Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The 2010 Edition of the Akatarawa Attack

This years Akatarawa Attack was the fifth, and the fifth I've competed in. Back in 2006, Simon and Paul Kennett and I won the four hour event - the first time I'd done something of that magnitude. Apart from needing to be gently pushed up the last hill by these two illustrious men, I'd had a good ride, and we'd all really enjoyed ourselves. The result was simply icing on the already delicious cake. The following year Simon was keen to do the eight hour event, and until about 2 months before the event, it wasn't on the cards that I would do it. It became clear, as the fat dripped off me, that I'd be alright, and together we dominated on a tough course out of Maungakotukutuku Valley. 2008 was a lucky win, with my near implosion in the last half almost making us come unstuck. In 2009, my implosion in the last half actuallty did make us come unstuck and we placed second by the narrowest of margins. It was an experience neither of us enjoyed in the slightest. Simon's got a real competitive streak, and while I don't to the same extent, my strong sense of loyalty (and responsibility) taxed me greatly. 2010 was our opportunity for redemption!

Completely aside from redemption, there are other great reasons to participate in the Akatarawa Attack. It is jointly organised by two clubs: Orienteering Hutt Valley, and the Hutt Valley Mountain Bike Club. This year the start was back at Maungakotukutuku, and entrants were guaranteed maps of the area of the highest quality. These are available for purchase from Michael Wood, an extraordinary mapmaker, and owner of Every year new track (that may well have been around for decades) gets added to the map, and the detail is incredible. When the alarm goes off at 5:30am, you rub the crap out of your eyes knowing that in a mere 12 hours time you will have ridden some fantastic new track (possibly in the wrong direction, but that's your own fault), and that your belly will be full of BBQ and fruit, or something similar. Also, you'll be well rooted!

And so it was this year that I scraped myself out of bed, and started preparing for the day ahead. Of course, the serious preparation had been done over the preceeding months. Followers of my blog will have noted the long rides, the hill reps, the navigation events, and the diet. The Ak-attack tests riding skills and endurance, and of course map skills. We'd brushed off the last with a 35 minute sprint around Mt Vic on the new permanent orienteering course set up by Wellington City Council and Wellington Orienteering. Another thing we'd quietly worked on is the third major component of the Ak-attack, and that's time off the bike. Once a week we'd tried to get out and "run" up a hill. This year the preparation was serious.

The last thing you want to be doing at 5:30 in the morning is ... pretty much anything except sleeping. With that in mind I'd packed the car the night before, and laid out all my riding gear. I donned this while the jug was boiling, and the first couple of pieces of toast were in the toaster. I was popping the bike on the car, belly full, soon after 6. The Epic was looking pretty clean, and I knew it to be in good race condition. I'd prepped it myself this time, but had had Oli at Roadworks pass his eye over it earlier in the week. He never begrudges me a priority race tickle, but has also been impressing upon me the importance of maintenance lately. A consequence of this is that his incomparable work on my bike tends to survive a lot longer when I manage to keep the thing clean in between rides. Fancy it taking me so long to realise this, and fancy Oli being so generous with his time and patience!

Simon's bike was next to mine on the rack a few minutes later, and we were winding down Orangi Kaupapa Rd by our self imposed deadline of 6:20. We were winding down Orangi Kaupapa again a few minutes later, the second time with Simon's helmet in the car. It wouldn't have been much of a day without it!

The drive out to the venue was fine. Simon scoffed is breakfast, and I supped my second cup of coffee for the morning. It was lightly raining when we pulled into the paddock in Maungakotukutuku Valley, and the organisers were setting up their shelter in a stiff southerly wind. I looked eagerly for the toilet, but that tent wasn't up yet... Bugger!

One of the most exciting moments of any orienteering event is getting a new map for the first time. Of course the terrain may not be new to you, and even when no new tracks were added, its really the placement of the controls which is exciting. A quick scan of the map we received at 7:30 on the dot showed 40 controls, and a bunch of singletrack we'd never seen before, nestled in between a track we'd used in 2007 (called Boobies I think), and the Karapoti course (Big Ring Boulevard down off Titi). There were very few controls in the start/finish valley itself, and my initial reaction was that there was no obvious loop.

Simon and I tend to sit quietly for a few minutes, trying to take in as much detail as possible, before focussing in on the micro-detail. In this rogaine-style event, the controls have different points value, and we need to maximise total points subject to our 8 hour time limit. If possible, you want to join the high-value controls together with an efficient course pulling in as many of the smaller-points as make sense. Or something like that...

