Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mon petit Petit Brevet

Since the ill-fated Whaka 100, my excitement about Tim Mulliner's "Le Petit Brevet" had been slowly eroding as it became more and more certain that I'd not been able to take part.  A couple of months ago, Simon and I had pored over maps and spent a couple of hours on the internet, analysing the course and its services.  We had flights booked, and an accommodation booking for Okains Bay.  I'd sourced new Ortlieb bags from wiggle.co.uk, and after the Triangle Trip and of course the Kiwi Brevet, had my gear list dialed.   Sadly, as the weeks went by, training was non-existent, and my knee-niggle refused to settle.  The Great Forest Rogaine was too stern a test, and a fortnight out, full participation was out of the question.  I was uncertain about whether being on-course would affect riders' enjoyment of the unsupported nature of the event, but Simon was encouraging.  Finally, the point of no-return came, and on Wednesday I made the decision to head down with Simon, and ride gently through the middle of the course, short-cutting all but a couple of essential hills. 

Rather than opting out completely, I decided to still take the light-weight approach.  I packed an almost-complete set of clothes:  Skins leggings, a pair of Ground Effect Juggernauts - slightly more bulky than my stubbies, but much easier on the eye - a long sleeved woollen top, and a woollen beanie.  Undies and socks were the thin end of the wedge as far as comforts go, so didn't make the cut.  As the weekend drew nearer, the weather forecast worsened, and so I added a woolen singlet, and my Ground Effect over-trou - scorned by me at first sighting, but I'm now unable to deny their worth.  Riding gear consisted of trusty Roadworks bibs, knee-warmers, my soigneur.co.nz woollen jersey, and the very versatile Ground Effect Flash Gordon.  Zip-off sleeves are a great thing for those of us that tend to overheat.  The jersey was of course a tough call, but I couldn't bring myself to look like I was in race mode. 

In my handlebar bag went a bunch of accessories:  zipties, tyre boot, patch kit, multitool, Sweet Cheeks chamois cream, meds, suncream, lip balm, the awesome Led Lenser headtorch I got from Ma and Pa for my recent birthday, a short cable lock, toothbrush and paste (regular sized!), a survival blanket, bog roll and some lube.  Since I was on holiday, I also packed Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, and a slightly better camera than the one my cellphone sports.  I had a photocopy of the 1:250000 series map of the Banks Peninsula, and three OSM bars and a small block of chocolate for emergencies.  These bits and pieces all fitted nicely into my handlebar bag, and the clothes went in my seat bag. Pump, a tube and a couple of bottles were on the bike, as was my Garmin Edge.  Ironically, I chose not to pack my charger.

Fully loaded for a weekend away!
At 11am, I left work and met Simon for the ride to the airport.  We made decent time, and were able to strip down the bikes at a leisurely pace.  They both clocked in at around the 13kg mark with seat bags included.

The flight to Christchurch passed quickly, and soon we were rebuilding the bikes.  One of Simon's aerobars had been rotated on the carbon handlebar, and one of my seat-stays now sports a bare patch.  Otherwise, everything seemed in order.  We rode into the centre of town, and soon found ourselves at the Cycle Trading Company on Manchester St.  What an awesome bike shop!  We sifted in there for ages, admiring the great range of commuter and touring gear, and some of the ancient bikes hanging from the ceiling. 

This Jones Special was my favourite...

We made some purchases, including a Bontrager feed bag, and then headed off towards Tim Mulliner's place.  Not only had he organised an event for us, but was kindly putting us up for the night too.  En route, we chilled out at a small park, and enjoyed catching up for the first time in what seemed ages.  One of the downsides of me being injured...

 We made one final stop at the New Brighton pier before finding Tim's place nearby.

It was great to catch up with Tim, and his partner Tina, both Kiwi Brevet vets.  Tina had prepared a delicious lasagne, and I was envious at Tim and Simon's excuse to tuck into seconds, thirds, and maybe even fourths.  We eventually cut the conversations short, and turned in.

The alarms went off fairly early, and at about 6:45am we set off for Hansen Park near the bottom of Rapaki Track.

Tim and Simon fully loaded for 300km of hills

It was a nice ride, and I had a good opportunity to observe the two distinct setups.  Tim had most of his gear on his back, while Simon didn't seem to have much gear at all! 

