Saturday, October 27, 2012

Yeti Tribe Gathering Awesomeness...

I missed last year's Yeti Tribe Gathering and after hearing about and seeing what a great time they had, I was determined to make it to this one. It was also a bonus that Kashi had kindly invited me to share my photo and story evening from my trip with the Tribe and I jumped at the opportunity both as an excuse to head to Wanaka for some riding with some awesome people and also to be able to re-live my amazing journey overseas.
I skived off work a little early on Thursday afternoon (thanks Boss!) to make the trip to Palmerston North to my partner's house. We then rose super early the next morning to make our way to Wellington to catch our flight to Queenstown. I have this (probably very annoying) habit of always wanting to be at the airport super early for my flight, especially when traveling with a bike, and I found it slightly amusing (and a little shocking) to be cheerfully advised by our Jetstar check-in agent that we were the first passengers to show up for the day whose flight had not been cancelled (wow, that it was worthy of a mention really says something!).

We arrived in Queenstown to blue skies and sunshine (although it was a little cold) where my partner's family met with us and had arranged a loaner car for us for the weekend, too... PERFECT! Thanks guys! After a late night Thursday and and early morning on Friday, we spent Friday afternoon bumming around Queenstown, chilling out in cafes and eating good food, then made our way over to Wanaka at a leisurely pace. The intention had been to meet the Tribe for a bit of a spin at sticky forest, but by the time I got there, it was late, and I was feeling just about ready for a nap, so I skipped on the late arvo ride and spent some time putting my bike together and chatting over cups of tea overlooking the snow-capped mountains in Wanaka (I have drawn the conclusion that EVERY house in Wanaka must have an amazing view!). I then swung by the lodge for a quick intro and to try my hand at the miniature bikes the Tribe were to be racing later that evening (bummed that I missed ou on the action!!!)... I wasn't staying at the lodge with the rest of the crew, but had instead took the opportunity to clock up some Brownie Points staying with my partner's family!

The weather forecast for the weekend had been looking pretty grim, so when we woke to a stunning clear day on Saturday morning, I was chomping at the bit to get out on a ride. I rode along the lakeside to the lodge where Fat Tyre Adventures loaded our bikes onto a trailer for the trip to Queenstown. We started at Arthurs Point and made our way along the Moonlight track up over the Ben Lomond Saddle to Moke Lake. The scenery was stunning with some rough, technical, rocky riding, and if it weren't for hearing the occasional scream from the canyon swing, you would be forgiven for thinking you were hundreds of miles from civilisation. To be honest, it was probably a slightly harder day of climbing than I had planned for the day preceding a race, but it was a waste to not get out in the sunshine, and even more of a waste to be in such a beautiful place and not take up the opportunity to ride with a bunch of great dudes. It was, in any case, a great way to blow out the cobwebs and get the legs moving, and having just had a rest week, the opportunity to hone my trail skills all over again before the race the next day was very welcome indeed! We cruised along at an easy pace, stopping to talk smack about bikes and stuff in general along the way. I had my camera with me and stopped to take a few pics (ok, a lot of pics... sorry guys!)... Ever since my trip to Europe, I have had this innate need to carry some sort of camera whenever I go out riding... Not so much to try and capture what something looked like, or how it felt, but more so as a prompt for the story each picture tells.

As I rode, I felt this nagging nerve impingement in my lower back/medial which just wouldn't go away, no matter how much I tried to stretch it out, and I tried to keep my complaints to myself until someone obviously noticed my constant attempts to stretch and asked if I was ok. I told them I had a sore butt and just needed to harden up a bit... I had severely neglected my commitments to my body of late, and had found myself, at the end of the previous week, trying to find a sports masseuse who could fit me in for an urgent appointment. Not surprisingly, I couldn't find one at such short notice, and I was starting to understand the price I was going to pay for my ruthless neglect of my own body.
We skirted around Moke lake and then descended some lovely terrain with some stellar views to 7 mile bike park, where we did a few tracks and then popped out by the road for our pick-up, a trip to the pub (where I ordered a hot chocolate??!!) and then the drive back over the Crown Range to Wanaka. I fell asleep in the troupie on the way back over with my foot on the valve of my Camelbak, so when I awoke, the back of the troupie was flooded asides from the liquid that my Camelbak had kindly mopped up after dispensing... Bugger.
The afternoon for me was spent preparing my gear and my bike for the race the next day before heading back to the lodge to have a burrito feast and doing my little talk and photo show from my trip for the Tribe. I thoroughly enjoyed recounting my travels, especially to a bunch of fellow Yeti-lovers. It was pretty special for me to have the opportunity to relive the trip yet again and share it with a bunch of good people (although I do get a little self-conscious that I talk a bit too much... I just get so excited by it!!!). While I talked, Zeph laboured away on some final tweaks to my bike for the following day (thanks so much Zeph... You are an absolute legend!!!), and we all feasted on a delicious burrito feed that had been prepared for us by Roshni. As we spoke and ate, the heavens opened and the softer mortals among us talked of sleep-ins and beer in lieu of racing. The whole vibe of the Tribe Gathering was just this really relaxed, friendly vibe and if you've never been to one, I would genuinely urge you to make plans to attend the next... A great weekend of riding with some awesome people on some great bikes!

