Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Epic Preparations

It's almost 10 months ago to the day that I got an email from Megan Dimozantos with the subject line "Cape Epic".

I'd only met Megan once before - she'd fronted up to the Tāwhio O Whanganui which I'd organised in February of last year.  I'd said gidday to her at the start, as the organiser of a low-key event is able to, and noted she had a lot of gear.  The same subject came up that evening at the Lodge in Raetihi, from where Megan had posted a bunch of stuff home.  I didn't see her the following night in Whangamomona - her day had blown out due to a slightly premature route through the work in progress that was the Kaiwhakauka Track, but I was relieved to learn she'd shown up after I'd headed to bed.  I don't recall seeing her in Patea, nor in Whanganui before we departed in opposite directions to our respective homes of Auckland and Wellington.

So, I wasn't sure what to make of her suggestion that we team up for the Absa Cape Epic in 2012.  Over the next week or so, I read up a bit about the race, and about Megan, and did a few back-of-the-envelope sums to see whether I could run to what Megan had described as "a bit of personal financial outlay".  Once I'd ascertained getting away from work in late March was not out of the question, the idea snowballed, and before I knew it, I was accepting Megan's offer.

The event looked totally appealing.  I'd never ridden, let alone raced, overseas, and the thought of doing so was thrilling.  The event was expensive, and not something I foresaw Simon wanting to do any time soon.  Also, it's over-subscribed, and Megan had a guaranteed entry, a carry-over from the balloted spot she'd got in 2011 but was unable to use.  It was good to know once excited about it, it wasn't going to be whisked away.  Finally, I think I saw it as an opportunity to prove to myself that I could ride a bike.  Sad, in hindsight, but a factor nonetheless.

Within a fortnight we were locked and loaded.


The only thing immediately on the agenda was recruiting some sponsors.  Megan had a long history of 24-hour World Champs campaigns, and had an impressive list of personal sponsors, iincluding Adidas eyewear, Icebreaker, Ayup Lights.  She sent me a sponsorship proposal with her palmarès listed including a whole bunch of wins in stage races, 24 solos, and top 10 placings in a couple of 24-solo WCs.

I was intimidated by her success, and at first struggled to write anything about myself.  I had to though, and on reflection, realised I had a bunch of stuff I too could be proud of.

Racing Career Highlights: 1st Place Team 8 hour Akatarawa Attack, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011; 1st Place 12 hour Team Day Night Thriller 2008; 1st Place Tandem Karapoti Challenge 2008 (current record time); 1st Place Wellington Mountainbike Orienteering Series 2008, 2009; 2nd Place "Old Bugger" Single Speed Nationals 2011; 2nd Place 12 Hour Team Moonride 2007; 3rd Place Masters Men NZCT National Hill Climb Championships 2008; 4th Place Expert M30-39 Karapoti Classic 2011; Finisher 1100km Kiwi Brevet 2010 in a time of 4 days 12 hours.
Not bad for a weekend warrior.  I was more confidently proud of my other riding activities though, and was pleased they too would feature in our proposal. 

Other cool stuff: Father, Cyclist, Writer, Event Organiser, Volunteer (Chair of Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park Supporters, 2006-2010), Freelance publications in Spoke and Endurance magazine.
Megan asked me for a photo for the cover page, and I gave her one of my favourite race-shots ever.

I love it because the intensity surprises me.  That's not how I think of myself riding a bike.

Having filled in the form, I sat back and let Megan work her magic.  We got some good feedback on the proposal, but plenty of "nice one, but no thanks" responses. 

Atfer a few months, during which I was amazed by Megan's energy and persistence, we were thrilled to receive a concrete offer from Kashi Leuchs, New Zealand importer of Yeti bicycles.  We didn't hesitate to accept Kashi's support.  It was a relief on the one hand, spelling an end of an emotionally difficult search (for Megan more than me), but also marking the beginning of an exciting new relationship.

It didn't take long for my race-rig to arrive on the scene, though a supply snafu saw Megan's uber-rare XS frame not arrive until after Christmas.  That aside, Kashi made us feel very welcome, and we've already had some great experiences as Team Yeti with a win, with Alex Revell, at the Day Night Thiller a highlight for me. 

By the time we'd ridden at DNT, Megan's employer, Mitre 10 MEGA, had also come on board as a sponsor, and it was time to call the search for title sponsors done.  We'd be riding as Team Mitre 10 MEGA - Yeti NZ at the 2012 Cape Epic.

Less generous, but nonetheless fantastic hookups continued to come in though, and we were lucky to gain additional support from Camelbak, Cycletech (importers of Louis Garneau and Stans, among other fine products), and Christchurch company Blox agreed to give us a pretty sharp deal on jerseys. I also just recently got a sweet pair of Adidas specs from Megan's sponsor - in orange, to match our MEGA jerseys.

And, as always, I had Oli Brooke-White in my corner, and I was very proud of the way he offered his amazing service to Megan as well.  If I was a tattooing sort of guy, I'd have the Roadworks logos on my shoulders in a flash.  They're kind of there already.


I love riding my bike, and though I'm learning not to rely on it, I'm a damn sight better when I'm riding hard regularly.  Being fit and strong on the bike is a critical part of managing my mental health, as well as the obvious physical well-being that comes part and parcel with it.

From the outset I decided to approach preparation for the Cape Epic as if I were riding with Simon - someone who I'd be unable to keep up with on his best days.  There'd be no "so long as I'm faster than Megan" cop out.  That's put a lot of pressure on her, I suspect, but it's made the preparation a lot more interesting for me.

Simon is more a mentor than a coach, but I'm sure if I was totally screwing things up putting together my own "training program" he'd sit me down coach-styles and set me straight.  Now that I think about it, he did sit me down, but it was to tell me I needed rest, not a bit more of this or a bit more of that.

The springboard for the year really came from spin classes through winter.  My friend Ash was leading the classes, and had suggested I go along. I hadn't anticipated enjoying it, and certainly hadn't anticipated the benefits to my riding.  But, while I have some disdain for those who choose to exercise inside, there were aspects that totally made sense to me.  It was sheltered from the elements, and while the ride home from the Newtown spin studio always occurred in the dark, it was often wet, and was even snowing for the duration of one class!  I was tapping into time I wouldn't otherwise be using.

For the first time, I was able to exercise to music, something I've avoided not for safety reasons, but for the longevity of my hearing.   That was cool.

The single most important aspect though, was being able to totally tap myself out.   I'd find myself pushing against massive resistance, until my muscles were so empty I'd almost fall off the bike.  Then I'd have a short breather, sometimes ignoring Ash's instruction, then do it again.  I had no fear of crashing, nor of getting stuck out in the countryside with no energy to get myself home.  I got stronger. 

I think I hit a peak in November, and almost had a perfect ride at Taupo.  Not quite though, but the training miles were in the bank.  Megan and I had ridden together at Le Petit Brevet a week earlier, and the void between our riding abilities had been apparent.  These two events had been something I'd targeted with long hard road rides. She'd been racing short XC races, and it showed.  It was a good kick in the arse for her, and a useful heads-up for me.

December and January were a mixed bag, and while I didn't feel like I got much "training" in, there was quality there, if not quantity.  The Waitangi21 Orienteering events were a good opportunity to do hard back-to-back rides, and the St James Epic a couple of weeks earlier was what I expect Africa to be like.  I hadn't fired there, but it was a useful experience nonetheless.

It's hard for me to know quite where I'm at currently - school holidays, a busy work-load at university, general stress, and pre-race nerves have all been far too prevalent for me to be firing on the bike - but I've got just under a month to build confidence in my skills, speed and endurance.  They're there, I'm sure, I'm just too busy to realise it.


I've owned my race bike for a while now, but I've only recently put any thought into how it's been specced, and what goals I have for it. 

Since the Karapoti Classic and Perverse Reverse double were announced, I'd committed to them as the last big hit-out before Cape Epic.  What a perfect opportunity to do two hard races in a row, and hopefully earn a bit of exposure for our Cape Epic sponsors by riding our race rigs in our team kit.

