As it always does, Karapoti sat out there on the horizon and fought for attention in amongst the challenges of school holidays, and mad-February at university as we gear up for the start of the new academic year while still trying to lay the old one to rest.
I had bike dramas galore, realising only a month before that my stunning Yeti ASR5-Carbon needed a drive overhaul in order to get me around Karapoti. After much huffing and puffing, trials and tribulations, I finally rode away from Oli's workshop on Thursday with my rig in stunning shape and ready to rock and roll.
By then, the weather forecast had been firm for days on the "Weather Bomb" due to hit the North Island, and the prospect of rooting my race bike not once, but twice in a weekend, was looking like a distinct possibility - I was entered for the Karapoti Classic on the Saturday, and the Perverse Reverse on Sunday.
I was looking forward to the double - not only would be it awesome prep for an eight day stage race to have a couple of tough XC races back-to-back, but I'd missed the only other Perverse Reverse back in 2000 - by breaking my eye socket in a silly accident on Mt Vic a couple of months prior. Instead, I'd helped out, and clipped the race number from the bike of winner James Dick's bike, and many of the other 142 finishers. Despite enjoying the day, I was gutted I couldn't ride, and with its inclusion in 2012, I was excited to finally have a chance to race in what I consider to be the better direction!
By the time I headed home from Jonty's shop on Friday evening, the Ironman in Taupo had been cancelled, and Karapoti was one of few events reported to be going ahead. I had a big feed of pasta for dinner, and mounted up a crud-catcher on the downtube, and some inner tube in the fork crown to hopefully keep my new Mitre 10 MEGA - Yeti NZ jersey a bit cleaner during race one.
My alarm went of at 7am, and soon after I was smashing back toast and coffee. While I ate, I was browsing Greater Wellington's river flow data, and various news reports and online discussion, trying to predict what the day had in store. I was struggling to reconcile heading out to Upper Hutt to race my bike while Civil Defense were warning us to stay off the roads if at all possible. No sooner had I finished my feed, than word came through that the event was postponed to the Sunday. I was glad to have found out from home, though a little frustrated I'd not simply slept through my alarm!
Later that morning I went round to Simon's and had a good catch up and plenty of discussion around the various options still on the table for the weekend. By evening though, it was all academic, and as I fired up my phone upon exiting a screening of Contraband, I learned of the Karapoti Classic's cancellation. While the Perverse Reverse hadn't been mentioned in the information release, it sounded like that too was goneburger.
Simon, almost literally bursting at the seams after three days of heavy carbo-loading, put together a plan for a group ride on Sunday, and by the time I headed to bed, I'd arranged to meet him, Jonty and Alex at nine in the morning. Simon had posted the following invitation on vorb for his "Carbo Depletion Ride":
Meet at 10am, Sunday the 4th, at Whareroa Farm entrance (just east of MacKays Crossing).There had been no replies aside from a couple of "sorry I can't make it" posts, so we were slightly surprised to see a few other riders in the carpark when we arrived a couple of minutes after 10: Ian, Ant and Peter, and younguns Eden and Jack.
The rough plan at the moment is to head up into the Akas via Perhams Rd, down Big Ring Boulevard, up Rimu Rd and back via Hydro Rd and Campbells Mill Rd. Might even get as far as Puketiro Rd. This will be 4-5hr done at a good pace (good for anybody likely to have done Karapoti in less than 3.5 hrs).
There will be no support crew. You'll be riding entirely at your own risk. You'll probably get wet and cold - bring extra clothing. You might get lost - bring a map or a guide. You might get injured, so bring a first aid kit. You will get hungry - bring plenty to eat and drink.
There was still a cool wind blowing from the south, and it was raining on and off (mostly off). Though, relative to Saturday's weather, the conditions were pretty damn good! Eden's dad Bernie was on hand to take a group photo, and then we were off towards Waterfall Road and the Maungakotukutuku Valley.
We had an awesome tailwind through to the bottom of the hill, and I was really tempted to put in a massive attack off the front. I managed to contain myself, mostly through fear of getting smashed to pieces on the climbs that were to come.
We ascended the gravel section at a good clip and stopped to rearrange clothing at the turn off onto Maungakotukutuku Road, which Simon pointed out had been the start location of the second Karapoti Classic. The "Karapoti Original" course had been deemed too tough by event sponsors, and this had been Paul's second attempt before settling on the now familiar loop in the third year. Peter told us he'd done that event, back in 1987 - he'd finished 20th, while Simon had been 4th.
We were soon underway again, and while the others pushed the pace, I cruised up chatting to Peter.
I couldn't remember Simon's plan, so slowed as Peter and I passed Campbell's Mill Road. There was no sign of the others, so we kept rolling. As we reached the valley floor, I could see the group at the bottom of Perhams Road, which would take us up to Big Ring Boulevard. The stream at the ford was surprisingly low, and while I carried my bike across, Peter blasted through on his new 29er.