I must admit that I still find myself occasionally overwhelmed by the enormity of the ideals in my own head after I came back from my trip... I have this picture of how I want my life to be lived and a map of how I get there, but I get so impatient with having to take time to make things happen, jumping from stepping stone to stepping stone... I guess good things come from planning and commitment to those plans, and I occasionally find myself straying off the path in my quest to find a short cut to my final destination.

Saturday night it poured with rain, and I spent the entire evening steeling myself for the onslaught on mud, rain and cold that was almost inevitable for the next day, so you can imagine how delighted I was to wake up Sunday morning to completely clear skies and the amazing view of a fresh dump of snow on the mountain peaks... It was simply breathtaking. I hadn't had the best night's sleep though... I had a queasy tummy and my legs still felt a little heavy from the day before. The Deans Bank 10 Hour was my first sizable race since I had come back from my relatively successful World Championships campaign, and I was super nervous for a couple of reasons... Firstly, I had only really been back on the bike training for six weeks, barely enough time to get some base back into my legs, secondly, because I knew I had some good quality competition on the start line with me and thirdly, because I felt the need to win. I'm being really honest here when I say I put a lot of pressure on myself. Whether it was the reality of how people were thinking or not, I had the fool idea in my head that there were people there with me who expected that I would win, and by all accounts, my credentials would support that theory. In reality, I really just wanted to get in, have fun and open the lungs and legs a bit, but I find it so immensely difficult to immerse myself in a race in the understanding that the result is not important. I suppose that's exactly what makes a determined, dedicated, and successful rider, is that full mental, emotional and physical commitment to each and every race, regardless of what the expectation is. This was a season opener for me, and I needed to treat it as such. I knew it was going to hurt.

As we stood in the morning sun listening to the race briefing, I finished kitting up... Helmet, glasses... And two left-handed gloves... Nice... Thank God I had another matching pair with me. I nearly cursed out loud when they announced the race would have a le mans style start... And it was a sizable run, too... I was one of the last up the hill and on my bike. I say it time and time again that it is the one aspect of my race that I really need to do some serious work on. Previously, I had been of the mindset that these races are so long that it is really irrelevant where in the field you end up after the le mans start, but my thoughts on this have changed significantly in the last year. The higher up towards the pointy end of the field that you get, the more difference every aspect of your race makes, and I'd like to quote the great Jess Douglas with her 1% theory on this one. A bad le mans start means two things. First of all, you get stuck behind slower, more recreational riders (who can run much better than I can!!!). Secondly, and far more damning for an elite endurance rider, is that a bad le mans start means you lose touch with the leading group of riders. Sure, there was a whole 10 hours to make up that minute or two, but setting an appropriate pace is near impossible once you can't see your competitors anymore, and it means that you spend your whole race chasing, which isn't a particularly smart way to expend your energy in such a long race. I had a bit of a stressful first lap, but to be honest, I felt a bit relieved when I went through the timing zone to see I was in third place and I was able to just settle into a rhythm for the chase.

My support crew consisted of my partner and her parents (awesome huh?!). I was hesitant about enlisting the services of my partner's family for a race purely for the fact that a rider's manners during a race are generally anything but impeccable... There's no time for pleasantries with a support crew during a race, so I was genuinely hoping that they would understand it wasn't a commentary on my suitability for their daughter if I sped past, threw a drink bottle at them and then yelled "COKE" before speeding off on my next lap, although I did my best to throw in the occasional "please" and "thank you". From our conversations post-race, I actually think they kind of enjoyed it... I knew her Dad was hooked when he started running alongside the bike as I headed out on my last lap giving me the lowdown on the timing situation (awesome, awesome stuff!), and they even offered to help clean my bike when we got home! I was so grateful for their help during the day. The whole Yeti Tribe also did their bit... They were split up into teams and I was constantly chased down by a clown and a convict who offered genuine words of encouragement. But I think the "motivation of the day" award definitely went to Hadley, who's hollering and enthusiasm could be heard and felt from the other end of the track (thanks man!). I genuinely envy those people who are capable of enjoying the day as part of a team. I am unsure of what it is in my genetic makeup that draws me to riding by myself... I hope that I, too, one day, can experience the joy of team racing without feeling like I should be riding solo!

I spent my first couple of laps getting to know the course... The course was about 10.5km long and super fast and flowy. After the previous evening's deluge, there were a few puddles here and there, and the forest section was a bit mushy, but as the day wore on, it dried out. I was really impressed with the condition of the track. There were really only two climbs of any note and the first of these was a series of tight switchback climbs that scaled a hill near the start of the course. The most spectacular part of the course presented itself immediately upon cresting this first set of switchbacks... The snow-capped mountains loomed beyond the track on the horizon and a bright turquoise Clutha River flowed silently down off the track to the left. Later in the race, this section of track pummeled tired riders with a stiff headwind that was only alleviated upon entering the protection of the forest (or the protection of a larger rider). The second climb wound it's way into the forest canopy and stayed fairly spongy for most of the race after the previous night's rain (that was probably the part of the course I found most draining). After emerging from the forest, though, we were treated to a delicious array of switchbacks, berms, and well-crafted jumps that descended the whole way back into the race village, with a spectacular little "pop" and a sweeping berm to ride before delivering myself to the timing tent for yet another lap. It was a great course which I thoroughly enjoyed.

The first three laps were a mess. Whilst the mud disappeared as the race wore on, it made it's mark right at the start. Realistically, I probably could have stopped for a chain lube after my first lap, but I knew that I would then have to stop again, and I really wasn't very keen on stopping, so I decided to persevere with a scratchy chain until the course showed signs of drying up. At the end of lap three, I pulled up for a quick chain lube and then didn't stop again for the rest of the race. Not long after this, I started feeling a dull pain in my lower back. To be honest, this wasn't unusual. Quite often in a race, I would ride through pain as it came and went, but this just kept getting worse and worse. The impingement I thought had disappeared from the previous day had reared it's ugly head again. As I rode, I would try to stretch it out on the bike... I was adamant that I wasn't going to stop. The pain was nearly unbearable, and given my high pain tolerance, that was saying a lot...
I remember a period around the four hour mark when I felt pretty glum and queasy in the tummy. I had been alternating feeds between drink and food, much like I did at 24 hour solo worlds, and that was working really well insofar as maintaining my energy levels quite consistently. I was pretty stoked when I came through the feed zone on my 5th or 6th lap and there was a boiled, salty potato in my little feed cup... It was delicious, filling, and seemed to take the edge off the queasiness (maybe I'm not so difficult to please after all!). So now, with a couple of spuds stuffed in my pocket and another in my mouth, all I had to contend with was my aching back. I remember at one point of the race saying to myself out loud "you're a hard women, Megan... Just deal with it"... Reminding myself of that seemed to deliver little respite, but unarguably strengthened my resolve to continue smashing out laps.

To be honest, by the time I reached the 7 hour mark, I'd had enough for the day. I kept turning the legs over, and my laps times were reasonable, but if I was being honest, the back pain was seriously bothering me, and I couldn't wait to get rid of it... In my mind though, getting rid of the pain just meant finishing the race then dealing with it... I have noticed that as I mature as a rider, determination, persistence and resilience strongly overshadow any urge to stop and pull up stumps for the day, which is an excellent quality to have developed... It does, however, cloud your judgement on when it may actually be a seriously good time to stop, and Sunday was very borderline for that... When I finished and stepped off my bike, and still even a week later, I had a numb, nagging sensation in my lower back that impeded my ability to bend at the waist... A few massages, some stretching and a little rest time will certainly fix it, but prevention is definitely preferable to cure! All up, I came in 3rd, riding 143km over the 10 hours with an average speed of over 15km/hr. I came in probably 5-10 minutes shy of being able to head out on an extra lap, which I had mixed feelings about!

I'll say in all honesty that I was very happy with my ride. I was consistent, I didn't stop, I maintained an exceptionally high intensity and heart rate for the duration of the race, I fed and watered well, and I was resilient enough to ride through my back pain... I just wasn't as fast as I was 5 months ago... And there's no shame in that. In my own head, I was disappointed that I couldn't "dazzle" with a win, but those are my own demons to battle with... Erin and Floortje rode an excellent race and I'm really stoked that if I had to be beaten, that I was beaten by a couple of quality riders as they are!

Two main things to work on from this race were:
1. Definitely my le mans start... This has been a bug-bear for me for far too long.
2. Being on top of my massage, core strength and stretching schedule.
No self-respecting post would be complete without a gratuitous plug for a couple of sponsors and some awesome new bits and pieces that had landed in my mail box in time to use for the weekend... One of these being a new pair of Adidas Evil Eye Pro Half Rims with the new LST polarised lenses. Adidas have been one of my supporters for a number of years now, and it has been a real pleasure to see them develop their technology over time. I loved the new polarised lenses... On first impressions, they looked to be very dark, so I initially thought they would most likely be relegated to road bike use only... But considering a lot of the riding around Wanaka is quite open, I decided to take them out on the trails on Saturday and I was pleasantly surprised at how versatile the lenses are. I also used them on Sunday during the race and found that even under the forest canopy, the lenses seemed to create a brightening and sharpening effect, which actually made them very usable for a bright day under the canopy. Furthermore, they look cool...

The length of the race also gave me the opportunity to put the Magellan battery extender to the test and my Switch Up survived the entire race without a problem. When I later went to recharge the unit, I noticed there was plenty of juice left in it, too, which gives me good confidence to use it for 24 hour racing. I'd also like to give a bit of a plug to Brendan Ward who was out and about taking some excellent photos on the day of the race and was kind enough to flick them my way to use here in my blog. Thanks Brendan!!!

It's nice to blow the cobwebs out with a quality season opener and come out of it with some good solid points to work on. Well above and beyond that, though, it was totally worth the trip  for the Tribe Gathering. Kashi and the crew make such an incredible contribution to the mountain biking community so it goes without saying that it's a pretty safe bet that you're gonna have a great weekend out with them. Furthermore, it was a pleasure to spend some time with my partner's family... They're a seriously good bunch of people!

This week has been a lazy recovery week for me, but I am seriously amped to get back on the training bandwagon again now... I just needed a good kick in the bum... And I think 10 hours on a bike served that purpose sufficiently!!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Embarassment of Calling the Waaambulance...

Today I had my last little blow-out before I box The Ninja up for the flight to Wanaka for the Yeti Tribe Gathering on the weekend and the Deans Bank 10 Hour (can't wait!!!). She has spent the last couple of days getting some tender loving care from the crew at Cyclezone and I thought it would be a good idea to head out into the forest and hammer the crap out of her and check everything ran as smoothly as I could expect, and it certainly did... I felt fast and smooth and the bike floated superbly beneath me. With relatively little effort, I equaled and improved on times I had clocked on a few different trails around the forest in recent weeks. It was a stunning afternoon and having such a great ride just topped off a stellar day. It was also great to bump into a few familiar faces under the canopy. We live in such an amazing place!

The general theme of the week, though, had been very different from the above stunning afternoons and perfectly behaved bikes. My week started off pretty well, with Tuesday seeing me shave a mere one second off my Be Rude Not To time on the hardtail. It set the tone for an awesome week of training, despite the compounded fatigue I was experiencing from a couple of hard weeks on the bike. The problem with living on the edge of the forest (if you would really call it a "problem") is that I just want to ride ALL THE TIME, and whilst it sounds like a very nice problem to have, inevitably, the distance will catch up with your legs.

Wednesday was an interesting day. It started out with a trip to the hairdressers around the corner to have my hair and makeup done for some photos on the bike (yup, no kidding). At work, we have been compiling the Pink Walk calendar that is used to raise money for breast cancer awareness, and the theme of this awesome calendar for 2013 is "strong women". I must say I was very flattered that my boss felt that I fitted into this category, but kitting up in hairspray, lipstick and mascara to ride my bike was so far removed from the helmet, chamois cream and lycra I was familiar with! Having said that, it was a bit of fun, and seriously, who amongst us wouldn't don some lippy and eyeshadow for such a great cause??? If you happen to be or about Rotorua during the Pink Walk at the end of October, make sure you get yourself one of these awesome calendars!!!

I spent the day deflecting comments about how "amazing" I looked, feeling the need to justify the fact that I was wearing makeup until I disappeared into the forest late in the afternoon with Paul Charteris to teach the gorse along the Western Okataina Walkway just who is boss (because at that point during the week, the score was still Gorse = 1, Megan's legs = 0). Paul picked up me and my bike after work and we took the easy route to the Millar Road end of the trail. Seeing as there is no vehicular access, we popped our gorse-destruction implements in a backpack and set off by bike down the trail. Carrying loppers and shearers in a backpack is much more awkward than you would imagine, and as I descended sections of the trail, the backpack would swing around to the side of me, revealing the gleaming sharp points of these weapons of gorse destruction... I wondered what my mother would think of this recklessness... It was probably well up there amongst a myriad of dangerous activities I may be lectured on, including running with scissors.
The gorse was way further down the trail than I remember it being, so we probably got in a good half hour of destructive goodness until we had to turn around and head back before running out of light. We arrived back at the car just in time to see a stunning sunset over the forest, projecting fingers of pink and orange light streaming across the landscape through wispy clouds. The original intention had been to finish up with Paul and then ride home via the forest to get some training in the legs for the day, but my legs felt heavy and tired, and my head was cloudy. It was one of those moments when I thought "is riding tonight really going to be the right thing for my body?" The answer, sadly, was "no", so I hitched a ride back into town and crawled into bed after my partner's late arrival from Palmerston North.
The other cool thing that Wednesday brought was two exciting packages... One from Adidas Eyewear with my new glasses for this season (including the new polarised Evil Eye Pro Half Rim lenses) and one from Magellan containing a battery extender... This little puppy can now be used for a full 24 hour race without change of battery... The first cycle GPS on the market I know of that will do this!

Now onto the topic of poorly behaving bikes. After giving myself a relatively restful day on Wednesday, I was absolutely amped for a good blat on Thursday after work. I made my way into the forest and was feeling awesome! I was having a really good time, I felt strong, and it was a beautiful, mild, sunny afternoon. As I made my way down Dragon's Tail with a little less care than I should have, I felt my rear rim hit a root... I ride my hardtail on tubed tyres as my training bike during the week for exactly this reason... To train myself to pick good lines and develop my skills as opposed to ploughing through it on a full suspension bike. I knew this rim shot was going to end up a pinch flat, which was annoying, but I was safe in the knowledge that after two flats in the last two weeks, I knew I was carrying the right gear to sort myself out on the trail... Or maybe not... I flipped the bike upside down, removed the wheel and then reached into my little bag of tricks to get my threaded CO2 pump... And an unthreaded CO2 canister... I couldn't believe it... Moreso because I specifically remember removing my unthreaded CO2 pump from my bag because I didn't have any unthreaded canisters left. A couple of passers by had no pump, so I was forced to call my partner for some help from the waaambulance. I was gutted to be walking out of the forest for a lift home in the car. It was such a stunning afternoon, and I was so angry with myself that I had made such a stupid mistake in my preparation. I was just lucky I was relatively close to a road access point and had someone I could call... For the record, I now ride with a hand pump that has a clamp fitting (as opposed to a screw-on) so there will be no CO2 mix-ups and no unscrewed valve cores!!!

Saturday's weather was appalling. I kitted up in the morning and kept a close eye on the weather ready to jump out on the bike at the first available opportunity. Finally, at about 3pm, the sun peeked through the clouds and it was all the encouragement I needed to grab the bike and head outside (rest assured, it didn't stay that way too long!). I took my partner and the dogs with me for a roll in the mud and as we made our way into the forest, we were completely taken aback by the huge amount of carnage that had ensued with the high winds... There were trees down everywhere, blocking trails and littering the forest floor with debris. It reminded me of the Huka Challenge last year... Like playing Russian Roulette with the forest... I was glad I wasn't out there during the morning! We went out for an hour and then I headed out into the elements on my own little mission, ensuring I observed both rules number 5 and number 9 with the due respect they deserve. The winds were still quite strong so I made the call to stick to the fire roads on the reasoning that I was less likely to be hit by a falling tree in the middle of a fire road than on a trail (how much sense there was to this theory, I am unsure). I made my way all the way out to the lakes and down to the edge of green lake. It had actually turned into a rather pleasant afternoon so I continued to extend my ride, bit by bit. I climbed Moerangi road from the lake side and popped into loop road to descend Split Enz to find a huge tree had fallen down and left a hole nearly a metre deep in the trail... I was exceptionally pleased I hadn't been around at the time that tree came crashing down! Eventually, I made my way home at about sunset, very pleased to have gotten a ride in... I wouldn't call it an impressive ride, but it was certainly a tough day out in those conditions. I call these rides "hardening" rides... Not necessarily great training rides, but good for the mind and good for the soul... If you can ride on days like that, it's not such a huge shock when the weather turns bad on race day.
Sunday morning I woke up to significantly better weather (although still a bit drizzly). The ride in the wind and rain the day before had really taken it out of me and I had failed to take into account the last couple of weeks just how much of a toll riding in the forest every day would have on me. Mountain biking can be really rough and really hard on your entire body and whilst I wasn't sore, my whole body just felt like it needed a rest... But I still wanted to ride... So I grabbed the road bike and dusted off the cobwebs... It's been quite some time since I was out on skinny wheels and by the time I headed out the door, the sun was out and it had turned into a really pleasant morning. I headed out on Tarawera road to skirt around the lakes and then, depending on how I felt, might tack on a bit more once I got back. I felt surprisingly good. My upper body was grateful for the rest and my legs seemed to just do their thing, like they always do. As I rode alongside the lakes, my head filled with wonderful thoughts of just how amazing it is to live here in Rotorua... You can mountain bike in the forest, or a myriad of other amazing places within a stones throw of town, you can road bike, hike and kayak, and all with the most stunning scenery.
It felt so good to be cruising along with my legs feeling strong and the sun on my back. I had traveled maybe 20km before my rear derallier started playing up. This was the first time I had taken the road bike out this season, and besides a clean and lube, I hadn't really done much else to it. After a bit of stuffing around, I got it working again, only to have it break down on me another 2km down the road... I flipped the bike upside down and tried to figured out what was wrong... It was making a terrible racket when I turned the pedals. A lovely fella who was working in his garden nearby obviously heard my cursing and popped over to see if he could help... It was another waaambulance call by the looks of it... One of the jockey wheels had seized up and I wasn't going anywhere on that bike without breaking the chain and turning it into a singlespeed. At the insistence of my newfound friend, I reluctantly rang the waaambulance for my second pick up that week... It was embarrassing, moreso because I take a great deal of pride in my preparedness and resourcefulness. Truth be told, if I had been stuck, I would have turned it into a singlespeed and ridden home, and there was a part of me that wanted to do this purely on principal, but it would have just being me as the stubborn gal that I am... I was very grateful for my partner driving out to pick me up again. When I got home, I pulled out the jockey wheel to find shards of bearings and metal entangled with what was left of the ball bearings.
I must say that I find it a little amusing and a bit of an adventure when I have weeks like this... When the unexpected occurs and tests my logical reasoning and my dedication to my riding... It's refreshing and a challenge in it's own right (and gives me a story to tell on my blog!) and it is a gentle reminder that you can never become complacent on how prepared you are for each ride because you never know when you may need that spare tube, or the tire levers, or the multitool, or a rational calm mind. After this week, I have vowed to rescind my waaambulance membership and be prepared to sort out my own problems on the trail! Beyond that, though, I am really looking forward to this weekend... The Yeti Tribe Gathering in Wanaka is going to be a blast, and I can't wait to present my photo and story evening to everyone on Saturday night... After having been back for a good four months now, it's going to be amazing to re-live my trip again... And then, of course, the 10 hour Deans Bank race on Sunday, which terrifies me slightly... It will be my first sizable race since 24 hour solo world champs... Here's hoping the legs will go the distance!!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Western Okataina Track and a Bunch of Other Cool Stuff...

This Strava thing is killing me... Every time I get home from a ride, before I even get out of my kit, I'm fiddling with the cable trying to plug it into the USB slot in my laptop to upload the precious, precious data off my Magellan Switch Up... I will then scour through the data to see, firstly, if I got any QOM (Queen of the Mountain) accolades, then secondly, to compare my times on different trails to the times I have ridden before to see if I got any PBs. Then, if I'm happy with what I see, I upload it to Facebook, with the appropriate commentary or excuses... It's the new peer pressure. Even if I go out for a reccy, I tend to stay fairly mindful of the trails that I know have Strava segments attached to them and try and give them a little bit of stick, regardless of what sort of session I am meant to be doing, or how rooted my legs feel. There's worse things to be addicted to right??? You can check out my Strava feed here... Knowing that people are looking at it will probably give me more reason to smash myself adequately each ride!

I recently invested in my own gym so I could do my weight training at home... Not because I'm anti-social, but it's just convenient, and to be honest, for my one session a week, it was cheaper than buying a yearly gym membership. As with any gym, though, the first couple of times you use it, you take a bit of time to adjust to the environment, which exercises you want to do and the weights you are comfortable with (in my case, the weights I am comfortable with if I don't have a spotter). So in true "Megan" style,the last couple of weeks, I have overdone my weights session a bit, and once you do that, there is no going back... It means you suffer for the rest of the week. So Tuesday evening, I hit the trails with pretty flat legs, but intent to make the most of it. I had a surprisingly good session and clocked a blindingly quick time down the top section of Be Rude Not To on my hardtail. Wednesday and Thursday though, my legs were toast, and no matter how hard I pushed my little legs, I didn't seem to get any faster... You can do one of two things when you have a session like this... Go home, rest up and have a sook, or just get what you can out of your body and have a good time doing it. I generally choose the latter... It's much better for your head than piking on a session. It just so happened that Wednesday was a stunning evening, as well, and there was an abundance of good peeps out and about in the forest... There's a lot to be said for good company on a ride when you are struggling a tad, especially when you usually ride by yourself, and it was such a stellar evening to climb to the top of Corridor and have a good chin-wag with a couple of other riders before descending the sweet new trail from the top of Corridor and heading home... I am loving daylight savings, and I reckon the top of Katore road is one of my favourite places in the forest right now! I have had numerous discussions with people in recent times about the logging in the forest, and I like to take a very pragmatic approach to it... Sure, the logging destroys the existing trails, and leaves behind rubble that seems to litter the landscape, but hey, it's part of riding in a working forest. Probably a more valuable way to see it is that the trails get rebuilt, more often than not, better than they were before (and I don't think anyone would disagree with me when I say the rebuilds are a display of absolutely stellar trail design artwork), and there are sections of the forest now where we see stunning views where we previously would have been in amongst the thick of the forest. The top of Katore road is a fine example of both of these. Yeah, it is really sad to see the trees all knocked down, but it's a cycle, and a sustainable one at that... And how awesome is it that we, as mountain bikers, are part of that cycle (excuse the pun!).

Saturday I awoke to windy, overcast conditions. I had a four and a half hour ride planned, so I decided to hit the local markets first before hitting the trails so I didn't miss out on my fresh veg hit for the week!
The ride into town was heinous. It was the first time since leaving Palmerston North I had experienced head winds like that, but at least the ride home was tail-wind assisted! Even better... When I finally hit the forest, the trees offered excellent protection (although, I must admit that hearing the tops of trees clash together and branches falling off in the wind makes me slightly nervous!). It was a surprisingly warm day and the first time since I returned from Europe that I have taken out the Camelbak and bladder, which served it's purpose very nicely. A lot of my recent rides, I have tried to get by on a bottle, and it just hasn't been enough for the longer days. I did a fairly substantial loop that saw me climb to the top of the forest (Tuhoto Ariki and Billy T) twice, and to the top of Katore twice... All up, I did over 2,000 metres of climbing for the day, and whilst I struggled to keep my heart rate in it's target zone, I didn't feel too bad. I also managed to squeeze in a run on the new Pondy DH, which has been (just this week) molded and manicured to remove all the ruts and rough stuff... It runs hellishly fast, and I can see this is going to be one of those trails that, eventually, I will see just how much I can get away with not using my brakes.
By the end of my ride, I was feeling pretty smashed, but still conjured up the energy to climb Katore Road for one final sweet descent home. As I negotiated the short descent towards the Tokarangi Pa turnoff, I heard this huge "BANG", felt the rim hit the ground and lost all control in my back wheel. It's scary how hard it can be to slow down and stop with a fully deflated tyre at speed. I finally pulled up (with no damage to the rim... Bonus!) to find a side wall tear in my tyre about the size of a 50c piece... No amount of Stans was gonna plug that hole!!! I was only about 2-3km of downhill riding from home, which was actually a bit annoying in a way... Had I been in the middle of the forest, it would have been a no-brainer... Stick a Shotz wrapper in there as a tyre boot, stick a tube in there and make my way home... But how close I was to home gave me the option of either fixing it and enjoying the descent home, or running the bike home and stuffing around with it once I had eaten and had a shower. It was a windy day, and I figured that running the bike home would be preferable to stuffing around with it on the side of the track with the wind blowing dirt onto the sealant stuck to the inside of the tyre, so that's what I did... The trail seemed to take an eternity to run down, and with carbon-soled shoes on and a bike slung over my shoulder, I was ecstatic to finally make contact with Long Mile Road... But not so ecstatic to try and fit another tubeless tyre!!! Huge thanks to Zac at The Outdoorsman who spent the last 30mins of his Saturday afternoon shift in immense frustration at my wheel/tyre combo... Big ups man!

I'd been looking forward to Sunday all week. The weather had been forecast to be good and I had planned a little adventure to check out the Western Okataina Track. After plans for some company for the trip fell through, I set out by myself. The plan was to ride via the Tank to Town trail to avoid riding on the road. My legs felt smashed after the week's riding, and especially after yesterday's climbing, and I was forced to resign myself to the fact that this was going to be a fairly slow day out. The sun felt warm on my skin as I climbed, then the fresh Spring breeze nipped at me through my jersey as I descended... It was one of those days you just feel stoked to be out riding a bike. As I reached the end of Tank to Town, I had planned to duck out onto the road and ride the rest of the way on the road to Okareka Loop road. To my delight, though, as I tucked my head around the corner of the tank, I discovered the Lynmore Link track. I had very little knowledge of where it led and was stoked when I realised it linked up to Pipeline road... I had just discovered an alternate route across to Be Rude Not To, which was particularly cool because it meant I could now get to that part of the forest much quicker than before, meaning I had a greater choice of trails for my shorter rides in the evenings... YUSSS! I followed Pipeline Road around, parallel to Tarawera Road, then found a trail that popped me out on Tarawera Road a mere 200m from the Okareka turnoff. I headed down towards the lake on the road, and then followed Miller Road all the way along to where the road became unsealed. Finally, I came across the trail head of the Western Okataina Track.

The Western Okataina Walkway was opened up to bikers just last weekend, on the 29th of September, for a two year trial into it's use as a dual-use track (similar to what they have done with the Heaphy). So, when you hit this trail up (and if you like a good adventure ride, I would strongly recommend you do), please be considerate of other trail users. I found the majority of walkers I came across had come from the education centre end, and were hiking up to the trig point, so be ESPECIALLY careful, on the final descent towards the education centre. Today's weather was perfect for an exploratory ride, and as I started along the track, I soon found myself beneath a canopy of native bush.
The start of the trail reminded me very much of riding up Back Track at K Loop in the Manawatu, but the further into the ride I got, the more rugged it became. The climbs at the beginning were fairly mellow, but with a lot of debris underwheel, they could be quite soft and fairly hard work. It was also super important to keep an eye out for trees and hanging vines that may come to battle with my bar ends, and also derallier-hungry debris on the trail. As I drew closer to the junction where the trig point turnoff was, the climbs became quite steep and long, and quite rough and rutted in places with and a couple of rather awkward little creek crossings. There was a lot of gorse along the side of the track heading up to the junction, but this became more of a problem on the way down at speed than it was on the way up.

The creek crossings were hard work with a bike in hand and my short legs. There were two main crossings and they were both tucked down in deep little gullies with steep edges. The first one was well-marked with signage, but the second crossing lacked such warning, and had it not being for a convenient endo into a gorse bush on the side of the trail, I may have had a very grim landing in the bottom of the gully. The water looked really clean and fresh, but as there is farming in the surrounding region, I would recommend taking a Camelbak with you and carrying your own water. I found the trail to be, surprisingly, largely ridable. It reminded me very much of the Moerangi track, only not quite as groomed. I took my time picking my way along the trail and enjoying the sights and taking photos. Finally, I reached Whakapoungakau junction.
The trig point was a short side trip from here up a fairly steep trail which required a bit of hike-a-bike, but was well worth it for the stunning views. From the top, you could see across Lake Rotorua, lake Rotoiti and across to Lake Rotoehu. I bumped into a group of walkers at the junction and had a bit of a chat, then bumped into them again as I was taking in the sights and having a bit of a snack break at the trig. There was another couple of trampers already at the trig who told me about a little side track to a secret viewpoint off the trail just after the junction. Both groups of trampers I crossed paths with on two or three occasions on the course of my ride, and they were all lovely and very chatty. It's nice when you are riding a dual use trail to feel welcomed by other users (and I'm sure they feel the same), and I certainly ensure I make a point of being super-friendly myself. It isn't a hard thing to do, and means that bikers will get to enjoy the trail forever more rather than being banished as rude and dangerous.

I made my way back to the junction and headed down the final 4km of the track towards the education centre. This part of the track was surprisingly well-groomed in comparison to the part of the track I had just come from, and obviously more frequently-used. It was steep in places, and it was fast... Very fast... And insanely fun... I don't think I have ever dropped 300m of  elevation so quickly!
Coming back up for the return trip was quite the opposite... A painful slog that required a perfectly positioned body over the bike to avoid either lifting the front wheel or slipping with the back. I passed my friends again, who had told me about the special little vista to the side of the track, and they had been kind enough to draw arrows on the track so I knew where to find it on the way back up! It was such a perfect example of walkers and riders enjoying a dual-use track in complete symbiosis. I found their track markings, and there was no way I would have seen this imaginary "trail head" had they not pointed me in the right direction.
I slung my bike over my shoulder and climbed into the bush where there was a very faint, but obvious line down the side of the escarpment. I dropped the bike off a little way into the bush and scrambled down until I was standing on what seemed to be the edge of a cliff, like I was suspended from the trees. It was a truly spectacular sight, with unobscured views across lake Tarawera and Okataina and into the distance... Very cool indeed!

I made my way back to the main trail and continued on my way home, passing the other group of trampers I had seen earlier and tipping them off as to where the little secret spot was off the side of the trail. I made quick work of the descent down the other side back to Millers Road. It was great fun... Not groomed like the descent to the education centre, but really rough, rugged adventure riding. My legs felt like pin cushions riding back down there with all the gorse on the edge of the trail. One could consider gaiters to be a good idea, or legs of steel. One should also consider that if gaiters are their weapon of choice, they must also have maestro-type riding ability, or an ego made of steel if they wish to deflect the taunts of their riding buddies.
It was such a stunning day I couldn't help making a stopover at the lake to take some photos and enjoy the scenery. To be honest, my legs had felt terrible all day, but it was so easily ignored when I was out enjoying the bush on a bike (it's the best place to be right??). I think sometimes it is important to deviate from the program and throw some adventure into your training schedule, and this was something I learned when I was in Europe... Positive enjoyment of riding bikes leads to success on the bike.

Western Okataina Walkway (WOW) is definitely one you need to put on your bucket list. It's so amazingly convenient to have such a great, rugged adventure ride so close to town when you consider some of the other classics, such as the Moerangi trail and Karapoti, are so far from civilisation. If you are up for a good day trip, you can ride right from town to do the WOW. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it at the trig point, then if you have had enough, descend to the education centre and ride back via the highway through Hauparu, which in itself, can be turned into a lovely scenic ride. The other option, as I did, is to ride back the way you came. The general consensus has been that for bikers, the best way to ride this track is from the Miller Road end, no doubt because the climb up from this end is a great deal more mellow than from the other end, but to be honest, I enjoyed the trip both ways equally as much for different reasons. This is a stellar ride to do if you want something a bit different and a bit more adventurous than the groomed trails of the Redwoods. Be prepared for a portage or two and a few small sections of hike-a-bike... It's all part of the fun!

It seems that there are so many great riding options around here and not enough weekends to do them! Some still sitting on the list for me this year are the Great Lakes Trail in Taupo, which is an extension of the infamous W2K track, the Motu and the Rainbow Mountain loop. I am pretty sure I can find a back-road way through to Rainbow Mountain, but that's an adventure for a different day (and I'll be sure to share it with you!) It's funny how some people think I'm a little bit nuts, or a little socially inept when I talk about riding bikes all the time, but I still don't think I've gotten over the fact that I can start and finish each day in the forest in one way or another. After all the cool things that I have seen during my trips overseas, there is still an insatiable thirst to continue exploring my own back yard. It's amazing how seeing the world gives you the awesome opportunity to see so many cool things, but also to realise just how lucky we are to have our own unique, cool things here in our own home. Summer is just around the corner, and I can't wait to get out and do some exploring!!!