Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Not the Akatarawa Attack, 2015

In contrast to 2014, when Simon and I did not ride the Akatarawa Attack, this year we rode, in an event called Not the Akatarawa Attack.

In an effort to maintain the challenge of navigating in the complex trail system that is the Akatarawa Forest, the organisers have chosen recently to run every second event somewhere else.  This year was one of those, and the venue was Belmont Regional Park, starting and finishing at the end of Stratton St.

My most recent write up, from 2013, gives a bit of the history of the Makara Peak Mudslingers, but the short version is that Simon and I have had a very successful record at this event:  1 win in the four hour event (with Simon's brother Paul), and then 6 wins out of 7 starts in the eight hour event. 

Last year we were focussing our road tandem racing, but this year, there were no clashes, and we couldn't resist the opportunity to spend a day riding together.  Simon had some concerns about his form, but we managed an excellent evening ride out at Rata Ridge a couple of weeks out, giving him a nice boost on top of his usual base endurance (and substantial class, after almost three decades of racing at a very high level).

The Stratton St event HQ made for a relatively leisurely start, and certainly no worse than the multitude of trips I've recently made to the Wairarapa. Maps were to be handed out at 7:30am, and we were ready for them.

We rode back to the car and laid the two A3 maps out in front of us.  Thanks to the organiser, and mapper, Michael Wood, for providing a merged version of the map below - the green rectangles show the two A3 outlines.

OK, where to start.  Thanks to Michael Wood for the map (then and now)
We had 50 minutes or so to make a plan of attack, less any time we might need to organise ourselves.  And, as is often the case, initially it seemed we would need every minute of it.

The event is a treasure-hunt of sorts.  Subject to an 8-hour time limit, you ride around collecting as many points as possible.  The first digit of the control numbers tells you how many points the control is worth, e.g. control 83 nets you 80 points.

Obviously there are a lot of unknowns: how fast can we ride today?  How many of these do we need to eliminate?  Which?  What's wrong with our plan?  What should we be doing instead?  Where on earth do we start...?!

While I couldn't tell you exactly how it happens, based on our results, I think Simon and I must be pretty instinctive.  We started by adding the total number of points on the map (from the clue sheet rather than the map itself).  From memory, there were about 2600, requiring a rate of 300 or so per hour to get all of them.  That gave us not only an impossible target, but a sense of what might be a reasonable hourly rate.

The Dry Creek loop in the north-east looked worth getting, and so we discussed how we might hook into that loop, and how we might get out of it.  Simon estimated that something like 80-90-100-60-70-40-40 and home might take a couple of hours.  We made a note to point out the control number duplication, and also debated the merits of the various out-and-back trips we'd need to make.

Then, we began looking elsewhere.

I was interested in the western extreme of the map, as I'd never ridden any of the access points to Belmont from Porirua.  We looked for loops, and had a couple of ideas, but then getting to and from was starting to do our heads in, and we moved on.

Simon pointed out how nice the bush-clad climb from Korokoro Dam to Belmont Trig would be in the cool of the morning, and we both agreed that would make a sensible starting point. Control 64 looked a total nightmare, and there were good points on offer looping around in the south, so we also ruled out starting with 28.  We soon had a nice sequence:  26-27-45-92-3A-54-63-39-83-38-47.  This not only took us through a whole lot of points, missing few, but also delivered us to the middle of the map, whereupon we'd have plenty of options.

In fact, we were now up above the Porirua controls, which had defeated us earlier, and things started to quickly take shape.  We had to be careful about two one-way tracks, and to an extent the first of these heavily influenced our agreed order:  93-37-65-48-82-55-3B.

We were now not miles away from our Dry Creek loop, and so it was a matter of joining the dots to get there.  We hummed and hahhed for quite a while, before jotting down: 46-72-34-71-44-42-20-81-30-50-91-51 and then onto 80.  Switching between the maps masked somewhat our zig-zagging around, though we were conscious of how much of this was on "possible routes" (code for, the organisers got through here with their bikes - in one direction or other...).

All of that took just over 30 minutes, and figuring we'd make up the end as we went along, we used a highlighter to mark up both sets of maps, and also a black-and-white "flight plan" which we'd leave with the organisers in case we didn't show up later in the day.  The flight plan was actually a great visualisation of where we were heading, and I was pleased that I'd seen it.

