Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Exercising Demons

OK, I know my use of grammar in the title is wrong, but I felt it was an incredibly apt play on words for what I am about to pen. I have lived in Rotorua for about six months now and am incredibly lucky to have our mountain biking playground grace my back doorstep... But regardless of my proximity to the forest, there are trails that I rarely ride... And I rarely ride them because, well... They scare the absolute shit out of me. The other week, I rode the 2W Gravity Enduro... And when I saw the course, I decided to pack a spare pair of undies for the race... Because it sent me down all the trails I have purposely been avoiding.

I survived the race, but not without the embarrassment of voluntarily dismounting on sections of track that I found scary, only to have some school kid come flying past me and down the section with ease. I have never been a incredible technical rider, and I have always been open about that. My skill level is good, but not amazing, and for endurance racing, I have always managed to get by quite happily on this.

The thing I found bizarre on that Sunday (and, in fact, on other occasions when I have raced on tracks I felt were at the outer level of my skill) is that the moment I dismount on a technical section, I switch out of race mode. It interrupts my flow, and it destroys my confidence for the rest of the race or ride. I have no doubt that over the space of 24 hours that this costs me tens of minutes, and I suppose the thought process behind what I call "conservative riding in the interests of self-preservation" in endurance racing is that if you ride beyond your limit, chances are, you won't even finish the race. There is a lot to be said, though, for extending those limits... And when you reach a certain level, it is necessary to do this if you intend to remain competitive.

Furthermore, I have always been a strong advocate of the school of thought that we train and ride regularly so we are bike fit, because riding a bike fast is good fun... Dismounting your bike is not fun... Neither is the ribbing you get from your riding buddies afterwards.

So, the weekend just gone, I set out on a ride with the sole intention of riding the tracks that scared the bejeezus out of me. If I stopped at a section, I had to work it and nail it before I could move on. Now, I'm sure that when I reveal the names of these tracks, there will be a couple of sniggers out there in blog-land... Like I mentioned before, I have never been a self-proclaimed technical mystro.

So, anyway, I first of all made my way to the top of Direct Road to Hot X Buns. This track has plagued me since I first rode it in a race a couple of years ago, and the problem is that because I have avoided it in the course of my casual riding, I have only ever ridden it in a race, so the usual practice has been to dismount the scary bits and then jump back on the bike and be on my way, clearly disinterested in "working" sections on race day. There were two sections of Hot X Buns that I stopped and worked. I pulled up, spent time looking at it, rolled my bike over it to assure myself it was easily cleared, then I went back and rode it... I cleaned each section with surprising ease, letting out an audible "YUSSS" as I continued down the trail, my confidence growing with each challenge defeated. I couldn't help but think "Wow... Why did I not just ride that earlier???"

Rather chuffed with myself, I then made my way up to Tuhoto Ariki. This track has never "scared" me per-say, but I've never done a clean run of it's technical, rooty goodness... That day, I did (minus a couple of acceptable toe-dabs). Admittedly, track conditions were amazing and dry, but I was substantially buoyed by my previous achievements for the day on Hot X Buns.

After a good 3 hours or so out on the bike, it was time to head home. Old Exit Trail is another arch nemesis of mine and I had decided that I would maybe leave that for another day, not wanting to burst my own inflated bubble. However, as I was coming along the home stretch for the day, something just drew me straight to that trail and soon I found myself quite clumsily descending the awkward steps that graced the length of the trail... It wasn't pretty, but I cleaned it...
I remember cruising home through the forest with the clear blue sky above me and the sun beating down and that wicked smell of the pine trees that I always associate with bike riding and good times and I felt so chuffed with myself... Three trails that had dogged me for so long were now part of my repertoire, and I can't wait for the next time I get the chance to hit them up again. It's that old story of facing your fears... Then often you wonder why you were frightened of them in the first place. It stands to reason, then, that the sooner we face our fears, the sooner we realise we have nothing to worry about... And seriously, who couldn't do with that load off their minds???

