Sunday, March 25, 2012


As expected, the registration process for the Cape Epic was an event in itself.  Gav drove Megan and I down to the V&A Waterfront, and escorted us through a high-end shopping mall to the ferris wheel we'd seen before we headed across to Robben Island.

As we made our way through the mall, we saw increasing numbers of people carrying bags that looked suspiciously like Gav and Sara's laundry bag.  The bags looked full, and were individually numbered.  One bag belonged to Kevin Evans, star of the film we'd seen a few nights earlier.  While Gavin greeted him, I noted that he was much smaller in real life than on the TV.  (The race booklet confirms he's 171cm and a mere 62.5kg.

At the far end of the mall, we emerged into the bright sunlight, and were confronted with the sights and sounds of the 11am race briefing in full flight.  We didn't need to panic - we'd be sticking around for the repeat performance at 1pm.

Briefing #1.  What sort of event has two briefings?!
The were plenty of people not focussing on the announcer, and Gav seemed to know most of them.  I saw a couple of guys dressed in Yeti t-shirts and caps and bowled up (in my own Yeti T) to introduce myself.  Opportune, and nice to touch base with what turned out to be the South African Yeti reps so early in the event.  I said we must meet up near the event for a jersey swap, and left them to it.

We followed our noses to the registration desk.  Neither of us knew our team number, so I dashed out to the noticeboard outside which listed all teams against their prologue start times.  I knew we were starting soon after 8:30am, and soon knew we were team 394.

Back inside, Megan and I presented our passports, and signed against our names on the master sheet.  The dude at the table ran through the contents of our envelope:  numbers for the bikes, numbers for our jerseys, numbers for our tents, cable ties, safety pins, top tube stickers, a sticker for Gav for the final stage finish area, personalised laundry bags and two laundry vouchers each and a few other minor bits and pieces.  Before we moved on, the guy helped us fit hospital-style ID bracelets.  For the next while, I am neither John, nor sifter, but RIDER 394-2!

We moved from their to an upstairs room to collect our gear bags, again personalised, passing the Yeti guys on the stairs.

My bag was inside Megan's, along with a couple of small down pillows, and a few other freebies.  Next up was the Woolworths counter to pick up a towel and buff each (and inadvertantly one for Gav as I hadn't noticed Megan grabbing one for herself).

Next, the nutrition counter.  Both Megan and I had subscribed to a personalised bottle service - four numbered bottles to be made available on course with whatever we've mixed in them, and one at the finish line, chilled for maximum drinking pleasure.

From there, we made our way slowly (on account of Gavin constantly bumping into friends) into some shade.  Megan went shorts shopping, while I enjoyed being off my feet and without the now rather heavy combined gear bag weighing me down.

It was still a while until the second briefing, so once Megan had returned, we headed into the mall for some air-conditioning and coffee.

Cape Epic branding abound!
I was a bit over carrying the gear, so fished mine out of Megan's a split up a bunch of the stuff.  When I glanced up on the way out of the mall, I was sure I saw a bag with legs in front of me...

Where's my team mate got to?!
Outside at the main stage, we saw a bunch of keen riders pushing a seriously easy gear on a set of stationary bikes.  It looked like undercarriage-tenderising stuff to me, the way their legs were flying around - and five minutes' worth, it turned out!

Gooch crushing goodness
I remembered I needed to pop to the massage desk, and managed to find them quickly enough adjacent to the first desk we'd visited.  On my way back to join Gav and Megan, I swung by the Craft tent, to check out the very attractive finishers' jerseys.  Karma told me that preordering one would be tempting fate.

Megan disappeared to get some food just before the briefing video began.  It was full of information, and when she returned a minute or so after it had finished, and asked "did I miss anything important?", all I could muster was "yes".  The detail had all been intuitive enough, some of which had already been covered off at the registration desk, but there had been a lot of it, and nothing instantly sprung to mind.

We watched a trials rider attempting a world record jumping between two boxes, but just as he neared the 3m-odd record, he decided to quit while he was ahead.  He'd made the shorter distances look easy, but only nailed the 2.95m jump on his third attempt, and obviously felt like his powers were waning.

We were back in Gav's wagon soon after, and not much after that, we were starting to put things on our bikes, and loading up our gear bags.  It was hot work, and not entirely obvious how best to pack for eight days of camping and racing.

Everything we don't carry riding must fit in the bags, and the organisers will transport those (and those alone) between the three camps we'll be using.