We were among the first to arrive and with every new arrival came the opportunity to investigate a new setup.  It was hard for me to be there and not to be participating fully, but I knew I'd made a good decision - both to withdraw from the event but still to head down to Christchurch.  It was good to see some of the Kiwi Brevet crew - Ollie, Michi and Jasper.  I was disappointed not to see Darren Tatom, and even missed him a bit later as I watched the riders go by!

There were a few fasinating setups, not least mfw's (from vorb) steed with his entire food supply electrical-taped to his frame.  Ingenious!

At about 7:45, Tim started the briefing, and I slunk off, in search of a decent photo spot on Rapaki.  I followed my nose and soon found a likely place.  After continuing up the hill a bit, I realised the first place had been the best I'd find, and had a short ride back down the hill to it.  About 10 minutes later, the riders were visible, and I got shooting!

Ollie (r) and Lance leading the charge

Event organiser, Tim Mulliner (L), and Darren Tatom.  Michi Speck in behind.
The field were spread over a few minutes, and when the last came by, I saddled up and joined them on the ascent of Rapaki.  I passed a few, then stopped for a few more snaps.

The field makes its way up Rapaki
At the top, I met scatter from vorb, and we cruised along the road together. We met and chatted to a few riders as they crossed from singletrack on one side of the road to the other, and even rode with someone taking their first shortcut!  We chatted to Jeff at Sign of the Kiwi while his espresso was being prepared!  Classic stuff.

Further along Summit Road, Ahad, another vorber, zipped past - he'd had a late start.  The descent to Gebbies Pass was sketchy, and I felt for Michelle on her road tyres.  Wet cattle stops on corners and skinny tyres shouldn't be forced to mix on fast descents. 

View down to Lyttelton Harbour

At Gebbies, we turned right and dropped down off the course.  We had a decent break at a very nice cafe down the bottom, and after yakking for an hour or so, Michelle delivered me to the end of the Little River Rail Trail, and then headed back towards Christchurch.  It had been really nice to have company, and great to meet someone I'd interacted with online for many years.

A kilometre or two into the rail trail, I stopped, and put my seat up a bit more, realising finally that it had been low since the plane trip.  The rail trail itself was very nice, and passed alongside Lake Ellesmere, apparently home to very many black swans and their bevy of "ugly ducklings", as well as all manner of herons.

Little River Rail Trail
The rail trail eventually left the side of Lake Ellesmere, and headed out onto the peninsula proper.  I almost came a cropper on a corner/drop/bridge combo which snuck up on me, but managed to avoid the ignominy of crashing on a Grade 1, suitable-for-all trail.  

I arrived at Little River to see the sad sight of one of the many earthquake-damaged buildings of the region.

I pulled in at the first cafe on the left, and struggled to choose lunch - everything looked so delicious.  I made a nice discovery in the magazine rack - not only was there a Spoke Magazine, but it was the edition in which my Kiwi Brevet article featured, including Caleb Smith's lovely photo of me cresting the Maungatapu Track.  How strange to see a photo of me riding in a Brevet while in the back of beyond not riding in a Brevet.

"Wish you were here" reads the title...
I took my time over my meal, but eventually headed outside again.  I lowered my seat a bit, pleased that an experiment on the rail trail had correctly identified the currently-correct seat height.  Within a few minutes' riding I was almost on the Brevet course, and just missed Ollie Whalley making a left turn towards Hilltop up ahead of me.  I found a nice spot near the intersection, and spent the next 30 minutes stretching before Simon and his brother-in-law and riding buddy for the weekend, David Drake, showed up.

Oh hurro!
I rode with them until the turnoff to Harman's track (the scene of the very first MTB event in NZ) where we separated for the ride up to Hilltop.  I cruised up SH75, and after what seemed like an eternity, swung into the carpark of the Hilltop pub, to find 5 bikes leaning against the wall.  Inside were Simon and David, with Ollie, Michi and Lance, and all were getting stuck into all manner of food and drink.  I was there for about 40 minutes before they took off up Summit Road, while I went to the top of Harman's Track to wait for the next riders.

After 20 minutes or so they arrived: Tim, and Geof, one of the guys who'd called me by "sifter" at the Whaka100.

