Monday, January 28, 2008

Akatarawa Attack, 2008 (from the vorb files)

My day began at about 5:30am when my alarm went off. I scraped myself out of bed, put the jug on and chugged a bucket of tea and a few bits of toast. I was at Simon's by about 6am, where I'd left my gear and bike the day before. I helped load up the car, and we were gone by about 6:15.

I always seem to get Horokiwi and Korokoro confused, so it gave me a bit of a fright to see the sign about a detour at Korokoro. In the end it only cost us a couple of minutes. I'm pretty sure the footbridge they were lifting out at Korokoro lights is bound for the top of Wainui Hill.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and we arrived at Karapoti Park just as Mike Wood was putting up a sign directing us down the driveway, 6:45 and we were comfortably ahead of schedule. It was good to arrive early, and have plenty of time for checking tyre pressures, putting bottles onto the bike, signing the registration form (!!!!), and doing a bit of eating (and the obligatory end effect of such... a couple of times...). We'd had a wee bit of rain on the way out, but it looked like the cloud was going to burn off. No changes to the anticipated clothing at my end: Tineli bib shorts, and my trusty Roadworks jersey. I'd also decided to go with a cap under my helmet, roadie styles, and sans sunglasses, and interesting conflict between sun protection and not...

At 7:30 sharp, we collected our maps. A quick survey yielded no big surprises: the big points were far away, and we'd seen a lot of the tracks in the last couple of years' Akatarawa Attacks, preparation rides, and the Cannons Point MTBO Event, which I'd helped organise, and Simon had competed in.

Our preparation for this event was in stark contrast to last year's. In 06/07 we'd had an awesome summer, building up slowly in November to full fitness by the end of January. We'd done half a dozen Tip Tracks each, a few 4+ hour MTB rides, and two or three 150km Akatarawa loops. I was lighter than I've been since high school (82kg) and relishing my new found form. Simon was also in cracking form, and would go sub-20 on the tip track, and top 10 at Karapoti in the following months.

This summer had been relatively light on the cycling front. Simon did the Taupo Enduro all on his own at the end of November, a mere 320km with no help, and had taken December off the bike. I inflamed my knee in late October, and had amassed a whopping 3-4 hours on the bike in November. I'd done a one hour race in early December, and virtually no riding until '08. January started in a somewhat misleading way - I'd been strong on a touring ride with my bro, and done a scorching time trial around Wellington's hills a week and a half ago. Despite this preparation, our aspirations were lofty. My bike had never been cleaner, thanks to a thorough going over by Oli at Roadworks, and it was sporting a brand new Kenda Nevegal rear tyre, and a Continental Vertical Pro on the front - a perfect combination.

While I measured up our proposed loop on the car bonnet with string - it came in at about 80km, excluding the maze, Simon filled in our intention sheet. As I took it to the tent, I noticed he'd crossed out the controls we hadn't considered going to: 11 in the east, and 36 and 45 in the middle of the western map. Gulp...

The start was a bit of an anti climax. Simon was putting on his helmet while five teams headed towards Karapoti gorge. We saddled up and started up the driveway and towards Cannon's Point. Just before the bridge over the Akatarawa River, we pulled right, and began the (one=way) climb up to 21. The road stretch was a nice way to start and a got a warm flush through my legs seconds before hitting the gravel for the first time. I was on point for the initial part of the race having mapped part of this area before. We made our way flawlessly between 21, then 40, out and back to 20, up the bank and overgrown single track to 31, then the loop 30, 22. We thanked our lucky stars we hadn't tried it in the opposite direction. All systems go, we fired down through 70, then to 41, and we hit 60 at about 1.5 hours. We'd done about 20km by this stage.

We made a small error at 32, trusting both the map, and disliking the look of the singletrack from below. We went in and back from the top, which cost us a few seconds. Then the Challenge loop in reverse. I came a cropper on the (steep) entrance to the singletrack at 23, and was lucky not to fall backwards off the bike. 13 and 33 were uneventful. Things started to change now though, and we entered the worst phase of the race.

SImon flipped his map to the 1:15000 enlargement of "The Maze", which interestingly was detrimental to his navigation. We haven't discussed this, but I think the change of scale was very hard to deal with mentally - all of sudden, after 2.5 hours of getting into the groove of 1:25000, things were happening much more quicky. In any case, we got to 50, then headed directly for 43. This was a mistake, and we had two very good clues - the map said "Very steep" and a sign at the top of the track read "The Widowmaker". We scrambled down a mossy rock chute for what felt like about 10 minutes. It was impossible to stand in places, and the rocks were just a little too jagged to slide down. It would have been much easier without the bikes...