My bike's numbered up, as is a jersey for tomorrow.  I'll be rocking my beloved Roadworks bibs for the prologue, mostly because I love them so, but also because the chamois has seen better days and might not see much action between the first and last stages.

We'll run a bottle each for tomorrow's 27km "sprint".  Mine's mixed up and on the bike already, which means all I've got to do in the morning is suit up, and eat.  Then, it'll be business time.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cape Town acclimatisation

My last full day in Wellington started early - a phone call from Ash the night before had revealed Revolve were short a driver for the van pick up.  I met her and Marjolein at the top of Aro St, and then drove with them out to Lower Hutt.

We made our way to Rees' house, to pick up some Home Brew to as a Super V spot prize.  Rees had not only laid the beer down himself, but he was using some of his own honey as an ingredient, AND he'd made special Super V bottle labels.  I asked him if he had his phone number on the label, but my cryptic allusion seemed lost on him, eligible bachelor or not.

Super V beer bottle labelling!
I drove Ash's vehicle from the van-rental place at Seaview, but alas I was too early for Fidel's once back in town.  They were open on the return trip though, and it was good to finally get a bit of coffee into my gullet.

I helped out at registration for a while, before finally becoming overcome with anxiety about getting home and packing.  Ash sensed this, and sent me packing...

Loading the bike into my new EVOC travel bag was a breeze, and I experimented with loading a spare rear swingarm, eventually bungying it onto the down tube, with a spare Maxxis Ikon sandwiched in between.  By the time I was finished, the bike bag clocked in at about 22kg, and my other checked bag a little over 10kg.  I'd be pushing the 32kg allowance my new Qantas Club membership afforded me, but with luck I'd be OK.

Snug as a bug in a rug!
I wasn't quite quick enough to get done before Kaitlyn arrived from her school fair, so missed out on sifting with her there, but we did have time to go chill out at the Super V finish for a while.  It was good to see the women there having a blast, and luckily we left before seeing poor Keryn come in with her split knee.

After dropping Kaitlyn home to her Ma, I loaded my gear in the car and drove over to  Mum and Dad's - their home in Strathmore has long been a launching pad for the early Sydney flight for this Karori-ite.  We had a nice family dinner, joined by Jo for the main course, and Simon for dessert.  While I was sitting on a plane to Sydney, he'd be driving out to Karapoti for the rerun.  I told him I had him down for a top 5 finish before finally shooing him out so we could all get some sleep.

My alarm went off at 0415, and a few minutes later I was struggling down Mum and Dad's path with all my gear.  Soon after that, I was   at the Check In desk, and being offered the opportunity to pay $840 excess baggage charges for the Jo'burg-Cape Town leg, or to take my chances in Jo'burg.  I took the latter option - I was pretty sure the SAA domestic charges for more like $10/kg.

Luckily I left my phone on for a while, as I had a couple of calls from Dad - I'd given him directions but hadn't mentioned the car was on the top deck, and in the second call had to explain the clutch had to be to the floor for the car to start!  I was accosted by a woman I didn't recognise just before the Customs screening, who asked me if I was John. It turned out she was an ex Mitre 10 MEGA employee who'd been managed by Megan.  Small world...

The first flight was uneventful, and I made good use of the Qantas Club upon arrival in Sydney.  I would've avoided spending any AUD, but I'd forgotten to pack my two-pin airplane-headphone adapter.  Often as rare as hen's teeth, I was glad to find a huge display laden with them.  I was somewhat shocked to see a syringe disposal unit in the Qantas Club bogs - I assumed for junkies, but maybe not.  In any case, a premium club in an International Airport seems an unlikely place for intravenous drug use.

I had an empty seat next to me on the 747 to Jo'burg.  I made good use of my nice headphones, watching four episodes of Californication (which ironically I'd watched on DVD only a few days earlier) and then a couple of low-brow movies:  Tower Heist and Moneyball.  I cleared customs quickly at O.R. Tambo airport, and no one wanted to inspect my beautifully clean bike.

In anticipation of an excess baggage charge, I transferred pedals, shoes and sleeping bag from my checked baggage to reduce its weight.  I couldn't check my bike bag at the transfer desk, and en route to the check-in counter upstairs I managed to pick up a friendly porter.  He was useful enough,  escorting me directly to the proper counter.  The dude there didn't blink an eyelid at the weight of my bags, and a second hanger-on arrived to take charge of my bike bagh.  He announced it was his job to move it from the counter to the baggage handlers out back.  It was now clear I needed to organise two tips.  I had no cash at all, and was worried about leaving these dudes with my bike and no gratuity, so asked to be shown to an ATM, where they hit the jackpot.  I tried in vain to suggest they split the smallest denomination - a 50 rand note (a little less than $10 each!) - but they played dumb, and got one each.  Fleeced, but hopefully buying a small bit of insurance at the same time.  I did contemplate that I might have just paid two guys to steal my bike...

