Thursday, March 31, 2011

Let this be a lesson to us all...

Last Sunday evening I headed out for a quick ride on the Makara Loop.  I'm lucky to not only live within a few minutes' ride of Makara Peak, MTB heaven, but also on one of Wellington's best road rides, and while usually ridden as a loop, I prefer riding out-and-back to Johnsonville.  Within a couple of minutes I'm dropping into the country side, and get to enjoy quiet roads for about an hour and a half.  To avoid arbitrarily turning my bike around at the Johnsonville end, I usually ride down Ironside Rd, turn left at the bottom, and then up Ohariu Road, making it all feel like a nice loop.

I'd had a good day, first helping out at the Revolve Series race, then hanging with Kaitlyn, but still it was a joy to get out on the road, dry despite heavy rain earlier in the day.  I'm absolutely loving my new Colnago, and was feeling good.  I hadn't fired it in anger on the climb from Makara Village, and was looking forward to doing so.  Still, I enjoyed putting in a few nudges on the way out to J'ville. 

About half-way through the return trip, I was going pretty quick down towards the bridge marking the start of Takarau Gorge when I hit a stone on the road, and heard the sound of air leaving my rear tube.  I managed to stop before the tyre was completely flat, and soon had the wheel off, and my patch kit out.  Despite owning the bike for a few weeks, I hadn't yet organised a spare tube with the requisite 80mm valve stem.  No matter...

I found the hole - two actually, a classic snake bite.  I put glue on the tube, and gave it a bit of time to fester.  Then, I put a patch on but immediately realised all was not well with the glue.  When I rubbed the patch, the whole thing moved, leaving no trace of glue on the tube at all...!  Crikey! 

I tried again, but to no avail.  My glue was off, and before long so too were my shoes.

The first kilometre or so of the road was smooth enough, and jogging in my socks next to the bike was OK.  I was a good 12 kilometres or so from home, and I figured I could at least make some progress while I worked out what to do.

Before too long, I hit one of the freshly sealed sections, and immediately realised why the road felt so rough on the bike.  On closer inspection the surface resembled a miniature mountain range with sharp peaks and deep valleys.  Plan B was to walk for a bit in my road shoes, complete with 2-week-old cleats, replacements on account of the wear on my original pair. 

Plan B sucked, and soon I was working on Plan C.  I took the tube out and tied a knot around the hole.  After a bit of a struggle, I got my 700x23C tyre seated, and pumped the thing up.  The sound of air hissing was clearly not a good sign, and about 100 metres later, I was pumping it up again.  I managed a couple of iterations of this before concluding it was quicker just to keep walking. 

About 500m from the Makara Beach turnoff, and just over 3km into my walk, the valley had opened up nicely, and I decided to take to the paddock adjacent to the road.  The fence had an electric strand, and it was a bit awkward to get my bike and self over the fence without getting zapped.  Soon I was jogging along, enjoying the soft wet grass, and the ridiculous situation I was in.

Before long, the stream running through this land veered towards the road, coming to within half a metre of the fence.  There was quite a narrow shelf for me to traverse, and such was my concern about toppling into the stream, I paid no attention to the fence.  About half way across, my left arm came into contact with the electric fence.  I got a hell of a fright, and was lucky not to overbalance into the stream...  I was soon at a gate back out onto the road, and decided to take it rather than brave any more fences. 

By this stage, my feet were feeling very trashed, and light was fading rapidly.  I decided to call the waaambulance.  I rang Simon's cell, but no answer.  Similarly, his home number went unanswered.  My man Oli was at home recuperating from his long-awaited hernia op, and I was reluctant to trouble any of my other friends.  I'd got myself into this mess, and it was best that I get myself out of it, rather than bother anyone at 8pm on a Sunday evening.  That said, I hadn't had a chance to chat to Simon for what seemed like ages, so kept trying his number.

About 5km down, my calm demeanour was really being put to the test!  Every time I checked my phone all it would offer was "Emergency calls only".  This is an emergency, fucker!  So, I could neither continue to harrass Simon, nor could I enact Plan G, which was to phone a cab.  I was now only 6km from home, it was almost dark, and even paying the cab to come out was going to be worth it.

By this stage I was wearing shoes when my feet couldn't stand the road surface, and socks only when the shoulder had either grass or a decent mat of pine needles!  It was shoes off when a passing car, about the 4th or 5th I'd seen, stopped about 50m up the road.  A woman's head appeared out the window and she called out "are you alright?"  My wheels were soon in the boot of the car, and I had my frame on my lap in the back seat.  The couple were from Christchurch, and were in Wellington for the weekend to escape the terrible carnage down there.  They seemed like lovely people, to whom of course I was very grateful!

Less than 10 minutes later, I was walking up my driveway, about 3 hours after setting out for my 41km ride.  My new cleats were absolutely rooted, and my feet weren't much better.   I'd been home about 10 minutes when Simon rang to see what I'd been after!

I patched the tube the next morning, with glue from my "other" patch kit.  One week on, its still at a decent pressure...  I've been enjoying the irony of that immensely.  Go prepared folks!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Montana Judy rolls again!

Patience is not usually my strong suit, but when it came to getting Kaitlyn out mountainbiking, I knew it was of utmost importance.

Going back a few years, my wee five-year-old was barely able to fit on the Phillips trailer-bike when we bought it from Mud Cycles.  Nonetheless, I would take regularly take her to school on it, unhitch it and leave in the school's bike rack, only to meet her at 3pm and hitch it back up to my old beater MTB.  We'd head down South Karori Road and up Koru.  We'd stop at the Skills Area, eat afternoon tea, and read a few stories.  Then, we'd typically head down St Albans (this was pre Lazy Fern).