Being new to the whole sponsorship game, I've had my XTR equipped bike in cotton wool pretty much since I've had it.  I've never owned such bling before, and I didn't want to wear it out before the event.  Novice mistake, as T-Rex pointed out to me at the top of the Tip Track after a disastrous attempt at a fast time.

I'd done a reasonably quick time on my hard-tail a week earlier, but had been critical of how I'd ridden - I knew the fully would have been quicker.  Consequently, I'd set off from the bottom with high hopes.  After less than a minute into the climb, I knew something was wrong, and, totally blown to bits, I limped to the top.  The double crankset was to blame, 40-28 I thought, but 42-30 on closer inspection.  Great for South Africa perhaps, but no good for confidence inspiring Tip Tracks, which I'm used to spinning my way up, and certainly no good for the steeper Karapoti.

I headed up again, and with better pacing got close to the time I'd done on the hardtail.  22:57 followed by 24:17, then back down to 23:08.  Finding I could manage the gearing wasn't totally helpful, and made it harder to decide what to do.  In the end after a few weeks of indecision, I took the 3x10 plunge, and ordered a new crankset, chain and front derailleur.  Karapoti is a valid target after all, and as for Africa, Megan's running a triple up front, and given we've got to ride together at all times, it make sense for me to have the same gearing.

I should be rocking the new setup by week's end, with luck, and Oli's sublime skills. 


Perhaps it's all sounded pretty straightforward.  Get an entry, find some sponsors, buy a swish bike.  Relatively speaking, that stuff all was straightforward.  The devil's in the detail though.

Here's a list of most of the things I've been dealing with in the last few weeks (many of them still unresolved):
  • race insurance - simple enough, but requiring a BikeNZ International License in advance of purchase.  Well done to BikeNZ though for providing the bundled travel + bike + health (including during the race) insurances. That's made life a lot easier.
  • transponder deposit
  • massage package.  Including a booking form, whereby we indicate preferences for which half-hour slot we want.  Sometime after we finish would be nice, but when exactly that will be is kind of unknown.  I can't even find the time the stages start, let alone begin to work out when we'll finish the hundred-odd kilometres to the finish
  • mechanic package.  Relatively expensive overnight service, but no doubt worth every cent if something goes wrong.  Simply fill in a form listing all the parts on the bike, and deposit some Rand in to a SA bank account.  Still on the list.
  • compulsory rider survey
  • rider indemnity form
  • rider health form.  Heart rate, weight and blood pressure must be signed off by my GP.  To do...
  • bus transfer from end of prologue to race village at start of stage 1 booked
  • bike transportation - to box or to bag, that was the question.  In the end, I went with a bag...
  • GST and inspection fee on bike bag
  • Racing Ralphs with Snakeskin sidewalls.  Not available in NZ, and currently somewhere in between the UK and Wellington. 
  • excess baggage charges.  I booked flights some months ago with Qantas, which seemed like a good use of some airpoints I had, and besides, the travel via Australia was 10-odd hours shorter than the competition flying though Asia or the Middle East.  I have a 23kg baggage allowance.  Not much change from a well-packed bike.  The pile of OSMs on my dining table look increasingly likely to stay there.  Solutions considered included freighting stuff to South Africa, at about $100 per 5kg, and some risk of them arriving late.  At-the-airport excess baggage looks to be the absolute worst option, and could be over $60/kg for the NZ-Sydney-Joburg legs alone.  Prepaid 10kg drops that somewhat, but at a few hundred per flight it was still looking like over a grand for the return trip.  In the end, joining the Qantas Club an upping the checked baggage allowance to 32kg seemed like the most economical solution.  I'll be sure to eat plenty of club sandwiches between flights.  I'm also going to re-order a spare tyre and Stan's fluid, and get them sent directly to South Africa.
  • race nutrition.  See above.  Something out of Chain Reaction's extensive selection yet to be confirmed, and the OSMs will live to fight another day.  Besides, the organisers say "each morning at breakfast you can make sandwiches to carry for the ride." I ain't stopping for no picnic, FFS...
  • jerseys.  Took so much more time to nail down than we ever expected.  But, we settled on a sweet design, and the dye's probably drying as I type.  I look forward to rocking a couple around Karapoti.  I'd like to think I was difficult about only one detail through this whole mission, and its those shoulder panels.  Thanks to Megan for realising it was important to me.  

  • ASR5C master rebuild kit. A great recommendation from Kashi, and all the specific and hard-to-get bits we might need in case of emergency. Hopefully it's not too heavy! Or necessary, for that matter, but better to be safe than sorry...
  • Race gear, including sun sleeves, butt butter, sun screen. Spare tubes, which I think we'll preload with jizz once we're over there.
  • Non-race gear.  The organisers provide a tent and mattresses.  We're on the rest.  All yet to be pulled together.  
  • print and laminate stage profiles, and get a bike computer onto my bike.  GPS units are a no go - much of the course is on private land, and people were uploading to the internet routes of essentially illegal rides.
  • blogging apparatus and camera. 

Thankfully, my passport's still got a year to run, and I don't need a visa for South Africa.  My brain's sore from thinking about all that stuff above though, and I'm not done with it yet.  I tell ya, it makes going on an unsupported event like the Kiwi Brevet seem like a walk in the park!  

  • vaccinations.  But wait, there's more.  Fuck.  Now added to the "to do" list.  
  • set recorder for Sons of Anarchy!

I shouldn't complain!  The adventure began months ago, and the climax is not far away now. In four weeks time, I'll be waking up for the first time in South Africa.  In five, I'll be riding Stage 3, and in six, I'll be meticulously cleaning my bike, and wondering whether or not to throw out the tyres lest MAF have conniptions about what I've been up to.

When I finally get a few more of the pieces in place, I expect the excitement will start to build in earnest.  At the moment though, I'm going through the process of stressing about everything.  It is a process that I understand, an essential one, and the outcome of it is preparedness.

I'm guessing the Karapoti blog will mark a turning point.  There shouldn't be too many things on the list once that's done.  At least, I hope not!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Going up downs: the Capital Hill Climb Series

Simon and I do a lot of riding together, sometimes involving long drives to get to and from the trail-head.  Consequently, we talk about a lot of shit.  One of the conversations that has come up more than once over the five and a half years we've been training buddies is the notion of a hill-climb series on some of Wellington's technical trail.

I think the topic first came up when we were in Makara Peak feeding some of Simon's possums.  He maintains a series of bait stations in Nikau Valley, and we'd ridden in together to fill them, in the reverse direction to usual.  While he was hauling a big sack of bait around, I was relatively unencumbered (though still heavier than him!), and when we hit the "helicopter drop" - which is what the old-timers know as the bottom of the descent into the valley - I thought I'd see how far up I could get.  I was surprised by how much I did successfully ride, though less surprised at one step which had me flipping off the back of the bike at all three attempts.  We wondered what other techy descents might make interesting climbs.

On the drive back from our Labour Weekend cycle tour last year, we mapped out a six race series.  We deliberated for well on a couple of hours between Hawke's Bay and home, finally agreeing on which tracks we would use, and in which order.  We didn't write them down though, and a couple of months later, we were back to reinventing the wheel.

As with all new ideas, there comes a point where you're teetering on the edge of a cliff, not knowing quite whether to step back to return another day, or plunge off, hoping the parachute will do its business.  This time around, my good buddy was there to give me a gentle nudge, irreversibly setting things in motion.

It came in the form of an email to Michael Jacques, owner of the Karapoti Classic, asking him whether he'd like to donate a few Karapoti entries for a four race hill-climb series taking in Te Ahumairangi, Wright's Hill, Makara Peak and Hawkins Hill.  Mike said he'd be more than happy to give us four entries, and promptly fired an announcement out in one of his pre-Karapoti emails.  No turning back now!

In fact, I'd seen the writing was on the wall, and already had an event application in with the Park Ranger team at Wellington City Council.  A few days after Michael's email I was somewhat relieved to receive an email from Ranger Steve letting me know we were good to go, and I quickly fired off a blurb to Marco for his PNP email list, and started a thread on vorb.  I also set up a Facebook event for the first race.  I wasn't sure how to do a series of events (or a single event over multiple days), so settled for a one-off, and invited all the Wellingtonians I noticed on a blast through my "Biking" list. 

