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.

Finella or Drumtochty

(depending on what side you approach the hill), is a hidden gem in the southern edges of Aberdeenshire.

From the steep old growth of Drumtochty Glen, to the tight dark stands on the Auchenblae side, this hill has a lot of character and range of trails on offer. For the committed downhill rider and enduronaut the Drumtochty slopes provide plenty of challenge and speed for those willing to tame the gnar. On the mellower side of things, the tight trails  of the Auchenblae side are woven over and through deep furrows cut between dense crops of pine trees, on ground that is apparently impervious to rain.

The fire road climbs snake lazily upwards and is dispatched without much fuss allowing the main business of descending to soon begin. The “trail” singletrack on the Auchenblae side of the hill provides singletrack with a character quite different to offerings elsewhere in the region. The dense growth of harvest timber has led to quite a barren understory, that is both fast draining and thick with the loam created by years of shed pine needles.

These trails are short fun blasts that reward the committed who work their body english as much as they turn the cranks. They can be linked together to create long flowing runs that build in pace the further you run, before breaking the tree line and climbing back up the fireroad for another blast on the roller coaster.

The impossibly weather proofed trails have a deep soft loam that rips into high roster tails as you bob and weave between the furrows. Yet with all that grip, sniper roots still lurk in the shadowy corners waiting to grab a wheel out from under you and set you pin balling from side to side down the trail.

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Then there are the longer newly dug steep “enduro” lines. Off camber, with steep chutes and rooty drops. The newer lines are best attempted with repeat viewings, as once on the bike blind drops always appear larger than they are in reality.

You can’t simply steam roller these trails if you want to go fast.

The proximity of the trails to each other and the modest climbs of the hill may lead you to expect a less demanding character of singletrack. Yet a trail can be as challenging as you make it, with precision and bike handling levels increasing dramatically the faster you go. You can’t simply steam roller these trails if you want to go fast.

Green climbs Scotland

It may not have the number and length of the trails at other local spots like Scolty, but this is one hill not to be overlooked.

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You say Finella I say Drumtochty, the OS says Drumelzie.


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