Friday 15 October
The plane back from Metallica is delayed. I text Alex and let him know I'll be late to pick him up. Wearing yesterday's socks and undies is bearable, though not desirable. My ears feel OK, which is a relief.
Eventually the plane's in the air, and before an hour passes, I'm back in Wellington. I turn my phone on, and have missed a call from Jonty's shop. I ring, and Alex has just left. It's raining. Bummer – I could have picked him up.
The next hour is chokka with fiddle-faddle. I return my Bulgarian and Metallica-enamoured colleague, Vlado, to our building. He's late for his class, but had managed to organise cover from the airport lounge. I head off to Newtown, where Alex and my bikes await. I grab coffees for us, and before long, we're in the car heading back to town.
We make a short call to Revolution Cycles to collect Alex's rear wheel. Jonty wishes us well. We'll see him again up in Rotorua in a week's time.
We leave the rain in Wellington, and enjoy dry roads on our northbound journey. We stop when Otaki starts, and enjoy a late lunch at the Brown Sugar cafe. The eggs weren't great, madam, but sitting outside, in the sun, was fan-freakin'-tastic. I grab a tasty-looking bit of slice on the way out.
Our drive is a short one, and we pop in to the Icebreaker Outlet store. If only we were women, we could have spent up a storm. Little for us fellas though.
The roads are clear, Alex's ipod is dishing up decent driving sounds, and we chat away. The hours pass quickly, and, on the outskirts of Taupo, we're confronted by an unfamiliar roundabout. We take the second exit onto the new SH1 bypass.
We take the road to Reporoa, sort of, back into Taupo. We stumble upon the Camellia Motel, and secure a room for the night, neither gourmet, nor too rudimentary. The air is warm and still, and we set off on foot for the supermarket.
We Pak 'n' Save, and get home to cook. It's never quite as easy as doing it at home, but before too long, we're enjoying a nice hot plate of pasta. Raspberry buns for dessert hit the spot nicely. We save two for the morning.
Saturday 16 October
Ants discovered our pink buns overnight. They now resemble pink kiwifruit covered with little black hairs.
I'd forgotten to ring Simon's trademe cobber the night before. I sort this out soon after the clock strikes 9, and then it's time for some food. Coffee, muesli and toast – I really could live on breakfast (four or five times a day). We collect Simon's new, old bike, and get a second crack at the new bypass. The road's ugly, but not nearly so ugly as the new bridge across the Waikato. I'm on music this morning.
We roll into Rotovegas. We're too early for our race packs at Bike Vegas, and too early to check into our lodgings. Never too early for coffee though – Zippy's lunch menu holds no appeal for Alex, but I tuck into a plate of beans and rice. Dave and Keryn, Dean from Wideopen and his wife, Mark 'Cabin' Leishman and Al Crossling are just finishing off their lunch. I grab a map from Kiwibikes nextdoor and start trying to familiarise myself with the 'new' forest. A lot has changed since the late 90s.
We struggle to free our key from the lock-box, but eventually get the knack of simultaneously pushing and pulling. We unload the car, and then suit up for a ride.
The forest hits me like a cold, wet and heavy fish across the face. So many bumps, so many turns, such sluggish legs. Alex looks like he's cruising.
We meet Carl Jones and his friend. We tag along with them. Down a new Exit Trail, and back up the hill. Into Genesis up a steep, slippery climb that has my legs screaming – I came that way in a Moonride over 10 years ago, when the track had a different name. Goddamn these kids are fast! And they don't sweat much, or run out of breath. I'm glad to be with them. I'm out of practice.
We check in at Bike Vegas, just behind Garth Weinberg, riding as Rick O'Shea. He struggles to remember his name, but gets it eventually. We see Dave and Al again. It's odd seeing familiar faces in unfamiliar places.
Back at base, we clean our bikes. Then ourselves. The shower has a funky slow-drain mechanism to prevent long showers.
A short trip to the supermarket later, Alex prepares a mushroom risotto. He does so very well. It's great to be on holiday.
Sunday 17 October
What do you mean the race starts at 8?! Alarms set off at 6am, and it's up and at-'em. Coffee, cereal, toast, and we fuss about with final preparations. There's rarely not someone in the loo – usually it's me.
The day's overcast, but not too cool. We set off just after 7.