Over time we became more adventurous.  We dabbled with the Skyline, and once Kaitlyn fell off the back of the bike when I lost control climbing a steep switchback.  Another time, I almost gave myself a hernia heading up the 4WD track from Parkvale Ave, only to try again on the Snakecharmer at Makara Peak a few weeks later - also far too steep!  Soon we'd been through Missing Link, Aratihi and down Zac's and Varley's tracks. Most of my riding outside of commuting was with Kaitlyn, and it was both a relief and an absolute pleasure to get out.

Inevitably, we entered a couple of events.  We did a couple of rounds of the PNP series - Mt Vic and Makara Peak.  The start line was great - while I fumbled for my second pedal, Kaitlyn was putting the power down and driving us off the front of the Rec-Men's bunch.  Once, I went the wrong way, and the little person out the back told me so.  Not just a back-pedalling passenger any longer.  We were racing as a team, and it was something we both seemed to be enjoying immensely.

Mt Vic, in our matching ensemble
Our riding progressed, and soon we were heading down SWIGG and Starfish, and did the Orongorongo Track on an evening ride organised by Tama Easton.  Our ride lengths crept up too:  a four hour ride through Salvation and Long Gully to Wellington's south coast, returning through Happy Valley and the bottom of the Roller-coaster was good effort.

We took the "bikes"on a road trip, and spent half a day riding from Taupo's Spa Park to Aratiatia Rapids and back, before heading up to Auckland.  On the return drive, we were both tired from sitting in the car for so long. When I asked Kaitlyn if she wanted to go straight to the motel, or stop for a ride, she surprised me.  We spent an hour and a half exploring at Craters of the Moon.  It seemed we were both happy to spin our legs a bit.

As the time passed, Kaitlyn grew and I started to struggle a tad in the control department.  Her trailer hooked up high under my seat, and any sideways movement from her threw my front wheel around alarmingly.  One of our last hurrahs was the 2008 Karapoti Challenge, and one of my favourite riding experiences ever. 

Getting set to smash the Karapoti Challenge tandem record
We joined the Kennett Brothers team later that year at the Wild Wellington relay, but it really was time to break up our happy team, and the trailer was passed onto Oli and Bodhi, and more recently Tor and Freya.

Fun faces!
During this time, Kaitlyn had learned to ride on her own - first on a 12" wheeled bike, and then on a 20" Avanti Spice.  She was able and willing, and we enjoyed reasonably regular laps of the perimeter track at Karori Park.  We had a couple of visits to Makara Peak, but it was soon apparent that Kaitlyn really wasn't enjoying herself.  The 3km climb up Koru was too tough for her, and even when she did get to the top, she was so pooped, that sometimes steering didn't get the priority it deserved.

Kaitlyn's hot-line!
A few things were at play:  her tiny bike weighed more than my fully, and our dear friend Oli was soon tasked with a weight-loss plan.  He managed to trim a bit off it, but some of those modest gains were offset by a mega-range cassette put on to give a better climbing gear.  The bigger problem was that Katy's expectations were all a bit skew-whiff.  She'd ridden these tracks before, had had a lot of fun doing so, and while she'd contributed to the climbing effort, her old man had never been too fussed when she'd soft-pedalled a bit.  Now, the climbs sucked her will to live, and progress was slow.  She was restricted to a fraction of the tracks she'd already experienced, and it was just too damn hard.  I hated to see her so frustrated, and so clearly not enjoying something we'd both loved.  Riding was put on the back-burner.

Aside from a couple of modest rides along the Hutt River, we didn't get out much, and when Kaitlyn did ask to go for a ride, she really just meant around Karori Park.  Whenever I suggested checking out the Kid's track up in the pines, she usually declined.  A couple of times I forced the issue, but she struggled both on the climb and descent.

While not putting much effort into the riding, she sure as heck was putting effort into growing, and by late 2010, the 20" bike was looking way too small.  We had a couple of casual looks around at local bike shops, and I started thinking about whether or not to buy at 24" wheeled bike.  My problem was, I had no confidence that if we did get one it would be used, and the thought of going through the whole retail palaver a couple of times in quick succession didn't excite me.

I chatted to friends about it, and one, the lovely Ashley Burgess, aka Wonder Woman, mentioned she had a steel hard-tail frame gathering cobwebs in a basement.  Kaitlyn is well short of Ashley, and while it was a tempting offer, I didn't quite believe it would work and it all ended up in the too hard basket...

Wonder Women rides CX

A couple of months later, I had Kaitlyn on Valentine's Day, a Sunday, and suggested we join the Frocks on Bikes ride from Oriental Bay to Island Bay.  She agreed, and while we were both a little nervous about the distance, riding on the road, and the pace, we were otherwise perfectly calm about the whole thing.  I left Katy with my parents, locked her bike at Freyberg, then drove to Berhampore, parked up and rode back to Freyberg.  Kaitlyn joined me soon after, and we sifted a bit, enjoying the frocks, and what was a lovely summer's day.

We gave ourselves a head start, and after a long wait at Point Jerningham, the group came by, and we slotted in.  I rode just behind Kaitlyn where I was able to shelter her from traffic, and call out hazards and encouragement to her.  She was clearly nervous, and astride a bike that was way too small for her.  It was incredibly twitchy, and it made me feel pretty bad about her predicament.  When the bunch stopped at Lyall Bay, we pressed on.  Over the small rise at Princess Bay, we had our only descent.  As I watched my wee treasure and was dismayed by her body-language (is Dad there? Is that a car behind me?  Did Dad say something?  How much further?).  Despite looking completely nervous, she nonetheless called out "Dad, I'm having a great time!"  She may well have been telling the truth, but I could see that on a bike that actually fitted her, she'd be having a much nicer time.