Monday, February 25, 2013

Rotorua Bike Festival - Sleepness Nights and Two-Wheeled Days

I seem to be a week behind of late, and it's understandable given the sheer volume of "stuff" I have managed to cram into such a small space of time. It's hard to imagine just how many riding events you could jam into the space of a week. In fact, not just riding events, but other awesome stuff, too. As I pertained to in last week's blog, I have been enjoying a variety of activities that may or may not include two wheels. The Rotorua Bike Festival was an incredible celebration of our town's rich culture, our incredible community and our amazing talent... And surprisingly, I enjoyed it both on two wheels and off.


I was lucky enough that the radio station I work at was one of the main supporters of the bike festival, making it fair game to leave work to ride my bike or help set up an event during the week. People had begun streaming into town, including a bunch of my native affiliates, the Aussies, and  Rotorua was abuzz with excited peeps on two wheels. If I was entirely honest, four months ago, I was feeling a tad unsure of where our beloved "first bike festival" was headed... I knew it was on, but I hadn't seen or heard much of it. I wanted desperately for it to be awesome... Our cycling community and our town deserved an event like this that does it justice... I was over the moon at the beginning of the bike festival. The numbers of people at the events were staggering for a first year gathering and there was an amazing vibe that reverberated throughout the town, making people smile, making people happy, and encouraging people to get out on two wheels. I was highly impressed with the transformation of the festival from conception to fruition and I'd like to give a massive virtual "high five" to the organisers of each of the events and the overall festival. It was truly great and good.

Monday saw the highly anticipated "Redwoods Coast" held at Long Mile near the visitor centre. There had been a huge amount of hype surrounding this event... Forget your lycra and your lightweight cross-country speed machine... The freaks were out in force on this evening. From Garth Weinberg's stunning full-body outfit with gratuitous use of the color pink, to the rider who had precariously strapped 100kgs of weights to his BMX, there really was no guessing who would win the gravity-assisted coast down Nursery Hill. The object of the game, of course, was to start at the top of the hill with a chainless bike, then coast your way down the hill, coming to rest at the furthest point along the course. The competition was fierce, and the adjudicators brutal. I must say that whilst it looked like great fun, I felt it was a rare opportunity for me to jump in on the other side of things as a volunteer. My job for the evening, once I had finished hand-crafting each rider's individual number plates, was deafen everyone with my whistle when riders were on their way down the hill (the bright orange vest and whistle made me feel very very important! I even got a cool t-shirt!). The concept was awesome, and asides from one very nasty high speed crash (geez, it looked like it hurt!!!), Dave D pulled it off without a hitch. It was nice to be on the other side of an event for a change, volunteering. And particularly nice to have the opportunity to see each rider as they came through rego. What a neat event!
Tuesday was just a normal ride day for me, but I genuinely wish I had been at Tykes on Trikes... If there is one thing in cycling that I see of monumental importance, it is getting kids on bikes at a young age... Not to mention it would have been incredibly cute to see! At my height, I may even have been able to join in without anyone noticing!!!

Wednesday was where it started to get hectic... The morning started super early for "Go By Bike" day, and I was lucky enough to be part of Sport BOP's morning feed stations, with the enviable job of canvassing unsuspecting morning commuters to surprise them with free bananas and entry into a competition to win a(nother) bike. There was the odd occasion where someone pointed out that they obviously already had a bike, and I felt compelled to educate them on "The Rules" where the correct number of bikes to own is n+1. In the true spirit of the day, I went by bike on my trusty oldskool chromoly yak, and for my efforts, I was given an extra set of spokey dokeys (SCORE! Now I have them on my front AND back wheels!)

Wednesday evening it was time for something different, and whilst I have always been a huge advocate of "earning your turns", in the spirit of the bike festival, I felt it appropriate to join in the ladies shuttle evening. I must say that whilst it was really nice to go straight to the top of the hill, I just couldn't shake that "I could be riding right now" feeling. An impressive bake-off and some Pizza Library goodness somewhat allayed my anxiety and I enjoyed a couple of shuttle runs before cruising home for the evening.

