Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Triangle Trip: Credit Card Touring on Crack

The genesis of what we eventually started referring to as "The Triangle Trip" was some months ago.  Last year, around this time, Simon and I met in New Plymouth, and a few days later parted in National Park after some great riding (NP2NP write up here).  It was great fun, and set us up nicely for a good summer of riding.  We were looking for something of a similar length, and reasonably close to Wellington.  Eventually one of us stumbled upon a loop two night trip, from Palmerston North or the Northern Wairarapa, to Hawke's Bay, then Taihape, and back -- the Triangle Trip was born.

With a long, wet winter, it turned out to be pretty tough to schedule the ride, and to sort out a plan that was reasonable, given the levels of fitness we had.  Some plotting and scheming later (Simon on his favoured google maps, and me with, we settled on a start/finish at Woodville, in the last weekend of September.  We'd both be at the end of the Wellington MTBO Series, with some hill sessions under our belt.  We also both done a nice long 45km MTB ride, the Karapoti Original, back in ... March.  Gulp...

Friday -- Day 1

Before we knew it, Friday morning was upon us, and Simon's Cannondale 29er was loaded up on my car next to my Giant XTC in 69er mode.  My bike was nice and clean, with two outings under its belt since the Brevet.  It was also sporting nice new XT brakes and a replacement fork (my SS was refusing to part with the Brevet fork...).  The weather was pretty crap, and when we got to Woodville we were pretty anxious about the state of things.  We shacked up in a cheesecake shop, sadly not eating cheesecake, and watched the rain sheet down on the main road.  

Rain, rain, go away...
We sat there, silently pleading for the rain to stop.  And, it did!

A couple of short second-hand store stops later, we were both suited up and looking for a place to leave the car.  In the end, we settled on the main road just opposite the Cop Shop.  The bikes were duly pulled off the car, and final checks were made.  I remedied a flattish tyre, while Simon loaded his gear up.

Travelling light...

We were both travelling very light.  I'd innovated slightly from my Brevet setup.  I'd followed Jasper van der Lingen's lead, and sourced a 2.7L Ortlieb seat bag to replace my smaller Topeak one.  In it, I had a "full change" of clothes: socks, tights, short shorts, long sleeved woolen top, and long sleeved woolen hoodie.  I also had my GPS charger in there!  For the back-story, check out the Brevet tales...  Two tubes were taped to the bike; pump and two bottle cages with a 900mL bottle per, were also mounted.  I couldn't for the life of me find my feed bag, but had my Edge 705 mounted to the stem, and front and rear lights on board, commuter styles.  On account of the chilly weather, I was pretty happy to carry a back pack.  In it I had pretty much the gear I took on the Brevet less a bit of first aid (Simon had agreed to bring that).  I also had a Baked Alaska riding top,  waterproof overtrou, and a bit of food. 

Over the weeks leading up to the grand départ, our ambitious schedule had us somewhat worried.  We wanted to keep to back-roads where possible, but also successfully getting home was also important.  We were therefore a bit more conservative, and deviated a lot from our planned route on the first day.  Both google maps, and mapmyride had plotted a couple of small routes which weren't shown on the AA Touring Map I was carrying, and we consequently decided to stick to what was shown on the map as we left Woodville.  To begin with, we were travelling north-west of SH2, and these wind-swept back roads spat us out just at the northern extreme of Dannevirke. 

100 and how many kms to Hastings?!
After a fuel stop, we had a short spell on SH2, before turning right onto the Matamau-Ormondville Road.  This was pretty sweet riding, and Ormondville itself was a nice wee highlight...  Accommodation was on offer, and already, staying put was pretty tempting!  The legs, and other bits and bobs, were already asking "what the hell is going on here?!"

Ormondville Station

Next stop was Takapau, and the local 4-Square was literally humming.  If we'd teleported into it, and hadn't seen that we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, the sheer number of people in that shop would have given us a pretty skewed sense of where we were.  From memory it was just before 4pm (we'd left Woodville at 12:30), so maybe people were stopping in on the way home from school.


While we sat and ate, several locals stopped to say gidday and ask where we were heading.  One fella delightedly described the time he and his brother, probably about 50 years ago, had "ridden to Waipuk, and then Waipawa, and then we were having icecreams on the foreshore in Napier.  AND we had to ride back..."  It was cool to hear, as were various suggestions about back-routes to Hastings.

The weirdest thing happened on the way to Waipukurau.  Simon's knee was starting to play up and he stopped to put his seat up.  I stopped by him, and just as I was about to head off I spotted a coin lying on the ground.  Upon closer inspection, I realised I was now the proud owner of $3.70.  We'd cover about 430km on this trip.  I wonder how many other dollars we rode straight by?!

We didn't stop in Waipukurau, and like the Takapau local, we pushed on to Waipawa.  By this stage I'd discovered a feature of my Garmin Edge which plotted us a route to our destination.  We declined its offer to take Harker St, and after a brief pit stop...


... we were back off SH2 and heading NE on Racecourse Rd.  The winds were making life a little hard as was the unfamiliarity of our activity, and its duration.  Complaining wasn't going to get us there any faster.  Nor for that matter, was the GPS's route choice which would have added about 20km to our ride. 

