Leading up to the Northcliffe Karri Cup MTB Challenge we took a few days off work to stay in the nearby town of Pemberton. It was a relaxing way to see in event day, we drank beer over pre-dinner cheese sessions next to the wood fire in our thermals. I managed to squeeze in some casual pedals around town, but honestly mainly to the bakery on Vasse Highway for the ricotta and spinach sausage roll.
On Saturday, race day for me was a later start at noon as I was participating in the 50 km event from Bookalaam Olive Grove, stage 3 of the overall 100 km loop. The first spin of the wheels was along the property’s fence line where all those built up nerves on arrival had dissipated as I began to immerse myself in the ride and the surrounds of the natural scenery. It took less than a minute before the group was well and truly in the forest. The first hour would see a thinning out of the bunched up group of riders and I contently settled into the long ride, taking it casually. This stage was naturally beautiful and submerged under the canopy of the Karri forest, it was a roller coaster of a ride with several fast dips, only to then be tested by the climbs. For a while the route traced the Warren river and it was possible to see small glimpses through the trees and down below the valley as I continued to pedal. An enormous fallen Karri tree laid over the sloping trail, forced me off the bike to walk underneath the opening space. I paced with a group, swapped positions back and forth as the terrain changed. This group with no names because we never formally met, gave me that boost that helped me finish the stage quicker than anticipated. I worked hard on the grass for the stage finish at Hillbrook Wines and was happy to have one stage completed. Derek was waiting for me with the packed lunch that riders were given at the beginning of stage 3. I chowed into some food and rested for a little bit but was keen to begin moving again before I cooled down too much.
Off I spun out of the winery, this time bidding an excited goodbye to Derek instead of the nervous one at the beginning of the race. I was pumped and feeling good heading into stage 4 which chuted into a truly epic single track descent. Seriously so much fun. I had a feeling that climbing would follow the thrill ride and it surely did, I took a while to recover from that shattering climb which was hiked with the bike. Finding myself riding alone, I powered a little more to find and catch up to a rider. Eventually I viewed a colourful object on the trail’s horizon and mustered some hidden energy to maintain the pace set by the rider ahead.
The trail ground now was hard packed sand and fairly flat, so not as physically demanding as the route had been so far, but being the last few kilometres etching towards the finish line, it turned into a mentally demanding effort requiring some energy deep within. Stage 4, the scenery blended together as general fatigue hazed in and I seemed to only focus on what felt like the never ending stretch of sand – it truly was! I don’t think it was the Karri forest anymore but even so, it was rich in bush vegetation with bird calls here and there. I would love to return to this section and explore a little outside of the race. At about the road crossing towards the oval I choked up with emotion which caused my breathing to become quite shallow just as the finish line appeared in sight. It was the best feeling to cross that line and I was so happy with the ride. Celebrations moved to the Northcliffe pub afterwards for a pint before we embarked on the road trip back to Perth.
The Karri Cup MTB Challenge was every bit a fun and challenge mountain bike ride through some wonderful landscape. It seemed to be a well cared for event with a strong sense of community spirit. Details like camping at the event start/finish, packed rider lunch, cleared trails (that Karri forest litter!), markets at Hillbrook winery for family and friends. Northcliffe sure know how to welcome riders into town!