Tim and Geof appear out of the cloud
I took my time packing away my camera, and then followed them along Summit Road.  I was tempted to wait at the Double Fenceline trailhead, but wasn't certain there'd be anyone still on that part of the course, so continued.  Visibility was down to about 20m in parts, which made for some nervewracking riding.  I ignored the turnoff to Little Akaloa - that taken by the others - and proceeded down the ridge to Okains Bay Road.

No sooner had I passed a sign reading "give way to uphill traffic" and negotiated a steep switchback, than I almost got run off the road by a granny intent on straddling the centre line in her car.  I was very pleased to be so narrow!

The descent to Okains Bay was a long one, and I had a strong urge to live here for a while - I wasn't looking forward to the ride back out in the morning.  Espresso Jeff's sister Karen was down at the Bay store, and was piling into a pack of fish'n'chips.  She'd missed Double Fenceline, and was chilling out waiting for her bro.  We nattered for a while until I started to cool down and headed off to find my digs.  When I got there Simon and David were there, and Tim was there too.  At one mention of hot chips Tim disappeared, and after about 15 minutes, the three of us joined him.

There was quite a crowd, and it was fun hearing the various accounts of the day's riding, and it was fantastic to have such a well-stocked store to spend time and money at!  After dinner, Tim decided he'd head off, joined by Geof.  David, Simon and I left Karen and headed back to the backpackers, giving at least one more rider directions as he passed in search of food.

After about 10 minutes in the communal lounge, gazing into space and being entertained by Simon's factoids about birds, and their upper and lower mandibles, and semiplumes, I realised I'd hauled a book all this way and rushed off to get it.  Someone had a Neil Young CD playing, and I was able to listen to Heart of Gold - a song which Kaitlyn had spent the last term at school learning to play on the guitar.  What a beautiful reminder of the opportunity costs of these adventures.

Eventually it was time to turn in, and despite the room smelling of something proverbial, sleep came easy.

When I awoke, the other two beds in the room were empty.  I trust Simon and David had been courteously quiet, but was quite shocked that I hadn't heard them leave at all.  They'd left me a couple of hard-boiled eggs - I ate one, polished off the half packet of Tim Tams from dessert the night before, and set off.  I realised I'd forgotten to fill my water bottle, and upon finding the store closed, decided I'd manage.  Rather than grovel up the devil I knew, I decided to follow the Brevet riders on the gravel climb out of the bay.

What Hill Road?!  Gulp...
While the climb was too steep for me to ride in places, the views it afforded were well worth it, and the sections I walked were good opportunities for a bit more breakfast.

I had a short diversion through some private land, before eventually concluding the farm track I was on was not Cameron's Track up to summit road. Rather than back-track, I pushed up the hillside before soon regaining the correct route.  As I climbed, the road got more and more exposed, and soon I had my overtrou on. 

View down to Okains Bay

The track crested a high-point before a fast descent to Summit Road. I'd intended to retrace my "steps" of the day before back to Hilltop, but the wind was so bitter, I turned around and instead dropped down to Akaroa Harbour.  At Duvauchelle, I met Karen and Jeff, who'd camped out on Big Hill Road in a shed, with Ahad for company.  They'd decided to pull the pin and were setting off to Hilltop to meet some friends in the sag-wagon.

I had coffee on my mind though, and in true when-in-Rome style, a plate of French Toast.  The wait for food was punctuated by the sobering discovery of the explosion at Pike River Coal mine, but it was otherwise nice to be a little less isolated.  After a nice break, it was time to saddle up again.  The climb to hilltop went surprisingly quickly, and I was flagged down by Jeff, so stopped in the garden for a bit.  He was there with Karen, as well as Claude (who Simon had almost crashed into on the lake-front at the Great Forest Rogaine) who was also calling it quits.  There too were Roscoe and Dominator (more vorb-handles) who'd obviously been home overnight!  They reported Ollie had finished at 5am - what a machine!

Rather than head down SH75, I took Harman's Track which the others had climbed the previous day.  The gravel section was steep with plenty of corrugations, and I was glad for my suspension fork and light load.  No sooner had the gravel turned to seal when I encountered an SUV hurtling towards me.  I shat myself, but not nearly as much as the driver, who I suspect was lucky to keep his vehicle on the road.  We were both lucky I was well to the left and so narrow!

