Sunday, May 25, 2014

2014 Metlink City Safari, aka sifter's really bad at running

These days, if I'm working up a sweat, it's a fair bet I'm either on my bike, or digging trail at Makara Peak.  But, there is the odd exception, including a recent highlight, the Metlink City Safari.

The event is basically a six-hour treasure hunt, with no bikes allowed.  I'd normally be very reluctant to turn up to such a thing, but this event has a special twist.  As the naming sponsor might suggest, the event incorporates public transport - the Seatoun Ferry, cable car, three train lines, and dozens of bus routes.  Though a bike would trump a bus any day of the week, the alternatives offered in this event extend my range just enough to cope with six hours on foot.

I wrote about my fourth City Safari back in 2011, and it was with some delight that I caught wind of the 2014 edition, after a two year absence from the calendar.  The training for this year's event was the same as usual - some riding - but Family Randal did innovate on at least one dimension.  Khulan was invited to join us, and Family Randal-Tumen was born!

The event necessitated a bit of an early start for a Sunday morning, and Kaitlyn, Khulan and I were dropped off by Sarah at the new start location, Civic Square, shortly before 8am.  We got our race packs and vests and were soon joined by Uncle Diggy, who we'd successfully intercepted before he reached the usual start on Queen's Wharf.

There was a relatively cool wind blowing, so we grabbed four seats on the bus parked up in the square and got planning.

Getting organised

The map had a bunch of distinct clusters:  Petone, Tawa, J'Ville and Ngauranga, Karori, Northland, Berhampore and Seatoun.  Our map booklet had been really well put together:  as well as an overview map, and several zoomed-in maps, we had a schedule for all the public transport on the course, event rules, and a couple of pages of clues.  In addition to about 60 controls we might arrive at on foot, the organisers had set 19 extras - all of which were visible from public transport.  They'd also clearly identified the latter on the map and in the clue list, so it wouldn't be easy to miss them during the day. 
The Seatoun Ferry is not only a novelty, but is a very quick way to get to Seatoun from town - it takes about 20 minutes rather than 40-odd on the bus.  Our first plan was to jump on the cable car up to the top of the Botanical Gardens and then collect a few controls under the positive influence of gravity before getting onto the 10:30am ferry.  But, we soon learned that the cable car was closed until midday, so it was quickly onto Plan B - the 10:05 train to Petone.  From there, we had a bunch of options, but we'd let the public transport connections dictate exactly where we went next.  The 12:30 ferry was a possibility, but timing that right would be tricky. 

We had a race briefing at 9am, and then got organised for the warm-up event - a 10-minute prologue.  We were allowed to open our maps for that two minutes before we started, leaving only a small amount of time for planning.  While I was oblivious to the fact that controls we didn't get in the 10 minutes would be available for half-price in the main event, I was conscious of the need to get back on time and was keen to not over extend ourselves.  And, for good reason:  Dave was nursing a calf-strain, and I had been receiving physio on my lower back for a week.  Consequently, we devised a simple route with a couple of bailout points.

The Civic Square is large, and there were just over 50 teams of at least two people in each, so it was easy to casually move to the edge of the crowd closest to our first control.  Not cheating at all, but a useful 20m head start on where we would have been if we'd stayed put.

About one minute in, I noted a couple of things - I'd forgotten to start my stopwatch and so we wouldn't be working towards an accurate deadline, and of even more concern, both my quads were cramping up already!  Not good with only 6 hours and 9 minutes left to go.

Dave and I were on navigation, and Kaitlyn had been delegated the responsibility of txting in our answers.  Khulan was free to enjoy her first orienteering event with no responsibility! Proof-of-visit this year consisted of a multichoice answer txted in to the organisers (or their computer system, presumably).  "2b d" was soon followed by "1e a", "2a b" etc.  We did an anti-clockwise lap of the lagoon, heading home via Harris St.  Our final control was at the top of a short flight of steps to a wall of the City Gallery.  The answers were one of "Get", "Your", "Feet", "Wet" but luckily I had time to take my shoes and socks off, and we finished 90 points in hand, a minute or so later with me trailing in barefoot.