We arrive at Waipa Mill carpark, and separate. I throw my bag into the trailer for half-time. No oranges in there for me. Alex photographs 8 or so New Calendonian riders in front of a promotional “Whaka 100” sign. They look so happy. Dean Watson, the organiser, and I look on – let's see them reenact that at the end, we laugh.
Briefing's short and sweet. Still no rain – it's due after lunch apparently.
I wish Alex luck and line up 4 or 5 rows back.
The race starts, and starts sucking almost straightaway. We hurtle around a paddock, before hitting the first bit of single track – its name, “Tahi”, makes so much sense now I write it down.
We skip the start of Creek Track, before diving onto it 100m later. There's a big queue.
The course takes us through a section of Challenge before a short, sharp climb into Genesis. An older bloke in R&R kit passes me. “Too many gears, sifter”, he says. It's weird being known by that name, by strangers. I hold my own through the single track, barely.
We drop down the ex-Moonride climb and I undo my helmet. Off comes the cotton cap I wear to keep the chill and the sun off my head. Not much of either this morning. I have to stop to do my helmet back up. A couple of riders pass me, and we head into Grinder. I grind my chainring on a log the track rolls over.
A bit of gravel road takes us through to “Mad if you don't” and a long gravel section. Finally, riding I don't suck at. Keryn shouts “Go sifter!” in support. I enjoy the riding briefly, and my legs and body start to recover somewhat from the onslaught of unfamiliar singletrack.
We're alongside SH5 for a bit, on the south-eastern border of the forest. I'm making headway into a small bunch of singlespeeders – highly qualified singletrack exponents, but captives of their single gear on these open sections. We turn away from the highway up Mossy Trail.
I actually say “Wow!” out loud when Rotokakahi – Green Lake – comes into view. I finally pass the singlespeeders, and almost instantly my chain starts skipping. I shift up, stop, and remove a ridiculously tiny stick from the cassette. I say “Who'd ride with gears, eh?!” as I repass them.
We stay by the lake for a bit. We cross a gate, and duck under a fallen tree. It's almost comical. Not even half way into a 100km race, and we're rushing as if we were in a 1-hour sprint. I hook my saddle on the tree and have to stop to free it. I'm a bit puffed, and feeling a bit silly.
My knee's hurting so I stop and raise my saddle a bit. It doesn't help, and now my seat feels too high.
The road kicks up. There's a wild pig's head lying by the side of the road. We grovel up the first of 5 major climbs.
All good things come to an end, and I'm back to sucking at riding again. I jettison whatever skills I possess moments before starting “No Brains”. I get passed as if I was standing still. I might as well have been.
More gravel road and more hill.
Split Enz is much kinder to me than No Brains was, and I feel almost competent. More passers, and one of them asks “Are you the mighty sifter?” I don't feel at all mighty today. “I've been following your blog” he says, adding “I live up Waitotara Valley”. I ask him his name, catch “Dave” but not “Stephenson”, the land owner up there I need to get hold of. “See you at the end” I call, hopefully. Call me, Dave!
Pondy DH and Pondy New, and more passers. Even out in the open I don't seem to be able to look after my speed. What am I doing here? Man, I suck at this.
Old Chevy and I can hear talking. I pop out to see 15 or so people, and the trailer with our bags in. A young fella is there looking like he's just been punched in the face. 30/12/1999 and a broken eye socket on Mt Vic flash through my mind.
I scull most of a bottle of powerade, and put a couple of new bananas and OSMs in my jersey pocket. I put two new bottles on the bike. I contemplate leaving the rain-vest I've been carrying since the start, but hang onto it. Later, I'm glad I did. Rag and chain oil remain untouched. I lower my seat a little.
My stop is short, and little less casual than some others. I'm caught on the next climb by a woman on a SS. There aren't that many women in the field, and I consider it an honour. The next hill's a big one, and I manage to pass and drop her.
After a long while, it's back onto singletrack. I ride “Frontal Lobotomy” reasonably proficiently by virtue of it being a climb. A little bit more gravel and then onto Billy T. I remember how funny he was. I'm not laughing.
“G Rock” is next up, somehow leading on to the Chinese Menu and a climb up to Hot X Buns. I see my first bit of 100km-carnage in here somewhere. Two riders sitting forlornly on a log at the side of the track. The look fine, and need no help. I figure the distance has caught up with them.
