Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Akatarawa Attack, 2009 (from the vorb files)

The 8 hour Ak-attack is a pretty arduous event, and the difficulties start long before you get on your bike. My alarm went off at 5:30am on Saturday, and I scraped myself out of bed after an OK sleep. Simon and my bikes were already in the back of the car. My camelbak had 4 bottles of Replace loaded up, and a bunch of compulsory team and individual gear. I didn't have much to do except eat breakfast, put some sun cream on, pull on my Roadworks riding gear, and check the web for any exciting overnight developments. Soon after leaving home, I collected Simon, and we were off to Battle Hill Farm Park.

We arrived in good time after a sweet drive. It must have been only just after 7 when we pulled the bikes out of the back. I snuck off to the loo, while Simon sorted out some of his gear. The entrants were the usual suspects, and it is hard not to do a bit of socialising. The time disappears pretty quick though, and before we knew it, it was time to pick up the maps. I had about a minute's preview, and as soon as Simon joined me, we shared our surprise at the scope of the map. We'd both been pretty sure Dopers Hill would be on the map, with a loop through the Karapoti Challenge course bringing teams back around to the bottom of Puketiro Road. In fact, the map pretty much spanned the area Simon, Paul Kennett and I had won on in the four hour section back in 2006.

We both quickly began to focus on a clockwise loop. The skies were clear, and the water supply at the top of Puketiro Road would be crucial. We came up with a plan which would take us to all but a 70 pointer in the east (last year I wrote of the descent to that location "As we made the turn off to 71, I had no energy to look at the map, and was fairly certain it was an out and back. I almost wept as I rode down a piece of 4WD track reminiscent of the tip track."). This year's course and a clockwise loop would have had us actually doing the out and back I was so worried about last year. We'd also eliminated another 230 points around the finish area, leaving us with a target of 1970 out of the 2270 points on offer. The first half and more would be high-points with decent distances in between, whereas the last part of the race would have the controls more concentrated, leaving us with options if things went to custard. Just as well!

While Simon was focussing on calculating a one hour bailout point, I was looking pretty hard at the map, and in particular the first few controls. As always, the first hour with the map had passed incredibly quickly, and I think we both felt a bit rushed at the end of it. 8:30 arrived, and we were off. A bunch of 5 or 6 teams were ahead of us, and to my astonishment, they all took a left turn at the first intersection. We turned right, accompanied by Magnus, one of Wellington's best MTBing orienteers, and his partner, wondering where the hell all the others were going. We two teams alone headed straight for the closest control to the start (31). Such is the beauty of orienteering, we both left the control in opposite directions, Simon and I choosing an allowable route up a bank and onto a nifty little piece of singletrack that maintained our altitude. We were the first team up to Battle Hill (101) and grabbed 21 and 11 in quick succession thereafter. It was a great start, and one I was particularly proud of, as I often struggle at the beginning.

Soon after we were climbing through pine forest. On a quick out and back (to 61), I stopped for a leak, and had just finished when 3 teams came hurtling past, heading for quite a queue at the clippers! A steady climb ensued, broken up by a bit of a scramble up a bank, and soon after we caught a couple of the teams who'd not bothered with Battle Hill at the start. We then had a couple of quick out and backs (42 and 54) which were the last time we saw Ian and Matt, the eventual winners. We were bouyant when we hit the singletrack through 82. We'd ridden it in the opposite direction in 2006, rating it as the best riding of the day. I was in no shape to enjoy it in 2008, but this year, it was fantastic.

We passed another team once we emerged onto the ridge, then enjoyed a rip snorting descent through tunnels of bush, to link up with 4WD track, and then a pylon track down to Orange Hut. We grabbed a 90 pointer on the way down, at which Simon somehow ended up on the ground! So much of the ride had so far been in the shade, but next on the list was a 300m climb. About half way up, we were looking for a control on the left (73) when we were lured into a short connecting track not shown on the map. These maps are generally so good, it makes it very nervewracking when things aren't exactly as you expect. No doubt the controls had been put in from above, and the connector we'd noticed chugging along in granny gear had gone undetected. It took us a minute or two to convince ourselves the control was somewhere else, and we kept climbing. Before long, our anxiety was relieved, and we had another 70 points in the bag.