It wasn't long before I was sitting on plane next to a big Afrikaaner who sat with his legs spread.  I figured two could play at that game, and eventually he started to yield - I could feel my leg was kicking out a fair bit of heat, and it was obviously pushing him over the edge!

The plane was almost at full speed when the engines were cut, and the stewards two rows behind us started chanting "emergency brace position, emergency brace position, emergency brace position".  We hadn't started to rotate back, so there was no need for terror, and we were soon told that the plane had hit about 6 or 7 birds, and it would need to be checked out and the fuel topped up again before we could continue.

That bright bit on the nose is concave...!
We disembarked on the apron, and got a great view of the stoved in nose cone, and the bloody smear on the left engine.   The next couple of hours were a bit of a shambles, but eventually we were all put on a new plane, and a couple of hours after that there was spontaneous applause after the announcement we'd arrived at Cape Town.  I was relieved to find Megan and Gavin (and my bike) waiting at the Cape Town end.

It was dark on the drive home, so I got no sense of the surroundings.  After a good sleep, we left the house for the short walk into the Observatory (Obz)town centre, and some decent coffee, breakfast and internet.  I was shocked to see we were very close to Table Mountain with Devil's Peak overlooking us.

My first view of Cape Town...  Could be worse!
After breaky, I got my bike out of its bag, and assembled it.  Everything seemed to have travelled well, and so it was in good spirits that we caught a train into town, for a wander around.

Views of Table Mountain were off the hook, and we also good our first taste of the intensity of the mid-afternoon sun.

Team Mitre 10 MEGA / Yeti NZ, and Table Mountain!
We decided to pull the pin on our walk, and caught the train back to Observatory.  Gav was home, and suggested a ride.  At the end of a short commute to the local trail head, I finally realised I hadn't tightened my stem bolts sufficiently, and my lovely Yeti was suffering from droopy handlebars.  None of us had a tool, but Gav was sure we'd soon meet another rider, so we continued.  We saw dozens of joggers, and when we finally flagged down the first rider we saw, he couldn't help.  I managed to tighten the bolts slightly with a stick, but we made the call to pop back home.  Then, we turned around, and actually enjoyed a bit of riding!

Gavin, Megan and I at Rhodes' Memorial
We were joined by Gavin's partner Sara for dinner at Hello Sailor.  Taking full advantage of our hosts' advice, I ate disco fries (shoestring fries + mushroom sauce + molten cheese + feta), Pork ribs, and Hot Malva pudding with creme anglaise.  Gav said we should be on "fat camp" this week, and the meal seemed to fit that bill!

I'd had a bit of drama with the three Racing Ralphs I'd ordered to Wellington from Chain Reaction in the UK.  While I wanted 26 x 2.25, they'd sent 29 x 2.25.  A rare mistake I was assured.  So, it was with some dismay I discovered the one I had sent here to Cape Town was also a 29er tyre.  Bastards!!!   Luckily Gav's LBS swapped it with no grizzles.  I might not have been so lucky with 26 to 29, but it was great to have such a painless solution to my problem.  Megan and I had a jolly good sift around Olympic Cycles - a 75 year-old family business.  It was a decent sized store, but had stock which could easily have filled a shop twice its size.

After getting home, we switched into tourist mode, and had fun checking out the noon day gun - fired every day for the last 64703 days, according to the sign - followed by a gondola ride up Table Mountain.

That afternoon we went for a ride with Sara, and ex-South Afrian rep mountain biker, and I was pleased to pick up first my thorns.  I'd been fretting about them, and it was finally good to know what we'd be dealing with.  They were hardly the monstrous barbs I'd been imagining (perhaps in line with the image I'd conjured up reading Willard Price's "African Adventure" 30-odd years ago), but instead were a funky little amalgam of what looked to be 4 small rose thorns.  I was advised to leave them in my tyre, and let the Stan's fluid do its thing.

We rode some cool singletrack in a suburban green belt, including some nifty technical climbs, some of which I ride well, and one where I ended up tumbling off the bike. We met Gav who was most of the way through his Tuesday evening regular hill intervals.  Sara boosts for home, and Megan and I accompany Gav on his next interval.  I manage to mostly hold his wheel, without feeling like I'm about to puke - always a bonus.

