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Half the Race, Double the Fun!

3 December 2016

3 December 2016

Half the Race, Double the Fun!

During a CORC club ride a few years ago, I mentioned I was aiming to do the Highland Fling. The very experienced ride leader congratulated me, informing me that the Fling is one of the hardest marathon mountain bike races on offer in Australia. And, after my efforts last year, I’m inclined to agree! But that’s the Full Fling. This year I did the Half Fling which, while it has a lot less single-track (yet, somehow, it felt like there were a very similar number of hills) – It was a whole lot of fun, as opposed to the challenge of the Full Fling. It’s almost as though they’re two completely different races.

It may seem like a big trip to head out to Bundanoon for the Fling, particularly if just doing the 50 km version. But that’s also the beauty of it. Bundanoon is a bit over an hour and a half from Canberra, and doing the 50kms won’t kill you, so it’s easy to drive back too. And it’s not too far from Sydney either (in fact, it’s about halfway between Canberra and Sydney). But it would still be a big day out, so there’s always the option of camping the night before, or staying in a hotel/motel close by. There’s plenty to see and do around the area, particularly on Fling weekend!

The atmosphere of the race, like that of Bundanoon over the weekend, is quite friendly, and I found myself chatting to some guys at the start line about all the usual stuff: bikes and getting old. I’m starting to believe that mountain bikes really are the new red convertible (fortunately, we get to huff and puff and sweat and think that we are, in fact, not getting old!)

There were two start groups for the Half Fling: people who thought they could knock it off in under three and a half hours, and people who didn’t. While I was quietly hopeful that I could knock it off in three hours given I hadn’t done any training or significant riding since summer, that thought was about as realistic as Tony Abbott installing a wind farm in his backyard – so I had decided to start in the second group. Except the first group just kept going, and going, and going.

I figured the first few kilometres – at least 10 – were mainly comprised of road, fire trail or double track, so it wouldn’t be like I was holding anyone up, and, frankly, I was just keen to get going. So I took off. As it turns out, that was the right decision, as I seemed to overtake much more than I was overtaken in the first few kilometres.

About 2.5 kilometres in, the course takes riders through the “Free Bike Wash” – a water crossing. And I thought I’d have a go. Unfortunately, already in mid-pack nobody was game to try to ride through it, so walkers covered the entire crossing. This was easily resolved by pausing for a few moments, before riding on through. I made it to about three-quarters of the way through, carried on by cheers of other riders around me. I have to say, that was a good feeling!

Then it was on to forestry roads, into a headwind. I should point out here the first rule of riding: it’s always a headwind. Even on the return trip of an out and back ride. But at least it made for a nice distraction from all the hills!

I started to remember the course now, and we were getting close to the first stretch of single track which, from memory, consisted of a brief downhill, then a heap more climbing. But this time it was different – we turned left instead of right, onto some very steep downhill singletrack! Not downhill style, but fast, and flowy, though a bit loose. It was great fun, and lasted for quite some time, then it was back out onto grass paddocks.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: riding on grass is hard! It’s like every single blade conspires to wrap around your wheel and hold it down. And, when that grass is through a cow-paddock, lumpy from all the cloven-footed animals wandering over it, well it just becomes bumpy. But at least trying to dodge all the cowshit is mildly entertaining.

Group of riders at transition.
Well stocked transition.

Fortunately this leg was soon over, and I found myself at transition just in time for a much-needed rest. And rest I did, refilling my bladder and partaking of the food on offer. Thus fuelled by banana and Gu, I took off at a great pace back down the road towards Bundanoon. At least it felt like I was going really fast, maybe it was just the headwind whistling through my ears.

The return journey started with some long stretches of road, followed by more grass trail, before heading up a hill by single track. This single track was fun and entertaining, but all too soon gave way once more to forestry road. On the bright side, the forestry road was fast, and the wind was actually welcome with the day heating up.

This gave way to more single track – and I have to say, I was having much more fun on it than I did in the previous year (when, by that time, I was riding with fogged up glasses and 80ish km in my legs!) That is, right up until Roller Coaster, which throws in a few last decent rooty pinches, just to make sure you’re rooted for the remainder of the journey.

Riders working up a mountain.
Brokeback Mountain: the last big climb of the race.

Shortly after that stretch is Brokeback Mountain, where this year we were called to climb by the siren song of a string quartet. Many people complain about Brokeback (the mountain, not the movie. Well, they may complain about the movie too, but real mountain bikers don’t have time for movies... ) But, after Roller Coaster, I found it quite easy. Ish. No, Wild Horizons, please don’t take that as a suggestion to somehow make it harder!

String quartet playing in a mountain bike race.
Okay, maybe they don&rsquot;t look like Sirens, but they certainly helped us up!

Once that was over, it was more single track. And this single track was getting more technical. Again, I enjoyed it a lot more this time around with fresher legs and mind! I rode into Baker’s Delight – Wild Horizons say it was so named after the 2010 “Best Fling Since Sliced Bread”. I suspect it is aptly named as a chance to throw in a baker’s dozen trails named for bread puns. So you’d smile at the name, then grimace as rocks leap out at you! But a lot of fun all the same.

But then the end was nigh – the next big question was Your Call – where there’s a choice of a shorter, steeper climb, or a longer, gentler climb. I elected to take the longer climb. My legs weren’t feeling too bad, but I wasn’t up to step-ups and the like (I did the steeper version last year, and had trouble!) To my surprise, it really wasn’t too bad, and I found myself coming out ahead of some of the riders who took the steep path ahead of me!

Then the ride was more or less done and dusted-with the remainder being some really fast road riding, followed by yet more paddocks, and the last true test of a rider: the Last Chance Saloon, where we could sit down and have a free beer. I must say: it was awfully tempting, but so was the complimentary burger waiting for me back at HQ... In the end food won out and I pedalled on.

Free beer
The last temptation, moments from the end.

I had a great time at the Highland Fling this year, it’s amazing how very different the same race can be. The 100km last year was a bit of a suffer fest for me – and I was in shape for that (well, what I consider to be in shape!) Whereas this year taking on the 50, without being in shape and having no expectations was a lot of fun. And, as is usually the case with a Wild Horizons event, the atmosphere was fantastic. So it’s a race for everyone: have some fun and do the 50km, push yourself and do the 100km or take on the 100miler on your way to checking yourself into an asylum.