The first enduro of the season, the Northern Downhill ND(H)uro at Hamsterley Forest, AKA the coldest race of the year. One day event, two stages raced twice.
Sam and I made our way down from the tropical climates of Scotland to the snowy peaks of Hamsterley Forest in the North East of England. We were both buzzing, Sam having just picked up his 2017 Intense Tracer and me, just excited to ride at Hammers after a year away.
We arrived early afternoon on the Saturday, Sam got the bikes ready while I had an impromptu meeting with a couple of the “chix” from the, MTB Chix & Trails community in the toilets. We set off for what was expected to be a super duper day playing on the trails and getting a rare ride in together.
Alas, Milhouse the Meta was not willing to carry on.
About 20 feet along the road I noticed that I was gradually sinking. I put my dropper post up and carried on, thinking how silly I was not putting it up… again I sank. We stopped and put the post up, down, twisted it right and left before deducing that is was gubbed.
I bravely, without a tear, told Sam to carry on without me, enjoy his new bike. I didn’t cry. Not even once, not even after he left. I did not have a tantrum. I was fine. Really, I was ok, totally great. Never better.
I might have cried a little bit.
That evening Sam discovered the cause of the problem, see what happened was the dooda had popped out the thingmy. Sam put the dooda back in the thingmy and it was working again. A massive dinner and long night of trying to sleep through the noise of a Darts Club rampaging through the hotel and we were ready to race come Sunday morning.
We started our day with a couple of detours and cautious driving down the snowy roads, but we got to the car park nice and early, grabbing a space next to the food van.
We got kitted up, registered, acclimatized to the cold, and said hello to friends. Sam’s brand new Team spec Intense Tracer got a fair amount of admiration, my 2015 Meta AM V3 did not.
I knew I would struggle on the climb so I decided to set off as soon as I could to allow myself plenty time to get practice in before the race started in the afternoon. The race was meant to have three stages, but due to the bad weather, the decision was made to only run two stages and race them twice. I pedalled and huffed and puffed my way to the top of the hill, passing through the Descend car park, bumping into the friendliest face of Jade Limpus, I grabbed a cuddle to steal her warmth before starting my first practice run.
I chose to start on stage 2 (and 4), which started on the 4X track, breaking off to the right into some nice flat rooty trails. I felt comfortable and surprisingly fast for having not ridden much over winter. I got too comfortable too fast and from then on all I can describe the track as is: muddy, slippy, rooty, greasy and above all else… FUN. I was terrible but had an absolute ball slipping and skidding my way down, struggling to get my feet clipped in with the mud and packed up snow stuck around my cleats.
The marshals on the track were amazing as always, giving tips when they could see I was struggling, or simply telling me I was not the only one who stopped at that section. It makes such a difference when you are riding on your own to have marshals who show support and make you smile when you feel like crying.
I somehow got to the bottom and was faced with a river. No. Not happening. Too cold, I am not riding through that. After watching four or five riders pedal through I realised I was going to have to pedal through the freezing depths of the great River Hammers if I wanted to get back to base camp.
I grabbed a quick snack and water and then headed up to begin practice for stage one (and three). During this transition the ever inspiring Friders Team passed me and I grabbed a quick chat with my personal hero Martha Gill, chatted to her for as long as my lungs would allow – about 30 seconds, an awesome 30 seconds though. Once I got to the top I asked the marshal for the time and realised I had manage to faff away too much time and was left with around ten minutes to practice this stage before setting off to race. I didn’t mess around, got clipped in and set off.
I felt OK on the first section, not terrible, not good, just that I could ride it without stopping. I got to the access road and pulled off so I could walk the next section before riding it. I felt nerves kicking in after seeing the roots and tight corners, knowing I was not riding with much confidence.
Rather than waste more time building more nerves I got on the bike and set off, I think I rode for about 10 seconds before stopping. I pushed past a section. Repeat this a few times and I somehow got to the bottom having ridden about a third of the rest of that track. Decision was made when I arrived at the bottom – I could not race. I broke the news to the ever lovely Amelia Taylor, who was as usual, lovely and reassuring.
The day got colder as it went on, and hearing the elite boys say the tracks were difficult in the conditions made me feel even more reassured that I was not that terrible. I had total respect for the girls and guys who cracked on and completed the race. I would not have coped with the cold without my Flare bibs underneath my riding kit, Sam’s Sealskinz socks and my Mara buff. As always in the UK, my Mudhugger was an absolute essential so big thanks owed to the Mudhugger Bros for keeping my face mud-free.
Normally, pulling out of a race would leave me feeling defeated, upset or embarrassed, but with the atmosphere you’ll find at any NDH event, it’s so hard to feel that way when everyone is so supportive and friendly. The NDH team did amazing to cope with the weather thrown at them, and the marshals were heroes as always. I would definitely recommend trying the ND(H)uro if you are looking to get into the Enduro scene, just make sure you wrap up warm if it’s held in winter.
Much love and warm dry socks,