After a short descent, we climb a bit of singletrack, coming across a lone bag-piper before the top.  We pass the Rhodes' Memorial again, and then we blast back home.  After quick showers, we grab pizza followed by a drive across town lest it get cold.  We disembark in the shadow of Table Mountain to watch An Epic Tale on the telly.  This documentary was meant to record the first African win in the Cape Epic, but for a massive crash which cost the team of Kevin and David any chance of the win.  There was certainly no love lost for David in the room!!!

The next day was a public holiday (Human Rights Day) and we were again in tourist mode, this time following a similar route to the Argus - a 105km road race attracting a whopping 35000 riders!  Gav told us later that if he starts in the first wave, he can be finished before the final starters have set off.  Unbelievable.

On our drive, we see ostriches and baboons out the window, reminding us yet again we're somewhere foreign!  We stop briefly at the Cape of Good Hope, the most SW point of Africa (which sees me explaining a tangent line in lay terms), but sensibly compromise our opportunities to avoid walking too much in the hot sun.

The next day we were booked on a ferry trip to Robben Island, home of Nelson Mandela for 18 years of his 27 years in incarceration.  The scale of the Cape Epic is brought home to us upon seeing the massive signage all over the V&A Waterfront, billed as South Africa's most visited attraction.

The somewhat somber excursion is lightened somewhat when our ferry crosses the path of a huge pod of dolphins - at least a hundred by my estimation.

One of the most beautiful things I've seen...
It was odd to hear of a prisoner reunion on the island, where we were told prisoners and guards "forgave each other".  I found that very weird.

When we got home, as usual we made our way in using three keys - a far cry from the standard New Zealand home.  I chatted with Gavin about the end of apartheid, the new South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Africa more generally.

Gavin and Sara were out, so Megan and I had dinner alone.  I was distracted by the looming race, and by the uncertainty about how it's going to play out.  There are so many aspects I'm unsure about: terrain, heat, the local thorns and rocks, and the team.  I'm finding it impossible to predict how hard I'll be riding, and can't wait to get underway so at least I know what I'm dealing with!

This Friday morning, Megan went for a short ride alone, while I headed down to Hello Sailor for a coffee.  When Megan arrived, we ate, and downloaded a recommended gear list from the race website.  Back at the house we went over the bikes, and ended up swapping an allen key from my park tool to Megan's lezyne multitool.  That way we had coverage of all the bits and bobs on the bikes (including Megan's derailleur hanger which had the single bolt her tool didn't cover) and a chain breaker in one tool.  We made a shopping list and then headed down to Olympic Cycles for our promised second visit!

Then, Megan headed into town, and I acted on a suggestion Simon had made overnight for a 15-20 minute hard climb in the heat of the day.  Before heading out, I loaded up all our tools into a newly purchased seat bag, and then got rolling.  It was good to get out and fire the legs.  I sweated like a mofo, but didn't feel like the heat caught up with me at any stage.  Reassuring stuff.

Rhodes' Memorial
Back at home, I gave both bikes a wash, and then demolished half a pack of pasta.  Registration is tomorrow, and we'll no doubt get all sorts of last minute info to process.  Gav and Sara will take us out to the prologue for our start just after half-eight the following morning, and then we'll be on our own for a bit.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thanks Team!

On the eve of heading off on one of my biggest cycling adventures yet, I thought I'd take some time to acknowledge some of what's got me there...

Was this the beginning?

Perhaps without realising it, you readers are integral to my enjoyment of cycling.  As I made my way somewhat slowly through the Makara countryside on Sunday afternoon, I tried to articulate to myself what I'm about to articulate to you.  I concluded that there are three critical things which synergise to make my experience of cycling greater than the sum of its parts:  the physical process, the creative outlet of the blog, and the sense of community those two things engender. 

Riding a bike can be at times very difficult.  We're not always mentally or physically up to the task, and that can be very frustrating.  We've all had to dismount on a climb, out of breath, clamber down a nasty looking bit of singletrack, pull the pin on a ride half way through, or even before getting out the door.  We've all wished we were lighter, and we've all wished we had more power.

On the other hand, we've all had glorious rides, sometimes when we least expect them.  There are days where things just click, and hills seem somehow shorter, the corners less tight, and the descents are more about fun than fear!  I'm glad these magnificent rides aren't ever-present.  Otherwise, we might not know to appreciate them so.  Totally aside from the increased sense of wellness a bit of exercise facilitates, it is nice to have that post-ride buzz as we reflect on what a damn cool thing it is we do!