Soon after that, we turned right off the 4WD track, and straight into an overgrown bit of singletrack which went straight through a couple of bogs. We've had plenty of experience with track like this over the years, but thankfully, this one was at its worst at the very beginning. I burped my front tyre on the way down to the control, but we quickly got that filled again, and were back at the 4WD road before anyone else arrived.

We soon struck a little piece of singletrack with so much promise. On the map it looked like a great little short cut, with very little hight change. In actuality though, the track made full use of the gaps between the 20m contours on the map, and very little of it was rideable. It did have some lovely views out to the north-west though. Had I not been racing, I would have had the camera out for sure! Had there not been a control (92) half way along that track, we would have been cursing it for years to come! Not a good short cut at all...

On our way to 102, we grabbed 84. Swapping notes at the end told us that Matt and Ian had grabbed it from the west. Hard to argue with the winners, but we probably did a little over half the climbing they did for those points. I don't remember the descent through 102 very well, but somewhere down it I banged my knee on my frame in a clumsy manouver. We stopped for 5 minutes at the start of a "One vehicle width (obstacles, difficult to ride)" track east along a stream. As we ate, I'm sure we were both expecting the worst. Michael Wood's maps are fantastic, and usually the lower quality tracks are very tough going. The stream was low, though, and much of the track was completely ridable. We saw Rachel, Lisa and Charlotte heading in the opposite direction, and lamented not timing our picnics right! Control 85 came and went, and it was time to gain a stack of altitude.

As the track started to tilt up, I got my first shot of cramp for the day and had to jump off the bike to stretch it out in a walk. I pushed up to the next corner, and managed to get riding again. Next stop was the drink station. I had powder in a couple of bottles on the bike, and filled one of these and transferred it to my camelbak, sculling another half bottle of water, then filling it once again and popping it on the bike. We then hurtled east down Puketiro Rd. I hadn't screwed my bladder up properly, and I was quite distracted by why my lower back felt so wet. I bungled one or two corners, causing Simon to wonder what the hell I was up to!

We'd intended to grab 44 at this point, but while the distance to the control was very short, it involved a hell of a lot of climbing. We gave it a "maybe", and grabbed 103 instead. Last year I wrote "The single track to 44 was a steep, overgrown piece of shit. No rest for the wicked..." This year, that particular track was quite different, and though my legs were cramping with increasing frequency, it was reasonably pleasant riding this time around. Just goes to show how much is in the eye of the beholder...

The next two controls gave us a clue as to how lucky we'd been so far with the heat. Bulls Run Road was HOT! The was very little breeze down in the valley, and the sun was in full force. We peeled off into yet another section of pine forest, choosing to pass through 55 on our way to the eastern-most control. The descent back to Bulls Run Rd was fast, and before long we were back on Puketiro Rd, facing a 300m climb back up towards the water supply and the rest of our points. At the bottom, Simon offered to carry my pack, and then headed off letting me get into my work. It was hot work , and there was very little shade or breeze, though I very definitely benefited from having no bag on my back. Simon set a great pace, which enabled me to get into a rhythm without blowing myself up. Any faster and I would have been in big trouble!

I didn't think much of the ride to 72, and I suspect we could have done better. At this stage we were still reluctant to give too many controls away, and besides, this one was worth good points. The section through the open area was difficult to navigate on the 1:27000 map that we were both still using (the full loop wasn't on the 1:16000 version). Every time I was off the bike now, I was cramping, and this loop involved a lot of scrambling around. Consequently, I hated it! 70 points is 70 points though... We chose to take the fall line route straight back up onto the ridge, rather than the much longer sidle-then-climb route, but this meant we had to haul our bikes over some pretty massive windfalls. The water stop was next, and it was apparent we had to shed a bunch of controls. We switched onto the bigger scale maps, and then headed for 34.