By the time Thursday rolled around (excuse the pun!), you would have thought the average person would be all biked out (lucky I'm not the average person!). On a stunning Summer evening, I headed to the BMX track (of all places) on my beat up commuter bike with slick tyres and spokey dokeys to join in the carnage that was named "bike speedway". I must admit that when I signed up, I was unaware of the "no brakes" rule, and was filled with dread at the race briefing when we were politely informed that if we used our brakes, we would be disqualified... It was at this point that I anxiously unclipped my V-Brakes and prayed for my life. The track was made of lime and at a mere 66 metres long with two straights and two corners, making your way around with no brakes was certainly no mean feat. As the evening wore on, the track wore down, creating two huge powdery ruts at either end where riders had been sliding their bikes around the corner as they gripped their handlebars for dear life... It was easier to crash than not... We each had two heats and a final. I lined up against the only other girl in the field for the evening and we were off. It was a bizarre experience. In fact, it almost felt like you were in slow motion, riding as fast as you would dare, fully aware of the fact that you couldn't brake to slow down for the corner. My first heat ended in an impressive dismount over the bars and straight onto my feet (very styley!). Second heat was fairly uneventful and I took the win (it seemed that the winner was often determined by who did or didn't crash). The final was hilarious. By this point, we had ridden the track enough to have gained a dangerous amount of false confidence to do wildly stupid things. And on my second lap, my slick tyres met their match with the powdery dust and my bike and I tangled in a very impressive crash. I was laughing so hard that all I could remember was Chris Newson on the microphone yelling out "don't worry about the bars being crooked, just ride your bike!" and then hooning around the track as best I could in hysterical fits of laughter yelling at my competitor "PLEASE DON'T LAP ME!!!". It was such a blast, and in all honesty, I reckon I could really get into it! Super good for your cornering skills and a barrel of laughs... Here's hoping they start a bike speedway comp in Rotorua sometime soon!

I hadn't planned on being up at Skyline to do the Sprint Warrior, but a chain of events and a generous hand meant that it would have been rude not to, and I was so glad I went. I arrived quite late and only managed to get in one practice run before the "race run". The track was fun and flowy, albeit a little dusty and a few holes, but considering it was a newly built trail and hundreds of riders had done hundreds of runs over it that afternoon, it was impressive how well it held up. The event was super well-run by the Mountain Bike Rotorua Boys, Tak and Tu, and it was awesome of Skyline to agree to putting their hill to good use. When I was in Queenstown at Christmas, I had the pleasure of enjoying their gondola goodness, and the range of trails and the facilities in general made for a brilliant day out (even for non-shuttling types!!!). It would be awesome to see our little hill here in Rotorua transformed into something just as awesome on a more permanent basis... Fingers crossed!!!

Another activity I have recently had the pleasure of beginning to partake in is as a volunteer for Land Search and Rescue... Whilst not yet officially ordained into the ranks, I enjoyed my first outing with them on the Saturday of the cross country nationals. I awoke at 5.30am and shovelled down some breakfast to be out the door and around the back of Mount Ngongataha by 6.30am for the LSAR fitness test. Although it was an early morning, it was stunning watching the sun rise from the mountain, and the low cloud hanging lazily in the valleys and across the lake as the day warmed up. The fitness test isn't difficult, but involves a specified amount of climbing and a 10-15kg pack. I always find it amusing (in hindsight... because at the time, it is never funny) that I am quite capable of smashing out quite a fast run or hike because I am generally quite fit, but then I deal with delayed onset muscle soreness for the next week... I smashed the fitness test convincingly, but I really do need to do more hiking... My poor legs know nothing more than turning in circles. I have since enjoyed another couple of outings with the team and I am super excited about being a part of Land Search and Rescue. A really good bunch of people, good fun, good training, and a great way to help out the community. I can safely say that if I were to get lost in the forest, I would be very comfortable with the fact that these guys were looking for me!

The great thing was that we knocked out a 12km hike and were done by 9.30am. I had seriously considered entering the nationals that afternoon (maybe just in the old girls category), but to be honest, the cost was highly prohibitive, especially when my long distance legs weren't quite up to the pace of the elite cross country girls. By the time I paid membership fees, club fees and entry fees, it would have been getting up around the $200 mark. It's sad that the cost of participating in a race likely deters many people from entering the race, and even more bizarrely because we are trying to grow the sport, not discourage people! In any case, it gave me a good opportunity to do a heap of work around the house. By the time the sun had gone down for the day, I was shattered from a week of biking and fun, and still with one big day ahead of me.