Round 1

I was a bit nervous about round 1, since I don't know the tracks on Te Ahumairangi that well, and nor did I expect the field to.  Simon was happy to take charge though, and while I was holidaying in Auckland with Kaitlyn, he scoped out a route up the hill.

I had Kaitlyn with me on the Wednesday night of the race, as well as our cousins Holly and Theo.  While Simon had been marking the course with a series of flour arrows, a la the Hash-House Harriers, we four had been on chocolate fish duty at Moore-Wilsons.  

When we piled out of the car, there were already a few riders waiting, and as we waited for Simon to appear out of the trees, more arrived. 

The logistics of the event were pretty simple:  Simon and I synchronised our watches at the bottom, and he set off first up the hill to be the time-keeper at the top.  I allocated start times to the riders that showed up, at one minute intervals, and Simon recorded their finish time at the top.  We'd hook up afterwards, whereupon I'd head home with both time-sheets and calculate race times.  Simple!  What could possibly go wrong?!  About the only contingency we considered was Simon getting beaten to the top, and while he's a bit of hill-climbing demon, we built in a buffer of a few minutes to give him "time to gather his thoughts" at the top. 

While the riders queued up, I tried to describe the course as best I could.  Basically they'd be on double-track all the way up to the ridge, whereupon they'd turn south, finishing up at the radio aerial.  The basic directions and Simon's flour markings weren't quite enough, and unfortunately we had a couple of riders venture off course. 

While I started people off, the kids sat a hundred metres or so up the course, took a few blurry photos, and hopefully gave some encouragement to the riders!

Owen, on a totally inappropriate bike!  Respect!

We had 29 starters, and one of the very last to depart, Brendan Sharratt, smoked the course in under 12 minutes.  The chocolate fish supply would live to fight another week or two, and some had made donations in lieu of an entry fee. While this had been mentioned in dispatches, it certainly wasn't compulsory. 

With the kids to look after, I'd not ridden up to the top, so on the way home we dropped into Simon's to swap gear for his time-sheet.  I decided to draw one of the four entries at each round, and so once I'd processed the results, I used my favourite statistical software to draw one of the finish places out of its electronic hat.  It spat out 12, which corresponded to Gary's placing, and I was pleased to be able to email him with the process for cashing the entry in.

By night-fall, I'd posted the results and a short blurb, and set up a Facebook event for round 2.  It was nice to have ironed out what seemed to be a successful process at our first attempt. 

Round 2

The course for the second round had been incorrectly advertised as Salvation, but I had something a little more challenging in mind, namely the tight and steep Gold Mine, followed by the slightly mellower Scout Hall, with a flight of steps to finish up on the summit of Wright's Hill.

Simon and I met after work, and rode most of the course together, Simon making flour arrows with his funky bottle mounted-on-a-stick apparatus which still slotted nicely into his bottle cage.  By the time we got to the part of the course that most needed marking, it was raining quite steadily, and we struggled to get the flour in place.  We supplemented it with a few branches across wrong turns, and hoped that people that would be sufficiently familiar with these tracks to not stray.

Jo had offered to help out, and when I arrived at the Waiapu St entrance to Gold Mine, she was standing in the rain with a small number of riders.

She drove up to the bottom of Scout Hall, and Bron took a bit of gear to the top carpark in her car.  Simon and I had stashed the chocolate fish and some dry clothes for Simon at the summit before heading down, and so we were good to go.

Anticipating the weather, I'd packed an A3 plastic envelope so was able to write start times down without my pen and paper becoming saturated.  Not so for me though, and when the last of the other starters had got going, I was wet to the skin.  I checked my watch and wrote down a time for myself, before firing my notes into my bag.  I took off my rain gear, went for a quick slash, and got myself and my bike across the bridge down by the dam, and checked my watch.

I couldn't remember what time I'd written down.  Bugger!  I fished my notes out, checked my time and fired them into my bag.  Then, I checked my watch.  It said I had one second to start!

I ran the first few hundred metres, before jumping on board and getting underway.  It was an absolute mission to try to keep on top of my heart rate and breathing, forward momentum and traction, and all the while keeping my handlebars away from encroaching trees and the bike on the track.

Approaching a bridge, I recalled skidding my rear wheel on it months earlier and falling off the bridge on the down-side.  I dismounted, and then promptly skidded over as my hard plastic soles hit the slick surface.  Next time I go up there, I hope to have some netting and staples with me!

I passed a few riders on the way up but soon was at the top, feeling a little exhausted!  The weather had eased somewhat, but wasn't at all consistent with sifting.  With no views to admire, we quickly scattered to the winds.

I'd been the last of 16 hardy souls, seven of whom were backing up from Te Ahumairangi.  Jonty Ritchie was the quickest up with the only sub-16 minute climb, but Nick Kennedy wasn't far off the pace.  These two were pretty much even Stevens after two rounds, with Nick 5 seconds quicker in total!

Round 3

The Makara Peak round was by far the most challenging to put together, but even that wasn't too much of a mission.  I had a great response to a facebook request for marshalls, and so on race evening, I was pretty confident there would be no collisions with riders coming down what are usually one-way tracks.

Jono was stationed at the top of North Face, Russell at the top of JFK, Oli at the crossing into Smokin', Nessa at the intersection of Smokin' and Ridgeline Extension, Jo at the crossing into Big Tom's Wheelie, and Karen at the bottom of Lazy Fern holding people back off the bridge just before starts from the grassy knoll at the Karori end of the car-park.  I also put some tape across the short track into the top of SWIGG just adjacent to the Lazy Fern start.  Fingers crossed for no intruders!

The course basically ran backwards along that sequence, with Starfish offering up the only technical challenges.  I warned starters about the bridge up to the two pine stumps - I figured there was probably plenty of traction, but a fall off the downside of the bridge could've had ugly consequences.  I also suggested no-one try riding up the small step down (temporarily a step up) near the top of Starfish. 

This round had the biggest field, just, with 32 starters, and our only DNF (the two wayward souls on Te Ahumairangi aside).  I saw James making his way down on foot when I was a few minutes up Starfish - he didn't say what he'd busted, but obviously something!

The course was surprisingly rideable, and for the most part was quick.  Brendan was back, and smashed the course and the field, winning by over 90 seconds from Mr Consistency, Nick, picking up his third second place!  Brendan's time was 17:12, which, interestingly would have placed him just in the bottom half of the Makara Peak Super D a few days later.  They of course were going down hill, and used Zac's at the top (while Brendan shot up the 4WD track) and Magic Carpet and Livewires instead of SWIGG and Starfish.  Still though, a remarkable gravity-defying feat from Brendan. 

As with rounds 1 and 2, I was able to give away a Karapoti entry from Michael Jacques.  Mat Wright, owner of Floyd's Cafe in Island Bay (and a Yeti SB-66 which seems to go up hills pretty damn well for a six-inch fully), kindly donated a couple of vouchers, the first of which went to Brendan (and is still sitting on my desk - the jobs of an event organiser seem to never quite end)!
Cheers for the support Mat!  Photo: Oli Brooke-White
It was nice to finally get to the top, and enjoy hanging out in the sun for a bit while some of the marshalls followed me up at a more sedate pace.  I was super-impressed by the riders who were patiently waiting for the trails to re-open so they could resume their ride.  Hopefully the chocolate fish were a decent compensation! 

Round 4

While I'd encouraged all-comers for the previous rounds, I toned down the marketing a tad for the last round.  I predicted this one would be a real bastard - an ascent of the Red Rocks Track - the Tip Track's steeper cousin, climbing Hawkins Hill from the South Coast.  It would be nice to have a climb 5 minutes longer than Makara Peak to chuck in between these in future, because it was quite a step up (pun intended).

In contrast to the cloudy conditions Simon and I had faced leaving the chocolate fish at the top, the weather on the south coast was much nicer, and as a bunch formed at the road end, we chatted away catching up on happenings over the last week.

