Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Holy Whaka 100!

Despite wondering about it for the last few days, I have absolutely no recollection of the circumstances surrounding my entry in the 2015 Whaka 100.

Jack Compton famously said a couple of years ago: "you're pretty much a roadie these days" - and he was dead right.  I last raced a mountainbike at Karapoti back in March, and did OK, all things considered.  Since, I've done a handful of family rides, only firing my legs in anger in a vain attempt to keep up with Khulio on one descent or another.

The Motu 160 was on the radar this spring for a little while, but things got a bit hectic in between the first and second rounds of the 2015 North Island Series, and it was sensibly erased from the calendar.  But it was not like I was scouring the country for a mountain bike race to replace it. 

In any case, the idea to race the Whaka must have got in somehow, and before long it had grown into a plan.  I'd done the event once before - back in 2010 - and had had a miserable time.  My depression was bad then, and the long ride somewhat out of my comfort zone terrain-wise had been tough.  In good spirits at the moment, it promised to be a nice opportunity to replace bad memories with good.   for better or worse, reading the blog was the extent of my specific training for the event!

Keen to make her own memories, Khulan was also registered for the event.  It had taken Sarah and I some time to convince her that the 100km was not a good idea, and she'd begrudgingly agreed to do the 50km event.  She's got plenty of years of riding ahead of her - hopefully step-dad riding faster than ever at age 42 is evidence in support of that - and at 15, needs to let her body strengthen slowly over time! 

This year's event was scheduled for the Saturday of Labour Weekend, so far from deserting my family to go racing, it was an opportunity for all of us to get up to Rotorua with our MTBs.  Sarah and Kaitlyn were disinclined to do the event themselves, but were looking forward to getting into the forest all the same.  

Being somewhat averse to the long drive, and knowing what carnage would descend upon SH1 south of Levin on the Friday evening, we wrote the kids a "sick" note, and were rolling out shortly after 8am on the Friday morning.

We've recently invested in a roof box for our trusty Corolla, so for the first time, there was room to burn inside the car - though not quite as much as our Queen's Birthday road-trip to the Timber Trail, where we'd decided to take two rather than cram in!  The girls had borrowed a talking book from the library, and that helped pass the time as we made our way north, mostly unimpeded by traffic.  

We stopped briefly at Otaki to visit the Icebreaker outlet, and then in Taihape for lunch at Subway.  Our drive time was about 3.5 hours to there (including about 15 minutes in Otaki).  We had a brief stop in Taupo, before popping in to Huka Falls to photograph the girls, extending my favourite time series by another observation.

7 January 2007

8 January 2010

22 January 2012

27 April 2014

23 October 2015
Just short of Rotorua, we stopped at the Waipa Mill carpark to pick up the two registration packs.  Not long after, we were unpacking the car at the New Castle Motor Lodge - our second stay here - and once we'd divvied up the beds, it was time for a ride.  

Just as we were leaving, I got a txt from Brendan, who was only just leaving his home in Lower Hutt.  He asked if I'd grab him a road tyre and a couple of tubes, so I went back in to grab a bag, and we all turned right at the gate instead of left.  

A small gouging later, we mountain biking! First on the gravel path adjacent to the road out to the airport, and then through the forest taking us through to Long Mile Road.  It was tempting to stop to buy a map, but it was more tempting to do some proper riding, and we headed straight up Nursery Road.  

We were on both the 100km and 50km courses, and we decided to follow them through to the end, hooking in to Rock Drop and then Rosebank before emerging back at the carpark.  A few Wellingtonians later, we shot into Tahi, then half of Creek before deciding that was enough and taking Nursery Road and the new Exit Trail back down to home.  

We all had a Pork Roast for dinner, and aside from a very lame Yorkshire Pudding - at the other end of the quality spectrum from Grandmother Randal's - the meal was excellent (and hopefully sufficiently calorie-laden).  We had time to do the grocery shopping and to drop the girls back at the motel before shooting out to pick up Brendan's wife, Jenny, from the airport.  

