Sunday, October 24, 2010

Whaka 100 and Single Speed Worlds - Part 2

Follows from Part 1

Friday 22 October

Jonty and Mike arrive from Wellington in the wee hours. I hear Alex up and talking to them. Poor bugger's still unwell.

Don't these bastards sleep? They're up by 6am. I roll over and fall quickly back to sleep.

I sleep fitfully, and then finally give up. Coffee, toast, cereal, same old same old.

The others are suiting up for a look at the Worlds course, but I want to be on my own.  I head out at about 9:30.  The amazing riding we have in this country never ceases to amaze me.


I head up Tarawera Road, bound for the top of the park. I hook onto the Whaka 100 course.

My knee feels fine. I spin up the hill. It's easier today than when I rode it on Sunday.

I find the start of Tuhoto Ariki, and admire the signage and the manuka gateway.

The Tuhoto Ariki trail-head

I'm reminded of the Akatarawas as I slip and slide through the native bush. I start to regret coming this way today. It's too wet, and I struggle. It's nice to walk from time to time.

I take the turn into Hatupatu. I nail some bits, and some bits nail me. No crashes, but plenty of refusals.

I don't see Chestnut Link when I come out. I reach for my map while a shuttle bus pulls up. Big Gav's sitting in the back seat.

I backtrack a little, and make my way up to the start of Split Enz and a near-continuous 1.5 hour singletrack ride: Split Enz...

 ... Pondy, Rollercoaster, Chinese Menu, and a quick stop to chat to two couples sitting in the sun. They didn't realise the Worlds were in town.

I head into Dragon's Tail. No jester there today.

I'm tiring, and focus almost incessantly on my knee. There's no sharp pain, but a little discomfort. I've been out three hours. Everything's starting to complain.

I exit.

Soon I'm home. I clean my bike. I eat. I clean myself.

I make another coffee for the road, and head into town.

After a spell on the web, I head to Zippy's for afternoon tea.

I chat to Kashi about trail bikes. I love the look of the Yeti bikes, and he encourages me to take a look online. I can't wait.

I sit with Josh, over coffee and cake. Lee stops for a chat.  So many familiar faces.

I head to the Pig and Whistle. T-Rex follows me up the stairs. We exchange the short versions of our respective tales of woe from Sunday.

I'm part of a well oiled machine. Things are slower than I expected, but the trickle of riders grabbing their race-packs is steady.

Paul Chaplow (Paul) and Paul Chaplow (Hugh) check in, amid much confusion. Paul's sporting a huge list of Wellington riders, but none of them seem to have got their names correct. After inordinately many return-visits, we seem to have them all nailed. The list's alphabetical by surname, but occasionally the line between surname and first name is blurred. They collect their last pack. And then, grab one more for good measure. The hours are flying by.

One woman's pack has been collected by her ex-boyfriend. I'm uncomfortable to watch her confusion, anger and eventual worry. Paul drops up for one more pack.

I buy Alex some purple socks, and a pair for myself.  I hope he gets to wear them for the race, like Jonty, back in the day.

I head over to briefing, and bump into even more folk from Wellington. All the cliques are here: the old Cycle Services sifters, the Miramar guys, the Wainui crew. Mike the Hippy holds membership of all three.

I say gidday to Rod Bardsley. He sold me my first mountain bike. My third I suppose, but the first one I actually enjoyed mountainbiking on. He does motorbike-gangster very well.

Rod Bardsley epitomising cool, from Facebook, thanks to The Freditor
The riders are briefed, with a not-so-brief focus on the beer. It epitomises New Zealand's hopeless drinking culture. The beer shortcut is traditional, and a quirky feature of the Singlespeed Worlds. Apart from that though, what's the big deal? The riders have all forked out the entry fees, and many of them have flown half way round the world to be here.  All grown up stuff.  And now we're giggling about beer shortcuts like a bunch of 13 year old boys stealing their first mouthfuls of Southern Comfort from the home liquor cabinet.  I can't believe I didn't use a glass.

When we stop thinking drinking is so cool, perhaps we'll stop beating our wives and killing ourselves on the roads.

I can't walk 10 metres without bumping into another familiar face. It's great to see Tama, without whom I'd probably not be writing this.

I see Jasper, from the Brevet.  Many of the vets are here.  I've had a chance to talk to Oli and Thomas, and of course plenty of guys from Wellington.  I saw Pat the amazing at registration.  Pre-brevet, he'd ridden 90km, once, on the road, and never further.  He got to Picton on the first day.  Most were in Nelson.  Nelson!  He finished in seven days.  Amazing.

