Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2015 Metlink City Safari

It doesn't happen very often, but every now and then, I do something physical that doesn't involve a bike. Usually, this leaves me feeling beaten up, and that little bit more impressed with the amazing invention that is the bicycle.  Most of the time, despite the pain, I'm pleased to have subjected my body to its current distress.

An event that ticks all the boxes is the City Safari.  I've done it six times now, and wrote up both the 2014 edition and the event in 2011.  The first four were with my bro Dave and daughter Kaitlyn.  Last year, my beautiful step-daughter Khulan joined the three of us, as "Family Randal" was upgraded to "Family Randal-Tumen".  Khulie was a seamless addition to the team, and we all had a great time, capped off by a fine second place in the Family category, and sixth overall.

This year, I was little surprised when Dave offered to enter us all - he is now the proud father of beautiful Imogen, my three-month-old neice, and a future member of the team, I'm sure.  High hopes were dashed the afternoon before the race after a busy week at work had spilled over into the weekend, and he quite reasonably wanted to spend Sunday at home. 

When I enlisted Dave in 2008, I needed help with the piggy-backing duties of then 8-year-old Kaitlyn.  At almost 15 apiece, Kaitlyn and Khulan weren't going to need any carrying, but just in case, I decided to see if Simon - my brother from another mother - was free.  As luck would have it, he was, and I'd asked sufficiently close to the event that he didn't have enough time to think his response through carefully.  Family Randal-Tumen was back to four!

After loading my back-pack up with various muesli bars and some home-made caramel slice, we picked up first Kaitlyn and then Simon, and were down at the new event-HQ at the girls' school - WGC.  I dropped them off and then went to park the car on Hill Street, knowing full well that I'd later regret the 5-minute walk back to the school.

It was chilly, but we were given maps as soon as we arrived, and so it was straight into the planning.  The booklet we each had was feature-packed:  a page of rules, an overview map and five zoomed-in maps of control-laden parts of the course, a prologue map, and a schedule of the various public transport options on the course - a very cool and unique feature of the City Safari is its sponsorship by Metlink, and the fact that public transport is not only permitted, but facilitated.

Whereas the 2014 event stretched from Seatoun to Petone, it was nice to see a different course this year.  There were controls in the CBD, Aro Valley and through to Khandallahin the west, Lower Hutt, including Petone, Maungaraki and Normandale, and Avalon in the north, with Seaview and Eastbourne in the east.

The event traditionally starts with a prologue, though unlike previous years, this one had a minimum points requirement rather than a maximum time.  We were due to start at 9:35, and figured we'd probably have enough time to catch the 10am ferry to Days Bay.  Our fall-back was the 10:05 Hutt Valley train.  Beyond that, we didn't really deliberate too much, and instead used our planning time to scope out the most efficient way of notching up the 150 points we'd need from the prologue.

It was cold, and we were organised, so I offered to go and get some hot chocolate (and a coffee for the delivery boy).  Unfortunately, the transport timetables and the maps didn't extend to cafes in the vicinity, and I ended up back at base 15 minutes later without drinks.  I did have some warmish cheesy rolls from the New World bakery though, and these slid down nicely.  Sarah had popped down to visit, and was happy to do the drinks run to Wholly Bagels which wasn't quite open when I made my way past it.

Drinks quaffed, we listened attentively to the briefing, during which our points collection process was described.  Usually proof that you'd visited controls was to answer a question like "what is the colour of the letterbox of house #12?".  Simple, but apparently boring!  This year, we'd be confronted by an image of a cartoon character, and to actually get the points, we'd need to txt either the name of the character, or the movie, TV show or game they featured in...  Our warm up example was of Dr Seuss's Cat in the Hat (10 points!!).  We had no idea how tricky the next ones would be, but were told that if we needed help, there was a crib sheet hidden at control 41 on Tinakori Hill.  We decided to see how we went, and if stuck, we'd take a photo of the control, and grab the answers towards the end of the day.  (It's interesting to note that the winning team made straight for Tinakori Hill, obviously not rating their chances of success without doing so!)

