Ep 6: Mountain Madness

A special edition of Garage Night as Pete and Trent tackle Mountain Madness 2008 in the Spanish Pyrenees …

You can be certain that whenever Austin Vince (of Terra Circa and Mondo Enduro fame) is involved in organising an event, an element of madness will be involved – and more than just in name.

In only its second year, the Humm attracted more than 40 teams totalling about 100 riders. Each team gets a book containing 68 different markers, each of which are worth between 50 and 125 points. And a map. And that’s it. Whoever gets the most points wins. Let the riding commence …

I’d seen the event advertised on Horizons Unlimited (HU) over a year ago, and for various reasons hadn’t been able to get the week off to head down for it. But at the last minute I thought “F*ck it.” I told my boss I was going, and got in touch with HU about a late entry. Luckily they had another guy in the same position and this is how the team formed: James (KTM 640 Adventure), myself (KTM 950 Adventure) and at the very last minute Trent (on a KTM 950 Super Enduro – only the very tall and annoyingly skilled need apply!) All we needed was a name: and so “The Mushman Candidates” were born (chocolate fish to whoever works that one out).

Bikes at Mountain Madness 2008

Team duties were divided thus: James on navigation (never doubt the military man), Trent and I – well … back-up, and trying not to crash I guess! The ride down was quick and without event – 1,300km of boring autoroute, then 100km of sensational Pyrenean tarmac. The weather was so good that only the two-metre high roadside poles indicated what goes on here in winter: snow, and lots of it.

We were based in the tiny ski resort of Livorsi for the event, which was being held on a Tuesday and Wednesday. As soon as I got there I set about changing tyres. I’d carried a TKC80 front and D908 rear down on the luggage rack of the 950, as their road hum annoys the crap out of me. As it turned out, the tyre changing was good practice for later …

The briefing on the Monday night was in the form of a disclaimer: “We don’t know you, you don’t know us, if the cops stop you you’re here of your own accord!” Fair enough – as it is purely a fun, non-competitive event held on public forestry trails and roads, a man must take responsibility for his own actions (often forgotten in a time of health and safety craziness and legal nuttiness).

With that proviso, a couple of amendments to the road book, then a few beers, then a few more, and a night’s sleep, we were ready to go … except I woke up in the tent at 2am with a stinking headache and got no more sleep until it was time to get up. Brill, that’ll learn ya!

Day 1 start was no earlier than 8am. With some nerves and a hearty breakfast on board the three of us set off for the first marker. James had decided to take us south on tarmac for 40k’s or so to get some high-point bearings. He’d devised a great system of A4 sheets for each marker, with a route to the next marker on each sheet.

It worked great … until something went wrong and we rode up the same road four times looking for a marker that just wasn’t there. We eventually found our error and got back on track, James’s system coming into its own and taking us on some lovely forestry trails, several of which were really rocky and obviously not much used.

James at Mountain Madness 2008

James: “Umm, it should be right here…”

It took me a while to get the hang of riding the big KTM on gravel again, though the tyres, particularly the rear Dunlop, were awesome. Trent was loving the Super Enduro, and by the end of the two days was riding it like a 250 dirt bike. While James and I struggled with U-turns on the narrow trails, Trent would just gas it and do a broadside skid turn like I can only do on a BMX! Impressive and humbling – I must get some more practice!

James was going great guns on his well-prepped 640. Trying to find one marker, we arrived at a field of cut hay. About 200 metres to the right was a track seemingly going straight up into the clouds. Just as I was thinking “There’s no freaking way I’m going up there” James took off up the track and made it look easy. Remembering rule #1 (if in doubt, GAS IT), I followed, and made it up as well, which filled me with confidence. Then Trent came up on the back wheel … well, he has been riding dirt bikes since he was five!

Trent at Mountain Madness 2008“KTM 950 SE es much moto”

Many of the trails took us up on to ridges that afforded great views of the surrounding valleys. Austin and Lois (Price, aka: Lois on the Loose) had picked some spectacular spots for the markers. We stopped for a few photos and gas, but the desire to get on and get to the markers was too great to stop for long. Close to the end of the first day we spent two hours looking for one marker.

