Mike Anton writes…
Having done a few night rides as part of my attempt at the South Downs Double, I thought it might be worth having a go at a ‘proper’ overnight MTB event.
Dusk to Dawn has been around for a few years and is one of those big name events that attracts a lot of entries. There were over a 1000 this year covering all the categories of solos to teams of four.
Andy foolishly agreed to join me so off the entry went before my two week sojourn driving a sun lounger in Turkey.
Having carefully tapered my riding with the above lounging about drinking beer, I wasn’t expecting much of my performance. I also expecting even less of my off road abilities. Being a true tester, I can just about manage to get round dual carriageway roundabouts so wasn’t looking forward to miles of single track.
With what seemed like 3 ton of kit we set off to Thetford, arriving around 4:30 with the threat of rain during the event. With the tent set up and a half baked strategy agreed, we set off on an inspection lap before it got dark.
My fears were confirmed when we hit the single track with Andy easing off to allow me to stay in touch. The 10 mile course was bone dry and featured quite a lot of tricky loamy sand, usually at the tops of the bomb holes. To me it seemed like there was 9.5 miles of single track though this really wasn’t the case as there was plenty of fire road where I could claw back some time.
Having done the test ride in 55 mins, I thought we might be going around in 1:05 or slower come darkness.
A heavy downpour at 7:30 didn’t bode well for the rest of the night but this didn’t dampen the expectation of the competitors or crowd at the start. Come the start at 8pm, Andy dived in to the scramble of the first lap whilst I took a number of pictures and soaked up the expectant atmosphere.
A slightly confused handover saw me start off at a decent pace before hitting the first section of single track which was very dusty. Trying my best to not bounce off of any trees or other riders I plunged on in to the course, not even worrying about the drops in to the various bomb holes.
Unfortunately the climbs out of the bomb holes were either unrideable or a mass of bikes and riders trying to fight their way out of the top.
Much of the single track was actually quite flowing and fun and visibility was good with both our lights, and the other competitors. However there were plenty of sections that went through the trees on very tight and twisty lines and I for one took these sections very steadily.
The final ¾ mile or so was on a big fire road so it was a chance to mash the big gears and get some speed back.
Handing over to Andy we then took it in turns to do 2 laps on and 2 off. I was a bit surprised that I was averaging 55 minute laps or so and looking at the overall event timing we were both pretty evenly match and consistent.
For the final four laps we alternated and these were the worst and slowest for me. I’d had a few minor offs in my opening laps but pretty much kept everything in check after that. Unfortunately the battering you got on some of the sections took their toll and my last two laps were the slowest of the night.
With me finishing the final lap we’d racked up 14 laps in 12:45:39 which was good enough for 19th pair out of 84 teams, so all in all a pretty good effort.
To put that in context, the fastest pair managed 16 laps in under 12:29, with the fastest solo rider doing an incredible 15 laps in 12:06.
It was a well run event with a unique buzz and it was quite inspirational watching the single track gods speeding (away) through the trees. Having done a few 12 hour rides on my own on the South Downs, I can only take my hat off to the solo’ers as not only did they have to have the mental toughness to keep going, they also had to have the physical abilities to soak up the punishment of the course.
Would I do it again?
It was something new to me and a testing challenge that had me out of my comfort zone. On balance we both agreed that we wouldn’t do it again as a pair but would contemplate it if we fielded a team of four.