Khulie agreed to be in charge of the txts this year, and I was in charge of the live timing on the website.  Otherwise, we'd all help with the controls as needed.

Despite all the "running" involved, the prologue was kind of fun, and it quickly became apparent that we were actually quite good at the cartoon characters.  Within 11 minutes of the start, we'd notched up our required 150 points, having correctly identified some chap from the Jetsons, Patrick Star, Dumbo, Barney Rubble, Bambi, Spiderman, Captain Hook and Minnie Mouse.  While the start area had been packed - the 6-hour event had 96 teams - it was quiet when we arrived back, and we weren't certain whether we needed our 150 points checked by anyone.  "Do we just go?!" elicited the response "YES!" from one of the helpers, so off we went.

Prologue points were worth half price once we'd checked out, but when we saw Buzz Lightyear just outside the school gate, we notched up another 5 points.  We popped down some convenient steps and crossed Thorndon Quay before passing through the Railway Station, paying close attention to the cartoon character at the customer service desk.  By the time we'd crossed Customhouse, Khulie had txted "Dilbert" in at 9:50, and we were another 30 points richer.

Only a dozen teams made it onto the 10am sailing - I was slightly surprised it wasn't more popular - inviting us to second-guess our plan.  We figured that so long as you have a good adventure, the points are secondary, and catching the ferry we hoped was consistent with both.

The half-hour trip was a very nice opportunity to recover from our earlier efforts.  Kaitlyn was having stomach cramps, and looked quite out of sorts.  My first aid kit had nothing to deal with this problem (sticking plasters are only so useful...) and as a precaution, I sent the grandparents a message priming them for the possibility that they might have to medivac Kaitlyn.

Kaitlyn - not feeling great...
The recovery wasn't the only bonus of the trip - there were also 70 points waiting for us on the jetty at Somes Island, Popeye, no less.  Also, we were treated to lovely views out the window (and delicious snacks from my bag)!

Looking back towards Wellington, just before berthing at Days Bay

We were off the boat just before 10:30.  The other teams mostly ran off the wharf, and it was psychologically tough not to try to follow them.  A brisk walk was not a completely terrible way to make progress though, and early signs were that Kaitlyn's cramps had settled down.

There was a nice 100-pointer near the top of Moana Road (Piglet, 10:36), and it was a bit surprising to see a few teams heading back down to the road along the foreshore.  We opted to keep our elevation by taking the singletrack connecting this control to the next.

Following Simon's workmate Claire and her team didn't feel right, and Simon quickly confirmed they'd missed the subtle left turn we wanted.  We grabbed 80 points (Richie Rich, 10:44) and then opted for the steep zig-zag over the no doubt mellower, but longer, road option.

Control 47 harboured OK points, but we had our eye on the bus which was due to pass through soon after 11am.  That, and it was up a hill, and we figured we'd have time to make up the points later on - if our legs were holding up.

Our bus had inexplicably dropped off the live system, but before we had too much time to worry about it, it had reappeared.  And, we'd notched up another 180 points (Tom and Jerry, 10:53 and one Transformer or another, 11:02).

A five minute wait at the bus stop with most of the teams that had been on the ferry (and who, for all their running, would have picked up only 40 more points than us) was another good opportunity to get stuck into the snacks, which we did.

I was still thinking about snacks when I realised I'd forgotton about control 77.  As with the Somes Island one, it was marked blue on the map, meaning it could be "collected" while passing by on the public transport indicated on the map.  Luckily, Simon was onto it, as were the girls (Mickey Mouse, 11:14). 

As with 47 on the hill, we decided against a long, flat, and probably boring walk around the port at Seaview for control 67, and instead stayed on the bus a few more stops, alighting only a minute's walk away from 70 points in a wee cemetary by the Waiwhetu Stream (Porky Pig, 11:22).  We made use of the internet for the first time, successfully asking "who is the pig from Looney Toons" even though "Looney Toons" itself would have been an acceptable answer.  

