Sunday, February 1, 2015

Khulie's Karapoti Recce

Last year, both Khulan and Kaitlyn rode the Karapoti Challenge, finishing first and second in the U19 women's grade respectively.  This was not Kaitlyn's first involvement in that event - she and I set the so-far enduring tandem record back in 2008.  But it was Khulie's first time, and she handled it with aplomb, finishing 74th overall (out of 209 starters) in 1:35:59.  Just under three minutes and ten riders ticked by before Kaitlyn arrived, and they were both suitably proud of their efforts.

As I alluded recently, Khulie's worked damn hard on the bike since, and despite that, I was surprised a few weeks ago when she said she might like to give the Karapoti Classic race a go.  Er, OK...

I did my best to put her off, describing the first climb as pretty much unrideable, followed by the second which definitely is unrideable, and the third, which, if you got a crack at it fresh might be OK, but turns out to be mostly unrideable because by that stage you're pretty much pooped.

Sarah and Kaitlyn agreed that spectating and another nudge at the Challenge might suit each of them better, but Khulie simply started asking about the Tip Track.

We headed up that wee gem last weekend - it was hot, with no wind - typical Wellington weather these days, it seems.  And Khulan suffered, slowly.  As I'd warned her, that sort of effort takes a bit of getting used to, and the first time is never going to be flash.

"Can we go to Karapoti next weekend?"  Er, OK...

For a while I'd thought that the full loop was probably not a safe bet, and might not be particularly confidence inspiring.  On the other hand, I could see that getting some first-hand experience to set the horror stories in context would at least help clarify what the next five weeks hold.  A plan was hatched that would both avoid riding the whole course, and would add to the adventure.  We'd catch two trains, and ride between the stations via the first half of the course. 

Sarah sped off for a road ride with the Revolve group just before 8am, and Khulie and I were in the car less than an hour later.  I'd pretty much rebuilt my backpack from the Belmont race the previous weekend, though I'd swapped out a bunch of One Square Meal bars for peanut butter and jam sandwiches for me, and peanut butter AND nutella for Khulie - not only a taste sensation, but packing a punch.

We parked the car in Bowen Street, not saving us much time or energy at this end of the day, but ready to take us back up to Karori when we returned.  A few minutes later we found ourselves in front of the Railway Station.

The next train to Upper Hutt was due to leave in only a few minutes, so once we'd bought our tickets we made straight for the platform, and soon had our bikes stowed in the space allocated for them. 

Before we'd noticed the 9:05 train hadn't left on time, the conductor announced we needed to switch to another train.  We did roll out soon after, with three BMXes stacked up against our bikes, at least until Petone.  It was cool of the conductor to ignore the usual limit of three bikes per carriage, not requiring the boys wait until the next train.

The journey took slightly less than an hour, and Khulie dozed for most of it, despite a trip on a train being quite a novelty.  We stopped at the BP just north of the station, and we both took advantage of the Rest Room (for a quick rest, obviously) and I grabbed a quick coffee. 

We got a toot and a wave as we rode through the traffic lights onto SH2, and 100m later Kim Hurst rolled down the window and had a quick natter before Gav hit the gas and they pulled away.  We both agreed that seeing the women's Karapoti record holder was a good omen, given where we were heading!

I tried to keep the pace nice and gentle as we made our way along Akatarawa Road, and I enjoyed not having to point out every damn bit of gravel as is usually the case in a roadie bunch along there.  The odd deliberate excursion off the shoulder of the road into the rough added novelty.

The sign at the turn-off to Karapoti Road had special significance for us, necessitating a short stop for the documentary evidence.

No Exit?  Not today...
The road itself always feels to me more uphill than coming down it feels down, but we made quick work of it, and were soon into the Gorge.  Aside from a bit of water running across the track here and there, it was bone dry.

After the McGhee's Bridge turn-off, Khulie was in unfamiliar territory.  We had a brief banana stop soon after - I was slightly nervous that she hadn't had anything to eat since leaving home, and it was already 11am.  We had some hard work ahead of us.

I pointed out where the Classic course pops out from the Doper's descent, and then we grabbed our small chain-rings for the first time.  A guy on a quad bike gave us a little fright (and we him, perhaps) - it was remarkable how silently he'd appeared. 

While I hadn't ridden through here since the 2013 race, I've been round well over a dozen times.  Whatever familiarity I thought I had of the course was having to be updated on account of the maintenance that's been done through here in the intervening time.  We met Russell and Denise Pilcher moments before hitting the base of the warm-up climb, but before the rough descent I'd warned Khulie of, and which never came.

I left Khulan to ride up at her own pace, and pushed quite hard, getting up in just under 7 minutes.  When she arrived a while later, I was impressed to see she was on her bike.  She reported a few short walks, a mix of tactical and imposed, and was looking pretty red in the face.  The air was nice and cool, but the effort required was not!

Khulie almost at the top of the warm-up climb
We had a short spell before tackling the part of the course that puts the shits up me the most, but we both made it safely down the steep and loose track, before riding up the stream bed, which was only half-submerged. 

