Thursday, January 28, 2010

Paul Kennett, what were you thinking?!

Dear Paul,

last week, Simon invited me out to Karapoti with him to check out the "Karapoti Original" course for Michael Jacques, in advance of the post-Karapoti Classic event this coming March. I was otherwise unengaged, so naturally agreed.

I met Simon at the new Dowse Interchange where he'd been checking out safety implications for cyclists and pedestrians. After the short drive to Karapoti Park, we revealed and processed a whole lot of important things, the most relevant being that Michael wouldn't be joining us, and that I'd left my camelpak at home, complete with spare tools, food, jacket and uber-light. While we didn't have to wait for Michael, the sun was going to go down whether we were done or not, and with that in mind we set off up Akatarawa Road.

The road climb was nice enough, and we chatted on and off. After a short stop at the saddle we started along the course you'd originally set back in 1986. The start was pretty rough, and that was with our modern equipment! Damn you guys were hardcore back then. In fact, the first kilometre or so was probably the slowest for us, especially as we had to negotiate some environmental vandalism on a high-scale. It looked as if dozens of trees had been felled across the 4WD track simply to stop illegal access. Surely a gate would've sufficed?!

Beyond those trees was an iron gate and a sign which said something about "Menin Reiki" and "espassing". Neither of us could make out the beginning of the second line. Initially, when we had any doubt about the route, the quality of the track helped, and we simply followed the "best" option until we hit the access road to the valley from the Waikanae side. It would have been interesting to see the start back in '86. This course certainly gets straight into business, and the thought of many riders competing off the bat for space is pretty entertaining. The fast starters certainly would have an advantage.

There are some pretty cool historical relics at Menin Reiki (do you have any idea where that name came from?!). Here's a photo of Simon checking out the valley. Please forgive the somewhat eerie combination of the memorial and Simon's "share the road" vest.

After the short climb out of this valley, we came to the only navigational challenge of the section into the Rock Garden, where basically the tracks became pretty indistinct, and unused. Awesome from a riding point of view, and a far cry from the "highway" nature of today's Karapoti. We spent quite a bit of time riding through a lovely native bush tunnel. I apologised to Simon for loving it so much - somehow I feel obliged to love singletrack above all in response to the huge amount of volunteer effort (much of it Kennett Bros led) that's gone into developing places like Makara Peak. In actual fact though, bush clad 4WD is probably my favourite riding of all. Simon understood and agreed with me (I think). How about you? What's your take on what makes a "classic NZ mountainbike ride"?

The riding was great, and broken up by the occasional bog. Were these there back in your day? If they were, I'm glad they didn't put you off...

This tree had a nice track built around it, but somehow I ended up on top of it, waving my arms in the air like a fool...

Soon afterwards, we popped out at the clearing before the Rock Garden, from a track that I may never have noticed if I hadn't helped Jonathan put tape across it about 5 years ago on the day before Karapoti (one of your last as organiser?).

I note with interest that at this point you kept going deeper into the Akatarawas, namely down the Rock Garden and up Devil's Staircase. Simon and I didn't take this option last week though and instead headed "straight" back to the car via Deadwood. This ride was fantastic - the ascent to Deadwood was almost entirely ridable with some nice lines presumably established by people practicing in the other direction to our travel. The kereru were out in force which was very cool to see. At one stage a rather large specimen flew between Simon and I in a bush tunnel only to swoop vertically through an opening in the canopy and disappear from sight.

The descent was pretty cool too, though in places it seemed inconceivable that anyone could ride in the opposite direction. The wee scramble up to the top of the warm-up climb was short and sweet - in fact, I probably prefer walking up it than riding down (sketchy shitty piece of track that it is...). By the time we got to the gorge, we'd seen close to another dozen kereru, and we got to the car well before dark. We'd also discussed the relative merits of the "Karapoti Original" and the "Karapoti Classic", and this brings me back to the purpose of this letter.

