My Snowies MTB Festival started many months ago when I committed to helping promote and ride in the race opportunities the festival presented. In my head, I had tons of time to build up my strength, fitness and dial in my skills. How quickly the time passes! Staying fixated and successfully sticking to a training regime was a big ask from my overweight, Rheumatoid Arthritic, Fibromyalgia ridden and Asthmatic 50+ yr old body. But hey, what’s life without challenges right?
As last week rolled on and Friday (race day 1) grew nearer, I knew I was under-cooked for this adventure. I’d ridden some of the trails around the Crackenback Resort before and also the Thredbo Valley Trail but had never ridden the Thredbo mountain trails where a chair lift pass was necessary to get to the trail head. I’d ridden as much as my body, the weather and working up to 6 days a week would allow, but sitting in the car as the amazing landscape between Cooma and Jindabyne whizzed by the window, I came to a decision. My focus would be about helping others I know in the race, and simply enjoying the experience with the goal of simply completing the 5 stages in one piece. When the beautiful Lake Jindabyne came into view, it seemed to just cast a peacefulness over my decision. I knew this was going to be an awesome weekend’s event.
Settled into our apartment in the Thredbo Village, a hearty meal from the pub, a few drinks and good night’s sleep was on the agenda. Not sure where the sleep fairies went but at least the meal and drinks were good. I awoke Friday morning with a nasty asthma event in action. After plenty of medication I was able to join our gang and head back to Jindabyne for a quick cruise around the lake trails between Tyrolean and Jindabyne before doing some food shopping for the weekend ahead. By 3pm that afternoon, we were down at the Crackenback Resort and checking in for the time trial starting at 5pm. With riders going every 30 secs, and in numeric order, I didn’t start until just after 7pm. A long wait, but at least it was cool. I don’t start well. I’m old and need time to slowly warm up. So heading straight up a hill and wanting to tackle some very technical A lines isn’t my thing.
Yet, rounding the first tight turn and the sight of the wooden ramp up onto the big rock was too much to resist. A quick sprint and heave to get the body and bike over the top and down the other side I went before hoisting the bike over a 2nd large rock and onto the climbing proper. My race had started, and I was enjoying the cheering crowd and fun trail already! The time trial course featured other rocky sections (B lines for the less skilled or totally knackered) and fast berms at the start of the lap, but then settled in to fast, flowing trail (plenty of small rock rollovers) out to the gorgeous Thredbo River and back along a meandering course with lots of bridges back to the finish line. The worst part was the horrible, grassy, uphill finish chute which just tore your legs off and then beat you around the head with them. Thank goodness the race commentator made an awesome effort to highlight every finishing rider and spur us on to finish in style. Not my thing, but thoroughly enjoyed it anyhow. Off for a late dinner back at the Thredbo Village and try to get some sleep the fairies owed me from last night before we take on 3 stages the next day on Saturday.
Saturday morning dawned and I looked out from the apartment balcony at the mountain chair lifts, and on up to the mountaintop, wondering what this day would bring. It would start with a climbing stage up the Thredbo Valley Trail from Crackenback to Thredbo. Next would be a chairlift ride to the top and a wild descent down the All Mountain Trail back to Thredbo and then on down the Thredbo Valley Trail we had climbed earlier to finish the the day’s 3 stages back down at the Crackenback Resort. The air was cool, the sky was clear, sleep was elusive and asthma was hiding in the bushes.
Stage 2 was to be a seeding stage. Can’t say I was happy about that because I don’t climb fast. I can climb most things, just very slowly. Point me back downhill though, and at least from a cross country/all mountain perspective, I do pretty well. I knew stage 2 was going to seed me behind a lot of riders that would hold me up coming back down on Stages 3 and 4. Oh well, suck it up princess, I am what I am. Asthma hit me after 5 k’s or so. We’d mass started stage 2 with an early climb to try to sort out the fast from the slower riders. The trail took us out towards the Diggings campground where the climb began to get consistent. It’s a great climb as climbs go. Plenty of short downhill sections as well, with some stunning views of the river and mountains along the way. No matter how much you are suffering, when you turn out onto the several arched bridges, the view down to the water just makes you feel lucky to be in such iconic terrain. As the climb went on, my asthma returned a second time. Again I was forced to sit on the side of the track for 5 mins while my ventolin did its thing and allowed me to continue on. I was glad the climb was over when I rolled under the finish arch at Thredbo’s Friday Flats. My plan was go have a shower, have some lunch and relax a while before stage 3. All I had time for was a quick lunch, add some extra armour for my elbows and knees before mounting the chair lift and heading skyward towards Gunbarrel and the start of stage 3.
