Monday, December 30, 2013

The Pinnacles - Goose Down Pillows, Bush Tucker and Gorgeous Sunrises

Well, where to start? I couldn’t figure out which retrospective adventure to write about first. I guess most people would say “start from the start, Megan”, but I never have been one to follow convention, so in keeping with that theme, I thought I would share with you some of my more recent adventures whilst they sit vividly in my mind.
 It was only a little over a week ago now that I joined up with two good mates, Sarah and Netty and a “friend to be”, Claire, in Thames to do an overnight hike to the Pinnacles in the Coromandel. Being the last day at work for most people meant that starting late in the afternoon on a Friday to avoid the Saturday crowds at the hut was very workable, and the fact that I had paid a surprise visit to Lisa in Auckland to see her off at the airport on her trip to Vietnam at midday on Friday fitted in perfectly with the plan.

After some faffing in the supermarket and then a rather robust discussion with my friends about how it is NOT OK to wear Crocs, we were on our way out to Kahurangi Forest park. I hadn’t really heard about the Pinnacles before (maybe because I don’t do a great deal of hiking) and I only made the decision to come along for the ride about two days beforehand, so I had no further expectations other than an enjoyable couple of days out with some mates, some quiet time and some good exercise. I have this saying that “if you want luxury, you have to carry it” and I decided on this trip, that in the interests of a good spot of training, I would carry lots of luxury to enjoy on our overnight stay in the hut. This included cider, fresh food, chocolate… And a goose down pillow.

It was a stunning afternoon. Blue skies accompanied a warm Summers day as we made our way up and along the track. The track consisted of hundreds of steps that had been hand-carved out of the bedrock by labourers years and years ago when the track was used as an accessway for a hydro project. The hike was warm, thirsty work, especially with 20kg pack on my back (but that goose down pillow sure was gonna make for comfy sleeping!). It took us about three hours to make our way to the “hut”, where we had booked beds for the night. It was about 6.30pm when we arrived and the plan was to drop our stuff off at the “hut” and then make our way to the summit before returning for a feed and some sleep.

Now you may notice that I have now put the word “hut” in inverted commas on three occasions now… Because it’s not really a hut… More like a lodge, or a backpackers, which sleeps 80 people and has a full kitchen, complete with pots and pans, cutlery and plates (you don’t even need to bring them yourself). Now, I was a little bit torn when I saw this hut from afar. On the one hand, I appreciate the sentiment behind making some of our most beautiful attractions easily accessible and comfortable for more people to see. On the flip side, this “mansion” for want of a better description, creates a scar on the beautiful landscape and, in my opinion, kind of defeats the purpose of getting out into the wilderness. My thoughts aside now, the hut was very nice and comfortable (but still didn’t sit right with me).

We dropped off our gear and headed up towards the summit, which incorporated 556 steps (yup, I counted them!), three ladders and a whole heap of rock scrambling, which I thoroughly enjoyed. As we made our way higher up the landscape, the track rose above the trees and on one side of us, we could see the Coromandel ranges… On the other, we could see the ocean stretching out as far as the eye could see to meet the bright blue horizon. The evening had cooled off from the scorching hot day and there wasn’t a breath of wind, although the mutated shapes of the trees suggested that wasn’t generally the case. We had been so lucky to score such a stellar evening.

At the top, perched on slanted rocks that had been carved by the elements, I had a 360 degree view of my surrounds. Words couldn’t describe just how stunning it was. It took my breath away. It was at this point that I announced to my companions that I would rise from bed at 5am the next morning to scale the steps and ladders again to watch the sunrise from this very spot. I knew if it was a clear morning, it would be stunning. They all politely declined my invite (unsure as to why…). We then made our way back down to the hut for a pretty grandiose feed, including some supplejack shoots that I had picked on our way there and boiled up to have with our meal (just like bush asparagus!)… I was surprised at just how good it was!
That night, I woke up at 3am and couldn’t get back to sleep. Probably partly because I was terrified my alarm would wake up the entire hut and partly also because I was so excited about my impending sunrise sojourn. I could see the stars in the night sky out the window and I knew that it was going to be a super clear morning, perfect for a beautiful sunrise over the sea.

