Tuesday, May 17, 2011

City Safari - no bikes, but plenty of fun!

I'd contemplated signing up for a 12-hour solo at the Moonride, until I discovered it was on the same weekend as Wellington's annual City Safari.  Like the Akatarawa Attack and the Great Forest Rogaine, this event is a treasure hunt of sorts, a choose-your-own-adventure with, in this case, a six-hour time limit. The fun twist of the City Safari is that public transport use is a legitimate and essential part of the event.

Back in 2008, "Family Randal" was born, out of necessity, on account of me taking a heavy spill off my bike the day before.  My bro, Dave, joined Kaitlyn and I as a late addition to our team.  We were awarded first in the six-hour family class that year, but a more careful analysis found another family team with the same points but who were home slightlier earlier, dropping us to second.  We'd had a fantastic time though, and in both 2009 and 2010 we took top honours.

This year, we planned to participate in costume, something we'd not done before.  But, the long range forecast was for pretty foul weather, and we held off.  A few days out, we pulled the pin on that notion.

I spent Saturday pulling down a couple of walls at my usual rogaine partner, Simon's place, and even snuck a short ride in at dusk.  But, well before my alarm going off on Sunday morning, I was woken by the sound of very heavy rain on my roof and against my windows...  Eeek!

Eventually the time came to get up, and I talked to Dave on the phone about contingency plans.  The forecast was for the front to move through and the weather to improve by mid-morning, so we discussed switching into the 3-hour event which wasn't due to start until just before midday.  Nonetheless, we'd continue as planned, and make a final decision at 8:30am down on the waterfront.

At 8:08 I sent Dave the txt:  "Stopped raining in Karori!  Just leaving now..."  followed by "Haha!  Lightning!  I should stick to my day job!" exactly two minutes later.  The thunder storm was still in progress when Kaitlyn and I drove together through Karori.  The rain was insane, and as we passed the Botanical Gardens, we couldn't help but stop to admire the water against the lamp posts adjacent to the road.  A couple of times even!


And more water!
We parked the car by the Lambton Bus exchange, and then walked to Queen's Wharf.  En route I gave Kaitlyn a piggy back so she wouldn't get wet feet on account of the flooding in the subway!

Dave was waiting for us at the registration desk.  For a few minutes we hummed and hahed about whether or not to start the six-hour.  In the end, we decided that we should at least grab the maps, and if we spent the first couple of hours sitting in a cafe hiding from the storm, so be it.

Metlink is a sponsor of the event, and as in previous years, there was a bus parked up in which we could sit and do our planning.  The map included the Miramar Peninsula in the east, Karori in the West, and north through to Johnsonville and Newlands.

For the first time, Petone had been included as well, and we decided to head out there to start with.  We didn't bother tallying up the points available in each of the suburban clusters, but instead looked for areas we were keen to explore.  Dave had his iPhone, and we discovered we'd have only a short amount of time to get to the station before the Upper Hutt train departed.  Awesome!  We pencilled in Khandallah, and before too long, it was time to get ready for the prologue.

Prior to the main event, a short sprint event is held.  The map area typically goes as far north as the Post Office HQ, and south to Te Papa.  We'd gone north in the past, so were keen to go south this time.  We'd have only 10 minutes, and no time at all to plan.  When we were told "Go!", we could turn our map over but not before.  Nervewracking stuff...

Soon though, we were running down the covered veranda of the Events Centre.  We counted the stairs off the end for a few points, and then bollards half way down Frank Kitts Park.  We made our way across the first overbridge, and around the WCC buildings before crossing back over the City to Sea bridge, back through Frank Kitts Park, and past Ferg's Kayaks.

A couple of minutes into all this I realised I'd forgotten to start my stopwatch, so had no idea when time would be up.  The lateness penalties are steep - in all we collected 80 points, but would lose 10 of these for each minute we were late.  With luck, I'd synched this watch with the organiser's at the Akatarawa Attack, and they were still in synch!  We dared grab one final control on the wharf before running to the finish.  I could hear Mick Finn counting down and sprinted with our answer card towards the table.  I managed to not slip over on the wet tiles AND sneak our card under the 1-minute-late bin that was being placed on top of the "on-time" bin.  YES!