Shortly after six, a dozen or so headed off around the coast, meeting Dave Sharpe and a couple of others who'd ridden down Red Rocks to the start and wondered where the hell everyone was!

When we got to the bottom of the track, Simon got himself organised to start (which included re-synchronising our watches, something we seemed to need to do every single week).  He gave me a start time, but by the time this rolled around, he was still up above the stream, and so I got him going from there.  We all watched as he descended the few metres to the stream, blasted through it, and disappeared around the corner. 

Given the rest of us had a bit more time to get organised, I wondered out-loud if starting from the far side of the stream was a better idea, and got no dissent.  By the time everyone realised what was going on, we all had a bit of a chuckle, and Jonny got himself and his single-speed ready to rock on the far side of the stream.

By now, people were totally used to the system, and an orderly line formed.  A minute was plenty to get across to the far side, and the starts happened without fuss.  The first 15 seconds or so were a run, and would be followed by a grovel of 30 minutes or so.  No-one seemed super urgent off the start line, which was probably just as well!

Young Ben, who was one of only four who came to all four races (Callum, Nick and Simon being the others), had an absolute shocker with his start, but finally managed to find enough traction to get himself and his bike up the bank 10 metres into the race.  I felt like calling him back to have another start, but it seemed crazy to call him back from the top of the small cliff which he'd only just managed to ascend!

True to predictions, I at least suffered like a dog on this climb.  I wasn't riding particularly well, which didn't help, and I had a bunch of dabs which normally I'd hope to avoid.  As usual, I expended far too much energy on the bottom half to have any left for the steepest pitches near the top.  I laughed at myself for having the nerve to think that "Tactical Walks", a term I'd seen in Dave Sharpe's awesome Kiwi Brevet account, was appropriate in this context.  It wasn't, as I had no choice in the matter...

The top of the track was still clagged in, and once everyone had arrived, we made tracks pretty promptly.  The ride down Barking Emu was punctuated by a bit of quite heavy rain, and I was starting to lose enthusiasm by the end of it, so rolled home via the Sanctuary Fenceline and Salvation rather than continuing down through Carparts. 

17 hardy souls had ignored my warnings!  Dave Sharpe's time of 26:29 was almost two-and-a-half minutes clear of... you guessed it... Nick!  Simon was a minute back from Nick, and the only other rider to go under 30 minutes, though Jonny had gone very close. He might have been faster wearing a pair of running shoes - it was hard to imagine a singlespeed being ridden up much of that climb.

When I got home, I got the results and spot prize draws done, and then had a chance to reflect on what I thought had been a fun wee series.

* * * * *

The races had attracted 51 people, with 95 starts, so an average of just under two rounds each. Four keeners had done all four rounds, and another eight had ridden three out of four.

Remarkably, I'd insulated myself from disappointment at the numbers, and was always pleasantly surprised to find other smiling faces at the start line.  Perhaps with the exception of Makara Peak, it all would have been worthwhile even if it was just Simon and I.  But, I'm very glad it wasn't, and it was very rewarding to see people apparently enjoying themselves (despite some physical distress).

The process was fairly simple, with the largest hurdles actually being very minor.  The WCC permit application was very streamlined, and the Park Ranger was very willing to help make it as easy as possible.  Organising marshalls was a piece of cake, due partly to an extensive facebook network, but also a thriving volunteer culture in Wellington.

I think the novelty of the events was useful, and I think the low-key nature was a good rather than bad thing.

I found putting it together rewarding and fun, and was not traumatised by it in any way - something I can't say for every event I've organised.  It was good to learn that putting an event on doesn't need to be stressful or a burden!  Of course Simon's help was a huge part of this, but also the attitudes of the riders made it a pleasure to front up each week.  Expect to see a five or six round Capital Hill Climb Series go ahead in 2013!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Trying not to get lost!

I don't much believe in karma, but I do wonder if I somehow put a hex on myself with my MTB-Ohhhh post back in May last year!

The first round of the series started up at the Brooklyn Wind Turbine, and I had a scorcher, on the bike at least.  Trouble was, I rode down and back up a disallowed route, and then inadvertently missed a control on the way down to the finish.  DQ x 2.  It wasn't much consolation that I was in good company, Simon and Tom Bradshaw also taking the naughty Karepa St route, with the win going to first-timer, and Roadworks star rider, Tim "T-Rex" Wilding.

Simon and I were planners of round 2, so couldn't ride.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed putting all the controls out by bike.  It took me about 3 hours to do the whole thing, so wasn't surprised when a couple of riders cleaned the course in two hours.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I rued placement of one control which sucked people of a nice bit of riding, quite contrary to what we usually regard as good practice.  Nonetheless, it was great to have an awesome turnout, and great feedback.

I made a trip up to Rotorua at the end of July with one of MTBO's stalwarts, Mike Wood, for a weekend of racing.  I totally sucked in the first race, despite having great legs, I couldn't quite organise myself to be pointing in the right direction.  I also rode half the race with my rear QR undone, and only diagnosed the strange clunking 3 minutes from the end.  I enjoyed the afternoon's three sprint events (all won in 6-7 minutes) though suffered a bit from not being on my home turf (and poor map skills)!  The "long" event was a bit more up my alley on Sunday morning, and I fared much better.  It was a fun weekend, but frustrating, as MTBO can be when things don't go well!

Round 3 of the Wellington series was at St Pats forest.  We were nervous about the weather out on course, and true to forecasts, the big snow arrived that evening!  I'd ridden well enough for the win, but my bike was totally trashed, and I was a bit down about the whole thing.  Simon hadn't ridden at St Pats, and nor did he at the final round at Queen Elizabeth Park.  I had a good day though on a course that suited me. I'd ridden well but spent too much time stationary, staring at the map, to beat Dave King, one of Wellington's most experienced orienteers.  In this sport, it doesn't take much for brain to beat brawn. 

Despite flunking out in race 1, I got a win as organiser in round 2, as well as wins in rounds 3 and 4 to take the series with maximum points.  But, I'd missed duking it out with my best mate, and didn't feel much like celebrating.

By the time the second Great Forest Rogaine rolled around in November, I was riding probably as strongly as I ever have been, while Simon had had less than ideal preparation for a six hour event.  Consequently, we were much too conservative at the planning phase, and by the time the run to the finish began, we grabbed all the points we could, but finished 30 minutes early, sacrilege in these events.  We'd deviated from our usually successful strategy - agreeing on an ambitious route, and then scrambling at the end to cut controls out to make the deadline back at base.  We deserved to get smashed that day, and we were!

Simon headed down to an MTBO carnival in Otago, but had been disappointed with his performances down there.  Like my experience in Rotorua, he'd struggled with the short races, and it hadn't stirred his enthusiasm like the longer team events do.  

We were disappointed to learn there would be no Akatarawa Attack in 2012 - it had been a major feature of Karapoti prep for us over the last five years.  But, all was not lost.  Instead of an eight hour event in the Akatarawa's, as part of the 21st anniversary of the first rogaine in New Zealand, OHV were putting on a series of five events which included two MTB options:  a six hour race in the Akatarawas, starting at Battle Hill, on the Sunday, and a three hour race at Belmont on Waitangi Day Monday.  Game on!


As Simon is wont to do, by late January his legs were really starting to fire, and we drove out to Battle Hill together looking forward to a good hard day's riding.  We were going to be ambitious.  YFY!

By the time we were given the maps, we were well organised, and so got down to sorting out a plan.  With six hours to play with, and only two possible climbs away from the start (not counting a terrible option up a fenceline), the seeds of a good plan came easily.  We'd head east through the centre of the map, then curl around for a loop in the south, before resuming our eastward march.  After a descent in the east, we'd climb and begin our return loop at the top of the map, before descending to the finish with a huge tally of points!  Simple!   We had time to transcribe the control order onto our answer card, and were ready to roll with a bit of time to spare.

Our flight plan!
At the stroke of 11 (by virtue of synching my watch with the race clock), we were off.  We had a short run to our bikes, and after carefully making our way through the runners who hadn't had to stop to pick up their bikes, it was time to put the hammer down.