I bounced out of bed at 5am, switching off my alarm before it barely even had the opportunity to go off, threw on my clothes which I had neatly laid out the night before to cause the least disturbance to my roomies, then sifted out the door into the cool morning air. It had been a while since I had immersed myself in an early morning experience like this and I realised at the moment how much I truly missed it. The moon was so bright it bathed the path to the top in a faint glow. I was full of energy as I bounded up the steps, stopping along the way to inhale the atmosphere around me and feast my eyes upon the array of colours that began seeping over the horizon with the dawn of the new day.

The sign at the bottom of the summit walk tells us it takes 50 minutes to get to the summit. I’m pretty sure I was up there in less than half an hour, and in plenty of time to watch the first rays of sun peek over the ocean on the horizon, caressing the landscape with a warm glow and lighting up the rock formations like someone had switched on a giant orange spotlight and pointed it in my direction. The silhouette of the rocks stood defiantly in the way of this stunning display, carving shapes in the morning sunlight and reflecting a brilliant red glow back onto my face. An inversion cloud rested amongst the valleys and began rising as the heat from the sun warmed the air. I would nearly go as far as to say it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen.

I don’t know how long I sat up there, but I loved every minute of it. I loved being immersed in that experience, and in that environment. I remember wishing that Lisa was there to share it with. Clambering all over the rocks and watching the sunrise. As I descended towards the hut for breakfast, the cloud rolled in and closed the sky above me. When I arrived back, everyone was still asleep. I made some breakfast and a cuppa and read a book while people meandered into the kitchen in their half-awake state, remarking on how it was cloudy and they wouldn’t see anything on the summit that morning.

It blows me away that people miss opportunities like that. Everyone seems to think I am crazy for being up at 5am to greet the day… I would argue that if you are going to be out in the middle of this beautiful place anyway, why not make that small effort to see something that you may never witness again in your entire life? I doubt that I am the crazy one here (although I know many who would beg to differ).

We had a cruisy morning at the hut and then made our way back down towards the car, taking a longer route to return than we used to get to the hut the previous afternoon. The track on the way down was much different to the track we had climbed up. Not as well-worn, and it was obvious from the huge ruts and clay surface that the trail would be carnage in the rain. I spent a lot of time meandering along with Sarah. She’s one of my best buddies and we hadn’t seen each other in a while. It was lovely to catch up. We finished off the day with a dip in the waterhole (well, my legs took a dip… my body decided it wouldn’t subject itself to the cold on this occasion!)

What a gorgeous corner of the planet we reside in… And when you think you have seen the most amazing things, you are shown something to surpass it. Yet another reminder that to truly commit to the adventure in which you are partaking is where you will reap the finest rewards.

Excuses, Excuses!!!

OK, so I know what you’re thinking right now… “It’s been far too long since Megan entertained us with her witty brand of candid adventure story-telling”, and I feel your pain… I’ve missed it too.
It hasn’t been for lack of stories to tell… Actually, quite the opposite. In the last three months, I have climbed Mount Ruapehu one last time for the Winter, found myself a lovely young lady to share my adventures with (hi Lisa!!!), narrowly avoided been struck by lightning, raced a 24 hour solo world championship, participated in a Land Search and Rescue SAREX weekend, raced and won the Taniwha for the second year in a row, raced the Huka Challenge in Taupo, raced and won the Round Rangihoua 4 hour on Waiheke island, hosted numerous cycle tourists at my house, camped and rock climbed in Kawakawa Bay for a weekend and spent an inordinate amount of time playing in my backyard that is the Whaka forest. In fact, in the last week alone, I hiked to the Pinnacles, climbed Mount Tarawera and did a 3 day cycle tour around the Coromandel… Then to top it all off, I am spending new years eve camped out on the summit plateau of Mount Ruapehu…

Yep, it’s been full-on, but it’s pretty damn rude of me that I have kept these adventures to myself and not shared them with those of you who seem to live my crazy lifestyle in relative safety vicariously through my blog. There is no real excuse, but there has, in all honesty, being a genuine blockage in the way, and that is the processing of my experience at 24 hour solo world championships this year. I like to write with positive energy and foresight and after writing and rewriting about my experience numerous times, I still haven’t felt that I could do that yet… For some reason, I have come to the conclusion in my head that I simply can’t write about anything until I have written about world champs… Because world champs is THE most important thing. What absolute bullshit… So I guess I have taken the first step here in realising that there are, in fact, other way cool things going on in my life that it doesn’t need to be controlled by a single race.

The second part of that is that over the next few weeks, I’m going to bombard you with some musings on some amazing adventures accompanied by some even more amazing photos, which will hopefully then allow my brain some space to do the third…

Write about world champs… And you will, my dear friends, hear about that when I am damn well ready for it… In the meantime, enjoy the adventures you have in front of you!

Friday, October 11, 2013

2013 World Champs - This Goes Out To The Ones I Love

It’s been quite some time since I updated my blog… And not for lack of things to write about, either… In fact, quite the opposite. I have a pile of adventures and witty commentaries half-written and waiting for the excitement of world champs to blow over so I may concentrate on adding the appropriate finishing touches that would do each of them justice. My journey to this year’s 24 hour solo world champs has been far different from any other… In fact, to be fair, no two lead-ins have ever been the same. This year has been speckled with fragments of joy, disappointment, hardship, excitement and adventure… There have been times that I called it the worst year of my life… But if you asked me right now, I would call it the best.

I suppose looking in from the outside, there has been little of the bravado I have enveloped around world championship races in previous years. For some reason that I cannot explain, I haven’t talked about it as much as I used to. It doesn’t mean I’m not excited… But maybe my priorities have shifted slightly as I have matured into my racing. The lead-in to a 24 hour race is always an emotional time for me and maybe on this occasion, I have spent more time sharing that with those closest to me. My friends, my partner, my family, my sponsors and my colleagues. There are times of sheer joy, frustration, excitement, anger and stress… Sometimes I cry thinking about that moment I cross the finish line. With that emotional investment comes a degree of pressure that I put on myself. I have been doing this a long time. For want of a better expression, I suppose I am a 24 hour racing veteran of sorts, and that’s something I am incredibly proud of. I think in the last year, my approach to racing has become far more pragmatic. More about the mental fitness than the physical, and in the process, I have, maybe unsurprisingly, ended up in the best shape I have ever been.

Through all those years of racing, there have been people and organisations who have shared that journey with me (and still do!). People who have shared moments of hilarity, moments of pain and who have no doubt seen me develop and grow as a rider and as a human being. I thought it was fitting, the day before my next 24 hour solo world championships, that I paid due homage to those people… The ones who make every single day that I exist on this planet all the richer for their presence.

First and foremost, my support crew. My awesome buddy Sarah, who has elegantly borne the brunt of my mood swings and irrational rants over the last few months, as well as being my adventure buddy and sharing some of the coolest moments I have had on this Earth in my 32 years of existence. My bro-in-law, Dan, for flying all the way to Canberra just to help as my support crew for the weekend, and my sister, Emily for volunteering him for the job! My Mum and Dad, who are currently on a 7 hour drive to Canberra to come and watch me race, yell out rude fart jokes and flash me from the sidelines (my apologies in advance to anyone in the vicinity who suffers collateral damage from their antics). My girlfriend, who, despite the excitement of a new relationship, has not only being understanding enough to step aside for the bike whilst I’ve been in my last month of training, but has actually willingly joined me on a number of my crazy adventures and training rides and has indicated she would be interested in continuing to do so moving forward (might be a keeper huh?!). My beautiful little puppy dogs, Paddi and Spud, who have barely seen their mum for the last two months and are always disproportionately stoked to see me every time I walk in the door… I won’t say you have been good fur children (the escape antics have been rather stressful, to be honest), but your wagging tails and little doggy cuddles always make me smile. Similarly, massive thanks to my neighbours, Sharyn and Deryk, my flatmate Jess, and my best bud Rich for keeping them fed, watered and safe while I am away conquering the world.

Kashi Leuchs from Yeti NZ, who has not only helped me out with awesome bikes to ride, but has been a wealth of experience to draw from. Andrew from Ayup Lights who has supported me for the entire time I have been racing these things. For the record, I still have my very first set of Ayup lights and they still work!!! Mark and the team from Adidas Eyewear who have supported me for the last five years (I reckon that even if they didn’t sponsor me, I would still be wearing their glasses!). Bryce from Cycletech who has answered countless questions and provided invaluable advice, then always has my new gear to me the next day (and Sock Guy socks are totally the coolest!).

My coach, Mark Fenner, an exceptionally good-looking geyser who has provided that “next level” experience for me when I thought that maybe I was as fast as I was ever going to get… And also my previous coach Sadie P, whose ongoing friendship, wisdom and support has meant the world to me. Toni from Touch Massage, who has enjoyed inflicting copious amounts of pain on my poor little body every fortnight. My boss, workmates, Rotorua Search and Rescue Squad and the entire mountain biking community in our sleepy little town of Rotorua for the love, support, and good vibes. All my buddies at home and abroad who have wished me well. Every single one of you has had a positive impact on my preparation for this race.

When I look at what I wrote above, it brings a tear to my eye to think of how important each of you are to me and the joy every one of you has brought to my life. It’s humbling to realise I have so many awesome people surrounding me. So now, all that is left to do is to go out there and ride a bike race this weekend… I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to win, or that I didn’t want to place well, but in the end, the most important thing is that I ride the best race that I can, and that’s all I can ask of myself… If that gets me a good result, that’s awesome. I feel ready, excited, stoked and full of positive energy. It’s time to rip this thing up!

Real time results can be found at

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Day Night Borer - 12 Hours of Riding, Eating and Threadbare Shorts...

I enjoyed my 12 hour race on Saturday. I felt strong and focused and I generally had a good time and achieved what I had set out to accomplish for the day, but I would stop short of calling it a "thriller"... Maybe the event organiser should consider re-naming the Day Night Thriller to more aptly describe the mere 4km course, comprising largely of firetrail and wide double-track, which I was lapping in about 12 minutes for the larger part of the day (52 times, might I add). Facetious comments aside, I had embarked upon this opportunity five weeks out from 24 hour solo world champs so I could get some valuable training in the legs, and so my new support crew could get some valuable training in the pits.
Having such a short lap meant that I would see my pit crew (the lovely Sarah Natac) quite regularly. Sarah has been so generous as to put her hand up to manage my support at world champs (possibly unaware of exactly what she was getting herself into!) so this was our opportunity to practice and get things right before the main event. Having such short laps meant that any blunders could be bypassed and then corrected on the next lap. In Canberra, where our laps will be between an hour and an hour and a half long, we won't have this opportunity. I also knew that having such a short course would test my resolve with regards to boredom-busting, which probably wasn't a bad thing.
The morning was relatively warm with a cool breeze. I had been a little nervous about the race for a couple of reasons, but mainly because I knew I wanted to hit the race at about 85%, considering the upcoming big event. Whether I could actually bring myself to do that, I was unsure. It's a weird feeling going into a race and not approaching it with everything you have. It seemed really wrong to me, but as the day wore on, it felt like it made more sense, and then even moreso again as I ventured into the week afterwards training-wise.

