We may not have been able to spend the weekend in Collie, but luckily it’s just a 2 hour drive from Perth, so on race day, we drove towards the south west region under darkness seeing in the sunrise from the car just after 6:00 am. As we made our way along Coalfields hwy which leads straight into town, we joined a line of vehicles also shuttling mountain bikes behind two impressively large coal trucks. Glad we weren’t the only ones driving down at such an early hour!
Arriving in town where the race was to begin in 20 minutes time, I unloaded the bike, registered and collected the race plate while toying with the thought of whether I should wear knee pads. Around me, a few hundred other mountain bikers doing their own preparations for the ride ahead. I decide to forgo the knee pads and cycle a warm up lap on the main street which at that moment in time, was a serious mountain bike takeover of Collie! You don’t realise just how many WA mountain bikers exist until these events! As I pedal I notice my right pedal squeaking to the tune of a yelping puppy. There’s no time to spare except to head to the start line.
Following a great housekeeping speech and countdown, the front riders hastily disappear. The rear end line up of riders where I intentionally placed myself sets off to a relaxed pace over the timing mat as I begin the 50 km ride through Collie’s Jarrah forest. Before we enter the forest, we dash across bumpy grass leading to a pot hole loaded road. It begins to rain ever so lightly, the winter storms earlier in the week have soaked the trails and everything around. The puppy yelps and the race plate flaps in the wind as I realise the bottom hasn’t been affixed – woops!
The delightful single track is the lasting highlight of the Collie 50. Skirting tightly around trees and deceivingly fast in some sections. I lunged into flowing dips and stood up on the short lived climbs. Narrow clearances and rocky terrain with low lying features that could be jumped or rolled over. I enjoyed one section etched into the side of a hill. I made a slight error due to lack of attention on my behalf, with the bike’s handlebars not clearing the space between two trees but moved on very quickly once I remounted the bike again. The route incorporated Dead Cat trail, Marty’s trail, Jarrah jaunt and Pet Cemetery – trail names created by locals, no doubt with a story behind. I seriously can’t wait to explore the rest of the single-track trails in Collie.
This race, I replaced the gel sachets for strawberry cream and raspberry lollies sitting loosely in my pocket, and they definitely helped me climb several gradual long hills on the Munda Biddi. I was so happy we didn’t have to do that first (second?) power line climb! I passed several riders in the later half of the race that I had lost back on the single track. With these races I’m beginning to see my strengths and weaknesses which has helped me improve mountain biking a great deal. The yelping puppy stopped a while back. I was in a good place. Markers keep me on track and the red cross marker – genius! During the ride, marshals cheered on ‘you’re looking good’, ‘keep pedalling’, ‘you’re almost home’. Those cheers spurred on the tired legs and also refocused the mind to push that little bit harder towards the end which was much need on the last 10kms.
Looping back along the well remembered pot hole loaded track and and bumpy grass section, I slipped away behind two riders who pressed on strong. Rain came down and the pa system roared my name as I crossed that finish line with a ear to ear smile. I think I had what the UCI cross country riders would call a clean race!
The 4th long distance race under the wheels and while I still very much bring those newbie nerves when I rock up for registration, each race unravels into an awesome little adventure experience through various landscapes and terrain of Western Australia. The more I ride, 50 km doesn’t seem awfully impossible anymore, but 100km, well that seems ridiculously long but maybe after this year it might just be achievable.
Collie do have an active mountain group, check them on facebook. After today’s race/adventure I don’t think I will be hesitating to enter their next event and stay a few days in town. It was mint!