Saturday, September 11, 2010

Maps, maps, glorious maps (Part 1, no bikes)

The last 7 or 8 months have been pretty quiet on the riding front, but I have been getting out once in a while, invariably induced out of my stupor by a Michael Wood special.  Mike's owner of, and is a mapping guru.  His orienteering quality maps of the Wellington region are absolutely fantastic, to the extent that sometimes I feel like I could ride along without looking where I was going, and steering only by looking at the map.  That said, it's a bit bloody annoying to get lost when you can't blame the map...

Map 1:  Moonshine 24 (sort of).  April 17/18

Simon and I were both pretty excited to see a foot rogaine organised for the Akatarawa Forest.  We'd done our 5th MTB rogaine in there in January, and were both pretty jaded after months of hard work culminating in the Kiwi Brevet.  This event would give us a chance to explore the forest without bikes, and also give us something slightly different to focus on through March.  A nice "training" opportunity was the Mounting Mt Matthews trip I blogged in April.

We didn't figure my grotesquely misshapen legs were up for 24 hours with the big boys, but the organisers had kindly put on a 2 x 6-hour option.  Their kindness ended promptly though, and they set up a pretty grueling programme:  the first period started at 6pm through to midnight, and the second at 6am to midday.  The six hours in between didn't sound like a very good rest and recuperation period, as it would prove.

We did enjoy a leisurely start to the day though, unlike most of the 24-hour participants who got their maps at 9am with registration and gear check before that!

We turned up mid-afternoon, and added our tent to the plethora of others at the end of Bulls Run Road, in the Moonshine Valley.  We were given two portrait A3 maps, both at a 1:25000 scale, and each had a bunch of controls on them, with point-values ranging from 10 to 100.  We decided we'd have a crack on the western map in the first 6-hours, most of which would be in pitch darkness, and head east the next morning...

It's a week short of 5 months ago we did this, but some parts of it are still as clear to me as if the event was a few weeks ago.  We grabbed a couple of controls before lights were necessary.  For a bit of a hoot, and because I don't have much in the way of "tramping gear", I'd decided to compete as if for a MTBO, so I had my helmet on, and a powerful helmet-mounted light, suitable for MTBing in the dark.  Before long, it was in use.

The approach to our third control confuses me to this day.  We were heading north, and would pass the control within a few mm on the map (maybe 30m?).  On bikes, we would have been forced to ride north for another 800m or so, before returning on a parallel track to the control.  No bikes meant all bets were off, and we were more than welcome to bush-bash through the green stuff shown on the map, which only now do I see from the Legend means "Forest, very difficult travel"...

Ignoring clues like this (or oblivious to them) we hung a left at a likely-looking spot, climbed over a wire fence, and got about half way through the short bush-bash.  At this point, the bush became so dense, we decided to crawl down around the dense stuff on our left.  We went down hill for a bit, then sidled around to our right, and then went uphill for a bit...  Anyone heard the brain teaser: "if you start at the south pole, walk 10km north, 10km east, and then 10km south, where do you end up?"  That's pretty much what happened to us, 'cept we weren't at the south pole...  Tails between our legs, we were back on our original 4WD track within about 30 seconds, and, determined not to walk all the way up to the intersection, we forced our way over a couple of fences and down a cliff a little bit later on...  It would have been much much easier just to stick to the 4WD from the outset...

Next up we shot down some singletrack we'd never seen on a map before.  We saw some of the 24-hour guys near the top, before getting a little confused (it's dark, remember...) when the track got a little indistinct.  Compass use prevailed, and we were able to find the track again a little further down the spur.  It spat us out into a stream which was an absolute treat.  We had to spend about 500m in the stream itself - there was no track shown on the map, nor on the ground.  Shortly after a pretty distinct bend, we had to scramble up a bank, gain about 50 vertical metres in short time, and pick up the control at the western end of a saddle.  Simple!  We were probably fortunate we weren't the first ones through there, and found the control OK.  It was pretty exciting being off-track in the pitch dark, something we'd never had to do in an event before.  Adding to the exhilaration was incredibly cold fresh water splashing up my bike shorts, and sightings of a couple of eels napping out of the water on some mudbanks.  Choice!

We saw people fairly regularly from that point, including a couple of teams in conference - clearly struggling to find the control they were looking for!  We navigated well, but no doubt benefited from a lot of luck, to supplement our cunning.

We enjoyed a bit more off-track stuff, culminating in a walk down a stream near the event base.  I literally walked with 30cm of a control perched up on the stream-bank, just by my left shoulder.   No doubt I was thinking "it must be around here somewhere..."  I gave Simon a good laugh.

The six-hour "break" wasn't particularly long, once supper, sleep, and breakfast were factored in.  We started at 6am, in the dark again.  I'd chosen not to carry a light, and we were relying on Simon's lightweight torch.  It did the business, and it was pretty cool being out and about as the sun came up.  The valley was full of mist, and our early climb gave us some awesome views from above it all.

By 7am, we were testicles deep in the Whakatiki (?) River.  An out-and-back leg up to good points forced us to cross in a couple of places, and it was impossible to find a sufficiently shallow crossing.  WAKE UP MEN!!!!!

The second day mostly went well.  Simon navigated like an orienteering god along ridge section with only "an intermittent ground trail".  I think he had his track-designer's hat on, and was using the shape of the ridge to put us where he thought the track should be, while I was more focused on trying to follow something I could actually see.   It was impressive stuff to find him calmly clipping controls which seemed to me to be in the middle of nothing in particular!

We went astray dropping of the ridge we were traveling along. We wanted a saddle point, but ended up in a gully with far too much supplejack for my liking.  We had to give away a control, and I got pretty tired clambering around.  We almost (but not quite) had fisticuffs near the bottom, where the track became indistinct, and my legs weren't up for hunting around.  It turns out it's very hard to follow a track which crosses a big ditch which people tend to jump across, rather than clamber through.  We got there in the end though.

We had plenty of company back in the Whakatiki, some kilometres north of where we'd enjoyed it earlier in the day.  The team nature of the event was enjoyed by both of us in this stretch as we were rarely both wrong!  On average, things worked well, and we found every control we looked for fairly directly.

The last couple of controls were in steep country, and we were well ready to sit down by this stage.  The legs certainly weren't expecting this running nonsense.  We weren't too stressed by the deadline, so no sprinting or panicking was required.  The big boys and girls can keep the 24-hour stuff to themselves though!  Impressive stuff keeping both body and mind together in incredibly demanding circumstances for that duration!

Map 2:  City Safari.  May 16

The City Safari must be getting close to its 10th year now.  Initially run out in the Hutt Valley, recent offerings have been based in Wellington City, with the start/finish area down at Queen's Wharf.  Back in 2008, Kaitlyn and I were entered as Family Randal, a couple of months after our successful Karapoti Challenge.  The day before, I lost control of my bike on Hawkins Hill, and hit the road reeeeally hard (to the tune of a mild brain injury and rib pain for 6 months!).  Rather than withdraw, I enlisted my bro's help, and Family Randal (Kaitlyn and John) became Family Randal (Kaitlyn, Dave and John).  I was so stoned on pain killers I had a great time hurtling around the hills of Wellington, and Dave and Katy seemed to enjoy themselves too.  What's more, we won the 6-hour family event, and successfully defended that title the following year.  So, it's become a bit of a tradition, and of course we were on the start line this year too.

The event starts with map distribution at 8:30am.  Teams then have 40 minutes to nut out a course.  This year's map went from Seatoun in the East to the city end of Karori in the West, and as far north as Newlands.  Controls have a points allocation, and the aim is to maximise your net score, subject to a time limit and hefty late penalties.

Your first points are earned, not from this map, but from a short prologue course on the waterfront.  This is a torrid affair - you're handed very hi-res maps, with (from memory) 5, 10 and 20 point controls on it.  You get no planning time, so when told, you turn your map over and start running!  Poor Kaitlyn did absolutely famously in this phase of the event, and basically ran her little legs off the whole time.  The controls all have clues, and you write down the answer on a piece of card, before (or while) heading off to the next one.  We headed north, and finished off with a lap around the Ferg's Kayaks building.  We pushed it a little bit much though, and were 1 minute late, losing a whopping 10 points! Even so, the results would have us at the pointy end of the field, which is growing year by year.  The next 20 minutes were spent recovering from that intense ten minute period, and finalising gear/route etc.

A unique aspect of this event is that teams have travel passes, and can use busses, the Johnsonville train, cable car, and the Seatoun Ferry.  We'd never caught the ferry before, and so were keen to do this.  The timetable gave us about 50 minutes from the start to departure, so we focussed on grabbing some decent points without running the risk of being late.  We did a circuit of Thorndon, and grabbed a couple of controls on the slopes of Tinakori Hill (with all its fascinating sights)

...and were back (a little puffed) with a few minutes to spare.  Councillor Andy Foster didn't quite have to name-drop as he and Ramash turned up just as the ferry was about to leave.  They took pity on him and gave him enough time to grab a boarding pass from the office, and we were away only a minute to two after schedule.

The "harbour cruise" was stunning - the day day was incredibly still - and it was a really nice opportunity to rest up!  It also gave a good opportunity to plot and scheme a little more, and have a bit more breakfast!  We got a nice surprise at Seatoun Wharf where Ma and Pa "Randal" were waiting and waving!

After a quick hello, we were off for a loop around Seatoun, including the tracks above Breaker Bay.  There was no bus for us, so we walked through the tunnel, and grabbed a couple of controls in Strathmore.  We waited for a while for a 44 bus, anxiously unsure as to whether we'd missed it, but fairly sure we hadn't, and within a few minutes walk of another control. We were conservative, and waited for the bus, which came directly.  Having gained a whole lot of height, we then walked down to Tarakena Bay via the WW1 Ataturk Memorial.  Then, it was a long walk around to the south end of the airport, a control up on a mound, and a bus ride into town.

We dropped the ball a little bit on our bus ride.  On our way to Mairangi Road, we drove past 3 controls (Dixon St, Kelburn Parade, and Kelburn School) whose clues we could have answered by looking out the window.  There's a trap for novices right there - in fact, it was probably my experience of actually visiting each control, and physically clipping your card that screwed it up for us.  Nonetheless, the bus ride was another nice chance to rest up, and we made good progress across town.

From Mairangi Road, we collected points on the western flanks of Tinakori Hill, through Otari, and Karori Cemetery.  Suckers for punishment, we walked through the city end of Karori grabbing more points, before climbing up and over Northland and into Kelburn.  At Kelburn School it became apparent that we could have answered "[Post at school corner]  What is the post made of..." - the bricks were obvious...   Again, the reflectors at the roundabout by the uni would have been clearly blue from the bus.  I'm not sure which way we might have gone with these controls already bagged, but it certainly would have been different!

By the time we reached Boulcott St, I asked my cobbers whether they wanted the good news or the bad news:  one was "we'll get back on time" the other was "we'll be back on time even if we grab the Dixon St control after the Bond St one..."  Taranaki St took us onto the wharves, and we made our way expeditiously back to the sails at Queen's Wharf to check in, and have a much deserved break.

Katy was absolutely astounding during all of this.  A disadvantage of time passing is that she gets heavier each year, and so by next year, shoulder rides with Pa or Uncle Div will be completely out of the question.   Problem is, she also enjoys winning, so there's some conflicting incentives - to go out and enjoy a rare day with just the three of us together, or, do we make a race of it, have some tough periods, but maybe go home with a satisfying result.  Next year I'll be a bit more mindful of this, and I think we might be a bit more willing to ease off a bit when necessary.  Maybe even a cafe stop will be in order!

If you haven't tried this event, it's a great format to enjoy with kids. The public transport's a nice twist - Simon did the three hour version with his 2-year-old (and got the controls from the bus!!!)

Part 2 to come (with bikes) - the 2010 Wellington MTBO Series.

Map 3:  Makara Peak
Map 4:  Waitarere Forest
Map 5:  Belmont
Map 6:  Wainui

1 comment:

  1. WAKE UP MEN!!! :-D

    Good stuff bro, it's like I was there wheezing and puffing alongside you...