What a sweet course! It was marvellous to reach the top of the Rock Garden without being stuffed after the laborious Deadwood climb. Also, this route has a natural "Challenge" option which of course has never been used as a race course, namely the ride Simon and I did. It is tougher than the existing Challenge course, but probably a better reflection of what someone not quite up to the Classic might enjoy. Apart from the land-access issues, I suppose the big drawback of this course is the fact it's not a loop. I'm not sure what I'd recommend there, but certainly it would be worth starting with a kilometre or two of Akatarawa Road just to spread people out. That aside, I think the whole ride from Karapoti Park is too long for a warm-up/down combination. Some sort of shuttle option would definitely be in order.

Anyway, while I commend you for this course, and the subsequent and long standing Classic course, I think you're mad to have kept this under wraps for so long! Myself, I'd have been tempted to come up with a solution that could have seen this used in the long term - maybe not as THE Karapoti but certainly as another event on the calendar. The riding is so sweet, and the options for the two classes are surely too good to miss?!

Yours sincerely


Sunday, January 17, 2010

To bike, or not to bike, that is the question...

I was reminded today, while carrying my bike up a bit of track that was either incredibly boggy, or very steep, slippery and rooty, that sometimes it would be better not to have a bike. It also reminded me that I'd not got around to writing about Orienteering Hutt Valley's Christmas Rogaine.

As with 2008, the 2009 edition was a free-for-all, with both cyclists and traditional (foot) rogainers welcome. Simon and I had had a good ride out at Pencarrow the previous year in absolutely foul conditions, and though we'd collected the most points, the penalty for bikes had dropped us down into 4th place. This year's event was to be at St Pats Forest, on the western side of SH2 between the Silverstream Bridge and Moonshine. Normally off-limits, it was another nice opportunity to get in there.

The format was a four hour event, and it fitted in well with our training plan for the Akatarawa Attack (a similar event but 8 hours - now only a fortnight away). We drove out and registered, and got everything sorted for our departure. About 30 minutes before the start we got our maps, and were confronted with a confusing number of controls - the map was full of them! Simon had the great idea of drawing a line across the map which separated a couple of ridges, and then things became much clearer. We decided to head south on the back side of the course, then come north through the middle, before heading back to base along the river.

The weather had been pretty crappy (enough for the cricket the eventual winner was meant to be at to be cancelled) and so the field was relatively small. As is common at the start of these events, people scattered in all directions (well, two directions to be more precise). We were one of the few teams heading for the road "crossing" under the bridge and Moonshine Road. We bagged a couple of controls before heading into the forest, and then navigated well grabbing controls as we went. We spent a bit of time off the bike grovelling up and overgrown and scratchy bit of track, and then up some singletrack through some pines which would have been treacherous to descend on - pine needles sitting on wet clay can be like that.

The majority of the next hour's riding was on 4WD tracks, but at the very northern end of the course we found ourselves on some pretty neat singletrack - in fact it was nice enough to change our predisposition to grab a couple of controls as "out-and-back" trips from the 4WD road, and instead we connected them via the singletrack.

One of the nice differences between this event and the Akatarawa Attack was the rule which allowed us to dump our bikes. While this was no use for some great through trips, at least we could leave them to grab controls which were in steep country. Another element to this difference was that we got the chance to test our navigation skills a bit more than usual. One of the downsides of typical MTBO courses is that you must both take your bike to the controls and stay on track at all times, and so the controls, by necessity are all pretty easy to find if you're on the right track to begin with. Here though, the controls were down gullys, up steep banks, in stream beds - all over the show really, and it was a great opportunity to really study the map and the shape of the land and reconcile the two.

Normally I don't stop in the middle of a race to take a photo, but one control was hanging from a tree limb which was above a waterfall. I politely asked Simon to "do that again?!" and he duly obliged, bless him...

This one had taken a bit of effort to get to, and it was definitely worth leaving the bikes behind...

We had one bit of navigational trouble in the last hour, perhaps due to control placement, but as likely due to our slowly growing fatigue. It always fascinates me how the brain goes before the legs. The last ten minutes were pretty torrid, as we attempted to mop up the controls along the river. In the end we were a few seconds late - enough for a minute's penalty, but not enough to affect our second place. We'd been soundly thrashed by Bill Edwards, on foot and solo - he clearly was better off without a bike, but also is an accomplished foot orienteer. We'd have liked to have not had ours some of the time, but there's no way we would have claimed 2nd doing the whole thing on foot! That said, we're tempted to do a foot rogaine in the Akas in March... Eeek!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Rode Old Motu Coach Road, Coach!

