My life nearly changed forever on the 11th November 2012. Sitting on the start line of the Half Highland Fling with 1000 other amped riders, the countdown to the start was on. The adrenaline was pumping, the Divinyls song, Pleasure and Pain was belting out through the mega speakers with a chopper flying overhead. It couldn’t get any better than this. Pleasure and Pain, however, was very much my anthem of the day as I went from being involved in an event such as this-
The day started off in brilliant fashion, as it always seems to do, for the Fling. The dire warnings of extreme rainfall hitting the area were way off the mark . After the past three years of competing in the Full Fling of 110km, this year I had opted for the sprint (55km). After concentrating on road racing for the last six months, this was my first major MTB event for a while so I was excited to race in such a big field. In previous years, the most popular and most prestigious format was the Full Fling. That race still holds its mantle with the majority of elites choosing to race the course in its entirety. This year, however, the Half Fling was by far the most fashionable and like the Full Fling, certainly had some riders who were in the elite class and who had chosen this style of racing over longer endurance distances. With some fast guns battling for the prize money in the Half Fling and the fact that the elite Full Flingers started with the Half Flingers, the pace was always going to be furious from the start. I held on for as long as I could although when those initial rolling hills hit, it was time to find a rhythm which would sustain my own race. It’s funny how races start, full of noise, colour and flare. Then all of a sudden it’s nothing but the sound of drive chains and wheels. There is no talking among riders as everyone is in their own little world of hurt. On cresting a hill, the helicopter came swooping past at low altitude. No doubt it was finding it hard to keep up with those elites driving the train at the front of the pack.
From the lush, green, farmland pastures out of Bundanoon, the course heads into Penrose Forest for an early bath. That is, off the bike and through a creek crossing. Out the back of the forest there is some steep climbing to be done although being in my own backyard, it’s nothing I’m not familiar with. Before breaking out of the Forest, three of the Southern Highlands young, speed brigade had caught up with me. From here, I rode with these guys for the rest of the way in one combination or another. It made the race much easier working with guys you are used to racing against. It was also great to be able to keep up with these guys as I know that I may struggle in future years as these young-ins are getting very fast. On approaching the first checkpoint, I was hoping to break the one hour mark at Wingello. I just missed out on that mark although it sure felt fantastic to turn left still feeling great, rather than turning right and heading into the depths of Wingello Forest like the Full Flingers.
After the checkpoint, it’s back on the train again swapping turns in a group before we hit the first section of singletrack for the half fling course. Through the appropriately named tunnel vision obstacle (tunnel with a mirror at the end) and then back into Penrose forest. One of the most difficult parts of the course is always Brokeback mountain, a prolonged and steep grassy switchback climb. Most of the back-markers of each race are off and walking at this point although the rewards are there when you reach the top as you dive back into singletrack. This singletrack is only able to be ridden once a year as its on private property. It’such a pity as its a pleasure to ride the trail swooping in and out of the rock outcrops.
The Argyle road fire trail signals the end is in sight so it’s all about unloading what little energy is left. On cresting Your Call, it’s time to turn left and then head the 4km back to the finish. On the road, I was left with a rider who looked like he was in my category so I stayed on his wheel with the plan to try and sprint over the top of him close to the line. It was a cunning plan, although it was awfully executed. He was too strong and got me in the sprint. The feeling was still positive. Home in a time of 2.35 , 34th/946 and 7th in my category. Results are here. Usually I would be still out in the forest grinding away for maybe another three hours in the Full Fling. Now I was able to ride home with my youngest, have a shower, watch a movie and have a snooze before returning for the presentations and helping the Exeter P&C pack up all their equipment. They had the biggest challenge of the day – feeding the masses of hungry riders. How good was this! There is more to this short and furious racing after all.
Where did it all go wrong? How did the pleasure turn into pain. On the way back to Exeter school with a ute load full of gear, a car had crossed its lines on a corner and clipped the door/tray of my ute. The hit was like being pulverised by the biggest front row forward playing in the NRL. This forced me into a 360 degree revolution and into the culvert. I was amazed that I was okay although in my mirror I could see the other vehicle had flipped onto its roof. After being pinned for some length of time, the driver was thankfully freed by emergency services. The accident looked like a war zone with debris everywhere although when everyone walks away from an incident like that, you have to feel lucky. This was especially the case when my family were in the car in front on me. So, from the high of a most enjoyable 2012 Half highland Fling to the low of a major vehicle accident which has completely destroyed my ute, the day of the 11th November was certainly a memorable one. Just like on a piece of singletrack, you never know whats around the next corner. I guess life is exactly the same.