We were soon at the final briefing, and a few minutes after that, we were away.

The first three controls reminded us we hadn't done this for a while, but that was partly bad luck.  The first two were in a small patch of native bush riddled with tracks, but Simon did a fine job of getting us to both controls, despite me trying to convince him we were somewhere we weren't.

Simon again had a much better sense of where we needed to go once we'd arrived at the Oakleigh St entrance to the park, and also had the better instinct that we'd overshot our third control.  I'd been too intent on keeping my bike under control on the steep, narrow and prickle-lined descent to monitor our progress distance-wise, and to note the knoll we needed to find on our left.  We ditched the bikes, and while Simon started up the track, I bush-bashed parallel to him - a mere 5m away, and I'm sure he wondered what the hell I was doing, crashing and bashing my way up the hill.  At least I'd had the foresight to ditch my bag, and the terrain was reassuring.  Soon, we were at the high point we needed, and then we got to run down the track for a little bit, both wishing we'd stopped our bikes a little earlier.

We had to ditch our bikes again, but this time in observation of a rule prohibiting bikes on the track heading up the valley above the Korokoro Dam.  While the stream took a mellow gradient up the valley (well, down, I suppose), the track was steep almost all the time, up and down, up and down.  I hoped like hell my riding legs would endure all this shuffling (something in between walking and running) I was doing.

It was bloody nice to get back to the bikes, and get immediately onto some sweet singletrack.

Simon got a bit ahead of himself for the next control, but I knew where we were heading and what we were looking for, and he soon was on the same (part of the) page too.

Given how hot the day was forecast to become, wet shoes didn't seem like such a bad side-effect of the 30 pointer, and then we were into the climb to the trig.

While the bush cover was lovely, and the air was still cool, the riding was hard going.  The track is too steep to be pleasant in either direction, and was covered with loose gravel.  We met a team of three foot-orienteers popping out of 54, but didn't see them again.

I thought I was going to get crashed into by a guy in full on Enduro colours, but luckily when he broad-sided into me, he was barely moving.  His riding companion, a generation older, was much easier to avoid.

I got a nice surprise at the trig itself, and a fitting one at that.  Sitting in the shade was my old friend "MIKE LOWRIE" (a Bad Boys reference, for those whose recollection of 90s movies has dimmed), his brother Alan, and friend Phil.  Mike was not only the person who introduced me to mountain biking back in 1998, but also had introduced me to rogaining - on foot back then.

Simon and I had a good breather at the top, chatted to Mike and co, before leaving the last bit of shade we'd be in for virtually the entire ride.  Even in an 8-hour event, it is hard not to rush, and consequently I failed to correctly photograph the stunning view to the south, over Wellington, and beyond to the Kaikoura Ranges.

For the next while, we plugged away at the control sequence we'd planned.  We made a couple of side trips without our bikes - whatever time we'd have made up on the off-track descent would have been lost on the uphill legs.  We were having much more luck, navigationally speaking, than we'd had initially.

Before too long, we were onto the one-way track to 65.  For some reason, we hadn't considered the mellower climb at the planning phase, and nor did we in the heat of the day, despite what lay before us.  Once my momentum had been used up, I jumped off my bike and started walking.  Simon continued on his bike for about 5 seconds longer, but he quickly succumbed to the insane gradient.  By this stage I was panting too much to point out that this was his area of excellence, but was also glad that he'd parked his pride, and was conserving energy.

Perhaps due to the effort, I got confused at the top, and climbed over a gate onto a shitty farm track, completely oblivious to the perfectly good 4WD road on my left.  It took me a long time to catch up to Simon.  Rather than go back over the gate, and ride the good route, I subjected myself to a couple of fences, and off-track travel.  Dumb, but a good lesson.

I was surprised how much elevation we lost to the control closest to the Cannons Creek road-end, but welcomed the rare bush-cover.  What goes down must go back up, and by the skin of our teeth, we both managed to stay on our machines on the steep climb towards the Takapu Road substation.    Beyond that was a 50-point control, but the real bounty was the 40L container of water.

I'd consumed about two-thirds of my camelbak bladder, and we refilled everything, and sculled a bunch more down too.  The time spent doing this turned out to be very lucky, and we met a pair of women on horseback at a nice wide intersection, with good sight lines.

