Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Last weekend brought with it an eagerly awaited opportunity to get stuck into the mountainbike orienteering (MTBO) season.  It turned out to be one of those great weekends, spent mostly with an ear-to-ear grin...


After skipping organisers' duties in 2010, Simon and I have this year put our hands up to organise one of the Wellington MTBO Series rounds.  We were hoping to set a course out at QE2 Park south of Paekakariki, but instead we were asked to stay a bit closer to home - namely, Meridian's West Wind facility at Makara.

I was Chairman of Makara Peak Supporters back in the day when we made a submission in favour of the development, and have since been a little miffed that the promises of recreational opportunities on the land have been far from realised.  Looks like that's about to change though, and about time!

We've had a fair few hoops to jump through, and Simon was tied up with family stuff on Saturday morning, but despite that, just after half-nine, I was keying the code into the security gate at Opau Road.  My chaperone for the day was Ranger Steve (all 7ft of him!), necessary in case I came a cropper and needed first aid treatment.

We signed in at the security office (rescued by the post-it on the monitor "John Randal, Orienteering, Sat am") and set off shortly after with our radio on Channel 1, just in case.

Order of the day was to explore - my onboard GPS unit would record where we'd travelled - and I'd also packed a couple of cameras in case further record was necessary.

Within a few minutes climb we were beneath our first giant turbine, and fark me it was huge!  (It looks like it's on a bit of a lean?!)

Ranger Steve scurries out of my viewfinder!  

Lying on my back, looking up!

For the first hour, we rolled down the access roads to the various turbines - the map we had showed all these roads, so our travel down them was not essential.  But, I think we were both relishing the opportunity to be among these huge feats of engineering.  The expansive landscape made it very simple to forget how large the turbines are. 

Looking south towards the Kaikoura Ranges

We eventually started lifting our bikes over the plentiful gates rather than open and close them.

The day was clear, with a fairly gentle wind blowing by West Wind standards.  Nonetheless, a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation had the blade tips at close to 300km/h - a full revolution of the roughly 40m radius blades was taking just under 3 seconds (2*pi*r/3*3.6).

We only had access to the northern part of the complex - Terawhiti Station would have to wait for another day - so Steve and I soon headed down a ridge which had us overlooking Opau Bay.  A maintenance crew had one of the massive hubs, with its three blades still attached, on the ground.  Despite giving the work site a wide berth, I still had to run 20m down the hill to get the whole thing in my viewfinder.

No thoroughfare!
Sneaking around the outside!  Did I mention huge?

At the end of the ridge, the track petered out, but we could see fairly sparse shrub down to the coast.  We hunted around but found no distinct track, so simply followed our front wheels down the spur.  Before long, we were both safely down in Opau Bay, having ridden a fair chunk of the descent (perhaps a clue to prospective competitors?!). 

We then headed up-valley, alongside an idyllic wetland, nattering away about this and that.  No shortage of great conversation material in either of our lives! 

Eventually, it looked like time to turn around, but the exploration continued.  We temporarily gave up on any attempt at conversation - the limit of our exchange was something like "Simon loves this steep shit" - but eventually we were out of the valley.

We finished up by heading out to the northern-most turbine, sneaking unchallenged through a work-site where foundations for a car-park were being laid out - Meridian look to be opening up access shortly to this single turbine.

Looking north to Mana and Kapiti Islands
We soon picked up a short but sweet section of singletrack, designed by my good friends the Kennett Brothers, before returning the same way, and heading back to Steve's wagon. 

Two happy blokes, neither too rooted, and some sweet riding done and recorded, data soon to make its way into Michael Wood's mapping software.


As if exploring the previous day was not enough for one weekend, Sunday morning saw me checking in at the Hataitai Velodrome for an Intermediate MTBO event, the last before the series starts in June.