Fortune smiled on us, and Ashley was at Island Bay when we arrived.  True to her earlier offer, we were soon organising collection of Kaitlyn's pre-loved bike.

A few days later, Kaitlyn and I wheeled a fairly sorry looking bike from Marjolein's house back to our home.  A bunch of bits were in a supermarket bag slung over the stem.  I was soon scouring my own basement for bits.  While the frame and fork were in good nick, we'd be needing a fair few parts to get this baby running again.

I spent the rest of the afternoon cataloguing and cleaning bits.  I had only two rim-brake wheels, both Mavic rims on XT hubs.  The rear was a D521 downhill rim built by Oli years earlier to withstand my then-95kg blunderings, perhaps unnecessarily burly for Kaitlyn's needs, but the tubeless rear I had was disc-only.  I salvaged a short stem from my old Ridge Rider which had been the first bike of a workmate's husband but had been returned when he upgraded.  I had a couple of old cranksets and BBs, a set of SRAM Gripshifts which had been NZ DH legend, John Kirkcaldie's, and an X-9 rear mech which hadn't made the transfer from my Epic to Flux Turner.  Degreaser and a toothbrush were well employed that afternoon!

When the weekend arrived, I headed to Revolution Bicycles for a bit of assistance.  One week before Karapoti was not the sort of time to be burdening my dear sponsor with this job.  While I know he would have loved to help, a couple of small tasks were much better handled in the weekend from my end, and I was happy to avoid putting him on the spot when he was elbow-deep in Karapoti and Ironman steeds.

A couple of hours later I returned, and Jonty had transferred my headset from the Epic, and put a new-old-stock XT front derailleur on!  Great to see Kaitlyn's reputation commanding such quality!  That sorted, I headed down to Simon's place, where he and I set to work.  It was a lot of fun working together assembling the bike - Simon's like family to both Kaitlyn and I, and for he and I to be working side by side on such an exciting gift for Kaitlyn was choice - and a bike no less!  Everything went perfectly smoothly.  Ashley's cranks were shorter than the set I'd cleaned, so we transferred the rings over, and all the other bits and pieces went on as intended.  Simon tuned the gears, and we were soon admiring a complete bicycle!

Ready to Roll!
I didn't have to wait too long to show it to Kaitlyn, and "would you like to try it" got the anticipated response!  To paraphrase a little, the look on her face was like "are you fucking serious, let's go!!!!"  We were soon doing laps of Karori Park, stopping only to get the seat height correct.  I didn't imagine "DAD, I LOVE MY BIKE" which of course was music to my ears.

The shake-down lap!

While previous suggestions to venture into the pines were inevitably turned down, today was different.  No hesitation at all, and soon we were at the picnic tables overlooking the park.  "How was that?" I asked.  "Hard", she said.  But, she'd pedalled it all.  I pointed out that this bike has three chainrings, and the smaller one was easier than the middle one she'd been using!  That's my girl!  She didn't ride the Snake particularly well, but was far and away more confident than ever before, and gave everything a good nudge.  

No begging was necessary the following weekend, and we had a blast around the Koru and Lazy Fern loop.  Kaitlyn was loving the gearing, and I suspect the lighter package than what she'd previously been stuck with.  The only condition the bike had come with was that she had a name: Montana Judy was rolling again!

A short rest stop!
A terrible photo, but a sight that warms the cockles of my heart!

When we got home, we didn't even go inside.  Both bikes were flung on the back of the car, and we were soon spectators at a women's criterium in the CBD.  A bit more riding followed, and as fortune had it, we found an icecream shop!

Kaitlyn, Flux Turner and Montana Judy
We've since been getting out more often, and I've heard exclamations of joy more often than not.  The bike has seriously boosted Kaitlyn's confidence, and is a much better performer than she's used to.  I like thinking of it as a 29er for a 10 year old!

I'm bloody glad I held off when I did.  It would have been such a shame for Kaitlyn to develop an irreversible aversion to such a wonderful pastime.  I'm also so happy that Kaitlyn's inherited a bike with such a fine pedigree.  I know that she values the bike much more than had we simply bought one off the lot, has a well-founded sense of privilege, and enjoys riding it more as a result.

And no doubt Kaitlyn will continue to benefit from Ashley's generosity.  Not only does she have this wonderful bike, but she lives in a city with a thriving women's cycling scene, due in no small part to Ashley's efforts with Revolve Cycling.  "Down to earth cycling for women" indeed, and what a great opportunity for my growing girl who has been around people enjoying riding their bikes for longer than she can remember.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Karapoti 2011

Lying in bed at 6am, I almost managed to convince myself that what I could hear on the roof and against my windows was only wind. When my alarm went off at 7am, I was sorely tempted to turn it off, roll over, and go back to bed. Knowing Simon and Jonty were relying on me to drive them out to the event got me up though, and a quick look between the curtains signalled a tough day was ahead...

I don't particularly like Karapoti, and while often I can come up with an alternative to justify not entering (the Challenge in '08 and the Karapoti Original in '10 to name but two excellent alternatives), this year it was the main event or nothing. When I finally entered in late January, the thing that had really pushed me over the edge was knowing that I had the perfect bike for the event. (Yeah I know that can't be true, but Flux Turner has transformed my enjoyment of mountain biking and is unlike any bike I've ever ridden.) Long technical climbs, and gnarly descents beckoned...! Homegrown - the NZ music festival I regret missing each year - almost threw a spanner in the works, but nothing a quick lap and a short sift couldn't accommodate.