Ten seconds later, we were hurtling down a steep gravel road at at least 50km/h, and once we'd slowed to a speed at which we could hear each other, we agreed that meeting those horses anywhere on that road would have almost certainly ended up in tears.  As we completed our loop, we both looked enviously at the alternative climb up to 65, which surely would have been worth the extra distance. 

We were soon winching ourselves up a road which would have been a dream to ride if it had been flat.  The actual gradient of it was such that I felt like my whole body was crying.  It was pretty much at the limit of what I could sustainably ride, and while I wasn't having to struggle too much for traction, the power needed to keep the bike moving up was significant.

We debated the order we'd take the next two controls.  I was very worried about the climb we couldn't see, up-valley from 72, while Simon was more worried about the climb we could see from 46.  I deferred to him, and was pleased that I had.  The ride through 72 turned out to be one of the climbs I most enjoyed, and its quality was a very pleasant surprise indeed.  I jumped off about 100m from the top, opting to forgo my pride, in exchange for a slightly less demanding effort.

Stunning view to the north over the non-existent bush cover
By this stage, the day had marched on, and we felt we needed to rejig things slightly.  We deliberated for a few minutes before deciding to do an out-and-back trip to 71.  After dropping my rather heavy bag on the grass, we hurtled down the ridge, the grass hiding very hard and rough dirt.  I hoped like hell it wasn't going to be too horrible climbing back up, and in the end wasn't too disappointed.

We thought it wise to make a quick detour to a second water drop, and there chatted briefly to Mike and Jenny.  Unfortunately the bunker the station was at was full of sheep remains, so despite the shade and the otherwise nice company, we didn't linger.

We'd planned on 44-42-20-81-30-50, a 260-point sequence to get us to control 91, but ended up doing 23-24-81-20-42 for 180-points.  We probably saved some time, but it did mean we approached 91 from below, and this turned out to be the most unenjoyable part of the day for me.

We were off track, and the spur was too steep to ride.  Problem was, it was also too steep, and uneven, to push the bike.  I found if I eased the gradient slightly by going to the right, I could lift the front wheel over things, but heading in the opposite direction, with my bike on my right side and above me, that was impossible.  So, I followed Simon's lead, and put the bike across my shoulders.  Good Karapoti training I told myself.  And, while I was doing that, my legs were telling me how unusual this was.  The section seemed to take an eternity, but in reality it was probably less than 15 minutes worth.

We made an quick trip out to 51, before climbing back up the ridge, stopping only to pick up my bag again.  I relished the steep climb, for the simple fact that I was actually on my bike.  It's funny how things are so relative, and compared to the grovel we'd just been through, this was pretty sweet.

We were at cross purposes before we successfully got to 80, and I'd ridden off in the correct direction, while Simon was looking in another.  After a nervous minute he appeared on the skyline, and we were soon notching up another 80 points.

We agreed we didn't have time to pop down to 90, and so made straight for 100.  It was Simon's turn to be spot on, and he navigated directly to the control.  On a roll, he suggested we forgo the Dry Creek loop, nervous about the climbing between our next two controls.  We had a quick tally of the points:  210 if we stuck to the plan, and 130 if we didn't.  But, we were certain we'd buy more time if we went down to 90 after all, which would surely give us an opportunity to recover a few of those 80 points, but would also eliminate a shit load of risk.

I bitched and moaned my way back up to the start of the singletrack we needed to take, in my head at least.  As we'd blazed down 10 minutes earlier, I'd consciously noted how glad I was not to be riding up it, and yet, here I was!!   The first section of the singletrack sucked too, but we soon had gravity on our side once more, and the niggles became a distant memory.

After about 6-hours of error-free navigation, counting to four foiled us.  We must have missed a suburban street, or perhaps it had been just a driveway.  Luckily we were able to access the 40 pointer through the school, which might well have been a better route anyway.  How nice when slip-ups work in your favour!

My legs were complaining vigourously when we hit the steep pedestrian way at the bottom of Hill Rd.  By the time we'd collected control 21, after a short walk down into a bush reserve, it was definitely time for a short team meeting.  Simon was keen to go up Sweetacres Drive, but I feared the steep gradient would kill me, and made a case for the mellower, but unsealed extension of Hill Rd into the regional park.  In my favour were points, and eventually Simon relented.  I talked him out of an assault on control 31, but only after we were standing at the 4WD road we would have needed to grovel up.  We agreed it wasn't worth it...!

