The event's concept is pretty simple: Asher nominated nine of Wellington's prominent peaks, and a six hour time limit. Riders had to connect the dots, recording their feats with photos taken at each of the summits. How you get between the peaks is entirely up to you.
I learned a few lessons from the year before: I hadn't chosen a good route between Kau Kau and Johnstons Hill, and my get up and go and got up and left before I was back at base. A couple of things to remedy this time around.
Asher had posted a teaser about a possible tenth peak. The most obvious choice seemed to be a high point on the ridge between Happy Valley and Island Bay, particularly as WCC had opened a new track up there in the last year. I hadn't been up the Wharangi track before, so organised to check it out with Simon and last year's winner, Tim "T-Rex" Wilding.
Touching base about Wharangi had prompted Tim to suggest a Thursday evening ride, which, at the last minute I was able to join him on. We met at the cenotaph, then blasted up Ngaio Gorge, and up through Broadmeadows to the top of Kau Kau. I was pretty tentative once we had gravity on our sides, and Tim was smoking me. This was the "gnarliest" riding I'd tackled since my shoulder dislocation, and I was keen not to fuck up! The evening was still and warm though, so despite feeling well out-ridden, I was enjoying the ride nonetheless. We had a couple of short stops, but still made Johnstons Hill within 40 minutes. When I got home, I fired up my cell phone photos, and noted with interest it had taken me 42 minutes on my route through Ngaio and up behind Crofton Downs. Unless the weather was foul, it would have to be Skyline!
Tim was swamped at work the next day, so Simon and I checked out Wharangi alone. It wasn't clear from our recce whether Tip Track and Wharangi would be quicker than the much longer road loop past the windmill and Brooklyn shops, but at least we knew not to take on the massive flights of stairs on the off-road route down into Island Bay.
Often on race morning I'll wake a few minutes before my alarm goes off, and spring out of bed. Sunday morning was different, and I woke feeling pretty down. While my brain was urging me to turn the alarm off, roll over, and go back to sleep, I knew I'd regret that! So, after one "snooze", I dragged my sorry arse out of bed, and started fixing some kai.
I'd laid out my clothes on the floor of the lounge the night before, and had already mixed up a single drink bottle of replace. I faffed around, but eventually had some toast and coffee in me, and was ready to roll. Katy was due back from an overnight birthday party in Levin at 3pm, so I travelled light, and rode the short distance to Jonty's shop in Northland.
The ride added to the mood-booster I've relied on so much over the years. I've pulled my Roadworks jersey on many times now, but it always gives me a little charge. I guess it symbolises so many positive things: riding endeavours, friendship, and mutual respect, and it comes without any pressure or expectation.
The shop was busting at the seams when I arrived at around 8:30am. There were the usual suspects, and a rather illustrious surprise visitor, none other than Rosara Joseph, one of New Zealand's most successful mountain bikers. Jonty was working the coffee machine out back, and I was soon slamming down an espresso. "This will help" said Jonty as he passed it to me, "or make you feel sick!". Classic stuff.
When I'd downed that, I noticed Rosara was scoping out one of Greater Wellington's city maps. I slid up to her and asked if she'd like a bit of route advice. She looked relieved, and said "yes please!", so I grabbed us a couple of chairs, and gave her a suggested sequence.
|Photo: Andy King|
Well before I'd finished, I realised how difficult it would be for Rosara to retain even a fraction of my advice. It was cool to see her at the end, whereupon she thanked me for the sharp route between Makara Peak and Wrights Hill. With a DPhil from Oxford, I guess I shouldn't have been that surprised that someone with such awesome academic credentials would have a good memory!
Eventually, 9am was drawing near, and everyone began piling out of the shop. I had time to check the map on the wall, and to confirm that indeed the monument Simon and I had visited two days earlier was on the course, and was soon astride my sparkling Yeti ASR5C outside the shop. T-Rex arrived with a minute or two to spare, Asher gave a short briefing, warning us not to be back at the shop until after midday (like that was gonna happen!) and then we were off.
Compared to last year, the initial pace was very civilised. Once the gradient eased off just across from Northland School, Dave Sharpe, riding a fixed gear, dropped-bar bike completely unsuitable for this event (!!!!) rolled off the front. I swung out after him, and as we hit Orangi-Kaupapa was starting to feel the blood flowing.