Culling sucker controls is always worth doing. There will always be some controls not worth going for. We immediately decided we'd not be riding up (and straight back down) Dopers. Close to an hour for 100 points simply wasn't worth it, and besides, we both knew that climb, and if possible, we'd trade something a little more exciting for it. A few other less obvious candidates were eliminated, and with slightly fewer distractions a course started to take shape.

We decided to leave the valley until the end, and so we focussed on the southern map. There were two possible climbs out of the start: Perhams Rd, or the pylon road (whose name I knew I'd forget...). We decided on the longer but less steep pylon road through our first control and our first 90 pointer (93). At the top of the climb we were sitting above HAVOC forest. It was tempting to drop straight into it, collecting 390 points on the way to Dopers Creek. We ruled this out though, since that would leave us to a very scant 30 point climb out of that stream valley. Instead we headed onto the Karapoti course, ducking down the top of Perham's Road for control 33. 120 points in the bag!

The track of the day came early in the ride. Straight after 33 we rode three sections of super sweet singletrack neither of us had ever seen on a map, let alone ridden. Not only did we get an incredible ride, but we enjoyed being the first down there of the day (there was little sign that anyone had been down there recently, let alone that morning. Not only was the riding sweet, but the 170 points from the three controls (66, 54 and 67) were pretty mint too. At the bottom, with big grins on our faces, we hung a left and rode up the end of Boobies to another 80 points (82). We had a short wait at this control as the Greens on their tandem had arrived just before us, from the opposite direction. This was the first time of four (I think) that we'd see them, and we always passed them in the opposite direction.

By the time we got out of the singletrack onto Big Ring Boulevard, I was well cut up by the toitoi, but we were well up on points. So much so, that we had to reassess our plan. In the past, if anything we'd been overambitious in the planning hour, but this time, we find ourselves realised we had much better range than we'd thought. So, a quick trip up Big Ring Boulevard was in order, and a short bit of 4WD later, we'd locked and loaded on another 30 points (37). An hour and a half in, we'd collected 400 points so far, much better than the 200 points per hour we'd budgeted.

I notched up my high speed of the day rocketing down towards Orange Hut. Passing by it, I actually saw an Orange Hut for the first time. We may actually have passed the hut (or within a 100m of it) every Ak-attack we've done, but this time was the first there was a hut there rather than the ruins of an old hut. Nice! We popped up to control 72, and briefly recalled stopping there in 2007 and that it had just started to rain, the direction we'd come from, that we'd stopped for a bite to eat, AND that we'd seen a couple of trail bikers there. It's amazing the detail we both retained about a seemingly trivial event three years earlier! This was one of the 12 out-and-back trips we'd make, and soon after we were passing Orange Hut again. Control 38 was up a steep bit of 4WD track on our left a few minutes later. I was riding point, and second-guessed myself about 10m before the control came into view! 500 points, and two hours down. Great progress!

56 was a doddle, and we were soon at 23. Our progress meant we'd now grab all of the HAVOC controls, and organising the route we screwed up the sequence a little. We rode up to 22, and then back the way we'd come before grovelling up a steep slope to 68. We stuttered a bit en route to 55, but apart from being slow, our navigation was sound and we pretty much rode straight to the control. We came unstuck a lot (rather than a little) getting to 36, for a measly 30 points...! We were uncertain what track we were dropping down from 55, and consequently exactly where we were in the valley. After riding down-valley for 500m or so, in what we thought was the right direction, we knew we were in trouble, and agreed "this forest is making us look like amateurs". We could see some pylons across the valley, though a couple were very confusing in that they looked to be elevated above the valley floor on the map, but barely so from what we could see. Once we were 90% certain where we were, we headed pretty much back the way we came, and within a few minutes were grovelling up a steep slope to 36. Getting from there to 35 was little better, and while we rode strongly up the 4WD track, we found ourselves bashing up the wrong stream. Luckily we popped out of the forest directly in front of a pylon so knew exactly where we were, and how to fix it. The quality of the map really helps when you screw up! Hauling a bike through scrub isn't easy, and for 30 points you wonder why you're bothering. We finally extricated ourselves from HAVOC forest, but it wasn't done with us yet. We popped around its northern boundary for a final 30-pointer (34). It was just beyond a Taranaki gate, and as if we really needed a reminder of how shit our last hour-20 had been, Simon snagged his rear wheel on a protruding bit of wire, and voila, he was no longer running a tubeless rear... We cursed our luck, fixed the puncture, had a bite to eat and lubed our chains, and before long we were underway again. 790 points, and 3h20 down. While a shitty piece of orienteering, the forest had been good to us points-wise. I'm amazed!