One of the virtues of the txt-in system was live scoring, but it seemed to have a few glitches, namely some inconceivably large tallies!  It was interesting to find later that the largest prologue score of all was by a team that collected all the controls, but were ten minutes late.  They gathered a whopping 230 points, but lost 100 of them due to lateness (10 per minute). Yet another innovation this time was that any uncollected prologue controls were available for half price in the main event.  So, the only disadvantage of being super-late that I can see is being unable to collect any of the controls later.  We got 90 in our ten minutes, but did collect the remaining 140 points in the main event, costing us little time, but netting us an additional 70 points. Food for thought...

The 20-minute hiatus following the prologue was a good opportunity to rearrange clothing, and for me to do some stretching.  My hammies had joined my quads in complaining, and I knew I'd be in for a long day!  At least my lower back seemed fine.

At 9:45 we were off.  We grabbed the northern prologue controls that we hadn't already visited, and then popped over to the Lambton Quay bus terminus to get the price of a can of coke.  The store was closed, but the girls were able to make out the price through the window.  We made the Upper Hutt train with a minute or so to spare.  Perfect!

The public transport controls were all flags, and Dave made out the Brazilian one we weren't supposed to be able to see from the train.  Score!  It was also cool to spy our dear friends Simon and Miro on the poster advertising the event.

A poster featuring Simon and a very young Miro
Our route through Petone was designed to minimise walking, and we were one of only a few teams that stayed on the train until the Ava Station.  We picked up control 17 just adjacent to the station, and then 69 outside the local pool, a couple on Jackson Street, and then a few more on the way back to the Dowse Interchange.

The map showed a simple route to our next control in the bush below Dowse Drive.  There was a track exactly where we expected one, but there was also a team studying the mapboard there intently - not a good sign.  We went confidently past them, and started down the track, but there was no immediate intersection as we expected and the track was definitely heading in the wrong direction.  So, we went back up to the road, and after a minute or two, headed into the bush.

We quickly picked up an old bench which was easy going and may even have been what was shown on the map!  After a little bit more cross country walking, we were back on a main track, and a minute after that we were txting in the answer for another control.

It was almost a kilometre's walk to the next point of interest, after which we knew we had 12 minutes to get back to Petone Station for the southbound train.  While I was navigating, Dave was busy with his iphone, and the Didibaba app which he'd installed especially for the event.  Its ridiculous name aside, basically it was a google map with all stations and busstops shown on it.  By selecting any of these stops, live timing was given for the next transport options.  Very handy and much easier than entering the stop code into Metlink's website.

Our final control of this cluster was worth 80 points, but necessitated a trip into Korokoro Stream, to read some graffiti on the underside of one of the buildings built over it.  I drew the short straw, and opted to keep my shoes on for this one.  It was a squelchy jog/shuffle back to the station.

We made the northbound platform on time, but Dave and the kids hadn't noticed the underpass to the platform we needed so looked a little concerned once they'd seen the train arriving.  It had just stopped when we emerged on the other side of the tracks, so not a moment was wasted!  Perfect, again!

We liked the look of some controls in Ngauranga, so jumped off the train there a few minutes later.  There was a 10-pointer right at the station, but it involved climbing over a small fence to a "stock effluent disposal facility", and nobody seemed keen!!  I was worried about getting stuck on top of the fence, but Kaitlyn took point, and in the end Dave was needed to solve the clue.

It was then over to the bus stop, and we enjoyed a ten-minute wait for the 54 bus up into Newlands.  Had we been keen runners, we would have had enough time to scramble up the hill immediately behind us to pick up a 30-pointer in the pine trees, but, we weren't, and instead enjoyed a nice rest and a bit of lunch!   Knowing exactly when the bus would arrive made for a stressfree wait, and Khulan made creative use of the time.  The photographic output was not the creative highlight though of the break though.  That has to go to the caramel slice she'd made for us the day before, and it was very hard to save some for later!

