I shiver a little as I step into the bus. I'm not really sure if its the chill of the air conditioning or the thought that I'm leaving too soon. This has been my fifth trip to Jamaica, and every trip has been better than the previous, barring the first one of course. That first fresh experience was so full of excitement and wonder, and accompanied by an awesome group of friends, it's hard to top the memory of it. But let's not get stuck in memories, they so often make the current experience seem so much less. It's hard to be happy if you compare the present to the built up memories of your "best" times, and I prefer to live in the present and enjoy every moment. That's one of the best things about Jamaica, it's always best times mon!
The first day of the Festival has lately been spent at James Bond Beach for the Jamaica Bicycle Bash, an amazing event that is a festival into itself. The Bicycle Bash is an afternoon of bicycle races and contests, some of which almost remind me of the wacky races. The events are open to all, and all usually includes a large number of Jamaicans of all ages, all keen to show off their skills on de bicycle. And all keen to try out the really nice bikes which most of us tourists bring...
The Rambo Race is a short 3 lap race that starts at the beach and goes up the hill into the town of Oracabess. There it takes a turn to the right and goes through town, after which it takes another right, and heads down the hill and back to the beach. Please keep in mind that in Jamaica they drive on the left, not something you want to struggle with on the three laps through the traffic filled streets.
The Rambo Olympics is a bit of an adventure in cycling. Racers do 4 laps of the grass track, and each lap after the first they have to pick up an object to carry for the rest of the race. Simple enough, except that the objects are little bit on the large and unwieldy side. After the first lap contestants must pick up and carry a plastic beer crate, at the end of that lap they pick up a propane cylinder, and then at the end of the third lap they add a weed whacker to the mix...
At the end of a long day of fun in the sun we loaded up into the van and the truck. People and bikes, and headed off into the sunset to prepare for our first real day of riding...Day Two - Murphy Hill and Hamilton Mtn.
On the first day of the tour we lunch at Scotchies. This followed by another bus ride, but the afternoons ride is far from a shuttle. It's a bit of a road ride on old ashphalt and gravel, mixed in with some green rocks and red orange clay on the climb, just to keep it interesting. It's not too bad if it's been dry for a while, but as soon as it gets wet, anything red or green on the ground may as well be greased. Once you get to the top of Hamilton Mountain, a short XC loop awaits. This is followed by a bit of a rip down to a local corner store, and then more riding on some great single and double track, which eventually ends at Rio Nuevo beach and Conscious Corner, home of our good friend Norval. There is nothing quite like ending a good ride at a beach, with cold Red Stripes and a dip in the ocean. Sunset comes as always, and as everyone winds down and gets into a few more Red Stripes, and maybe and Appleton and Coke or two, or three, the attention is turned to dinner. This years dinner at Conscious Corner was no less awesome than any other I've had there, proof that great food doesn't require any sort of modern kitchen. I don't remember exactly all that we ate, but the curried lobster was amazing!Days Three and Four - Robins Bay
As things will tend to do in faraway places the next few days of the Fat Tyre Fest tend to blend into one long adventure involving driving, riding, eating, drinking, beaches and sleeping. I often wish it would never end... As we leave the Ocho Rios area and head east towards Robins Bay, we leave the resort area behind and move into the country. Farming and fishing are the main things out here, and we get to experience a bit of both on our rides, riding through farmers fields and into little fishing villages. Even after a number of years it never becomes old, but once again I will never forget how surreal the first experience was. From fresh fruit, sugar cane, and coconut at Natty Grant's house, to the amazing lunch that he and his Rasta friends cook for us at the beach, and the wonderful dinner at River Lodge, the food is amazing. And the riding is better...
Then wake up and do it all over again....Days Five and Six - The Blue Mountains
And then it's time to move on to the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. A bit of a drive, but well worth it. After hours of tight twisty roads we arrive at the Scorpio Inn, a place that you really need to see to believe. The next few days will be spent riding some amazing trails, and taking part in the Ken Klowak memorial weekend. Ken Klowak was a trail builder that was instrumental in building most of the early trails here at the Blue Mountain property, and the weekend is an event to honor his memory. Coffee, breakfast, ride, lunch, ride, soak in the river, ride, dinner, and then it all ends with an amazing concert by Tarrus Riley.
As I sit on the air conditioned bus waiting to go to the airport, I think about all the events and experiences of the week here in Jamaica. The amazing food, the wonderful people, the riding, and the really great times I've had here. And then my thoughts are interrupted as we stop at the Club Hotel Riu to pick up a few more travelers, also on their way home. A large pale looking man sits down next to me, overflowing his seat while the burnt skin flakes off of his arm and onto my side of the arm rest. He's with his wife and teenage daughters, and I try to be sociable, asking if he enjoyed his trip. He tells me it was great, and that they really loved Jamaica. I ask if he went to Scotchies for some of their amazing jerk chicken, after all it is right across the street. He replies that they didn't, and in fact they never left the resort....
The Jamaica Fat Tyre Festival would like to thank all of its sponsors: The Jamaica Tourist Board, The Oracabessa Foundation, Appleton Estate, Rooms Resort, and John Crow's Tavern.
For more info check out the official website of the Saint Mary Off Road Bicycling Club, or SMORBA