MY FIRST ENDURO
To beat the winter monotony and keep the two wheel dream alive, Dangerous grew a pair and signed up for a three-hour enduro.
So there I was, in a field, freezing my plums off on the periphery of an ice-riddled enduro circuit with little grasp of which way it went or how on earth I was going to bluff my way around it over the next three hours. It’s funny how a flippant remark can land you well out of your depth, which had been the trigger for me lining up with a multitude of hardcore off-roaders for the final round of the Lincolnshire Enduro Club (LEC) championship.
I was clueless, nervous and about as prepared for the task in hand as a carrot is for hammering in nails. “Get in a rhythm. Don’t push too hard too soon. And don’t go crashing every five minutes because you’ll be blowing out your arse before you know it,” came my younger brother Brod’s words of wisdom before he tootled off to the head of our 74-bike strong grid, that’d be brought to life by a Le Mans style start. But while my organised, eager and anxiously anticipating sibling watched desperately for the dropping of a flag that would see this torturous episode brought to life, I was still deliberating what I was going to have for tea that night, and whether or not I could squeeze my fat fingers into the kiddie-sized gloves I mistakenly purchased the day before.
As it happened, curry would prove the answer to the first of those questions, and yes, my fingers could be contorted sufficiently into the shape of a five-year-old’s, but not in time for the start of the race, which saw every man and his dog vanish into the distance while I stumbled my way over to my bike and thumbed the starter. At least the KTM proved to be on the ball, barking into life with no hesitation and powering me into the first corner melee that saw fallen riders and dropped bikes everywhere. What a bloody bonus that was!
Without trying I’d picked up a handful of places, and that stroke of luck continued as the icy ground obligingly caught riders out time and again, while I tootled by like Miss Daisy on tick-over.
As baptisms go, the inaugural few corners proved pretty damn intense, made worse by the fact I had to work out which way the track went while pretending I knew how to ride a dirt bike. Which I didn’t. Well, not really. Which meant that before I knew it the fallen masses I’d navigated around at the start of the race were soon right up my chuff, shouting demands and threatening to barge past if I didn’t move aside like a good boy. Balls to that! I just dug a little deeper and gripped the bike’s ’bars that bit tighter, as the 250’s four-stroke motor powered me up hill and down dale on some rollercoaster-like journey of mud, grass and scary moments. The pace was ever changing, and so too was the terrain, with the odd jump interspersing sections of frozen mud or overgrown greenery.
Every section felt like a roll of the dice, and I made the wrong move time and again, encouraging far too many near highsides, lowsides and everything else in between. It wasn’t as if I was even going fast, unlike my brother who’d taken the holeshot and was leading the race with grace and style. Me on the other hand, well, I’m just glad my parents weren’t there to witness my performance, and the same goes for my missus, who I’m sure would’ve left me and taken the dog and the finest China in the process.
FEAR IS FUN
I wouldn’t have blamed her. That first lap felt like sheer survival, and despite it being a chilly –1ºC, I was sweating like a trafficker at border control and gasping for oxygen like a fish out of water. How on earth could anyone do three hours of this malarkey?
It had to be a drug fuelled thing, surely? Something that gave you superhuman fitness, no sense of pain and a numbness to fear. Whatever it was, I wanted some because at just seven minutes in my brain felt exhausted; constantly half transfixed on where the next orange track markers would guide me, while simultaneously trying to process what line to take, how much throttle to apply and when was the right time to get on the anchors. Gear changes were crucial, and moving my body around meant the difference between finding traction and not, as I was learning with every second in the saddle. My arms were pumped solid, my legs burning from the strain, but come midway on that second lap my head began perversely enjoying this punishment. I was on a bike, racing with nutters and breaking the tedium of winter that’d otherwise see me collecting leaves or performing some suchlike mundane chore at home. Yeah, it was bloody hard work, but it was also a lot of fun.
Like a switch, my thoughts began to change; I cared more about who was in front and how I was going to pass them. Because everyone suddenly seemed passable… or at least that’s what I was telling myself.
With time, things were getting easier, and my confidence with the KTM was growing. The course was a technical one, made all the more challenging by a blindingly low sun that meant you had little idea of what lay before you as the track demanded you hit a fourth gear uphill jump with no visibility of who or what lay ahead. I liked that. It was all down to chance and the edginess of it all was weirdly appealing.
Unlike on a road race circuit, the lines on tap were countless. There were no right or wrong paths, but I naturally favoured certain routes and even certain areas of the track. The slow and technical stuff was right up my street, and where the track utilised the supplementing Thoresway motocross course also worked to my favour. It was a track I’d ridden a few times before and I knew how hard I could push at key points. But then there were some dodgy bits, like the climb up one hill that would see you jump off a 6ft ramp onto another part of the track.
