Tim Ball – Exmoor Explorer Mountain Bike Challenge

15 08 2009

It was a bit wet in places!!

It was a bit wet in places!!

My experience of a mountain biking marathon covering 37.5 miles of technical terrain in the Exmoor National Park – Tim Ball

521 of us set off on a mass start from Wheddon Cross, a small village almost slap bang in the middle of Exmoor, heading straight to Dunkery Beacon, at 519m above sea level it’s the highest point in Somerset – well only one way to go now – down!!!!
Plenty of single and double track – very technical in places – off the Beacon but before long we were climbing again – up up up – it seemed to go on forever with very technical bits thrown in to keep your teeth rattling and where it wasn’t too testing it was nice and steep – 1 in 5 in many places. The kind of stuff that does make you ask yourself “what on earth made me decide to do this?”

The weather on the day was good but it had been very wet leading up to the event so many of the bridleways and tracks were very wet and muddy but we kept plugging on towards the first feed station at the 14 mile point in Porlock.
Off again after a two minute stop to restock with drink and food and the course remained steep and technical climbing up and over Porlock Hill (off road route). The views throughout the ride were breath taking at times and it would have been nice to stop and take a few photos – no time for such pleasantries and now we head back towards the Porlock feed station for a second refuelling – 25 miles now completed with just the last leg to go!!!
The bike was performing well – no punctures no mechanical complaints and despite all the Exmoor clag stuck to it the gears were shifting smoothly. I was feeling good too – well hydrated and banging plenty of drink, food and gels in to keep me going

A sharp 1 mile road climb out of Porlock took us to the bottom of Horner Wood and from there it was steady technical climbing for about 4 miles through the woods until we came out onto the road near Stoke Pero where another stretch of 1in 5 stuff was there like a wall in front of us
Once over that the route took us just below Dunkery Beacon again and the finish line was within sniffing distance – just a mile to go and thankfully its downhill and on the road too – biggest gear I’ve got and go like mad to the finish line – the driver of a camper van seemed a bit surprised when I flew past him at 35 mph – tourists eh!!!

Finish line crossed and my time is recorded – 5 hrs and 8 minutes – a bout of cramp on the final leg cost me the best part of 10 minutes so I was a bit cross at going over the 5 hour mark but it was definitely one of the toughest Explorer courses that has been set ( a fact confirmed by the organiser when I spoke with him later!!)
Overall I finished 26th out of the 521 entrants so I was pretty pleased after all – aiming to get into top 10 next year

This is the 6th time I’ve done the Explorer which covers a different course each time and what have I learned?
It’s definitely one of the best places in the UK for mountain biking
There isn’t a single piece of Exmoor that is flat!!
The ups are steep but the downs are worth the climb!!


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