Soon after I was back at Little River, with a bunch of riders with only Lake Ellesmere Spit, Kennedy's Bush climb up the Port Hills and a whole bunch of flat kilometres left ahead of them.  I chatted to Ahad a bit, and Claude again, and then grabbed a little to eat.  I sat outside, and enjoyed watching randoms perusing the bikes in the stands. 

Claude at Little River

I left with Sean and John, and rode with them as far as their turnoff.  I enjoyed a bit of a tail wind, and was soon at Tai Tapu, and ready for another sit-down.  My knee was really aching by now, and so I popped a voltaren with my icecream sundae, and settled in for a bit of reading, hopefully letting the anti-inflammatory start to take effect.

The ride back to Tim and Tina's wasn't over nearly quickly enough.  They were both home, and it was good to see them.  I listened intently to Tim's tales of a cold and short night in the public loos at Little River, including details about how they'd rigged up the hand-dryer to stay on (until a fuse blew).  There was no sign of Simon and when I flicked him a txt I head his phone peep in the next room. 

Tim and I headed out for pizza around the time it started to rain, and Simon arrived soon after we returned.  More tales ensued, and the evening became rather hilarious when Tim brought out an old copy of Classic New Zealand Mountainbike Rides, and his very own pie-rating system, and some great hand-written notes! 

Tim and Simon's energy belied their exertions, but eventually common sense prevailed and we all turned in.  I got up in the morning in time to thank Tim and Tina for their hospitality.  Simon awoke soon after they left, and soon he and I were heading off towards the airport.

We stopped briefly at a pie shop, and I was finally able to take another voltaren - I bloody needed it as my knee was killing me.  We made another stop about 10 minutes ride from the airport - near a bike shop that the Kennett Bros had done some debt collection from in Classic New Zealand style. 

We arrived at the airport with enough time to not have to rush, and were soon back in Wellington.  The voltaren was doing its thing by this stage, and the ride around Evans Bay to work, tail-wind and all, was pleasant enough.

Simon and I parted at Te Papa.  We'd ridden in excess of 500km over the weekend between us, and while both having entirely different experiences of the good and bad of the Banks Peninsula, it, once again, had been bloody good to get out.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The great Great Forest Rogaine

There's nothing like a good bit of map-sport to get me enthusiastic about riding, and the Great Forest Rogaine, a six-hour teams event in the self-proclaimed mountainbiking mecca that is Whakarewarewa Forest, was tantalisingly close once the dust settled from the ill-fated Whaka100.  

 Arriving home from that trip with a sore knee, and bike setup all a-kilter, the two weeks home in Wellington were pretty devoid of riding.  I commuted most days, and snuck in the odd dash across town to Mount Victoria for a bit of track work.  The Hataitai Zig-Zag project had kept Simon and I well entertained through winter, and it was pretty exciting being at the final stages.  A couple of sessions after work would be the extent of my "training", but I figured it made a hell of a lot more sense than a gym membership!


I'd had a thoroughly unpleasant experience riding the Epic in Rotorua, and the rogaine gave me a good opportunity to try something different.  Figuring an "optimal" route was likely to figure plenty of hills, gravel roads and little singletrack, I decided to ride my XTC, but rather than leave it in 69er mode, I decided to swap the suspension fork from the Epic onto it.  A crazy schedule at work, and my beloved wrench Oli Brooke-White at Roadworks being a bit under the weather, necessitated yours truly doing the work.  Luckily, Oli's thoughtful speccing of my steeds over the years made the change fairly simple - the same head-set on both bikes meant it was a simple matter of dropping the suspension fork off the Epic, the carbon fork out of the XTC, putting the suspension fork on the XTC, remounting the brake caliper, and swapping the disc rotor from my 29er wheel onto a 26er.  It took me bloody ages, but all was well in the end!  While I was at it, I mounted my new mapholder, popped the cranks into the obligatory 3pm-position, and voila!

I reckon the bike looks grouse, and a couple of small corrections later, it was good to go.  I was also revelling in my new-found love for maintenance, and was basking in the satisfaction of having a bike almost clean enough to eat off.  I fired the bike in the car on Friday afternoon, and was off.

