Friday, March 12, 2010

Karapoti Weekend

Karapoti's always a great occasion, and I do love getting out amongst it.

That said, I've never actually focused on it, and this year was no exception.  In the month after the Brevet, I'd not ridden a bike off road, though I could be considered well fed, and well rested.

It seemed I was one of the few who realised there was a choice this year, and for me it was a simple one to make.  Tucked somewhere in the bowels of Michael Jacques' promotional emails was mention of the Karapoti Original - an event over the original Karapoti course from 1986.  This year, it would be run on the Sunday, the day after the Karapoti Classic, to celebrate the 25th annual race.  I'd had the pleasure of checking out the first section of the course with Simon Kennett, and was sold!  As if the charm of the course was not enough, I try hard not to let a rare opportunity like this pass, and the saving of $35 over the Classic was also attractive.

Choosing to ride on Sunday also freed me up to spectate on Saturday.  Kaitlyn and I drove out to the park together and arrived in time to see the M2 start.  We walked over to the far side of the bridge and stood with some Bushlove lovers to watch the men hammer through.

That done, we caught another start from the bridge, and headed towards the event HQ.  Despite half the field being on course already, there were still many acquaintances to bump into and wish well.  When we finally got to the park, we bumped into Simon, and helped him get some stuff up to his car.  He, and bros Paul and Jonathan, were taking care of the Original race, and we loaded up some leftover race-packs from the Classic as well as a bunch of stuff Simon and Jonathan would use to mark out the start of the course up to the top of the Rock Garden. 

While we were messing about with this, we were constantly being tricked by the weather, and we were alternating between baking in hot sun, and cowering from the rain.  I relocated the car to Simon's now vacated spot, so we'd at least be closer to our storm gear.  We checked out the various trade displays, and it was good to have my annual catch-up with Tim Vincent, many time Karapoti winner, Tineli owner, and all round good guy.

At about midday, we cruised down to the river bank to watch some people crossing the river en route to the finish line.  The first of the Challenge riders were already in, and so we were treated to a steady trickle of mud-covered riders stumbling their way across.  The right-hand line must have looked good from the far side, as quite a few people took it, before realising that being up to one's nipples in river was not such a good idea...

A great innovation of recent Karapoti races has been the coloured plates.  So when we saw the first green plate in amongst the red of the Challenge riders, we knew that the winner of the Classic race was upon us.  As the plate got closer, beneath the mud, I recognised none other than "my" prized racing jersey.  It was Tim Wilding, racing in Roadworks colours.  Needless to say, Timmy got a great cheer from us, and it was fantastic to see the elated look on his face as he crossed the river.

As soon as he was out of ear-shot, I rang Oli, and told him he'd better haul arse to the finish line!  He was just making his way there, and it was great to know that he'd be one of the first to congratulate Tim.

Kaitlyn and I cheered a few more finishers on before making our way up to the park.  Tim and Oli were both there, and I think I surprised Tim a little by giving him a big hug!  To be fair, I was clean and dry, and he was wet and filthy, but he'd just won the biggest MTB race in NZ (under some metric, surely) and in the team colours!  I noticed the state of his helmet, which was sporting what looked to be about a kilo of Karapoti mud, collected in a stack on the way down off Dopers.  It was beautifully captured by Tim, and then by Caleb Smith from Spoke (sorry to flog the pic, Caleb!).

As the minutes ticked by, many more of our friends arrived at the finish, most looking pretty pleased with their efforts.  We enjoyed chatting to them, in between scoring free muesli bars from the sponsors!  We'd had enough though, well before prize-giving was due to start, and so we snuck away home.

Once their, I got my gear ready for the next day, and fired the bike on the back of the car.  I gave the chain a bit of extra lube after seeing the amount of crud everyone was covered by.  Then we headed out to my parents place in Strathmore so that Kaitlyn could have a decent sleep in in the morning.  The dinner we were treated to may not have been the ideal pre-race fodder, but it was a hell of a lot more delicious than most plates of pasta.  After dinner, and once Kaitlyn was in bed, I had a nice chat to Mum and Dad, during which Mum was thrashing herself on their exercycle.  They've both been logging a bit of time on it in the last year, since Dad's Taupo revelations!  Ma wants me to go riding with her on her 60th in June, which I'm really looking forward to.

