Thursday, February 9, 2012

Trying not to get lost!

I don't much believe in karma, but I do wonder if I somehow put a hex on myself with my MTB-Ohhhh post back in May last year!

The first round of the series started up at the Brooklyn Wind Turbine, and I had a scorcher, on the bike at least.  Trouble was, I rode down and back up a disallowed route, and then inadvertently missed a control on the way down to the finish.  DQ x 2.  It wasn't much consolation that I was in good company, Simon and Tom Bradshaw also taking the naughty Karepa St route, with the win going to first-timer, and Roadworks star rider, Tim "T-Rex" Wilding.

Simon and I were planners of round 2, so couldn't ride.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed putting all the controls out by bike.  It took me about 3 hours to do the whole thing, so wasn't surprised when a couple of riders cleaned the course in two hours.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I rued placement of one control which sucked people of a nice bit of riding, quite contrary to what we usually regard as good practice.  Nonetheless, it was great to have an awesome turnout, and great feedback.

I made a trip up to Rotorua at the end of July with one of MTBO's stalwarts, Mike Wood, for a weekend of racing.  I totally sucked in the first race, despite having great legs, I couldn't quite organise myself to be pointing in the right direction.  I also rode half the race with my rear QR undone, and only diagnosed the strange clunking 3 minutes from the end.  I enjoyed the afternoon's three sprint events (all won in 6-7 minutes) though suffered a bit from not being on my home turf (and poor map skills)!  The "long" event was a bit more up my alley on Sunday morning, and I fared much better.  It was a fun weekend, but frustrating, as MTBO can be when things don't go well!

Round 3 of the Wellington series was at St Pats forest.  We were nervous about the weather out on course, and true to forecasts, the big snow arrived that evening!  I'd ridden well enough for the win, but my bike was totally trashed, and I was a bit down about the whole thing.  Simon hadn't ridden at St Pats, and nor did he at the final round at Queen Elizabeth Park.  I had a good day though on a course that suited me. I'd ridden well but spent too much time stationary, staring at the map, to beat Dave King, one of Wellington's most experienced orienteers.  In this sport, it doesn't take much for brain to beat brawn. 

Despite flunking out in race 1, I got a win as organiser in round 2, as well as wins in rounds 3 and 4 to take the series with maximum points.  But, I'd missed duking it out with my best mate, and didn't feel much like celebrating.

By the time the second Great Forest Rogaine rolled around in November, I was riding probably as strongly as I ever have been, while Simon had had less than ideal preparation for a six hour event.  Consequently, we were much too conservative at the planning phase, and by the time the run to the finish began, we grabbed all the points we could, but finished 30 minutes early, sacrilege in these events.  We'd deviated from our usually successful strategy - agreeing on an ambitious route, and then scrambling at the end to cut controls out to make the deadline back at base.  We deserved to get smashed that day, and we were!

Simon headed down to an MTBO carnival in Otago, but had been disappointed with his performances down there.  Like my experience in Rotorua, he'd struggled with the short races, and it hadn't stirred his enthusiasm like the longer team events do.  

We were disappointed to learn there would be no Akatarawa Attack in 2012 - it had been a major feature of Karapoti prep for us over the last five years.  But, all was not lost.  Instead of an eight hour event in the Akatarawa's, as part of the 21st anniversary of the first rogaine in New Zealand, OHV were putting on a series of five events which included two MTB options:  a six hour race in the Akatarawas, starting at Battle Hill, on the Sunday, and a three hour race at Belmont on Waitangi Day Monday.  Game on!


As Simon is wont to do, by late January his legs were really starting to fire, and we drove out to Battle Hill together looking forward to a good hard day's riding.  We were going to be ambitious.  YFY!

By the time we were given the maps, we were well organised, and so got down to sorting out a plan.  With six hours to play with, and only two possible climbs away from the start (not counting a terrible option up a fenceline), the seeds of a good plan came easily.  We'd head east through the centre of the map, then curl around for a loop in the south, before resuming our eastward march.  After a descent in the east, we'd climb and begin our return loop at the top of the map, before descending to the finish with a huge tally of points!  Simple!   We had time to transcribe the control order onto our answer card, and were ready to roll with a bit of time to spare.