Nearing Hastings, we'd seen the last of our daylight, and were now navigating solely using the GPS unit.  As is often the case in orienteering events, getting close to the control is much easier than actually finding it, and so it was here.  A cycle path had recently been closed, and the last 100m of our ride turned into a kilometre or so.  It was with some relief that we finally found the home of our hosts, Paul, Meg, Bella and Sam, and within minutes of arriving (at 7:30) we joined Simon's bro Jonathan and the family at the dinner table. 

We collapsed into our beds a few hours later, clean, fed, and entertained.  But, with trepidation about the day soon to come.  A relatively flat 150km down, Saturday's menu featured a 150km climb-fest up the Gentle Annie to Taihape.

Saturday -- Day 2

The morning came quickly, and after a relatively light breakfast, we were on the road again.  We'd got our wires crossed a little, and I was expecting to make a bee-line for a cafe.  Simon, on the other hand, was keen to hit the road.  Our compromise was a corner dairy, where we grabbed sandwiches, bars and drink for the day ahead.  It was hard to believe we could have had fried chicken and chips at that time of the day.  I wouldn't have thought there'd be much of a market for that at 9:30am on a Saturday.

My GPS unit seemed to know where we were going, and it was pretty easy getting out of town.  A sign on the outskirts reminded us what we had in store...

We had a while battling some shitty cross winds before the road tipped up ever so slightly.  While traveling light like at the Brevet, this weekend was full of food and photo stops.  The first of these was at on a bit of old highway that had become obsolete as the road was realigned.  The casual nature of the trip was a real highlight, and the stops were a great chance to relax, especially when the sun was out.

The map showed a few little communities along the way.  I joked at a sign before one which was advertising "Safer Communities" - a collaborative effort by the Police and locals; it looked to me like "Welcome to Sherenden, home of a public toilet" so prominent were the stylised figures of Man and Woman standing next to each other.  We stopped at Otamauri School for elevenses.  

Otamauri school-yard
As fatigue slowly but surely set in, so do my memories blur of the riding.  It went something along the lines of climb, descend (almost as much), cross a funky bridge, climb, descend (almost as much), climb...  etc etc, ad lassitudinem.  Pictures though, tell a thousand words...

There's snow in them there hills...


Steep?!  No shit...

By the time I took that last one, I was getting well over this riding lark.  My legs and arms were tired, my arse sore, and my mind beginning to weaken.  I'd had enough of admiring (and possibly coveting) Simon's wicked looking Ground Effect Juggernauts.  Looks like I'll be adding to my fleet of 4 pairs of Supertankers this summer.  Despite beginning to waver, or, as is probably more accurate, despite wavering all over the road, there were reasonably frequent highlights.  Short sections of unsealed road were a blast, and each of the river crossings and high saddles were pretty neat.

The climbs were starting to feel like a grovel...

I was well broken by the time we crossed a stunning old suspension bridge, running parallel with the road.  We faffed around for a bit, but finally got the money shot.

I wonder...

By the time I reached the top of the next hill, I was rooted.  Simon had finished putting his storm gear on, and I did the same, trying to keep the strong cold wind out.  I was out of food (apparently), but Simon still had some vittles and was happy to share.

The final hill was a mere 150m or so, not even as high as Mt Vic.  The climb was a steady one, over about 6 or 7km, one which when fresh, I'd probably have easily done in my 50 tooth chain ring on the road bike.  This evening though, 22 x 34 wasn't quite enough, and I was reduced to a walk for a short section.  Partly, I just wanted a change from pedaling.  Mostly, I was too fucked even to push that ridiculously easy gear.  The final calories in took the form of a Strepsil -- as much energy as a barley sugar, I was told.  Keep moving was the subtext.

Taihape arrived at 7:30, the same time we reached Hastings to the minute, though our meeting was a bit of a disaster from my point of view.  We went straight to New World and I shopped up a storm.  I downed a small tin of tuna and some crackers, and followed that up with a muffin.  Not yet sated, I started on a second muffin, barely stopping for breath.  By the time that was a wee crumb on my lip, my body had started to grizzle.  Stomach was telling brain to let up a bit, and brain's response was something like "well, what you gonna do about it, spew?"  We walked to our digs, and I wondered whether or not stomach would take brain's challenge.

I made a pot of tea to see if that would ease things, and we both unpacked and showered.  One of the great things about traveling so light is the packing and unpacking are pretty simple affairs.  It's easy to decide what to wear as well.

We then made for the main street, and settled on Chinese takeaways.  The $10 meals were huge...

... so was my ridiculous plate of left-overs...

That's probably the most food I've failed to eat, ever.  I had enough room for a few bits of chicken, and a couple of mouthfuls of rice.  Despondently, I gave up, and we slunk out.  I felt pretty lousy, and wished I'd told the proprietor that his food was delicious, but that I was sick or something.  After all, that was pretty much the truth.

We retired to the motel, and while Simon got stuck into the Dom Post, I had a nap.  When he woke me at 10pm, he was offering me a chocolate mousse, of which he'd eaten about a fifth.  I inhaled about half of what was left, brushed my teeth, and was soon asleep again.

Sunday -- Day 3

We got the worst bit of Sunday over and done with at the very outset.  We woke at 8 or so, and immediately changed our watches to 9.  Razzin' frazzin' daylight savings robbing me of a precious hour of sleep, I think...

I ate the last of the chocolate mousse, Simon didn't even notice, and crumpets with nutella soon chased that down.  We stocked up at the servo, and I had a cup of coffee and we shared some sort of kumara pattie.  The roads were dry, and the wind was at our 6...