As we rode 4 or 5 abreast, Dave was still 15m ahead, and we all watched with curiosity to see how he'd fare on the driveway up to the summit of Te Ahu Mairangi (Tinakori Hill in last year's money). Though I'd half expected to see Dave muscle his way up, he dismounted and started his march up the steepest pitch. I wished him well as I passed him, and I was soon side-by-side with Jonty, chasing Alex, Tim, Ed Crossling, and Andy King.
The driveway eased off as we made our way up it, and finally we were all standing atop Te Ahu Mairangi. I made a bit of a meal of getting my phone out and into photo mode, but was in soon in hot pursuit of Ed and Andy north along the ridge.
|#1: Te Ahu Mairangi|
We had a little trouble with dogs, and Andy and I lost Ed. I turned into Weld Street, and unlike last year, stayed on it before bombing down a series of steps, and safely maneuvering around an awkwardly positioned gate, calling back to Andy in case I was obscuring it from his view. Ed must have taken a long-cut, so we were back together as we hooked into Churchill Drive down at the Otari Stream crossing.
Alex, Tim and Jonty were about 100m ahead, riding into the northerly wind. It took Ed and I until just after the Crofton Downs roundabout to get up to them, swapping turns a couple of times to ensure our collective progress.
We all made the turn into Simla Crescent, but Jonty and Alex went straight past the turnoff Ed, Tim and I took into the bush reserve. We all stopped, dismounted, and began our march up the hill. This track was walking only, and we observed that to the letter of the law, noisily clicking Hope hubs be damned.
When we'd finally crossed over the style onto the open pasture 150m from the summit, we got back on the bikes, and back to what we did best!
Alex was first to the summit, and was off along the Skyline ahead of Ed and Tim. I was still having camera trouble, and clearly didn't take the requisite time to check my shot before departing.
|#2: Kau Kau|
I definitely reaped the benefits of Thursday's ride with Tim, and was a lot more confident along the Skyline. I was perplexed to see Tom Lynskey, Ian Paintin, Miles Davies and poor Rosara climbing Kau Kau on the Skyline into the wind. It's a bit of a grovel at the best of times, and surely not a great route choice!
I saw a couple of other guys on the blast south - perhaps they'd skipped Te Ahu Mairangi? I was pleased to see Tim crossing the fence just below the final section to the Johnstons Hill summit - a good sign I'd ridden well. I was soon at the summit myself, and slowly getting my photography sorted. I popped a bit of brownie out of my pocket, and slugged some drink before heading off in the direction Tim had gone.
|#3: Johnstons Hill|
I'd had a good ride on Skyline - 30 minutes between photos, and a whopping 12 minutes quicker than the year before down through the 'burbs. Jonty offered me a high five as he passed on my right. I ducked, figuring that was probably the single worst thing I could have subjected my right shoulder to. I apologised at the end, and he'd said he'd realised the jeopardy he'd put me in too!
I saw some more riders as I popped out of the Skyline at Makara Road, maybe they'd missed Kau Kau?! FUN!
Marjolein and Maya were out for a run as I passed them up the access road to Varley's Track. I suffered quite a bit up Varley's, and had to walk a couple of short sections. The 4WD track felt better, though I pushed the steep pitch up to the summit.
Makara Peak's first chairman, Malcolm Gunn, was at the summit with a couple of buddies, and offered to record my presence. Asher's notes had said "On the bench seat at summit" so I literally climbed aboard. I could see Malcolm's finger partially covering the lens, but was too rooted to say anything!
|#4: Makara Peak|
That last segment had taken me 22 minutes, and despite feeling like shit, I'd been only 1 minute slower the year before. I was soon blasting down the Snakecharmer, enjoying being on my lovely plush fully!
Just after passing the end of Ridgeline Extension, I had company, in the form of a smoking Jonty! We had a good natter down St Albans and Allington, before making the turn up into Woodhouse Avenue, bound for Landsdowne Terrace. As it kicked up, I felt I needed to press on, and told Jonty I'd better enjoy the smooth stuff while I could, and perhaps I'd see him again soon.
Nearing the end of Landsdowne, I kept my eyes peeled for a friendly tap, and before long had a full bottle of water on board. I was nearly at the top of Wrights, and it seemed sensible to fill the bottle as high on the course as possible. I stayed left on the connector track (I'd erroneously jumped onto Salvation the year before), laughed at myself at the spot I'd crashed on the phone to Oli in 2010, then ran up the steps before setting up for the next photo. Jonty had been about 50m behind when I disappeared into the single track off Landsdowne, and wasn't in sight when I left the Wrights Hill trig.
|#5: Wrights Hill|
This leg had taken me 20 minutes, 4 minutes quicker than last year. The crash would have accounted for some of that, Salvation another 30 seconds or so, and nursing the rigid bike down Snakecharmer to offset whatever I didn't lose climbing on the fully.