Our flight plan!
At the stroke of 11 (by virtue of synching my watch with the race clock), we were off.  We had a short run to our bikes, and after carefully making our way through the runners who hadn't had to stop to pick up their bikes, it was time to put the hammer down.

We had a kilometre or so of fast travel before hitting a gate at the bottom of the first climb.  Looking back from the gate, we could see no-one.  A good sign we hoped.

We communicated well on the run to the first control, checking off intersections as we passed them.  Both bikes and riders seemed to be running smoothly.  We made a turnoff towards 72, ditching the bikes at a fallen pine across the track.  Simon took point, and we were soon recording the first ribbon code.  We passed half a dozen teams on our way back to the bikes, including at least one who'd somehow got their bikes over or under the pine!  Crazy stuff!

An unusual feature of this event was the right to leave our bikes, and we took full advantage of it at the next control, 64.  This was on a spur below a prominent kink in the road.  We met a guy running on his own, and another pair of runners, but didn't see any of the riders before jumping back on our steeds and continuing our climb.

The next control, 51, was in a gully with a steep route up to it through long grass.  We didn't much like the look of that, and continued up the road a bit before grovelling up a short piece of singletrack.  The runners we'd seen at the previous control had taken the direct route, but hadn't quite managed to overhaul us despite admitting they'd tried.  We'd left our bikes at the intersection with our next bit of track, and were soon heading up it.  So far, so good, and no sign of any bikers.

The next control, 30, was at a highpoint, and we opted to push our bikes cross-country through longish grass.  We returned the way we'd gone up, and then took a series of intersections to the top of the singletrack through to control 53.  Simon was on point, and riding sensibly conservatively.  Unfamiliar trail at the start of a six hour event is not the wisest time to cut loose.

As with previous controls, this one was marked with pink tape, on which was a word or two which we needed to write on our scorecard.  This sort of control seriously reduces the burden on the organisers who'd otherwise have to put out and collect the usual flags and clippers in a short space of time.  Who knows how long this ribbon had been there, but we were both delighted to see the code words on it!  I suppose someone hoped we'd see it!

The singletrack below the control got stupidly steep, and we were both reduced to "walking" for a bit, or more accurately, clambering.  It took us a few moments to orient ourselves at the bottom, but the quality of the mapping was such that we soon diagnosed which direction to head off in.

Once on the 4WD track, it was a simple matter to get close to 74.  Simon had the question sheet indicating what we'd be looking for (in this case a stump with a word written on it at a stream junction).  When he read this out, I had the control within a few seconds, and laughed, explaining that he'd probably walked within a metre or two of it seconds earlier.

The map showed the next bit of track crossing a few contours, so we knew it would be steep.  Steep, but mercifully short, though quickly followed by a bit more climbing.  The short bit of 4WD track we were on ended at a clearing, and we slowed as we rode into it, scanning for our exit.  Just as we started running out of room to find it, it revealed itself, and once again we were pushing our bikes up steep singletrack.  I was very glad I'd dusted off a pair of shoes with studs in the front (last used at a cyclocross race back in August!) so while momentum was hard won, at least I had good traction!

We followed our noses through 34 to a fence junction, and were soon mounting our bikes on the 4WD track just beyond.  The next control invited silliness - the green line on the map showing "an allowable route" which someone had been along with a bike.  Rarely a good choice, we instead took the next two right turns, and were soon fighting for rear wheel engagement on a hard and damp clay climb.  We met a few teams and hardly impressed them with our riding prowess.  We stopped a little early, but we soon had another 40 points in our growing collection.

It was back the way we'd come for 30 seconds or so, before blasting south east on a fast 4WD road.  The runners definitely have an advantage close into the controls, but we make damn good time in between!  The next control was at a barn, and soon Simon had counted the rungs on the ladder leaning against it, and we were off towards 102. 

We had a simple run in to our first 100-pointer, and while we had a short climb back away from it, the points tally really just reflected its remoteness.  We continued east, taking the next left, and the one after, before meeting a team of three young runners adjacent to 73.  They looked a bit nervous about where they were relative to the control, not realising it was a mere 20 metres away.  We were back on our bikes in short order, and didn't see those guys again.  We had no idea where they'd come from, nor where they were going!