We had a kilometre or so of fast travel before hitting a gate at the bottom of the first climb.  Looking back from the gate, we could see no-one.  A good sign we hoped.

We communicated well on the run to the first control, checking off intersections as we passed them.  Both bikes and riders seemed to be running smoothly.  We made a turnoff towards 72, ditching the bikes at a fallen pine across the track.  Simon took point, and we were soon recording the first ribbon code.  We passed half a dozen teams on our way back to the bikes, including at least one who'd somehow got their bikes over or under the pine!  Crazy stuff!

An unusual feature of this event was the right to leave our bikes, and we took full advantage of it at the next control, 64.  This was on a spur below a prominent kink in the road.  We met a guy running on his own, and another pair of runners, but didn't see any of the riders before jumping back on our steeds and continuing our climb.

The next control, 51, was in a gully with a steep route up to it through long grass.  We didn't much like the look of that, and continued up the road a bit before grovelling up a short piece of singletrack.  The runners we'd seen at the previous control had taken the direct route, but hadn't quite managed to overhaul us despite admitting they'd tried.  We'd left our bikes at the intersection with our next bit of track, and were soon heading up it.  So far, so good, and no sign of any bikers.

The next control, 30, was at a highpoint, and we opted to push our bikes cross-country through longish grass.  We returned the way we'd gone up, and then took a series of intersections to the top of the singletrack through to control 53.  Simon was on point, and riding sensibly conservatively.  Unfamiliar trail at the start of a six hour event is not the wisest time to cut loose.

As with previous controls, this one was marked with pink tape, on which was a word or two which we needed to write on our scorecard.  This sort of control seriously reduces the burden on the organisers who'd otherwise have to put out and collect the usual flags and clippers in a short space of time.  Who knows how long this ribbon had been there, but we were both delighted to see the code words on it!  I suppose someone hoped we'd see it!

The singletrack below the control got stupidly steep, and we were both reduced to "walking" for a bit, or more accurately, clambering.  It took us a few moments to orient ourselves at the bottom, but the quality of the mapping was such that we soon diagnosed which direction to head off in.

Once on the 4WD track, it was a simple matter to get close to 74.  Simon had the question sheet indicating what we'd be looking for (in this case a stump with a word written on it at a stream junction).  When he read this out, I had the control within a few seconds, and laughed, explaining that he'd probably walked within a metre or two of it seconds earlier.

The map showed the next bit of track crossing a few contours, so we knew it would be steep.  Steep, but mercifully short, though quickly followed by a bit more climbing.  The short bit of 4WD track we were on ended at a clearing, and we slowed as we rode into it, scanning for our exit.  Just as we started running out of room to find it, it revealed itself, and once again we were pushing our bikes up steep singletrack.  I was very glad I'd dusted off a pair of shoes with studs in the front (last used at a cyclocross race back in August!) so while momentum was hard won, at least I had good traction!

We followed our noses through 34 to a fence junction, and were soon mounting our bikes on the 4WD track just beyond.  The next control invited silliness - the green line on the map showing "an allowable route" which someone had been along with a bike.  Rarely a good choice, we instead took the next two right turns, and were soon fighting for rear wheel engagement on a hard and damp clay climb.  We met a few teams and hardly impressed them with our riding prowess.  We stopped a little early, but we soon had another 40 points in our growing collection.

It was back the way we'd come for 30 seconds or so, before blasting south east on a fast 4WD road.  The runners definitely have an advantage close into the controls, but we make damn good time in between!  The next control was at a barn, and soon Simon had counted the rungs on the ladder leaning against it, and we were off towards 102. 

We had a simple run in to our first 100-pointer, and while we had a short climb back away from it, the points tally really just reflected its remoteness.  We continued east, taking the next left, and the one after, before meeting a team of three young runners adjacent to 73.  They looked a bit nervous about where they were relative to the control, not realising it was a mere 20 metres away.  We were back on our bikes in short order, and didn't see those guys again.  We had no idea where they'd come from, nor where they were going!

Despite Simon warning me he'd refolded his map in and couldn't see the entire route to 91, I didn't realise the importance of a small dead-end bit of track a kilometre away.  It didn't take us long to find our way to the end of it, nor to decide we needed to turn back.  In similar circumstances to the dead-end Marjolein and I had found ourselves at just before Christmas, neither Simon nor I had seen the turn-off we should have taken, but we knew it couldn't be far away (and it wasn't, thankfully!).

Things got pretty miserable for a while, with a steep descent into a stream, then a grovel out of it, before dropping down again into a valley with "Very steep" written of it.  We were here because of the 120 points, via controls 91 and 31, but also because of the great loop it facilitated.  While it might have been slow going, and not the best points per hour ratio, it had given us access to great points before and after it, so was a good investment.

I'd seen the exit track following a stream, and despite the valley being steep, I hadn't imagined it to be the series of small waterfalls it was.  At the sight of the fall-line track and the job a pair on foot we having climbing down it, we took the slightly longer and less steep track to the right.  It was still goddamn steep, but we made purposeful progress.

Still reeling from the climb, I stopped at an intersection where Simon had been waiting for 15 seconds or so.  He moved off, and I stopped to look at the map - I asked about the track on the left (which I'd not noticed on the map).  Simon rightfully reminded me he'd had a chance to check it all out while he was waiting for me, and hinted I should just follow him!  Quite!

We passed through 65, and then began a series of descents into controls off the main ridge.  First 81, and then 63.  We were navigating well, and working well as a team.  At 63, I would have gone blasting off down the wrong spur, but 30 seconds later I was calling Simon back to the control he'd missed on his way down the correct spur.  We congratulated ourselves for not fucking it up, and began our ride to 76, at the end of a track that looked remarkably like a penis (circumsized, and with a weepy STD of some sort).  It was good points though!

The 4WD down towards 75 got very rough very fast, and Simon was just starting to say we should ditch the bikes when I hit something with my front wheel and hit the ground!  Ironically, the track just beyond was in much better condition, but running wasn't much slower.  We had soon grabbed control 90 as well, and began our descent off the end of the ridge.

We'd made pretty good time, but we still had a lot of riding to do, and we started to get a bit nervous about it as the climb through 61 and 55 revealed itself to be hard work.  Simon was easily riding away from me on the climb, and we were separated by about 100m when we met Rob Garden and Marquita Gelderman on their way down.  Both teams were a long way from the finish, but obviously both collecting big points out on the extreme of the map!

We ditched our bikes just above 100, and scrambled down a chute off the road edge.  50m down the track, I stopped at an intersection.  I could hear Simon bashing around to my left on what looked to be a wide bench, but I could see a track to my right.  One of them wasn't shown on the map, and my instinct was that it was the one Simon was on.  The clue called for us to find a ribbon on a kiekie, but I wouldn't know one of those if one of its sticks had just poked me in the eye, so I didn't stand much chance of working out if I was right about the track before insisting Simon trust me!  I did insist though, and Simon soon found the tree, and the control. 

The singletrack to 70 was tricky to find - it was indistinct and on a fast descent.  But, we knew we needed to find it, and didn't need to use the sweeping right bend to tell us we'd gone too far.  The singletrack itself barely deserved its name.  Unfortunately, it was particularly overgrown on the steepest parts of the track, and it took us some time to get ourselves and our bikes through.  At one point, Simon ditched his bike, and dragged it through the bush once he'd got his footing up above.  We burnt a lot of time and energy, but it was probably just as well.

It was a little confusing getting to the singletrack through to 56, but we didn't lose time and were soon looking along a track about 20cm wide, disappearing into thick native bush.  We had 1 hour 15 left on the clock. If we stuck to our plan, we had over three kilometres of singletrack of questionable quality to ride.  We thought we might be able to get the sequence 56-62-71-20-43-10 on the way back to the finish, with 101 and 42 totally out of the question.  It wasn't looking great and we assessed our alternatives.

There was one:  a plummet into the valley we'd less than an hour ago grovelled out of, before a steep climb back to the main ridge we'd already grabbed all the controls on.  We had some controls between us and home though:  50-60-45 and 11, which we incorrectly tallied to 210.  We felt sure we could get home on time, and with the arithmetic blunder it looked very favourable to the much more risky route through 250 points.  It's probably just as well we fucked the maths, because the maths would have fucked us had we stuck to our original plan.  We swung the bikes to the left, and released the brakes and were soon on a sphincter clenching ride to the valley floor.