With the toughest part of the day done, it was time to shovel a bit of creamed rice into Kaitlyn, and compose ourselves for the start of the main event.  We reorganised our gear, and were ready to go when 9:45 came around.

First up, we headed north to a 20-point control in the industrial park opposite the stadium concourse.  As with all other controls, we'd prove we'd been there by answering a simple question - in this case "Shed #35 (large brick building).  How many large blue doors facing the city?"

09:51, 2M:  2!  And here's Kaitlyn in front of the small blue door!
With 20 points duly collected, we set off for the Law School in search of lions heads.

09:55, 1K:  5 heads, 2 on each gate, one up above
We got to the Hutt Valley train with a few minutes to spare, and grabbed a couple of seats in a carriage packed with City Safari teams.   We watched as a couple of women ran down the platform towards the train.  They made it just in time!

10:06:  Time for a breather!
We got off the train at Petone station, along with everyone else!  While most headed across the motorway, we disappeared into Petone.  First off was a small cemetery plonked in the middle of a bunch of warehouses.  One of the cool things about this event is the way you get to see places you never knew existed!

10:23, 23:  1870 was the year!
We realised at around this instant, that our pencil hadn't made it off the train with us. At the Kiwi Brevet I'd typed notes into my cellphone and again used this strategy to keep track of our answers.  Our next stop was Pak'n'Save, and while Kaitlyn and I counted windows, Dave ran in and bought some pencils!

10:29, 11:  2 windows!  Kaitlyn looking a bit sheepish...
Answer and pencils intact, next stop was Petone Wharf.  

10:37, 32:  Abus padlock

We saw another few teams as we made our way off the wharf, and more still en route to the Settlers' Museum.  While it wasn't raining heavily, there were still some big puddles to dodge.

10:47, 22:  Aurora poking out the north side of the building
We were now heading back towards the railway station, but not before grabbing some more controls.  I didn't notice at the time, but I failed to record the dark green slide (control 21) at the playground between the Playing fields and Weltec.  I blame the rain! 

10:56, 12: 1927!

11:01, 10: white, green and maroon window frames!  And damn, it is a big house!
We had company at our final control before crossing over the motorway!  

11:07, 20:  dark green fence
We peeled off the overbridge into a small reserve.  It took us 30 seconds to find the overgrown track that lead us up to another tiny cemetery.  

11:16, 31:  1918 was when William Bolton the younger died
We dropped down the way we came, managing to avoid slipping onto our butts as we did so.  We'd anticipated going up the road above the motorway to the next control, but luckily there was a path, barely distinguishable on the map, and we avoided doing any climbing at all.  Percy's Reserve was our next destination.  Before we got there, Dave and I kicked ourselves for not asking our brother Ed to join us.  He'd lived overseas until recently, and would have been a perfectly qualified addition to the team!

11:27, 50:  2 horizontal rails
Our rather circuitous route now took us north over the new interchange bridge before we dropped down a staircase, along the Hutt rail line, headed for the northern extreme of the Petone Rec grounds - a mere few hundred metres from the dark green slide.  We scrambled up onto the overbridge - I was first over the handrail at the top, and failed miserably to lift Kaitlyn over - my girl's growing up!

11:46, 30:  Tennis club since 1893! 
We were now only a few minutes from Ava station - the reason for our weird cork-screw route.  The seats there were all wet, but we didn't have long to wait for the train.  During the ride, Kaitlyn transribed all my cell-phone notes onto our answer card, and we took the opportunity to eat a bit, and generally rest up for the next onslaught.