Despite Simon warning me he'd refolded his map in and couldn't see the entire route to 91, I didn't realise the importance of a small dead-end bit of track a kilometre away.  It didn't take us long to find our way to the end of it, nor to decide we needed to turn back.  In similar circumstances to the dead-end Marjolein and I had found ourselves at just before Christmas, neither Simon nor I had seen the turn-off we should have taken, but we knew it couldn't be far away (and it wasn't, thankfully!).

Things got pretty miserable for a while, with a steep descent into a stream, then a grovel out of it, before dropping down again into a valley with "Very steep" written of it.  We were here because of the 120 points, via controls 91 and 31, but also because of the great loop it facilitated.  While it might have been slow going, and not the best points per hour ratio, it had given us access to great points before and after it, so was a good investment.

I'd seen the exit track following a stream, and despite the valley being steep, I hadn't imagined it to be the series of small waterfalls it was.  At the sight of the fall-line track and the job a pair on foot we having climbing down it, we took the slightly longer and less steep track to the right.  It was still goddamn steep, but we made purposeful progress.

Still reeling from the climb, I stopped at an intersection where Simon had been waiting for 15 seconds or so.  He moved off, and I stopped to look at the map - I asked about the track on the left (which I'd not noticed on the map).  Simon rightfully reminded me he'd had a chance to check it all out while he was waiting for me, and hinted I should just follow him!  Quite!

We passed through 65, and then began a series of descents into controls off the main ridge.  First 81, and then 63.  We were navigating well, and working well as a team.  At 63, I would have gone blasting off down the wrong spur, but 30 seconds later I was calling Simon back to the control he'd missed on his way down the correct spur.  We congratulated ourselves for not fucking it up, and began our ride to 76, at the end of a track that looked remarkably like a penis (circumsized, and with a weepy STD of some sort).  It was good points though!

The 4WD down towards 75 got very rough very fast, and Simon was just starting to say we should ditch the bikes when I hit something with my front wheel and hit the ground!  Ironically, the track just beyond was in much better condition, but running wasn't much slower.  We had soon grabbed control 90 as well, and began our descent off the end of the ridge.

We'd made pretty good time, but we still had a lot of riding to do, and we started to get a bit nervous about it as the climb through 61 and 55 revealed itself to be hard work.  Simon was easily riding away from me on the climb, and we were separated by about 100m when we met Rob Garden and Marquita Gelderman on their way down.  Both teams were a long way from the finish, but obviously both collecting big points out on the extreme of the map!

We ditched our bikes just above 100, and scrambled down a chute off the road edge.  50m down the track, I stopped at an intersection.  I could hear Simon bashing around to my left on what looked to be a wide bench, but I could see a track to my right.  One of them wasn't shown on the map, and my instinct was that it was the one Simon was on.  The clue called for us to find a ribbon on a kiekie, but I wouldn't know one of those if one of its sticks had just poked me in the eye, so I didn't stand much chance of working out if I was right about the track before insisting Simon trust me!  I did insist though, and Simon soon found the tree, and the control. 

The singletrack to 70 was tricky to find - it was indistinct and on a fast descent.  But, we knew we needed to find it, and didn't need to use the sweeping right bend to tell us we'd gone too far.  The singletrack itself barely deserved its name.  Unfortunately, it was particularly overgrown on the steepest parts of the track, and it took us some time to get ourselves and our bikes through.  At one point, Simon ditched his bike, and dragged it through the bush once he'd got his footing up above.  We burnt a lot of time and energy, but it was probably just as well.

It was a little confusing getting to the singletrack through to 56, but we didn't lose time and were soon looking along a track about 20cm wide, disappearing into thick native bush.  We had 1 hour 15 left on the clock. If we stuck to our plan, we had over three kilometres of singletrack of questionable quality to ride.  We thought we might be able to get the sequence 56-62-71-20-43-10 on the way back to the finish, with 101 and 42 totally out of the question.  It wasn't looking great and we assessed our alternatives.

There was one:  a plummet into the valley we'd less than an hour ago grovelled out of, before a steep climb back to the main ridge we'd already grabbed all the controls on.  We had some controls between us and home though:  50-60-45 and 11, which we incorrectly tallied to 210.  We felt sure we could get home on time, and with the arithmetic blunder it looked very favourable to the much more risky route through 250 points.  It's probably just as well we fucked the maths, because the maths would have fucked us had we stuck to our original plan.  We swung the bikes to the left, and released the brakes and were soon on a sphincter clenching ride to the valley floor.

