I'm running late. I hate running late. Road works, closed roads and Rush hour mean that I have to go the long way round to get to Michael Travers’ place. It’s going to be a dash to drag my single speed out of the back of the car before riding out to The Lawn on The Keddies Estate. I have no idea where it is, I'm going to be on my own, on a bike that is specifically not designed to make up time on flat sections! Crap.
Michael is just setting off when I arrive at his house, I drag out my bike, strip off, drag on some riding gear; all on his driveway. It’s ok, I don't know his neighbours. We are meeting young Mr Keddies and his site manager in less than five minutes. We're going to be late. I hate being late.
I'm from the north of England; most of the kids I went to school with had farms. This isn't a farm, but I recognise a groundskeeper when I see one. He is filling the reservoir on a quad spraying bike. He pulls a map out of the estate; he tells us where we can ride and where we may get shot. There are a lot of places you can get shot on The Keddies Estate. Shotguns, air rifles, paintballs, I really concentrate on the sections where we are not supposed to be. That said there is an awful lot of space to explore and we head off in the direction of the clay pigeon range. Arse! We turn around and head off to the paintball section that’s the best place to race apparently and get shot I think.
It's a beautiful day to spend figuring a route through the estate. Really beautiful and the grounds are amazing. There are two small woods that we are trying desperately to work into the route for Michaels’ first off road race. This is private land, untouched by ‘oiks’ on mountain bikes. One of the woods is memorable for having a badger hole the size of a ‘doomsday preppers’ bunker, the other is spattered with paintball battlements. Trying to connect sections of path and paint splattered battlefields is mentally challenging even if the riding is easy. We are both really excited. The ‘Badger hole’ wood is a no go, it's impossible to pass the bunker. Another issue is that there is only one narrow path to and from this wood to the Paintball wood. Gutting.
We focus on the paintball forest creating slaloms through the ramparts, bridges and forts. It's great fun. We log it all on the Garmin, hit save and then create the route on the computer later. The first route through The Keddies Estate is created; A race where no bike has gone before. I'm proper chuffed but proper hungry, we've been out for about five hours!
I’m working when the Travers crew are setting the course up, I can't help. Michael has bought five kilometres of hazard tape. “That should be enough to tape out the two and a half kilometre course shouldn't it?” He asks me. It's not even close. Matt Barlow rakes the leaves from the entire course! By hand! I arrive on the Sunday morning and the course is ready to go. It is completely transformed from the sunny summer day four weeks previous. It is a cool autumn morning and it looks.... Well professional. I set up the rider registration stuff. I say set up, Michael has prepared everything. He has thought of everything. I'm introduced to the official First Aider, given the pre-packaged rider race packs and install my seven year old daughter to give out the free water bottles and other goodies.
By the time I've signed in the first set of riders I look around the car park and I see lines of cars, transits and four by fours. Bikes, people, woolly hats, banter. I recognise this.... This looks like a proper race. And do you know what? I think it was. We had forty seven riders, five juniors all racing over the hour plus one lap. Through my rose tinted spectacles I saw some proper racing. It looked great. I wanted to race it! I had to settle at slinging abuse at friends and shouting words of encouragement to racers I didn't know.
I managed to sneak a look at my favourite section, the section over the bridge and through the paintball cattle run. Watching the riders pace through it, struggling with some of the routes and off camber stuff I broke into a smile. These riders were working hard, they where racing on this. Michael had pulled it off. He has a habit of doing that. Grabbing an idea and just plugging away until it forms. He drags folk along with him as he does it. I'm one of those guys and everyone who raced, came to spectate or help out, was too. A tiny little race scene has just sprang up in Rochford just outside of Southend on sea. I wonder where it will go next.