A busy couple of months, both at work and at play, meant a suboptimal preparation. I was about 6kg heavier than when I rode my only sub-3:27 time (2:47 in 2007), but on the upside, I had a hell of a lot more experience, good endurance, and, a very capable machine under me.

The dreaded Tip Track is certainly not the be-all and end-all preparation for Karapoti, but its really convenient to town, wakes up the muscle groups needed for the big climbs in the event, and trains the anti-puke reflex. As my dear friend Rich discovered back in '06, a quick TTTT (Tip Track time trial) does not guarantee a fast lap of Karapoti, and with that in mind I've generally tried to do at least one session with TTTTT (two TTTTs) and a few singles to boot. This year I failed on both accounts, and the extent of my Karapoti-specific training was a single ascent one lunchtime with Simon, and a funky ride up the Red Rocks track a few days later on the weekend before race day.

By Karapoti-eve, I had a clean bike, fresh brake pads and bled brakes, and a nice fat Kenda Nevegal rear tyre on, tubeless, just like the now-obsolete Continental Vertical Pro that I picked up in a bargains-bin at NZSSWC.

The conditions on Saturday morning motivated a couple of last-minute gear changes. I had time to install a bit of inner tube between the fork crown and brake-arch, heartily recommended as a crud-stopping mechanism the night before by Simon's brother-in-law, David Drake. Also, I canned the idea of carrying a second bottle in my jersey pocket, and opted instead for a small camelbak. I figured maximising the time both hands spent on the controls was a sound move. As well as just over a litre of water, I had a bottle of coke on the bike, a pump, tube, and multitool in my bag, and a small bottle of lube, a piece of rag and a banana in my pockets. 10 minutes out I also decided to carry my Ground Effect Flash Gordon (sans sleeves). With such lousy conditions, a crash or mechanical was pretty likely, and I figured I might appreciate the shell if I couldn't keep moving...

While I seem to love putting myself in the box, I'm not much of a racer, and I'm not great at setting goals. Instead, I line up prepared to work hard, and I do my best to keep that in mind. Mostly that works for me, though I always ride best when I'm Simon's teammate. Riding hard leads to that nasty feeling, and easing off usually makes it go away. Sometimes that's too tempting...! I've never rated my technical skills, and on a course like Karapoti, I really struggle to race others, generally concluding that I'm not good enough to keep up with whoever's just passed me, instead of focusing on the fact that I was ahead of them until just then...

It's fair to say Karapoti scares me. It's a very intimidating course, and there's not much of it that's pleasant at full noise. Pre-race nerves are well founded in this case!

I picked up Simon and then Jonty, soon after 8am. We enjoyed the drive out to Upper Hutt, nervously noting no improvement in the crappy weather over Wellington City. We were marshalled into a paddock - temporary parking for one of New Zealand's biggest MTB events.

We were soon cruising along Akatarawa Road, and I was pretty much ready to race - only the question of the vest remained. Simon suggested a quick warm up, so we headed past Karapoti Park for a few kilometres, turning around at the top of the first climb of any size north of the park.

Race briefing was almost over when we made it back, and I set off in search of the Didymo guys. Seems a bit silly to me that someone would wash my wheels this weekend but not the previous one (when I should have been doing a practice lap), but I appreciate the importance of people playing along. Wheels duly washed, and jacket packed away, it was time to make my way down to the start line.

It always takes twice as long to get anywhere at this sort of event - constantly banging into friends is part of the fun.  It was great to see my dear friend and sponsor Oli Brooke-White while I was chatting to Wellington 9 Peaks organiser, Asher.

At 10am, the 40-odd riders in the Pro-Elite class set off.  This year the start groups were seeded, similarly to the way the roadies handle Taupo.  I was in the next bunch, 130-odd self-proclaimed "Experts". Too much gas-bagging, and not enough of the skills developed long ago at the Rongotai College tuck-shop queue meant that when the "gun" went, I was probably about 50 riders back at the far side of the river. At least one bike was completely dunked ahead of me, and I was relieved to have held my footing, and to be only sodden from about my navel down...

Karapoti Road was a good opportunity to make up ground before the gorge, and in many ways crucial. Starting the Wild Wellington a few weeks earlier had no doubt been good prep for this, and by the time we crossed the Karapoti River I had just latched onto the back of the lead bunch.

Any hope that the course wouldn't be too bad were immediately dispelled. The first 100m or so of the gorge seemed to be  about 80% under water with the odd dry patch between massive puddles. "I guess it's a wet year" I muttered to Dan Kellow, an old Worser Bay School-mate as we blasted through one puddle after another.
Somewhere up the gorge, trying to blink some crap out of my eye...
A picked my way past half a dozen or so, and whisked past one of the massive concrete blocks at McGhie's bridge with an unnervingly small safety margin. I'm not sure how many get-out-of-jail-free cards one gets at Karapoti, but that was one of mine gone right there!

As the course opened up, I could see the lead bunch of about 8 or 9 a small distance ahead, and immediately made a move to bridge to them. That done, I tucked in, and tried not to ingest too much of the filthy water flying off the rear wheels of the guys ahead. I regretted ditching my specs earlier in the gorge. They'd become inundated with crap, but realistically I should have wiped them as best I could, and left them on until the warm up climb. Luckily I avoided getting too much shit in my eyes.