I make my way to the gate (10 metres at a time) and go unlock my bike. It's outside the Pig and Whistle. One of the smokers asks me why my pedals are so small. I show him my shoe - “it's like skis” I mutter. He seems to understand.

I ride home. Fuck my knee. It's worsened, but not like before. I guess fixing one thing's started up another.

The room's bursting at the seams.

Alex is still crook. He needed a couple of clear days at least before the race. He's been lucky to have a couple of clear hours.

The others seem pretty relaxed. I wish them sound sleep and head to bed.

Saturday 23 October

I'm front and centre at 8am. The ride to the Waipa car park was cold. I stopped on the way to lower my seat a little.

I'm one of many parking wardens.

I chat to Mike Metz, who's riding lead-moto for the race. His Zerode bike, on the trailer next to him, is one beautiful machine. It sounds like they're about ready for mass production.

I chat to Garth Weinberg's brother Matt and a local fella who rode Tour of Wellington a few times.

Rush-hour never comes.   Good management, with a pinch of good luck.  Well done N-Duro, and so many for turning up on their bikes.

The riders are being briefed in the distance. Eventually I desert my post, and head over. For some reason, there's a stripper at the start, gyrating away.

The 900-odd riders, are riding in a circle, tracing out a donut on the grass. Dean Watson's in the middle of them on a cherry picker, telling them to keep moving. They've been at it a few minutes when I arrive, and are in a group with about a 60 metre outer-diameter, and a 20-metre inner diameter. A peloton of round-Taupo proportions, circling at walking pace.

The outer tape is opened, and the mass of riders flows slowly out, like bath water down the plughole. Calm is on most faces, while on others I see panic. The last guys out are about one minute down on the leaders.

I turn around as the first riders race past, spinning their silly little gears. Jonty's in third, behind a couple of shocked punters. More panic. The donut has spread the field out over a couple of minutes, about three minutes into the 40km race.

I help tape out the all-important beer shortcut. We mark out an “ale hall” and then move to the bridge where riders come back into the finish area. We clean up some taping to make the shortcut more obvious. I offer to stay there for the duration.

I get more and more nervous, as spectators flow through the bottleneck over the bridge. At some point we'll have to shut that down.

Jim stops by. He helps organise some arrows to make the shortcut more obvious. We get regular updates from out on the course over the PA system. Garth Weinberg's had a good start, and is only a handful of seconds down on the Ross Schnell. Schneller Garth, schneller.

The leaders are on Rockdrop. Spectators are still milling about.

Schnell crosses the bridge. I wave my “Shortcut Entry” sign at him. He shuns my glance, and rides the “longcut”. Garth follows him.

Others arrive, and the shortcut becomes increasingly popular. A DNFer has been waiting nearby for this moment since he flagged it on the first climb, and goes through for his first beer.

I notice the guys who take the longcut never look at me. The others smile, or grimace.

Some are undecided until the last moment. I'm almost hit a couple of times. Occasionally someone commits to the longcut, before having a change of heart.

A guy in Black with White Wings screeches to a halt in front of me. “It's Mike” he says as he shakes my hand. I don't recognise his face through the costume, but know the voice of Mike Anderson well. “Go well bro”.

I'm standing their with my arrow and “Shortcut Entry” trying to make it as plain as possible what's going on. A guys stops and frantically asks “which way to the beer shortcut?!” “That way” I tell him, wishing he'd asked someone else. I shouldn't be mean, he's tired...

I'm relieved, and head out over the bridge. I see Roshni, Kashi's girlfriend. She seems happy to see a familiar face. We hang out – this is her first MTB event, and she's spectating alone.  It slowly starts to make more sense to her and becomes more and more exciting.

We head back towards the finish line and I grab some lunch before we sit down on the grass.

The PA crackles.  Garth has passed Ross, and has a slender lead. It grows and shrinks with each bad line. It's going to go down to the wire.

I see Matt Weinberg on the other side of the tape. His nervousness is mesmerising. I watch him fidget this way and that. It's beautiful to watch as his brother toils away out on the course. I'm glad I met him this morning, otherwise I'd never have known what I was watching.

A cheer from the forest, and we see the figure of Garth Weinberg, hunched over the front end of his carbon Niner, shirt open and face ashen. He's handed a beer. We watch him forcing it down.

Schnell arrives and seemingly downs his beer in one tip of the can. He cuts Garth's lead in half, but it isn't enough. Weinberg crosses the line a second or two ahead.  He throws the bike into a skid, which eventually puts him down onto the grass. His wife and daughters are there. He accepts the tattoo, and the race win. Ross Schnell is gracious in defeat.