The direct route to 97 was out of the question given various barbed wire fences, and so we had to cross the stream a couple of times to get there (Sideshow Bob, 11:28).  We were met by the teams who'd come via the control we'd foregone, and while they headed off to the cemetary, we stuck to the road north towards the Waione Street bridge across the Hutt River.

Just beneath the far end of the bridge was control 106.  There we met a couple of girls, both slightly younger than Khulan and Kaitlyn.  They were staring at the image of Olive Oyl wondering who on earth it was.  The virtue of having two generations in our team was definitely paying off!

My confusion as to what the strange structures were in McEwan Park was resolved when I finally read the clue to the next control we approached "In frisbi [sic] golf basket" (Shrek's mate, Donkey, 11:43).  From there, we made a beeline for control 95, ducking and diving down the funny little streets in the vicinity (Manny, Ice Age, 11:56).

I was interested to see how wide the waterway shown on the map actually was.  I wondered out loud to Simon whether or not it was narrow enough to have half the team on one side, and half on the other, but it clearly wasn't.  On the other hand, 40 points were virtually straight across from 95, and it was a long walk around in either direction.  The water didn't look that deep...

 We all imagined drawing straws, and silently and unanimously decided that I'd lost.  I rolled my shorts up a bit, and then gingerly stepped into the water.  The mud on the bottom was pretty firm, and pretty firm, and... pretty soft.  And... oh shit...

My final step drove my left leg into the mud up to mid calf.  My right leg went even further in, and by the time I'd stopped moving, I was up to my knees in mud.

As I struggled to move my feet, black stuff started welling up from beneath the brown mud, and I sank further still.  I wasn't yet scared, but I was wondering how on earth I was going to get out, and even if I did manage that, whether my shoes would come with me...

Luckily, I wasn't too far from the shore, and luckily Simon was with me.  It was obvious that he too needed to get his feet wet, but it wasn't yet clear if he'd be able to reach me while still on firm ground.

I was able to grab his hand, and his first attempt to pull me out reminded us both of a couple of crucial things:  I was stuck fast, and a good 15kg heavier than him!

We reset, and I focussed first on just pulling my right leg out of the mud.  Once that was done the clamping force of the mud was sufficiently lessened, and Si was able to drag me back to shore!

What a team-mate!
With both feet on dry land, and our minor emergency over, it was time to go get another control!  But, not before retrieving my wallet which I'd thrown to Kaitlyn - when I'd done so, I wasn't at all confident that I was going to keep my shorts dry!!!!

By the time we finally got to the end of the swampy stream, we'd put control 44 out of our mind.  The Ava station was almost a kilometre away, and successfully catching the next train north was going to require a bit of running...

We quickly grabbed 80 points (My Little Pony, 12:05) before ducking out to the Hutt River bank for another 80 pointer.  The character was on the card stuck to the underside of the table there, and I wasn't at all sure who she was.  The others were hanging back 15m or so, and rather than call them over, I grabbed a quick shot...

Betty Boop?
My team-mates quickly confirmed my hunch, and we were soon 80 points better off (Betty Boop, 12:10).

Rather than negotiate a somewhat complicated route on the south side of the railway line, we stuck to the riverbank and crossed the line beneath the bridge over the river itself.  We ran the last 500m or so, nervous about the train's imminent arrival.

In the end, we could have taken it a bit slower, and there were a few minutes available for snacking before the train arrived. 

Ava station, in preparation for transport mode number 3!
Another family team were there, and the Dad, who I didn't recognise as legendary trans-Atlantic rower Rob Hamill, explained they were unofficially continuing in face of "an old war wound" and one of the younguns being a little over the effort of the morning!  

The conductor seemed to be enjoying the phenomenon that is the City Safari, and gave us pointers as to which end of the Wingate station to head to.  But not before we'd seen Mr Incredible lurking beneath an overpass just north of the Waterloo station (70 points, 12:27).  Both family teams indulged in a bit of subterfuge, suggesting various alternatives to the correct answer. 