In the morning, I went through the motions and was waiting in Molesworth Street when Simon and Jonathan Kennett rode up.  Their 29ers onboard, we were soon on the motorway, and before long pulling into Karapoti Park.  There were a few folk there already, and there was plenty to chat about before setting off up to Akatarawa Saddle.  Paul Kennett took the spare seat in the back, and after starting us off, he would drive my car back!  Mint!

Once we'd reached the saddle, and overcome one of the two big hurdles of using this course permanently (the point to point nature; the second hurdle being the private land), there was no time for a warm up.  While suiting up, I was given a MTB calendar by NZ Mountain Biker photographer and Cycletech good guy Craig Madsen!  Cheers Craig!

Simon briefed us (briefly) and then we headed up to the start line.  Craig joined us with his camera, and took a few shots - one of which he generously has shared with us all.

And before we knew it, we were off.  And boy I was off!  Jonty Ritchie, Alex Revell and Rob Kilvington, all sporting Revolution Cycles shirts got straight into it.  Gavin McCarthy was behind them, and I found myself "duelling" with Mike Thompson, another Revolution Cycles rider.  With cold legs, I struggled initially, but pretty much everyone was in the same boat.  My legs actually come online pretty quickly, but I struggle for breath initially.  Also, my lack of mountainbiking was showing, and I had to take my sunnies off, somehow attributing my appalling lines to them.

Simon had told us we could leave the tagged gates open, but at the sharp end of the race there'd be none of that!  So, over the gates it was, as one by one we decided to leave them closed.

I made some inroads on Gav on the descent into the valley, and managed to gap Mike.  As we started climbing out the other side though, I lost sight of Gav.  The 4WD road soon left the felled pine forest, and disappeared into native bush.  The ground was wet, and I was taking my typical conservative approach by carrying my bike over bogs.  While I was reducing my chances of chain suck, this approach was slow, particularly given the difficulty of getting going again on the soft, uphill terrain.  Mike came past before we got to the top of the Rock Garden, and I wouldn't see him again. 

I've ridden down the Rock Garden on probably about 10 occasions, and have punctured on at least 6 of these.  The first time, back in 1998, I was running alongside my bike, when the rear wheel punctured (I mean, seriously - does that actually happen?!).  The most recent time was a year earlier, and I ruined a brand new UST Nevegal on a rock, and a pair of gloves trying to stem the exodus of jizz from the rapidly deflating tyre...  Even in my fastest lap of Karapoti, back in 2007, I had to replace a tube after I noticed bubbles emanating from my rear wheel on the way through a bog...

Fortunately, this episode was trouble free.  I conservatively dismounted before the first big drop off, and after realising I'd be better on my bike than off it, I sat down, and literally slid on my arse before jumping back on the bike.  1000 or so riders the previous day had left a pretty good line, for the most part.  In the worst sections, there was little evidence of a preference, though elsewhere, the riding line was about a foot across.  In a couple of places I was caught out by the same rock as each and every one of those before me, and wondered how we could have missed it. 

All in all, this was a rare descent for me, and I got to the bottom of the Devil's Staircase intact!  With nothing to repair, I resigned myself to heading straight up the hill.  After a few minutes, I heard some familiar whistling!  "Where have you been?!" I hollered.  So, as we did 5 or 6 weeks earlier in the Akatarawa Attack, Simon and I pushed our bikes together up this bit of track.  We swapped notes a bit, and if anything, slowed from the pace we'd been holding until the catch.  I lamented my lack of oomph, which hopefully wasn't insulting since I'd been up front until this point.