I'd intended to stick with her up Deadwood, but wasn't expecting it to be in such good nick. After regrouping with her once, I enjoyed the smoothest ride up there I've had, fluffing only one steep section but nailing it on the second attempt (note to self:  keep left).

The wait was long enough that by the time she appeared in the distance, I'd become a little nervous.  She was on the bike initially, but succumbed to the gradient in the last few metres.  

Grovelling, as advertised!
After a short rest, we tackled the remainder of the climb before grabbing a spot in the sun and eating sandwiches.  I made good use of the chain lube I'd brought too.  My clean but dry chain had started to announce its need.

After lunch, the track headed down on average, but the climbing sections took so much longer that you'd be forgiven for thinking you were still climbing.  Every time I paused, Khulie would almost immediately appear around the corner.  On the other hand, what never seemed to appear around the corner were the bogs.  There wasn't a puddle in sight. 

I pointed out where the first Karapoti Classic joined the current course, and then we headed pensively onto the Rock Garden.  It was, as expected, rocky.

I dismounted before the first big drop-off, and we spent the next while on foot.  Though, the track here seemed less rocky than I'd remembered, and it was the second half that was rougher that I was expecting.  

There was a tree low over the track, and rather than duck under it, I jumped off to see if I could rearrange it.  Bad idea, and I felt my lower back spasm as it's done a few times over the last couple of years.  Good of it to happen about as far from civilisation as we were likely to get...

I took some time out, and while it didn't magically disappear, I could sense we weren't stuck just yet.  I walked a lot of the rest of the track, and made good use of my dropper post when I was on the bike.  Nursing it seemed to be OK, and really only the transition on or off the bike was causing discomfort.

We managed to maintain our record of dry shoes by stone hopping over the stream at the bottom.  The bikes made very useful props, and they didn't care about getting their "feet" wet.

While I was feeling old and decrepit, Khulie confidence was growing by the minute.  Her next challenge was the Devil's Staircase, and she handled that with aplomb too.  This was the bit I was most worried about, and the main reason for the trip in my mind - purpose built MTB trails have virtually eliminated the need for anyone to push their bike up anything - so this was uncharted territory.

I needn't have worried though, and she slowly but surely made her way up.  We stopped for a bit of tomfoolery as many before us have done...

... and not long after we'd emerged! 

Experienced?!  You bet!
We retreated back down the track for a quick snack out of the sun, before finishing off the climb up to Titi. 

The riding was was going really well, and the track continued to be in stunning condition.  I pointed out where the classic course turns to the left towards the bottom of Doper's, and headed straight ahead to cut through the Whakatiki Forest onto Campbell Mill Road.

We soon came to a large, locked gate.  I did some stretching, hoping to ease the tension around my middle, and Khulan wrangled the bikes.  I would really have struggled to get them over the gate in my state, and was glad she'd taken the initiative.

We were out of the open, but it was still nice and cool, and we were afforded stunning views of Kapiti Island.  I pointed out QE2 Park below, and Paekakariki when it came into view.

Sights like this are well worth the effort.  Khulie about to round the far corner.

We passed a large oncoming bunch, full of familiar faces, including Kev O'Donnell and "Fast Rachel" Reynolds.  Not long after we made the left turn onto Link Track whose 4km would take us down to sea level. 

Strangely, the temperature seemed to go from cool and pleasant to intense and gross.  It was hard to work out why exactly, but our downhill speed was no longer enough to overcome the warm air.

We stuck to Link Track all the way down, and Khulan successfully negotiated a few oncoming riders and a nasty off-camber corner from her pole position.  We didn't stop at the visitor centre, nor at the tram depot just inside QE2 Park, despite the icecreams they were advertising.

A large mapboard was a welcome sight, and it indicated Yankee Trail would take us through the sand dunes to Paekakariki.  About half way along it, I saw a familiar WORD t-shirt coming our way, followed by two parents and a sister.  I got a nice kick out of them recognising Khulan rather than me.

We ducked out of the park at the first road end, and cruised the final kilometre or so onto the main drag.  Two chocolate milks were soon acquired, and some nurofen and a date scone for me. 

We had only a few minutes' wait for the 3:45 train back to Wellington, during which our remaining sandwiches, and the groceries slipped down nicely.

We didn't bother counting tunnels on the way home, and Khulan dozed, as she'd done on the morning's train.  She had every reason to be tired, but also to feel very satisfied with her day's effort.

I was and am very impressed, and realise that I'd had no reason to be worried about her.  I loved our day together, and while it would have been cool for the whole family to have done it, at least we didn't have to stress about all getting on the single trains! 

We covered the 51km in just under 6 hours, with a sensible mix of riding and resting.  The GPS unit in my bag was moving for about 3h45, but you could add at least half an hour to Khulan's effort.  We were very lucky with the conditions, both track and climatic, and our bikes never faltered. 

Thanks for the wonderful day, daughter!  Off to I go...