I made a small route adjustment to get onto the Fenceline Track, saving probably another minute, and was soon grovelling out of the Glade on the Long Gully access road.
As I made the first right-hander on the road up the ridge, I spied Simon and Sarah ahead on their tandem. A few minutes later, I was alongside. Simon told me he thought I was in third - they'd seen Alex and Tim, but no Ed. I offered them some of my brownie. Sarah said she was sweet, but Simon gasped "yes please!" - it sounded like Captain was doing some hard yards up front! It took me a while to get the baggie out of my pocket, and I slowed to pass it to Sarah, and asked them to leave it at the top of the Tip Track. "If we get there before you" replied Simon. "Pah, no worries" I said, before accelerating away from them.
I saw Tim diving down into the Tip Track, and gave him a shout of encouragement. A minute or so later, I was posing up large in front of the radome. Last year I'd gone up to the trig point, but Asher's instructions had said "next to the radome", and I wasn't about to disobey an opportunity to avoid some climbing, no matter how trivial.
|#6: Hawkins Hill|
21 minutes from Wrights to Hawkins, 4 minutes faster than last year. It helped not to be freaking out about my phone and bleeding knee, I'm sure!
I saw Jonty, then Simon and Sarah, before collecting my leftover brownie, and shooting after Tim down the Tip Track. It was rough as guts, and one of my brakes was pretty spongy by the bottom. I'd screwed a few corners, and slid sideways at one point, but had always made it out the other side of the impressive drainage channels along the length of the track.
The ride up Happy Valley Road to the bottom of Wharangi was hard work, and seemed ridiculously long! Wharangi itself also felt like hard work, and I was looking forward to stopping at the Kingston shops for some drink. I spied someone up at the monument, taking a photo of themselves, but I was too far away to see whether it was Tim or Ed.
I was soon there myself, and took a couple of photos. The second was a better shot of the impressive monument, but I look more broken in the first, so here it is!
|#7: Tawa Tawa Ridge|
A minute or so later I was on tarmac, and then a couple of minutes after that, I was skulling coke out of a 1.5L bottle. I filled my bottle with coke too, and when I put the bottle in its cage, my handlebar clanked on the window - just as I noticed the "please do not lean bicycles on the window" sign. Sorry... I took another swig of coke before realising that any more would be silly. I screwed the lid on, and left the remnants by the shopfront, wondering if maybe one of my fellow competitors would help themselves to it! Probably not!
The run into Berhampore was quick, and after a 20 second wait at the lights, I was soon riding up the pedestrian connector between the two sections of Herald Street. I made the first right, then left along the park to avoid a bit of undulation. Then, onto Mount Albert Road.
I was feeling a tad shattered, so stayed on the road instead of taking the shorter but steeper path adjacent to the Chinese centre. Soon, I was back off-road, and within a couple of minutes was at yet another summit. The coke was beginning to have an effect, and I was feeling good about the next leg.
|#8: Mt Albert|
Hawkins to the top of Wharangi had taken 21 minutes, with another 15 to the top of Mt Albert. 36 minutes in total, compared to the 35 it took me to get to Albert from Hawkins the year before. The upshot of that: my 2010 route sucked!
I was soon in Kilbirnie, using the same route as I had last year: the steep steps onto Hornsey, and then Rodrigo. I popped onto the footpath at the lights, then across the road into the Mobil, before once again resuming the responsibilities of a vehicle on my ride along Rongotai Road.
I almost screwed up at the fire station roundabout, not quite reading the lane markings correctly. I had the rear wheel skidding, briefly, followed by a track-stand, and acceleration into the traffic. Soon, I was through Miramar cutting, then turning up Maupuia.
Hurtling towards me was my Team Yeti mate Alex, obviously having a very good day out on his Big Top. We waved at each other, and got back to our work. There was quite a bit of foot-traffic along the reserve which steadily climbs towards the prison, rather than ducking and diving like the road does. I'd pretty much concluded Tim and Ed must've taken the road down, when, just adjacent to the access to the top of Jail Brake, they flew past. I had still a minute or more to climb, and a very pre-meditated photo to take.
|#9: Behind bars, Mt Crawford|
Mt Albert to Mt Crawford had been another good leg: 21 minutes - the same time as last year, though this time on a fully and against a northerly wind.
