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!

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