OK... Pack car, go to work, drop table back to Andy, pick up Suse and be at ferry by 1pm... Check... How the hell, did I not know there were 2 ferry terminals in Auckland??? So at ten past one, I'm hooning across the city in my VW transporter trying to make it to the 2pm Sealink that leaves for Great Barrier. Oh, by the way, check in was 10 minutes ago... This is NOT how I had imagined or planned for this Friday to turn out.
Navigational embarrassment aside, at 2pm, I'm sitting on a ferry with my bike and a bunch of newly found cycling buddies on my way to Great Barrier Island, and the morning's stress and rush is all but forgotten. Tomorrow is the inaugural Great Barrier MTB Marathon, and as the island looms into view, it occurs to me that it's been a while since I was in the hills.
We climb off the ferry, collect our bikes and load our luggage rather dubiously onto a ute for the race organisers to take to the camp site. Then we jump on our bikes and make our way there on 2 wheels to meet our luggage. With camp set up, we cooked up dinner (when I say cooked, I actually meant "burn some food to the bottom of the pot"). Then we sat around and talked until our weary eyes gave way to bed time.
Race start was 10am, so the morning lent itself to a sleep-in and chilled out brekky in amongst the patches of rain.
Finally the race was upon us and after a slightly delayed start, we were off behind the neutral vehicle. As he pulled away for the race to begin, the hill that immediately presented itself made it very clear to us that today was no easy day in the saddle. A group of about 5 or 6 of us took off up the hill at a solid pace... We'd soon see how long it would last. I must admit I was slightly surprised by the amount of road that linked the mountain bike trails, but the trails were so awesome that the time spent on the road was not only worth it, but welcomed as a break and a chance to have a drink. I'll be honest, I was here to win... And the last 2 weekends of racing made this a difficult task to remain focused on, but no matter how hard we were riding, it was impossible to ignore the amazing views surrounding us at every turn. Hard climbing was rewarded with stunning outlooks across Great Barrier Island and the trails were sweet... Rugged, untamed wilderness at it's best. I couldn't help but smile through the pain. Having said that, I distinctly remember one road hill in the race which was about 7 km long and it winded it's way relentlessly up the hill out of Okiwi. That hill nearly broke me that day. There was no view or promise of sweet single track in this world that would have made that hill pleasant, but at least I knew it would top out and fall off the other side of the hill sometime (hopefully sooner rather than later).
The last section of the race was a road section and in an awesome stroke of luck, I was blessed with a tail wind to sail home on. I crossed the line 80km later in a little over 5 hours, before the rain hit. We climbed 2200 vertical meters. I was female winner and 4th overall... Not a bad way to spend a Saturday by any stretch of the imagination! The race was followed up with some awesome local-cooked chilli and then was the plane trip home for me to work in the morning.
I must say, that although it wasn't the biggest race I've attended, the atmosphere was fantastic and it's definately well-worth doing. I think this race has the potential to be the next Colville and realistically, the travel is no issue if you're searching for a good race. I feel completely honoured to have taken the inaugural title and hope I'll follow it up again next year! Check out the website http://www.summerofcycling.com/