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Forest, Coast and A Crash

Author : Catriona Sutherland
PhotoCredit : Flow MTB

Into the Boranup Forest on day 2.

Waking up to bluebird skies, we were treated to the full force of the Australian sunshine as we rolled up to the start of day two of Cape to Cape, based at the classy Leeuwin wine estate. Amongst the beautifully manicured vineyards was a fervent atmosphere as riders gathered for the next instalment. Yesterday’s smooth singletrack lines would be rivalled by the fast, flowing never ridden-before-in-race trails of the Karri tree-filled Boranup Forest. If the previous day’s smiles were a marker, then we were in for some mighty fine fun!

My kill or cure approach in dealing with my pesky cold seemed to have gone in favour of riding and as I turned the cranks, I was on the up. The lead bunch from the wave shot off once again but I rode the off-road track, known locally as Rails to Trails, at a steady pace to warm up the legs and lungs. Crossing a few road intersections, we pedalled through the Jarradine, a network of forest that despite being flat, was rapid and ready to snatch at spokes with stray branches lurking. I spotted a few victims on the way, changing punctures and limping along with missing spokes.
As we turned a sharp right, a loamy, loose and freshly cut climb jumped out at us and so I thought I’d test the legs. Digging deep, I kept pace and traction, but was stalled at the top as riders piled up; walking, gasping and hauling their bikes. I like to think I would have cleared it. I’m built for hills and the fast and constant nature of this race was a different kind of test to the Romania mountains from last month.
As we reached the Boranup Forest, that’s when I really woke up to the flow of the trails. Compared to races in Europe, the course has minimal incline, but as we climbed our way up the colourfully named trails, the whoop factor was upon us. Two Pints of Guinness kicked us off and we curved around Karri trees and bush shrubs, with the occasional tree log to hop and roots that provided the perfect pop-off. Whilst I can’t personally compare, the previous year grinding gravel roads surely had nothing on this. 
Almost 25km worth of singletrack in one sitting, we eventually popped out to a familiar spot I’d seen whilst hiking the Cape to Cape earlier in the week. Named Highway to Hell, it was a burning hot, sandy, rock-filled track that gathered height and steepness. Tired legs and a lack of conditioning in the heat, I sucked down gels and chased the backs of other riders to reach the summit of the short climb. Right ahead, the teal blue sea and crashing white caps of the waves were in full view. WOW. I forgot my immediate suffering and rode downhill, taking care to pick careful lines through razor sharp stones and sinking sand. At one point, my front wheel jerked and had me waving my body around like a 1970’s disco dancer; thankfully my days of riding sluggish mud in Scotland save me from a flip.
Next up was a beastly climb up by Conto’s beach at around 50km. We’d been fortunate not to have headwinds this year, but as the sun beat down and the sandy track sucked the life from us all, it was an apt reminder that this wasn’t all sunshine and smiles. The last few rolling sections carried us to Brooksy's Concoction - a rollercoaster of whippy turns decorated with infamous pea gravel. 
I took it steady so as not to end it all early.
Oh, if only I’d know! As we popped out from there and formed a line of riders to shield against the winds, I was feeling stronger and eager to reach the end. As we rode on for the last five kilometres, I took my turn at the front, riding my fastest pace of the day, when disaster struck. In fact, a rider struck. Me. 
As I took the righthand turn, following the arrow, a rider from behind missed the sign and t-boned me - throwing me from my bike and landing on my head and shredding my right side. Stunned and sore, I lay on the evil pea gravel surface and couldn’t help burst into tears, mostly from shock. Anyone who knows me, from childhood in fact, will testify to my ability to chuck myself at most things and get back up - but the force and surprise from being blindsided had me in a mess. The poor man felt terrible,. Kindly he helped me to my feet, checked I was okay and did all he could to try and calm a crying woman. With only 500m to the finish line, the camaraderie that you comes from most riders was in force and a few guys had my back, pushing me along gently. I crawled to the arch, a blubbery mess. 
I can’t thank the kindness of the organisers, Andrew, the Yorkshire doctor and the thoughtful riders I’d be tag teaming all day - who came to see me at the medical tent and check I was alright. Apologies also go out to my lovely boyfriend whom I woke at 4.50 am UK time to seek sympathy.
A good wash later (and a scrub of all that imbedded gravel), now I’m patched up and ready to go again. I guess that’s just mountain bike racing!
You can see all the photos of the day on Facebook and find details on the race

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