Cavernous bus stop at the bottom of Ngauranga Gorge!
All four of us missed the flag on the left of the bus on the way up Ngauranga Gorge, but we txted in a question-mark anyway and were subsequently credited with the points.  We jumped off the bus at Salford Street, and began our walk back down to the train station!
Another price check on a can of coke
Our route was via Wakely, which pretty much connected Clive's Foodmarket containing our third can of coke control to the bottom of Ngauranga in a straight line.

There was a 70-pointer half way down to keep us entertained (and to justify the walk) and a Japanese flag near the bottom.  I was lucky enough to get my feet wet again soon after.  While I would have liked dry feet, it was actually quite cool walking from one side of the gorge to the other through a large culvert.  I could have done without counting the 33 brackets holding one of the service pipes to the wall, but I did like the 100 points we'd just gained!
I drew the short straw for wet feet (again)!
While I was under the road, Dave was scoping out our transport options, and it seemed like the train was the way to go.  Nearing the station, the kids asked "will we make it if we don't speed up?" in response to being told the train was three minutes away.  It was about 12:30, and we had just over two-hours to go.  Energy levels were definitely waning!

We'd decided to head to Seatoun, but the train was really slow after the Kaiwharawhara stop, and by the time we'd made it to Lambton Quay, the Valley Flyer was long gone.  The next promising option looked to be an Island Bay bus, but that wasn't due for a few more minutes, so we jumped on an Eastbourne bus heading to Courtenay Place.

Resting up, and scoping out the next connection
We were off it only a few stops later, ducking into the now-open Cable Car for another 70 points.  It was a slightly stressful visit on account of all the other patrons (including a large number of City Safari teams), but it was made easier by the woman at the ticket counter who told us exactly where we needed to look for the answer to our clue!  From there it was across the road, and almost immediately onto the Island Bay bus.

The ride to Berhampore was another nice opportunity to rest up.  It was lovely to see Megan on the bus, with whom I'd written a stats textbook - she'd just returned from a trip to Croatia, and had plenty of stories to tell.  I managed to keep one eye on the map, but my teammates were doing the same and didn't miss the two flags out the window!

The map had the bus stop we wanted on the wrong side of the Dawson St intersection, so we ended up staying on the bus and having to walk back - luckily only a short distance.  Control 81 was a nice mural opposite Martin Luckie Park, and it was a surprisingly mellow walk from there to the rear boundary fence of the zoo, from where we could see a "White/Blue/Yellow"... Facade.

Our next control was a hundred metres down Rodrigo Rd overlooking Kilbirnie, from which we planned to drop down to the Zoo entrance (50 points), and down the main drag (20 points) to jump on a bus up Constable St (20 points).  Unfortunately, we had only 8 minutes to make the 11 to Seatoun, and a couple of extra to make the 44 to Strathmore.  We didn't think we'd make either if we stuck to our plan, so headed down the Kilbirnie side.  On the one hand, we'd forgo 90 points, but on the other, the extra distance the buses would have to travel would ensure we'd be able to catch them.

It was frustrating walking down to Crawford Road.  The missed points grated, but equally as much is was a shame to be missing out on seeing Siobhan, Dave's partner, in Newtown.  It was a sound sacrifice though, and we only had to wait a minute for the Seatoun.  The Strathmore was 4 minutes behind, so we planned to get off the Seatoun at the Strathmore shops (50 points) before catching the Strathmore up the hill.  After that, we weren't sure, but we were enjoying making it up as we went along!

No sooner had we made this plan, than the bus stopped at the Kilbirnie shops, and the driver proceeded to get off.  His replacement seemed to be taking ages to get organised, allowing the Strathmore bus to catch up.  We were worried the 44 would be faster, so gave up on our complicated transfer plan.  It was probably just as well, since the new Strathmore driver seemed to understand the urgency, advising us to get on before the old driver signed off.

