The 2013 Camelback Highland Fling was the race that just seemed to creep up on me. I signed up for the 112km Full Fling in September when I was travelling around Vietnam for my Honeymoon; and then promptly put it in the back of my mind. I still had to race in the Scott 25 Hour and the Battle of the Beasts weekend before I could even think about tackling the hills and winding single track of the southern highlands. It wasn’t until the day before the race that I actually started looking at what I needed to pack and which bike I was going to ride.
The 2012 Highland Fling was my second ever race and I suffered some serious cramps as I neared the end of the 56km Half Fling. It wasn’t a race I particularly enjoyed for two reasons.
1. The elite riders went after the main pack and caught ALL of the Half Fling riders at the most technical part of the course. Cue getting off the bike and letting everyone else pass and a multitude of stacks as the less confident riders started to panic when the elites were bearing down on them;
2. The event planning seemed a little haphazard. At around the 10km mark I witnessed and stopped for a very heavy crash. Myself and a couple of other riders helped another rider that had broken his collarbone and received numerous scratches and cuts. We did the best we could to help him with very limited supplies and then waited for 45 minutes for an extremely incompetent first aid official to turn up. It was only after I expressed the urgent need for an ambulance and a medical professional did one arrive and take him to the hospital. This ended up taking over an hour which I would never make up for when back on the course.
Because of last years experience and a distinct lack of motivation I never really got into the mental groove to tackle this years race. When I finally got around to preparing and packing, I only did it the morning I was to drive to the event centre to set up our campsite.
I drove up with fellow Bermer Argo and followed him into Bundanoon. At the town hall we caught up with Roger and Alyssa and registered for the next days race. A quick drive through town to the Bundanoon Pony Club and we started setting up our camp and The Berm HQ for the weekend.
We spent the rest of the daylight hours getting our bikes ready, eating dinner, drinking some beers before heading to bed for an early night before the inevitable rain settled in. We spent the rest of the daylight hours getting our bikes ready, eating dinner, drinking some beers before heading to bed for an early night before the inevitable rain settled in.
I awoke to the sounds of the other riders getting out of their tents and going about their pre-race routine. I slowly ventured out into the cold and drizzling morning and headed straight for the coffee van. I had organised my riding gear, water and food the day before so all I had to do was strap my dodgy left knee and get changed. I sat in my chair for a while procrastinating about taking my warm clothes off and putting on my non-warming lycra.
The start of the race was a very slow unclipped roll until we reached the road a few hundred metres from the start line. Once on the road many riders started speeding off down the road. I chuckled to myself as I had made this mistake last year. Unless you are racing for the podium there is no real reason to head for the front of the pack in the first 5km as at numerous points it will bottle neck and slow you down.
As I expected the bottle necking was I full effect on the first fire road climb and soon I was passing the very riders that sped past me not 10 minutes before. I’m not the most technical or fast rider but I damn well make sure I can out climb most riders.
As the race progressed the rain settled in and the temperature dropped. I was not enjoying the race and when I caught up to Roger with a torn sidewall on his tyre I realised I wasn’t the only one. As the race went on the field started to spread out.
Soon we entered the first parts of the single track and was met with a dramatic decrease in speed. It was apparent a lot of the riders were able to smash out a fast pace on the fire roads but once on the single track came to a near halt. I was passing riders on the winding climbs and not being passed at all; a strange occurrence for me.
Riders that had flown past me 15 minutes before on a fire road decent were now walking their bikes along some of the not so technical trails. This for me was a massive boost in confidence and I pushed on into the Wingello National Forest section of the race.
This part of the course was more tricky and definitely required me to pay more attention. As the rain was now quite set in, this part of the course had become quite muddy and very slippery. As we wound down into the small gully it became obvious that some climbing would be coming up and soon I was seeing signs declaring that “The Wall” was fast approaching.
I sped into the start of the short but very steep climb, selected a gear and pushed up the hill trying to keep the front tyre on the ground. I made it three quarters of the way up before a walking rider decided he wanted to walk on the line I was riding without looking behind him. I came to a halt and almost fell onto the ground; he gave me half-hearted apology and I gave him a hot-tip about how not to be a dickhead to other riders.
After the wall came some more winding single track with some very tight corners. There were a few drop offs and tight squeezes through trees. I was enjoying myself and thankful I run very narrow 600mm bars so I could slip through the tight areas with no issues.
After pushing myself a little into the red zone I started to wonder when the next feed station was as I was running low on water. I was doing the math in my head trying to work out how far the next feed station was and then how far the second transition point was.
I was busy looking at my GPS and watch when I felt my front tyre starting to slip out from under me. I gave the back brakes a little tap to bring the bike level and careened into a tree trunk with my left leg. I kept the bike up right and continued on for a few metres before my leg started to cramp.
I pulled over when I reached the next area of fire road to try and stretch out my leg. Instantly I felt every muscle from my hip down to my calf tense and cramp up simultaneously. After a few minutes of light stretching I decided to keep riding and soon saw a sign indicating I was approaching the much needed feed station.
I paused at the station for around 10 minutes before I finally made the choice to withdrawal from the race. I had made it to the 55km point and knew I wouldn’t be able to finish the next 60(ish)km of the race.
A disappointing end to a race I hadn’t really found my flow in but I was glad I had given it a go. I rolled back to the transition point and was driven back to the event centre. At The Berm HQ Argo and Alyssa had just finished their Half Fling race and Roger was already clean and changed after retiring with his busted tyre.
I probably won’t ride in next years Highland Fling but won’t rule it out in future years.