After the last couple of outings on the bike, I was in good need of an enjoyable ride. As always, getting rides in is a constant juggling act - between work, home, a relationship, and as Wellington's current offering reminds me, the weather, it can be very hard to get the quality time needed to excel come race day. And, with every training opportunity missed, the race doesn't magically reschedule to allow you to be at your optimum.

I'd squeezed the shitty tip track and Akas loop rides in to put less riding pressure on for the days Carly, Kaitlyn and I would be on holiday together. In case of emergencies, I had the Brevet 69er on the car, but intended not to use it for the first few days at least. We slowly made our way north, and I was excited to drive by ...


for the first time. The road east of Dannevirke and then north to Waipukurau was well worth the detour! The next days were spent at Splash Planet, Aratiatia Rapids, Taupo's Prawn Park, and Waitomo's awesome Ruakuri Cave, among other bits and bobs. We met Mum and Dad in Tauranga, and farewelled Kaitlyn, before heading to Waihau Bay on the East Cape. While the holiday so far had had heaps of highlights, it had been very short on down time, and hadn't offered any sensible riding opportunities. Nor had I felt any need to upset the apple cart by insisting on a ride. I'd hoped to do W2K in Taupo, but it simply wasn't worth missing out on Carly and Kaitlyn's company.

By the time I woke up on Monday at Orouaiti Beach, at the eastern end of Waihau Bay, I was beginning to feel the pressure of looming events. The morning was spent pulling Tarakihi from the sea - with frightening but delightful regularity. We pulled them in so fast, the boat trip was short, and so in the afternoon Carly and I went for a sifty ride to the boat ramp and up to the village and back. Upon our return, I immediately got changed and headed out for what was meant to be a hammer session. With my GPS unit on board, I had the local road map, and planned to head east exploring as many roads into the hills as time would permit. I got as far as the Wairoa River, but really wasn't enjoying myself, and the black dog was once again loping along mocking me. When I got back to base, I was anxious about the ride, and was wondering what the hell was going on. I might have been focussing too much on the speedo, but the fact that I'd struggled to work up a sweat when at full noise I have sweat dripping off my chin onto the bike, was concerning...

I have ablsolutely no recollection of Tuesday, but it certainly didn't involve cycling, or if it did, I've screwed up Monday. In any case, it was nice to settle down with a book. Although I'd originally planned to head off on Wednesday after lunch, I'd decided to stay on and head back to Wellington on Thursday. This gave the opportunity for Carly and I to do a bit of exploring on the Whangaparoa peninsula. We beached at a small bay after an unsuccessful attempt at going after some snapper. After a quick bite to eat, we headed off up the nearest ridge, aiming for a high point with a radio mast on it. It had looked reasonably simple from the water with a prominent ridge taking us all the way up. On the ground of course it was much less simple, with some very steep sections, dense bush, and a few high points along the way. Eventually we made it to the top, with some good work in the legs. After a brief stop, including the most awesome bush-shit I've ever done and the unexpected opportunity to answer some txts (no vodafone coverage down below), we made our way back down the ridge. We got at least half way down before deviating from the route we'd come up. After some very tricky stuff which Carly handled with aplomb, we were almost back at sea level when, pushing through some grass, I felt a very sharp pain just by my right knee... Eventually I spotted the cause - one of these little suckers...

which I'm guessing are some sort of native New Zealand wasp. I really glad the nest was as small as it was, and that I was only stung once... We made it back to the boat within a few minutes, after skirting around a couple of small bays. The exercise had been nice, despite the challenges of getting up and down in one piece.

Thursday morning came quickly, and by 8:30 I was away. First order was a drive of about 90 minutes towards Opotiki. A few km short, I turned left into Motu Road, and parked up in front of a small church a kilometre or so up the road. I now have two bottle cages on the 69er, and had loaded these up with two big (900mL) bottles of diluted Mizone. In a pocket I had a couple of muesli bars and a single One Square Meal bar. Not enough it turns out...

The gravel road was a few minutes ride away, and (apologies for this) after my second best ever bush-shit, and a quick photo-stop...