I had volunteered my services as course checker to Neil Gellatly for the 2W Gravity Enduro on the Sunday. This enviable task involved getting up at 4.30am and being out on the trails by 5am to check that all the course markings were still where they should be for the race that started at 9.45am. I ventured out in the dark with my lights on, silently wondering what the hell I had been thinking when I offered to do this (Neil is a good dude... That's probably what I was thinking!!!). I saw my second amazing sunrise in as many days (bonus) and got to prepare myself for the course ahead for the day (oh, did I mention that after checking the course, I was participating in the race???). I rolled in to the start line at about 9.40am, just in time for race briefing and then set off with my "team" for the day.

I found the gravity enduro concept really bizarre (in a good way though!). I found it really hard to just cruise around and then switch into race mode at the appropriate time. The vibe in the forest was awesome, with riders cruising around, chatting and having a good time, then pinning some trails and sitting around afterwards, feeding off each others excitement. There were event-exclusive shuttles running to the three major peaks in the forest (Katore, Direct Road and National Downhill), but we decided to ride a couple of the climbs for tactical reasons. We headed to Katore first, mainly because the shuttle wasn't running there for another couple of hours, which would mean we would likely not wait in line. The route from the top of Katore terrified me... Corridor, Eastern Spice, Turkish Delight and Old Exit Trail. I am not ashamed to admit I had my share of intentional dismounts on this run, happy to make it down in one piece. We then made our way to Hot Cross Buns. Once again, riding up to the start point to save time, and getting in just before the shuttle, so we didn't have to join a queue. Our following two runs we shuttled to, and I think my favorite run for the day was the longest run that started at Tihi O Tawa and made its way onto Billy T, G Rock, Link, Rollercoaster and Moonshine... It is amazing how quickly time flies in the forest. At the beginning we were cruising around talking about maybe doing runs a second time, and by the end, we were rushing to get back into town on time to avoid penalties!!! By the time we crossed the finish line, I was well cooked for the day (and some lovely candid photos taken by Martyn Pearce while we were sitting at prize giving couldn't have told the story better!!!)
I found it pleasantly surprising with the bike festival that, for the most part, you could participate a lot for very little outlay. Asides from the major races, most events were either free, or had a nominal fee of $5-$10 towards charity. The first annual Rotorua Bike Festival epitomised the spirit of biking... That it should be something easily available to all to enjoy. There is no doubt that here in Rotorua, we have the best facilities and trails for such an awesome week of events, and I am looking forward so much to watching the festival grow over the coming years and being a part of it!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Retrospective Blogging and the Beauty of Inspirational Thought

Retrospective blogging needn't be awkward. There's nothing wrong with having such an amazingly great time and being so tied up in awesome activities that you simply continue to put it off, mindful that each day you fail to grace your pages with writing, your post potentially becomes less and less relevant... Or does it??? Retrospective blogging doesn't need to be awkward, but it often is... That seemingly obligatory first paragraph that attempts to explain why you have neglected your beloved reader(s) and deprived them of quality entertainment for more than a month often sets an embarrassingly vain and desperate tone, like crawling back to an ex on all fours, begging them to stay if you can mend your errant ways... Well, I'm not going to do that... Instead, I will write unashamedly of things that happened a month ago (and possibly more) safe in the knowledge that my first paragraph about crappy retrospective blogging has fooled you all into thinking it's ok... The irony huh?

It was nearly a month ago now that I made the trip down to Hanmer Springs for the 103km St James Epic, a back-country race that graces the wide open space between Lake Tennyson and St James Station via the St James Cycle trail. To be honest, it's no easy feat to get from Rotorua to Hanmer Springs, and certainly no easier to get to Lake Tennyson. A shortage of funds meant that I was scrambling for a way to somehow get from Christchurch Airport to the start line (having already purchased a plane ticket and entry fee and failing to budget for the remainder of the trip). Luck came my way during the week and a lovely fella by the name of Wazza not only offered me a lift to the start line, but also a tent to camp in, and a mat to sleep on. What a good dude!!! I must say that I enjoy traveling this way. Reaching out for help has always given me a renewed sense of how people, in essence, are generally good and kind. It was definitely one of the main themes of my trip to Europe last year. It makes me wonder sometimes if having no money makes you richer in the long-run... As if having money makes it all too easy to buy your way out of the inconvenience of having to rely on others and experience life's challenges and hardships.