The drive north was pretty uneventful, despite an odd highlight - actually seeing a car driving to Marton.  The drive was short too - only as far as Ohakune, where Simon and Sarah had been since Thursday.  It was good to see them, and after a good sleep, we all piled into the car to complete the drive to Rotorua.

We arrived just after lunch, and registered for the event at a rugby clubroom just behind the Outdoorsman on Tarawera Road.  Once we'd done that, we headed off to our digs for a bit more lunch and preparation for the event.  We were going to get the maps at 3pm, and after an hour of planning time, would be out on course for six hours (not a minute more, with luck).

Lights and fuel on board, we set off at about 2:30, wishing Sarah a good afternoon.  We cruised out to the Outdoorsman where we grabbed a forest map, and then got ready to get planning.  As always, the map was pretty daunting at first glance.  Having spent a week riding around in the forest using the park-map, seeing an orienteering-quality map was a bit of a shock, and I didn't recognise much at all.  The map was two A3 sheets, with the city in the West, Tarawera Road in the north, Blue and Green Lakes in the East, and SH5 in the south.  We had a lot of ground to play with!

Planning a route is always a lot of fun, but can be stressful.  Ideally you want to grab controls worth the big points, and in an event like this, where the last 2 hours or so would be in dark or near-dark, you need to leave yourself options at the end.  In hindsight, we didn't think carefully enough about how fast we could get to the finish in an emergency.  An emergency is almost certain to occur - you lose points fast when you're late home.  By the time the hour was up, we had a pretty detailed plan through to about the 5 hour mark, and we'd have to wing it from there.  We were basically doing a big clockwise loop of the course, gaining height using Tarawera Road, blasting out to the lakes, and then returning via Long Mile Road.

We made our way out to the corner of Long Mile Road for the start, and soon found ourselves following another team of two up Tarawera Road.  The pace was comfortable, and after a couple of minutes, I glanced back at Simon - he gave me a nod, and we swung out, and soon had clear road ahead of us.  By the time we swung off the road onto a steep 4WD climb, my knee was starting to flare up.  I tried to put it out of my mind, but had no qualms jumping off and walking the steepest sections.

Unlike the Akatarawa Attack, a similar event in Wellington, bikes were not a compulsory accessory when clipping controls, so for the first 80 points we were on foot for the final approach.  After a short blast along Tokorangi Pa road, we were off bike again and hunting around in the bushes for the next control. 

Navigating in these events is great fun, and is definitely something that improves with practice.  A couple of intersections and cheery hellos from some walkers later, we had our third control and were en route to our fourth via The Corridor.  I was really impressed with how my XTC felt under me, and quietly relieved!  We grabbed an impromptu 50-pointer at the SE corner of the fence around the "ponds" and were then off in search of more!

The next control was at a "clearing" at the end of what looked like an old 4WD road, about 100m off the main road.  As we were ditching our bikes, we saw Kiwi Brevet vet Charlotte and her partner Tim on their way out.  The "path" soon vanished, and we were bashing our way through a seemingly impenetrable bit of scrub.  Our first major foray away from the bikes, and a simple-looking approach, meant that both of us had left our maps on the bike - novices!  We soon found the control, but not without a bit of imaginative guess-work.  Lesson learned, that was the last time the maps got left!

Next control was on Katore Link, and the one after that was on Be Rude Not To, though that one we came at from the adjacent 4WD road.  The Red Tank was next, then an in and out to the clearing half way along Dragons Tail.  More points awaited us at the bottom of Hot X Buns!  We were hauling, and picking up points every few minutes.

Next up was the climb up Direct Road.  We overshot a little connector track by a few metres, but soon corrected for another 70-pointer.  The next was a few minutes up the hill, and had been placed to be more accessible than what was shown on the map.  Great!  Our next points were just beyond the start of Hot X Buns, and we were onto the right-hand map.  What an exciting sport! 

