ever since last year our friends al and tash convinced us to attend the cannonball nat has been waiting for this year’s edition to come around. it was good to get out of sydney: with the bushfires around the air was full of smoke, hence the bright red sunset below.

except this year the plan was to do ‘less yappin’ and more brappin’, which is quite a challenge for our social butterfly. the cannonball consists of four events: the all mountain, the flow, the pump track challenge and the downhill. nat knows the all mountain and the flow, has done half of the downhill (but not the nasty bits) and has never really ridden on a pump track. what could possibly go wrong?

an event of this size requires serious preparation. we all know proper nutrition is essential for a successful racer. will this be enough for four days? and yes: this is all ‘our’ food. really.

it’s not only the food that requires thought. even if one has ridden the trails before it’s worth noting they do change from year to year and serious racers have a good look at old lines getting worn and new lines appearing before they change to ‘race’ mode. nat was especially lucky this year to have a super coach: originally from hungary indi has been a successful pro racer and a pro coach for many years. you really can’t get better advice, especially when it comes to ‘snakes and ladders’, the most difficult part of the downhill track.

dropping in. this is where the ‘fun’ begins.

day 1 (thursday) is the all mountain race. that trail is – according to nat – the second hardest after the cannonball (downhill); not super technical but very physical, with a few surprise climbs. after a few practice runs and one race run just about everyone is ready to call it a day. nat was 6th in her category; a very respectable result.

day two (friday) is really busy. the pump track qualification starts at 0730 (the early risers can get a few more laps in before then). have you ever tried to ride fast around a really bumpy course with steep berms and big whoops without a chain?! yes, correct: no chains allowed! (check further down for a short video)

after a little boost from the start ramp it’s all down to the arms and legs, hence the name ‘pump track’. nat qualified third but did not have any time to celebrate her success – it was a change of clothes and bike and then off to the flow race which started at 1130.

the flow is the easiest of the three trails on the mountain, but that does not mean it is easy to get down fast. it takes courage to keep the fingers off the brakes and there are a few flat parts that require quite a bit of pedalling. nat came 9th and her time was a massive improvement over last year (10:47.34 vs. 11:45.13).

after that it was off the enduro bike, out of the enduro clothes, back into the more comfy and stylish stuff and on the dirt jumper for the finals rounds. the track consisted of a bigger outer and a smaller inner loop which the competitors had to complete before crossing the finish line, which made for some very interesting last-corner-action.

however, it also turned out that the sequence outer first then inner turn, while technically the same length, was faster than inner-outer. the better qualifier was allowed to choose which loop to do. nat was unlucky in her first run but got the better end in the small final.

needless to say she was extremely happy with her third place and justifiably proud of herself. she immediately declared the pump track challenge was her favourite even from now on and she can’t wait for the next cannonball to come around.

racing against your friends is the best fun. they may look cute and enjoy a good laugh together but these girls are all top riders.

the pump track even ended late but the next day was going to be even tougher. saturday was downhill practice and nat’s first time one the most challenging section on the mountain: ‘snakes and ladders’. it is pretty scary in parts, and not only for u15 girls, and definitely not the kind of trail one wants to take unscheduled soil samples on. with only two runs down the trail nat decided to give the downhill race a miss this time and practice a bit more before the next cannonball. probably a wise choice.

last but not least nat’s (small) finals run. this is how you do it if you want a cannonball trophy!