The conductor was spot on to point us south, though the map indicated that was the way we needed to go.  The next clue was a sweet one, and brought back fond memories of the "Handy dandy notebook" (Blue, from Blue's Clues).  Except that the character was blue, not Blue, and it was actually Sully from Monsters Inc (100 points, 12:36).  That had been another favourite of this dad, so the memories simply expanded!

Kaitlyn was particularly glad to note the next control was at the "reception desk inside TV studio", since this distinctly enhanced her chances of finding a toilet.  While she and Simon sorted that, Khulie and I sorted Obelix, another one for the older generation (30 points, 12:42).

As we made our way through controls 125 (Dora the Explorer, 12:57) and 48 (Stevie from the Family Guy, 1:02), Simon and I discussed the next move.  There was a 70 pointer up the hill a bit on the other side of SH2, which itself was just across the river.  The bus from that direction was miles off though, and there didn't seem to be anything going south along SH2.  I knew there was a bus heading to Petone soon, but to get that we needed to hustle.

First it was 98 in the park (Mike Wazowski), and then across the river to get control 99.  It was shown "at stream/river junction" and unfortunately I chose the wrong side of the stream and had to bush bash on the other side as well (Smurfette, 1:11).  By this stage we'd got the spelling of Wazowski correct, and correctly identified Stevie, and Khulie had completely caught up by 1:13pm.

Nervously consulting Metlink's site, I issued the proclamation "We have to run!!!" and five minutes later, we were jumping on the 110 bound for Petone.

We scored 60 points through the bus window en route to Queensgate (South Park, 1:24), and had a enough time to consider options for getting back into town.  It was getting a bit late in the peace to go for the points in Maungaraki - we would face a very real risk of lateness penalties, and besides, the cool-down periods on the public transport were killing the older sets of legs on the team.  The train from Petone was an option, but the bus was going to take ages to get there, so instead we opted for the Airport Flyer from Queensgate.

We had 8 minutes up our sleeve, so opted to stay on the bus another couple of stops to get #36 just by the Ewan Bridge (?, 1:39).  Unfortunately, the bus sat at the Queensgate stop for a couple of those, and someone had swiped the control itself consuming valuable time while Simon and I frantically searched the vicinity and tried to ensure that we were where we were meant to be!

The bus was at the stop when we turned the corner off High Street, and I ran in front of it to buy my slightly slower team mates some valuable extra seconds.  In the end, I wasn't run over and we had 30 seconds or so spare, and we were soon hurtling along SH2 bound for the big smoke.

We waved at Spongebob (50 points, 1:52) at the base of Horokiwi Road, and lamented that 55 was only visible from the Old Hutt Road, not the motorway.  On the upside, we were moving fast towards other valuable points.

We confirmed that the bus would stop on demand once on Lambton Quay, and jumped off outside the ANZ near Willis Street.  Another team saved me from running up more Plimmers Steps than I needed to, and we were soon 80 points better off (Bro Town, 2:07 - another for the older generation).

The cable car ride had been the source of much debate on the Flyer.  Our legs were feeling trashed, and Simon was keen not to do too much more walking.  He wanted to go up and down the cable car and then grab a Karori bus around to the Kelburn viaduct.  I argued for a walk through Kelburn instead.  We looked at timing, and in the end I prevailed.

Pink Panther (120 points, 2:17) greeted us at the top of the hill, and virtually no wait at the bottom had us five minutes early for the Mairangi bus at the first Upland Road stop.  We ummed and ahhed about waiting for it, and as the minutes ticked down, we decided we'd be brave and walk the single stop we'd have taken the bus for!!!

We made a left up Plunket Street, and took 20 points on a pedestrian way between Raroa Road and Glenmore Street (Tinkerbell, 2:32).

Simon was talking on the phone, and I got a little frustrated being unable to bounce route options to the next control off him.  In the end I realised I could damn well make the decision myself, and opted for another zigzag instead of Highbury Road.  In the end, I think it was probably the best option, and after a short descent on yet another pedestrian-way to #80 (one or other of Ren and Stimpy, 2:37), we were winching our way up Highbury Road in search of a connection across to the Mount Pleasant network.

