Monday, November 28, 2011

Falling Trees, Shaved Heads and Tan Lines

It was 6am and blowing a gale around Lake Taupo. John had started riding at 1.30am that morning for the Enduro (2 laps of the lake) so I was kinda hoping we would drive past him so I could shout out obscenities at him... We went past quite a large bunch all sporting their "Enduro" caps... No John... Passed another couple of riders... Still no John... I refused to believe he would have been dropped, then just as we came into Taupo, about 4km from the end of his first lap, I saw "the legs"... I recognise those legs!!! It's John!!! I tooted the horn with all my might, but he looked rather unimpressed (maybe he thought I was some road raging moron). Man, he was setting some good pace. He would have been just over a 5 hour lap... Bloody good going. I pulled over on the side of the road and jumped out of the car screaming until I was hoarse "Go Sifter!!! Come on John! Looking good!!! YEEEEOOOOW!"... I think I got a slight grin out him, but that crosswind looked painful. I hopped back in the car and headed on my way to the start line of the Huka 80km MTB race, quite stoked to have seen my team mate in action looking strong (I was so proud!). I also had a new rig attached to the bike rack which had arrived on Thursday, which I couldn't wait to try out! Whilst waiting for my new Yeti ASR5 frame to arrive, Kashi had kindly sent me an XS Yeti 575 demo, which was actually brand spanking new. It is a really sweet looking bike and whilst it is a little heavier than my usual racing machine, I was quite excited to get out on it and smash some descents. I figured that after climbing 7000 metres with all my gear last weekend, hauling a bit of extra weight up some small hills wouldn't phase me too much. I had spent a little bit of time setting it up, but without a proper test ride on it, I was hoping I had set the suspension up properly, and the saddle position. Everything else was a no brainer for someone my height... Invert the stem and whack it straight down onto the headset!

The wind was a bit chilly, but I knew it would warm up in the forest so I chose to rock the shorts and jersey just with a wind vest over the top (even this ended up getting quite warm!)... I cruised on up to the start chute and switched on my GPS... Hmmm, why did it say I had no heart rate??? Maybe because I forgot to put my heart rate monitor on... Argh! Was it really going to be one of THOSE days??? I considered going back to the car to get it but I had been packed into the start chute by what looked like a couple of hundred riders and it really wasn't that important. I had been moved back into the Huka Challenge and out of the elite category because I had lost my race license some time during the course of the year (that's what happens when you don't use it!!!), so this was a really nice opportunity for a brilliant test ride on this new rig.

The race started and we blasted off up the road. I felt a little sluggish climbing and there were a few reasons for this... Mainly I think it was the 7000m of climbing still hanging around in my legs from last weekend... As we reached Craters of the Moon, the wind seemed to pick up and as we entered the forest, we were greeted with the eerie sound of old pine trees swaying and cracking and groaning. As I looked through the forest, I could see branches dropping, trees falling and pinecones pelting riders in the back of the head (thank God for helmets!). On several occasions, we had to dismount and clamber over freshly fallen trees... It really was like playing Russian Roulette with the forest. We headed up Grinder trail and I really suffered. The bit of extra weight and travel on the bike was trivial compared to my tired legs, but I was pretty sure I'd wake them up at any moment. As we hit the top of Grinder, we headed out onto an open hillside... The trail was really sweet, but the wind caused the bike to thrust sideways as I was descending, making it tricky work. We climbed back up and into the forest again and my legs seemed to be starting to come right. We descended into the forest at this point and it was the first opportunity I'd had to give the bike some real stick. It was an amazingly fun ride... It stuck to the trail like glue and rolled superbly, making light work of anything in it's path. I actually think it's the fastest I have ever descended a trail like that. For once, I was catching people on the descents... I would hit little kickers and pop off them and the bike was so nicely balanced to land. I was highly impressed... And the geometry fitted me really well... It felt really comfy to ride (and when I got the photos from the event later on, I also LOOKED really comfortable on it!). If you haven't seen the "big balls" movie on YouTube, you should check it out here (it really is fricken hilarious!)... That's what riding this bike was like... Strapping on a set of "Big Balls" (although I hope I don't meet the same fate as the woman in this clip!!!)

We wove our way through the forest, still playing dodgems with branches and pine cones, when we finally came to grinding halt with a kinda frazzled looking guy in a yellow vest directing us off course and down the firetrail. He mentioned something about "too may trees down". So a group of us made our way (rather confused) down the trail to find a group of riders gathered at the bottom. We continued on the course as we were directed by the marshalls and then came to a stop again in an old carpark where word got around that they had pulled the pin on the race due to the number of trees falling and the danger on the course... Wow, that was a first for me! We were 27km in to the race, so I was pretty disappointed, although it was definitely the right decision for them to make... There probably wasn't much more they could have done, although you could argue that had they sent a lead moto out to check the course in the morning, they may have realised earlier that the conditions weren't good and re-routed the race before it started. The good thing was that they didn't send us straight back home... They rediverted us back onto the course into an area of the forest that was unaffected by the wind, so we had a bit of a "fun" ride, although the congestion on the trail with so many riders now in the same place was a tad frustrating. It also hadn't been made entirely clear to everyone whether we were still racing or not (although commonsense would prevail as we were all obviously pulled off the course at different points!). As we crossed the Aratiatia Dam, the clock there told us it was only five minutes until the flood gates opened, so now, being in non-race mode, most riders decided to stop and wait and check out the scenery, which was quite a nice and pleasant way to make the most of an unusual situation.

I arrived at the finish line, having ridden 55km (instead of the intended 80km) and absolutely in love with this Yeti 575... Maybe wouldn't be my weapon of choice in a race for climbing, but was definitely the sweetest descender I have ever ridden. A really nice all-rounder that would be a perfect fun little trail bike... John crossed the line not long after I got in and had come 4th in the Enduro (YAY!!!). I asked him out for lunch, but I think he was pretty cooked and ready for a shower and sleep!!! I headed back to my mate's place for a lazy arvo in the sun and then back to Palmerston North.

The following day, I cleaned up the 575 and rode it into work (mainly just to show it off cause it looks cool). We had Levi (Big is good man) at our store for the weekend and a bunch of us were shaving our heads to raise money for CANTEEN (I was one of these people). I had the option of taking the easy way out and doing a number four, but not one to do things in halves, decided to go the full shave (I think I rock it quite well!!!). Donations to CANTEEN can be made at Other than that, my Summer riding tan lines are coming along VERY nicely. I have some nice big epic rides planned over the Christmas /New Year period to look forward to! Stay tuned!

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