As we rolled out of Taihape, I could immediately tell that I was going to ride well this day.  My legs felt strong, which surprised me after the shambolic previous evening.  Today was shorter than both Days 1 and 2, and, I was well trained now, having nailed a couple of long rides in advance of today's duties.

We knocked the 7 or 8km on SH1 out quickly, hanging a left turn towards Kawhatau Valley.  Immediately the scenery improved out of sight, and we were treated to some great views into various river gorges.

Just as we were setting off from a snack-stop, Simon spied a "Gorges to Sea Cycleway" sign.  I enjoyed giving him a hard time for getting so excited.

Another food/photo stop -- we were being treated to some great gravel road riding this morning.

Finally, we were on the sort of terrain my bike was set up for.  While it feels OK on the tarmac, the big volume tyres are sluggish.  On the gravel though, the bike really comes to life.  The 29er front wheel and rigid carbon fork soak up all but the worst bumps, and the stiff rear end gives good bang for my pedaling buck.  The descent from our wee picnic stop at Auputa Scenic Reserve was stunning.  There was a big stand of mature kahikatea on our right, and the gravel road was a hoot and necessitated regular photo stops...  My cell phone camera struggled to get Simon in the right place at the right time, though he was a good sport about it!

He seemed to have much better control of his camera!

Take 1!

At some point, buggered if I can remember quite where, we hit the seal for a while, and apparently joined a recent race-route.

...and soon after that we were rolling into Apiti.  I wasn't expecting to see anything here, so the tavern was a nice opportunity to do some shopping.  I sculled down a Red Bull, and grabbed a little treat for our next stop. 

We chose not to follow advice to take the Pohangina Valley Rd, passed on from local roadies, and instead headed out of town on Makoura Rd.  We were soon making our way past a small flock of sheep, being herded by Mum in a ute, with a dead sheep and two very unimpressed-looking kids in the back. 

Not long after the sheep, we had a stunning gravel descent, before a climb or two and our next stop.  I proudly produced a twin pack of salami I'd got at Apiti.  Simon didn't hesitate a second before turning my kind offering down.  Likewise, I didn't hesitate a second to scoff it down.  Tasty!

The ride into Ashhurst was pretty tedious.  We were into "are we there yet?" mode.  My legs were rocking though, and apart from dropping Simon a couple of times on little rollers, the last 20km were pretty uneventful.  Simon waved me on at Ashhurst, and I got stuck into the 14km to Woodville.  Sanity prevailed, and while we'd planned to ride Saddle Rd together, the Manawatu Gorge was where it was at.

We'd been fantasising about all-day-breakfast at a cafe in Ashhurst, and while the town centre had slim pickings, I phoned in a likely venue only a few minutes after leaving Simon.  That important job done, it was into TT mode through the gorge.  I had a wicked tail wind, but with the armco barrier on one side, and cars on the other, it was a little nervewracking.  

Shortly after a bunch of cars had passed me, I saw them up ahead in what appeared to be a traffic jam.  Soon enough, I saw what all the fuss was about.  I'm glad I still had my camera with me!

Whoa Nelly!!!!
The engine looked to be at an angle of about 20 degrees off the track.  The driver must have fair shat himself.  I extricated myself from the makeshift carpark, and then took advantage of my slim vehicle for a final shot.  Great views of the windmills up above too...

Then, it was back on the bike for the final kilometres back into Woodville.  I missed the cheesecake shop by about 30 minutes, but was happy to knock out the 14km jaunt from Ashhurst in a little under 30 minutes.  Not bad for a fella who couldn't eat his dinner the night before, and who had to stop for a phone call and to take photos!  Gotta love those tail winds...

It was with mild relief that I found the car where I'd left it.  A quick TXT to Simon signaled him to drop down a dinner order.  Those scrambled eggs were just the ticket!

The drive South passed quickly, and Simon mocked me mercilessly as I described the delicious steak I was going to cook myself on arrival home.  I screwed things up by eating some tuna and crackers at Mana, and dinner was off the menu.  By good fortune the steak offerings at Woollies were unappealing. 


The next morning I woke with heavy legs to a knock on the door.  By the time I opened it, the courier was long gone, but there was a parcel on my doorstep.  Opening it, I found a nice new saddle...  Today, the bike got a jolly good clean, and the seat was installed, all ready for the next adventure...  I look forward to it, knowing full well that the last will be very, very hard to beat. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Maps, maps, glorious maps - the bike chapter

Over the last few years I've used the Wellington MTBO Series as a mighty fine way to kickstart some Spring fitness.  There have typically been 4-6 events per series, spaced roughly monthly.  In 2008 and '09, I managed a race win, and by virtue of stepping up to organise a round, went into the final round with a chance of winning.  With solid rides in the last race of each of those series, in 2010 I had the opportunity for a three-peat. 

The MTBO community is rather small, despite (in my humble opinion) there being no better way to get out mountain biking!  For measly $15 per race, you get a fantastic map and the chance to ride in a familiar area in unfamiliar ways, as you play join the dots.  The events are great interval sessions, with regular forced stops to clip your control-card, and much more frequent stops to look at your map properly to work out where on earth you are.  A small community puts pressure on organisers, and overseers - unlike XC events, it's difficult (if not impossible) for the course-designer to compete - and so the 2010 series would consist of only four events: Makara Peak, Waitarere, Belmont, and Wainui, with the best three scores to count. 

