Dan “Hey, do you want to race, it’s orienteering but on an MTB in Shawka, Ras al Khaimah”
Myself “yeah that sounds great”
Dan “1.5 hours or 3 hours race?”
Myself “All or nothing, 3!”
This conversation led me to my first experience of an event whose format is new to the UAE. The MTBO is an endurance race where competitors search a large area for waypoints with the help of the race map. The map is only available 10 minutes before the start so there are quick decisions to be made before embarking on this team challenge. At each waypoint, there is a stamp which must be collected on a scorecard. Each waypoint is associated a point value and the winners are the team who collect the most points and return on time.( or late for a little penalty )
As little as I like to admit it, my sense of direction lacks some finesse. It was therefore quickly decided that I should hold the scorecard. Sucking in my pride I agreed that this was a good idea, My team mate Daniel had a better knowledge of the Shawka area anyway. My task as the more fit of the pair was to scout ahead and collect the stamps so that Dan could open the map and orientate himself to decide on our next destination.
It took less than 5 minutes to decide on our plan as we jumped at the opportunity to head toward the most distant waypoints available, “these would be worth more! Right?”
Our tactics worked well as we each did our separate jobs and collaborated where there was uncertainty. We even opted to climb over one mountain rather than take the trail around, leaving us riding a virgin slope and loving every minute of it.
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Having encountered some problems finding the hardest waypoints which were located along the Oman border in a rarely ridden territory, time was lost. This was over 20 km from the start and we were both beginning to feel tired. We aimed the compass North and started our return journey which would see us picking up 4 or 5 checkpoints along the route. The first incident hit when a slippery, rocky, fast decent pushed Dan off his line and into a wadi wall at a perpendicular angle. The result is usually associated with a rise in the pitch of one’s voice, but I can now put this myth to bed as Dans shrieks were in his normal tone. More time lost.
With 30 minutes to go, we abandoned a few of the return waypoints in order not to get a lateness penalty. The organizers had been particularly cruel and had left a waypoint half way up a monstrously steep construction road which was badly cut up by rainfall. We attempted to ride, then pushed, then ditching my bike I stamped the card and excitedly hopped back onto the bike. Shawka must have seen that we were right on time and decided at that point to cause our second incident. Half way down the descent I lost control, entered a gully and my tire was sliced open from the rim to the tread. The instant loss of control saw me sprawl to my left side with a “clack” of shale on body and bike. Time Slipped away. Being a team named after a bike shop meant that we knew what to do, a camera man watched as we expertly switched out the damaged tyre in less than 4 minutes and were on our way to the finish with just enough time if we hustled.
Rounding the last corner both sore and bleeding we handed in our score card with 5 minutes remaining. An amazing task considering we had ridden nearly 40 km and had our share of mishaps. We didn’t win, we weren’t perfect but we really did have a great time riding our bikes in a new and challenging way. I know that everyone involved had a blast and we will be back next year for more.