This past weekend we headed down into northern New South Wales for the annual Freedom Marathon.
Anthony, from (is) Summer Of Cycling events, puts on several mountain bike races in some magnificent national parks across this region. Lucy and I had raced his Misty Mountains marathon a few months back. We hadn't been down to the Freedom for a few years due to work commitments and some wet, muddy years. Yes, it gets very wet and muddy in this part of the world as Mullumbimby is the highest rainfall area of New South Wales.
Well this year I wasn't working, it hasn't rained in god knows how long and the kids were keen to race it together, as a Mixed Team of 2. No excuses then!
Unfortunately, we couldn't camp the night prior to the race as I was working until 9pm, so it was up at 5am, load the car and point it south to make the very gentlemanly start time of 10:35am.
The kids were entered in the 25km(15.5mi) race which doesn't sound far but there are some big hills in this part of the world. Yes, 25km would be enough.
I was a bit surprised to be able to drive right into Rummery Park campground where the race is staged out of. Last time I did this race, if you weren't here 24 hours in advance, you had to park and ride up to a kilometre to the start. Numbers were a bit down on the race's heyday, at around 60. There was an endurance race on just down the road at near Grafton. The GBom race is new and it is on single track, rather than the forest roads that Freedom takes in. I guess we are spoilt for choice these days.
The start was on schedule at 10:35 and everyone scooted off the start line. I had briefed the kids to just start out slow and steady as if they were going on a long ride, not racing. This they did and they watched the rest of the field pedal off into the distance. No problem though as the kids had their strategy.
Will was probably wondering at that strategy as the road went ever upward. There was the odd little flat or slight downhill but the general tone of the road was UP.
This was starting to wear a bit thin on both kids as Lucy wanted to just pedal off and leave Will behind. Will, for his part, just wanted to get of his bike and throw it into the bushes! I have known that feeling so could sympathise with him.
But he pressed on. Or pushed on?
Eventually they reached a sign declaring Nightcap National Park and we would later realise that this was the top of the climb.
We would also later realise that the kids had climbed 400m(1300ft) in just 7km(4.3mi) ! That is a solid climb by anybody's measure and the kids had passed one adult team of 2 nearing the summit!
No guessing who was pleased to see some downhill trail.
They really enjoyed the downhill section that followed and were soon back to their cheerful selves as they whipped through the forest.
There was the odd speed bump along the way adding to the interest.
We soon came to the split point, where the 45km racers went right and the 25km racers went left.
This sign of civilisation seemed to lift the kids spirits as well.
They were moving well now as the road alternated between wide fire trail and overgrown fire trail, which is almost like natural single track.
There were some cool old bridges that were made from trees laid across gullies. Time to watch where you put a wheel there!
More overgrown fire road led into some hand cut single track, then some obstacles.
Here the kids caught up to Lauren and Chris, the other 25km Mixed Team of 2 and Will's regular training partner(and our neighbours).
The kids took turns in lifting their bikes over logs, then scrambling over themselves. Do you reckon this was fun? Yup, they were loving it!
The road finally opened up again and the kids were off! They still looked inconceivably small in the context of the surrounding forest though.
Lauren was starting to feel the effects of smashing the climb earlier in the race, so stopped for some lolly snakes and a drink. My kids took off and it took me a while to catch back up to them!
The track dropped off the main fire road again and plumetted down for a while. When I finally caught the kids I was pleased to see that they were both paying the trail and in particular, the water bars a healthy respect. They seem to tailor their risk level to the remoteness of the trail. My warnings/training are sinking in. Great stuff!
They eventually found the bottom of the descent which culminated in a very steep drop of about 100ft into a gully with a steep climb out the other side. At the top of the climb we found a rider standing by the trail side, cradling his arm in a "broken collarbone" kind of way. I asked him if he was ok and he said "I don't know what happened". Shit. So I asked him what day it was. He didn't know. Shit, not a good answer. He did know his name though and he seemd quite coherent so I asked him to just take a seat and I would pedal up to the road and find some help. Up, yes that little two letter word again. I left the kids to their race and pedalled up as quick as I could, not knowing how far until I would find help. Help turned out to only be about 1.5km up the trail in the form of two paramedics. I explained what I had seen and heard then they headed off down the trail to retrieve the rider.
I rolled down to meet the kids, then turned up the hill with them. They were riding together now and encouraging each other in my absence. Great to see.
It wasn't far to the finish line now. They just had to roll back down the same road that they started on and it would all be over. I let them go and waited a bit to see if Lauren and Chris were far behind but as I later learned, Chris was helping our injured rider with a sling for his arm. This isn't racing for sheep stations after all and everyone helps out here in the bush.
The official photographer(Mum) was on hand to catch the kids finishing their race.
I think they were pretty happy to see the line.
After a cold chocolate milk and a few more lollies(candy for you North American types) they were up to seeing how they went.
How they went was pretty good too! To their surprise, they came in in 1st place in the 25km Mixed Team of Two!! Lauren and Chris were 2nd and a team of two adults came in 3rd. To put the kids achievement into perspective, 3rd place's partner couldn't get herself off the ground to make the award ceremony apparently!
This was Will's first ever 1st place and wasn't he chuffed?! I was very proud of their effort as this was a tough course with a LOT of climbing(hills) for adults and little kids alike. They are both becoming strong riders and they seem to be enjoying the sport which makes me proud AND happy as well.
I have put together a little stop motion video of their race. More a "Dad" thing I guess but it is a beautiful part of the world if you have a few minutes to burn. It is best watched in HD as the lower resolution is rubbish for some reason.
I think they will need a rest the next few days after that effort. Then bring on next weekend!
Cheers and thanks for reading.