Rear Guard Racing

Back Markering

The last few years have seen the growth of the grass roots enduro races put on by Doon Tha Brae Events. This year however they held the inaugural Aberdeenshire Enduro Series. Three races held over the late summer on some of Aberdeenshires best natural trails.

And whilst the prospect of every stage of an entire series being within half an hours drive from home was tempting, I took a different approach. Volunteering as a marschal and being the course back marker for each event.

Never rained but poured for this poor guy.

As the back marker, I would be one of two who would be sweeping the course. Making sure all those racing were safely off the course and helping out with anyone who was having a bad day.

So being course sweep seemed like the perfect compromise.

This sounded like the perfect setup to me. All the atmosphere of being part of a race or event and the focus of riding a taped off trail. But none of the self imposed stress and pressure of being on the clock.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love racing, you will never feel faster than when you are racing. But I am not very good at racing. I enjoy it, it is a hell of a lot of fun, but you don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it. I like watching marathons, but I’m not about to run one. And part of the reason I’m rubbish at racing (apart from generally being slow), is the stress of being on the clock, So being course sweep seemed like the perfect compromise.

The first race was the Aboyne Enduro, it was a great course with ideal weather both on the day and in the run up. In short, perfect. The stages were in prime condition and the crowd were in high spirits. Now as a course sweep, there are certain fringe benefits that you don’t get to enjoy in the same way as you would if you were racing.

Like being able to session a section of a stage because theres a photographer and you just want to try for a better shot? Or why not push back up and do that drop again, get that line dialled better second try? You have the time, why not enjoy it!

You also have the dubious pleasure of helping people who are having very bad days and trying to help them out if they need it. From minor mechanicals, to wheels so badly tachoed that the axle wont even come out the hub (that one felt like an expensive phone call from the bike shop). Now whilst I genuinely had no schadenfreude from these unfortunate events, the best stories tend to be the dramatic ones.

The main thing for me that was different from almost all my other race experiences, was just how much more social the whole experience was. When racing by myself, it has been a fairly solitary experience. You have chat with folk, but mostly, I’m either in my head or the pain cave. Without this, having time to kill at the start of each stage and with the agency of being a marschal. Striking up conversation and generally having a some banter with other racers and marschals was a highlight.

The second stage was a hilariously slick Hill of Fare. There was less drama on the mechanical side of things, thanks mostly to Bennachie Bike Bothy having a service station mid race. Less drama meant no one was having a really bad day, so win win.

The third stage was going to be at Drumtochty Glen. A venue that I knew best, and one I was really looking forward to and as the course looped around itself, there would be a good atmosphere on course. Unfortunatley, things would conspire against me being on course that day. A casual little hernia surgery got in the way of that.

So we while have to come back next year to collect the full set.

Fungle to Keen

One of the wonders of living in Scotland is the landscape in which we live.

 

 

Sometimes, you need to step out and journey into those hills. Riding with a former student I taught, (Callum Grant) we took in a 45km route that sampled flowing natural singletrack, warp speed loose fire roads and a hike a bike up a Munro.

This route was an attempt to tie together some classic trails and descents whilst racking up some respectable distance and climbing. It would be the longest day on the Banshee and a good bedding in for the new fork. It would also be a good indicator to see if the TDB would be fun (or even achievable for me) on the longer travel bike.

Starting in Aboyne we climbed to the start of the iconic Fungle singletrack via New Mill. After this perfect ribbon of Aberdeenshire trail, we climbed up onto the slopes of Baudy Meg. From here it was a rip roaring descent on a loose and ever so slightly fast fire road down into Glentanar.

Then it is a long grind past the tree line to the foot of Mount Keen (the most easterly munro in Scotland), then comes the hike-a-bike. You can try and ride the first part of the climb, but I always decide to try and conserve energy at a fairly early stage and push. Hiking up the rutted, washed out and rock strewn climb lets you fully take in the tech this descent has on offer.

More than once during the hike-a-bike I reminded myself that I’d only ever done this descent on a 100mm HT.  The additional squish that my Spitfire offered, would open up a lot more possibilities and line choices, hopefully preventing the need for too much vitamin I by the time I was back down!

The descent was a wild ride, starting from above the Grouse buttes the trail is fast, sandy and with enough rocks to keep you focussed on line choice. Once you get to the buttes though line choice becomes a whole other story. The trail morphs into a delta of washed out ruts, the peat and sand cleaned from the hill side revealing a mine field of loose rock and boulders.

With drops and wheel grabbing holes littering the trail speed may not exactly be your friend, but the front brake certainly was your enemy. Focussing hard on the trail ahead , I was feathering brakes and shifting weight, all whilst trying to not get drawn into a rut that would result in a dead end or a wheel killing drop. Venturing onto the open heather whilst initially appearing smoother, still had some surprises as all it did was disguise the rocks and holes on the hill side.

After a few close calls we rattled over the cattle grid and back on to a wide and rough as you’d like it land rover track. this was a short and simple strip of orange rubble with enough snipper rocks to keep you guessing, a strong tubeless game is a must for this descent.

With the heat of over exerted muscles building in my thighs we were back to the river at the base of the hill. With adrenaline and stoke high, the long drag in became a fast pedal smash back, with both of us surprised at home much elevation we had gained on the approach to Keen.

After reaching the tarmac of the south Deeside road, its a short spin back to Aboyne. The weather had played fair, The trails were fantastic and the Spitfire had done itself proud, another great day playing bikes in proper hills.

Fungle to Keen via Baudy Meg

Now this has complicated matters as now I have to decide on 160/140mm or 100mm XC HT for TDB, #MTBproblems