After a low-key registration in Hanmer Springs, we arrived at Lake Tennyson in plenty of time to set up camp and watch the sunset, which was absolutely stunning. The stifling hot weather in Christchurch had been replaced with cool alpine air and the wind was blowing against our wishes in a headwind direction for our assault on the St James trail the following day. A pasta feed down the hatch and then into bed for a big day in the saddle the next day. I was infinitely grateful that it was nowhere near as cold as it was last year... It would have made camping a very unpleasant experience. As it was, I was so warm I ended up half naked with my sleeping bag completely unzipped for the night.
 There had been a degree of confusion surrounding start times for the races... There were several categories and several different disciplines and it was a small oversight that this information had not being placed in our registration packs. I didn't like not being organised, so I prepped myself to wake up for the worst-case-scenario early start... 6am. As it turned out, my race didn't start until 8am, but there was a glimmer of consolation in the fact that I was up to see dawn turn into sunrise, which turned into a stunning day of blue skies and sunshine. I was also fortunate enough to bask sadistically in the joy of seeing the mountain man competitors swimming in a freezing Lake Tennyson just on sunrise. It's times like this I am glad I can only swim to save my life and not for any other reason. If I was any good at it, with my competitive nature, I would no doubt convince myself that activities of this nature were acceptable, and potentially necessary, to justify my existence... I'll stick to my two wheels for now...

The start line for the 103km race was significantly warmer than last year. I was able to confidently make the call to front up in just shorts and a jersey, and we also managed to convince the race organiser to allow us to ditch a large portion of our cumbersome, mandatory kit. I remembered last year that my undoing had been in the last 30km of the race, where things suddenly got very vertical in comparison to the start of the ride, and I was quite determined, and prepared, to not let this happen again. We set off from the lake and turned onto the St James Cycleway. If I'm being honest, I hadn't done a great deal of training specifically for this event, or this distance, and had chosen to come along anyway based purely on the fact that my ego would carry me to the finish line. It made for a surprisingly stress-free approach, so when we set off and the legs felt a bit weary and the mind a little flat, I wasn't too concerned... I was happy to push through and have an uneventful day on the trails enjoying the riding, scenery and company.
 There was a girl who passed me quite early on in the race. I don't like being passed or beaten any more than the next rider, but that's just racing... There will always be someone out there who can beat you... And that's what makes it exciting. What I found mildly frustrating is that I spent most of the race within about 500m of this rider and she seemed to spend the entire distance riding with her male friend, occasionally drafting him, occasionally getting supplies out his bag, and having him wait for her if she fell behind. I stop short of deducing that I would have won if she had not being riding with him because chances are that on the day, she may have beaten me anyway, and I didn't particularly feel like I had deserved the win on the ride I did that day, in any case... But it did raise the question to ponder in my head... Where do you draw the line between "tactics" and "assistance outside the rules". Certainly nothing in the rules said that she couldn't draft or have assistance on the course, so surely that meant that it was ok? My thoughts on it, in the end, were that if you are riding with a bunch of other riders and you happen to get into a drafting situation on your own merit, and pull your own weight, then that is all well and good, but it is probably a bit cheeky to intentionally ride with someone and receive benefit from doing so, even if it is within the rules of that particular race. In addition to that, though, I felt that I hadn't produced a race-winning ride on that day anyway, and so I was in no position to be pondering the point to justify my own result, but moreso as a thought to stimulate debate within my own head... Certainly a good way to pass the time on a long day out.

In contrast to last year's race, the day was a scorcher, the wind had disappeared, and it was thirsty, thirsty work. I lost count early of the number of river crossings we had to negotiate... I had a love/hate relationship with these crossings, each one stripping the lube from my chain, but soaking my tired legs in a refreshing blast of coldness. It was, without a doubt, a stunning day to be out on the bike. The first 60-70km of the race went well. I felt good, and I thought I was eating and drinking well. I had hoped to redeem myself from last year's poorly time, which I had attributed largely to my lack of form on the hard climbs late in the course. I wanted to break the 7 hour barrier, and it looked and felt very realistic up until that last 30km or so. It wasn't my climbing legs that let me down this year, though... It was my inattention to my own well-being on course. To be fair, I thought I had been drinking enough, but in hindsight, it was nowhere near what I should have been consuming. I reached the top of the first large climb and in my desperate quest to rehydrate myself, I made the ghastly mistake of drinking too much water in one hit. I now had heat stroke, and a belly full of fluid that my body had no idea what to do with, and I felt immensely ill. I knew if I was sick, it would be the end of my day, so I backed the pace right off, focusing all my energy on stopping myself from vomiting on the side of the track. I was so angry with myself for making such a novice mistake. I absolutely knew better, and it meant that, once again, I would finish this race unhappy with my time and spend the next year warding off my demons until I had the opportunity to quell them the following year.

