Every year Bicycle SA put on the Dirty Weekend Mountain Biking Festival, and it is easily my favourite event on the calendar. Camping out in the forest, riding some sweet single-track, and a killer atmosphere, this race rules. With 6, 12, and 24 hour options for individuals, duos and teams, there are options for all levels of fitness and skill to race.
I’d raced in a 4 man 24 hour team a bunch of times, and always thought I wasn’t quite up to doing it solo. I mean endurance mountain biking hurts plenty, and I always walked away from the 4 man team event pretty sore. But then I went and did a bunch of everestings that went for 24 hours or more, one of which was on a hard tail mountain bike, so I figured what the hell? Plus I had a dual suspension bike now, so I entered.
Cover photo by SB Dynamics.
The weather forecast for the 2 days was pretty optimal, with moderate temps and little to no rain. It had rained a little in the lead-up, so trail conditions were set to be perfect – no dust, no mud, just hero grip and good times.
Starting at 2pm, the race kicks off with the 24 and the 12 hour field together. The 12 hour guys then kick back for a rest at 8pm, before re-starting the following morning at 8am with the 6 hour riders. The field this year was a little bit down on previous years, which is a shame, it is a balltearer of an event. Maybe the fact it was 1 weekend early this year, which fell inside of fire ban season was what kept some people away. Not having fires really changes the atmosphere a fair bit. Especially after 8, when so many people kick back, tuck into a barbecue and sink some cans. It’s like a bogan festival, except everyone is pretty skinny…
I was focused on keeping my pace pretty casual from the start. With so many riders taking off at the same time, and so many of them riding as part of a team, the temptation to go hard is pretty strong. Having ‘trained’ to a ‘somewhat’ low standard, my focus was on maintaining as even an exertion level as possible. But then there was a guy to overtake… And then there was someone behind me…. Then a big climb… Goddammit Dave, slow the fuck down! So lap 1 went faster than I was intending. No sweat, I can get back on track. Lap 2 will be better. Lap 2 was not better. Lap 3 here we come. Still too fast. All of a sudden my left hamstring was cramping badly. Like really badly. Put-a-foot-down-and-yelp-in-pain badly. So things were sub-optimal to begin the race. I was standing, going nowhere, about to climb the hardest part of the lap, with a hammy that felt like a knife was buried in there… Nothing for it, but to push on and keep riding.
I had my little aid station set up in the campsite of some mates, perched right at the top of the biggest climb on course. These roosters normally race as a team of 4, but with one of their squad missing, they decided to all do the 24 hour solo, but ride together, and sleep through the night. It meant I had a cracking set up to stop and have something to eat each lap on the way through. It also meant when they stopped for the evening, I got some very positive, whiskey-fueled support. I was offered a dram, but declined. They were drinking $400-a-bottle gear, and I felt $30 worth of trail-side vomit just wasn’t a positive option. I did neck an entire beer though. That shit gives you wings…
My cramp had gone, it was dark, and the 12 hour riders had retreated to their campsites. All that was left were the 24 hour riders. Teams, duos and solos. You could tell the team riders from a mile away. They were the cats that would fly past so quick, that you would wonder if they were ever even there at all.The duos pretty quickly were as fatigued as the solos, so we’d share nods, grunts and a wry smile as we would pass each other in the dark. Bonus of riding at night is that under lights you are no longer distracted by your surroundings, and can focus only on the trail ahead. It doesn’t make me any faster, but somehow obstacles that are a little intimidating by day, seem much easier at night-time.
I started breaking down the laps. From transition you’d ride some pine forest trails. Not especially tough to climb or descend, just slow as you weave in and around trees, and over treacherous roots across the trail. Then you’d break out into open eucalypt scrub where you could get a lot more pace up. This would eventually spit you out at the hardest obstacle on course. A big slab of rough rock, running across the camber of the trail. Always tough to push over, especially as I crashed here a few years ago and cut my face, so it always intimidates me. from here its open grassland and flowing trails, finishing with some very tight, large and well-constructed berms – so much fun. But my sigh was audible every time I got to the end of that section, as what followed was a long and twisting climb up the hillside, riding through clay that was just damp enough to want to grab a strong hold of your tyres. Cannot say that I looked forward to this part each lap, but my aid station was at the top, so at least I’d have a chance to rest and eat. The back half was top fun. Some SUPER LOOSE pine forest, but the rest was beautiful and flowing eucalpyt-lined single track. So, so good.
And so it went, lap after lap, trudging along in the dark. Until about 2am. 12 hours in, and I entered the cerebral palsy phase of endurance cycling. I was weaving pretty badly on parts of the trail. The climb up the switchbacks nearly broke me. I had planned to ride through, no sleep, just get it done. But when I crawled off the bike and sat down, I decided a 1 hour break was needed. I chucked on my tracky dacks, sat in the chair, and set an alarm. Alarm went off, I told it to fuck off, slept some more. All-up I had a 2 and a half hour break. Starting again sucked balls. All of the balls. Like it was a ball sucking festival, and people had come from all over the land to partake in a regional ball-sucking final. But I did restart, and after a brief period, I came good again.
Still, it was riding through the forest by yourself at night-time. I was scared of the dark as a kid. I’m still scared of the dark as a big kid. Whoever put a sheep’s skull in a tree, and dressed it up with a jacket is a legend. Could not help but say “By the power of Grey Skull” every time I went through… I thought I was funny… Also, the people who set up the rave party every year in the pine forest are also champions. Loud trance beats, fairy lights, disco balls, strobe lights, the works. Even in the pre-dawn haze the sound and light at this section put a huge grin on my face. Little things like that help make a forest at night-time more fun than terrifying.
And as always happens, the sun came up. Thank fucken fuck. OMFG how I missed the sun. It enriches the soul after the long period of hauntingly dark loneliness of the night. I’d say I had a coffee to celebrate, but I’d had 12 coffees beforehand. The back-end of the race was tops. The 12 hour guys restarted with the 6 hour guys joining them. The track was full again, transition had beats flowing, and people were there to cheer as you went past. The final few hours ticked by, and somehow I realised that I had moved up into 5th place. 5th! Go me. All I had wanted to do was ride consistently and see if I could jag 20 laps. When I saw that I’d jumped into 5th, I was goddam stoked.
They changed the rules this year also, so that your final lap had to be completed before 2pm. Previously you had to start your final lap before then, but not this time. I finished my 20th lap with about 50 minutes to go. It had been taking me around 55 mins to get a lap done if I pushed, so I opted out. Checking the scoreboard, 6th place was 2 laps behind me, and 4th was 2 laps in front, so my final placing was set. Ace. I went and said g’day to some other mates who’d been racing. I went back to the campsite necked a beer, and waited for my wife to turn up to take me home. That was my first solo 24 hour, and it was tops. If you are in Adelaide at the end of April/early May then get amongst it. The best race, the best atmosphere, the Dirty Weekend is awesome.