By this stage, Brendan had made it to Otaki - the road north out of Wellington was well and truly snarled up, and his progress was very slow indeed.  At least we were able to get his groceries sorted too. 

My race briefing was at 7:30, so after setting a 6am alarm, it was time for sleep.  In the wee hours, I heard Brendan arriving in the adjoining room, and I resisted the urge to glance at my watch (almost 2am for the record - not the best preparation for a 3-day road stage race, poor bugger).

I didn't much like the look of the motel's microwave, and besides, the girls were sleeping next door, so I decided to have muesli for breakfast instead of my usual porridge.  I chased that down with some toast, and a quick coffee.  

I was disappointed to see the ground outside was wet, and that there was light rain.  With rooms above us, there was no tin roof for the rain to rattle on, so it came as a bit a surprise.  I decided to go sans knee-warmers, but did don arm-warmers, and a merino vest under my Castelli Gabba (expensive, but worth every cent).  I'd stashed a tube and multitool in a small saddle bag, but while in fine weather, I'd have gone with a pump and some bars in my jersey pockets, opted to wear a bag.  In it were a jacket and waterproof 3/4 pants, as well as another spare tube.  If something went wrong, at least I'd be a bit more comfortable.

I stopped at the BP for a takeaway coffee, and then drove to the event HQ.  I checked in a drop-bag which would be waiting for me at the 50km mark - in it were four more bars (one square meals and a bumper bar), a second bottle, and a dry jersey - just in case the sun came out.  

The briefing was at 7:30, during which they mentioned that heavy rain was forecast.  Upon hearing that, I had absolutely no qualms about carrying my extra gear.

After a short warm up on the road, and a can of creamed rice (Watties, which I didn't enjoy), I went to the start line, only to find about half the field already there!  Rather than try to push in, I simply joined the back of the queue, figuring I had plenty of distance to make up ground if I was able.  

I found myself next to Charlotte, Kiwi Brevet veteran, and previous owner of Kaitlyn's cute little Yeti AS-R.  We chatted for a bit, and I ignored her advice to move up a bit!  Dave Sharpe cruised past looking resplendent in his Roadworks blue.  

Not exactly pole position!

We were soon underway, slowly!  We did a big loop of the large grassy area, and after a minute or so there was a bit of width and I opened the legs up momentarily.  Then, we were onto Tahi.  There was little point in worrying about the pace, and I actually did a very good job of coping with what might otherwise have been an incredibly frustrating predicament.  

I was near Mike Hunn, yet another who'd made the trip up from Wellington, and we exchanged a few pleasantries before getting separated.

Fairly clean, with Mike Hunn on my six

There was a little bit of a commotion a couple of bikes ahead, and I saw a woman riding with a saddle that, far from being horizontal, was pointing up towards the heavens.  Rather than stop immediately, she made the mistake of continuing, and a mere kilometre or two into a 100km race, her day was done. The loose bolts made their way slowly but surely out, and soon her saddle was on the ground too.  I gave her no chance of finding all the bits she needed to get underway again, but maybe she did...

The track was surprisingly wet, not a good omen!  After the fiddle-faddle of the second half of Creek, we had 30 seconds or so on a bit of double track.  Off the riding-line wasn't particularly smooth, but it was a golden opportunity to get past a few folk.  By the time we ducked back on to singletrack, I had clear space ahead, and set to reeling the next bunch of riders in.  

Visions of that taking ages were soon dashed, and within a minute I was at the back of another queue!

Five minutes or so later, we spewed on to Nursery Road, and that was another opportunity to make up ten or so places.  The course then doubled back on itself, albeit on the opposite side of Nursery Road, before hooking across into Genesis for a spell, and then up past the start of Grinder and in to Soakhole. There it was just a matter of following the arrows, and/or the rider ahead.  I didn't recognise Jeff Lyall when I passed him, but it takes two to tango, and once he called out, my ears filled in what my eyes had missed.  