There were about 4 or 5 riders charging at the front of this bunch, including Rex Humpherson, age-group record holder, and finely kitted out in a sleeveless purple CS jersey. Behind them were a few of us who would and change position every now and then as we each in turn screwed up a line or gear choice. Bushlover Clive Bennett looked like he was on his road bike on occasion, muscling up short climbs out of the saddle, while Tony Keith looked comfortable on his beautiful Turner - his feedback had been most helpful for me pre-purchase.

The so-called warm-up climb was almost merciful, as it brought to an end the helter-skelter race up the gorge. The intensity was much more like a handicap road race than most mountain biking I've ever done. The Flux climbs beautifully, and I tried to concentrate on picking the best line on offer. My fat Nevegal was hooking up well, and I managed to stay on board for the duration of the first bit of granny-gear work.

I've done the Classic probably 7 or 8 times now, but this was the first where I wasn't passed on the horrid little descent that followed. The bottom gets steep and loose at the same time, but I managed to hold the lines I wanted, and the lovely plush travel kept things nice up top.

There was a fair bit of water coming down the stream - I'm not even tempted to call it a "track". Occasionally amongst the bubbling water I could see large slippery rocks, but ignoring them and keeping the power on seemed to be the right strategy. Soon I was out of the running water and back onto "dry" land.

There were a couple of pinches on the Deadwood climb that are just too steep for me to ride without really buggering myself, and figuring discretion was the better part of valour, I dismounted and pushed my bike up as fast as I could without actually running. Others around me weren't having much luck either, though I did witness some impressive displays of technical climbing.

The end of the Deadwood climb marked the end of my good start. I was in touch with the two Bushlovers at the top, but fluffed a couple of gear selections and then took a bad line which had me off the bike on a short climb. I wasn't particularly urgent about getting back on the bike, and lost sight of them. Al Crossling had come back to us from the Pro-Elite start, and we see-sawed a bit, and a couple of others came past me from behind.

I started to get a bit of flow back once the drop down to the Rock Garden started, but I didn't immediately realise how conservatively I was riding. The course was super wet, and there was bed-rock and running water all over the place. I soon appreciated I was riding my Flux as if it was a rigid bike with lousy rubber, and immediately started riding more aggressively.

The first couple of small steps in the Rock Garden were no problem, but I'd already started to dismount for the first large drop-off when the guy I'd just caught burped air out of his front tyre right beside me.  Thankfully I didn't get any of his jizz on me - that would have been just plain gross!  The next section was insanely treacherous, and had me really wondering if running my bike down amongst so many sharp and slippery rocks was actually a good idea.

Eventually things eased slightly, and my instincts told me it was time to get back on the bike. With both ankles intact, I leapt back on, and made what was for me, very good progress down to the stream crossing.

I'd already committed to a lube-stop at the top of the Devil's Staircase, so riding the bogs and waterways at the bottom seemed to make sense. At the first massive step, I jumped off and threw the bike up and across my back, seat post in my left hand, and stem in my right, and suitably crucified, I started the scramble up.  Remarkably, the traction on my recently purchased shoes with their hard plastic tread, was very good, and I rarely slipped. I'd also remembered to take the bungee cord off the back of my camelbak, so when the time came to put my bike down, I actually could! Previously, I'd almost always ended up with the pedal tangled in the bungee, and needed quite the contortion to get unhooked.

Mostly I wheeled my bike, and apart from the odd steep carry across my back, and a small number of short descents, I didn't ride much at all. To appease my guilt, I jogged the short climbs that I probably should have been riding. Eventually, I recognised the last little ascent, and was soon at a table sculling a cup or two of sports drink. I chased that down with a mouthful of lollies (plus a bit of dirt from my glove) and then set to oiling my chain. A guy next to me did the same.

The lube was a great move, and let me ride reasonably strongly to the top of Titi. I don't know if I actually had company, but I thought I could hear Mr-chainluber on my tail, and kept trying to ride away from him.

Apparently I looked pretty casual, at least according to Kapiti resident Rod Bardsley who was heading in to spectate. Rod did a mighty fine job selling me my first mountain bike, back in '98, and its always good to see him, even when he's making such outrageous claims!

It was fun chucking the bike into its big ring to start the descent of Big Ring Boulevard. It had been recently graded, and would have been insanely fast in the dry. As it was, there were a few alarming moments, which went something like... "Hmmm, I'm about to ride through a couple of truck-loads of porridge... I wonder how deep and soft it is? Oh, and I have to corner half way through it... [Checks speedo...] Hmmm..."

Luckily, tyres, the bike, good fortune and whatever else is necessary in these matters all aligned nicely, and as the saying goes, I kept the rubber side down. I had a slightly sketchy moment but expertly (and fuck knows how) managed to thread both wheels between two nasty looking rocks that were poking their heads out of the track surface. I think if I'd clipped either of them I might have been fishing my jacket out, but no-harm, no-foul.

I passed Jonty and Miles Davies both fixing punctures together. I wondered if they'd hit the same rock, but was soon back to focusing on the last of the descent. I got passed by a couple of guys down here, after fucking up just about every left hand bend there was. I was managing the right-handers really well too!

After the first of two stream crossings before the Dopers climb I stopped to lube my chain again. Callum Kennedy was doing the same, and didn't seem to appreciate my "you've got something on your cheek" comment. Of course both our faces were completely covered in crap - I thought it was funny at least!

I didn't bother trying to ride the very bottom of Dopers - the track actually looked OK, and the stream before it was very low, but the guy just ahead of me made a meal of it in some loose rock, and I was relieved by my choice. I passed a few riders up the long climb, including Ollie Whalley fixing what he reported to be his fourth puncture. Yuck!