We made the bottom safely, with an extra 50 points, already cognisant of the revision to the total.  Nothing we could do about that though!

As is so often the case in these events, I admired Simon's prowess on the steep, loose climbs as he rode ahead of me with no apparent effort.  I did my best to walk as quickly as I could after him, and was soon able to join him atop a bicycle as the climb mellowed near the top.

Back on the main ridge, we rode past the penis, then the turnoff to 63, then 81, then 30, before finally being in hitherto untapped territory en route to 45.  We took the first left to hook back towards 11, and enjoyed the bumpy but fun ride down through to the gate we'd gone through about 5 minutes into the event.

We had enough time to pop up to 22, though had I been on my own, I would have left it tucked away behind a patch of ongaonga.  Simon had the sense to approach it from another direction, and we were soon blasting back towards the finish.

We though we had time for control 12, but we couldn't afford a screw up.  We promptly missed the turn off to it, and with no time to correct our mistake, we made a dash for the finish line, clocking in with 30 seconds to spare.

Before too long I'd tallied our points, and we enjoyed chatting about our ride and route with other teams.  Megan was on her way back to Palmy after doing the PNP Club Champs at Wainui, and it was cool to see her briefly, before heading for home.

We were upbeat on our drive home, by virtue of our not insubstantial winning margin.  We'd netted 1600 points, 330 points clear of the next-best mountainbike team, and 230 ahead of the best runners.  It was a great result for us, indicating sharp route choice, almost complete absence of mistakes on course, and good, hard riding.

I'd started off with a hiss and a roar, feeling quite at home on my Flux, but once Simon got warmed up, I'd begun to slow him down.  He admitted on the drive home that he'd had a fantastic day, so it stood to reason that I'd suffered like a dog!  It felt like the natural order had been restored, and I only hoped it hadn't been frustrating for him.  I suppose its inevitable that one of us would be stronger on the bike, like I'd been in Vegas, and he clearly was here.  But, such is the multi-dimensional nature of the sport, even a slower team mate can still make critical contributions through the duration of the event.  We'd worked well as a team, and I think both really enjoyed getting out for a good hard ride together. 

When I got home, I cleaned my bike, then myself, before getting organised for the next day's imminent race. 


One very appealing aspect of this weekend was the back-to-back nature, with less than two months to go until the Cape Epic (with eight days of racing straight). While Saturday's race had been 6 hours apiece for foot and MTB teams, Sunday's race had 4 hours on course for runners, and 3 for us.

We rocked up to registration, we found the following sign.  Not confidence inspiring, but we weren't here to run, not that we'd have any chance of running to a win!

All teams got the maps at the same time, even though our start was 30 minutes after the runners'.  Our route was the subject of much debate, as we pondered the relative merits of the controls in the north-west, east and south, and a few in between.  At the last minute, we re-sequenced things so we wouldn't be rushing home with no easy shortcuts on the main southern loop.  We'd start in the north-west, and leave the hilly eastern part of the map until the end, if we had time.

Day 2 flight plan
Again, we had a fast start, and looking back along the road a minute into the race, we wondered where everyone had got to.  They all seemed to be heading in our direction at the start line.  We were soon ditching our bikes on the road 50m below control 20, and scrambling up the grass to it.  That done, we hurtled down to control 40, much to the bemusement of a scout group.

They gave us a good holler on our climb back out of 40, some of the kids running alongside us.  We soon threw our bikes over a fence, and crossed over the saddle connecting us to the 4WD road headed for 50.

Sunday had been the main event for us, and while we were still in race mode, we were both a little more relaxed about today's ride.  As a consequence, when the view out towards Pauatahanui Inlet opened up in front of us, I couldn't help stopping to get my camera out!

We counted the nuts holding the pylon down (8 x 2 x 2 - 1) and then were in search of 70.  The off-track travel was working well for us, but we were helped by the different style Mike Wood had used for this event - the controls were generally on things we could see from a way off.

The descent from 70 was steep, and we were seeing runners coming towards us.  We stopped to orient ourselves (the point of the game, I suppose) before starting the mellower sidle down into the valley housing control 80.

I'd been using the pylon control 51 was on as a landmark, and so when we reached the turnoff to it, I asked Simon why he was heading the wrong way.  "For 80 points?" he retorted.  I wasn't lost, just going the wrong way!  We'd ridden past a control on the Skyline on a practice ride a few years ago, but were yet to do so in a team rogaine, thank goodness! Not by accident anyway.  We both still regret missing 150 points in the dark at the first Great Forest Rogaine...

With Simon's care, we were soon collecting 80 points, and another pretty scene with a waterfall just beyond the control...

The ride back down the valley was fun, and the climb out past the pylon harbouring 51 and up to 12 was much more manageable than the previous day's climbs had been.  I felt a bit bad about taking a short cut avoiding a descent to a gate and not pointing it out to Simon, but had collected a mild jolt on my inner thigh from the electric fence I'd straddled as some sort of karmic payback.

We saw Rachel and Sherlock out stolling while husband and father Liam was out collecting points with our friend Barryn.  Soon after we'd left them to their walk, we'd netted control 11, and were then parked up surveying the steep spur out towards where we suspected 71 to be.

We'd been pretty good at never leaving the bikes without a map the day before, but did so en route to 71.  Luckily, I'd had a good look at the map, so remembered the layout of the map while we tried to reconcile what we could see with what the map back up the hill on the bike said.

Fortune smiled on us, and we were soon at the fence junction we wanted, and some minutes after that, back with our bikes.  We'd left them at a good spot, and rode back to the main track.

Control 54 was easy to find, and before long we were making our turn down the ridge towards 91 and 63.  I got a bit confused, having assumed that 63 was at Belmont Trig, and while I knew we weren't heading there, I was certain we'd taken the correct route, and besides Simon seemed to know where he was going.

We ditched the bikes at an opportune spot on the descent to 91 and continued on foot.  I brushed some ongaonga on my way to it, only seeing a much nicer approach (and taking it) on my way out of the stream bed.  The climb was steep and slow back to the bikes, but we knew it would be, it said so on the map!

There were 2 padlocks on the box at control 63, and a few minutes later we were at 35, and a minute after that we were blasting along Stratton Street.  We opted to take the longer, faster route on the road around to 64.  We'd decided to approach it from above, but as we ground up the road, one or other of us raised going through the singletrack, and the decision was amended.

There was no sign of the ribbon in the gorse at 64, but we were certain we were in the right place, so moved on after a few minutes' scouring around.

It was a bit of a mission getting back up onto the road, but we made it!  Then along the Old Coach Road, before Simon's sharp navigation had us with 22 in our figurative purse.  We had only 25 minutes left at this point, and so we quickly assessed our options.  72-33-32-10 seemed out of the question, leaving perhaps 100 points to get home (70 and one of the 30s).  62-32-10 gave the same points, and seemed to involve less effort, so we decided to do that.

We quickly got to 62, but undershot 32 after a lumpy off-track descent down towards Hill Road.  Our excursion upstream of the control ate through valuable time, and we had no room to hunt for 10 on our way past.  We made the finish line with 20 seconds to spare, which is pretty much perfect in this gig!

It turned out we'd done well again, though not as dramatically so as the day before.  We were the top MTBers, though only 40 points clear of Rob and Marquita.  They'd replaced our southern loop with one in the east, for a very similar tally.  The best foot team was 90 points ahead of us though, capitalising on the benefit of an extra hour.

After enjoying a bit of BBQ, we headed inside to thank Mike, apologising for leaving early, but saying we were both keen to go home to see our daughters.  He gave us a beaming smile, indicating he totally understood!

Again, a good team effort, and a hell of a lot of fun to boot!  I think it was just what we needed riding-wise, two hard days in the saddle, and a great way to rekindle our enjoyment of orienteering.  We haven't had much of a chance to hang out together lately, let alone ride, so it was also a convenient (if slightly arduous) way to get some quality time in.  It can be a damn frustrating sport sometimes (or often even), though that can be mitigated by doing it with someone who you trust and who trusts you.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and all that, and these events have been a huge part of the strength of our friendship.

