On one of the hottest weekends we have had in years I decided it was a good idea to travel south, where it was even hotter, to go and get dusty and sweaty racing bikes. Round three of the Southern Enduro Series was held at Okeford Bike Park and to say the trails were dry and dusty would be an understatement. It had been around 30 degrees and hadn’t rained for weeks. The flint and the chalk on the trails had crumbled in to marbles, which made every corner seriously sketchy. Those trails that were shaded in the trees were generally off camber and covered in dry leaves and loam. So despite being short trails in lovely weather this race required some serious skill to navigate.
Stage one: starting from the start ramp at the very top of the park stage one and started as if it was following a track called wiggly woo. After a couple of really fun berms to jump in and out off and a couple of jumps the track diverted over some more natural tracks and down on to the fire road. A short sprint and we climbed back on to some grassy natural tracks which looked freshly cut, and then the track changed in a motorway of big jumps before twisting in to more big, lose, berms, full of those marble sized rocks all the way to the finish line.
Once over the finish line it was only a short (but gruelling in the sun) push back up the fire road to the top.
Stage Two: Back at the top of the park, this stage started on a short bit of wide, smooth, newly built track with a couple of small drops. This was not representative of the rest of the track at all, which quickly changed in to a freshly cut, lumpy and rough trail. It followed the ridge of the hill, where you could easily lose your bike off the edge. This required riders to keep on their pedals to keep any speed going. Stage two was also where we started to realise the track builders preference for wrapping hairpin bends around trees, with a couple of tight corners which relied on precise line choice and speed to be able to get around them without striking handle bars or pedals on the trees.
Stage Three: This was definitely my favourite of all the stages. Starting with a ski jump (which I know was slower but was too much fun not to do) and rock garden before dropping in to some fast narrow switch backs through the trees. With even more tight corners around the trees, this track was starting to show off some of the gradient the park had to offer. The track was lose and off camber a lot of the time but some more drops and hip jumps to be taken towards the bottom had me really enjoying this.
Stage Four: By far the most technical stage of the race. A short run in on a big bike to the 4X track made it difficult to hold enough speed to clear the jumps. The rest of this stage followed a trail called Tsubo. This super slippy, narrow off camber track snaked it’s way down the steepest part of the hill. With sharp corners which required riders to take them as wide as possible just to get around them, made even trickier by the lack of any catch berm, or lip to the trail to prevent riders from just sliding straight down the hill.
I have never found anywhere that rides quite like Okeford. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is wet or dry, it is always slippy, and always awkward. For such a short course on a small hill (compared to the Scottish and Welsh trail centres) it really tests the skill and abilities of all the riders. After having such a nightmare racing here last year (where I fell off on every single stage) I was quite apprehensive of how I would fair after a years more experience, and I am pretty damn happy to have finished up 2nd in my category and 3rd fastest female overall. Looks like practice really does pay off.