I think Peter Arkwright was shocked I recognised him under all the muck! At least I have the decency to wear the same outfit each time!

The sun actually came out for a few moments on the climb, and as I looked down at the crap on my legs I noticed most of the dirt had dried. I suppose to amuse myself I imagined a scenario where the dirt all dried so hard I could barely pedal - a fanciful distraction for 30 seconds or so.

I walked a couple of the steeper pinches, including one section of clay that was scarred along its length with signs of tyres skidding off to one side or another, and shoe-prints. There was a second aid station just before the top, and I picked up another place by not stopping at it. I had enough fluid to get me home.

As with the top of Deadwood, I really struggled to get going again along the top here. My legs didn't feel that strong, and the slippery conditions and frequent off-camber corners had me out of sorts. I lost a couple of places, and another when Callum passed me at the river crossing at the bottom of the descent. He had about 15 metres on me by the time we were both on our bikes, and I immediately started hunting him down.  A racer lurks in me after all! That bit of entertainment was short-lived, but my disappointment at the sound of air rushing from one or other of his tyres was no doubt miniscule compared to his own.

I blazed past him, in the big ring.

I worked hard through to McGhie's bridge, and tried to keep the momentum up despite the track condition beyond it worsening dramatically.

The gorge singletrack was rocky and wet, and never quite as gravity-assisted as I want! Middle ring out of commission, I was cross-chaining it like a mofo, but my legs felt OK. My momentum was slowed temporarily as I tried to make my way past Challenge riders, at pace but safely. I took a bigger speed hit from the puddles though, and started to work out that where possible, going around them was best practice. I was less worried about the ill-effects on my bike than I was about the ill-effects on my speed.

My most nervous passing manoeuver was of young fellow I actually bothered to alert to my proximity. I realised hollering "passing on your left" could be a bit confusing to someone who had only a handful of years knowing what left was, and with the risk of him only hearing "left" might think he was being asked to move left. He didn't - luckily for both of us - and smartly held his line while I blazed past on his left.

Almost done...
I caught two blokes which I assumed were the guys that had passed me at the top of Dopers just at the end of the gorge. I tried to go by hard - the roadie in me not wanting to give them a tow down the road. One did jump on, but he was kind enough to take a good turn up front a minute or so later.

I'd looked at my watch only once on course - Peter Arkwright had asked if a sub-3 was on the cards when I saw him part way up Dopers. It was 12:26 - I had no idea if 40 minutes was possible from there. It made no difference to the speed I was riding at this stage though. The finish time die was cast long, long ago.

My mate and I got good support from the many marshalls and spectators on the road. I remembered to shift into my small chainring before ploughing into the river. Not much of my bike didn't end up submerged as I took a pretty dodgy route captured on "film" by Oli and Wheels on the far shore...

It would get deeper yet...

Through the worst of it...

...and out in front of my mate...

On the final stretch I ran off the beach, Oli's shouts of support echoing in my ears, and jumped on board for the last short stretch to the finish line.

I heard my name being called by Mick on the PA, and looked at my watch.  13:06, and so a 3:01...  Mick confirmed for all and sundry, telling me I'd be sure to have a crack at 3 hours the following year.

The next few minutes was information, if not sensory, overload!

It was nice to be finished, and to have not a nick on me was quite a surprise.  I soon saw Simon, and Paul with his son Adam.  While moving around pre-race is slow going, post-race it's even more so.  At this end, no-one's got an impending deadline, and the guys lurking around are all the familiar faces.  I got the low-down on Dave Sharpe's awesome ride and saw fellow Roadworks rep and defending champ Tim Wilding.  It was impressive to hear from these guys about the classy riding of young Anton Cooper who took out the win.

After a small eternity (but a very nice one, including a free bike-clean by the Didymo dude!) I made it to the beach.   It was very embarrassing presenting myself to my sponsor with almost his entire logo obscured by muck!  Hopefully he keeps me on!

As Oli himself wrote in his commentary of his great photo album, the post-race river clean up is an important tradition.  After a quick chat, I got to it...

It was good to get rid of the crap on my face, and at least make a start getting rid of it from my eyes and ears.  I did my legs too, and in the end thought I might as well give my jersey a bit of a spruce-up.  That done, I finally put my vest on, and then put my dripping wet, and cherished, Roadworks jersey back on over it.

Before too long, my body started to protest about the temperature, and it was time to head to the car.  Even bumping into Alex, and then Cabin (8th and 7th respectively), wasn't enough to slow Simon and I down considerably.

Back at the car, and in dry clothes, the lure of a hot shower was too great, and we made the call to not go back to event HQ.  A couple of hours later, I was jiggling away at the Rock stage at Homegrown, and the next flight of steps I hit felt dramatically better than those I descended on my way to the concert.  Active recovery at its best!

Today I've reflected on the race, and have concluded that its certainly among my best ever performances.  My official time looks to be 3:00:21, so if you consider not making the sub-3 club "losing", then I'm the fastest loser!  I'm surprised to see the guys I lost touch with above the Rock Garden: Clive, Tony and Dan, were not that far ahead of me at the end, so while I faded in sections, my overall pace hadn't dropped that far below my peers at the top of the first climb.

10th in Expert, 4th M30-39, and 32nd fastest around the course on the day are all signs of a pretty good ride.  They make me wonder if its about time I start rating myself as a mountain bike racer.  I know what's needed:  get my weight down below 85kg, do some focused training, and sort out some proper race nutrition.  Whether those "sacrifices" ever get made (the last isn't really a sacrifice at all, is it?) remains to be seen, but it was interesting to get a glimpse of the possibilities this weekend.