We emerged on the far side of the block, and climbed up to the top of Tokorangi.  I passed a woman who was climbing in the bottom half of her cassette.  I felt like a bit of a dick after asking "have you lost some gears?" only to be told that everything was fine.  I didn't say that I'd last about a quarter of the race if I tried climbing like she was.  By that stage I was happy to keep my mouth shut.

The course was two-way for a brief moment, and I saw Edwin Crossling hurtling past in the opposite direction.  We hadn't been going that long, but it took me bloody ages to get back to that point!!  

There were a couple of sections of track put there only to make the course longer, and when I jokingly complained to one of the marshalls, I was told I didn't have much climbing left.  It wasn't the climbing I was worried about, and it required all my concentration, a fair bit of tripod action, and a small amount of walking to get through the next sections of super greasy singletrack in one piece.  

I very nearly axed myself of a slick off-camber section on the Tickler, which I felt sure I wasn't going to make it across, and soon after had a refusal at a bit of track that I probably would have managed OK had it not been for the recent fright.  I stopped and let a few riders past, only to get stuck behind them for the next 5 minutes as the trail tipped up.  

It was then into a long climb around and up to Frontal Lobotomy.  We didn't use Lentil Link, and instead went hooning in to a somewhat unexpected right turn.  I added to the multitude of skid marks through the corner, and heard the person behind me do the same.

I thought of Khulan and wondered how she'd be getting on in an hour or so's time.  At Frontal Lobotomy, our courses diverged, for 50km or so, at least.  It was nice to be climbing on singletrack again, and I actually felt like a capable mountain biker momentarily.  The slippy-slidey descent had been gross, and not the most confidence inspiring riding with plenty more of that to come.

Billy T was a mixed bag, and I let a couple of riders through, including Ian Paintin.  He wasn't looking that flash midway up the climb, but while I distanced him momentarily, by the top his legs had come back, and he was storming by the time we got to the top of Kung Fu Walrus.

Thomas Reynolds had asked the evening before if I'd ridden this track, and I knew from his reaction that it would be a handful today.  True to form, I had an absolute mare down it, being passed soon after Ian by Wade Jennings, who'd asked me "what are you doing back here?!"  "Mountainbiking like a roadie" would have been a good response.  

One stupid spill later, I was finally at the bottom, and actually riding again.  I pushed fairly hard along the gravel roads along the Blue Lake-front, but I'd haemorrhaged too much time in the mud to get anywhere Ian and Wade again.

I vaguely recalled that the 50km aid-station was near.  There were a couple of things I was really looking forward to.  First, I was going to ditch my wallet.  I'd discovered it on the Tickler when I'd put an OSM wrapper in my right rear pocket.  I'd obviously forgotten to transfer it to the glove box after I'd paid for my coffee at the servo.  I'd fixated on the various receipts that would surely be dissolving in the wet conditions.  Secondly, I was REALLY looking forward to a clean bottle.  The one on my bike was so covered in filth, it was both unpleasant to drink from and to handle.  Strangely, the mouth full of grit I got when I took a swig annoyed me less than the mud on my hand and glove.  My thigh was also very dirty, so the cleaning process was somewhat compromised too.

Mike's wife Karen was manning the aid-station.  I'd put my stuff in a yellow pak'n'save shopping bag, and sure enough, it had been a good choice.  Karen quickly identified it in amongst 150 other bags, and I was soon loading my pockets up with fresh bars. 

I gave her the filthy, and still half-full bottle, and also my wallet, which she promised to safeguard.  I helped myself a small handful of pretzels, which complemented the hunk of bumper bar in already in my mouth surprisingly well!

Kane McCollum had arrived at the aid station a little after me, but we left together, and chatted briefly, bemoaning our MTB abilities mostly.  The lake-side gravel road was virtually a road though, and probably my only comparative advantage.   As I pressed on, his legs must have sent him a wee warning, and he eased off, wishing me well. 