In race one we were treated to torrential rain.  Ant Bradshaw had set a fixed order course with additional controls bearing time credit.  This innovation - e.g. grab a 20 minute bonus at the bottom of Leaping Lizard - adds an interesting dimension as you try to estimate how long it will take vs the time bonus.  Given the horrid conditions, I commited to only going for the compulsory controls.  An advantage of spending so much time in the park over the years (mostly on foot!) is that I know it like the back of my hand.  It kind of spoilt the event in the traditional orienteering sense, but it was handy to be able to memorise the whole course before setting off.

While I was pretty pleased with my strategy, I came unstuck finding one control.  Ant had mumbled something about wading through gorse at the summit control.  The map showed it at the far corner of the aerial compound, so I blindly charged into the gorse, with my bike carried above my head (the control card must be attached to the bike).  I couldn't find the control, and instead of stopping and slowing, my instinct is to panic a little.  I actually climbed a sheer cliff (without my bike) to see if I could see the control from a higher vantage point - I couldn't.  Before getting back onto the 4WD road, I added further insult to injury, or perhaps it should be injury to insult, and gave an old shoulder injury a bit of a tweak.  Literally 2m riding after giving up on the control, I saw it out of the corner of my eye.  I could reach it from the 4WD track...  Back underway, I had a whale of a time riding down the streams flowing down the tracks.  I was the second off Course 1, but by virtue of very few bonus controls, ended up in 4th.  Simon won (he went for EVERYTHING), with irregulars (is that the opposite of regulars?!) Jonny Waghorn and Ed Crossling between us.

Round 2 at Waitarere was custom made for me.  I navigate pretty well, and love the flat stuff.  The year before, I'd picked up a win out there on my Giant XTC, a nice light-weight XC race bike.  But, I was in much better shape then.  After a long lay-off, I tend to struggle a bit with hubris - a fancy term for "thinking I'm faster than I am".  To combat this, I decided to ride my singlespeed, thereby eliminating the chance of blowing myself up hooning around in big chain-ring on the flat course.  The bikes was souped up pre-event during a bit of sifting at Revolution Cycles.  Off came the heavy steel fork (1241 g)

and on went the ex-Brevet carbon fork (785 g).

It's always a lovely atmosphere there on a Friday evening, especially so when I get to watch my beautiful daughter wrenching!

I drove out to the forest with Simon, and got suited up and underway pretty smartly.  I had an absolute mare to start with, screwing up my navigation through the suburb, and then grossly overshooting the "Site of the Shipwreck Hydrabad" shown on the map.  Turns out it was none of those hulks off in the distance (each in turn becoming the next likely suspect).  Of course by the time I turned around and headed back the way I came, Simon was heading towards me, and was robbed of the opportunity to make the same mistake!  Though, there'd be plenty of opportunities.

The rest of the event went well for me.  The singlespeed was a good choice, and protected me well from myself.  19 controls meant for plenty of excitement over the 105-odd minutes I was riding.  Simon was second, 7 minutes back, with Liam Drew (absent in round 1) another minute back.

Round 3 was at Belmont.  I'd been enjoying riding the singlespeed, and it came out to play again, on a course much less suited to it.  I didn't have a great ride, and felt like I was grovelling most of the time.  I struggled for traction in many places (SS + Stan's Raven tyres were not a good choice).  I was making good progress nonetheless, and getting a great workout.  Fatigue is very difficult to measure in the moment, but it was almost certainly a contributing factor to a god-almighty screw up mid-event.  I was looking for a couple of controls at the north end of the course, accessed using a good 4WD track heading north-east.  I hadn't really looked at the contours of the land on the map, and lost count of the various intersections en route.  Rather than stop to get my bearings I ploughed on, before finally getting to a group of bunkers not shown on my map.  I was clearly in the wrong place.

I headed back the way I came, and now, by studying the map and reconciling it with what I could see, suddenly realised (after my 1.5km detour) that I was pretty much where I needed to be.  Back in business, I was heading back to base.  The descent back into the Stratton St valley was treacherous, and I made a bit of a meal of it.  Again with an early start, I was back early, and waited to see what fortune (or misfortune) had struck the others.  It turned out this day, Liam had had a blinder, five minutes quicker than I was, with Simon 1 minute faster.  Liam's blinder on the bike had come at the expense of his mapreading though, and with 3 minutes deducted for ignoring a one-way arrow, only two minutes separated the three of us on the score sheet!

The final round was at Wainui, and having had little time out there, Simon and I snuck out for a mid-week, after-work ride.  Dave Sharpe had kindly lent me a tubeless tyre with a damn sight more tread on it than the Raven, and this was mounted on my XTC - set up fully rigid, but nice and light, and hopefully, fast!  We made good use of the available daylight, and then some.  Without Simon's company, I would have been reduced to a walk by the end of it.

Saturday followed a pretty wet week, but the day was dry and clear.  I made a botched attempt at getting a new mapboard installed, having turned up late, and without the necessary tools.  Nonetheless, my trusty old bit of core flute was soon zip-tied to the handlebars.  Uncharacteristically, I decided to start last, and enjoyed watching my competitors head out.  Soon enough, I was underway myself.  We blokes on Course 1 were to first do Course 3, and then Course 2, stopping in for a new map at half time.