Michael Jacques today described his event as "the toughest Karapoti ever".  I'll quiz Simon about that in due course.  In any case, there's no doubt it was up there with the worst.  Bike and body are both unscathed, and in my book that's a win of sorts.  As for my time, there are dozens of places I could have made up those 20-odd seconds.  And for each of those, there were dozens I could have lost them and more.  That's bike racing folks!

I'll no doubt be back to the event I love to hate, and hate to love.  This year's was a good one to rush home from, as sifting's best done in the sun!  My helmet's off to all those that didn't roll over and go back to sleep, and as always, I have much more respect for those "Weekend Warriors" that endured 4 or 5 or even 6 or 7 hours' worth than those of us that smashed around in 3 or thereabouts.  Warriors indeed! 

Until next year, or the year after, or the one after that...! 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sifter goes Wild in Wellington

With Karapoti looming, it's time to finally get this post done! Over the last few years, the great days were few and far between, but lately, they seem to be turning up more often. On one of the best was a twelve hour relay on the familiar slopes of Mt Victoria - an action-packed concoction of riding, sifting, and coffee drinking! A coincidence that this day rocked my world?  I don't think so.  Put simply, the 2011 Wild Wellington was a stunner.

The genesis of this fine day out was months earlier - last winter to be precise - when Simon and I took up a contract for the Kennett Brothers to extend the Hataitai Zig-zag, nominally an easy-grade climb from the Hataitai Velodrome up to Alexandra Road.  Above anything else that winter, this project got us out of our respective offices, and ensured that a few times a week we got some exercise.  We did the design work over a couple of months, and then led volunteer work parties through to completion of the track.  Well almost - we didn't quite beat the onset of summer, and the track dried out too much before it could be gravelled.

We followed that job up with a second, but much shorter, deviation further down the ridge.  Again, we did a lot of work on our own, but a great lunchtime session with volunteers and the venerable Ranger Steve had the track to full-width, and ship-shape for its first event - the Wild Wellington.  Simon and I did a final bit of tweaking on Friday evening, after which we headed to the velodrome to register and put up the tent.  We were two of five in the Kennett Brothers team, and we'd be joined by Simon's brother Paul, Pat Morgan, and Mike Thompson.

I was nominated to do our first lap, so when I turned up at about 9 in the morning, I figured I'd mosey around the course to get my legs warm.  The first 3/4 of the figure-eight course was all good, but heading into the top of the Hataitai Zig-zag, I almost came a cropper on a tree on the outside edge of the track.  Usually I'd just press on, but I figured I'd best take a look at what went wrong and immediately concluded a tree needed to go - not the one I'd almost hit, but the one before it which had forced me wide.  To boot, the tree I wanted gone had warning tape at head height, so someone had already identified it as a hazard.  I blasted down to the velodrome and interrupted Joby, one of the WCC rangers.  He excused himself from his conversation, grabbed a saw from his wagon, and we went up and did the job.  It was a good call I reckon, and one which I savoured each time I passed the spot at speed!

I didn't have much time at all once that was done - barely enough to say gidday to Simon and grab our timing chip.   A few minutes later I was on the start line, nervously waiting for Jill Ford to send us on our way.  I knew it would be a torrid start, with Stu Houltham and Hiskey looking pretty eager in pole position.

Within a few minutes more, we were off.  I found myself at the back of a group of 6 or 7, and comfortable!  After a flat 30m, the course kicked up a bit, and within 150 metres of the start, I was feeling rather uncomfortable as my legs and arms and innards all struggled to adjust to the change of pace.  I'd been gapped by the leaders, but was behind Dan, looking splendid in a pair of beige stubbies.

I desperately tried to compose myself as we turned onto Alexandra Road for the first time.  Under way only a few minutes, heart and lungs were still really struggling, and legs too.  I didn't have the nerve to pass Dan, knowing that too big an effort too soon would surely cost me.  Instead I followed him, and forced myself to relax.  Plenty of time yet.

The newest bit of track on the course took mere seconds to ride, but it was much better than the alternative!  We crossed the road, and then struggled up the steepest climb on the course.  As we crossed the soccer field for the first time I was tempted to try to pass Dan, but still reeling from the most recent effort, I decided to chill out for a bit longer.  Another sweet bit of singletrack down, the course opened up a bit, and we got into the final climb for a while.  Sitting atop Flux Turner, I relished finally having a bike that would take care of me on the downs.  With that in mind, I swung around Dan, gave him a quick word of encouragement, and gave it everything I had up the ridge. Sucking air in, I blasted my way down the main descent which would get better and better as the day went on.

I never turned back, so had no idea what was going on behind me.  Instead I concentrated solely on getting myself back to the velodrome - the quicker, the better, or should that be, the quicker, the sooner (I could stop).

I lost a bit of flow on the zig-zag but was soon hammering the tarmac section into the velodrome.

Almost time to stop!
I went high on the banking for the first turn, but realised soon after that my front tyre was hooking up nicely on the grass, so didn't bother with it again.  After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing through the tents, I arrived at our site, and stood patiently while Mike swapped the timing chip from my leg to Simon's, and then collapsed on the grass for a bit.

That was the worst bit done.  I'd gone pretty hard, managing a 16:02.  Some had gone over a minute faster, but I'd taken 20-odd seconds out of Dan, and there were plenty more behind him.