Good ride, perhaps?

I'm not sure how long ago I realised that I have a second hobby, namely, writing.  Initially, details of a ride would clutter my brain until I finally typed them out, at which point it would be almost like they were never there!  Writing was a cure!  More recently though, it has provided me a way to enjoy a ride (usually, but not exclusively) well beyond it finishing with me firing a whole lot of gear into the washing machine.  As I type, I relive the ride, usually from start to finish.  I might initially remember only a small detail, but as I begin to write about it, the whole episode will come back, and my fingers will strain to keep up with my recollections.  Good experiences become even better, and bad experiences take on a new shape.  Things that totally sucked at the time become an interesting paragraph or two, and maybe worthwhile after all.  Perspective is also gained - what might have been an ordeal out on the trail is being recounted from the comfort of my home, and I'm reminded that life is good.  A bad memory soon becomes a good one. 

I've also learned to write for the enjoyment that it brings, not because I must.  A ride calendar does not have an associated blog calendar.  I have no rules about what must be blogged, and what can't be.  Posts generally take a few hours to put together, and take some emotional energy, and I'm careful to not let them become a chore.  I take a similar approach to writing and "training", fitting both in when I can.

I was once talking with someone about a long ride I'd done, and they asked "what was the hardest part?"  I replied, without thinking, "deciding to do it".  Tramping, rather than riding, gave me the most insight into how under-utilised our bodies are.  We've evolved to be capable of remarkable physical feats, remarkable at least in the modern sense.  It probably wasn't that many generations ago that a day's physical toil was commonplace, rather than something astonishing.  Suitably fueled, and with a few warm up rides, a day on the bike is surprisingly manageable.  What is harder won is the confidence to give something a try.  And, the imagination to come up with that "something".

While I love writing about rides as an outlet, I also hope that someone will read something they find motivational.  I don't regard myself as a particularly talented rider, and while I wouldn't wish the circumstances which dramatically affected my riding on anyone, it is worth remembering that remarkable endeavours on the bike (relative to wherever you're at) are within anyone's grasp.  Escalating things may take some work, but even that work can be a hell of a lot of fun.

There are a bunch of blogs I read avidly, and as I read, there are times I simply can't wait to get out on the bike and realise some of those sensations the words portray.  Hoping that someone might find my words similarly motivational adds to my overall experience of whatever it is I'm describing.  That makes me want to get out again and write some more. 

My own confidence has grown with the benefit of two amazing friendships.  Simon has been the most amazing riding buddy and training partner, the third I've had, but by far the one that has stretched me the most.  Mike Lowrie got me into the sport, and Rich Martin helped me through the years where it would have been easy to ditch MTBing altogether.  Simon and I became close friends while both on the Makara Peak Committee, once we'd realised we were both Survivor addicts.  Five and a half years ago, he and Sarah welcomed me into their home, and witnessed a transformation of sorts: 12kg fell off me over the space of 3 months, culminating in a 40 minute reduction in my Karapoti PB.  Simon and I notched up a fair few hours of riding that summer, and every year since, and through our friendship my riding's been pulled in directions I never really dreamed possible.

While Simon's overseen my physical transformation, Oli has been implicitly along for every ride too.  The total faith I have in my machines is largely due to the attitude he has towards his job.  When I set off on a mission, my only worry is whether I'm up to the task.  When I collected my Cape Epic rig from Oli the other day, his "come and get it" txt read "It's ready for anything", and its true.

And, so it is that with these two men in my corner, when I set off into the unknown, I know I'll be OK.  The blog helps me accept that a true adventure is not totally predictable, and that adversity, if it rears its head, will make for a damn cool tale!  This is surprisingly empowering. 

I don't travel that often to races, but I have really enjoyed connecting with riders from far afield.  Often the icebreaker has been this blog, recognition triggered by my Roadworks jersey of course.   Meeting and forging friendships with the likes of Tim Mulliner and Stephen Butterworth has been a great highlight of travelling to ride.  And, of course Megan, with whom I'm about to share this next amazing chapter.

My connection to the Wellington community is different, and they're a very motivating bunch.  There's an amazing volunteer culture in the city, and as a result, we've almost constantly got new trail to ride (and better interconnectedness to boot - ironically it's much easier to get to know someone while trail building than riding).  There are events and inspirational performances aplenty.  And, there are genuine attempts to build a strong community, with the likes of Bushlove and Revolve reminding us all that it needn't be overly serious all the time.  It is not at all hard to meet up with like-minded folk whether its over a beverage, burger, or bicycle (or, less poetically, a grubber). 