Course 3 went pretty well, and I knocked it out in about 28 minutes (Simon was fastest, at 27 minutes).  I'd made one small screw-up, by missing a connector from Beeline onto Jungle Jim, but it wasn't much in the giant scheme of things.  Shit happens, as they say.  My legs were coming to the party nicely, and though not as strong as I've been in recent years, I felt pretty good.

Course 2 started with a challenging decision from the Spoonhill ridge down into the suburbs.  I took the option of going up Spoonhill before dropping down a bit of steep single-track (on foot) - probably a slow choice, given the conditions.  I made good time in the suburban controls, and was soon heading up the hill again.  With three controls to go, I was at the top of the Spoonhill ridge, with my destinationjust off the side of Snail Trail, where the singletrack from Spoonhill cuts across it.  Rather than head back to the start of Snail Trail, I shot off down Spoonhill.  I took the right option where the track split, and was off the bike for just about all if it.  I said a cheery gidday to a man and his son sitting on the side of the trail, and charged on down, jumping back on the bike eventually...

Hang on...

I'd gone way too far down the ridge, and it dawned on me way too late.  My turn off had probably been where the man and his son had been sitting. I'd been so certain I'd see the intersection I needed, I'd paid no attention to the distance I was covering.  By this stage, turning around was probably going to see me worse off than continuing down.  Within a few seconds I was taking a right fork, and ended up down on the track around the lake.  Up and over the board walk, I pushed my bike up a bit of singletrack to the bottom of the Snail Trail switchbacks.  This was possibly slower than riding up the main route, but it took me straight past my penultimate control.  I resisted the (miniscule) temptation to cheat and clip out-of-sequence, but knew exactly where to go upon my return.

Up the switchbacks, I overshot the intersection I needed - the bottom was just as indistinct as the top.  I lost only a few seconds with my small detour.  The next was simple, and off to the final control!  It seemed to be shown in the old quarry - but 20m in, knee deep in water, I looked more carefully at my map - bugger!  The control was on the singletrack up on my right.  Back out, and back on the bike, and the last control was duly clipped.  I popped out into the open just behind a fellow Course 1 rider, Lee Campbell, a big powerful-looking bloke on a fully.  He'd paused to check his map, I guess to make sure he was done.

I cheekily asked him "wanna put on a show?" and his response was silent, but might has well have been shouted at full bore.  The race was on!  We had to cross 200m or so, make a left turn, and then cover 15m to the finish.  What an exhilirating end to a great series.  We hit the corner together, and, stuck in grossly inappropriate gears, muscled our ways over the "finish line".  It was a bloody good thing I was on my XTC, as I needed every little watt of power to translate into forward momentum.  We rode in like a couple of roadies at the end of a classic.  We were shoulder to shoulder, and both giving it our all, with neither of us yielding an inch!  What a blast!

Prize giving ensued straightaway, and as Lee and I stood marvelling that we hadn't crashed or knocked anyone down, the organisers were doing the various sums required to work out who'd won the series.

Simon, Liam and I had had one win each, and none of us had an organiser's freebie.  It turned out none of us won race 4, with Tom Bradshaw taking the event out.  It was now going to come down to the time gaps relative to Tom's time: 3 minutes from Liam back to Simon, and another 3 minutes back to me.  That was enough to put me out of the running for the series.  In the end, Simon's 2nd score (Belmont) was slightly better than Liam's (Wainui), and both Simon's 3rd and 4th scores were better than Liam's 3rd score. Simon takes it by half a length!

Simon at Waitarere - 2010 Wellington MTBO Series winner

I didn't get my third series win, but it was a 4th win for the Makara Peak Mudslingers!  How nice to keep it within the team!


Tomorrow, Simon and I are heading out of town, on our "Triangle Trip".  We're hitting gravel roads (where possible) between Woodville, Hastings, Taihape and Woodville.  Watch this space...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Maps, maps, glorious maps (Part 1, no bikes)

The last 7 or 8 months have been pretty quiet on the riding front, but I have been getting out once in a while, invariably induced out of my stupor by a Michael Wood special.  Mike's owner of, and is a mapping guru.  His orienteering quality maps of the Wellington region are absolutely fantastic, to the extent that sometimes I feel like I could ride along without looking where I was going, and steering only by looking at the map.  That said, it's a bit bloody annoying to get lost when you can't blame the map...

Map 1:  Moonshine 24 (sort of).  April 17/18

Simon and I were both pretty excited to see a foot rogaine organised for the Akatarawa Forest.  We'd done our 5th MTB rogaine in there in January, and were both pretty jaded after months of hard work culminating in the Kiwi Brevet.  This event would give us a chance to explore the forest without bikes, and also give us something slightly different to focus on through March.  A nice "training" opportunity was the Mounting Mt Matthews trip I blogged in April.

We didn't figure my grotesquely misshapen legs were up for 24 hours with the big boys, but the organisers had kindly put on a 2 x 6-hour option.  Their kindness ended promptly though, and they set up a pretty grueling programme:  the first period started at 6pm through to midnight, and the second at 6am to midday.  The six hours in between didn't sound like a very good rest and recuperation period, as it would prove.

We did enjoy a leisurely start to the day though, unlike most of the 24-hour participants who got their maps at 9am with registration and gear check before that!

We turned up mid-afternoon, and added our tent to the plethora of others at the end of Bulls Run Road, in the Moonshine Valley.  We were given two portrait A3 maps, both at a 1:25000 scale, and each had a bunch of controls on them, with point-values ranging from 10 to 100.  We decided we'd have a crack on the western map in the first 6-hours, most of which would be in pitch darkness, and head east the next morning...