We found it, and then started looking for the "overhang of path to #23".  Perhaps by design, there was another house 23 en route to this control, and for a moment it confused us, before we put our trust in the mapping, and kept going.  Sure enough, we were soon on another "street" and facing another 23, this time with a fair-dinkum overhang, and 100 points (Fred Flintstone, 2:47).

The descent on a couple of steep pathways down to Holloway Road was painful, and we were all glad our 3:50pm deadline was drawing near.  The live timing was invaluable, and while passing through 40 (Wal's Dog, 2:57) and 100 (Noddy, 3:04), we were able to discuss the relative merits of a bus down Willis Street, Taranaki Street or Cambridge Terrace.  While the latter two would earn us a 50-pointer up above the Carillon, the bus from Seatoun would be too late to be useful, and the plentiful stops between the Basin Reserve and WGC would screw us over, we thought.

So, we mopped up our 8 spare minutes by visiting the dairy at the end of Aro Street, and some Lemon, Lime and Bitters and a couple of ice-creams on sticks later, we were riding the route 7 bus along Willis Street.

It was painfully slow, but only because we were in a hurry.  We were pleased to note that the driver ignored a very orange light, and I was also pleased that time was running out to get control 32 shown on the stadium concourse.  We belatedly noted the clue, which suggested it was actually at street level rather than on the concourse itself, and so we wrote that out of our plan.

Instead, we decided we'd pick off our left-over prologue controls until we ran out of them, or time.

In the end, it was the former, and Khulie had not only the energy to run point, but also to txt in the various answers (Daffy Duck, 3:33; Daisy Duck, 3:34; Superman, 3:36; Roadrunner, 3:38; Pacman, 3:40; Donald Duck, 3:43; and finally, Wilma Flintstone, 3:44). 

We got to the finish line with four minutes to spare, and were greeted by Sarah's smiling face!


By virtue of the txt-in system, there was no need to tally points - always a challenge at the end of a tiring event.  Instead, we were able to relax with a couple of bits of free pizza each, and to catch up with various friends who'd also done the event.  And of course Sarah was keen to hear what we'd been up to.

It looked like we'd been misallocated to the Open division, but after the prizegiving, I went to query that, and we were belatedly identified as the winning family team.  I was glad that no argument was needed to impress upon the organiser the fact that Simon really is like family to us! 

It was also very nice to note that we really were at the pointy end of the field, finishing one place up on our overall position of 2014, at fifth overall.  And, we hadn't got a single answer wrong - what a great team, and what a bunch of cartoon-nerds!!!  My late-night tally suggests we gathered 49 controls in the 6.25 hours' duration, so averaging one every 7 minutes 40 seconds or so!  Never a dull moment, literally.

Sarah took the girls home, while I dropped Simon off, and gingerly picked up a couple of provisions from the supermarket...  He'd been very impressed by both girls, and commented how nice it had been chatting to Kaitlyn during the event (something that I'd observed, and enjoyed myself).

I was able to get hold of Dave, and it was bittersweet describing the fun we'd had.  He was bummed that he'd missed out, and I struggled to find the sweet spot between telling him we'd missed him very much, but also that his absence hadn't got in the way of us having a great time! 

Having a look at the results, I realise that one of these years, WE REALLY MUST DO SOME TRAINING FOR THIS!!!!  It's nice to realise that a good plan is a great thing, and that you can have fun while also making great progress.  On the other hand, if we'd been capable of running, we'd have grabbed 47, 67, and 44 before the same train we'd caught from Ava, and might have managed 84 and possibly even 79 before making the Flyer at Queensgate.  Back in town, we'd have picked up 50 and 32, which all told would have given us an extra 300 points, which would have been good enough for second overall.  Food for thought!

Thanks to Dave and Sarah for their managerial support, and my awesome team-mates Khulan, Kaitlyn and Simon (reverse age-order) for their outstanding company!  Well done to Kelvin Theile for innovating and putting on a great event, and thanks to whoever devised this amazing event-format (Michael Wood, perhaps).  Can't wait for the next one!

Thanks to Simon Kennett for replacing Dave Randal on the day!