We toyed with jumping off the train at Ngauranga - a plump 60-pointer near the station was tempting, but we were nervous about getting stuck out there.  So instead, we stayed on until Kaiwharawhara, where we knew from Dave's iPhone and Metlink's Live Departure information that a 44 bus was 25 minutes away.

We had a walk up the bottom of the steep bridle path, during which Dave chatted to Mum and Dad, learning that their property had sustained another small slip in the wild weather.  We were about done with our raincoats by this stage.

12:19, 61: "Bridle 065"
We knew the #44 was only a few minutes away when we arrived at the stop, and true enough, before long it was coming towards us.  This bus would take us into Khandallah, and our second cluster of controls.  We actually passed one of these on the bus, and it involved counting the number of rows of blocks behind a substation...  10 or 11 was the consensus...!

A few minutes later, we were off the bus, looking for a walkway to control 41.  It wasn't this way, so must be that way.  Sure enough, and it was a busy wee control!

12:45, 41: white fence
We almost pulled off a classy move en route to the next control, but I screwed it up.  Just as we were passing a bus stop, the bus we'd been on earlier pulled in.  Dave moved to jump on it, knowing at the next stop we'd be only 30 seconds from the control.  Kaitlyn was a few paces behind me, and the bus was looking to leave.  A couple of teams were just behind Kaitlyn, and I made the embarrassing call to let the bus go...  A few minutes later, we were at the next control, but I'm sure our feet were slightly sorer on account of my decision.

12:54, 2A:  purple letterbox
We were just about due a toilet stop, and running water alongside the next control didn't help matters much!

12:59, 29:  seven slats on the gate!
 A few minutes later, we were in Khandallah Village, and already thinking about coffee and food!

13:03, 17: PO Box 22419
We had a look at one place, but the lack of any counter food saw us join some fellow competitors in a cafe across from the post office boxes.  We grabbed an assortment of food and drink, and all paid visits to the loo.  Across the road was a portaloo, reminding us all of the Safari a couple of years ago where we made use of one in this very suburb on someone's building site!

13:10, Lunch!  No points!
It turned out there were 11 blocks behind the transformer!

13:21, 2B: eleven
Next up was Khandallah pool, via Khandallah School.

13:29, 16: five timber posts
Though the school was a bit of a maze, we managed to find the connecting path we needed, and soon were hacking up a slippery sloppery path to the hilltop above the pool.

13:39, 28:  5 "Es".  No time for resting, y'all!
We went down the way we'd come up, again managing not to lose our footing.  We decided to forgo the direct route to the next control, instead walking up the stream a bit and cutting out some of our climb on a decent track.

13:48, 36:  green chair and netting
We took the steep route down, and hollered and hooted, and managed yet again not to get muddy bums.  We cut through a track towards Simla Crescent, picking out the correct bit of singletrack to take us to the next control.  We'd checked on the train timetable, and decided we were in a bit of a rush.  We jogged some of the track to the control, and I obviously didn't take enough care with the photo!

13:58, 37: middle letter "R for Randal"
We had one more control before the station, but luckily we didn't have to go out of our way.

14:02, 18:  grey-blue letter box
We made the station four minutes before the scheduled arrival of the train back to town.  Little did we know, there'd been a slip on the line, and the train we were waiting for had been replaced by a bus.  Confirmation of this came about 10 minutes later, when a train came from the wrong direction.  We'd have to wait for it to return for us, and there were no decent bus alternatives.  Plan B was necessary.

Much to Kaitlyn's dismay, this involved a jog to Crofton Downs, 2 kilometres away, according to  http://www.journeyplanner.org.nz/.  We figured we "probably" have enough time to get there before the train did, and we'd pick up 50 points for our trouble.

It was on this run that I carried Kaitlyn for the only time during this year's event.  The first year, I carried her up most of the hills, but as the years ticked by, Kaitlyn became heavier and had to rely on her own two legs increasingly more.  I really couldn't do much more than a brisk walk with her up on my shoulders, and her weight was killing my core, but we were nearing the five-hour mark, and she deserved a rest!

