“We’ll have to get the helicopter…”
My mind stops [PAUSE] my mind starts again. A ####ing helicopter?
There is a man down with a shoulder injury about 200m from where I am stood and somebody is suggesting bringing in a helicopter to get him out. The only place that it can land is in the main field that is full of tents and kids on bikes. Luckily the head medic has a more realistic understanding of the situation and says that the casualty will probably be able to walk out after somebody has given him a quick once over, and he is right. Panic over.
This is Hit the North. Probably the daftest bike race in the country. What started off almost by accident in its current format has morphed into a monster. We’ve got 370 on the start list including some of the best people on 2 wheels in the country (Nick Craig, Dave Powell, Ant White, Ady Lawrence, Ian Taylor, Jenn Hopkins, Pete Hughes, Binners, Tony the electrician and Louis Canoe), we’ve got Guy Martin, we’ve got The Mayor complete with expensive looking shoes and a limo – more of which later, we’ve got a bagpiper and we’ve got several thousand Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls.
The run up to this one has been less than smooth. There has been a lot of faffing over paperwork and last minute changes. Myself and Jason are getting a little cheesed off and it hasn’t been fun to be honest. But Friday has arrived, the sun is shining, we have our signs, tape and staple guns and we have work to do. Once I’m out on the course with Jason, and David and Laura Bradshaw from Sport Sunday who have volunteered to help, things seem much rosier. This year’s course is the best yet and it incorporates about 1000m of the new trail network including some very entertaining jumps and berms. We are also hosting the official opening ceremony complete with Mayor, council officials and a very big car. I have been reassured that the car won’t get stuck at the start because we only have a window of about 5 minutes to shift it before the pack will be on it. Chris Boardman once made the news when his team car ran over him, I don’t want this to happen to happen today.
9 hours later we are done. The course is spot on, the van is loaded and I’ve probably become the first person to eat his lunch in Morrisson’s café with an axe in his bag.
Race day dawns. I’ve been awake since 2:30 and I’m running on adrenaline and espresso. Jason has had a bad night too. The event has got to the stage where we can’t afford to look stupid. People have paid a lot of money to come today and we’ve got some big names in the field too. Getting it wrong would look amateur, this is our eighth event and people have expectations. A balls up would blow our reputation and let a lot of people down who have invested their trust in us. Hence the worry about cars and helicopters getting in the way.
We open the park at 6:00 and witness a stunning sunrise over the misty valley with the lights of Manchester twinkling in the distance. Then the HTN magic cuts in. People just turn up and help! We actually ran out of marshal vests this year so there must have been more than 20 people who volunteered to get stuck in for nothing more than a Wham Bar and a handful of Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls. Jason has rethought the sign-in procedure and it works, so as the start time approaches things are running smoothly. The bagpiper pipes (we liked him, he can come again), the Youth Race goes off, the briefing is done and the pack are sent down to the start. This has been rethought too, so we get 300odd people down and in place with very little fuss. The Mayor sounds the siren and they are off… well the bikes are… the car is stuck. I’d been off moving cones so didn’t see what had happened, but I have since been informed that my four letter outburst could be heard from a good 25 metres away. A bit of shoving later and Jet the driver (that is his name, honest – he’s a lovely guy too) has the Jag speeding up the hill like a bank robber being chased by Ray Winstone. About a minute later the head of the pack comes screaming through and the race settles into a rhythm.
Once the thing is running it is the quietest time for me. Simon “Mr Sparkle” Fox looks after the marshals and Jason is riding the course checking that things are OK. I get to grab a brew and mess about with my kids for 15 minutes. I take the opportunity to chat to a couple of people then wander off to the “bumps n jumps” to watch a bit of the racing. At about 11:30 we have the helicopter non incident and I have to stifle a giggle when I hear the medic’s quad bike referred to as “Quebec One”. I decide to “Foxtrot Oscar”. They are doing their job and the casualty is safe. I’ll leave them to it.
The race finishes at about 12:20. Nick Craig wins and everybody else is joint second. After a bit of faffing we do the prizes and set about the task of tidying up. Then the HTN magic happens again. A not so small army of volunteers set about tearing down a couple of hundred signs and 1500m of tape. By 2:45 you wouldn’t know that we had been there.
So, there you have it. Hit the North 4 done and dusted.
I drive out of the park with a grin on my face and aching legs after two days of running about in hiking boots. Normal life is resumed and I have to go to Tesco and take my kids to their swimming lessons before tea. Then it is off to the pub to celebrate and talk rubbish for a couple of hours.
Thanks to Mr Sparkle and all the marshals, the litter pickers, the sponsors, the Council Rangers, British Cycling for looking after the kids, Samba Nigel and his band, Ed the Bagpiper, the caterers, the medics, STW for putting up with our forum abuse, the photographers and everybody who keeps coming back for more.
We’re already thinking about next year.
Some changes will be made but the Field of Despair will still be included.