The good thing was that I actually climbed really well, albeit a little slow... But much better than last year, which was encouraging given my lack of lead-up preparation to this race, and the fact that last year, I was in the final throes of Cape Epic preparation, which meant, by all accounts, I should have been a weaker rider right now, but it wasn't the case. I still beat my time from the previous year (granted, the conditions were much more favorable than the previous year), but my lack of self-care during the race meant that I would have to return next year to complete my unfinished business with the St James Epic. It was a good lesson, however, that every moment spent on your bike are kilometers "banked" in your legs... Each kilometer you ride is a kilometer stronger that you get... It was nice to think I wasn't back to square one after my trip from last year, despite my lack of solid training.
I must admit that of late, I haven't felt the desire to train hard. It's been five years (maybe even six?) since I raced my first world championships and in that time I have sacrificed a great deal in the pursuit of speed, distance and glory. I've strained relationships, distanced myself from friends, missed out on activities that I used to thoroughly enjoy to spend hours and hours on the bike, clocking up kilometers, in all kinds of weather, and more often than not, on my own. It would be foolish of me to say that I had enjoyed every minute of it... I don't think any rider who trains would say they enjoy it all the time... And if they do they are either invariably lying, or must be certified insane. After returning from South Africa and Europe, there has been a constant void inside me. I hate to admit it, but I think I'm scared... I'm scared that I had such an amazing time overseas that it may be as good as it gets... That I could chase that feeling forever and never find it again... That I could spend the rest of my days as an endurance athlete trying to get one up on my result from last year's world champs and never achieve that... That I might die a slow, graceless death in my beloved sport clutching in vain at something that may be beyond my reach. And then, admittedly, I worry about what people would think of that. It shouldn't matter right? But words cannot express how amazing I feel when someone comes up to me and tells me that I inspire them... I like that people are inspired by what I do... Not because I am vain or because I use it to inflate my ego, but because it means I have done something worthwhile and wonderful that has enriched another person's life... It's a powerful feeling... And maybe... Just maybe... I am frightened that one day, I won't inspire people anymore... That would be a true tragedy for me.

It is true that inspiration often comes disguised in many forms, and it is easy to mistake success for inspiration when, in fact, the two are very separate things. The ability to inspire people stretches far beyond winning races... In essence, inspiration is born in the ability to make things happen and maintain a positive outlook, regardless of the circumstances. If I were to look back on my last five years, I think I could confidently say that was something I have done very well. I'm not saying that winning races and riding bikes is no longer important to me... It definitely is... But it's also important to me to enjoy riding my bike, to invest time in my friendships and relationships, to make a worthwhile contribution to the community, to have a family someday, and to enjoy, without guilt, a world of activities outside riding a bike.

So with that in mind, my training is now interlaced with a mish-mash of casual rides with mates, the occasional shuttle run, some hiking and running, and my venture into the realms as a volunteer for Land Search and Rescue. The funny thing is that I have a strong suspicion that these welcome additions are likely to not only make my life more enjoyable, but will probably have the effect of improving my riding anyway (I'll let you know how I go with that!!!)