Even with the benefit of hindsight, I'm not sure what the best course of action would have been for us then. We were both getting pretty worn out, and I'm not sure we were communicating enough. We were still both thinking, and making decisions together, but not really discussing the motivation for the decisions (apart from that time was running out). If I could go back to that last water stop, I think I would have argued that we needed to maximise the amount of time we spent on the bikes from that point on, and bugger the points. I think this *might* have pushed us through 65, 71, 83, 63 towards the finish, rather than the sequence 34, 33, 63, 83. Same number of controls, more distance covered, more climbing, but less fiddly little singletrack. Still, it wasn't obvious what the best course of action was, though each little single-track-laden control further convinced us that we were coming unstuck!

To this point, Simon and I had rarely been further than 20m apart. The funniest exception was when I was taking a leak back near the end of the first hour, and we'd been passed by 3 teams. Here, we started to consistently ride like that, with Simon trying to eliminate any need for me to stop (and cramp) at navigation points. Ironically, I was feeling good after the first few seconds pedalling, but it took me some time to get on and off the bike, and pushing was becoming excruciatingly painful. Anyway, the upshot was that this ended up putting pressure on Simon, and the old "head goes before the legs" adage that describes MTB orienteering so well started to take hold, and we fluffed a couple of route choices - pretty much our first "directional" mistakes in 4+8+8+7 hours of Akatarawa Attacks together!

Taking the singletrack heading due south and down from the skidder-site below 83, instead of the allowable route west and up through the trees was a nasty blow. By this stage, it didn't cost us the race, only 16 points, and the opportunity to be beaten on time, with equal points, but it sure as shit stung! We had three more controls on the way back home. 52 and 32 took us back to Transmission Gully, and while we knew we'd be late, we were certain we could grab 22 without being 5 minutes late, and losing the 20 points plus an extra 5! We clocked in at almost 4 minutes past the 8 hours, though it took us a bit of effort to find the finish line amongst the rest of the riders enjoying the BBQ. Michael Wood captured a rather nice "well done" moment under the banner!

I was pretty bummed with the last hour of the race. My cramps were frequent, painful, and frustrating, and I knew they'd put the both of us under pressure. SImon had appeared to be riding comfortably, though I should know by now that that doesn't tell you much about how he's feeling inside - he hides it all well... I really felt like we'd lost a little of the teamwork which had served us so well in the past, but ironically, I was too rooted to realise and acknowledge how rooted we both actually were!

Carly had caught a train, bus and taxi out to see me at the end, which I was so grateful for, and Sarah and Miro were there to see Simon, so we didn't spend much time together at the end. Carly overheard me saying "yay" at one point - "what?" she said, "we're finished" I said. Simon came over to tell me we were second, which I received without too much effect. Again, too rooted to care. I had a nice swim, and a bit of fruit, enjoyed the prizegiving, and thanked the organisers for their hard work. I realised one of the car doors had been left open, and the car not starting didn't do much to improve my mood. We got underway eventually though, thanks to Magnus, and an hour or so later, I had fish and chips in my belly, I was well through a bottle of tonic water, and was soaking in a bath of epsom salts. Some combination of these things finally put an end to my legs cramping, and I was able to sleep OK!

The next morning I weighed 85kg on my scales - 48 hours later, the same scales read 88kg, presumably all fluid. I went to Simon's and we looked over the map on Sunday afternoon, and we were pretty philosophical about the whole thing. Later that evening, I dictated "who knew" to Kaitlyn as "H-O-W [space] N-O". Usually my spelling's better than that. My ears stopped popping sometime that evening, and my nausea finally passed!

When I spoke to Mum on Saturday evening, and told her the result, she exclaimed "that must have been so exciting!" What a bizarre twist that it wasn't! We needed 10 points and 50 seconds, but we didn't know it until 10 minutes after the finish. If Simon and I had traded that final 20 pointer, plus a 30 pointer for a 60 pointer, and found an extra 50 seconds, the margin might have been 1 point, in our favour... It didn't come down to much at all.

The 2009 Akatarawa Attack was yet another great map-sport event, and though it didn't go our way this year, it was pretty damn close, and we were beaten by a pair of top quality riders. Quite apart from being a wonderful event in its own right, I enjoyed preparing for it, and it really is fantastic training for Karapoti, which in contrast is over pretty damn quick!

Before that though, I can't wait to get out on the bike with my best mate.

Originally published on vorb