I pass a big bloke on the next climb. We're well into the back-markers of the shorter races on this part of the course. You can tell them by their attire and their cheery manner. “The curse of being big, eh?” I say as I make my pass. “See you on the descent” he answers. He does. I'm stopped quickly for a decent bite of bar, and a swig of coke.
Not far to go now, according to some helpful souls I pass (!!!) on the way down Hot X Buns. I pass big-guy and a SSer on Lion Trail. The mouthful of Coke I had at my brief stop has hit my bloodstream almost instantly. My legs feel great, and the track's climbing. I'm on fire. The big-guy's just stopped. I wonder why? The other's started to cramp. Clambering over the log at the start of the track would trigger that, I profoundly think to myself.
I pass another back-marker. “Only 4km to go”, he says. Moment's later, I read “Track splits in 100m”. I look at my speedo. It reads 83km. Still plenty of riding for me yet. I take the right turn.
I head up Katore Rd and remember riding this ridge with Slackboy back in 06. It's all greasy 4WD for this section. I passed by another singlespeeder who seems to be riding in loafers. “Theees eeez amaaaazing!” he shouts in Australian. The city's off to our right. I can hear it.
I turn left onto Exit Trail, and hook into a section I'd ridden the day before. I try to ride fast, but can't. A marker was down at the bottom, and I was confused for a bit. Another rider appears. “This way” he says. I follow.
I'm afraid to think it's almost over. My speedo's barely reading 90km, but I know I'm close to home. A photographer tells me “almost there!” “Literally?” I think, as I bounce down a greasy 4WD road. I know she's right though – I've ridden this bit in a Moonride course.
I stop. “How was that?!” I'm asked as my transponder's taken off my ankle. “I hated every minute of it” I answer, adding “Fantastic event though...”
I ask after my bag, with my wallet inside. It'll be here pretty soon. “How soon?” I press. “Come back in an hour”. I can smell hot food, and coffee. I put my vest on, and head back to town.
I pass a guy on a singlespeed. He enjoyed himself. I ask about his gear choice. He asks about mine. “I kept looking for the right gear, but never found it” I tell him. Alex was in the car when I got home. He'd been trying to find reverse so he could come and pick me up, bless him. “There's a trick to it” I replied. But, thanks for trying!
I shower. My knee hurts, and I sucked. Alex had had a great race though. The more I hear about his, the worse I feel about mine.
We pick up my bag, and go to prizegiving. Dean Watson tries desperately to give out spot prizes, but so many weren't there. He called “John Randler” and I get up, muttering “that's close enough!” and sit down with a $50 Ground Effect voucher. Alex wins a VIP pass to one of the local tourist attractions.
We pick up greasies on the way home from a lovely Indian woman.
My knee hurts.
Monday 18 October
I'm preoccupied with my knee, and am quite down. I try to relax.
Alex and I look at a map of the forest and try to work out where the course went. I'm still confused about the Billy T descent.
We walk into town and eventually find somewhere to eat. Alex has pancakes and I have seafood chowder. A shower passes.
I fancy some shopping, but Alex isn't interested and heads home. I grab a $10 DVD set from Te Ware Whare – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Hustler. I can't find any togs that fit – turns out Alex was having the same problem at Farmers, down the way. I grab a Pyrex dish.
I can't resist stopping at the supermarket, and avoid a drive back later in the day. I grab supplies for a lasagne, just managing not to forget some flour for the white sauce. The 1.5kg bag annoys me on the way back to the house. All that for the sake of one tablespoon or so.
I enjoy preparing the meal while Alex reads. It takes my mind off my knee.
Alex is keen for a short recovery ride, and I join him. My knee hurts, but he seems happy to wait for me. I keep imagining I'll find him sleeping in the grass. The sun's not really out though.
I enjoy a section of “Challenge” and “Rock Drop”. We see the old “Marzocchi Trail” signs from back in the day when the trails were sponsored. I ride the top rock-drop, but balk at the lower line. I'd ridden it twice in the Single Speed Nationals of 98, both times by mistake. Today I made no mistake.
Alex stops by a fallen pine. He goes back up the trail, and comes past while I watch, in awe. He rides fast, bunny-hops brilliantly over the tree, and races off down the track, issuing sounds of delight. Man, I suck at this! I toddle off after him.