For the next while it was "will we make it? Or, won't we?" and as the clock ticked on, so too did the distance between us and base.  We grabbed 10 points at a concrete bunker without going out of our way, and then rode purposefully on to control 52, taking the steeper route up off the Old Coach Road rather than the sustained, albeit lesser gradient of the more direct route.  Funny how conflicted the decisions sometimes are, given my recent aversion to the steep stuff.

By the time we'd grabbed that penultimate control, we knew we had plenty of time to get to the finish, early enough to avoid the hefty penalties for lateness.

Simon did a very good job of navigating to 25, and we both enjoyed our first ride down Borderline as a result.  We finished with about 7 minutes to spare, which in hindsight would have been more than enough time to grab control 11 before descending to base.  We did briefly contemplate 35, but thought better of it having seen the approach to it.

One of the curiosities of a race like this, is during and immediately after, you have absolutely no idea how well you've done.  Strong riding is important, particularly at the pointy end of the field, but probably more so is a good plan.  And, it's hard to judge the quality of that without knowing what everyone else's plans were.

We found some shade, and tallied up our points - always a difficult task at the end of one of these things.  Funny how a tired brain struggles to cope with adding one digit numbers! 

Eventually, we agreed that our score was 1840, which, we were somewhat delighted to see, put us at the top of the leaderboard.  Barryn and Liam were the next bike team, and they were a way back, though partially due to some faulty arithmetic (revised to 1510).  Between us were a foot team on 1584.  We'd collected our margin to third in the last hour and a bit - and by the time we'd been through control 100, we had enough points to win.  I would have gladly stopped then, to be honest!  But of course you simply don't know how things are stacking up.

Our route in the solid purple line

It was fascinating to see our route one the single map, and Simon was the first to notice we'd grabbed all the controls worth 80 or more.  Notably, the 670 points and 20 controls we hadn't visited were worth an average of 33.5 each, while the 1840 from 35 were worth an average of 52.5.  Not a bad plan after all, I guess.

Once we'd finished labouring through our arithmetic, Sarah, Khulan and Kaitlyn arrived, and not empty-handed either - the custard square with my name on it was just the thing to chase down three sausages.  We sat in the shade together for prizegiving, and then made our way home in two cars. It was lovely to see them, and it was kind of them to make the trip out, cutting short their own ride at Makara Peak to do so.

Even after the decent amount of BBQ, the afore-mentioned custard square, and some chocolate milk from the first dairy we passed, I was 82.1kg on the scales when I got home, down almost 3kg on my usual weight at that time of the day.  The salt on my riding shorts, jersey and backpack attested to the amount I'd sweated.  The day had been bloody hot after all, and with little wind, and generally low speeds, the local temperature had made everything a lot harder.

Simon and I haven't had much of a chance to ride together, and that aspect of the day had been great.  It's much more of a social experience than you'd imagine, even with lofty goals.  The strategy and navigation, and the duration, give you plenty of incentive to talk, and that in itself is a great feature that is pretty redundant in a standard cross-country race.

My inclination is always to downplay successful outcomes, and while I readily acknowledge that good preparation and execution is a key ingredient to that, it is bloody nice when it all comes together.  Nice too to have one more data point that makes it increasingly hard to argue that it's all a fluke!

Thanks to Orienteering Hutt Valley, and the Hutt Valley Mountain Bike Club for continuing to put this great event on, despite the relatively small number of enthusiasts.  And, in particular, Michael Wood, who's done so much to promote orienteering in these parts, from his excellent maps, through to the hours planning, organising and running these events.  It's greatly appreciated, and while I've had the pleasure to experience the satisfaction of organising something others enjoy, I also know how much effort it is.  Thanks Michael, from all of us.

Finally, to Simon - thanks heaps mate.  Given your limited riding this summer, you were solid as a rock!  Riding these things with you has always been a blast - a nice mix of upstairs and downstairs, and everything in between.  When Michael said "what number is this?" and I replied "our last", I definitely didn't mean it.  The Makara Peak Mudslingers will roll again, I'm sure.

1 comment:

  1. A great result, and a string of wins it will be very difficult to emulate. Congratulations, Makara Peak Mudslingers!