Monday, August 6, 2012

Sizzling Sandy Smashout Through Snaking Sweetness at Santoft

It’s been a few weeks since I have updated my blog, and to be honest, they have been tough weeks… There are times when the ability to remain positive and rational in thought are truly tested, and I think all-in-all, I haven’t done too badly. The strange thing is (and I know I have said this hundreds of times, but it never ceases to amaze me) that it doesn’t seem to matter just how angry, upset, or frustrated I feel, a bike ride seems to completely dissipate all of that, and this is one theory that I really haven’t given enough credit to over the last couple of weeks. I didn’t realise just how important it was until I emerged from the other end of the Santoft Sizzler yesterday with a smile on my face and a weight off my shoulders with newfound motivation and energy… The ironic thing is that there is no amount of rest that could give me that feeling. And now, I am ready to write… YAY!!!
 So, winding back to last week… I paid a visit to my parents in good ‘ol Harcourt, a sleepy little town in Central Victoria, Australia, that lies somewhere between Melbourne and Bendigo. I’ll be honest, it’s not a very exciting place… The sort of place where you make your own fun… It was great to see my family, but I had also brought the Ninja along with me (The Ninja comes EVERYWHERE with me), and was stoked when Mum picked me up at the airport and told me that my Uncle Ken was keen to take me out and show me some trails. It’s embarrassing how terrible I am at keeping in touch with family, and when I arrived at Ken’s after the 14km ride from Harcourt, we were shooting the breeze a little and figured it had probably been about 3 years since we last spoke!!!
We bailed out of the house and straight into the bush that backed on to Ken’s place where a warren of trails lay snaking their way through the Australian bush. The loop Ken took me on was about 18km long and was a mixture of smooth, flowy dirt trails interlaced with the occasional rocky limestone descent, a few cleverly crafted bridges and the occasional wallaby bounding across the track. Whoever built these things has created some lovely flow, and it’s great to see there is still work going on in there… There was a 3km section of track that had been recently cut in and I was told I was only the third person to ride it! Wicked! As we made our way through the bush, Ken pulled over to the side of the trail and pointed out a marking on a nearby tree that said “MN” (Mother Nature)… The arrow underneath the marking pointed across the trail to another tree which looked remarkably like the buttocks, legs and stomach of a pregnant woman. Bizarre! I couldn’t help but giggle to myself about what must be going through someone’s head when they are riding through the bush for them to notice, out of ALL the trees around them, that one that looks like a lady’s behind.

The trails are frequented by the Castlemaine Rocky Riders Club, a good bunch of dudes (including my Uncle Ken, of course) who just love shredding dirt. It’s nice to have a family member who is into riding and I really should make an effort to keep in touch more with Ken. I had a blast out riding with him! Hopefully he’ll come and visit me in Rotorua so I can show off my home trails, too!

The weekend up until I left consisted of Nephew activities and a bit more riding. My 8 year old nephew Hakeem kicked off his weekend with a game of soccer (he even scored a goal!) and then in the afternoon, I took him out for a bike ride and showed him how to ride the local pump track and do skids in the gravel parking lot (these are important life skills that an Aunty SHOULD pass on to her Nephew). Not having kids myself, I found it amazing how quickly he picked up on things. He listened to exactly what I told him to do and he went from falling off his bike in the driveway to doing laps around the pump track racing Aunty Megan, then trying to out-do his longest skid in the carpark… I was so proud of him! The level of progression at that age is astounding, and is a testament to the school of thought that we should have kids out doing bike skills when they are young. Youth development squads like the JAFA Kids founded by Sadie Parker in Auckland are the best thing we can do to help our sport grow. He had a blast (and admittedly, so did I!)… So much so that we did it all again the next day!).

