I’m woken in the middle of the night by the rain sound of a Caribbean carnival outside. No wait, maybe just the steel drum. It’s crazy. But I laugh in my half sleep, it’s not really worrying, actually comforting. For a moment I imagine sailing instead, but that passes and sleep resumes.

The day starts well, in a good mood. Legs are still there. Breakfast here is one of the best, great full English and enough fruits and carbs to keep a small army going, which I suppose we are in many ways.

It’s cold and misty but not raining when my start time rolls around. The downhill start is a fast road event. Some of the riders come into it like an attack team, pushing hard from the start. I set the limit switch because it’s cold and drizzly and I’m in no mood to hit the deck. We turn off the road onto a double track for a long descent. I reach back to adjust my mud guard, and in a split second lose front control, jackknife into something and crash hard on my left side into my bars, twisting and jabbing my hip and ribs.

The wind is knocked out of me, my bike looks like the front wheel is done. I call out like a wounded beast for help as Dan goes by. I’m feeling sick and disoriented. He stops (thank you, thank you!) and helps me get my bars straightened. Someone else finds my gps. I’m bleeding all over the inside of my ripped jacket. Thankfully my thigh was double bagged with leg warmers, so the cuts are not deep. But the shock lingers.

I have to zip tie a new gps cradle and pull myself together. Minutes tick by, I have no sense of how many, but I’m able to roll on soon. Mercifully, nothing broken – either bike or body. Big bruises will greet me in the shower tonight.

Can’t believe how stupid I was. Just a split second without thinking to remove my hand from the bar was all it took.

Just a few hundred meters below me another rider is not so lucky. He’s wrapped in a medical blanket, looking awful, and medics helping him. Offroad support is heading his way. Later I learn he bit it at 60 km/hr and is really lucky I think just to have a broken collarbone, 3 broken ribs and a concussion. It’s easy to kill yourself on these crashes, be careful out there.

It’s a long silent blues fest until the first check point, I feel subdued down the winding cobblestones that caused me to crash last time in the race, and make it safely to the water point. No joking around.

I fill up at a fountain straight out of Tomb Raider, let Terrence go by and stalk off after him. It’s a fun game to play on riders who know they should catch you, but never see you all day because they didn’t see you drop behind them. Childish yes, but all good fun. And good for messing with their heads lol.

Anyway, I’m busted because he takes a wrong turn through a tiny maze-like street and we’re riding together soon with a group. It turns into a big group soon enough with maybe 8 of us.

It’s probably the most comical couple of hours of the whole race as the group hammers in formation across the empty countryside. We take turns on the front and I do my share of work as well.

I’m in the midst of being heckled by Chris (aka Terrence, or is that Cartman?) about how I’m reading my map like Stevie Wonder as we turn off the road onto a fire track. As he says the word “map” he slams into a rider in front of him and jackknifes up into the air on his front wheel. The word “map” lingers in the air as he climbs like a Titan rocket to an unbelievable height before crashing down to Earth. It’s scary to see. But also entertaining as hell.

It’s pretty hairy pack riding through tight double track farm and country lanes that seem to go on forever. On connecting road sections pace lines form and we accelerate through the countryside, which is very charming and full of early summer flowers as we roll along. It’s not super hilly after the first checkpoint, and despite the soggy weather the trails are fast.

Pack riding is dangerous. We’re off again flying and the line I pick 20 mins later has a boulder placed in the middle and I go down again like a sack of potatoes. Momentum instantly stomped. Glasses go flying somewhere, brain rattled again, and my hip is screaming at me. Bruise on bruise now.

We come up on the main Canadian group and a couple riders drop off into their pack and we continue without slowing except to say hi for a quick moment. Eventually I drop back off this pack a notch and let the faster guys continue, knowing it’s a long way up to the finish still. Despite the crashes I feel like I’m riding strong, maybe the adrenalin has kicked in. I don’t know.

The rain starts again, then it comes down hard. River producing hard. Have one last push through some horrible sodden country lanes to the town then it’s a big climb up super slick ancient cobbles. Final stress on the climb into town as my GPS goes for a loop and starts showing me to be off the final path. I go down the cobbles and back up and finally a couple more riders come up behind me and I have to accept that maybe the walls of the castle town are messing with my signal’s fragile little mind.

I get straight in the shower immediately after finishing and my body shivers for a good 20 mins. Steam up the entire room and hang gear every surface to dry. Damn, it’s going to be a miserable start in the morning. When I warm up enough to get some food I take in the day’s effort. I’ve finished over an hour faster that last time, and survived two crashes.

The hotel is not well serviced, no internet in the rooms, the pool looks like an alien invasion of algae and there are about 3 people in total working there. Gear is all over the place.

Supper is fun, my hunger level is through the roof, and I eat way too fast. Some of the riders are still on the course as dinner service is coming to end. I feel their pain. It’s hard enough as it is without arriving at nightfall.

Sleep in the humid, cramped room is rough, my body in full complaint mode. Tomorrow will be a tough day.