After a cheery "Thanks guys" to the first aid team at the top, it was back on the bike.  I followed Simon for a bit, until a small rise suited my extra momentum, and I shot past him.  We were soon into the descent, and as befitted the name Big Ring Boulevard, I slotted it into big ring.  The light conditions through here were incredibly difficult, and I really just had to point, shoot, and hope for the best.  We passed someone on the side of the track, but I had no idea who.  Simon, very sensibly, stayed on my wheel, no doubt ready to swerve one way or the other if it looked like things were going to custard.  He let me know it was Big Gav somewhere down the way.

Simon took over on the left hander down towards Dopers, and gapped me a little with the tighter corners.  I passed him somewhere along the flat section.  I pushed up the first 50m of the climb, and then jumped aboard.  Simon swung by and then stopped.  After stifling a laugh at his old man's bladder, I regained my concentration, and got into the climb.  I was feeling OK, but not strong.  Though I wasn't moving particularly quickly, this was the first time I'd ridden the entire climb in a long time (please forgive me for starting my "climb" after the tricky loose section at the bottom).  Nonetheless, Simon was riding stronger, and passed me about 2/3 of the way up.  He was off to find Mike. 

I'd love to watch someone else ride the top section, because I suck at it so badly.  I don't think it was just the climb taking the sting out of my legs.  I hope it's something to do with the tacky clay trying to stop my tyres from leaving.  Progress was slow, which probably helped me avoid crashing into the ruts and bogs that appeared out of the blue in a couple of places.  I had a stuttery ride down the big descent, and couldn't see the imprint of Tim's helmet in any of the cuttings.

The gorge was a hoot, despite being hard work.  It never seems as downhill on the way down as it seems uphill on the way up (if you know what I mean...).  I got a bit of a fright as a trio of trail bikes roared around a corner, but luckily I wanted the inside line and they wanted the berm on the outside.  Soon after there was an ungodly noise coming towards me.  I actually pulled over and stopped, and a few seconds later a couple of unmuffled quad bikes came past.  Soon after the gorge was done, and all that was left was to slog into the headwind "down" Karapoti Road - another descent that feels like a climb...

I managed to find a relatively shallow path across the river, and was soon having my time added to Paul's list in Karapoti Park.  The Revolution crew were in party mode - it was a shame Simon had chosen to race in his Ground Effect shirt instead of Jonty's colours.  Five of them together, with no company until I arrived would have been very cool.

In the last week, it's been great to look at the various results and photos.  Tim's had some fantastic publicity, including photos on!  While the Original probably deserved more interest than it got, I was glad to have done it.  The course is so much nicer than the Classic course - my time was probably 40-45 minutes quicker than I'd have gone on the full course.

The Original brought the end of the summer's riding plans.  I'm on the look out for some new goals now!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Say again?!

I recently spent an evening or two importing a bunch of old posts from vorb (prior to December 2009).  I lingered on a few of them, and really enjoyed the memories they dredged up.  The Karapoti Challenge one was almost a tear-jerker, and I reposted that in a fit of sentimentality.  There are some other doozies, including some great brain malfunctions on the road.  I reckon there are some nice ride ideas tucked away in there too.  I've split them up according to subject matter and the links are in reverse chronological order...

Road Racing


Cycle Touring and Exploring

Friday, March 5, 2010

Karapoti Challenge 2008 - My favourite race EVAR! (from the vorb files)

On the eve of Karapoti 2010, I'm busy uploading old (quality!) posts from vorb onto this blog.  And I found this old gem.  I've added a few photos to the original post.  I still think about this ride often...

1 March 2008
My preparation for this [2008]'s Karapoti outing started years ago, when my daughter Kaitlyn and I saw a Phillips trailer bike hanging in Mud Cycles in Karori. She had recently turned 5, and while she was a bit too small for the 20" wheeled half bike, at a pinch she could sit comfortably on it, and turn the pedals OK.

We bought it, and got it hitched up to my old Avanti Ridge Rider which was at the time my core commuter bike. For the next while, once or twice a fortnight, I'd drop her and the trailer at school, then meet her after school, and we'd head up to the Makara Peak Skills Area for afternoon tea and some stories. We became more adventurous, and before long had ridden over the summit and down Zac's and Varley's.