I crossed Cobham Drive soon after the fire station roundabout, and couldn't get off the grass median soon enough, such was its horrible effect on my momentum, and temporarily, my will to live. I hit a green light at Kilbirnie Park, but made a left to avoid the next red. It took quite a while before I could pull a u-turn, and when I finally got back onto course, the other me that had waited patiently for the light to turn green was about 20m up the road.
I totally fluffed the turn up onto Alexandra Road. I went off-road just before the roundabout, then indecisively ducked and weaved my way around, before finally going straight up the guts and onto the road. The coke I'd had since Kingston was almost gone, but I'd been chugging it down to good effect. Unlike the year before when this stretch had seemed to take an eternity, progress was good this day.
I decided against "blasting" up the grass slope to the Byrd Memorial, taking the longer route up the road instead. As I prepared to make the right turn down to the lookout carpark, I saw Ed coming out, and he had a faraway look in his eye. We had a race on our hands!
I carried my bike up the steps to the lookout, scoping out my descent on the way up. From the top, it looked like I was going to get wet - showers were starting up over the city.
|#10: Mt Victoria|
22 minutes from Mt Crawford to Mt Vic, 4 minutes quicker than last year, on a slower bike on the same route. Fuel FTW.
Last year, I'd been pretty fucked at this stage, but my route across town (Courtenay Place, Dixon St, Kelburn) had also left a lot to be desired. Steep pitches, and constant changes in gradient had really had me struggling. So this year, I changed it up.
I blasted the steps from the lookout, before hurtling down the grass I'd only a few minutes before declined to ascend. Down the road for a couple of hundred metres, before making a hard right turn into the Wild Wellington descent. A quick left soon put me on the Dovetail, and before long I was at the Pirie St playground.
At the bottom of Pirie, I swung left onto Kent Terrace, before crossing over to the Karo Drive cycle path. As the Basin Reserve traffic hit Buckle, I saw a red light ahead, and figuring it would soon become green, made my way onto the road, hitting the green at Tory, then Taranaki, then Cuba, and finally Victoria Street, pretty much in the flow of traffic. I had a short stretch up Willis on the footpath, before crossing over onto Aro.
When Aro kicked up, my legs started to complain. Both quads were feeling very crampy, and I was not at all keen to experience full-on spasm in those big slabs of meat. Luckily I had a couple of gears left, and as I lightened the load and upped my cadence, the cramps eased. Sweet - homeward bound.
The steady climb up Raroa Road suited it me, and it was one I'd done rooted a number of times this winter - usually following Ash's spin class in Newtown. So, this was nothing new. Before too long, I was at the top, and managed to get the bike moving nicely along the flat. Traffic at the right turn to Northland Tunnel was non-existent, so I hit Northland Tunnel Road at speed. As I passed the Northland Road intersection at the far end of the tunnel, I nervously looked right to see if I could see Ed. No sign of him, and 20 seconds later I was at the shop. 13 minutes for that leg, down from 22 the year before.
Only Alex and Tim were in the shop, with Asher who'd opened up after a short ride with his young son Abe. Ed arrived a couple of minutes later, and as I popped into the superette next door, I was congratulated by Jitesh, the proprietor. "You're third" he said with a great big smile! First Alex, then Tim had gone in with a glazed-over look, and bought chocolate milk, and other assorted goodies. I was the next shopper that fit that bill, so, he correctly deduced, I must have been third!
I immediately texted Oli, and, as over the next hour or so, some pretty sharp riders arrived back at the shop, an overwhelming sense of satisfaction started to come over me. "Skinny Sifter was flying, beat me up the first steep climb to Tinakori summit" was what one of them shared with a buddy the next morning. Currently at 89kg, I'm not that skinny, and I certainly don't look like the kind of guy to ride well in a hill-climb event.
I'm going to go so far as to say that I think this will go down as one of my most satisfying races. I was 29 minutes quicker than a year before, and to be only 4 minutes down on Tim, and 12 to Alex, and to beat home a rider of the class of Ed Crossling, among others, is still amazing to me. It is yet another hint to me of what I might just be capable of given the right "environmental conditions". I've had an awesome winter, and despite dislocating my shoulder only a month ago, I'm feeling in great shape physically - perhaps better than I've ever been.
Four and a half years ago I smashed 40 minutes off my Karapoti PB to finish in 2:47 and change. For most of the intervening time I've believed I would never see that sort of time again. Today, I'm very much looking forward to proving myself wrong. I believe in myself more than ever, and I'm very excited about what might be around the corner.