It was a shame Mossy Trail wasn't a bit more mossy, and a little less muddy.  I floundered around on it too, catching, and almost immediately losing again, a couple of riders.  I rode alone alongside SH5 for a little bit before turning back into the forest on Waipa Mill South Rd.  The course marking had been awesome up to this point, but the next intersection was a bit underdone (although still very well marked on the usual scale of things).  

I rode apprehensively along a bit of double track, scanning the ground for tell-tale signs of wear.  After 5 nervous minutes, I caught back up to the two I'd seen on Mossy Trail, and soon after the next onslaught of course markings began.  

I rode strongly up to the top of No Brains, and then like a novice down it.  Whatever advantage I was getting on the climbs was being demolished on the descents.  I wasn't the only one struggling - as I was picking myself up from a fairly heavy crash after clipping my right pedal on a tree stump, a fellow competitor flew by reporting three crashes of his own further up the trail.  Well, at least he was crashing  quickly...!

When I finally got off No Brains, I felt like the worst was over.  Though, things didn't actually get much better.  It was a long climb to hook into the top section of Split Enz, only to find the track was inundated with water, and what confidence I had left after Kung Fu Walrus was lying on a steaming heap somewhere on No Brains.  

I tried to make the best of a bad situation, and at least managed to keep the bike moving.  I felt lucky to get away with an odd manoeuvre, riding off the side of the ladder on Pondy DH.  The timber had looked slippery, and I had time to ponder my line choice with "what the hell are you doing?!", though no harm, no foul. 

The tracks started to blur one into another, and the course markings came and went.  I hadn't seen any arrows for quite a while, and I started worrying I'd missed a turn somewhere.  I kept moving forward, on Roller Coaster by this stage, and was somewhat thrilled to turn a corner into one of the most heavily marked intersections I've ever seen.  Top marks, and thanks.

I passed a chap somewhat forlornly standing at the side of the track.  I asked him if he was OK.  He said something about "hand pump".  Well, at least I didn't have that I suppose.

I think Old Chevy came next.  The were a couple of arrows pointing right, and then one on the ground came into view pointing left.  I went left, and ten seconds or so later saw some tape.  Then there was a rider, on the other side of the tape.  Damn.

I wasn't sure how much of the track I'd skipped.  Knowing the way these trails are designed, it could have been anything from 50 metres to 1000!  I slowed right down, and let the guy get away from me.  

The course ducked and dived, and there were plenty of "HEY - I was here 5 minutes ago!" moments.  I vaguely recall Ball and Chain, and Mad if U Don't.  Eventually though, it settled down and I was on somewhat familiar territory, and fairly clear about what remained.

Sweet and Sour lead on to Dragon's Tail, followed by Direct Road up to the top of Hot X Buns.  I passed a young chap, who had clearly run out of steam.  He was barely turning his gear over, and he made a whimpering sound as I rode by.  I couldn't remember how long the climb was, but was surprised that it wasn't so bad.  

Hot X Buns was bad, and I had one foot on the ground for far too much of it.  The young guy blasted past while I was washing my bottle at the bottom, and I grabbed some jet planes from the aid station before following him onto Be Rude Not To.  

I enjoyed the width and the illusion of speed on the top section - it was good while it lasted.  I saw the young chap on Lion's Trail.  He was really blown, and the whimper was replaced by guttural sounds that was slightly alarming!

I guess it was wishful thinking, but I lost track of the lap of Grinder and some of the Challenge network.  Dammit.  Yet another 10 minutes of humbling riding!  

Maybe one of the few preferring the uphills at this late stage

Then finally onto Exit Trail.  

Rockdrop and Rosebank were not at all pretty, but I emerged out the other end unscathed, on the outside at least.  The night before the bog at the end of Rosebank had looked imminently rideable.  It was looking very different this afternoon, and my brain didn't latch onto that until after I'd dropped my front wheel into a deep hole.  I guess I was going slowly, and managed to stop short of pitching over the bars into the mud.  Thank heaven for small mercies! 