It's a week short of 5 months ago we did this, but some parts of it are still as clear to me as if the event was a few weeks ago.  We grabbed a couple of controls before lights were necessary.  For a bit of a hoot, and because I don't have much in the way of "tramping gear", I'd decided to compete as if for a MTBO, so I had my helmet on, and a powerful helmet-mounted light, suitable for MTBing in the dark.  Before long, it was in use.

The approach to our third control confuses me to this day.  We were heading north, and would pass the control within a few mm on the map (maybe 30m?).  On bikes, we would have been forced to ride north for another 800m or so, before returning on a parallel track to the control.  No bikes meant all bets were off, and we were more than welcome to bush-bash through the green stuff shown on the map, which only now do I see from the Legend means "Forest, very difficult travel"...

Ignoring clues like this (or oblivious to them) we hung a left at a likely-looking spot, climbed over a wire fence, and got about half way through the short bush-bash.  At this point, the bush became so dense, we decided to crawl down around the dense stuff on our left.  We went down hill for a bit, then sidled around to our right, and then went uphill for a bit...  Anyone heard the brain teaser: "if you start at the south pole, walk 10km north, 10km east, and then 10km south, where do you end up?"  That's pretty much what happened to us, 'cept we weren't at the south pole...  Tails between our legs, we were back on our original 4WD track within about 30 seconds, and, determined not to walk all the way up to the intersection, we forced our way over a couple of fences and down a cliff a little bit later on...  It would have been much much easier just to stick to the 4WD from the outset...

Next up we shot down some singletrack we'd never seen on a map before.  We saw some of the 24-hour guys near the top, before getting a little confused (it's dark, remember...) when the track got a little indistinct.  Compass use prevailed, and we were able to find the track again a little further down the spur.  It spat us out into a stream which was an absolute treat.  We had to spend about 500m in the stream itself - there was no track shown on the map, nor on the ground.  Shortly after a pretty distinct bend, we had to scramble up a bank, gain about 50 vertical metres in short time, and pick up the control at the western end of a saddle.  Simple!  We were probably fortunate we weren't the first ones through there, and found the control OK.  It was pretty exciting being off-track in the pitch dark, something we'd never had to do in an event before.  Adding to the exhilaration was incredibly cold fresh water splashing up my bike shorts, and sightings of a couple of eels napping out of the water on some mudbanks.  Choice!

We saw people fairly regularly from that point, including a couple of teams in conference - clearly struggling to find the control they were looking for!  We navigated well, but no doubt benefited from a lot of luck, to supplement our cunning.

We enjoyed a bit more off-track stuff, culminating in a walk down a stream near the event base.  I literally walked with 30cm of a control perched up on the stream-bank, just by my left shoulder.   No doubt I was thinking "it must be around here somewhere..."  I gave Simon a good laugh.

The six-hour "break" wasn't particularly long, once supper, sleep, and breakfast were factored in.  We started at 6am, in the dark again.  I'd chosen not to carry a light, and we were relying on Simon's lightweight torch.  It did the business, and it was pretty cool being out and about as the sun came up.  The valley was full of mist, and our early climb gave us some awesome views from above it all.

By 7am, we were testicles deep in the Whakatiki (?) River.  An out-and-back leg up to good points forced us to cross in a couple of places, and it was impossible to find a sufficiently shallow crossing.  WAKE UP MEN!!!!!

The second day mostly went well.  Simon navigated like an orienteering god along ridge section with only "an intermittent ground trail".  I think he had his track-designer's hat on, and was using the shape of the ridge to put us where he thought the track should be, while I was more focused on trying to follow something I could actually see.   It was impressive stuff to find him calmly clipping controls which seemed to me to be in the middle of nothing in particular!

We went astray dropping of the ridge we were traveling along. We wanted a saddle point, but ended up in a gully with far too much supplejack for my liking.  We had to give away a control, and I got pretty tired clambering around.  We almost (but not quite) had fisticuffs near the bottom, where the track became indistinct, and my legs weren't up for hunting around.  It turns out it's very hard to follow a track which crosses a big ditch which people tend to jump across, rather than clamber through.  We got there in the end though.

We had plenty of company back in the Whakatiki, some kilometres north of where we'd enjoyed it earlier in the day.  The team nature of the event was enjoyed by both of us in this stretch as we were rarely both wrong!  On average, things worked well, and we found every control we looked for fairly directly.

The last couple of controls were in steep country, and we were well ready to sit down by this stage.  The legs certainly weren't expecting this running nonsense.  We weren't too stressed by the deadline, so no sprinting or panicking was required.  The big boys and girls can keep the 24-hour stuff to themselves though!  Impressive stuff keeping both body and mind together in incredibly demanding circumstances for that duration!

Map 2:  City Safari.  May 16

The City Safari must be getting close to its 10th year now.  Initially run out in the Hutt Valley, recent offerings have been based in Wellington City, with the start/finish area down at Queen's Wharf.  Back in 2008, Kaitlyn and I were entered as Family Randal, a couple of months after our successful Karapoti Challenge.  The day before, I lost control of my bike on Hawkins Hill, and hit the road reeeeally hard (to the tune of a mild brain injury and rib pain for 6 months!).  Rather than withdraw, I enlisted my bro's help, and Family Randal (Kaitlyn and John) became Family Randal (Kaitlyn, Dave and John).  I was so stoned on pain killers I had a great time hurtling around the hills of Wellington, and Dave and Katy seemed to enjoy themselves too.  What's more, we won the 6-hour family event, and successfully defended that title the following year.  So, it's become a bit of a tradition, and of course we were on the start line this year too.