Finally, I also get great strength from you guys (reading this right now!), many of whom I suspect I've never met, but whose feedback, well wishes, and comments have added yet another dimension to my riding.  It is totally humbling, and yet, I'm so very glad you enjoy reading my words, for whatever reason. 

A constant presence in my life is people amping about cycling, and it's damn infectious.  And, even on the dark days, there are shafts of light coming at me from all angles.   It doesn't take me long to get drawn back into the fold, and long may that last.

So, that is it in general terms.  The reinforcing mechanism of a physical activity which, even when solitary, can be shared, keeps things fresh and enjoyable for me.  And, on the eve of heading off to one of the world's biggest cycling events, feeling motivated to ride is critical.

The journey to this point has been made easier and more enjoyable by many people, but some deserve special thanks.
  • Major sponsors, Kashi Leuchs of Yeti NZ, and Mitre 10 MEGA.  I'm honoured to represent you at the Cape Epic and beyond. 
  • Team sponsors Oli Brooke-White of Roadworks Premium Bicycle Repairs, Jack from Extreme Gear who supplied us with sweet Camelbak's for the ride, and Adidas eyewear for the sharp sunnies which even came in orange to match our jerseys.  Mel and Zeph from Black Seal, whose support has been fantastic, has made my life as bicycle operator much easier!  Also, the guys at Cycletech, whose response rate to our emails and orders has been off the hook.  My most recent request was for some LG Neo Power bibs (which have proved to be an awesome choice), and they arrived the very same day...  Cheers men!
  • I continue to be inspired by the exploits of Simon, T-Rex, Dave Sharpe, Alex Revell, and Clive Bennett, among others.  Lovely guys who love riding.  
  • My dearest friends, who've always got my back.  Jo, Simon and Sarah, Oli, Ash and Steve, you all rock my world.  Thanks for keeping me tip-top up top!
  • The Friday evening crew: Alex, Oli, Andy, Owen, Simon, Tor, Tom and Thomas, Dean, Richard, Selwyn, Mike, miscellaneous sifters, and of course Jonty for his unfaltering hospitality.  Sometimes hanging out with you fellas is the thing I look forward to most in the week. 
  • Riding buddies:  Lunchtime crew, Ash, Steve, Rich and Jeremy - we gotta start getting out again!  The Wednesday Worlds bunch, particularly Joel and Tosh, with whom I've learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses this year.  Leigh, Leif, Hamish, Ash and Steve:  WORD! 
  • My sweet family who keep encouraging me to ride despite occasional accidents!  Especially my beautiful daughter Kaitlyn who misses out on time with her Dada when I go riding.  I love you my girl, more than anything in this world. 

As I've slowly but surely knocked things off the "To Do" list, my excitement has started to build.  Megan and I had dinner with Oli late last week, and as we parted, she said "See you in Cape Town".  Oh, hells yeah! 

Last team meeting in NZ!

I've got a few more days in Wellington, and a few more rides to do to sharpen up before a nice cruisy week in Cape Town acclimatising. I did a personal best on the Tip Track last Thursday, a day after hauling myself up Mt Climie after Simon.  I have a stunning Yeti ASR5C which fits me like a glove, and goes like a cut cat.  My legs are good, and in no small part thanks to you guys, my headspace is fantastic.  I can't wait to bring the noise. 

See y'all on the flip-side...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Not Karapoti!

The first weekend in March didn't play out at all how I'd expected it to.  And, two weeks out from jumping on a plane to South Africa to race in the Cape Epic, I'm not really that disappointed.

As it always does, Karapoti sat out there on the horizon and fought for attention in amongst the challenges of school holidays, and mad-February at university as we gear up for the start of the new academic year while still trying to lay the old one to rest. 

I had bike dramas galore, realising only a month before that my stunning Yeti ASR5-Carbon needed a drive overhaul in order to get me around Karapoti.  After much huffing and puffing, trials and tribulations, I finally rode away from Oli's workshop on Thursday with my rig in stunning shape and ready to rock and roll.

By then, the weather forecast had been firm for days on the "Weather Bomb" due to hit the North Island, and the prospect of rooting my race bike not once, but twice in a weekend, was looking like a distinct possibility - I was entered for the Karapoti Classic on the Saturday, and the Perverse Reverse on Sunday.

