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Surviving the Epic (Part Two)

Author : Press Release
PhotoCredit : Carpathian MTB Epic

On day 3 of the Carpathian MTB Epic

Day Two: Rollercoasters and Rivers

I awoke the next day and opening my eyes, wondered if my body could even move. Slowly, I sloped from my bed. Seemingly the previous night’s incarceration by compression kit had worked wonders. However, I certainly had no escape from tiredness and was only a few hours from doing it all again.

Starting from the resort, riders flew ahead, keen to keep their positions. Following the road at first, the group spread quickly before turning onto open farmland. My head was down and I wasn’t concentrating, so soon found myself along with another girl, far from the path. Panic struck. Lessons learnt, I vowed to keep an eagle eye on my GPS. Turning back once again, I played catch up to claim back my place.

Rather than one single, chunky climbing expedition, the second day delivered a roller coaster ride over 54 kilometres, yet still close to 2400m of ascent. Rolling through forests and farmland, I found rhythm and company from a now familiar group of riders and for a time, a local farm dog, who seemed intrigued by the band of bikes whishing by. Tagging along for a while, he came to his senses at the next bike carry and retreated to safety.

Whilst we ached and moaned when it came to pushing, the descents on day two made those back breaking moments worth the burden. As we descended to Cheile Dambovicioarei, the tamed trail transitioned into a gnarly boulder field, my hardtail pin balling down the straight. Met at the bottom by a chirpy support crew, we chatted and recovered both nerves and energy reserves before the final stretch of the course.

No adventure bike would be complete without a carry and similarly a river crossing. My friend and roommate Anilya had mention we’d get wet feet, so nonchalantly I nodded, not considering the sadistic nature of the previous day’s onslaught. On the final descent, the mud was so thick and the slopes so sharp, I caught my jersey on the saddle trying to hang off the back. I slipped and tumbled to the side. At this point, I welcomed the riverbed, a worthy chance to wash away the dirt from my clogged cleats.

As we reached it though, I took a double take as I realised this wasn’t just a crossing. We were wading. As the river neared knee depth, I balanced my bike and hoped no stones would roll out beneath my carbon soles. Weaving back and forth countless times, eventually I came to a wire bridge and prayed it wouldn't end my days forevermore as I carefully crept over the missing planks.

At the other side, I was relieved to find a long track road, which circulated back to the finish. Eventually I caught sight of the arena and knew rest would soon be mine. Mildly delirious, I managed to miss the track. With moments to go, I found myself back-tracking uphill. I was making this a bad habit. Over the line, the cheers of the spectators put a smile back on my face.

Day Three: Punishing Peaks

Rising for the final time, what lay ahead was to be none the less excruciating or extreme. In the days leading up, the post-race chatter had been filled with words of warning. Of the entire 47-kilometre route, we’d be dragging our bodies and bikes up more than four kilometres’ worth of incline over jagged mountains tops to reach Busca Peak. Joining us with fresh legs, locals taking part in the one day Epic filled out the field of weary warriors.

Whether it was down to brain or brawn, I mustered a new-found zeal as we took off up the slippy, rutted trail towards the top. At points, I was biting my bars and making manic sounds as I climbed, refusing to walk until utterly enforced. Due to heavy rains, the feed station also arrived sooner than planned, a mark of what was ahead. I grabbed at water and sachets of honey, forcing sugar down my throat as fast as I could find it.

For close to 20 kilometres, riders rode and pushed and occasionally cried out with exhaustion. Finally, the forest cleared and we turned towards a perfectly carved trail over the mountain tops. What I could see ahead was wavering lines of wobbly legs with bikes on backs or slung over shoulders, being hauled to near vertical. This time though, we could see. Far and wide, the Romania sun shone over the mass of forest covered mountain ranges at long last. Taking a moment, I stopped to absorb the view, then marched on to join the other sorry souls for the charge.

An endless and rigorous routine of carrying continued. Bewildering descents were marked with warning signs and so with childish abandon, I dropped in and hoped for the best. Such a route defined mountain biking and moreover, the nature of the race.

Gathering momentum, each peak grew steeper and deeper on both sides. At last the trail mellowed and I traversed passed a group of bewildered shepherds, their wild dogs watching with wonder and uncertainty. Meeting a once familiar track, we rode the ridgeline from the first day, this time with views down to the valley and the slippery stones now familiar foes. Once through the forest, I knew the line ahead and charged down the steep, grassy bank to hit the road, thankfully not fighting for position. With final reserves, I winched up the resort road, joined by two familiar faces, who charged themselves with leading me back to the finish line.

“You can be the Queen of England. We’ll be your guardsmen.”

I didn’t think it was appropriate to let on I was in fact Scottish and accepted their kind request, matching their pace back to the finish for the final time.

Crossing together, there was a sigh of relief and sated satisfaction amongst us all. Indeed, there had been moments I’d truly wondered if I’d be able to finish, the strict cut off times like sharks snapping at our fading legs each day. Even Elite riders had succumbed to the stopwatch and failed to finish in time. Promising to take you to your limits, the Carpathian Mountain Bike Epic had certainly succeeded.

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