There was a girl I never met. She rode bikes and lived in the same town as me, but it was before I returned to cycling. By the time I became friends with her friends she had moved away. We had the occasional interaction online but we didn’t really know each other. People that knew us both said that if we met we would be friends. Her name was Jenn.
A lot of Jenn’s old friends have been racing at the Mountain Mayhem 24 hour MTB race for years, and a couple of years ago I went along with them to take some photos. Photographing during the night the idea to do the solo race slowly formed in my head. At this point I didn’t have a mountain bike, hadn’t really done any off road riding for about two decades, and had never raced any bike of any kind. These things were mere details. I’d done audaxes up to 400km, I’d ridden through the night, I’d ridden for 24 hours. I know I can ride and ride and keep riding if I want to. Even if I don’t want to. If I start something then I’ll do my damnedest to finish. Sometimes it’s good to push yourself beyond what you think is possible.
Most of my friends race in teams, but some have done 24 hours solo however it was Jenn that did it first. It was the start of a lot of things that are truly inspiring, rides that really deserve to be called epic – she holds the record for singlespeeding The Tour Divide. All of the advice I was getting before I did that first solo 24 hour race I knew was coming one way or another from her experiences. Other people said stuff to me but the words were really Jenn’s.
There was a chance we would finally meet that year Mayhem, that she would be there with her husband Tom. Unfortunately she was ill and couldn’t make the trip. However they ‘watched’ from afar via social media and both sent encouraging messages when I hit a low point in the early hours of the morning. Two people with far more important things to worry about, far more mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted than I was, helping motivate me, someone they’d never met, to finish a bike ride.
Later that summer was Brighton Big Dog, a race organised by mutual friends and as much a party as anything else. It looked like Jenn and I might finally meet but sadly she was again too ill to travel. Tragically her illness was one of those things that doesn’t go away, and now we won’t ever get the chance to meet.
This year I entered Mayhem as a soloist again. Conditions were different to last year, there had been rain and the mud was either sticky or slidey in all the wrong places. It pulled and dragged on my muscles, drained my energy and left me empty by sun rise. Tiredness seeped into my core. My resolve wavered. I stood on a hill and I thought about Jenn and I thought about Tom. No matter how much it was hurting I knew it would come to an end. Twenty four hours is finite. I chose to do it. It was just one day. It wasn’t cancer. It wasn’t losing the person you were going to have a lifetime of adventures with.
A swig of water and I clipped back in. For Jenn. For Tom.