I was looking forward to the double - not only would be it awesome prep for an eight day stage race to have a couple of tough XC races back-to-back, but I'd missed the only other Perverse Reverse back in 2000 - by breaking my eye socket in a silly accident on Mt Vic a couple of months prior.  Instead, I'd helped out, and clipped the race number from the bike of winner James Dick's bike, and many of the other 142 finishers.  Despite enjoying the day, I was gutted I couldn't ride, and with its inclusion in 2012, I was excited to finally have a chance to race in what I consider to be the better direction!

By the time I headed home from Jonty's shop on Friday evening, the Ironman in Taupo had been cancelled, and Karapoti was one of few events reported to be going ahead.  I had a big feed of pasta for dinner, and mounted up a crud-catcher on the downtube, and some inner tube in the fork crown to hopefully keep my new Mitre 10 MEGA - Yeti NZ jersey a bit cleaner during race one. 

My alarm went of at 7am, and soon after I was smashing back toast and coffee.  While I ate, I was browsing Greater Wellington's river flow data, and various news reports and online discussion, trying to predict what the day had in store.  I was struggling to reconcile heading out to Upper Hutt to race my bike while Civil Defense were warning us to stay off the roads if at all possible.  No sooner had I finished my feed, than word came through that the event was postponed to the Sunday.  I was glad to have found out from home, though a little frustrated I'd not simply slept through my alarm!

Later that morning I went round to Simon's and had a good catch up and plenty of discussion around the various options still on the table for the weekend.  By evening though, it was all academic, and as I fired up my phone upon exiting a screening of Contraband, I learned of the Karapoti Classic's cancellation.  While the Perverse Reverse hadn't been mentioned in the information release, it sounded like that too was goneburger.

Simon, almost literally bursting at the seams after three days of heavy carbo-loading, put together a plan for a group ride on Sunday, and by the time I headed to bed, I'd arranged to meet him, Jonty and Alex at nine in the morning.  Simon had posted the following invitation on vorb for his "Carbo Depletion Ride":

Meet at 10am, Sunday the 4th, at Whareroa Farm entrance (just east of MacKays Crossing).

The rough plan at the moment is to head up into the Akas via Perhams Rd, down Big Ring Boulevard, up Rimu Rd and back via Hydro Rd and Campbells Mill Rd. Might even get as far as Puketiro Rd. This will be 4-5hr done at a good pace (good for anybody likely to have done Karapoti in less than 3.5 hrs).

There will be no support crew. You'll be riding entirely at your own risk. You'll probably get wet and cold - bring extra clothing. You might get lost - bring a map or a guide. You might get injured, so bring a first aid kit. You will get hungry - bring plenty to eat and drink.
There had been no replies aside from a couple of "sorry I can't make it" posts, so we were slightly surprised to see a few other riders in the carpark when we arrived a couple of minutes after 10: Ian, Ant and Peter, and younguns Eden and Jack. 

There was still a cool wind blowing from the south, and it was raining on and off (mostly off).   Though, relative to Saturday's weather, the conditions were pretty damn good!  Eden's dad Bernie was on hand to take a group photo, and then we were off towards Waterfall Road and the Maungakotukutuku Valley. 

We had an awesome tailwind through to the bottom of the hill, and I was really tempted to put in a massive attack off the front.  I managed to contain myself, mostly through fear of getting smashed to pieces on the climbs that were to come.

We ascended the gravel section at a good clip and stopped to rearrange clothing at the turn off onto Maungakotukutuku Road, which Simon pointed out had been the start location of the second Karapoti Classic.  The "Karapoti Original" course had been deemed too tough by event sponsors, and this had been Paul's second attempt before settling on the now familiar loop in the third year.  Peter told us he'd done that event, back in 1987 - he'd finished 20th, while Simon had been 4th.

We were soon underway again, and while the others pushed the pace, I cruised up chatting to Peter.

I couldn't remember Simon's plan, so slowed as Peter and I passed Campbell's Mill Road.  There was no sign of the others, so we kept rolling.  As we reached the valley floor, I could see the group at the bottom of Perhams Road, which would take us up to Big Ring Boulevard.  The stream at the ford was surprisingly low, and while I carried my bike across, Peter blasted through on his new 29er.  

Peter didn't stop for long, and got a bit of head start.  The rest of us were soon hot on his tail, and before long it was Jonty and Alex setting the pace up front, with Eden and I tucked in behind. The conversation dwindled somewhat as we made our way purposefully up towards the Karapoti course.  I got gapped on a descent near the top, and already struggling to keep my breakfast down, got dropped again as soon as I'd caught back up to the other three.  We were soon at a halt though, surrounded by Karapoti course markings, and after a few minutes had the rest of the group with us too.