I was recognising bits and pieces after the Whaka100 and my subsequent rides, and so I knew the next control was on Frontal Lobotomy.  I screwed up at the top of the track though, and we cut into the bush a little too soon.  We didn't lose any time, but expended too much energy for it not be counted as a mistake!  No time to dwell on it though, and we're off down Tawa Road, looking for a 4WD stub on our right.  It wasn't there, and hurtling down a 4WD road looking for a track over your right shoulder is next to impossible anyway.  I hesitated, and by the time I realised we'd gone too far, Simon was out of earshot.  There was nothing for it, alas, but to chase after him down the hill.  By the time I got his attention, all that was left to do was to say "we've gone too far" and start riding back up the hill.  Eventually we'd retraced the 500m or so, and even travelling slowly, looking uphill for the intersection, it was bloody hard to find.  We got it at first foray into the bush, and so it was that we headed up towards Tuhoto Ariki.

Last month I wrote "I'm reminded of the Akatarawas as I slip and slide through the native bush. I start to regret coming this way today. It's too wet, and I struggle. It's nice to walk from time to time."  It had been slow, and was still very prominent in my memory.  Simon was keen to ride it though, so when we saw there were two high-valued controls on it, and that it fitted perfectly into a good loop, there was nothing for it but to include it.  I was very pleasantly surprised.  Not only had the track dried out immensely, but my XTC lapped it up, and apart from a couple of dismounts to scamble over some logs, I damn near rode the whole thing.  We emerged at the eastern end of it fair bulging with the extra 170 points we'd just got.  

Our next treat awaited us on Split Enz, at the end of Chinaman's Road.  Shown as a minor road on the forest map, and "Push/Carry Overgrown" on the O-map, we still anticipated it would be not only visible on the ground, but passable.  We were wrong!  We spent a few minutes looking for it, and soon realised that there was no way we'd make it through on foot let alone with bikes!  We were stuck!  The MTB track was designated bikes only, which meant we couldn't run back up it.  And, it was one-way down.  There was clearly no way we could run parallel with the track, so the only option was down. 

Exiting at the bottom of the track was going to cost us a huge amount of time and energy, so we leaped off the track at the major switchback.  We figured we would have to sidle for about 200m before popping out onto Moerangi Road.  Simon took point, and excelled!  We found an old vehicle-width bench, and damn-near could have ridden the last half of the distance if we'd bothered trying.  A major disaster averted, we headed back up the hill feeling rather chuffed.  As we rode past the likely junction with Chinamans Road, Simon noted he'd probably still be bush bashing had he been on its own.  As usual, we were firing well as a team.  We'd both made plenty of errors, but never really at the same time, and had avoided a good few catastrophes already...

Simon asked me about my knee.  I asked him not to ask, and kept riding.

We'd just clipped our next 50-pointer when we met a couple on foot.  They were looking for where we'd just been, and I heard the fella comment that some of the controls were bike-only.  True, but not that one!  It was too late for me to say anything as we hurtled off towards our next 90 points, on Bush Road up above Blue Lake.  That bagged, we had a nifty ride down some sweet singletrack not on the forest map, and onto the next!  This one was not where it should have been, but it suited us well, and cut our ride short by a minute or two.

We screwed up the next control.  In hindsight, it was clearly below the road, but we'd shot off the road too early and had climbed.  When a group of three women who we'd been seeing regularly in the last while (not rude, just not able to speak English!) ran past below us, we figured out where we were.  Within a couple of minutes we were scrambling down a steep bank, pausing only to dislodge bush lawyer from our clothing and skin.  69 was locked and loaded, and we were back into search mode.  

The approach to the next control was fast, and we both rode through a particularly loose intersection with our left feet unclipped, and legs held out like outriggers!  Both upright, we were soon at the control, and then heading down Jeff's Link.  We had about a 1.5km out-and-back along Green Lake for a 90-pointer before ducking off down a little-used bit of track for yet another control.  This was followed by a fast section along the lake in the reverse direction to the Whaka100.  Not everyone was doing it in reverse though, and I was about 10m back from Simon when his rear wheel locked up in the gravel.  We both managed to keep out of the way of the oncoming riders, and each other, and soon had another 80 points for our troubles.  

I had a rare bit of good intel from the Whaka100, and with that in mind we continued around and rode up Mossy Track.  It was shown as a pretty marginal route on the O-map, but my recollections from the race were good. We were soon on the descent to SH5, and it was time to start thinking about lights. 