The event starts with map distribution at 8:30am.  Teams then have 40 minutes to nut out a course.  This year's map went from Seatoun in the East to the city end of Karori in the West, and as far north as Newlands.  Controls have a points allocation, and the aim is to maximise your net score, subject to a time limit and hefty late penalties.

Your first points are earned, not from this map, but from a short prologue course on the waterfront.  This is a torrid affair - you're handed very hi-res maps, with (from memory) 5, 10 and 20 point controls on it.  You get no planning time, so when told, you turn your map over and start running!  Poor Kaitlyn did absolutely famously in this phase of the event, and basically ran her little legs off the whole time.  The controls all have clues, and you write down the answer on a piece of card, before (or while) heading off to the next one.  We headed north, and finished off with a lap around the Ferg's Kayaks building.  We pushed it a little bit much though, and were 1 minute late, losing a whopping 10 points! Even so, the results would have us at the pointy end of the field, which is growing year by year.  The next 20 minutes were spent recovering from that intense ten minute period, and finalising gear/route etc.

A unique aspect of this event is that teams have travel passes, and can use busses, the Johnsonville train, cable car, and the Seatoun Ferry.  We'd never caught the ferry before, and so were keen to do this.  The timetable gave us about 50 minutes from the start to departure, so we focussed on grabbing some decent points without running the risk of being late.  We did a circuit of Thorndon, and grabbed a couple of controls on the slopes of Tinakori Hill (with all its fascinating sights)

...and were back (a little puffed) with a few minutes to spare.  Councillor Andy Foster didn't quite have to name-drop as he and Ramash turned up just as the ferry was about to leave.  They took pity on him and gave him enough time to grab a boarding pass from the office, and we were away only a minute to two after schedule.

The "harbour cruise" was stunning - the day day was incredibly still - and it was a really nice opportunity to rest up!  It also gave a good opportunity to plot and scheme a little more, and have a bit more breakfast!  We got a nice surprise at Seatoun Wharf where Ma and Pa "Randal" were waiting and waving!

After a quick hello, we were off for a loop around Seatoun, including the tracks above Breaker Bay.  There was no bus for us, so we walked through the tunnel, and grabbed a couple of controls in Strathmore.  We waited for a while for a 44 bus, anxiously unsure as to whether we'd missed it, but fairly sure we hadn't, and within a few minutes walk of another control. We were conservative, and waited for the bus, which came directly.  Having gained a whole lot of height, we then walked down to Tarakena Bay via the WW1 Ataturk Memorial.  Then, it was a long walk around to the south end of the airport, a control up on a mound, and a bus ride into town.

We dropped the ball a little bit on our bus ride.  On our way to Mairangi Road, we drove past 3 controls (Dixon St, Kelburn Parade, and Kelburn School) whose clues we could have answered by looking out the window.  There's a trap for novices right there - in fact, it was probably my experience of actually visiting each control, and physically clipping your card that screwed it up for us.  Nonetheless, the bus ride was another nice chance to rest up, and we made good progress across town.

From Mairangi Road, we collected points on the western flanks of Tinakori Hill, through Otari, and Karori Cemetery.  Suckers for punishment, we walked through the city end of Karori grabbing more points, before climbing up and over Northland and into Kelburn.  At Kelburn School it became apparent that we could have answered "[Post at school corner]  What is the post made of..." - the bricks were obvious...   Again, the reflectors at the roundabout by the uni would have been clearly blue from the bus.  I'm not sure which way we might have gone with these controls already bagged, but it certainly would have been different!

By the time we reached Boulcott St, I asked my cobbers whether they wanted the good news or the bad news:  one was "we'll get back on time" the other was "we'll be back on time even if we grab the Dixon St control after the Bond St one..."  Taranaki St took us onto the wharves, and we made our way expeditiously back to the sails at Queen's Wharf to check in, and have a much deserved break.

Katy was absolutely astounding during all of this.  A disadvantage of time passing is that she gets heavier each year, and so by next year, shoulder rides with Pa or Uncle Div will be completely out of the question.   Problem is, she also enjoys winning, so there's some conflicting incentives - to go out and enjoy a rare day with just the three of us together, or, do we make a race of it, have some tough periods, but maybe go home with a satisfying result.  Next year I'll be a bit more mindful of this, and I think we might be a bit more willing to ease off a bit when necessary.  Maybe even a cafe stop will be in order!

If you haven't tried this event, it's a great format to enjoy with kids. The public transport's a nice twist - Simon did the three hour version with his 2-year-old (and got the controls from the bus!!!)

Part 2 to come (with bikes) - the 2010 Wellington MTBO Series.

Map 3:  Makara Peak
Map 4:  Waitarere Forest
Map 5:  Belmont
Map 6:  Wainui

Monday, September 6, 2010

Riding scared

No photos or words designed to motivate or exhort to adventure, no blow by blow accounts of mud, sweat or blood.  I'm hoping that by finding the strength to write this today, tomorrow I'll find the strength to push those pedals.