A week out, Monday's ride was looking shaky as Simon had to get down to Blenheim to start the second Kiwi Brevet field on their amazing ride in the top of the south.  I'm very glad the moons aligned - it would have been a shame to miss another fantastic ride with my best mate.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Epic prep in the St James

The Cape Epic is looming, and in seven weeks time I'll be in South Africa, and in eight I'll be about a half of the way through the race.  I expect those weeks to fly by, with plenty of training and racing to come. 

For the last seven or eight months I've been enjoying building myself up with the Cape Epic goal in mind.  Last weekend placed another piece in the complicated puzzle: how to hit an eight day stage race physically and mentally prepared.

I've long benefitted from the amazing service and friendship of Oli Brooke-White of Roadworks fame.  In the build-up to Cape Epic, Megan and I also were able to obtain the support of Yeti Cycles, via NZ importer and XC legend, Kashi Leuchs.  Not only was he happy to help Megan and I out, but he also agreed to sponsor the Inaugural St James Epic, a 103km mission taking in much of the St James Cycle Trail, the first of New Zealand's "Great Rides".  When Megan and I got an email from Kashi inviting us to take part, heading down for the event was a fait accompli.

The couple of weeks leading up to the race were pretty low-key riding wise, and instead I had the pleasure to spend a bit of time hanging with Kaitlyn and our cousins Holly and Theo. 

I did manage a few short and sharp rides though, and flew to Christchurch on the Friday morning feeling confident in my legs.  I wrote lecture notes while I waited for Megan to arrive from Palmy, at which point we were collected by Kashi and Black Seal intern, Anthony.  Somewhat miraculously, we managed to load our gear into the back of the wagon, and my bike on the back, and we were soon heading north towards Hanmer Springs.

The drive passed quickly, with good conversation abound.  We settled into our digs, and registered for Saturday's race, before a bit of a Yeti drool-fest ensued.

A 575, an ASR5, and a couple of ASR5Cs...
Eventually, we managed to tear ourselves away from the clutch of beautiful bikes, and headed out in search of dinner.  We settled on an Italian joint, but the pasta meals we ordered were each disappointing in one way or another.  Mine was more creamy sauce than pasta, and I really should have ordered seconds and thirds (or grabbed something from the supermarket on the way home...).

The race briefing was to be at 7:30am, and we had a 45km, mostly gravel-road drive between us and it in the morning, so we sensibly had an early night.

When my alarm went at 5:10, the room was pitch black, and very cold indeed.  Over the next 40 minutes or so I ate, and made final preparations for the race.  It's always difficult to know exactly when to lather up with Sweet Cheeks' Butt Butter and pop the bib shorts up, but I didn't fancy getting my shirt off at the start and I suited up before leaving the house.

The drive wasn't too bad, punctuated only by a couple of toilet stops for Megan, who'd obviously been smashing back far too much water since getting out of bed, and a single gate on Tophouse Road. 

We knew the race was going to be a fairly intimate affair, numbers probably deflated for a number of reasons:  the event being in its first year, in a remote region, and clashing with the MTB National Championships in Nelson, all to one extent or another, hard to overcome.  When we stopped the car overlooking Lake Tennyson, the temperature gauge read 6.5 degrees.  We got out, to watch a small group of hardy multisporters head into the lake for a swim leg. 

Lake Tennyson
The briefing was a little later than advertised, but it didn't really matter.  The course was described to us, and we would soon be underway.  On account of the near-freezing conditions, I dipped into my bag full of compulsory gear and grabbed a long-sleeved woolen top to put on under my bibs and Yeti jersey.  I kind of regretted having fingerless gloves and no knee-warmers, but there was little I could do about that.

In a mercifully short period of time, we were on the start line.  The bloke on my left introduced himself to me as Dayle, and I found Brent on my immediate right.  We were all shivering.

Befitting Yeti being the title sponsor of the race, I led the troops back along Tophouse Road, and through the right turn onto the St James Cycle Trail.  We popped over a footbridge (apparently avoiding Didymo control as we did so), and then began the climb up to Malings Pass.

As the track tipped up, my legs began to complain a little, and I had to let Brent and another tall unit open up a small gap.  I was breathing hard, and managed to suck in a UFO.  I could feel the critter clambering around at the top of my throat, and I started retching to try to get rid of it.  After a few seconds of making some pretty horrendous noises, it was gone, and I could once again concentrate on holding onto the leaders.

I was 20m or so down over the top, and promptly proceeded to let more go, blundering through a couple of loose off-camber corners and ending up in a ditch, luckily still astride my bike, but not feeling particularly proud of my skills.

Eventually the descent ended, and I set to making my way back to the front of the race.  I was really enjoying the fast conditions down the Waiau River valley, and while my shins were pretty damn cold, the rest of me had warmed up a bit.

I regretted not having a camera handy when a herd of a dozen wild horses cantered across the track, passing between me and my catch 100m ahead.  It was a special moment, in an environment which rarely showed any signs of animal life.

Before too long I was crossing the Waiau with Dayle and two others, with only Brent still ahead.  We came to a confusing intersection, deliberated, and then all took the right fork, though not before sending another rider back who'd not been meant to cross the river with us.

We passed Lake Guyon, and I was amazed to see waves lapping at the shore - not something I'd have expected on such a small Lake.  Had I thought carefully about it, I'd have recognised I was in for one hell of a head wind upon getting back across the Waiau.

At the head of the lake, the track tipped up and I pulled away from Dayle.  At the top of the short climb, a marshall tent was in sight.  I rode to it, had my number plate clipped and grabbed a banana. They pointed me up the valley, which I should have known was not intended.  I set off along the adjacent track, and the marshalls yelled out a correction, which soon had me slogging my way up the valley.  The track deteriorated and involved leaping a few waterways.

Soon after a short but rough descent, I heard a quad bike behind me, and the rider shouting at me.  I let him get a bit closer, and then pulled off the track to let him through.  He pulled alongside, and said "they sent you the wrong way".  I told him there was one other ahead, and then there was nothing for it but to turn my bike around and head back the way I'd come.

Dayle hadn't been far behind me, and I could see at least two others who'd made it past the marshall.   I grabbed another banana as I passed the tent, resisting the temptation to make any comment.  It wouldn't have made our pain any less.  Megan and a few others weren't far from the turnaround, and it was at least good to know they wouldn't be sent on a wild-goose-chase.  On the other hand, close to 10 minutes had been lost. 

When I caught back up to Dayle, we got to talking a bit more - the screw up had certainly put the race on the back-burner for the meantime.  Dayle was kind enough to get his camera out as we passed Lake Guyon for the second time, though he should have told me to put my tongue away!

Yeti, Yeti, Yeti!  Oi, Oi, Oi!

Dayle and I were soon back across the Waiau, and were hammering into a block headwind.  We were joined by Steve from Hanmer Springs, and another John (who I thanked for having such an easy to remember name).  I was possibly too generous letting the fellas draft the living bejesus out of me as we made our way down-valley, but as Simon said when I gave him the debrief, that's my MO!

After the screw-up on our first side trip, we were pretty nervous when we started crossing the valley-mouth of our second side trip.  We slowed by a DOC sign indicating a track up the valley as there was no specific mention of the race.  I had a map in my pocket...

... so we knew we'd be going up the Ada Valley for sure, just not when the track would dive off.  When a prominent track appeared on our right, we agreed to take it.  It turned out we'd shot off early, but weren't totally confident in the markings so soon after the earlier debacle.

After crossing a couple of gates, we soon converged onto the correct route, and settled in to our bash up the valley.  There were regular paint marks on the ground, and frequent poles with fluoro paint on them too.  The pace got a bit hot for the other John, or maybe he was hanging back a little to let Dayle, Steve and I scope out the clear route ahead.  We made a couple of stops when the paint-trail ran dry, but otherwise the ride was fairly direct.