We made the bottom safely, with an extra 50 points, already cognisant of the revision to the total.  Nothing we could do about that though!

As is so often the case in these events, I admired Simon's prowess on the steep, loose climbs as he rode ahead of me with no apparent effort.  I did my best to walk as quickly as I could after him, and was soon able to join him atop a bicycle as the climb mellowed near the top.

Back on the main ridge, we rode past the penis, then the turnoff to 63, then 81, then 30, before finally being in hitherto untapped territory en route to 45.  We took the first left to hook back towards 11, and enjoyed the bumpy but fun ride down through to the gate we'd gone through about 5 minutes into the event.

We had enough time to pop up to 22, though had I been on my own, I would have left it tucked away behind a patch of ongaonga.  Simon had the sense to approach it from another direction, and we were soon blasting back towards the finish.

We though we had time for control 12, but we couldn't afford a screw up.  We promptly missed the turn off to it, and with no time to correct our mistake, we made a dash for the finish line, clocking in with 30 seconds to spare.

Before too long I'd tallied our points, and we enjoyed chatting about our ride and route with other teams.  Megan was on her way back to Palmy after doing the PNP Club Champs at Wainui, and it was cool to see her briefly, before heading for home.

We were upbeat on our drive home, by virtue of our not insubstantial winning margin.  We'd netted 1600 points, 330 points clear of the next-best mountainbike team, and 230 ahead of the best runners.  It was a great result for us, indicating sharp route choice, almost complete absence of mistakes on course, and good, hard riding.

I'd started off with a hiss and a roar, feeling quite at home on my Flux, but once Simon got warmed up, I'd begun to slow him down.  He admitted on the drive home that he'd had a fantastic day, so it stood to reason that I'd suffered like a dog!  It felt like the natural order had been restored, and I only hoped it hadn't been frustrating for him.  I suppose its inevitable that one of us would be stronger on the bike, like I'd been in Vegas, and he clearly was here.  But, such is the multi-dimensional nature of the sport, even a slower team mate can still make critical contributions through the duration of the event.  We'd worked well as a team, and I think both really enjoyed getting out for a good hard ride together. 

When I got home, I cleaned my bike, then myself, before getting organised for the next day's imminent race. 


One very appealing aspect of this weekend was the back-to-back nature, with less than two months to go until the Cape Epic (with eight days of racing straight). While Saturday's race had been 6 hours apiece for foot and MTB teams, Sunday's race had 4 hours on course for runners, and 3 for us.

We rocked up to registration, we found the following sign.  Not confidence inspiring, but we weren't here to run, not that we'd have any chance of running to a win!

All teams got the maps at the same time, even though our start was 30 minutes after the runners'.  Our route was the subject of much debate, as we pondered the relative merits of the controls in the north-west, east and south, and a few in between.  At the last minute, we re-sequenced things so we wouldn't be rushing home with no easy shortcuts on the main southern loop.  We'd start in the north-west, and leave the hilly eastern part of the map until the end, if we had time.

Day 2 flight plan
Again, we had a fast start, and looking back along the road a minute into the race, we wondered where everyone had got to.  They all seemed to be heading in our direction at the start line.  We were soon ditching our bikes on the road 50m below control 20, and scrambling up the grass to it.  That done, we hurtled down to control 40, much to the bemusement of a scout group.

They gave us a good holler on our climb back out of 40, some of the kids running alongside us.  We soon threw our bikes over a fence, and crossed over the saddle connecting us to the 4WD road headed for 50.

Sunday had been the main event for us, and while we were still in race mode, we were both a little more relaxed about today's ride.  As a consequence, when the view out towards Pauatahanui Inlet opened up in front of us, I couldn't help stopping to get my camera out!

We counted the nuts holding the pylon down (8 x 2 x 2 - 1) and then were in search of 70.  The off-track travel was working well for us, but we were helped by the different style Mike Wood had used for this event - the controls were generally on things we could see from a way off.

The descent from 70 was steep, and we were seeing runners coming towards us.  We stopped to orient ourselves (the point of the game, I suppose) before starting the mellower sidle down into the valley housing control 80.