It became clear that the bike hadn't been specced for the sort of riding we were doing, and so we sourced a slightly bigger rear cog which enabled Kaitlyn to help out a little more on the climbs. At age 6, she did the first lap of the Creek to Peak relay with me, and just before her 7th birthday did the first Makara Peak round, and the Mt Vic round of the PNP series.

We finished mid-field in the Rec Men's class in both. Last December, against my better judgment (due to my knee injury), we rode together in the Rec class in the Tour de Peak, which included a very sketchy ride down Livewires. It was becoming clear that Katy was out-growing the bike, and that her weight was starting to cause trouble - the combined weight of her and the trailer was almost 35kg, and it is un-braked at that.

I was keen for her to experience one of the highlights of the MTB calendar, Karapoti, so in mid-January, I fired off an entry for us to ride in the Karapoti Challenge as "Family Randal". Despite Katy and I looking dashing in our matching Makara Peak Supporters' green jerseys, I am honoured to be supported by Oli Brooke-White at Roadworks and like to race in his colours whenever possible. While Katy doesn't own her own Roadworks jersey, our good friend Harry Brooke-White was happy to lend us his prized jersey for the day.

Entry and kit organised, our attention turned to training. For Kaitlyn, this largely consisted of a massive ride from home in Karori, out to the South Coast via Wright's Hill and Long Gully, and back home via Happy Valley and the bottom of the Roller Coaster. For me, there have been all sorts of weird and wonderful rides that have been fairly well documented on this fine forum.

As the big day loomed, our excitement grew. I borrowed my sister's car, and collected Katy from her Mum's at about quarter to nine on Saturday morning. I had the bikes in the back, our race clothes, tools, food and drink, raincoats and suncream! We had a great drive out to Karapoti, and saw a few other car-loads heading our way. We parked pretty much as soon as we got to the queue of cars, and ended up with quite a long ride to Karapoti Park past hundreds of metres of free parking. I don't know what innovations Michael made with the parking, but whatever they were, they were great!

We got changed at the car, and headed to the briefing just in time to miss the end of it. We explored the event area together, chatting to people we knew, and wishing them good luck. We were on the river bank for the first start, on the bridge for another, and at the point where the riders first hit the tarseal for a third wave. We watched another from the middle of the river.


I'd been anguishing about the start for weeks. Under no circumstances did I want to lose my most precious possession (Kaitlyn, not my Epic) under a whole lot of water and a stampede of mountainbikers. I decided on having Kaitlyn on my back, and holding my bike as if I was lifting it up some stairs, and to forget all about the trailer - it could look after itself. My vantage point from the river told me we should be in the middle start position.

We spent about 5 minutes warming up on the road, and then got a position on the start line. Katy climbed on my back, and we tested out our technique, before reclaiming our place on the beach.


We were singled out by a photographer, and also Mick on the mike, who was keen to know where my beard had gone! Before we knew it, we were off. I was keen to move as quickly as possible across the water, partly so we didn't get run down, but also to repay the people around us, who had graciously given us heaps of space, and not given us a hard time about plonking ourselves in a prime start position.

I kept running on the other side of the first crossing and we passed a few folk who'd thought that riding would be faster. My little limpet was hanging on for dear life on my back, arms around my neck, and legs around my waist. On the far side of the second crossing, I found a nice spot on the right side of the track, and put the bike and Katy down. After she'd mounted the bike, I ran for a bit, and then jumped on, and we were away.
 We stayed about 20m off the back of a large bunch all the way up the road, passing odds and sods along the way. At the stream crossing there was a bit of mayhem, and we had to dismount and run up the other side. Katy was a champion, and did everything perfectly. She ran, she held a good line keeping herself safe and she jumped back on the bike as quickly as she could. So many things we hadn't talked about in advance, but she was all class.