You’d need to ride it to fully grasp why it had me on tenterhooks, but I bricked it every single time I tackled that section, as when you landed the bike had lost its momentum and the new part of the route was immediately steep uphill. Another zone saw a tight left turn onto a grassy and grip-less ascent that demanded you kept momentum, or it’d leave you spinning the back wheel and going nowhere. But the worst of all areas were the steep downhill sections, which were plentiful and terrifying. I don’t use a rear brake, and however many times I tried to force myself to do so, I’d still just plummet uncontrollably to the bottom of a descent hoping that my engine braking and dabs of front brake would slow me sufficiently for the awaiting obstacles at the bottom of such sections. Basically, I was winging it the whole damn thing to the extent that it’s easier to think of the times I was in control as opposed to the other way round, but I was loving it all the same.
At the beginning of each lap you had to ride at walking pace through a gated timing zone, where transponders would pick you up and chalk another survived lap in your name. There was also a visible clock on show, and it was a huge relief to see I’d ridden for an hour and was actually feeling the most chilled and strong that I had all race.
I had my Kriega Hydro-3 Backpack with me, and regular slurps of water kept me going like a good’un. So much so that I reluctantly pulled in at an hour and a half to refuel and rehydrate. Sod’s law, Brod rocked up at exactly the same time, and as he was the one who was actually leading the race I felt obliged to let him fuel up first while I kicked my feet and watched the racers I’d been passing sneak back past me. I knew I was never going to match the pace of my brother, or loads of the other folk out there, but I’d gone from being some dawdling nobber to a rider with a bit of potential.
Fuelled and fired for the second half of the assault, I was out to make a point and felt at home with the bike and the track. I still hadn’t crashed once by this point and that was the way I planned to keep it. There was one mate who I knew from road racing that I was out to beat and by chance I saw him at a different section of the track about a minute behind me. That then became all I cared about, as I ticked off the laps and kept increasing my advantage over my pursuer.
But as the final hour came into play, I hit a brick wall. Not physically, but mentally. My flow seemed to lessen and it didn’t help that the track was proper mullered by this stage, to the extent that the descents featured huge potholes and the fast uphill zones were equally rutted and prone to kicking your back end out exactly when and where you wouldn’t want it to. It was the same for everyone and I don’t think I was the only one
to be feeling it in that last stint. The worst pain of all was in my hands. My skin tight gloves had done a right number on me, blistering my palms up like mountains. Well, maybe more like molehills, but the point was they were stinging like a bar-steward and I was still a long way from the chequered.
Some smarter, more committed and generally more capable rider would’ve probably known how to compartmentalise the pain, but I struggled to focus on anything but it. My back, legs, torso and arms were holding up well, but being in grief every time I pulled the brake, twisted the throttle or whipped the clutch in was gruelling, akin to stabbing myself in the hand repeatedly. I was self-harming, but there was bugger all chance I was quitting. That last hour was something g else and the last 15 minutes had me questioning my own sanity. Pain aside e, I was really enjoying myself and wondering why I’d not done an endur ro sooner during my 31-years on this planet. No single lap of the four mile course was boring, and I’d picked up new skills through every inch of the process.
Despite feeling like I’d never be able to open a door handle or clap my hands ever again, the race had been immense and I was pretty damn relieved when I crossed the timing grid for the last time. I was physically hanging, but mentally it felt like I’d just pulled off a huge feat, along the same lines as beating Fagan in a pie eating competition.
It’d been awesome fun, great for my fitness and a cheap and dynamic way to get some serious two-wheeled action in the bag. Better still, I’d won my class and Brod hadn’t done too shabby either, finishing second overall… some 37 places further up than me. After a presentation, a powerwash and a pint (of Lucozade), it was time to hit the road with the accolade of being an enduro racer on my CV. Okay, a very slow enduro racer, but we’ve all got to start somewhere.
A huge thanks to the Lincolnshire Enduro Championship organisers, for allowing me to wobble around at the final round. Take a look at http://lincolnshireenduroclub.webs.com for 2018’s calendar and club contact details.
Yes, Bruce is scared of heights.
‘It’d be better if you just put your bike back in the van.’ Ready for the off! The traffic was a nightmare! Heading to the pre-race briefing...
Proof that Dangerous passed at least one rider...
The course had a bit of everything in its mix.
Brod showed his big brother how it’s done! A broken man... but at least he made it.