20 November 2017
The Fling has Flung!
For the past 13 years the residents of the sleepy little southern highlands town of Bundanoon have had little idea that they have played host to the one of the most popular S & M parties in Australia, for surely the Highland Fling is one of the greatest gatherings of masochists in the southern hemisphere. They’re just all in disguise, replacing their leather with lycra, and ball-gags with bite valves. But the pain is the same. And, grinning over it all is the sniggering sadist himself, Huw Kingston, pouring salt on the wounds with extra painful treats, such as bagpipes in the morning or cavorting around in a skirt. Alas, 2017 marked the last running of the Fling, and we many masochists will have to find our pain elsewhere - perhaps I’ll take up some of the many options for pain around Canberra, such as hanging out in the public gallery during Question Time.
In 2015 I completed the Full Fling, and swore off ever doing it again because, contrary to what you may read on this site, I am not really a masochist. I found the challenge of the Bundy Run and backing up for the Half Fling to be much more fun. But, without the Bundy Run, and this being the final Fling, I dared enter the full again. I mean, nobody goes to the bar and orders a middy when they call last drinks, do they? (For you Mexicans, that would be “You wouldn’t order a pot at closing time would you”) Then I proceeded to do no training.
As the weeks went on, Wild Horizons began posting images of the course to their Facebook page. River crossings. Bridges. Rocky sections. The Wall. Then they let slip that we’d be doing the Wingello section backwards! (Yay! That means going down the Wall, not up!) So my fear grew and grew as the anticipation of the pain to come began to seep into my bones. And yet, I didn’t train.
Finally, early in November, I found myself in the start chute at the Bundanoon Pony Club, having once more successfully managed to not ride through any horse or cow manure on my way to the start, waiting in line with many an eager rider for the painful treats to start.
As usual, the Fling started with a bit of a road ride to warm up, and was then followed with a free bath. I was actually kind of hoping to attempt to ride through it this time – as I’d nearly made it through on my return in the 2016 Half Fling, but at this stage far too many riders were enjoying themselves in the water, and there was little room for pedalling.
And this time there was not one, but two baths! After riding through various logging trails and dirt roads, we came once more to a river crossing, this one a little steeper. And while the handy sadist marshalling the river suggested it was possible to ride over the edge – I declined his kind offer and walked my bike through, only to climb out the other side with my poor steed looking like Luke’s x-wing after rising from the swamps of Dagobah – covered in slime and reeds. No doubt the intent was for us to ride through and cop a whipping from those reeds!
After some smooth cruising on fire trail and logging road, there was a long ride through lush, green paddocks towards the first feed station at Wingello. Now, riding on grass is hard. Really hard. It’s like every blade is a mini-triffid, all desperately attacking our tyres in an attempt to slow us down. But that wasn’t the truly painful feature of this section. I mean, pedalling hard, well that’s one thing. And pedalling hard uphill is tedious, but not terrible. But, riding fast through cow paddock will that’s a torture.
You see, cow’s hooves put divots in fields. Divots which are hidden in grass. With relatively level ground, we proceeded at a fast clip. So, even with a full-suspension bike, riding over fast, lumpy ground meant back wheel was rebounding up and down rapidly, sending jolts through to my already sore back was starting to make me feel like I was being sodomised by a jackhammer. Or, at least, you know, how I imagine it would feel.
But we were back onto track once more, and before long onto smoother gravel road, leading into Wingello with a chance to eat some food, stretch out sore bits, wonder why the hell I entered the Full Fling, and if there was still a sag wagon. Though, I dread to think of the punishment meted out to those who used the safe word.
Any good race has a deal of pleasure in it - something to dull the pain and put a smile on the dial. And the single track in Wingello involves a lot of pleasure (it’s just a shame we had to endure so much pain to get to it; but that pain does make the pleasure all the sweeter…) Just to make things more interesting this time, we were also doing the trails in reverse.
Forwards or backwards, the trails of Wingello are a lot of fun – particularly after they’ve been so nicely groomed by the dark side. They opened and flowed like a brown ribbon running through a sea of green forest – with the occasional bump to keep you awake! The only unfortunate thing about riding such nice trails, is that everything flies by so fast, and it’s so much fun, that you have no time to take in the surroundings.
So fast, in fact, that I didn’t even realise I’d come to the Wall. The steep, steep track that I could never climb. I had been looking forward to it. Really, I was relishing the idea of not having to walk my bike up that trail again. Though, always in the back of my mind there was a whisper “Hmm, it’s very steep…” Nevertheless, after a slight pause in which I thought, “You know, it doesn’t look that steep from up here...” I pointed my front wheel and down I went. Then, as I got to the last few metres, I realised there was no way out: the track became so steep that if I used my brakes (more) the wheels would lock up, and I’d slide down uncontrolled, and if I tried to get off my bike, we’d both just tumbled to the bottom. In the end it was a kind of relief to surrender and let the bike take control...
