Mountain biking at a whole new level! The Davagh Enduro!
By ELEANOR MCGILLIE 30 June, 2017
About six weeks ago I was challenged by Team Davagh Enduro to buy a mountain bike, sign up to the Davagh Enduro, do some training and then take part in the challenge which is not for the faint hearted. The result? Well, I am still alive to tell the tale. Eleanor McGillie talks about her downhill journey in the Sperrin Mountains
It’s been a bit like an episode of Itchy and Scratchy this week. Four days after my biggest adrenalin challenge, since Zapcat racing in the national championships a few years ago, I am still alive but have been scratching like a maniac.
To be fair the midges were only brutal at Stage One. While I stood in the queue in the woods preparing to throw myself, and a bike I had barely sat on, down the Davagh Forest trails, it wasn’t really the midges I was thinking about.
I started to wonder what I had got myself into, and, just a week before my summer holiday, I started imagining casts on legs and arms, a neck brace and bruises everywhere.
Mountain biking is something I loved as a youngster but obviously back then the bikes which exist today were not the quality I had when I was growing up. I was actually more of a BMX girl than a mountain biker.
But, fair play to Michael Regan, the organiser of the Davagh Enduro. He has been trying to get me to do this for over a year now and I am glad to have finally given in.
So, I bought a bike and all the gear to go with it, but, living and working in the Tyrone village of Caledon, it was hard to get the right terrain to go training and also hard to find the time. I got out a few times on the road and then life took over so I felt so unprepared as I drove to Davagh last Saturday morning.
But, I had a little chat with myself on the drive over and managed to build up my own confidence. There was nothing, however, I could do about my leg and arm muscles at this late point.
As I pulled into the carpark I could see all these pros doing wheelies, looking competitive and getting ready for what is a steep climb up to stage one. Ivan was my first point of contact and the guys there had heard I was coming. With words of encouragement I was given Number 159, had a look at a map which meant nothing to me and was told to make my way up the mountain to stage one.
As a mountain biking novice, I was more enthralled with the beautiful scenery than I was the climb up Davagh. The muscles definitely didn’t need that at 8.30am. It was a steep old climb for someone like me but it was very pleasant saying hello to these guys whizzing past me on this practically vertical climb. They were fit. I was kind of fit.
After about 30 minutes I got up to a point where no-one could cycle so it was time to carry the bikes and push for a bit. And finally, there it was – the queue for stage one. I was in the middle of a group of pro mountain bikers – a queue in front of me and a queue behind me – all waiting patiently to hit the trails and compete to get the fastest trail times. I was the eejit in the middle with her gloves on the wrong way round.
I met some really cool guys in the queue as we all inched towards the starting point. After staggered timing, it was then my turn to go down. Those guys were chomping at the bit to get going while I was hoping I’d get stuck in the mud.
It was my turn. There was no going back. But there were a huge amount of riders going to be belting down that trail behind me so I had to shift it and shift it fast.
The adrenalin kicked in. I was trying to go fast so I wouldn’t get in anyone’s way but trying not to kill myself in the process. I was well and truly warned about six foot drops so I was keen to spot those coming. I did spot them and I didn’t go over the edge. Well, not in the way everyone else did. Instead I slid down the rocks like a toddler coming down the stairs for the first time.
I loved it. Every minute. It’s not frightening. But it’s definitely unnerving. But stage one was done and I felt great. And sore. Very sore.
Stage two was next. The first section of this stage was pretty rocky but manageable. The second part was wet, marshy, full of reeds and the large tufts of grass were uncalled for. The trail was the width of my wheel at points and I learned I should be careful for what I wish for, because, this time, I actually did get stuck in the mud and my bike was going only one of two ways – left or right with me sitting on it. Down I went. It was like a scene out of Bridget Jones. There I was lying in a heap of muddy water, I had to pull my fully submerged foot out of a sticky mud hole. It felt rotten. My feet were sodden with muck, soil and dirty water. But it was hilarious. I had a giggle to myself and then made my way to the end of stage two.
After a short rest, a lipstick top up and a few sweets it was time for stage three. This was a stage I was told I would enjoy. And enjoy it I did but the climb up ‘Heart Attack Hill’ was brutal. Obviously. I was totally winging it. And, the one thing I noticed is you are never on your own for too long. This bunch of merry men were soon on my heels.
And fair play to them – off they hopped and walked alongside me for a while. A great bunch of guys who were keen to throw out the words of encouragement. These are the guys from the Davagh Enduro Support Team.
Stage three was my favourite stage. It was fast and there was more room to manoeuvre and no sooner had I started the trail I found myself at the bottom. But the only way to stage four was back up Heart Attack Hill. I could have cried.
I made it half way up Heart Attack Hill and there was Michael with his van. A van that my bike would fit perfectly into the back off. An opportunity for my seized muscles to rest. A chance to chat to Michael about the overall challenge. So I bowed out gracefully, in one piece, covered in muck and feeling pretty pleased that I had achieved as much as I did. It was top class. And now almost a week later, I’d be delighted to go out again this weekend. I think I’ve caught the bug.
I have often heard of the MTB community. I never really understood what it meant before Saturday. But these guys are fantastic. This was a well planned and well executed event. This is an enduro challenge which attracts people from all over. I met a young guy from England who was getting the boat back to England that night to do an enduro challenge in the Lake District the next day.
On our journey back down through Davagh Forest I asked Michael what inspired him in the first instance to create the Davagh Enduro. His answer was simple – to get more people into mountain biking and give people a reason to come to the Sperrin Mountains. I think this is amazing. What people in our communities do for tourism is immense.
There is a real community feel about this event – and it’s not just the bikers. It’s the local women who came out to serve homemade soup and sandwiches after, the local businesses who sponsored the event, the team of volunteers who gave up their Saturday to help make this a success and of course, the families who turned up to camp in anticipation for Sunday’s Youth Challenge.
Thanks to Michael and his team’s efforts there were a lot of happy people last weekend including me. Sometimes life and work can take over and it’s easy to let it. But we all need time out for ourselves and enjoy the beauty of our region. Thanks guys for making me feel so welcome! I had a great day.
Anyone reading this who is feeling up for a new challenge I would totally endorse getting a mountain bike and giving it a go. It’s exhilarating, it’s a fun way to meet new people and it’s good for your health and wellbeing.
Have a look at the Davagh Enduro Facebook Page where you will see loads more pictures from this year’s events. While you’re there, look up our own Live It Experience It Facebook Page to see what we are all about.
Well done to all of the sponsors for ensuring this fantastic challenge can happen. The sponsors of the Davagh Enduro 2017 are; Headline Sponsor – Steelweld Fabrications, Peter McAleer Ltd Insurance, The Shepherds Rest Campsite and Pub, Diamond Service Station Draperstown, The Market Inn Draperstown, Meat at Regan’s, Mech Monkey Bike Repairs Belfast, BLOK 51 Kilrea, Sperrin Bakery.
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