The views up ahead were great too, so much so that when we stopped to clip our race numbers, Dayle had his camera out and was asking for Steve or I to do a handstand.  With two dislocated shoulders, I'm not ever going to do a handstand again, at least not on purpose.  But, I'm partial to a headstand or two, and quickly discarded my helmet.  After 4 or 5 failed attempts to get my balance, Dayle indicated he'd got his money shot, and it was helmet back on, and back onto the bike!

In the middle of a race, really?!
I enjoyed the ride back to the Waiau, not least because we had a bit of a tail wind.  My legs were still feeling good, and my bike was humming.  The plush 5" travel and lightweight carbon frame were eating up the rough trail. 

We could see two marshalls on the far side of the next river crossing, so naturally headed towards them.  By the time we were back on dry land, the guys had shot off, and we found ourselves looking around for the track.  It was nowhere to be seen, so we shot cross-country and soon picked up the track about 100m down-river.

According to my map, which I think all three of us were relieved I had, next up was the "Henry loop".  The turnoff was pretty clearly marked, but as soon as Dayle, Steve and I took it, we were hollered at by 4 marshalls about 200m past the turnoff on the main route.  We ignored them for a time, and kept riding, but eventually our growing doubt had us turning around.  We rode to their marshall point, and were debated whether or not we needed to go up the prominent valley to the West of us.  Finally, an old codger in a 4WD vehicle arrived and confirmed it was indeed the Henry River flowing out of the valley, and that was good enough for us.

We passed a few signs, but none of them put us out of our misery by mentioning the elusive Henry.  One indicated 5km to Ann Hut though, and we agreed that we wouldn't ride beyond it.  If there was no clipper there, we'd all head back.

The climb, such as it was, was hard, mostly because of our uncertainty I guess.  It got steep eventually, but only temporarily, and at the top of a 50m climb, we could see the hut.  I was 100m or so down on Steve and Dayle at this stage, struggling to push my 30x36 "granny gear" on the steepest stuff, but we all reached the hut at pretty much the same time.  It wasn't until we were right at the hut itself that we could make out the clipper, and when we did so, our moods improved dramatically.

On the return trip, it didn't take too long for us to see oncoming riders, who'd once again benefited from our trail-blazing.  I gave Megan a good holler as we passed - she had what looked like a good race on her hands, and looked to be only a minute or so down on the other female in the race, Erin Greene.

Probably just over half way back down the valley the track split, and inexplicably I took the right fork while Dayle and Steve took the left.  As the track converged again, the results were in - my route sucked big time.  So much so, that by the time I reached the marshall point, I had still not caught back up to Dayle and Steve.

The Henry River crossing came just after the marshalls, and I was relieved to be back in touch by the time I'd reached the far side of it.  My relief didn't last long.

The next section of track was some of the weirdest riding I've ever done.  We were basically riding on flattened grass, but the surface beneath it was so irregular, our bikes were wobbling all over the place, and maintaining momentum was at times insanely difficult.  We passed another group of marshalls sitting by a vehicle.  They watched us go by, without stressing that they were the second feed-zone, and had bananas and Em's cookies for us if we wanted them...  YFY, that would have been great!

Finally, we were off the grass, and onto a pretty sweet bit of singletrack.  It was steep in places, and I had to let Dayle and Steve ride on, while I walked my bike.  The descent was pretty sweet, and I thought how much Kashi and Anthony would have loved it on their play-bikes.

Back in the valley floor, I caught occasional glimpses of Steve's fluoro jacket, and tried to focus on choosing smooth lines, and moving fast.  I was pretty close to him when we crossed the impressive Waiau Swingbridge.  Though, I was so focussed on chasing Steve, I forgot to take in the view.

A steep climb followed, which again had me off the bike, pushing.  I was nonetheless really close to Steve at the top, but made the decision to stop.  My drive was starting to make some god-awful noises as I pedalled, and I knew, with 35km still to ride, taking a minute to apply a bit of chain lube was going to pay dividends.  I also took my woollen shirt off - the day had really warmed up, and with the chase I had on my hands, and the five or so hours elapsed, I knew dehydration was a real risk.  The stop was pretty short, and I hoped it was not a stupid thing to do.

The going was fast for a while once I got going again, before the track eventually made a hard left turn, to climb up to Charlie's saddle.  Again, I was on foot for some of it, but could see Steve a minute or so ahead from the highpoint. 

He'd been passing the third and final feed-zone when I saw him, and I was soon there myself, helping myself to a banana.  Just around the corner, I was shocked to see a couple of empty cokes cans, literally the first litter I'd seen.  When I mentioned this to someone at the finish, I was relieved to hear that the marshalls had suggested people drop them for collection as they made their way off-course. 

I tried to keep my pace up down the next valley, but regular stream crossings made it hard to get into a decent rhythm.  That, and the growing level of fatigue in my body.  I kept getting glimpses of riders ahead, but was now picking up the back markers from the shorter race, rather than Steve.  I was also now passing runners, none of whom seemed particularly jolly.  I made a point of saying gidday to each of them, but didn't get a single response.  I'm sure they were totally jealous of my bike.

As the kilometres ticked over, I finally saw Steve, only 100m or so ahead of me on what was surely the last climb of the day.  He looked back and saw me, and by the time I crested the top, he was goneburger.  The course split, and I took the left, and slightly longer route back towards the St James homestead and the finish line.

The descent to Tophouse Road was a scorcher.  I loved the first half of it, and hit a grade reversal in the road with a hell of a lot of pace.  Airborne for a moment, I landed with both wheels pointing in the right direction, and continued on my merry way.  For most of the rest of the descent, I imagined totally casing that jump and how much skin I would have lost crashing.  One of these days I should practise those things...

I was soon on Tophouse Road, and going through the gate I'd opened for our car 7 hours or so earlier.   I could see the homestead a few kilometres away, but no Steve.  Nonetheless, the sooner this was over, the better, and I wound the bike up as if I was riding for my life.

That was soon put on hold as the organiser had different ideas for his Epic riders, and painted arrows on the ground had me turning off the road and crossing the adjacent river.  It took me what felt like an eternity to cover those final kilometres.  There was plenty of paint on the ground at times, but I took far too many wrong turns.  I found myself back at the river but sensed it wasn't right.  I didn't backtrack, but headed for a pylon track I could see above the river.  There were no reassuring paint marks, but I stuck to it.  After a short descent, I was confronted with paint for the first time in a few minutes, and a sharp turn towards the river.

The homestead was now only 150m away, but instead of heading straight to it, I blundered around trying to find the correct place to cross the river.  I didn't see the marker on the far side until I was most of the way across, and then instead of getting to the other side and correcting on dry land, changed course across the river, costing another minute or so.

I reached the finish line soon after, and was able to congratulate Dayle and then Steve for their rides.  Dayle was 13 minutes ahead of me, with Steve taking second place 5 minutes later.  Kashi and Anthony were there too and had had a great time on their short course.  The BBQ was rocking, and I enjoyed tucking into a sausage or two.

After a while, Megan arrived, and soon after that, our car had been ferried back to us as well, completing our Yeti-posse.  No-one had seen any sign of Brent since Lake Guyon, but he too arrived back literally moments before Search and Rescue were dispatched.

The drive back to Hanmer Springs was spectacular, particularly the views down off Jacks Pass. After four showers, and a bit of bike cleaning, we headed off for a well deserved soak in the hot pools.

The event was a frustrating one for me, not least because I felt like I'd underperformed.  It looked to me like Brent was the strongest on course, but I couldn't help but think that I hadn't ridden to my potential.  No point having big fuel tanks if I'm not going to fill them before a race!  Another good lesson learned with Cape Epic now only a handful of weeks away.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the event.  It was great to ride somewhere I'd not been before, and in particular somewhere so spectacularly different to my usual surroundings.  Megan, Kashi and Anthony were great company, and it was cool to meet and ride with Dayle (who admitted to enjoying these ramblings) and Steve in particular.  With luck, the organiser will take on board no doubt plentiful feedback which should make it pretty easy for him to improve the event for next year.  It's certainly an event I'd love to do again, and would happily recommend to anyone looking for an Epic ride.