We continued passing people up the gorge, occasionally blasting through puddles or piles of rock. The trailer hitches right up below my seat, and so you simply cannot swoop the bike around any of the berm-like puddle edges. You've got to live with any evasive maneuver taken for a lot longer than you would riding alone. The left turn onto Magee's bridge was pretty sketchy with all the loose gravel.

We got some nice feedback from a couple of guys who passed us on the first part of the climb - one in particular seemed pretty relieved to have finally overhauled us! On the steep stuff Katy's contribution is limited on account of her gear. Nevertheless, when she's mustered a bit of strength, my bike makes these disconcerting, yet incredible, surges as she puts the power down. As we passed the marshalls at the bottom of the loop, I was surprised to hear we were in the top 20.

We held our own on the climb. The gradient was almost at our limit, but Katy was still able to contribute well at the very low cadence she was subjected to. I have only one gear when it comes to climbs like that, with the aim to get it over and done with as soon as possible without blowing myself. This means a nice high cadence and a focus on steady pedalling. This was our first ever time using the Epic as the towing bike. Our test ride around Karori Park on Friday had highlighted the need for more air pressure in the Brain shock, and I think I pretty much nailed it with the prescribed pressure for a 115kg rider. Up the hills, as is always the case, the front end wobbles around a bit, so we were a lot like a pair of drunks on our way up the hill. Pretty quick drunks though. We passed a couple of guys, and had about 8 more riders within our sights the whole climb. It was only at the top of the hill that they accelerated away from us.

Apart from the river crossing at the start, my biggest concern was this descent, and it was the main reason for using the Epic. In the end it wasn't too bad. We lost one place, having passed one bloke, and being passed ourselves by another two. We burnt past another competitor on the descent to the river, and gave a wave to Hilary and her mates sweeping the rear of the course in their fluoro yellow vests.

Back on the gorge it was now hammer time. It was nice to be able to use gravity to our advantage a lot more, as well as my big old legs, not to mention my powerhouse stoker. As my brain began being deprived of oxygen, we started missing our lines a little more often. At one point I bellowed "pedal!" at Kaitlyn, only to apologise as I actually meant "puddle". She's such a trooper though. We didn't communicate much at this part of the race. For a start, we were moving too damn quick to be able to hear each other very well.

We rode the stream crossing nicely, and made great time out to the road. I could feel the body starting to object along the road itself. At the speed we were going, Katy is pretty much a passenger, as she can't pedal fast enough to help out. Nonetheless, she is a fantastic motivator, and kept me going hard. At the river crossing we rode right to the water's edge, we both jumped off the bikes, and I picked her up in one arm, sort of like a rugby ball, the bike(s) in the other, and charged into the river. About half way across, it got rather deep, and I began to stumble on a couple of boulders. With my precious cargo aboard, it was time to stop, reboot, then get going again. It was worth the micro pause, and we got safely to the other side. We ran off the beach, and then jumped back on the bikes for the home stretch.

We got an amazing cheer from the folk watching the finish line, which I'm sure made us up a couple of seconds. I almost brought us down at the line by hauling on the front brake a bit heavily, letting my rear wheel come off the ground and then jack-knifing, but luckily there were a couple of marshalls to keep us under control. 

We were greeted by my parents, and Katy's Mum, who were all a bit surprised to see us so soon.

Once we'd got our breaths back, we celebrated in the best way, with a great big hug. Neither of us could have had such a wonderful experience without the other. It was a huge thrill for both of us. And I don't feel like I made a sacrifice to do it at all. A lot of people had asked me how I was feeling about Karapoti, and whether I was looking for a personal best. I might have been good for one, but I had something more important to do.



Mum, Dad and Jo headed off, and Kaitlyn and I spent the rest of the afternoon sifting around, celebrating with our friends. For the record, it was incredibly satisfying to once again do the Roadworks jersey proud. I had hoped to finish in the top 20, but didn't for a moment think it was achievable. We also had our eye on Kerei and Angus Thompson's record. In the end, we met all our goals: 7 minutes taken off the record, 19th place overall, and of course the most important bit, we did it together and loved every minute of it...

If you made it this far, thanks for reading!

Originally published on vorb