Our next control was about a minute from Mum and Dad's place, so we let them know our ETA, secretly hoping they'd be waiting for us at the control with some pick-me-ups!  They didn't disappoint, and as well as hugs and kisses, we were treated to some chilled water, sliced apple, and some chocolate!  Nice work team!
Grandparents ahoy!
The Eastern Walkway was a very quick connection across to Beacon Hill - even on our weary legs we probably took less time than it would've taken the grandparents to drive there.

Always time for a quick photo.  Here, atop Beacon Hill
By this stage we knew we couldn't get down into Seatoun in time to make the bus that would get us back into town, but points-wise, that wasn't a disaster.  Only 110 points waited down there and we were able to salvage 70 by taking the quicker route into Strathmore.  We grabbed a 30-pointer before peeling off most of our elevation on a long flight of steps.

Down, luckily!
The price of the can of coke at the Strathmore dairy had changed since the multi-choice answers had been set, but we didn't waste any time asking what the old price had been.  We had about 20 minutes to get to the airport terminal for the Valley Flyer, so kept moving.  We were also ahead of a Seatoun bus which would get us into town on time, which gave us an alternative option.

We'd just picked up a 20-point control on Crawford Green when Dave said the Seatoun was imminent.  We saw 2 or 3 teams waiting at the bus stop, and they started waving us on when they saw the bus coming.  We ran, and a minute later were sitting on the Seatoun.  This worked out well, since we were soon passing another control.  By the time we'd passed the Kilbirnie fire station, Dave pointed out there was an Airport bus just behind us - this would not only save us heaps of time, but also take us past a control just outside the bus tunnel.  Sweet!

There was another team waiting at the bus stop, and we all protested when the driver of the Valley Flyer told us his bus was excluded from this game we were playing.  Our saving grace was the logo printed on our race booklet, and he quickly backed down, thank goodness.  I now wonder if paying cash would've crossed our minds...

The 15 minutes saved on this bus was put to good use in town.  We jumped off in Courtenay Place, and swept up the remaining prologue controls before hobbling back into Civic Square...!

4 sets of sore legs, but 4 smiles too!
Unlike a traditional race, where everyone goes the same way, the aftermath of these events is always an interesting highlight.  I enjoyed catching up with various folk, especially Michael Wood, who'd been the previous organiser of the event and who'd obviously been on hand to ensure this one was a great success.

I completely missed us being announced as second-placed family, so was surprised to be congratulated.  Managing sixth overall was very satisfying, but didn't bring nearly so much satisfaction as how much we'd all enjoyed ourselves.

Dave had been an absolute gem with Didibaba (urgh) and I enjoyed being lost in the map.  My experience rogaining with Simon has basically been to come up with a solid plan at the outset, and to execute it.  With Dave and the girls, we were thinking a lot more about "what else could we be doing" and that was all facilitated by the public transport.  It does much more than offer progress to those with weary legs, and really adds and exciting dimension to an already complex event.

The girls had been wonderful motivators.  They were great with the clues and answers, a few "what control are we at again" queries aside!  I loved seeing them hooning around our fair city, and hearing them chat and laugh away.  As all our legs got tired, the absence of serious complaint, especially from them, was very impressive.  My greatest source of joy from the day was knowing Uncle Diggy was seeing and hearing all of that too - coordinating all of us to be together more often isn't as easy as it should be...

Sarah came to collect us (with down jackets x 4!) which was just as well, since we'd had to hand in our bus passes in exchange for our afternoon tea.  She was a good sport and walked to the car on her own, returning a minute later to pick us up outside the library.  That 100m to the carpark was 100m too far for the rest of us!!!

We all can't wait for next year!  (Now that our legs have stopped hurting...)

From, with thanks


  1. Nice work, Team Family Randal-Tumen!

  2. Well done John and team. Like the notion of playing buses off against each other:-)