Friday, November 16, 2012

The Highland Fling

Holy Sister!
After winning myself a spot in the 2012 Highland Fling, I was quite excited to have the chance to experience this famous mountain bike race.  As it was 2 weeks before we embark on the 5-day Mark Webber Challenge, I decided to enter the 1/2 event - which was still 59kms.....and, as I found out, quite challenging in itself....I was also lucky enough to be able to join a group of 3 riders from Brisbane who were already going to the event, so I just had to get my air-fares sorted, and I was ready. Oh, and to add to the excitement....I decided to dress up as a nun....for no logical reason.....but just so I wouldn't take myself too seriously....

Meeting the group at Brisbane airport, there was one small hiccup when Meg didn't board the plane...??  We were alerted via Facebook, however, that she was already in accept the very prestigious award of 'Masters Cyclist of the Year'.... A swish evening for Meg amongst the elite of cycling....not that she doesn't deserve it....Anyone who doesn't know Meg Carrigan should look up her history.... At 51 she is still cycling elite.....Not many people can have such a long history in the sport!

Anyway, with 4 of us now we hit the road for the 2 hour drive to Bundanoon.....the world's first 'bottled water free' town.  This little environmental adage was going to be the first of many this The Highland Fling was the most environmentally friendly event I have ever been involved in...

Bikers cafe in town...
We checked into our little guest-house.....a quaint, country-style lodge.....built our bikes and my 3 travelling companions shot off to ride some of the course....a 20kms section of single-track which was in the middle part of the course that I wouldn't be riding..... I declined the invitation, however, preferring to pedal around and check out this little town in the Southern Highlands.... Seems the whole place was full to the brim with mountain bikers from all over the country....and I had a lovely time looking at all the English-style gardens whilst out exploring.

Registration, then out to dinner for the pre-race meal.... We were lucky enough to get an early booking at the  local Pizza restaurant....even though I declined pizza and opted for a hearty steak ....needing that extra protein fix before my ride the next day.  We had some wine.....when don't we????  And got an early night before race day.... It seems I was the only one who slept that night....Maybe they needed that extra glass of red to aid their relaxation....I don't know....!!

Race morning and we barged in for an early breakfast at our accommodation....Making the owners get up and serve us 2 1/2 hours earlier than their normal breakfast roster... We headed to the race HQ and got organised for the start.... Well, Meg and Peter were starting 45mins earlier than Imogen and when they lined up - we were on the sidelines to see them take off.  I was already dressed in my Nun's habit at that point and caused a bit of a stir amongst the riders....hopefully easing their nervous energy before they shot into action when Prue Goward (local pollie) fired the gun.  Meg was out to conquer the 100 miles (as was friend Naomi Hansen, Frankie Sanders and a whole lot of other crazy people...) Peter was tackling the 100 km on a single me dressing up as a Nun was a nice reminder that I was out for a fun day!

Imogen had entered the Elite 100km division and we both started just after 8.00am.  Quite a civilised time for a nun to have a little jaunt around the southern highlands on her mountain bike.

Off we all went in a cloud of dust.  I was happily riding along with some folk who thought it interesting to have a nun in the mix.  I was asked to say a few 'hail marys' for one guy.....and got some other interesting comments along the way.  It was a beautiful course....we had some great creek crossings.....some awesome single track....and a few hard climbs to add to the challenge.... I was successfully climbing better than the guys around me.....but they were bombing down the hills past me again - every time! So, had a good little thing going.....and it was quite enjoyable....

Before I knew it I was zooming through the 1/2 way point.... Wow, that came along quickly....Actually it was a little under 1/2 I had about 27kms to go... The 2nd part of the ride was a bit more interesting than the first.....a few more tricky bits.....but I was in the zone....and riding those hills like a very good nun..!!  Had a chuckle at the 'confessional' out on the course.....a real little box set up for anyone who had the need to confess to doping.....but as  I had no doping sins I didn't stop to go in, as those around me suggested....

Getting near the finish all the guys started to get a 2nd wind....heaps passed me with about 2km to go.... Let them go, I thought....I was having a good time and really enjoying this race. But suddenly it was all over as I flew across the finish line.....and into the scissored hands of Rob Marlow who immediately snipped off my timing chip.  Thanks Rob....we meet again.... Rob is a local from Forster NSW from the Adventure Racing fraternity and I never expected to see him at the Highland Fling.....and he never expected to see me dressed up as a nun.....there!  I was interviewed at the finish line to the delight of the onlookers.....and then retreated to find the post-race meal that was provided.... Mmmmmm, it was lovely....I sat and enjoyed my meal, and then, still in my costume, rode back to our guest house for much needed hot shower.  I was a scary sight when I took my sunnies off.....Yes, dirt in all the wrinkles....Glad I didn't stay and chat to many people as I got quite a fright when I looked in the mirror...... Ah....the glamour that is mountain biking....!!

Scrubbed and clean, I got back on the bike and rode back to race HQ to watch the rest of the crew finish.  Peter and Imogen had just finished when I arrived.  Good on them....100 kms down and they both had great results.... Then there was Naomi....finishing the 100 mile in just over 8hrs.  She looked a million dollars when she crossed the finish line..... I was so excited she had held on for the win.  Not long after that Meg rolled in and finally ticked off the 100mile race....4th placed female and that's for a 51 year old.... Frankie Sanders (crazy, mad dread-locked friend from Melbourne) also finished the 100 mile.....on a single speed....Now that is incredible....she was out there for well over 9 hours.....but finished....and I think possibly the only woman to complete a 100 mile event on a one-geared bike....It's a lot harder than dressing up as a nun!!

Nearly took out the photographer here..
We all celebrated into the night....well, the others a bit more than me.  How come I was so tired and I had only ridden 59kms???  Oh, that's right, those others were super-human, I sure!

Now I wanted to say something about the fantastic environmental policy of this great event.  The organisers went to a lot of trouble to minimize the impact of 2000 mountain bikers converging on a little town in the southern highlands....They had a policy to 'dob in a dumper', so if you saw someone littering you could take the law into your own hands....All of post-race meal utensils and plates were compost-friendly, and there was a range of bins to place everything at the event site, from compost, recycling  paper etc.  No plastic cups were used on the course....and no zip-ties for the 2000 number plates.....we were issued with 3 pieces of natural string which did the trick just nicely.... It was absolutely brilliant.....and just shows that it CAN BE DONE.....and I was very proud to be a part of this event for these reasons!

Anyway....surprisingly, the nun went quite well in the whole scheme of things....and thoroughly enjoyed the Highland Fling....and everything that Bundanoon had to offer.  And, yes, I would come back to this very well run and exciting event....and would recommend you put it on your to-do list as well...
See you out there!
Aunty Jan (aka the Flying Nun..)