The week after The St James Epic, I had the pleasure of hitting up the Motu Trails with Gaz Sullivan. I have had the Motu Trails on my bucket list for a while now and I love riding with Gaz. For an old fella, he keeps me very very honest, and I distinctly remember saying to him "you go easy on me old fella... Don't rip the legs off me today, ok?!" To be fair, I think we make a habit of ripping the legs off each other when we ride together. I am certainly never very ready to admit I am struggling with the pace, and I suspect Gaz is the same, so we suffer together in silence, completely oblivious to the plight of the other. We ventured from the stunning beach at Opape up Motu Road. It's a decent ride up to the beginning of the Pakihi Track. We climbed our way through native bush and farmland along dirt roads, then old roads built directly onto bedrock through massive slips that had since been cleared. It was stunning, and I simply couldn't ask for better company than Gaz. I was entertained by stories of his first descent of Pakihi "way back in the day" and of his younger days racing the track circuit. My status as a part of the mountain biking community pales in comparison to the likes of Gaz. He really is a pioneer in this amazing sport of ours. We arrived at the top of the Pakihi Track to meet Shane and Alice, who had ridden up Pakihi to meet with us (this is probably a much more pleasant experience than the road). After devouring a box of cookies that Alice had in her bag, and a muesli bar or two, we jumped back on our bikes for the thrilling descent down Pakihi Track.
Once you have ridden the Pakihi track it is easy to understand why the mere mention of it brings a broad grin to the face of any rider. I am not exaggerating when I say that this track is 20km of gradual downhill through stunning native forest along tracks barely wide enough to entertain two people walking side-by-side. There are sheer drops down the side of the track that, on a couple of occasions, require mandatory underpants changes. The two main topics of conversation throughout the day were just how amazingly sweet the track was, and the seriousness of the consequences if you happened to f#@$ up a corner coming down this trail. It was certainly in our best interests to ride conservatively, but it didn't make the ride any less fun. With every turn, there was more stunning scenery and it wasn't difficult to see the immense amount of work that had gone into bringing this track up to standard for cyclists... With a total of about 30 bridges built to close the gaps along the trail, DOC deserves a huge high five for the resurrection of this track into a piece of mountain biking heaven.

The ride between the end of Pakihi Track and Opotiki made me want to rip my eyeballs out. 21km of flat, straight sealed road was a bit of an anti-climax to the stunning craft-work we had just experienced. I'm glad that we had started at Opape and that Opotiki wasn't the end of our ride for the day. I imagine I would have felt completely ripped off to have ridden such a fine piece of trail then finish on a flat, boring piece of road. Instead, we finished off with the Dunes Trail, which skirted it's way around the sand dunes between Opotiki and the start of Motu Road, providing stellar views of the track against an ocean backdrop and even a spot of riding along the beach. It was the perfect way to finish the day, but after 100km of riding, both Gaz and I were pretty beat (maybe this is why we don't ride together more often??).
The original plan to head back to Rotorua that same evening was easily dismissed upon Glen and Gaz's suggestion that I hang with them at Opape campground for the night. They loaned me some bits and pieces from their awesomely stupendous caravan and I slept quite comfortably in my van with the sound of the waves crashing on the beach floating in through the open window. Not before an amazing meal, a stunning sunset and the most amazing starry-night display I have seen in a long time. It was food for the soul.
The following weekend, not one to hang out and bum around the house, I decided to make the trip up to Mangawhai Heads to visit my coach of five years, and dear friend, Sadie. I hadn't seen her in such a long time, and it had been nearly two years since I had seen her son, Kasey. I feel kinda like Kasey is my nephew... I have known him since he was only a year old, and it was so cool to see him again and be able to have a conversation with this gorgeous little man who could barely say my name a couple of years ago.
The weekend consisted of a few trips to the beach and a couple of bike rides... The stuff good weekends are made of. On the Sunday, we jumped in Sadie's ambulance (seriously, she has an old decommissioned ambulance) and headed over to a little local race in Kaiwaka named "Top of the Rock", a 30km  race along dirt roads and farm tracks... It was an incredibly well-organised event and despite the seemingly small distance, it was a hard, rough course. The farm tracks were littered with invisible pot holes gouged out by inconsiderate livestock that swallowed your wheel whole if you weren't careful. I was surprised, once I got going, at how strong I felt, and ended up pulling out the win in the female category and third overall in the mens category, too. For my efforts, I won a voucher at the infamous Kaiwaka Cheese Shop, which I promptly redeemed before heading home for the weekend (their cumin cheese is to DIE for!!!).
The following week was a continuous party of biking goodness for the first annual Rotorua Bike Festival... But I think that deserves it's own write-up... Watch this space and keep those wheels turning!!!