Peter didn't stop for long, and got a bit of head start. The rest of us were soon hot on his tail, and before long it was Jonty and Alex setting the pace up front, with Eden and I tucked in behind. The conversation dwindled somewhat as we made our way purposefully up towards the Karapoti course. I got gapped on a descent near the top, and already struggling to keep my breakfast down, got dropped again as soon as I'd caught back up to the other three. We were soon at a halt though, surrounded by Karapoti course markings, and after a few minutes had the rest of the group with us too.
We soon spotted four riders coming towards us up Big Ring Boulevard - Colin, Craig, Chris and Geoff had come up Campbell Mill Road and were heading for Ho Chi Minh - a nifty singletrack down towards the first stream crossing at the bottom of BRB. We decided that sounded like a great option, and after following the Perverse Reverse course for a few minutes, we were all turning off the main 4WD track into the jungle.
About half way down, the jungle claimed its two victims - while Simon was tearing his rear derailleur off, Peter was gouging the top tube of his new carbon 29er with the brake lever body during a small crash in the slippery slidey conditions. They were both OK, but were going to need to head for home sooner than expected.
I gave Simon my chainbreaker, and he passed me his map in return. We rode together a bit longer, but upon reaching an intersection, he went right towards BRB while the rest of us went left.
At the bottom, we discussed options, scoffed a bit of food, and did a bit of chain oiling. Colin and his mates were heading for the Three Sisters, and Eden, Jack, Ian, Ant and Peter decided that they too would climb back up BRB. Jonty, Alex and I were keen to extend our ride a bit, and turned downhill to follow the Classic course towards the bottom of Dopers.
As it started to rain, I rued taking my jacket off. Luckily, it was sufficiently light that it didn't warrant another wardrobe adjustment. As it was, it was over after a minute or two, so it was just as well I hadn't stopped.
The relatively smooth 4WD track gave us a good opportunity to chat, and we took full advantage of that. We discussed the cancellation, and then got to the role Karapoti plays in so many MTBer's summer plans. Simon's been racing here since his 2nd place in '86 and the inaugural race, while Jonty debuted as a junior in '89 - the fourth year of the race. There aren't many with similar history, but they are certainly among many that feel pressure to perform at this old-school sufferfest!
Our ride along the classic course was short-lived. We made the first turn to the right, and were soon standing at the edge of the Whakatiki River. It was moving reasonably swiftly, but the depth was manageable (about knee-deep, with care) and we were soon on the far side.
We had a bit of a laugh, and suggested Alex head back in with his seatpost and saddle, and crouch down in the water pretending it was very deep and that his bike was almost entirely submerged. Alas, there was no need to pretend the water was cold, and it was obvious such shenanigans were out of the question.
After a short climb and a sweet descent, we were fording yet another river (probably the Whakatiki again) and making our way onto Hydro Valley Road.
The pace crept up again on the climb, though not to the stomach churning level of the Perhams Road ascent. This climb was shorter too, and we were soon up in the pine forest and passing the right turn which, had we taken it, would have had us back on the Karapoti course after a few minutes' riding.
We met a couple of guys heading in to spectate (?!) and after chatting with them for a bit, extricated ourselves just as another party of three riders arrived from the direction we'd come.
The descent of Campbell's Mill Road was a real blast - the double track was in great shape and flowed nicely, the day was starting to warm up a bit, and the views over Kapiti were stunning.
We were soon alongside DOC signage through to Whareroa Farm. We had options, and each time went with the longer track, despite it being "easier" riding. Before we reached the valley floor, we took a couple of nifty side loops - the first of which was through gum trees which had clearly been ravaged by winds the day before.
Simon was waiting for us at the car, having ridden back up Big Ring and hooked across to take the same route down as us. Luckily he'd managed to shorten his chain, and find a usable (albeit quite tall) gear for the ride down.
Eventually we had the four filthy bikes on the back of my Corolla, and were tucking into the Easter buns I'd taken out, and a pack of delicious Peanut Butter (US) Girl Guide Cookies from Ash! While we'd missed out on 7 races between us - Jonty had only entered the Perverse Reverse, while Simon, Alex and I had all signed up for both days - we'd enjoyed getting out nonetheless, and felt like we'd worked off at least some of the excess carbs we'd ingested in anticipation!
It wasn't at all like the weekend I'd expected, but I take a lot of positives from it. My bike and I are in one piece, and that's always a good thing. I had a lovely ride today with great company. I got home with that slightly dull feeling in my legs, a massive grin on my face, and passed a race-ready carbon fully in the hallway on my way to fire some filthy riding gear into the washing machine. I'm glad I've got only the Cape Epic to focus on now, and while I'm sad for my friends whose summers were to culminate in a hit-out at Karapoti, this year it was not my grand finale. Mine starts in three weeks, and I can't wait. Bring it on!