We turned away from the highway at Waipa South Road, and had our first night-time navigation challenge to pick up a control up a bank to the right of the road.  Simon lead us straight to it, and before long we were back on the bikes.  We took the next left turn, which consisted of a transfer from tarmac, to tarmac covered with loose gravel, to gravel road - always a bit nervewracking, especially at high speed, 4+ hours into an event, with failing light.  Neither of us came a cropper, and we were soon turning off Sandstone Road into an old quarry site for our next control. 

I almost bought the farm soon after.  I was in front and blasting along a slight downhill, when a hole came into view.  By the time my brain processed what I was seeing and started issuing orders I was almost on it, and was feeling pretty anxious.  The hole was huge - almost taking up the whole road, and was at least 26" deep in parts.  The outer reaches of it were about half that, and so it was, that at fairly low speed I dropped my front wheel into one of the shallows and, while shouting "STOP" at the top of my lungs shot over the bars.  I was relatively unscathed, but had given my sore knee a bloody good clip on the bars as I went over.  And, next time I went to look at my map, it wasn't there!  Well it was, but the holder had been rotated forward 90 degrees so from above it was almost invisible.  

No time to dwell on such things, we were soon taking a right turn up Heath Road where we grabbed some more points on a short out-and-back.  The next control was steep 60m climb on the top of a small hill.  We ditched the bikes and Simon lead the way.  As we climbed, I had the sense that we were moving left across the face rather than climbing straight up at the control.  Consequently, when we clipped the control and set out for the bikes again, I argued for a correction to the left (the old right).  Simon had asked me to assume control of the clip cards so by default I had the compass which was zip-tied to them.  When my intuition disagreed with the compass, I started to lose the plot a bit.  Simon was well on his way too, having received, in the dark, one too many instructions to "go that way".  Rather than call "time out", I spat the dummy and thrust the compass at him, and he set off in a SE direction.  I refused to follow, having lost all faith in the compass (WTF?!?!) and stormed off in the direction I thought was right (actually more like N).  Simon, rightfully, was getting bloody pissed off at me for dragging him away from perfectly good sign from the route we and others had taken UP the hill.  How embarrassing!  We bitched at each other all the way down the hill, and eventually popped out on the road.  At least we knew which way to run.  If we'd turned left, I never would have forgiven myself.  As it was, we ran for a couple of minutes before the flashing red light on Simon's bike came into view...  How damn embarrassing.  I don't remember if I apologised profusely at the time.  I vaguely remember making a comment which was intended to portray my regret...  But, no time to dwell on such things...
Right, right, right, and we were on a short bit of 4WD for another control.  Right, left, left, right, and another.  Left and along spat us out onto 8 Mile Gate Road, and short respite from the challenges of trying to MTB in the dark AND read a map.  

We managed to avoid piling into a large gate across the road, and with the weighbridge in sight, we made a right turn before stopping at what seemed to be an 8-way intersection.  Eek!  

Simon was a bit disoriented, and we were both still a little fractious from the earlier shenanigans.  I knew where we were though.  Simon rightfully was apprehensive about putting his faith in me, but did, and we were soon heading up Nice Road.  The 70-pointer was shown just off to the left of the road, and the clue read "(Almost) Stream Junction".  We stopped alongside a sump hole at the first likely low point in the road, but the bush was dense, and there was no sign of any waterway passing under the road, so we proceeded.  The first absolute confirmation that we'd overshot was the start of Sweet & Sour - about 700m beyond our stream.  I didn't rate our chances of finding the control even if we'd gone back, and so when I noticed an 80-pointer beyond the end of Sweet & Sour, suggested we press on to get that - a nice consolation prize for riding all the way to here.  The singletrack seemed to take forever, and then followed an intricate series of intersections.  Left, ignore the right turn, clearing, track veers right, ignore the left, take the next left, cross the stream, take the next right, and the right after that, and voila!  Not quite...

