Let's face it, it was a miserable day weather-wise and I was extra stoked when I read in the race pack that the race began with a le-man's start (my favourite!) running with our bikes across the river. So I stood on the pro-elite women's start line with my bike slung over my shoulder and when the gun went off, sloshed my way through the freezing cold water to the other side and jumped on my bike... I wouldn't be dry now for another 4 hours. We took off down the road. My start across the river had pitched me a bit off the back of the elite bunch and I worked hard along the road to catch the back of the bunch again. My legs felt surprisingly good, and the rain?... Well, I was already wet so I was over it now. We hit the first piece of trail and I eventually dropped off the back of the bunch, my technical skills lacking somewhat when pitched against the best riders in the country (something I really need to work on). There are 3 massive climbs in the Karapoti race and as we headed up the first one, there were sections that were unridable and required walking. As a strong climber, I found I was making up good time on the climbs and reeled in a number of my competitors, so I wasn't too bothered by the climbs. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how well the Racing Ralph tyres performed in the wet conditions. I got surprisingly good traction climbing in the mud. There was a small descent that then saw us riding/walking up a flowing creek and then back into the first big climb to one of the race's high points. We followed the ridge along for a while then came to the turnoff for the "rock garden".
I'd heard people speak about the rock garden, and it's gnarliness was even further accentuated by the fact that it was wet. It was one of those trails where once you come off the bike, you're off, and there's no chance to get back on and keep riding, so I held on and edged my way down the gnarly terrain until my front wheel tipped me off and I was forced to proceed on foot. I think I lost a lot of time down here, and once I got off my bike, I was really slow on my feet with carbon soles on a rocky surface. Quite a few of my competitors passed me coming down here. Having said that, it was a sweet little section of trail that I really enjoyed and I'd love to come back and try to nail it in the dry. When we got to the bottom, there was yet another stream (river) to cross. It came up to my waist and was flowing quite quickly. Being a super-small lightweight, I was swept off my feet and under the water, holding onto my bike for dear life to stop it flowing down stream. Thank God for the 2 guys coming through behind me who rescued my bike so I could stand up and crawl through the water to the other side. It must have been the most hilarious thing to watch, although I don't remember thinking it was too funny right at that moment! I fell on my bum, and damn it hurt... "That'll bruise later" I remember thinking (and it did..), but for now, I had riding to do!
I rode a short way before getting to the foot of the Devil's staircase. This was where classic Karapoti hike-a-bike started. I hauled my bike over my shoulder and charged up the start of the clay-based and rocky climb, slightly bemused by the photographer standing on the corner saying "give us a smile!". A couple of highly inappropriate words entered my head, but I obeyed his directions for some weird reason (maybe because I was having more fun than I'd like to admit!). I must say that the hike-a-bike up the Devil's staircase was hard work, but I actually didn't mind it. I imagined my bike saying to me "about bloody time you carried me for a change!!!". This was real adventure biking and I was quite stoked I didn't stay in bed that morning. Towards the top of the climb (and it was a looong climb!) there were a series of "puddles" that I don't think would have been empty in years... The moment you rode your bike into them, your front wheel would just get sucked to a halt and you would be knee-deep in stinky mud sloshing your way to the other side... Yum!!!
Up over the hill and down the other side, things started to get fast (and slippery). I had been looking at my GPS highly disappointed that my average speed to that point had been around 10km/hr and it was looking like I would be out here for a 5 hour day, but once I started on my way down that descent, things started to speed up. The slippery clay corners required some attention, but the when I hit the final climb, my time was beginning to look like maybe around four and a half hours. The final climb was a grovel, with a lot of slick rock sections to maneuver over and the riding suited me really well. It was here that I started reeling in the competitors who had passed me going down the rock garden and I was at the top in no time, then hooning down the other side at an average of about 30km/hr. The last 15kms went by in a blur as I swung from side to side around obstacles down the track, I realised I may even get close to the 3 hours 30min I had been hoping for. It's strange, but after doing that much climbing and so much hard work carrying the bike, that descent made me feel so good that I reckon I could have gone and done the course again (don't hold me to that though!). At the bottom of the descent, we had to cross the first river again just before the finish line. As I sloshed into the river, I realised it was actually quite deep (nearly chest height for me) and once again, I got knocked off my feet... With hundreds of spectators and a photographer snapping away... Mental note... Midgets and fast-flowing rivers DO NOT mix! I jumped back on my bike on the other side and crossed the finish line grinning ear to ear and absolutely covered in mud (much to the disgust of my partner who then had to help sponge bath me back at the car).
My finish time was 3 hours 48 minutes. I had been hoping to the complete the race in a respectable time under three and a half hours but the conditions on the day certainly weren't doing the record books any justice, so it probably wasn't a bad time considering... Let's see what next year brings! (photos on their way!)