Downhill Mountain Biking

No, I don’t have any plans to become a Curvy Downhill Mountain Biker any time soon…but the Irish Downhill Mountain Biking Championships were being held locally last Sunday.  They were also being held at a venue which featured a hill that has captivated me for a long time, but has been firmly stuck on my ‘round tuit‘ list for years!

Knowing that the Blog Awards dinner was the night before, and would involve a fabulous 3-course meal and also a very late night, I knew I wanted needed to get out and do something energetic the next day.  However I also knew that lack of sleep wouldn’t put me in the humour for anything too ambitious.  Therefore, the opportunity to go up Knockshegowna, whilst avoiding being mown down by insane downhill mountain bikers going at full speed, was just too good to miss!

Knockshegowna is a hill that has fascinated me almost since I moved over here.  I came upon it one day whilst driving to a farming customer, back in the days when I was a REPS planner.  At the top of Knockshegowna is a large cross, which lights up on Sundays and Holy Days, and can be seen for miles around.   The illuminated cross was erected in 1949 to celebrate the arrival of electricity in this part of rural Ireland.  I didn’t have time to try to go up it that day, and I was later informed that it was on private property.  I had since discovered that whilst it WAS on private property, the landowners had developed extensive walking trails and for a small fee you could spend the day exploring their various farm, woodland and lake walks.  That’s when Knockshegowna Hill, on Fairymount Farm, got put on my ’round tuit’ list.

On arrival the fields by the entrance gate were packed with cars, vans and campers.  Signs directed us to the spectator’s parking, and from the tree-covered hill we could hear whistles blowing and excited shouting.  Obviously my first port of call was to find the toilets, and then to study the map by the Reception Office to get our bearings.  Trying to determine the safest way of navigating up the hill was not proving easy, especially as we were completely clueless about the sport of downhill mountain biking and had absolutely no idea what was going on.  Fortunately we bumped into a friend who was competing in the championships, and she gave us directions to an easily (and safely) accessible part of the course, where we could watch the riders come down off a steep drop, before cycling madly over two jumps.  For our own plans we had seemingly timed it perfectly. There were only half a dozen or so competitors left to come down the course before the lunch break, and the lunch break would give us a ‘rider-free’ hour to explore our way up the course, to the summit of the hill, without worrying about hindering any of the competitors on their downhill runs.

There is an easier way up to the summit, and a clearly marked ‘Hill Walk’ trail to follow…or there is a difficult way up to the summit, via the twisty & uneven mountain bike track, which unsurprisingly had some extremely steep sections, combined with a trail surface that was at times extremely loose, slippery, rutted and rocky…and, of course, we chose to go the hard way!  I DID want a challenge after all.  I have to say, I was really pleased with how I felt going up that hill.  I concentrated on not stopping as much as I could, and used the short sections where the course levelled out to recover my breath and give my legs a break, whilst still moving forwards.  I did stop a couple of times to catch my breath take a couple of photographs, but otherwise I managed to keep putting one foot in front of the other all the way up.  The husband gave a wry smile, and a nod towards my determined stubbornness, when instead of heading straight upwards on a shortcut section as he was doing, I insisted on going the longer, more difficult way, following the course on a zig-zag across a particularly steep section of hill.  Slipping on a root, he nearly had the last laugh, but I caught my balance and managed to stay upright.

A final section up through close trees and scrub, and finally we stepped back out into the daylight to be greeted by the cross on the summit.  There are no words to describe what are truly 360­° views.  I swear on a clear day (sadly it was quite hazy for us) you could see almost the whole of Ireland!

We enjoyed the views and chatted to some fellow spectators on the summit, then all too soon we heard the tannoy calling the course marshalls to start heading back to their posts, and informing the riders that the uplift trailer was about to leave.  There were a couple of sections we had seen that we figured would be fun to watch some riders come through, and we also know that the first section of track, down through the trees would not be good to be caught on if a competitor came flying down, as there was nowhere in the thick scrub to get safely off the track.  They release the riders at 30-second intervals, so watching a few from the start line, and then moving down to another section of the course was not really an option.  We positioned ourselves between two tight turns, and soon heard a whistle being blown by a marshal on a section of course above us, to warn anyone on the track that there was a rider coming.  The husband and I reminisced about our childhoods, and the daring things we did as kids on our bicycles, building small jumps and ramps with planks of wood, and nearly always ending up with grazed knees and bent handle bars.
The competitors were coming through thick and fast, and it was interesting to see which lines they were taking through the corners, which riders were relying on gravity and momentum, and which riders were pedalling hard on this section.

We carefully moved onto another section, this time with a jump followed closely by a sharp banked corner.  Here we witness our only spill of the day.  The rider hit the deck on the banked section, and he and the bike slid along the track for a short distance. The husband and a couple of other spectators rushed to help him and get him and his bike off the track.  It was clear he was in a lot of pain, His shoulder had apparently popped out, but this was obviously something he was used to, because he gave clear instructions on how to put it back in, and ‘pop’ – it went straight back in.  He was determined that he was just fine and didn’t need assistance from the medics, and after a couple more riders had come down, he slowly started walking his bike back down the hill.  Ironically the racing was stopped soon after, because the ambulance had to leave the site after a separate incident, and understandably the racing had to be stopped until there was an ambulance back at the venue.

We considered going home at this point – we’d come, we’d climbed the hill, we’d been bewitched by the views, and we’d seen some fearless riders doing mad things at high-speed down a steep hill…but whilst we grabbed a cup of tea from the refreshments stand one of the rider’s informed us that one of the classes still to run would most probably feature the fastest competitors of the day, and would be well worth watching.  With news that the ambulance was returning imminently, and that the marshalls were being called back to their positions, we headed back up the hill to watch the rest of the racing.  We were not disappointed – we were in a great spot, and the riders were almost literally flying past us!

My friend ended up on the podium for her class, so we stayed on for the prize giving, and then we finally headed home.  We lit the fire, gave the dogs a quick run out, enjoyed hot cups of tea, and neither of us talked about buying a decent mountain bike, although I’m fairly sure we were both thinking about it!  …and the Google search history tells me I was quite correct 😉

Would I give it any serious thought as a new hobby?  Nah, Bikejoring is about as exciting as I ever want to get on a bike.  It’s an activity that Dolly and I indulge in from time to time; and tearing along a trail with a dog going full pelt in front of you, attached to your bike by a harness and gangline, can fill you with plenty of adrenalin at times!
But I have noticed that the husband has been tinkering a little with his own bike recently…

We had a really enjoyable day out, discovered a seriously fun spectator sport that takes place almost on our doorstep, and I finally got to the summit of Knockshegowna to enjoy the spectacular views.  Being less than 8 miles from home, Fairymount Farm is a venue I hope to come back to again and again, and I’m really looking forward to exploring ALL their walking trails…perhaps next time we can walk the tracks and trails without having to watch over our shoulders, or listen out for marshalls’ whistles, to warn of on-coming mountain bikers!