After a short summit meeting at an intersection we found 34, then sidled around to 25. We had some respite now for a few minutes heading into 24 from below, and then switching onto the west map. Then, as if the Maze wasn't bad enough, we rode into hell... 26 was a piece of cake, despite me questioning the intersection below it. The single track to 44 was a steep, overgrown piece of shit. No rest for the wicked... As we made the turn off to 71, I had no energy to look at the map, and was fairly certain it was an out and back. I almost wept as I rode down a piece of 4WD track reminiscent of the tip track. Thankfully, we could forge onwards, and up up upwards. 35 done. 61 done. I was tired though, and had an off into a nice soft pile of pine needles. I'm pretty sure my front wheel got caught in a little rut which went thataway - I wanted to go the other way...

Still a bit out of sorts, I stopped to fix my map board, and lost sight of Simon at the stream crossing. I called out and it sounded like he was behind me, so I turned around thinking I'd missed the turnoff. Turns out he was above me, and we got back together in the end. Then, I gave him a real fright. We were well past half time, and running out of time, with some hard work still ahead. He looked back and I was walking on a middle-ring climb. My legs were just so dead. We'd had over two hours of intense riding, and I just wasn't finding time to get any energy out of my One Square Meals which had served me so well in the past. Simon insisted I chug one back, and drink, and after 10 minutes or so my legs started to feel a little better. We'd decided to forgo 37, and I was getting really worried about the climb up to 51.

While riding along, or was that walking, I was looking for an easier option. I thought long and hard about my sales pitch, and then finally suggested to Simon that we certainly didn't have time for the out and back to 81, and nor could we do 52, 101, 51 as we'd planned. This left us with a choice between 101 and 51 with a huge climb, or a relatively flat 52, 81 loop. At this point we made a choice which saved us the race and a great deal of misery, and went with the flatter option. We'll have to check out the other loop sometime! Thankfully the single-track climb to 81 was remarkably ridable (we'd come down it in '06). 46 was no problem to find, so it was next stop Dopers Hill.

My rear tyre had developed a leak, and so we stopped at the bottom of the climb to pump it up. I think we had just over an hour left, and some daunting riding left to do. I spent a bit of time on SImon's bike while he pumped up my tyre (and also put my seat up to a sensible height. God knows how long it had been too low for). More air at the top of Dopers, and we rearranged the maps, narrowly avoiding forgetting about 80. We would have cried about that, but we found it on the map, then found it on the ground. The descent to 91 was not too bad, so we decided to ride back to the 4WD road rather than carry on down as we originally planned. In fact, that little loop was probably what convinced us to do the course in the clockwise direction we chose...

It looked like we were going to make it back on time as we crossed the river. I'm convinced Simon's awesome knowledge of the gorge saved us from a tube change - I was sitting on his wheel as my rear tyre softened, and he picked awesome clean lines. He stopped just before a short climb, we filled the tyre, then straight into a very rocky section which would have spelt SNAKEBITE for sure. We picked up 12, and then onto the road. I managed to muster a 15 second pull, then Simon put his huge legs into full effect and blew past me, and all I could do was jump on his wheel. I was riding blind at this stage, and couldn't see the last control on my map, so I just followed. As we pulled off the road, down to the ford, the hooter sounded, and I yelled "TIME" to Simon. We grabbed 10, ultimately worth 6 points to us, rather than 9, due to the extra minute's penalty it cost us.

It was a glorious relief to be back at base, and to be able to stop riding. I hadn't ever experienced a race like this. I've bonked before in a two hour race, but never been so close to my limit for so long. I recommend that you never find yourself at the bottom of Dopers after the best part of seven hours riding, and with time pressure to get home.

We've had 24 hours to reflect on the day, and I think SImon and I both agree that awesome team work saved the day. We trusted each other, rode to our strengths (or is that weaknesses), and we didn't lose sight of the job ahead,

I have a list of things to do before the Cyclic Saga in March. I need to do some riding, which should help me lose some weight (I am 7kg heavier than this time last year). I need a tubeless rear wheel. I need to sort out my seat height, and I need to sort out my race nutrition.

Last year was a great victory - my first big one, and an absolute thrill to find that form, and cement an incredibly strong bond between Simon and I that only comes through overcoming adversity together, and supporting each other in a team environment. I think I might be prouder of this win though. Damn, we did it tough...

Thanks for reading.

PS: This day has an amusing postscript which I initially forgot. Simon and I won a bottle of "Crossroads" 2002 Hawkes Bay Cabernet Merlot each. Simon generously presented his to Michael Wood, who is the master map-maker, and is behind many of the fantastic Map Sport events held in the Wellington region. I got mine safely to my doorstep, and while the bath was running, went to pick it up and rather clumsily knocked it over, smashing it all over my doorstep. I was just a little bit too tired for such intricate jobs. I hope Mike enjoys the other bottle...

Originally posted on vorb

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