Last May, I won the single speed category of the Whiskey Off-Road 50, thus securing myself a round trip ticket to Ireland for Single Speed World Championships (SSWC) at the end of August. What the prize didn't include was transportation, lodging, and food so my hubby, Chris, and I opted for the low-budget trip to the race: Riding to the race from the Dublin Airport (120 miles on motorways), camping and staying in hostels along the way, camping at the venue, and then taking the bus back to Dublin after some more sightseeing. It was a brilliant plan, if perhaps not the best race preparation. But then again, I was a mere 2 weeks off of finishing the Colorado Trail Race, so I figured my chances of being able to ride really fast for a two hour cross country race was slim to none, so I might as well enjoy the experience.
Upon arriving in Dublin, we built our bikes in the parking lot, dropped the bike box off at Left Luggage, and started pedaling towards Dublin City Center. Riding on the left hand side of the road was terrifying! It also didn't help the situation that the Irish drivers didn't inspire a lot of confidence and the 20 miles that it took to get out of Dublin and the surrounding suburbs made me wish we were normal people and had rented a car, or at the very least, taken the train. After 6 hours of white knuckled riding, we camped in the yard of a friend of a guy (who raced with Wiens back in the day) who we'd befriended in a bar over Fish 'n Chips.
The following days of riding went much smoother as we made our way south-west towards the host town of Kilfinane. We arrived early afternoon on Friday to a quaint little village, complete with a street of pubs, a delicious breakfast place, and a Mr. Kebab's, which would end up providing many of the calories, if not much of the nourishment, for us in the following days.
We dropped our BOB trailer at the campsite and immediately went to go pre-ride a lap of the course, resisting the urge to join and quickly growing crowd of 'racers' congregating at one of the local bars.
The race was held at a trail center, which is all the rage in the British Isles. Professionally constructed trail which was fun to ride, but definitely lacked the technical riding which I've learned to take advantage of during normal racing. Still, there were plenty of sketchy bridges, fun berms, and forests so dark I had to look over my sunglasses to be able to see anything.
We rolled back into town and joined and swelling mob drinking Guiness, watching racer and racer stumble home, fairly intoxicated. There were riders from all over the world, many who make it a yearly ritual to attend SSWC for the party and excuse to travel someplace new and mountain bike, rather than to actually race.
Race day dawned clear but quickly turned into an average Irish day with periods of heavy rain followed by partial clearing. Those wooden bridges were going to be fun with 600+ sets of muddy tires going over them. Around noon, people shook off the previous night's debauchery and dressed for the Parade of Nations, a 30 minute neutral roll out to the start of the race. We lined our bikes up upside down and went to listen to bad music in the rain while the race organizers moved the bikes around, creating a cluster to remember.
We raced two laps. It rained some. The sun came out some. I found my bike in average time and started in on passing as many people as I could. In the end, I ended up 5th, which considering my leadup to the event, I can be pretty happy with. No tattoo for me this year, but I guess now I have an excuse to try to make it to South Africa next year for the event.
The party that night was one to remember, or not remember depending on the amount of Irish Cider and whiskey consumed. It was a bike event focused not on the race itself, but on the bike culture, on the simple love of bike riding. I don't know if I'll be able to swing South Africa next year, but I sure would like to get myself one of those tattoos someday.