We missed an essential right turn.  The stream crossing was as evident as the last one we'd sought, i.e. not at all evident.  Our turn was another one over your right shoulder.  Perhaps we'd both been distracted by an obstacle on our left.  Who knows.  What is true though, is that we'd gone too far.  And, we screwed up again.  We were within 300m of the control, and had we retraced our path, we'd have been riding towards the intersection, not away from it - we would have been looking for a nice left fork.  But, almost certainly rattled from our argument, and the miss on the 70, we focussed more on our looming deadline, than the simplicity of going back the way we'd come.  Would've, should've, could've.  We didn't, and headed on.  The 4WD track we were on spat us out onto Larch Road.  I got distracted by something on my right, and crashed into something on my left.  It's funny how once things start to go bad, they keep going bad!

We actually managed to find our next control - a nice little 40-pointer on an out-and-back path off the main route.  What a bloody relief...

We now had the slightly distressing experience of passing a control we already had - at the Red Tank.  We'd set ourselves up for it though, by not properly sorting an entire route.  It's not an easy thing to do though - 6 hours in unfamiliar terrain is a bloody thing to orchestrate perfectly.  No matter - soon we were on Nursery Road, and after a short diversion to grab yet another control we were racing along towards home.  

We had more disagreement to come though - an 80-pointer awaited us in the middle of Genesis.  I favoured the straight run at it from the steep climb I'd ridden chasing Carl Jones and Alex a few weeks earlier.  Simon was confident we'd get it from the top.  He was right to be confident, we turned off the grassy area onto a 4WD stub, took the left onto singletrack, the next right, and the next left, and there was the control.  I felt we'd turned left off the main route, and was keen to keep going.  Simon was less sure we'd swung left.  Just as I "knew" I was right as we marched off the hilltop, I was equally insistent here.  It's no surprise he was apprehensive.  But, I'm a lot of man to restrain, and he had no choice but to follow, trustingly or otherwise.  

In stark contrast to the hilltop, in this instance I was right, then left, then right onto Radio Hut Road, and a quick blast down to the Info Centre.  The next control we had to take on foot, and it took a little searching.  We got it with enough time to duck up Tarawera Road for a 400m run with 40 points in the middle of it.  We had 3 minutes when we remounted our bikes, and about 30 seconds when we clocked in at the finish line.  Perfect!

I really like the photo that was taken of us on the line - it's nice to see us both looking so happy.  Certainly there's a lot to digest in an event like this, so it's nice to have a permanent reminder of how I felt when not digesting anything - just reacting.

Adding up points at the end of a six-hour event is a bit of a challenge, but we got there in the end.  Before too long we knew we'd come second - unbelievably we'd got exactly the same score as Marquita Gelderman and Rob Garden.  But, by virtue of being back 3 minutes sooner than us, they were crowned the victor!  The best scoring foot team had had an extra two hours and were 10 points back (out of a score of almost 2400 on a course with 3600 points).  Close stuff!

Of course with a result like that, the "what ifs" were inevitable.  By the next morning, we'd both settled down a bit, and we probably saved ourselves some anguish by agreeing that we were at about 60-70% of full strength - which, for me, was probably my Kiwi Brevet form less a few kilos.  I'd had a bit more riding leading up to the event than Simon, but was nursing a sore knee for the last five hours fifty of the event.  This wasn't intended as an excuse, but rather to help to put the whole thing into perspective.  It helped, I think.

We enjoyed a soak in a bit of thermally heated water off the side of the highway, and then rode the W2K track.  This wasn't without its notable events - Simon melted a hole in his front tyre on the drive south (hot exhaust) and then crashed while checking out the loop track about Kinloch.  Sarah and I went ahead and ate ice cream!  I enjoyed the ride back to Whakaipo more than I had the outbound journey.  Simon and I stretched in the sun while we waited for Sarah to join us.  My car wouldn't start at Ohakune - I must have flooded it somehow - but eventually I got going.  I almost got hit by a house just south of Hunterville - it was on a trailer and pretty much forced me off the road. There was a second one behind it that was scarily close too, although for that one I was parked on the shoulder...  

I got home just after midnight, and looked at bikes on the internet for a bit.  It was good to be home, but it had been bloody fantastic to be enjoying riding for a change.  I'd been anxious about my knee for a lot of it, but the thrill of riding with my best mate and trying our darndest not to get lost had cut through that periodically.  Those short periods of utter joy are worth chasing, that's for sure...  

I like the look on my face in that photo. It shows me how I was actually feeling.