That night we heard similar stories from other people; some markers that others had spent hours looking for we’d found easily, and most certainly vice versa. Suffice to say it was bloody frustrating, and in the end we had to leave it and get back to Livorsi before the 8pm cutoff (arrive after and you’re penalised).

We had just less than 1,000 points (the highest of the day was over 1,500) which, while not bad, was a bit frustrating after all the work James had put into sorting the navigating. Straight away James and Trent starting nutting out how to get it done on the second day.

Waking on Wednesday we all felt good and were really up for it. Back on the road south, we aimed for markers worth over 100 points and straight away were up on a fantastic ridge road that was obviously only to allow access to some radio masts. It was bloody rocky and quite steep in some places, and we knew one false move could end the fun.

James on hilltop at Mountain Madness 2008

“This way chaps!”

James was doing a great job up front. We made loads of “directional adjustments” (U-turns), but better that than go the wrong way off track too far – and besides, the riding was great. One particular switchback forestry trail taking us way, way up sticks in the memory. Awesome fun sliding the rear out of about 30 corners in a row!

Then I had that awful sinking feeling – my rear tyre had felt a bit flat earlier in the day, and now there was no avoiding it, it was completely flat. I carried on riding hoping it would pump itself back up. Didn’t happen. So stop, out with the tools, tube and pump, no f*cking shade anywhere, shit! Thirty minutes later we were back on the road, paranoia levels a bit higher. That was the only spare rear tube we had, and the torque of the 950 (and lack of rim locks) combined with too-low pressure had ripped the valve out of the old one (okay, okay, maybe too many wheelies too). Didn’t need that to happen again.

But in the end, what an awesome day’s riding. It went by too quick. Close to the end our favoured route would take us through a river. If we could get across we could pick up the next three marks quickly and then get one more on the way home. Great. Unfortunately the river proved a bit too high and strong. Maybe we could have got through, but it would have taken a long time and there’s always the possibility of damaging one of the bikes. As it was already 5pm, the team decision was made to turn back and go the long way around (not the Long Way Round – that would have taken three months and several back-up trucks). With the heat of the day toasting my feet, it was great to wade in the water for 10 minutes or so. Very refreshing.

Bikes on hilltop at Mountain Madness 2008

Great view
As with yesterday, what turned out to be our last marker of the day was proving hard to find. We only had an hour to get back and we’d already spent 20 minutes looking for it. James’s perseverance paid off – he found the marker and we high tailed it back to camp, but with not enough time to pick up a final 54-point marker we’d hoped to get on the run back up to Livorsi. We got in with three minutes to spare. Luck was on our side as the many many cops en route had been nice enough not to stop us!

James tallied up the points for the day: over 2,000, woohoo! Great riding and a good score certainly made up for yesterday. Okay, it wasn’t a competitive event, but you still want to do your best. And for sure we’d done that.

At the dinner that night the top five scores were read out. We’d been given our book back and it had “3,079” written on it, so we knew our total. It was a great surprise to have fifth place announced as 2,748 points. “Wow” I thought, we’d done better than fifth – awesome. Then fourth was read out: 2,795. Then third: 2,978. Then us in second: “Woo hoo!” First place was 3,118 points, only 39 more than us. It was a great effort from everyone, but we couldn’t help thinking “What if we’d just got that final marker on the way back up, or the marker we struggled with at the end of Tuesday?”

C’est la vie, it was a great event and the riding was awesome. Massive thanks to Austin and Lois, Susan and Grant Johnson of Horizons Unlimited for organising it all.

It was great riding with James and Trent, and without James’s fantastic navigation we would not have seen half those great views. Thanks very much guys, bring on next year.

- Pete

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4 thoughts on “Ep 6: Mountain Madness

  1. Pingback: Ep 7: Changing a chain and sprockets at Garage Night

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