I got a lovely reception at the finish line.  After being presented with a stunning medallion that any 80s rapper would have been proud to wear, I immediately had both daughters on hand, and then Sarah.

My race had lasted just a few minutes short of 7 hours.  While my bike hadn't skipped a beat mechanically, my body had been less capable.  My legs had gone the distance, but my upper body was shattered, and as I'd got more and more tired, my fair-weather MTB skills had all but deserted me.  

It was great to learn that Khulan had completed her event successfully, winning her category in a fine time of 5 hours 22.  She also acknowledged her parents had counselled wisely, and that she was rather glad not to have done the hundy in hindsight!

What a fighter!

Despite the conditions, Kaitlyn and Sarah had been out riding too, covering much of the 50km course themselves.  They'd even caught the eye of the event photographers, which was a surprise saved for later...!

I'd missed Khulan's prizegiving, but had over an hour until my own, so was able to go back to the motel for a shower.  Jenny had dropped my lovely ladies out, so packing the car was straightforward.

Cleaned up, and phone relocated from the bottom of the car - in my pooped state I was apparently unable to keep track of anything - we drove back to the event HQ.  At one point I feared I would have to stop clapping for the various prize winners - my arms were struggling to keep pace.  A highlight was seeing Jack and reminding him ow accurate his observation on my riding preferences had been.

The next day, Khulan's energy levels had plummeted and she was feeling quite unwell.  The sun was out though, and after a marathon bike-cleaning effort, the rest of us decided to head into the forest for a spin.

My legs took quite some time to warm up, and as we climbed out of Rotorua on SH5 (on that ridiculously mild grade), I was beginning to wonder if I should have stayed home with Khulie. 
They perked up a bit though, and I was astonished to find the tracks were virtually dry, quite in contrast to the unpredictable mire of a day ago.

We rode Tahi and Creek before heading along the gravel roads to the top of Dragon's Tail.  Sarah pulled out the classic "I'm going to smash myself up here" before disappearing up the hill and around the corner.  

Dragon's Tail was followed by a glorious run of Be Rude Not Too, and then Lion's Trail, Turkish Delight and Exit Trail for the third and final time of the trip.

There was no need to wash the bikes again - they were spotless - but nor were we inclined to ride again.  Instead, we hit the road early on Monday morning, wishing the McGraths a good final day of their holiday, and took the long way back to Wellington - first through Reporoa and the Taupo-Napier Road before having lunch at the Angkor Wat in Waipukurau.  I can confirm it still has the best custard squares (yes, plural) I've ever had.  I became somewhat incensed as we drove at 70km/h between Woodville and Pahiatua all on account of someone's unwillingness to pause for a minute to let the 50-odd cars behind pass.  

But, like removing a splinter, once it was gone it was gone.  We stopped at our new home in Carterton, did a bit of Briscoes shopping back in Masterton, left a note for the grandparents for when they next dropped in, and fired up the BBQ for burgers.  The drive back to Wellington was completely uneventful, and if anything, the traffic seemed lighter than usual.

After some reflection, I'm pretty pleased with how I got on in the race.  Not hurting myself was always the main priority, and despite the pretty foul conditions, I managed to "enjoy" most of it.   I was never cold, and while I started to really struggle with the unpredictable nature of riding in the wet, I didn't fall into the trap of wishing it would end prematurely.

Last time, I promised myself that next time I'd enjoy myself.  This time, my promise is to practice riding my mountainbike a bit!!!  In any case, it was good to get out, and lovely to spend a long-weekend away. 

The end


  1. Nice one, brother. Sounds like you made the best of a grim day, and I'm sure you weren't the only lapsed mountainbiker out there struggling at times! So bloody great to hear how positive you are right now. :-)

  2. And I meant to say a massive congratulations to Khulan for her win too! What a hitter that girl is!

  3. Love using Huka Falls as a height yard stick!