So we set off about 10am to ride a hideous number of loops. The shortness of the lap meant that congestion was ever-present and I found myself searching for other ways to say "on your right please" to break the monotony of passing rider after rider. As the race wore on, the passing became less, but I found myself a little disgusted at the lack of manners some riders displayed... Riding up behind another rider and screaming out "track" or "rider" or "right" really seemed quite inappropriate and rude to me, especially given the sort of event it was. You would have been forgiven on a number of occasions for thinking that Farmer Brown had put his sheep station up for grabs... Or maybe I'm just getting old and saying "please" and "thank you" has gone out of fashion.

There were a number of notable events and sights throughout the day that kept me amused. The lovely dresses donned by the Desperate Housewives team were always good value, and in particular, the striking red g-string that Raewyn Knight had obviously so carefully chosen from her top drawer that morning to wear on the outside of her lycra. There was the guy with the crocheted cupcake on his helmet and the team tent that had fabricated a rather large boombox out of a wheelie bin and were pelting bizarre dubstep tunes out onto the course... Every time I rode past, I felt like maybe I should have been high on some sort of illicit drugs, but I figured the respite from the usual race village tunes of Lady Gaga and Venga Boys was, in itself, a kind of high. I sang songs to myself and anyone else who would listen... Then there was the highlight of my day... The dude with the threadbare shorts... I vaguely remember the conversation I had with this guy and it went something like this... "Dude, you need a new pair of shorts, I can quite clearly see your entire crackal region"... "Well then don't look"... "Well, it's kinda like a trainwreck. I'm finding it difficult to avert my eyes". Every time he rode past me after that was cause for celebration... "Hey there! It's my buddy with the threadbare shorts!". I can only make the assumption he wasn't bothered by my observations because he didn't change into anything less revealing at any point throughout the day.

Then there was my support crew. Sarah did a great job for her first time on course with me. The short lap made monitoring food and drink intake cumbersome but she managed it well... She had fresh sandwiches ready for me and on the couple of occasions I got grumpy, she didn't flinch (I am genuinely sorry for those moments Sarah!). I'm well aware of the fact that I can be a bit of a handful to support. I suppose after years of doing these things, we develop our own unique little idiosyncrasies... For example, I can only feed with my right hand, sandwiches have to be made within 5 minutes of me eating them so the bread is still soft and squishy, whenever I have coke in my drink bottle, I have to take an antacid to stop it giving me heartburn and when I do lights on, I expect to be in and out of the pits in 30 seconds. There were a couple of occasions I remember on Saturday when I came in and Sarah wasn't quite ready for me, and I snapped "you're not ready for me? See you next lap", then rode off into the sunset. It was nice to have that option on this occasion, but like I mentioned earlier, it is something we won't have the luxury of at world champs, when every second you spend in the pits is valuable seconds you need to make back up while you are tired, hungry and sore. I was stoked we had the opportunity to iron out the creases before world champs.

I was stoked with how I rode throughout the day. You could have nearly set your watch to the consistency of my lap times. I felt strong and positive for the most part and I didn't bury myself, which was pretty important to me at this point in time. I ate and drank well and we have some logistical screws to tighten over the next few weeks, but that will all come together by then. I had both my bikes set up perfectly and neither one skipped a beat. Both the Ninja and Betty will make a fine entourage for my assault on Mt Stromlo in five weeks time. My new Stans Podium MMX wheels from Cycletech ran so smoothly and as cheesy as it sounds, I sincerely noticed the drop in weight from my other wheels (nearly 400gms of rotational mass!).

In the end, I knocked out about 220km in the 12 hours, a couple of laps behind Kim Hurst... I was really stoked to discover we had come second and third overall in the solo category respectively (only one guy beat the two of us!). I'm feeling really good and positive moving into my final few weeks of training before world champs and, most importantly, I'm looking forward to it!!!