About a year and a half ago, I had all manner of blood tests and even chest xrays, hoping to find out what was making me unable to ride a bike.  In the end, every physical ailment known to man was ruled out, including cancer, leaving depression as the likely culprit.  After all, the head bone's connected to the legs bones, so why not?  I started a course of anti-depressants (venlafaxine), and soon after the fire's began to burn again.  Wellington's MTBO series led on to all sorts of whacky rides, culminating in the inaugural Kiwi Brevet.

That incredible experience was always going to be a hard act to follow, and "recovery" involved little to no exercise, and long work hours.  Finishing an 8 month stint at RBNZ as a researcher morphed straight into rewriting a text book, and getting back into work at the uni.  In a remarkable attempt to make life as difficult as possible, a decision was made to address the anti-depressants which apparently weren't performing as expected.  Initially my dose was increased, and after a few months, this increase was reversed, before tapering off to zero over a month.

Three days after my last tab, I started a 48 hour period in bed.  If I'd been able to drive I'd had gone to A&E to be tested for meningitis, such were the severity of my symptoms.  A bit of internet sleuthing later, I self-diagnosed SSRI discontinuation syndrome, and was on the road to recovery again, at the expense of the flushing period on no meds.  That was two months ago, and I've finally been a week without taking a pill (I was down to one-sixth of my maximal daily dose - 1/4 of my "standard" dose - every second day and I was still getting nauseous on the third day after...).  I figure I'm now in the clear... of one problem, only to be faced with the original one again.  Today, on the way up Glenmore Street, I could barely push the pedals...

And that's where the fear comes in.  I've been "training" again for a couple of months now.  Progress has been slow (no doubt complicated by "other things") - the trip to Whanganui with Simon was not the magic bullet, and the second season around, multiple ascents of Mt Vic seem far too hard.  On the upside, I've been doing some trail building with Simon which has been rewarding, a great chance to chat, and grab a sneaky bit of mid-day exercise.  My last two hill sessions have been pretty tough, upstairs and downstairs.  And again, that's where the fear comes in...

Why can't I make this bike fly?  Am I too heavy?  (Probably.)  Did I have enough to eat?  (Probably not.)  Am I sufficiently rested? (No - on the sleep front, and no - you just flew half way across the world.)  Is Simon having a good day?  (Possibly - I can never tell!)  Is it just too hard?  (No!  Please... no!)  As I've reduced my meds to virtually nothing, is my depression rearing its ugly head again, and starting to take hold as it did in March last year?  (I think so...)  Why must the very thing that has the potential to bring me so much joy, be the activity that is most at risk?

So where to from here?  Even if I start a new prescription tomorrow, last time it took 3 months to kick in.  Do I pray to Tomac, Merckx, and all the other gods of cycling that my legs be strong, my heart pump fierce, and my bike steer true?  Or do I look more locally, internally even?  Mind over matter is one thing, but can I employ "mind over mind"? 

Maybe every day won't be a bad day, and maybe a good day will coincide with a riding day.  Maybe even a race day?  It would be nice to fire on Saturday at the final of the MTBO series, but I can't rely on it.  Perhaps I should ban questions for that day.  There's absolutely no doubt the riding will be hard.  That's what it's about, right?  The simple aim of a race - to race!  How?  Ride as fast as you can.  How?  Accelerate until to go too fast, then ease, but not too much, and try to sit as close to that top level as you can, dynamically adjusting that level to suit the event and your own abilities.  See the problem?  It's got to hurt, and as soon as it does, why not ask why?  Can I ban that question?  It risks an answer I don't want - and can't afford - to hear.  The answer that spirals out of control, and makes me want to stop.  The answer that sees me roll to a halt, only then realising it for what it is, and putting in a few more pedal strokes before being overwhelmed by the self-doubt again...

I'm not a competitive person by nature.  But, I am a committed and dedicated friend.  Donning the Roadworks kit becomes something like a ceremony - it allows me to ride for someone else - to honour the faith and investment in me as a rider.  Riding with Simon, especially when we race as a team, also allows me to make it about him, and us, and keeps me from looking inside, and asking questions.  I just get to bury myself because I have to, or if I'm firing, I get to play the support role that I love, and take on as much of the burden of effort as I possibly can.

Head-to-head's a different matter though.  And that's where this post comes in.  Pretend I'm on a couch, talking about myself in a way I can't do simply through introspection.  And believe it or not, the logician in me realised somewhere during that last paragraph, that I can exploit that same thing that affects the way I ride for Simon.  He'd be fucked off to win the series if I didn't give it my all.  He'd also be annoyed if Liam, who's on fire this season, wins the series because I gave up.

Maybe today's commute sucked simply because, like Samson, I lost a lot of hair last night.  Or, because my body's fighting to recover from 16 hours of flying following an unfamiliar diet, and followed by seven ascents of Mt Vic in a couple of hours.  Or, because I forgot my specs and had to spend so damn much time at a computer today.  Or, all of the above.  Maybe tomorrow will be different?  I'm going to publish this, despite getting to the point where I can see where I have to go in the next week.  I don't lose that realisation by discarding this post, but I do lose my words, which strangely enough are precious to me.  I'll get to read this post after shit rides, and you never know, it might make sense to someone else as well.  Oh, and it's an act of bravery that I'll get to emulate on the bike sometime...

If I can click "publish post" here and now, surely I can drive that next pedal down like a man possessed?

Only time will tell, and I'm employing more complex strategies than just crossing my fingers.  This is one of them