We finished on Rosebank. At least I don't suck as much as I used to. These trails used to keep my on my toes 10 years ago. Today, I rode them slowly and deliberately, barely flinching.
I do some one-legged pedalling on the road back into town.
The house smells like lasagne when we get home. Soon, our breaths smell of lasagne.
We're chilling out when Dean and Selwyn arrive. We've been half-expecting them, so there's not too much mayhem when 4 bikes become 6, 2 men become 4, and all the associated gear doubles. Soon, their breaths smell of lasagne too.
I hit the sack early.
Tuesday 19 October
I wake with a sore knee.
The lads have been wrestling with my coffee machine, to no avail. I play barista, and two short blacks and flat whites later, I'm tucking into a bowl of cereal. Dean and Selwyn head out for a ride, and Alex and I chill. My knee hurts.
I go for a wardrive, though a pretty lame one. A local motel's wireless network disappears when I park up outside. I head into town, pop into Vodafone and the Warehouse, and hum are har about buying a vodem. I keep my hundy, and instead spend $4 at a local internet cafe. I finally activate my 'Out of Office Assistant', and reply to a few work emails.
I stroll down Tutanekae St, and pop into a pharmacy. I get the number of a local physio, and make an appointment. With an hour to kill, I pop into the Pig and Whistle, and help Gaz and David (from NZO and soigneur.co.nz) load up SS packs with pre-ordered clothing.
I'm soon at the physio, and leave a little lighter in the pocket, but buoyed with optimism. It feels good to be doing something proactive about my knee pain.
I get back to our lodgings and chat while Selwyn prepares a delicious dinner.
I hit the sack about 10.
Wednesday 20 October
My knee barely hurts. The anti-inflammatory ointment I used last night, the massage at the physio, a bunch of positivity and the passing of time have done some sort of trick overnight.
Dean heads out to a Skills Clinic with none other than Nathan Rennie, who's filling in for Gabby and Dodzy. Not a bad fill-in (Nathan's a top World DHer).
Selwyn, Alex and I natter away the morning. I get thoroughly depressed listening to their stories of mountainbiking, and recounting my own motivations, which seem largely negative. (If I don't ride now, I won't be able to do this or that later.) I need to get out more.
Alex heads out to check out the Single Speed Worlds course. Selwyn and I natter some more.
Dean gets home and regales us with Nathan's tips. Damn, riding has never sounded so good. My knee feels fine.
Alex gets home, and riding sounds better still. I suggest to Selwyn that we head out. We suit up, and we head out around 3pm.
We ride gingerly across town – at least I ride gingerly. We cruise through the racecourse carpark – the scene of my very first Moonride event HQ. Man, I still remember racing through the big marquee, what with the sofas lining the race track, and large diesel-powered fans heating the place.
We head into the forest, and enjoy all manner of delicacies, including Turkish Delight, Bunny Jugs, Sweet and Sour, and Dragon's Tail. Off the menu, but pulling it all together, were A-Trail, The Tickler, and the old Exit Trail – another throw back to my first riding here. I ride easily, and txt Simon half way through. I stop before getting my phone out, and put it away before setting off again. My ribs hurt when I laugh.
My knee seems OK. I spin a high cadence, and stand up for most of the climbing.
We stop and admire some bike porn on the way home. Maybe I'll get myself a trail bike for Christmas.
I'm happy when I get home, and am happier still after I've cleaned my bike and myself.
We all jump in the car, head into town to register for the weekend. We follow a van with a vorb sticker on it. It's Jim, from Wellington.
I pick up my Volunteer's pack, and Alex and Dean their race packs. We have a quick drink in the pub downstairs, while Klunkers shows on the big screen. We can't easily see it from where we're standing.
We walk towards the lake. I have a look at the menu outside an Indian Restaurant. A woman rushes to my aid from inside. I bolt as she appears through the door. “Can I help?” she calls after me. “You scared me off”, I reply, quietly. Relieved, Alex, Dean and I agree. The food comes and we enjoy it. We're the only ones there.
We walk back to the car, and drive to Pak'n'save. Alex guards the car. Soon, we're at the checkout, trying to avoid the queue with the older fellow and his trolley, overflowing with bog-roll and biscuits. The closed checkouts have denim dust covers. They look like recycled prison garb.
We drive home, and trickle off to bed, one by one.