I was underway. The gravel road was in awesome condition, and boy oh boy the 69ered XTC is a great machine for that sort of riding! The first hour or so had a few nice little treats, including weka scurrying off into the bush. It also gave me time to think about what was so different about this ride and the previous three, apart from the obvious absence of my black dog. I'll come back to that at the end.

The ride to Motu consisted of three longish climbs, with slightly shorter descents into the next valley. The road was great, and apart from a couple of vehicles, I saw no-one. The views were stunning, even without the bike.

After almost three hours I reached Motu. I felt slightly lucky to be there as a couple of minutes out I'd passed within a few metres of a rather large bull who'd snuck out of his paddock. As if once wasn't enough, a second one was lurking around the corner in much the same state. The school at Motu was a welcome sight indeed.

Ironically, there was also a well-appointed toilet block there, but I had no need to use it. Simon's rear wheel had been giving me a few problems on the way and so I popped it out of the frame for a gander. I could do nothing about the broken spoke nipple (nor did I need to), but I gave the wheel a bit of the old shakey-shakey rotating it slowly as I went, and this was enough to sort out the slow leak somewhere in the tyre. After getting the tyre back up to pressure, replacing it in the frame, and scoffing the last of my food, I started back the way I'd come.

The bulls had moved from where they'd been, and one in particular took a bit of getting past. Damn those things are big! Eventually I was by though, and on my merry way. The climbs were smaller in this direction - approximately 1100m climbing was only about 700m heading north, and so things were easier. Luckily the beautiful native bush afforded me good shade for a lot of the ride, and so things didn't get too hot. As a consequence, the amounf of fluid I had was sufficient, but I could have done with twice the amount of food I'd carried. By the time I got back to the car, I was famished, though luckily I'd still been able to ride strongly enough. I ate 6 toffee pops three at a time - they were so melted together that individually wasn't an option even if I'd cared. I left Opotiki at 4pm, and it was just before 6pm that the food properly hit my system. I was safe and sound in my bed back in Wellington by midnight.

This ride had been lovely, and a blessed relief. 100km on gravel road, with just under 2000m of climbing is no walk in the park, and it was good to have had 5 hours of saddle time. It also helped convince me that I have to want to ride for the riding's sake, and not ride because I feel like I must. This latter characteristic had been a common one of the previous three rides, where I was struggling to make way for the holiday. This mindset had really marginalised their benefit, and it's entirely possible that I would have been better off without one or more of them. I haven't been on the bike since the Motu Coach Road ride, but am not stressed about it. Rather than writing this, I should be time-trialling in the WVCC's 2 Day Tour in the Wairarapa, but this great event has unfortunately coincided with a very wet southerly storm. Simon and I have both blocked out tomorrow morning for a good effort. With luck, the weather gods will play ball. I like riding with Simon. When he's around, the pooch rarely dares show his face...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Riding with a Black Dog

Sometimes going for a ride is the last thing I actually feel like doing, but within 5 minutes of getting out the door the Black Dog is out the arse, and if I'm with someone, I'm saying "damn it's great to get out". Other days, like today, I can't shake the bugger off, and eventually he turns the tables on me, and lopes ahead taunting. He makes me feel weak, and slow, and makes me want to stop. Sometimes I rally, and chase him hard, but some days, like today, he responds instantly, and saps my strength, and my will to chase.

Strangely, almost a year ago to the day, I was touring on the East Cape, and talked myself into quitting my very good job. I wonder what it is about the Christmas period that disagrees with me? There are plenty of candidates: the crap food, the lounging around, the stress of fitting in so much socialising, the stress of not being at work and not having papers write themselves. I actually suspect a very minor difference - the lack of my regular commute. When I was at my healthiest in the last quarter of last year, I was riding to work just about every day, and sneaking in a couple of extra rides in the week - perhaps hills during the week, and a long ride or race in the weekend. The commute is fantastic in its simplicity and elegance - it is exercise, but it's also getting you to and from work. I sometimes wonder about the people who drive and then sneak off to the gym at lunchtime to sit on a stationary bike for half an hour. I guess they don't have to worry about being car-doored...

