So, we get there fashionably late, some more so than others, and set up camp in Field 2, so named because between it and where all the facilities, scorers and sales stalls are, is Field 1. We arrange our tents in a nice circle, get a brew on and start to assemble bikes, check tyres and lights. The rain at this stage is a misty, fine, drizzle which although unwelcome is no big deal.
It s just getting dusk and the last pair to arrive are predictably, Backsey and Felons. From the back of the van Backsey pulls a big gazebo which is going to be our base, along with a big fold up table to house the stoves, cups and drinks. We are in business, organised, sorted. Dave and Jane turn up as our lone supporters which was a great effort after being out all day.
We have four teams. Sze, Felons, Minna & Wendy form this version of the Crazy Ladies. Backsey, Simon & FBC are MBR035 PermedReceedingBald. Martin H, Slam Dunk and James are the MBro-thers and Pat, Neil, Omar and Myself are MBR Old Gits Ride Again. Over in the Solos area, Sarah, Jeroen and Mark TW, await the off.
The teams decide the running order and FBC, James, Felons and Myself head down to the start. Well actually, 150 metres from the start due to the mass of riders lined up 6 a-breast already there in the ‘Stadium’ section. Music is pumping, coloured strobe lights pulse, cameras flash, it’s a great atmosphere and the rain is still a misty, fine, drizzle.
The countdown ends and we are off. FBC, who is fairly seasoned at all this kind of stuff, immediately starts to pick off riders one by one and Felons and I follow. We make up countless places before we even cross the start line and begin the lead out circuit. We carry on making progress through the field and eventually, re-enter the Stadium and cheered on by the non-riders, hit the circuit proper.
Thetford is blessed with some great looking bike terrain but relatively little real singletrack and as we make our way along the world’s longest fire road we continue to duck and dive through the field. FBC gets a bit stuck in one of the deep ruts at the egde of the trail and has a couple of dodgy moments before clawing his way back into the flatter mid-section. James joins the three of us just as we head into the first singletrack and we stay together at a good pace, all the way to mile 5.
People around us are in a good mood, allowing faster riders to pass and giving good instructions when they want to pass you but with so many riders still bunched up from the start, progress through some of the nicer, twistier track, is a bit slow.
Right at the end of the next of the many sections of fire road some quicker riders jump in between us and James and FBC forge ahead. We arrive at the first bomb hole, drop in and are forced to walk out by the pile of sand on the climb out and the others already on foot. Felons is ahead of me and I shout for her to go. After another long drag we hit bomb hole two and yellow jacket in front of me hits the high root on the right side and is thrown over the bars into the bottom of the pit. His bike follows and hits him just before I do! A quick enquiry later and again I’m on foot, climbing out, emerging on a sandy slope on which it is impossible to get clipped in. I run, pushing the bike around some trees onto another fire road which takes us into The Beast.
Felons is just in front of me as we enter the black run and in traffic gets caught on the brow of one of the many dips. I pass her and move ahead. I’m feeling good, enjoying the lovely sweeping turns and drops as we head along the trail towards Brandon Country Park which is around the 7-8 mile marker.
Another demoralising, long fire road fire looms and I feel suddenly sapped of energy. I have gels in my bag but forget to take them. I shout Helen’s name and get an answer from behind me and within a few minutes we are passing the 9 mile marker and can see the glow of light on the skyline from the transition point. This last section of fire road is all slightly up hill and seems endlessly long but us we reach the top, energy is restored as we turn back into the Stadium and push to the finish to hand over to Minna and Omar.
James and FBC are there too and we all agree that at 10.5 miles, the lap is too long, contains far too much fire road and that due to the sheer number of riders on the trails on the first lap we probably couldn’t have gone very much quicker. Simon is there and comments that we look fairly ok even though we’ve been out eight minutes over an hour!
As we walk back to base the rain starts to strengthen. Minna, who has never ridden Thetford, has never ridden a race, never ridden at night and never ridden a drop-off or bomb hole, kills all her demons in one go in doing a great lap to hand over to Wendy. Simon and Martin H both do great laps before handing over to Backsey and Slam.
Omar does likewise, apparently really enjoying the course but all the time the rain continues and with it the rate of deterioration in the condition of the trails is alarming. He hands over to Pat and by now conditions are awful. Wendy comes in and Sze flies out but as each rider returns the times extend and the smiles from the earlier laps are replaced with relief at just finishing.
When Neil hands over to me to begin our lap five it is ten past midnight and any hope of completing the expected 12 laps are long gone. For 9 miles of my lap my bike ghost shifts through the gears due to the cement like gunge stuck to the drive. I knew I hated friggin Thetford and all the reasons are back, big time.
Nearing the end of the lap I pass Solo Sarah on a boggy hill and she is giving her bike such a blue verbal pasting. I do my best to be supportive and get moving. I hand over to Omar who starts a lap which eventually takes him nearly an hour and three quarters to finish after three chain breaks and a long walk back to base. The rain is relentless.
The girls are still going strong and they start the second round of laps with Helen handing over to Minna. They both come in strongly. Minna hands over to Wendy who’s bike develops bad chain suck causing her to continually dismount, filling her cleats with more cement which makes it impossible to clip in or out. Everyone that comes in is covered in mud and is soaked to the skin at the end of each lap. The rain is relentlessly, relentless.
James finishes his second lap, single speeding, and is the first to declare he’s had enough. He has ‘Thetford back’ and it’s giving him grief. Beer is his friend from there on and with not very much persuasion I join him. By now it was truly lashing down. There had been no let up for eight hours and to cap it off the wind decides to come up too.
Pat, who had a long wait in transition for Omar, heads out on his second lap but falls on a bend, banging his shoulder on a stump. He does really well to make it the three miles to the finish with what it turns out, appears to be a fractured collar bone. We decide that after Neil’s second lap us old folk will call it a day.
Martin H, gets lost on his second lap, and by a fluke finds himself on the trail back to base and gets to transition twenty minutes early. This obviously catches out Slam who arrives ‘late’ to a chorus of boos from the riders huddled in the change tent. Simon, Backsey and FBC continue to churn out the laps and at about twenty past six in the morning, Helen, who seems to not notice the rain or the mud or the lack of sleep, goes out for her third and the girls ninth lap.
Back at base Neil and I fire up the breakfast bbq which considering all the rain that has fallen is easier said than done. The fuel for Backsey’s generator comes to the rescue and carefully avoiding setting fire to the gazebo, we are soon cooking with gasoline.
As the bbq burns down we walk over to the start/finish to see in Helen and FBC and to check on the scoreboard. It’s great news, the Crazy Ladies are second, the Permies are running sixteenth and Solo Sarah is an amazing three laps in front of her nearest opposition, job done. Jeroen and MTW, the other solo’s, had both long since finished. Mark made it through three laps and Jeroen five, having to give up after his forks seized.
We make our way back to the bbq and cook up a big batch of sausages, bacon and spicy chicken, which all goes down well with hot mugs of tea.
The closing ceremony takes place at the trail centre. The Crazy Ladies take second step on the podium and receive the customary top up in the supply of Torq powders and gels.
Our biggest cheer is reserved for Solo Sarah who mashes her opposition and is justifiably very pleased with herself, winning a nice set of lights for her efforts and then declares that she is “so done with endurance”.
We return to camp and make a final brew as we tidy up and pack up our tents and bikes which are all falling to bits. It's decided that future mention of participation in D2D should result in a group ban.
The sun is shining – what a piss take!