Simon handed over to Pat, then Pat to Mike, who returned with a flat rear tyre.  Still in bloody good time though, and we were duelling with Dan's team for second in the Open Men's division.  I headed out for a double, then Simon did the same, with Pat and Mike sharing the next four laps.  I did another double, then handed off to Paul, who'd been unavailable first thing but was now raring to go.  I'd ridden five laps already, but we weren't even halfway through the event yet, and my legs were starting to grizzle!  It was good to have Paul here though, which would lengthen the rest-breaks somewhat.

Mike, Simon and I, soon after sending Paul off for his first lap!
The day was warm, and thankfully Simon hadn't asked us to wear the Kennett Bros' merino jerseys.  I would have, but as on other rare occasions where I've had my racing gear dictated to me, I'm sure it wouldn't have quite felt right.  I've had a long association with Oli, and kitting up in his gear has always ignited a bit of a spark inside, and helped get my head in the game.

I had a nice long break, and took the opportunity to cruise around, catching up with many friends.  The Revolvers were in fine form, and apart from Ash sporting a nasty looking bruise on one quad, all was good at the front of the women's competition.  The People's Coffee was flowing, and the warm concrete of the velodrome made for a very pleasant spot in which to catch up on some family goings-on.  My uncle was in the ICU after a terrible fall earlier in the week, and talking to Mum about it was the only tough period in what was a remarkably simple day.

Some down time
Simple, but inevitably, the call to action would come, and it would be time to get set for another assault on the senses.  Lap 5 had been an absolute bastard - it was my fastest lap after lap 1, and one in which I'd been duelling with Mat Wright, team-mate of Dan, proprietor of Floyd's Cafe in Island Bay, and awesome supporter of the Miramar Trail Project.  We'd been neck and neck heading out, and he'd pipped me on the way back into the velodrome.  Laps 6 and 7 felt pretty horrible too.  My legs were getting tired, and while I was still managing to push middle chain-ring on all the climbs, my enthusiasm was waning. 

Full tit into the base of the last climb!
Still, Flux Turner was absolutely smoking the descents, and I was feeling pretty good overall.  My XTC would have been quicker on the first lap probably, and maybe for a couple after that, but I'd have had the shit beaten out of me on the descents, and would have been in poorer shape later in the day.

I handed over to Simon who had an absolute scorcher, and wore a goofy smile on his face for the next hour or so!  Great to see my good buddy having such a good time. 

We'd lost touch with Mat and Dan's team, but when Mike busted a chain part way through his lap and come back to base, Simon had to head out for an impromptu lap, and we were suddenly nervous about dropping to fourth.  Dusk was also looming, and we only had two sets of lights to share, so our nervousness was high.

I did a single lap, and handed off to Simon, who had another blinder.  We reckoned I'd have about 17 minutes of daylight left, and in the end I saw sense, and rode with Pat's lights onboard.  One lap to go...

Strange pose, but ready for my last lap...
As with earlier laps, this one felt a bit slower again, though I was pleasantly surprised to feel pretty good from the get-go.  I'd favoured double laps earlier - they were short enough that handling two at pace wasn't too bad, but also short enough that you didn't have much time to get warm.  On the flip side, nor was there much time to cool down, especially when Simon was knocking out sub-17 laps!

It was good to know it was my last.  I enjoyed crossing the field for the last time - it was the only place on the course where we had a refreshingly cool cross-wind.  As with pretty much all the other laps, I had little problem with traffic, and even when I did get stuck, I simply took the opportunity to relax a bit, and have a breather, before opening up again when the track widened.  All day, I only got passed by Mat, and one other 6 hour rider on his first lap.  I'd been lucky to avoid the guys who were circulating over a minute faster than me, but it was satisfying nonetheless.

Light was marginal down the zig-zag, but I didn't need Pat's light.  One final sprint into the velodrome, I tagged off to Paul, and then was done!

Remarkably, while lap 5 had been the fastest at 17:17, my slowest was my 3rd, at 17:36.  Laps 6, 7 and 8 had all been 17:31, and surely lap 9 would have been too, but for the failing light - it clocked in at 17:34!  Eight laps within a 19 second time spread was pretty amazing, and while a testament to my inate self-preservation mode and decent endurance, I think it spoke volumes about my amazing bike, and how little the riding took out of me.  Chapeau Turner!

The thrill of the chase no doubt set the scene, but there was so much more going on to make the day a special one.   Our team was seriously casual, and casually serious.  We found a really nice balance which enabled us to embrace a bit of hard racing, but without creating that pressure-cooker environment where inevitably someone pulls out a shit lap and feels horrible for letting everyone else down.  No such dramas for us!  Awesome!

The tone around the velodrome was also fantastic. Jill had organised a great DJ, and most of the stuff he was playing was great!  While there weren't a huge number of teams, the downside of having a less-than-capacity event base was offset by the upside of having a pretty clear race-track.  I reckon Wellington will always suffer from a lack of convenient budget accommodation - no Rotorua Thermal Holiday Camp down here.  Consequently bringing a team of 5 from out of town is gonna cost mega-bucks.  The entry fee is one issue, but one which could perhaps be offset a bit by facilitating proper overnight camping on Friday and Saturday nights.  Maybe even 24 hours would be the way to go?

In any case, that Saturday rocked my world.  I was on a high for well over a week afterwards, and it was good to see photos and results appearing, and just as the memories were fading a bit, they'd be snapped back into focus.  We managed 3rd place in Open Men and 4th overall.    I felt not an ounce of guilt for being the only team-member under-40.  If they'd wanted to win that category, it was bloody silly asking me onto the team!   

Thanks to all those I had a chance to chat to, cheer at, be cheered by, or ride with.  Excellent times!!!!