Today's ride should have been much nicer than it was. It's been a sunny day, with a pretty standard northerly wind. I slept in, which is something I can't get away with at any other time of year, and should probably go in the list above. It's a pretty bad waste of time. It also screws up meal times - it's 6pm, and I just had afternoon tea... After having some toast and a cup of coffee, and firing off a couple of emails, I saddled up, and headed for Johnsonville via Makara. My legs felt pretty unresponsive after a hard effort on the tip track yesterday, followed by a long wait for food. The stretch from Johnsonville to Porirua felt flatter than usual (i.e. not the wickedly fast downhill it actually is). At Mana I thought I'd better stop to see if a coffee would make a difference. Over Grey's Road I felt strong, though when I turned onto Paekak Hill Road, there was that wagging tail again... One of the awkwardnesses with depression, is that it's very depressing being depressed. It's also very distracting, and though I managed to think about my impending (and very cool and exciting) holiday with Kaitlyn and Carly, and about the Kiwi Brevet, eventually I'd pause to think about my legs, and look up to see the wagging tail again.

I saw pm (from vorb) going hard over the crest of Paekak Hill and momentarily wished I looked like that. The view up the Kapiti Coast was as stunning as ever, and a cyclist's bike is always very photogenic. I wished I hadn't had a coffee at Mana - the presence of a coffee cart in the lookout carpark really should have been rewarded.

After stopping part way down for a better photo, I was very shortly on SH1. I turned off at Waterfall Road, and made my way up the short gravel climb. After a snack in the shade of a macrocarpa, I headed north again, and when I rejoined SH1, was treated to possibly the best cycle facility in the Wellington region. The passing lane at Lindale has been taken out, leaving room for a cycle lane, with a beautifully smooth surface. After Otaihanga, this makes way for the worst cycle facility in the Wellington region. Not a facility at all really, just a shitty stretch of the roughest chip seal ever. After a quick stop at Waikanae, I was underway again with just over 3 hours on the clock.

The climb up the Akas was peaceful, and it was nice to be doing it on the light and efficient Roubaix, rather than my full suspension mountain bike (as in the Waiotauru trip). I was ticking along nicely but about 1km from the summit found myself coasting to a halt, before pedalling just in time to keep the bike moving. There's that damn Dog again.

Despite having a tail wind, I never felt like I was moving quickly down into Upper Hutt. The road was fairly busy, both with cars and debris. Before Upper Hutt I'd had fantasies of hammering along with the wind giving me a huge boost, but neither the wind, nor my legs came to the party. I stopped briefly when a young boy wearing roller blades and swinging a golf club called out from the grass verge. He wasn't in trouble, and was only saying "hi" so I moved off again. I always struggle upon hitting the Old Hutt Road - I'm not sure what that's about - and today was no exception. The last kilometres to home seemed to take an age. The ride had taken at least an hour longer than it should've, and with that and the sleep in, the day's almost done.

Still, there were plenty of things at home waiting to cheer me up. A road trip looms, and I'm excited about that. Also, Simon sent me an email with a logo for Greater Wellington's active a2b campaign featuring Kaitlyn and I, and also telling us we're Mr and Mrs November in their desktop calendar! Ha-ha!

It seems we're both feeling the ill-effects of some motivating and exciting riding giving way to patching up our weaknesses in advance of the Akatarawa Attack and the Kiwi Brevet. Structured training sucks! Hopefully I'll find my spark while I'm away, and be tearing the legs of the Black Dog minutes from the door - that's if he even dares turn up. A few days after getting home is the Vets' 2 Day Tour in the Wairarapa, which should be suitably exciting! With luck this is just a blip...

PS: some of you will have read the following before, but it's a bit of the back story if you're interested...

Posted on vorb, 15 October, 2009: This is one of those posts that I can't quite predict in advance. Someone grizzled a few pages ago about non-bicycle related content, so up front I'll declare that this one's probably going to be a bit on the light end of the bike spectrum. Scurry off now, if a ride story's what you want.

This thread is the closest thing I've ever kept to a diary, and it's been used on and off by my Mum to check up on me. *waves* I occasionally enjoy looking back through it, and reminiscing, and thinking about what's changed and what hasn't.