We soon spotted four riders coming towards us up Big Ring Boulevard - Colin, Craig, Chris and Geoff had come up Campbell Mill Road and were heading for Ho Chi Minh - a nifty singletrack down towards the first stream crossing at the bottom of BRB.  We decided that sounded like a great option, and after following the Perverse Reverse course for a few minutes, we were all turning off the main 4WD track into the jungle.

About half way down, the jungle claimed its two victims - while Simon was tearing his rear derailleur off, Peter was gouging the top tube of his new carbon 29er with the brake lever body during a small crash in the slippery slidey conditions.  They were both OK, but were going to need to head for home sooner than expected.

I gave Simon my chainbreaker, and he passed me his map in return. We rode together a bit longer, but upon reaching an intersection, he went right towards BRB while the rest of us went left.

At the bottom, we discussed options, scoffed a bit of food, and did a bit of chain oiling.  Colin and his mates were heading for the Three Sisters, and Eden, Jack, Ian, Ant and Peter decided that they too would climb back up BRB.  Jonty, Alex and I were keen to extend our ride a bit, and turned downhill to follow the Classic course towards the bottom of Dopers.

As it started to rain, I rued taking my jacket off.  Luckily, it was sufficiently light that it didn't warrant another wardrobe adjustment.  As it was, it was over after a minute or two, so it was just as well I hadn't stopped.

The relatively smooth 4WD track gave us a good opportunity to chat, and we took full advantage of that.  We discussed the cancellation, and then got to the role Karapoti plays in so many MTBer's summer plans.  Simon's been racing here since his 2nd place in '86 and the inaugural race, while Jonty debuted as a junior in '89 - the fourth year of the race. There aren't many with similar history, but they are certainly among many that feel pressure to perform at this old-school sufferfest!

Our ride along the classic course was short-lived.  We made the first turn to the right, and were soon standing at the edge of the Whakatiki River.  It was moving reasonably swiftly, but the depth was manageable (about knee-deep, with care) and we were soon on the far side.

We had a bit of a laugh, and suggested Alex head back in with his seatpost and saddle, and crouch down in the water pretending it was very deep and that his bike was almost entirely submerged.  Alas, there was no need to pretend the water was cold, and it was obvious such shenanigans were out of the question.

After a short climb and a sweet descent, we were fording yet another river (probably the Whakatiki again) and making our way onto Hydro Valley Road. 

The pace crept up again on the climb, though not to the stomach churning level of the Perhams Road ascent.  This climb was shorter too, and we were soon up in the pine forest and passing the right turn which, had we taken it, would have had us back on the Karapoti course after a few minutes' riding.

We met a couple of guys heading in to spectate (?!) and after chatting with them for a bit, extricated ourselves just as another party of three riders arrived from the direction we'd come.

The descent of Campbell's Mill Road was a real blast - the double track was in great shape and flowed nicely, the day was starting to warm up a bit, and the views over Kapiti were stunning.

We were soon alongside DOC signage through to Whareroa Farm.  We had options, and each time went with the longer track, despite it being "easier" riding.  Before we reached the valley floor, we took a couple of nifty side loops - the first of which was through gum trees which had clearly been ravaged by winds the day before.

Simon was waiting for us at the car, having ridden back up Big Ring and hooked across to take the same route down as us.  Luckily he'd managed to shorten his chain, and find a usable (albeit quite tall) gear for the ride down. 

Eventually we had the four filthy bikes on the back of my Corolla, and were tucking into the Easter buns I'd taken out, and a pack of delicious Peanut Butter (US) Girl Guide Cookies from Ash!  While we'd missed out on 7 races between us - Jonty had only entered the Perverse Reverse, while Simon, Alex and I had all signed up for both days - we'd enjoyed getting out nonetheless, and felt like we'd worked off at least some of the excess carbs we'd ingested in anticipation!

It wasn't at all like the weekend I'd expected, but I take a lot of positives from it.  My bike and I are in one piece, and that's always a good thing.  I had a lovely ride today with great company.   I got home with that slightly dull feeling in my legs, a massive grin on my face, and passed a race-ready carbon fully in the hallway on my way to fire some filthy riding gear into the washing machine. I'm glad I've got only the Cape Epic to focus on now, and while I'm sad for my friends whose summers were to culminate in a hit-out at Karapoti, this year it was not my grand finale.  Mine starts in three weeks, and I can't wait.  Bring it on!