Up the top we had to traverse an untimed section of the All Mountain trail to get to the start line. This traverse is very technical with huge rocky sections that had huge numbers of riders walking much of it. I decided to walk 1 or 2 sections and take photos of the massive views and granite filled vista of the terrain. I was very satisfied though with riding most of this traverse section over huge rock drops and technical bends and small climbs.
I launched into stage 3, the very technical advanced intermediate All Mountain Track back to Thredbo, armed up with elbow and knee padding. I was keen to have a good run down this extremely challenging trail and hoping to find I could get by lots of less skilled riders who had out-climbed me on stage 2 and were now slowly bumping and walking their way down this track. Overall, I managed to blast past most riders I caught up with, and to say this was a highlight of the whole festival seems like an understatement. My bike was well suited to this descent and I have enough skills to really get into it, flowing through the giant berms and launching off the myriad of rocks and bumps along the way. Yeeehah! When the trail spat us out on Friday Flats and the finish banner for stage 3, you knew you’d been standing on your pedals for more than 6 kilometres! Man it taxes the legs! At least we could rest now before stage 4 started right?
Wrong! Stage 4 began as you crossed the finish of stage 3. No time to stop, it was on down the Thredbo Valley Trail (TVT) immediately for a 19 km descent down the trail we’d climbed earlier. Where the All Mountain Trail is a steep, intense, relentless, white knuckle rush down the mountainside, the TVT is a fast, flowing, rolling descent framed with beautiful river scenery and a host of cool trail features to hop and jump off. Maintaining momentum through corners and up the pinch climbs was key. My biggest problem was the day’s effort was starting to tell on my system and lactic evacuation was brewing deep within. Somewhere along the way, I was forced to the side of the track again where I contributed some partially digested nutrients to the good of the Thredbo flora. There’s a patch of bush that’s probably greener this week than it was before I got there me thinks. I downed a gel and some water and climbed back on the bike. This was waaaaay too much fun to be sitting around praying to Ralph. By the time I got back down to the Diggings campground my legs were really starting to give out. The final 5 k’s along the river and around the back of the resort was painful. However, rolling in to the finish to complete stage 4 and knowing that only the 45 km stage 5 stood between me and completion was a great feeling. Again, a hot shower, a solid dinner and good night sleep were calling my name… loudly.
Up at sparrow’s fart once more on Sunday morning, and then off down to the Crackenback Resort to check in by 8am, I wondered how on earth I was going to get through 3x 15 km laps today. I decided the strategy would be to simply get lap 1 done and start lap 2 and see how I was going. The course was similar to the time trial, using much of the 5ks from the time trial course but also took us off and around the river as well. Overall, once you got through the initial climb of the lap, you enjoyed this very fun, mostly flat course very much. It didn’t require a lot of skill to roll along slowly but featured plenty of fast downhill sections to really keep you interested. The start was unlike any other race I’ve ever done in the past, and I’ve been MTB racing on and off for the best part of 17+ years. I knew what to expect but when the Man From Snowy River rode out onto the grass beside us, reared his beautiful horse high, cracked the whip and bolted up the course ahead of the charging field of riders to start the race, it was total goosebumps. How good is this festival!!!? The answer is bloody awesome by the way.
I started lap 2 kind of settled into a groove somewhere between pain, fatigue and a deep seated determination to head out and enjoy this amazing course another time. My problems and lack of fitness and speed had me well back in the field, but I had long since stopped giving a damn about that. It was all about the experience now, it was about the scenery, about the atmosphere and about enjoying seeing myself and others I knew achieving great things on the bike in a magical place. Lap 3 came and went also. I wasn’t going to travel all the way from Newcastle to the Snowy Mountains after 9 months of preparation to stop with only 15 k’s to go. Finishing 8 of 11 in my old boilers category seemed like a unimportant underlining now. Competing, completing and tucking away into memory what is becoming one of the most iconic stage races in the country, was the great take away for me now.
The Snowies MTB Festival is run by a well known, professional company In2Adventure that delivers great events every time. The race really requires strong skills and fitness to be competitive and is not the domain of beginner riders. Yet, they were there. In force. And they fell off and got back on. They laughed and grinned and realised what a huge thing they’d achieved by just coming and competing at all, regardless of whether they completed all stages. The Snowies MTB Festival is an experience for sure. What experience exactly is up to you.
PS: Thanks to Steve ( Hubby ) for keeping me and my bike running, Bec for her encouragement each day, even when dealing with her own problems, the cheering from students and new friends made. We do have a wonderful mountain biking community!
What's next hmmm hehehe 🙂