The mosquitos swarmed around me, taking turns devouring my legs. There must have been twenty on each one as I doubled over in pain feebly trying to stretch out my cramping thighs. Sweat dripped down my face, stinging my eyes and I tried to pull it all together and hop back on my bike. I was two thirds through the Nimby Fifty XC race and I had hit the wall. I thought back to a sign I had seen earlier exclaiming “Remember you paid money for this” and although the reason I did was escaping me, I did my best to throw my legs over the bike and keep pedalling.
On paper the 37 km Nimby Fifty didn’t sound too bad, but soon I found out the combination of relentless climbing, tough technical singletrack, and scorching temperatures would be a fierce challenge. Set in the picturesque Pemberton valley, the event is in it’s sixth year and draws a huge crowd of dedicated racers ready to endure suffering. We departed en masse from North Arm Farm and while it was a neutral rollout, the speed was outmatching my gearing and I was spinning out trying to maintain the high pace that was being set at the front. Riders flew past on all sides and I pedalled as fast as I could to try and hang on to my position. Great. Two minutes into the race and I was already falling back. Once the lead out car pulled out it was game on and everyone started making their way up the first climb.
With around 345 participants, the first lung busting climb was tight. It wasn’t long, 200m elevation gain over 2.5 km, but it was a rude awakening for the legs and set the tone for the rest of the race. We were on a gravel road, but really only one side of the road was suitable for riding. The rest was loose rock and ruts, requiring solid commitment if venturing off the beaten path. It’s a stressful feeling being surrounded by riders all making their way up a loose road. One false move, and you are sure to be met with many curse words as you throw those behind you off their line. One rider in front of me bobbled just enough to make me lose traction and put my foot down. I frantically grabbed my bike and moved off to the side to try to mitigate the damage done to those behind me as a steady stream of bikes went past. I was met with a few “don’t even think about it” gazes as I made a motion to rejoin the group. When a brief gap emerged I managed to slot in quickly and start pedalling again.
We finally crested the top into Radio Tower, the first descent of the race. Riders remained bunched up and unfortunately my desire to make up time was thwarted by the long line of bikes in front. Passing opportunities were non existent and nobody was ready to pull aside just yet. Conditions had been dry leading up to the race, and the loose dirt transformed into a cloud of dust hanging over the trail, making it difficult to see the bumps and roots ahead. Once I realized that I was not going to make any gains, I settled in and enjoyed the trail.
Back on the gravel road there was a downhill section where it was tempting to completely open it up, but the fear of sliding out forced me to keep my speed in check. Across the river and more gravel road led to the start of what I was dreading. Six hundred metres of elevation over 10 km and a reported 101 technical switchbacks. And no I didn’t count. The race was still bunched up enough that I had a line of people both in front and behind me, making the first half of the climb incredibly stressful. The climbing trail itself is one of the best I have ridden, but most of my thoughts consisted of an endless loop of “this hurts” and “don’t screw up this corner”. Thankfully things stretched out by the halfway mark giving some breathing room.
Finally the climbing ceased and the descent started. I entered The Red Bull Downtime, a timed downhill section of the course. In my pre-ride a week earlier, my buddy crashed hard on this wicked trail where a few gnarly rocky sections kept me on my toes. It was fast, fun, and over far too soon. This is where my knowledge of the terrain ended. I had never ridden the back half, but I had been told that it was more physically demanding than the first. After all that climbing, I was doubtful, but I soon found it to be true. Short, but steep punchy climbs seemed to dominate the remainder of the race, at least that is what sticks out in my mind. By this point cramps had taken over my legs and I felt like I was off the bike more than I was on it. There were some great downhill sections in the mix, but in my condition I wasn’t able to fully enjoy them.
Finally when my legs felt they could take no more, I emerged from trees, bleary eyed and covered in dust, onto the gravel road leading back to the farm. It was a short careful descent down the loose road and then a nice spin on the road to take me back to the farm, and more importantly to the tasty BBQ and cold beer that were waiting. Down the hill…and..wait…why is that person directing me to that horrendous rocky path on the left. Noooooo. The ride on the road apparently was not part of the trip back to the farm. Dammit. Glancing behind me, I saw that I was alone as I delicately tried to pedal and keep my legs from cramping back up. After 3 hours and 47 minutes I finally crossed the finish line.
The Nimby lived up to it’s reputation as a punishing race. I was physically a little underprepared and I paid the price. It was an incredibly well run event with an amazing group of riders and support staff. Well stocked aid stations with enthusiastic volunteers helped ease the pain as they cheered everyone on that passed through. My first reaction after crossing the finish was “never again!”. Then after the life returned to my legs I started looking back on the race and figuring out how I can improve on my time next year. For me that is the sign of a great event.
For more great photos from the race, check out the following galleries:
The organizers of the race have put together a sweet video from the day: