Over the next couple of months, various aspects of the "rules" were discussed, and suggestions for extra hills (?!?!) were thrown in the mix. Hints were made about likely route choice, bike choice, race distance, and how much climbing would be involved. Even Ranger Steve, one of WCC's finest, popped in at the last minute reminding us to behave ourselves, to take care, and to "enjoy your pain..." Classic!
I managed to keep from poring over maps and thinking of nothing else but the optimal route. Simon and I had done a smaller version as a pre-Akatarawa Attack hit out (minus Johnstons, Albert and Crawford), so I had some sense of what would suit me. Also, my days at Wellington Harriers (almost 20 years ago!), a few City Safaris, and as part of Wellington's many active trail builders gave me some confidence that I knew some decent shortcuts. By race morning, I had everything sorted but for my assault on Kau Kau and linking up Hawkins and Mt Albert.
Long gone are the days where I was too scared to warm up on the bike before an event on account of worrying that I'd expend energy I'd need to get home. So, what better way to get to the start line at Revolution Cycles in Northland than to ride. Steed for the day was my Giant XTC 69er. Carbon frame and fork, this bike is quite a climber, and minimally knobbed Stan's Raven tyres would be sweet on the extensive road sections. I never look forward to the rough stuff on this puppy, but strengths and weaknesses can all form part of the route planning for an event like this.
I arrived about an hour early, suited up in my tried and true Roadworks kit, with a couple of bottles of replace on the bike, a couple of bananas and a single one square meal bar (identical to the one I found in my bag in Taihape the morning after blowing a gasket on the Gentle Annie...). I had another banana and bottle to tide me over until the start, and donated a kilo of salted cashew nuts in lieu of a race entry fee.
The atmosphere in Jonty's shop, as always, was top notch. The usual suspects were there, and as time rolled on, the shop filled up with a bunch more. Nick was barista for the morning, and I gladly accepted an espresso shot. Shit talking and posturing were kept to an absolute minimum, and everyone seemed in a great mood. Just before 9am, Asher gave a brief briefing, and Simon reminded us all of the scrutiny we were under, and to be particularly mindful of other track users.
A quick pit stop later, it was time to get outside and mount up.
Without any apparent fuss, we were off! It seemed the majority of the 35 riders were heading for Tinakori, and by virtue of lining up down that end of the "start line", I led the way for the first 100m or so. Sometimes I wonder why MTB events are long, when within 500m of the start, the finishing order is already pretty much locked in. Roadwork's Karapoti-winning star Tim "T-Rex" Wilding soon came by, along with Ed Crossling, Brendan Sharratt, Alex Revell, Dave Sharpe, Simon Kennett, Jonty Ritchie, and a couple of others. The collective palmarès of that lot would be something to behold!
The relaxed vibe of the event to this point was soon disrupted. The legs started to ask questions as Orangi Kaupapa Rd started to kick up, and by the time the turnoff into the driveway up to the Tinakori Hill summit came, an illusion that this was going to be a cruisy day out were shattered. All around came the sound of granny gears being grabbed, as the insanely steep driveway started to take its toll.
Eventually the climb mellowed and the summit was within coo-ee. The fastest guys were leaving as I approached. The first of nine photo-ops was quite the comedy. Seeing as there were so many people there, it seemed that swapping cameras might be the way to go, but, possibly influenced by the "race" situation, it was self-shots all the way.
|#1: Tinakori Hill, Asher in the background|
Last time I rode along Tinakori Hill's ridge, I almost came a cropper in a drainage channel running across the road. This time, same thing. The ridge is a lovely fast descent towards Wadestown, though at the low point of one of the many rollers is the sort of thing that if you drive your front wheel straight into it, it ain't gonna to come out. I managed to diagnose the issue just before it was upon me, and pulled a less-than-stylish bunny hop over it. It all happened so fast I remember hearing one of my tyres skid a bit as I hadn't quite let go of the brakes...
As the 4WD became road, and the road dived down into Wadestown, it was time to make for Kau Kau. A right into Wade followed by a quick left into Weld and then onto Cecil into Wadestown centre. Left, and down to the low point at the north end of Otari before the climb into Crofton Downs. I had good company: Damian Steel-Baker was on his Giant Anthem fully, and Simon on his Cannondale 29er. We had a bit of a paceline going through to the Simla Crescent train station, where Damian and I turned left, and Simon continued on.
Unbeknownst to Simon, my patch of walking last weekend wasn't the bonk at all, but training for this ascent of Kau Kau. The shortest route to the summit from the south is the track from Simla Cres. This track is off limits to MTB riders, but it seemed perfectly reasonable to me to push and carry my bike up it. The track design was certainly consistent with cyclists being unwelcome, with flight after flight of steps. I was rueing the Hope freehub, clicking noisily as I pushed the bike. There was a steady stream of walkers coming down, and I pitied them having to listen to the hub. They all seemed friendly enough in response to my greetings. In a couple of sections near the top, I took the opportunity to quieten things down a little, and pedalled gingerly upwards.
Soon enough the bush opened up, and it was over the bizarrely named "Hillary Step" - a stile over the boundary fence. As I reached the summit platform, Dave, Ed and a fellow I didn't know but guessed (correctly) were heading off. I warned them of the large numbers of walkers I'd just passed, and the steps. Turned out they'd come up that way too...! It seems my walking had payed off and I'd made good time up the hill. I gladly accepted a woman's offer to record the moment for posterity.
|#2: Kau Kau|
Just as I was leaving Dave Rowlands rocked up, and started having a conniption about me coming up from Simla. "I walked" I told him, and left him to it. I saw Simon on the way down, and Asher not far behind him. There were another couple of riders just before the roadend, and a woman a few hundred metres below it. Smiles and waves all around, and onwards...
I tried not to overdo it on the undulating road back to Crofton Downs. Plenty of time for that sort of carry on on the climbs, whereas I treated these sections as opportunities to eat, and make sure I was heading the right way! Rather than burn off a lot of height between Crofton Downs and Karori Cemetary, I decided to head up Chartwell Drive and onto the Skyline Track. I was a little shocked at the amount of descending down to the "horse paddock" but no point crying over spilt milk.
I quite enjoyed making my way uphill. Simon had warned us about a small slip on this track, but it turned out to be a simple matter of skipping over a couple of gorse bushes. I was soon on the ridge, and riding the bone-shaking section consisting of superhard dirt sprinkled with cow hoof-prints. There didn't seem to be any smooth line, so I simply tried to keep my speed up without plowing through any recently laid cowpats.
I had a couple of tentative moments negotiating my way past half a dozen cows, and was soon looking for my turnoff. I knew the intersection I was looking for, where the Karori Cemetary trail meets Skyline, but I'd never actually taken the track from there to Johnston's summit. Soon I saw the track, and lo and behold, the Kau Kau threesome, Dave, Ed and Brendan on it! What a hoot this event was shaping up to be... They'd ridden via the roads past Otari and the cemetary trail.
I had to push a couple of sections on this walking track, and there was a stile to negotiate too. I said gidday to the guys as they passed me, and then it was up the steep chute to the top for another camera stop.
|#3: Johnston's Hill|
I peeled left just after the fence crossing and was soon back on the Skyline Track. Asher passed me going in the opposite direction - he made great time from Kau Kau and must have been coming up the Parkvale Ave track. I jumped off the Skyline for 100m of Montgomery Ave - a little too late I think, subjecting myself to what may have been an unnecessary dismount, and then tentatively rejoined Skyline by a water reservoir. Again, I knew of this link, but wasn't exactly sure where I was going. Nonetheless, I'd saved myself a minute or so, and a bit of wear and tear.
I timed things well and didn't have any DHers to contend with on the way to their race start above Karori Park. I grabbed a quick drink up the driveway to Varley's Track, then made my way through a bit of traffic onto the 4Wd track up the spur to the summit.
Surprise surprise, as I pushed my bike up the steep section to the signpost, there were Dave, Ed and Brendan again, just setting off. They'd come up Snakecharmer, probably moving a bit quicker than me, so I shot myself, once again, feeling pretty chipper about my route.
|#4: Makara Peak|
Next up was Wright's Hill, and a bit of local knowledge sent me up Woodhouse Ave and onto Landsdowne Terrace. At the end of it was the track which was the pre-Salvation route up to the top of Deliverance. The track was in pretty good nick, and I felt good. I leapt onto Salvation at the first opportunity which was probably a small mistake and cost me 30 seconds or so. I think if I'd kept left, I'd have been on the more direct route.
As I rode out onto the seal again, I decided to make a quick call to Oli back at the shop with time-keeping duties. My watch was reading 11:00 (or so), and it felt like it was going to be roughly half-time. I figured sitting alone in the shop he'd be wondering what the hell we were all up to. The next 400m or so were pretty cruisy, and the road was quiet, so a great opportunity for a quick call-in.
No sooner had I let him know about my encounters with Ed et al, and Asher, than I felt my legs spinning out. A gear change was in order, and with my phone in my right hand at my ear, I reached across my bike with my left to click the shifter down one. The slightest touch of my right control with my left hand put my front wheel into a tizz, and all crossed up, I probably moved in precisely the wrong direction. Before I knew it, I was down, hard, on the road. My bike was lying off the verge, phone up the road a bit, and GPS unit just beneath the bike. I picked myself up, winded, and grabbed the phone. The screen was un-smashed, and it indicated Oli was still there. "Did you hear that?!" I screeched, "I just crashed!!!" Oli wisely told me to get my head back in the game, surely rolling his eyes vigorously as he said so!
I popped my Garmin back onto its clip on the stem, and gave the bike a quick once over. Everything seemed present and accounted for, and luckily, everything was pointing in the right direction. I rode the short distance to the carpark, carried the bike up the stepped short-cuts of the zig zag track, and was soon posing for the next shot, this time with a bit of claret welling up on my knee, and a growing feeling of stupidity. What a dickhead!
|#5: Wright's Hill|
As I peeled off, Ed arrived on the scene. Oh yes, Woodhouse was a great move!
I continued to be plagued by similar brain contortions that compelled me to make a phone call in the middle of a race (WTF?!). For most of the climb up Hawkins I was in turmoil about the thought of making an insurance claim for my phone. While I'm often quite logical, this period was anything but. My internal dialogue included entertaining lying about what I was doing when the phone was damaged, being sprung, having a claim declined, having to answer in the affirmative to having a claim declined when purchasing future insurance. All the while, my phone was perfectly fine, yet here I was adding further lawlessness to my earlier misdemeanour...
It took a bloody long time to catch Dean on his cyclocross bike on the way up the ridge. He'd passed in front of me where the Long Gully road pops out at the Ostrich farm, and while his granny was midrange for me, I wasn't quite able to push any sort of gear which would result in a faster catch. I asked after his fortunes on the way past. He'd skipped Kau Kau, but apart from that had similar plans to me. While we were swapping notes, Alex Revell came down the hill towards us. It seemed we were all on the same wavelength, and like something biblical, Dean and I parted and Alex crossed between us, waving and smiling (no doubt with a sense of relief that this encounter worked out with us all upright!)
I pulled away from him just before the descent past the castle, and saw a flurry of riders in the short section between the top of the Tip Track and the summit. Ed had snuck past me somewhere - probably the singletrack off Wright's Hill where I'd taken the 4WD road past the Parade Ground. Jonty flew past as well. Finally my brain had something interesting to work on - where had they come from?! I was glad my phone was working still, when I managed to get the strange growth on my shoulder at the second attempt...
|#6: Hawkins Hill|
It was nice to see Clive Bennett, resplendent in his Bushlove racing kit. I stopped briefly on the flat section for a mouthful of drink and a bite to eat. I could see Dave on his way down and set off again lest he fly past while I was munching. We got to the bottom gate (or the site of the old gate?!) together, and he hit the bottom Murchison Ave in front of me. The dependence of my good fortunes on route choice were hammered home on this short climb as Dave took about 150m out of me. He was so far ahead, I'd given up watching him and didn't see him turn left at the top.
I hung a right, and rolled down Frobisher to Severn, and zig-zagged my way across Island Bay before picking up my next climb at "Vulgar" Volga St. I'd sacrificed a bit of extra climbing, but felt I was on a reasonably direct route to the next summit. About 30 seconds out, who did I see but Ed and Dave! Back to the pre-Wright's order of things. A short walk to the summit and my next photo was taken... 2 to go!
|#7: Mt Albert|
Crossing Kilbirnie seemed to take an age, and a noticable wind had picked up. As I turned left from Miramar Cutting onto Maupuia Rd, there was Ed on his way down. Surely he couldn't have taken 10 minutes out of me after Mt Albert?! That had my mind whirring, and I barely had enough resources left to direct a wave towards Alex Revell coming towards me. Going down looked like much more fun than going up!
Rather than lose height along Akaroa Drive, I took the gravel path overlooking Evans Bay. It was busy with walkers but I made good enough time. I have a vague memory of seeing Jonty coming down, followed soon after by Dave. Something must have gone wrong for Ed. He'd obviously not made it up the hill...
The next photo was to be in front of the prison gate. I'd composed this in my mind - a shot through the bike titled "Behind Bars". It wasn't until I was 20 seconds down the hill that I realised "Behind Top Tube" was nearly as cool as "Behind [Handle]bars"... Another day maybe...
|#8: Mt Crawford|
Cobham Drive was windy, and my legs were starting to complain. Thoughts of "1 to go" were updated with the realisation that Jonty's shop was actually half way up Tinakori. Oh well, grizzling about that ain't gonna make the riding any easier...
30 or so ascents up Mt Vic in my recent past didn't help make this one seem any easier. The climb up the ridge seemed to take an eternity. My bottles were empty by this stage, but I was preoccupied with having a drink. I resisted stopping at the public loos just below the summit, figuring that the shop actually wasn't all that far away.
A time of 4 hours had looked a remote possibility from Mt Albert, but by now it was obviously out of the question. No matter... A quick scramble later, I was taking my last shot of the event.
|#9: Mt Victoria|
I was really lucky to be accosted by a couple of American women who asked "what are you guys doing?!" I stopped to explain, and had the remarkable realisation that from our vantage point, every single peak was visible. This was very cool from a geographical point - often Tinakori obscures Johnston's from view. It also made me realise how incredibly lucky we'd been with the weather. There'd been a bit of cloud in the south, and some sea-breeze later on, but by in large, we'd been treated to one of the once-or-twice a month Wellington stunners! Risking disappearing into a mire of sentimentality, I bid the tourists farewell, and swooped down Palliser Road to town.
I'd paid no mind to the assault on Jonty's until I was actually climbing Mt Vic, and by now I'd decided to go direct - Courtenay Place onto Dixon and through Kelburn. I was treated to 6 red lights on this short stretch, but far from being frustrating, I was quite pleased for the rest! The steep section of Dixon St was tough, especially with my body starting to complain. Crash aside, this was starting to get old!
I never quite got on top of my chosen gear through Kelburn, despite trying a variety. Over the viaduct, I was finally in the home stretch. Thoughts of powering my way up Northland Road, were just that, thoughts. In actuality, I spun away, making progress but barely so. Man, the last hour really stretched out, and I made hard work of what was very familar commuter riding.
As I swung through the intersection by the tunnel, I could make out Jonty arriving back at his own shop - he must have come up Garden Rd. So many choices!
When I arrived 30 seconds or so later, the shop was full of familar faces. Tim Wilding had arrived first in a staggering 3 hours 39, with Dave Rowlands a few minutes behind. Alex Revell and been the last of the three riders who'd dipped under 4 hours. Dave Sharpe had powered home from Mt Albert for 4th, with Simon hot on his heels. Damian Steel-Baker had ridden Skyline from Kau Kau through to Johnston's and had stayed a few minutes ahead of me the whole way - I'd not seen him since the bottom of the Simla track! Jonty followed Damian, and I was just behind Jonty. David Drake arrived before long, and Asher himself rounded out the top 10.
What ensued was a glorious debrief session. People sat eating and drinking, and unlike a standard XC event, we all had route choices to explain, and chance encounters to decipher. At one point Dave, Damian and I realised we'd all taken different routes from Mt Vic back to the shop. Dave had climbed Bowen and Garden, while Damian had used Aro Valley.
The sun stayed out, and the group baking on the footpath grew larger, occasionally reshuffling to accommodate another body, or to adjust for a moving sun. Jitesh in the 4-Square did a roaring trade in chocolate milk in particular, but all sorts of calorie-laden goodies in general. The next 90 minutes or so were broken up with the homecoming of another rider, at which point stories could begin anew.
For the record, my Garmin gadget reported about 2400m climbing (Damian had notched up 150m less, largely due to his Skyline effort I suspect) over about 78km. I was pretty pleased with both my plan and its execution. Another banana probably wouldn't have gone amiss, and one less phone call of course...