Before the station, we had a quick excursion down into Trellisick Park.  Luckily we didn't have to go too far.

14:35, 54: two holes in the brickwork
Soon after we arrived at the station, so too did the train, and we were soon heading through the subway to the bus exchange.  We had our eye on a control behind Wellington East Girls' College, but the bus we were on made very slow progress across town, partly due to the City Safari teams that kept leaping on board.  These included Mr and Mrs Drew, nearing the end of their 3-hour event, which they'd win by a huge margin (in fact collecting 10 points more than we managed in twice the time).
14:57: Come on bus!

By the time we reached Courtenay Place, we knew the far control was out of our reach. There was no way we'd get back to Queen's Wharf on time. Instead, we jumped off and picked up our next control behind the Embassy, just within coo-ee of my good friend Steve's place - he'd been up in Vegas riding and supporting more friends at the very muddy Moonride! 

15:14, 2N: blue tiles
The next stretch was action-packed.  Dave's lady Siobhan met us, and became our official team-photographer for a while.  We also passed Dominos Pizza, where a young woman was loading about 50 pizzas into the back of a wagon.  "You'll see these soon" she said, recognising our vests!  We pondered squeezing Kaitlyn into the boot, but decided against it, and continued off towards Vivian Street and our next points!

15:20, 1R:  three flags and three Randals, one looking particularly buggered!
The next control was at the Hannah's Warehouse tucked in behind Ghuznee St and Cuba Mall.

15:24, 1Q: three steps and three Randals, again!

15:30, 1P:  red fence, which we couldn't quite make out from back down the path...
We had about 15 minutes to get back to Queen's Wharf from Rosemere Backpackers.  There was one control off Boulcott St that I was pretty keen to grab.  But, my smallest team mate, dubbed "Midget Member" by her uncle Dave a few years ago, and still referred to by that name from time to time, said "over my dead body" or something similar.

So, instead we cruised back along Willis St, and before too long were back at base!

We enjoyed devouring pizza, and the other tasty morsels on offer, while the final teams came in and the organisers got results ready for us.  I was lucky to pick up a bivvy-bag as a spot prize which will surely make its way into my cycle-touring kit.

In previous years we'd probably pushed it all a bit too hard, but this year, apart from a couple of efforts to get to stations on time, had been much more sedate.  The photos at the controls had helped slow us down a bit, and made sure that the little'un would be involved every step of the way.

So, when it came to find out who'd won the family division, we were shocked and thrilled to hear "Family Randal" over Mick's mike!  Whoop whoop!

Nice one team!

Soon after receiving our Bivouac vouchers, Kaitlyn and I farewelled Dave. On the drive home, we stopped in on Simon and Sarah, both keen orienteers, and told them of our adventure. Before I dropped Kaitlyn at her Mum's, we talked about how sometimes you have to be brave and push yourself uncomfortably hard, not really knowing how well you'd recover from the efforts. I told her how proud I was of her, and how amazed I was at what she'd achieved during the day. She said she was proud of herself too.

And well you should be daughter, well you should be!

Fun times!


  1. Nice one John, I love reading your stories. It's almost enough by itself to keep me organising events!

  2. Grand tales, Sifterman. A cracking outing and a great thing to take Kaitlyn on.

  3. So proud of Team Randal, once again! Of Daddy-Man, who plans, encourages and puts his core to the test, of Uncle, who is so strong and so dependable, and of Kaitlyn, who does more than she believes she can and is glad she did!

  4. Fantastic job, Team Family Randal! Katy, you're a trooper and a star. Nice one, Oli

  5. i had a lot of fun, love you dad

  6. Randal Auntie very proud of all of you!!! Bringing more pride to the Randal name!!! Go young ones!!!!

  7. What an epic! Yee-hah! I hope my girl will be as adventurous when she's 10.

  8. Well done - looks like a fantastic day!! Loved reading this and might have to enter with Fletcher next year...but with a few extra coffee breaks along the way.