Then it was a little climb, and more single track. Fortunately I had recently taken a masterclass in off-camber switchback climbing - the Kowalski Classic – so felt quite comfortable climbing these trails, even popping over roots and rocks. Until I got to Padre’s Blessing!
I was riding around a corner, when I came upon a rock wall. Apparently we were supposed to ride up it - and some people did, but nobody that I saw in the punters’ pack at the back. There would be no blessing for me either – save the brief respite (if you could call it that) in carrying my bike up the wall. Yes, I may be soft, but at least I wasn’t tenderised (like the guy in the video the team posted on Facebook!)
But then it was more single track, and settling into spinning on more fire road before arriving at the next feed station, just in time for lunch! And with the sun rising higher, out on exposed roads once more, I remembered that (a) I had managed to get my arms sunburnt the week before and (b) I forgot my sunscreen again… One day I’ll be able to take a jersey off and not look like I’m still wearing one...
There was talk at the feed station about Halfway Hill being just a little way away, which meant we were about halfway through the race. My addled brain recalled the big V just after halfway through the course in the elevation profile, and I was relieved at the thought of just one more hill… That went all the way down, before climbing all the way up again. But I was full of food and water, and refreshed after a little break, so off I went in a lighter mood to descend to the depths.
That lightness dimmed in the dark valley, as I looked at the climb before me. I’d like to say I rode it all, actually, I wouldn’t. That would put me in the super freak category. No, I trudged, pushing my bike, until I made it to the top; pushing myself on with the thought that this was the last big climb – this was the V in the middle, after which it’d be back to undulations… and before too long, the ground began to level out once more, and I could take a seat on my bike and let my legs just tick over for a while.
Then the kick.
And it was very aptly named.
Halfway Hill was in fact only half the climb, perhaps not even that! The kick came after; with next to no protection from the sun, and relentless climbing. Once more I found myself escorting my bike up the road, my legs being further drained just walking up the hill, and wondering if it would be possible to get on the sag wagon at Wingello...
Eventually, finally, this climb was also over, and I was having trouble just trying to spin through the undulating forestry trails. In fact, it wasn’t until we were on flatter ground and smoother roads heading into Wingello that I began to perk up once more. So much so that I began to overtake riders. I even had one climb on the back and draft off me for a while. He did try to take a turn in front, but at that stage I was feeling as though I had nothing left, and just focussed on making it to Wingello and transition for some much needed rest, refuelling and reflection.
Unfortunately, I was towards the back of the field, which meant there were slim pickings in refreshments – leftovers really. But there were orange quarters, which were delicious, and refreshing, and reminded me of half time at footy; so I thought; “It’s only 30 more kms. And most of that is easy...” So off I ventured once more.
Cat o’ Nine
There is a sting in the tail of the Fling. It all starts out well enough leaving Wingello, save for more of that pocked-grassy paddock riding. But for 20 of the 30-odd kilometres it’s fairly smooth sailing. In fact, I had just been chatting to another rider, as we carried our bikes through yet another bath, that perhaps we’d been let off the hook, that in messing with the course and trying to fit in some classic features, the Wild Horizons team had elected to not give us so much pain.
But the team at Wild Horizons do value money, so when you pay for pain, they like to deliver in spades.
So it was that just after my optimistic suggestion we dropped into Boundary Rider, Roller Coaster, and Wombat’s Wander. On their own these trails aren’t too bad. They have pinches, with rocks and roots, which isn’t too hard. But when you’ve already done close to 100km. Then they’re nigh impossible! And they all have signs drawn up by kids, which are cute – but at the same time hint that a child would be doing better than you now!
Then it’s up Brokeback Mountain – which really isn’t that bad either. Just a windy, switchback climb, in the heat of the day with 100-odd kilometres in the legs. Easy. But, really, it’s just a grind, and by this time, that’s all you can do. It’s just enough to sap the last of your energy, before entering the Baker’s Delight – consisting of thirteen pun-named trails. Rocky, technical trails. With bad puns.
In all fairness, when I did the Half Fling last year, these were a lot of fun! Not so much in the full! (Did I mention that by this time I’d done over 100km?) It’d been over eight hours since my last coffee, and I was ill-prepared for all the rocks to jump out and attack me. Just to make sure no action was lost, this was one of the places photographers hid, ready to capture riders as they tumble and fall.
Still, some of it managed to put a smile on my face, and the rest was smooth(ish) sailing, except the sandy bits. And the climby bits. And the other grass paddock. The long, grass paddock. But at least that led to the finish, where a hamburger awaited! And my pain was over.
Word has it that this was the last event to be put on by Wild Horizons - I guess that means I should stop holding out hope for another Rock n’ Road. Henceforth I may have to indulge my painful obsessions somewhere else. Or, I could do regular things, like wash the car, mow the lawns… At any rate, Wild Horizons put on excellent, challenging events with a fun atmosphere. I, for one, will miss doing any more. Though, maybe not the Full Fling. I’m glad that’s over.
... still, it would be nice to see if I can get through the whole thing without having to walk.