Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Mammoth March 2014

It was again time for the Mammoth March, in my opinion the best cycling event of the year. The idea is to navigate from checkpoint to checkpoint starting in the evening when it is already dark. There are several different distances and you can go either by bike or by foot. We naturally chose the longest bike distance with 25 checkpoints and 170 km (the theoretical best route for runners). Our group consisted of the usual gang, which was complemented by Tommi a year ago or so. Matti opted to run this year as well, and managed to get through the 100 km course. Hence our team, MTB-Turku All Night Long, consisted of me, Toni, Jarkko and Tommi.

This time the Mammoth March took place in the area around Nuuksio, a bit northwest of Helsinki. Part of it belongs to the Nuuksio National Park, which has restrictions imposed for cycling, something to take into account when orienteering.

The bike packed and ready. My Salsa Fargo is an optimal bike for these kinds of outings, as well as for a lot of other things.

I'm now using German quality Lupine lights. The Piko 4 is a really excellent light. It is very light, which is of significance when being used as a running light, and the light output of 1200 lm is certainly enough. The beam is narrow enough not to be a problem for others when riding on a road and an optional diffusor can be used to widen the beam when riding trails, but it really isn't necessary.

The Lupine Neo 2 is a new budget alternative from Lupine. With its 700 lm max effect with a tighter beam it is an excellent complement to the handle bar light. It is also very light and works well for running and other activities. In additions to these lights, I also had a Petzl Tikka+ around my neck illuminating the maps all the time, which worked very well.

We started at 20:30. The first checkpoint was easy to find, but I did make a small orienteering mistake, which cost us a few minutes. The next time I will mark the route on the map and not just rely on my memory of the planned route. Jarkko had learned to orientate since last year, and after him having adjusted to the speed of the bikes, we backed each other up quite well. Photo by Tommi Jansson.

Toni on the way to checkpoint 1. Photo by Antti Nousiainen.

The weather forecast had promised almost optimal weather: A few degrees below freezing and dry weather would have meant hard mud sections. We did however notice that it rained. At first we just considered it a glitch in the matrix, but when our clothes started to wet through and it became cold the rain could no longer be ignored. After some time it stopped and when the clothes were dryish again, the rain started. It finally stopped some time after midnight.

Checkpoint four offered a small puzzle. Measure exactly four liters of water, using a three liter and a five liter vessel. This was no match for Jarkko.

After that a rather muddy trail section followed. Jarkko tested if it was soft to fall on.

Tommi pushes through the mud. It was too slippery to ride on.

Toni has salted peanuts.

Checkpoint eight was in place not reachable by bike, so we left the bikes and hiked there. Me standing with Jarkko at checkpoint eight. Photo by Toni.

On the way to checkpoint nine, Toni was starting to have difficulties staying awake on the bike. It wasn't really a question of tiredness, but rather sleepiness.

Toni almost fell asleep everytime we had to stop to switch maps. Photo by Tommi Jansson.

After checkpoint ten in Veikkola we had a short break in a tunnel, eating sandwhiches and drinking coffee. I gave two of my four sandwhiches to Toni, since thought I had enough energy anyway.

We continued and after checkpoint 11 we arrived at the Nuuksio National Park. The four checkpoints in Nuuksio had us ride a wide path several times, because of the cycling restrictions. At this point Toni started to have real difficulties and didn't even speak clearly. After some deliberations we decided it was best and safest if Toni would quit. He had had a very tough week on the job with much too little sleep, so this was just too much and  falling asleep on the bike is never a good thing. We gave him directions to the Kattila trailhead and a firestarter to keep warm while waiting for the evacuation car. The rest of us continued to checkpoint 13, after which Toni called us to tell us that the evacuation telephone number was wrong. It took some time and calls, but we got the evacuation car ordered to the right place. This waiting made us really cold and we rode towards checkpoint 14 in a rather hard pace. On the way we decided to see if Toni was ok and had a fire going, since we were quite close to Kattila. Tommi got the fire started before we continued.

Checkpoint 14 demanded some hiking and checkpoint 15 was at the Kattila trailhead, where we saw Toni get into the evacuation car. The sun was now rising, and we soon could turn off the lights. My battery strategy had worked. I had a 6.6 Ah battery for the handlebar light, which I switched out to the 3.3 Ah spare battery about one hour before sunlight, when it gave the first low battery warning. The handlebar light was used at 450 lm, which was actually enough, but I think the batteries would have sufficed for the 650 lm mode. The helmet light had a small 2.2 Ah battery, but I only used the helmet light on downhills and tighter trails, always at 700 lm.

The next checkpoint had the mandatory swimming task, which was very easy this time, since it was at a nice sand beach and it was light outside. The water temperature was 5C, which isn't as shockinly cold to the body as 0C water is. Close to the beach was a fire with grilled sausages and coffee, which tasted great at this point.

Going to checkpoint 17 we had a good route planned, using a trail that was found on the map. The trail wasn't great and became worse. The dashed line mark on the maps for small trails seems quite unreliable. Some of the trails marked with that were really excellent, while others were nonexistent. This trail disappeared and we found ourselves doing some really hardcore bike-pushing.

Photo by Tommi Jansson.

The section north of Luukki was nice and easy, except for a really heavy uphill section, which we later found out was unnecessary. A new trail not on the map would have been easier and faster. Generally, the landscape around here was very different from our home in one sense: It was a constant up and down, and we started to feel the climbs in the legs.

Jarkko sends the checkpoint code by SMS.

Visual proof that we were at checkpoint 19. The checkpoint code was so well hidden that we couldn't find it. Others had similar problems.

Tommi has a chain. It is good to have a chain when you are riding a bike. It is even better to have an unbroken chain on your bike.

Jarkko is a good bike mechanic.

The route to checkpoint 23 looked good on the map and the beginning was quite ok, but it quickly deteriorated and we found ourselves pushing the bikes again.

Photo by Tommi Jansson.

While we hadn't made any bad orienteering mistakes, at most twenty minutes or so, the misjudged trails had cost us a lot of time. Our speed remained quite ok, even after 20 hours, and I felt like could continue for several hours still, provided I could get something to eat. My own food was already consumed and I had just enough energy to make it to the finish. I could already feel the taste of the hot mammoth tail soup in my mouth, when Tommi's rear tire said bang less than two kilometers from the finish.

The rear tire had for some uncomprehendable reason jumped of the rim. The cut probably came afterwards. The rim also took a hit and was not usable for anything else than getting to the finish.

It was temporally fixed by gorilla tape and zip ties.

The fix held to the finish line, but we were now really cold due to the break to fix the tire, low energy levels and a temperature that had sunk to -4C. We eventually finished at 20:30 hours or so and 215 km. Toni was there to photograph us. The text on the T-shirts says through-sufferer of the Mammoth March 2014.

This was a very memorable race. It was the longest one I've done measured in time, but it didn't feel bad at any point. There was really not much suffering on my part this time. I'm actually quite surprised how strong I felt, considering most of my outdoor activities since Midsummer have consisted of kayaking, which really doesn't prepare you for 20-hour cycling races. I think I could have continued for hours still, had I had something to eat. I didn't even have the usual bout of sleepiness, which I generally get around five o'clock in the morning during all-night rides. The team was great and we had a good spirit with lots of laughs through the entire night and day.

And finally, a lot of thanks to the arrangers. An event like this takes a lot of works from volunteers, with the money going to charity.

Check out Toni's report here.
Jarkko's report (in Finnish).

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