I also headed out for a leisurely little ride along the Goldfields track. This is a multi-use track which spans about 200km between Ballarat and Bendigo. The leg I started on riding wasn’t renowned for being the best mountain bike leg, but it was nice to get out and get the heart pumping. A few rainbows and accompanying rain later, I turned around and found my way home a little disoriented (I really should have had a map with me!)
So Sunday evening, I jumped on a plane back home, arriving into Wellington at midnight, then slept in the car by the beach before driving home a little fresher the following morning. The entire following week was devoid of all riding up until Sunday when I made my way out to Santoft forest for the annual Santoft Sizzler 5 Hour race. I had originally intended to complete the race solo, but being my last club race living in Palmerston North, and having just had a week of illness and little sleep, I jumped on the opportunity to team up with Mike Kelly as a pairs team named “Rule #5”. Our main rivals in the race would be Colin and Raewyn Knight, and as we prepped up for the start, I did wonder if maybe they had put something in last night’s pork roast to slow me down! Haha! (Only joking… Dinner was lovely, guys, especially Colin’s gravy!!!).

The turnout was awesome and Mother Nature certainly turned on the weather for us. All up, there were 150 teams! And amongst that, some great costumes, including one team that come dressed as Dorothy, the Lion, the Scarecrow and Tinman from The Wizard of Oz (it must have been soooo hot riding in those costumes. Kudos to you guys!!!). I’d been talking up the concept of whipping out the frilly underwear for a lap (and actually had said underwear with me), but the way the laps ended up working out, it was a bit close to call to be stuffing around with sexy outfits. The vibe at the race was great and it was just what I needed at the end of a hard week.
Mike drew first lap honours (actually, I just told him that he was doing it). Our plan was to punch out a single lap each just for us both to get out on the course, then do double lap turns. My first lap nearly killed me. Mike being a bit faster than me placed me up the field with the faster boys and I felt compelled to ride super hard to either not hold them up, or stick on their wheel. It was a mild day, but at pace, the wind was really cold on your chest, which made it hard to breathe and gave me some nasty track cough (but a wind vest would make it too hot). After a full week of no riding with a few days at the gym thrown in, my legs were stiff and pedalling didn’t seem to come as naturally as it generally does. In any case, I smashed out that first lap in under 21mins, not far off Mike’s lap time, with an average speed of 19.5km/hr. I felt horrible after that first lap. I was light-headed and thought I was going to be sick… I suppose the best way to stop that happening is just to ride my bike more!!!
My next outing was a double lap and I felt a million times better. I weaved my way through the forest at blistering pace. The trails were running so nicely and I smashed out two of my fastest laps of the day at 19.5km/hr and 19.6km/hr respectively. I was dangerously close to rivalling my faster teammate’s times. I couldn’t believe how fast I was riding for the lack of time on the bike lately! A couple of double sets later and we were into our last hour. My final double lap was hard work. Santoft is a hard course to race. It lends itself to being ridden really really fast, but you need the legs to do it. The flatness of the course means you are on the pedals all the time with no rest. It’s a genuinely brutal workout. I found my strength waning on that final lap I rode, but I set my sights on riders in front of me and picked them off one by one, being sure to do some “chicking” along the way. I felt wrecked at the end of the lap, and felt mildly bad for getting back in time to send Mike out on an extra lap (just mildly bad… Not TOO bad). I did actually feel bad for peer-pressuring Jude Young into polishing off an extra lap in her solo effort, but I know that she understands as well as me just how important it is to finish these things off properly (good work Jude!)… Her hubby took some photos for the day that weren’t too bad, either! Thanks Shane!
In the end, Team “Rule #5” was victorious in the mixed pair category with 15 laps. I have to say that this teams business is hard work. I think I find it much easier to just stay on the bike and keep smashing it out lap after lap in a solo effort. Team riding is like an insanely hard interval workout… You smash yourself, then sit and rest and get cold, then do it all over again… And then with the added pressure of feeling the need to compete against your teammates times and the peer pressure of not slacking off… It’s a hard day at the office (Hard = Good).

My golden pine cone is now sitting on the mantelpiece at home and my legs are recovering. In less than two weeks, I am back into training for my next season (and living in Rotorua!)… Wow, that off season came and went right before my eyes!!!