We crossed into the Karapoti course for the second time of the day, and spent the next while riding down steep track then pushing back up it. We had out-and-backs to 45, 65 and 53 before taking a through trip (most of it off-bike from memory) to 46 and the top of Titi. It was a nice ride down to 81. We were headed for our only 100-pointer on a loop which we figured would be miserable, but would be needed to win. We were right about one thing, it was miserable. Soon after the 80 point control the track became unridable, and we spent the next two kilometres jumping over ruts and wading through bogs. The track was a little indistinct in places, but eventually we got to the intersection with the singletrack down from 63 (which in hindsight I reckon was probably the better exit route) and then on to the control (101). 5 hours 15 down - where did all that time go! No matter, we'd added 370 points in the last 2 hours.

The next hour was pretty skint though, with only 120 points collected. The ride to the bottom of the Devil's Staircase took a while, as did the ascent of the staircase itself. A quick out and back to 63, which probably would have been quicker as a through trip, and then another out-and-back to 64, before we found ourselves at our highest point of the day - the start of the Three Sisters. While the points had been slim from the hour, we were elevated, and we were sitting above a whole bunch of points. The singletrack is tough riding in ideal conditions, and this day's were fare from ideal. The track was wet, and we were fairly tired, and so I spent a lot of time running alongside my bike. No time to worry about that tough, as we collected 71 and then 62. We'd never been down through 71 before - a piece of track cutting out the last of the first sister and the start of the second. It was nice, though a tad steep in one place! I slid down most of it on my arse...

We'd planned to drop down the third sister to the valley, but I suggested we avoid the grovel up the connecting 4WD track, and head down it instead. Simon agreed and we were soon in possession of another 50 points. If I'd had my way, we would have taken a lot longer to get the first 20 of these. Scurrying up a dry stream bed shouting "this is right" when in fact it's wrong, is always an embarrassment! As I've said before, it always fascinates me how the brain goes before the legs, and I can almost always trace blunders like this back to hard efforts a little earlier (in this case the steep descent on the 4WD track).

We navigated well north through the valley, and soon had all the low lying controls (11, 31, 41 and 51). With 40 minutes to go we were at the base of the climb up to controls 91 and 61. It wasn't entirely obvious that we'd be able to get both, so we started with the higher valued one. It wasn't an easy bag, but we made an OK job of it. We'd also worked out that it would be worth being up to 7 minutes late if we got the 60-pointer. In any case, it was all on. The climb up to 61 reminded us both of the three ascents of the Turoa Rd though it wasn't nearly as tough. What a great example of why you should train hard! Makes the races feel easier. It was a relief to finally clip the control, and start the ride back to the finish. We had 12 minutes to get there...

I almost came a cropper on the way down - in my excitement I guess I wasn't being particularly attentive and went over a little bump in the track and got sucked into a rut. Luckily I popped out the other end upright, and was back under power. There was one gate left to jump, and then we were on the road, riding fairly urgently into the southerly. We sat up as we entered the paddock, and rolled over the finish line with a couple of minutes to spare.

And so, the Makara Peak Mudslingers' record had another 1st place added to it. We'd worked hard preparing for this race, and we'd performed well on the day - both riding near our limits, but not beyond. As usual, we'd backed each other up well when decisions needed to be made, and enjoyed some flexibility as more information came to hand. And, I hadn't bonked, which is always a bonus! What a great feeling to have nailed it so well, when we had so much to prove to ourselves! As they say on the internet, YFY! It was a huge win. We're both looking forward to a sleep in next year, and having a go at the four hour for a change!

PS: We finished with 35 of the 40 controls, and 1740 out of 2010 points (just under 220 per hour). According to my GPS, we covered only 66.5km, for 2886m of climbing. I reckon we must have been on our feet for at least 3 hours). Apart from the 100 pointer at the top of Dopers, we missed a series of three controls down Perham's Rd and the third sister, and a 40 pointer above the entrance to the valley). I think we might have picked one of these up in about 10 minutes if we'd had time and the insight (44 before 71).