Why write in public? My identity's not secret, so anonymity's not an attraction. Nor am I really interested in, or even conscious of, the audience. I don't think I want praise, although I suspect that's something I do rely on IRL. On the other hand, I am constantly impressed with the quality of advice and support that is cunningly hidden in the murky depths of this forum, and I am more than happy to tap into that. I think I write here because somehow the act of posting forces me to think, and write, in a way that I can't seem to replicate sitting in my armchair at home, away from the computer. I also have grown to respect and trust the vorb community. I'm an educator, from a family of educators, and I suppose a wee bit of me accepts there's a fair chance someone might benefit from reading what I share, bike-related or not.

If I were to look back through this thread, I'll notice a few things in February or so. I suspect there won't be a Karapoti story, nor will there be one from the Hospi Ride. March and April and May and perhaps even June will be very quiet. Around the posts tailing off will be mention of feeling like shit on the bike, and powerless, and I would expect to detect little enthusiasm in what I did write about. At the time, I had a bunch of tests, including full blood work, and a chest xray. These ruled out what I was hoping for (anaemia) and a whole lot of things I hadn't even contemplated (cancer). The physical lows I was experiencing were completely foreign to me, and I was convinced I was physically unwell. As the various tests eliminated possibilities, I started to focus on the fact that absolutely everything we do (maybe not everything, but forgive my hyperbole) relies on our brain. Perhaps I can pedal, but I just don't want to? How on earth can mental problems be eliminated as the cause of a feeling of physical weakness? My GP and I discussed depression as a possible cause of my ill-health, and I started a course of anti-depressants.

The predicted six weeks before liftoff took approximately twice that, but slowly and surely, weakness started to fade. I started wanting to work hard, rather than knowing I had to but feeling unable to. As work came online, whatever the opposite of a vicious cycle is, started to kick in, and ultimately the anti-depressants kick started a chain reactive positive feedback loop. Nothing's quite as depressing as feeling depressed, and on the flip side, feeling not-depressed was quite envigorating.

Eventually I felt in control enough of life to reintroduce riding. I pretty certain that indirectly riding was a large part of the cause of the depression, at least in the way that I'd used it to hide from real life. The wonderful sensations of fitness, success, enjoyment and simplicity of riding a bike, could not justify doing it at the expense of all else. I think that at the moment, the balance is about right. I'm finding time for quality, with varying levels of quantity.

I'm not sure what I'm good at on the bike. I certainly don't have the talent of someone like Monolith, and don't ever expect to be a podium finisher in something like the PNP series, but I do like interesting riding, and I do like working hard on a bike, and on a good day, I can surprise myself (and others!). I have been very fortunate to have a couple of close friends who know a hell of a lot more about me as a rider than I do, and know how to push my buttons, and get the best out of me. Kaitlyn asked me just yesterday how I came to be friends with Oli, and I told her about meeting him at Cycle Services and his wife at uni, and how aspects of the man, rather than the mechanic, had been incredibly important to me. Simon I met on the Makara Peak Supporters committee, and we knew each other for a few years (though barely ever rode together) before he invited me into his home when my relationship with Kaitlyn's mum collapsed. Somehow, between the two of them, knowingly or not, they help me set myself challenges, to which my body reacts very well. At the moment, both sides of the magical power/weight ratio are on the improve, and I'm loving feeling my body adapt week after week.

Tonight I rode home in the rain after a hill session with Simon, on a bike beautifully serviced by Oli. In terms of self-awareness, I have known the joy of being dry in the wet longer than anything else I can remember. As a boy, I used to stand in my grandmother's glass house during heavy rain, just inside the open door, and I would stare at the rain falling inches from me. I'd be dry, but feel like I was in the wet. Simon, Oli, and the rain all came together tonight, as I rode home in my brand new Ground Effect Flash Gordon, my shirt inside bone dry despite the water everywhere. And lo and behold, that simple trigger led to all this flowing out, even though it's been waiting to get written for weeks now.

I suppose this all belongs in the w00t thread, so forgive me for stashing it in here and sullying a thread that's meant to be about riding. There are a bunch of you who knew most of that anyway, and cheers to you all for your support. I don't know if any of that made any sense, and I'm not about to start proof reading my posts now...