happily up at the sky.
By the time I had inhaled a can of coke and a sausage sandwich, I was almost ready to say thank you to Steve.
Photo credits go to Leanne and Steve Ardern, the super coaches and all round legends behind Momentum is your Friend and the fine folks at the Manning Great Lakes Tip Riders Club.
Thanks to the whole Momentum crew for their support and encouragement.
Video by Phil Davies Aerial Photography.
Race results at https://my2.raceresult.com/105320/?lang=en
What? Ride as many laps of the 10km course as you can in 6 hours (solo or in a team).
When? Sunday 19 August 2018, 9am and 3pm(ish) – I’m sure it will run again in 2019.
Where? Kiwarrak Mountain Bike Park, near Taree, on the mid-north coast of NSW.
Who? People of all ages, shapes and abilities who enjoy riding bikes in the dirt.
Why? Because you can! It’s a great way to challenge yourself and meet new riding buddies.
Wigs? Yes please.
Winners? Are grinners!
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