I'd been using the pylon control 51 was on as a landmark, and so when we reached the turnoff to it, I asked Simon why he was heading the wrong way.  "For 80 points?" he retorted.  I wasn't lost, just going the wrong way!  We'd ridden past a control on the Skyline on a practice ride a few years ago, but were yet to do so in a team rogaine, thank goodness! Not by accident anyway.  We both still regret missing 150 points in the dark at the first Great Forest Rogaine...

With Simon's care, we were soon collecting 80 points, and another pretty scene with a waterfall just beyond the control...

The ride back down the valley was fun, and the climb out past the pylon harbouring 51 and up to 12 was much more manageable than the previous day's climbs had been.  I felt a bit bad about taking a short cut avoiding a descent to a gate and not pointing it out to Simon, but had collected a mild jolt on my inner thigh from the electric fence I'd straddled as some sort of karmic payback.

We saw Rachel and Sherlock out stolling while husband and father Liam was out collecting points with our friend Barryn.  Soon after we'd left them to their walk, we'd netted control 11, and were then parked up surveying the steep spur out towards where we suspected 71 to be.

We'd been pretty good at never leaving the bikes without a map the day before, but did so en route to 71.  Luckily, I'd had a good look at the map, so remembered the layout of the map while we tried to reconcile what we could see with what the map back up the hill on the bike said.

Fortune smiled on us, and we were soon at the fence junction we wanted, and some minutes after that, back with our bikes.  We'd left them at a good spot, and rode back to the main track.

Control 54 was easy to find, and before long we were making our turn down the ridge towards 91 and 63.  I got a bit confused, having assumed that 63 was at Belmont Trig, and while I knew we weren't heading there, I was certain we'd taken the correct route, and besides Simon seemed to know where he was going.

We ditched the bikes at an opportune spot on the descent to 91 and continued on foot.  I brushed some ongaonga on my way to it, only seeing a much nicer approach (and taking it) on my way out of the stream bed.  The climb was steep and slow back to the bikes, but we knew it would be, it said so on the map!

There were 2 padlocks on the box at control 63, and a few minutes later we were at 35, and a minute after that we were blasting along Stratton Street.  We opted to take the longer, faster route on the road around to 64.  We'd decided to approach it from above, but as we ground up the road, one or other of us raised going through the singletrack, and the decision was amended.

There was no sign of the ribbon in the gorse at 64, but we were certain we were in the right place, so moved on after a few minutes' scouring around.

It was a bit of a mission getting back up onto the road, but we made it!  Then along the Old Coach Road, before Simon's sharp navigation had us with 22 in our figurative purse.  We had only 25 minutes left at this point, and so we quickly assessed our options.  72-33-32-10 seemed out of the question, leaving perhaps 100 points to get home (70 and one of the 30s).  62-32-10 gave the same points, and seemed to involve less effort, so we decided to do that.

We quickly got to 62, but undershot 32 after a lumpy off-track descent down towards Hill Road.  Our excursion upstream of the control ate through valuable time, and we had no room to hunt for 10 on our way past.  We made the finish line with 20 seconds to spare, which is pretty much perfect in this gig!

It turned out we'd done well again, though not as dramatically so as the day before.  We were the top MTBers, though only 40 points clear of Rob and Marquita.  They'd replaced our southern loop with one in the east, for a very similar tally.  The best foot team was 90 points ahead of us though, capitalising on the benefit of an extra hour.

After enjoying a bit of BBQ, we headed inside to thank Mike, apologising for leaving early, but saying we were both keen to go home to see our daughters.  He gave us a beaming smile, indicating he totally understood!

Again, a good team effort, and a hell of a lot of fun to boot!  I think it was just what we needed riding-wise, two hard days in the saddle, and a great way to rekindle our enjoyment of orienteering.  We haven't had much of a chance to hang out together lately, let alone ride, so it was also a convenient (if slightly arduous) way to get some quality time in.  It can be a damn frustrating sport sometimes (or often even), though that can be mitigated by doing it with someone who you trust and who trusts you.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and all that, and these events have been a huge part of the strength of our friendship.

A week out, Monday's ride was looking shaky as Simon had to get down to Blenheim to start the second Kiwi Brevet field on their amazing ride in the top of the south.  I'm very glad the moons aligned - it would have been a shame to miss another fantastic ride with my best mate.


  1. Mmmm, maths fucking. I remember it always used to fuck me real good...another top tale, bro. Great stuff.

  2. That account is so vivid! While reading it I almost felt as if I was there myself.
    Fun times!!!