Organisers Liam and Rachel Drew had planned a short course (controls 1-9) and a medium course (10-23), with the option of tacking both together.  My dear Mum was in charge of the daughters while the dads and a mum hit the trails.  As soon as Mum, Kaitlyn and Miro headed off, I shot onto the velodrome, and did a dozen or so laps to get the blood flowing a bit, and by the time I went to the start, both Simon and Sarah were out on course.

I'm always a bit nervous in the moments before that start of these events, but I was pleased to be finally back in my venerable Roadworks strip - something not lost on many of my fellow competitors who'd witnessed my Singlespeed Nationals or Wainui costumes online or in person! 

Usually, a fixed-order course such as this starts with riders on hands and knees transposing the control sequence carefully onto their map.  While the map for this event was pre-marked...

Try studying this while blasting a descent!

...I'd avoided looking at it before now.  I know Mt Vic pretty well, and working out exactly where the controls were pre-start would do me no favours for when the series kicks around.

Nonetheless, when 10:52 came around, I at least knew where the first control was - Hataitai Zig-Zag, here I come.

The course took a fairly gentle route down towards the Wellington Harriers clubrooms, though control 5 wasn't behind it as I'd thought.  A minute or so lost as I headed back to the table-tennis club with my tail temporarily between my legs. 

Control 9 was back at the velodrome, and soon after that I was exploring the sometimes confusing network of trails above the city.

I saw Sarah just before I hit control 14, and again at control 15 - we'd taken completely different routes at completely different speeds.  I indecisively blundered my way down to 16, despite having passed it earlier and being fully aware of where it was!

I saw many others while collecting the final controls, and as I pulled into the finish line at the velodrome, Simon commented "this will be close".  It was - "7 seconds" announced Jo, initially withholding the vital information of in whose favour!  When prodded, Simon was declared the winner!

Of course we'd taken virtually completely different routes, especially on the medium course.  I'd overlooked the "off track travel allowed" clause, rare in MTBO but pretty much essential from a mapping point of view on Mt Vic (otherwise it would be near impossible to get all the tracks onto the map).  We laughed to think about how much slower we'd have been if we'd been a team - riding to each other's weaknesses rather than strengths!

Top stuff!  What a thrilling sport!

That afternoon, Kaitlyn and I went riding out at Belmont with a crew Ash and Marjolein had organised.  We drove to the end of Sweetacres, but were soon riding with the bunch along the Old Coach Road.  Despite a bitterly cold Nor'wester which had come up that afternoon, Kaitlyn soldiered along, putting Montana Judy through her paces for the first time in a while.

At the highpoint of the ride, we decided we'd turn around, and were soon rugged up in the car, and shortly after that, we were being treated to a great pot-luck dinner at Caroline's place.

The MTBO event I'd ridden in earlier eventually came up in conversation. It was cool to describe a sport I love so much, to those who seemed genuinely interested.  I realised I had a map in the car, and was soon talking through the mechanics and some of the strategy of the event with the map in front of us all.  Hopefully I tempted some to give it a go!


If you want a better sense of what MTBO is about, check out some of my old posts:  Akatarawa Attacks are in January each year, and I've also described the Great Forest Rogaine, and the 2010 MTBO Series.  There are bound to be other write-ups lurking around too (e.g. foot events, including the City Safari in May).  Hopefully you get a hint of how much I enjoy the sport, and with luck I'll have given enough of the "why", "what" and "how" to let you make an informed decision about whether or not its for you!

The Wellington MTBO Series is organised by Hutt Valley Orienteering Club, and kicks off with an event on Saturday 18 June.  (Thanks to OHV and Michael Wood for the map above.)  The start is at the Brooklyn wind turbine, so expect plenty of climbing!  Also, expect some sublime riding, a perfect map of the area, the odd bit of second-guessing, maybe some panic or confusion, and an exciting wee ride which gets divided up into manageable chunks by the regular stops to clip your control card.  Round 2 is at West Wind, and while we'll have a rider-limit, maps will be guaranteed to those who ride Round 1.

Hope to see some of you there!

1 comment:

  1. I wasnt pausing for dramatic effect... I was checking my mental arithmetic! I