The finish area descends into chaos. The beer hall was busting at the seams, and now it seems the seams have split.  There are photographers and well-wishers everywhere. Lapped riders start their second laps. The results crew are finding it impossible to work out who's finishing and who's not.

Cabin, Carl Jones, T-Rex, Jonty... No sign of Kashi yet. “He was with that guy on the first lap” Roshni says, her nervousness growing.

The winning woman finishes her beer, and finishes the race. She's provocatively dressed, and is lauded over the PA. She rode past me strongly on the Whaka 100 before the hill overcame her gear, and has had a better day today.

More lapped riders, and more finishers. Those who recognise the chaos head over to make sure they're given a time. I'm keen to move off, but Kashi's still not back. An old friend of theirs finishes, and Roshni heads off, her mind taken off Kashi for the moment. I get up, and get out of the sun.

I chat with Ben and his friend Nathan, who I'd met at Oceanias a few years earlier. Same town, similar circumstance. We chat about our 10 year olds, and our broken marriages.

Kashi and Roshni stop by. They both look happy. His instincts and speed are still good, but not so his endurance. He says he enjoyed seeing people on that second lap as he slid back through the field.

I put my helmet on, borrow Nathan's bike, and do a quick beer shortcut. He has really long legs. The beer is refreshing though I've spilled about a third of it riding back over. I donate the last third to one of Paul Chaplow's Wellington crew. Her arm's in a sling, and she needs something to knock the painkillers down with. “This'll do nicely” I say, and hand the can over.

I see Nic Leary, the pocket-rocket in her Tallbeast costume, as she meets Andrew Durno. He laughs as they shake hands and she does a twirl.

I txt Alex, offering to drive back to Wellington this afternoon. I've had enough.

I find Dean, and give him the 9 of Hearts. Perhaps he'll win a bike from the Jester.

I see a man in woman in Garmin Transitions kit, including aero helmets. There's a fella in an orange leisure-suit being interviewed. I leave them to it.

I ride back towards town flanked by T-Rex and musket. I have pangs of regret about not staying for the after-match. No matter.  I'll see them, and others, another time.

I spend the next hour trying to eat and pack. I never fully commit to either, and it's all a bit haphazard. Geoffrey and his family swing by to see how Alex is. They're glad to hear we're heading home.

Jonty, Mike and Tor arrive back. Tor seems to have had the hardest outing. Racing's like that – there's just something contagious about the energy around you, and overextending yourself at the expense of enjoyment is an easy trap to fall in to.
Alex and I eventually get the car packed and hit the road.

The road south passes by quickly. We see a police car every thirty minutes or so. #6 was a little behind schedule, and #13 a bit early. The one around the Basin had its lights on, for someone else.

I get home. Misty's pleased to see me. I'm pleased to see her. Being away from home has taken its toll.

I fire up the computer, and check out Kashi's site. I look forward to buying a trail-bike.

My legs are stiff after the drive, and my knee hurts. It takes me hours to wind down.

Sunday 24 October

Morning comes too soon. The cat's climbing all over me, and the phone's going.

This morning should have been in Rotorua.

Kaitlyn rings and I tell her I'm home. When I fire up the computer there's an email from her with a link to Dave Dobbyn's Welcome Home on youtube. I watch the first 10 seconds and turn it off before I cry.

I wonder how the yanqui in the g-string's skin is.  Dancing near-naked in the Kiwi sun is not to be treated lightly.

I eat, then head over to Simon and Sarah's with the bike from Taupo, and a bargain Conti Vertical Pro. I test out my trail bike theory, and it seems to pass.

I tell them about meeting a couple of readers.  Sarah describes them as "reading about your life".  I've never thought about it like that.

We head up the road to a cafe, and I tell them about the trip. I describe T-Rex's awesome papier mache Tyrannosaurus Rex head, and how I think it was built around the helmet. Simon asks me if I took a photo of it. I hadn't, but the web knows all.

T-Rex, from Facebook, thanks to The Freditor
I remembered the trip the three of us did last summer - good times.

I pop into Burkes. They've an ex-demo Blur XC for $5.5k, down from $10k, in my size. I quickly slink out, after getting Lachlan to weigh a Trance for me.

I meet Mum and Dad for a coffee. Mum asks how I am, I shake my head but can't say anything.

I'm still looking for an ending. I don't find it at Maranui, but enjoy glancing out the window at the surf boats. I see James, who tells me he's looking forward to Part 2. 

I head back to Karori, park up on the main road and type, this time with Makara Peak out the window and Tool on the stereo. Still no ending comes.

I remember a link I'd seen on Facebook the night before, to an old post of Oli's, and wonder if that's the secret.

It turns out it is.  It's always good to get there...

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