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!!!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Secret to Not Growing Old - Live a Life Less Ordinary

I find it amusing how some people seem to dread the thought of aging another year... They would rather curl up in a corner with a bottle of rum and wistfully dream of what could have been of the life that they apparently never had, and it's now too late to make anything of the life that's left.

I am definitely not one of those people...
I certainly don't feel like I am 32 years old... Much less act like it... So it seemed fitting to spend my birthday doing what I love most... Awesome adventures with awesome people. My birthday landed on a Thursday, so I figured it was completely justifiable to take the Thursday and Friday off work for a four day weekend of craziness. Thursday morning began with a 5am wake up to be on the trails for my morning training ride. I figured it was best to get it done and dusted, and it also meant that I could watch my birthday sunrise from my favorite spot in the forest. I invited my friends to enjoy the sunrise with me, and around 7am a couple of hardy souls trudged to the top of the hill to watch the first rays of sun bathe the forest to celebrate 32 years of me having lived on this beautiful planet of ours.
 After a bit more riding (it was a treat to ride in daylight), I set off to the squash courts to get my arse whipped (and a racquet to the nose) before returning home to pack the car and head off to the mountain for the weekend. I was stoked to have my buddy Sarah along for the trip to keep me company and put up with me singing and dancing whilst I was driving. After a fleeting trip by the bach in Kuratau to dump all our gear, we headed to National Park for part one (theory) of our Avalanche Awareness course. It felt a little unusual to be parked up in a primary school classroom, where the walls were plastered with student artwork and our knees hit the underside of the desks, to learn how to avoid being buried alive in the snow (as my eyes wandered around the room, I caught a glimpse of some bizarre sights... I am still trying to figure out what a "wet play monitor" is??!!). We arrived back at the bach to a birthday dinner cooked by the lovely house-hubby Jamie, and a delicious white chocolate mudcake from Sarah... It was a pretty sweet way to spend my birthday. Thanks guys!

Friday saw us up the mountain at a very respectable hour for our practical day of avalanche awareness. After a brief rundown on how to read an avalanche forecast (if you have never visited the site, you should always check it out before going into mountainous back country, we set out into the snow to play with the avalanche transceivers. It's funny how often we carry gear that is designed to be used in emergency situations with the best intentions, but have no idea how to use it...

This is how my first attempt at locating Sarah's buried transceiver played out... After hiding the unit in some snow, Sarah set me loose for my assault on the "avalanche" area... I turned around and switched my transceiver to "receive", a warrior on my way to save the fair maiden from almost certain death underneath the snow... At full pace, I bolted across the slope (in the wrong direction), tripped on a lump of ice and hit my shin as I tumbled to the ground (oooohhh, aaaahhhhh!!!)... Good start... It took me about 10 minutes to find the transceiver... I'm sure it was reassuring for Sarah that by the end of the day, I was able to locate and dig the transceiver out in under 5 minutes (I think I was very very close to being dumped by my climbing partner that morning!!!). Throughout the day we learned some cool skills about how to identify avalanche-prone terrain, precautions to take, and how to locate and dig our mates out of avalanches if they got hosed. For $150, you would be stupid not to do it if you spend any amount of time in the back country in the snow.
  By the time we got back to Kuratau that evening, the weekend proper had begun. Netty had a wicked roast in the oven for us (I was stoked to have people cook for me all weekend!), and we had a sizable biking adventure planned for the next day. The weather wasn't looking too flash, so we had decided to push our little mountaineering mission back to Sunday... I wasn't too bothered about getting wet on the bike, but being up on the mountain in poor conditions would have been miserable (and potentially quite dangerous). Sarah was keen for a bit of a sleep in (I had to ask her to explain what this strange phenomena was seeing as I don't remember the last time I engaged in such an activity), so we set off from the bach to Ongarue about 8am. The plan was to punch out a ride on the Pureora Timber Trail... One that had been on both our bucket lists for a while now. Most people would drive to the end of the trail at Ongarue, then arrange a shuttle to drive them the 55km along the road to the beginning of the track. Sarah and I had decided we would park at the end and just ride to the start.

In all honesty, the ride along the road to Pureora was beautiful, especially the section before we got back onto the highway... Stunning rolling farmland, baby goats, lambs and calves. It was totally worth taking the time to cruise along and take it all in and the weather behaved itself very nicely indeed, despite the poor forecast. By the time we reached the trail head, however, it was 1pm... And we still had 85km of trail left to ride. At the same time it started raining, and as we set off at the beginning of the trail, I was already getting slightly nervous about our timing. It is always advisable that when you set off on any adventure with me that you take lights, warm clothing, and twice as much food as you think you are actually going to need, because chances are that it will take longer than planned, or we will end up "exploring" somewhere and lose track of time... On this occasion, all three of the above were looking to be potentially useful. As we made our way along the track, I became impatient with the turn of weather, and I prayed that as we moved further from Pureora, the weather would fine up once again.

It's not hard to see why the Pureora Timber Trail gets such rave reviews. It's a stunning part of the world, and despite the fact that the trail itself isn't all that technical, the scenery alone is a good excuse to head out into the middle of nowhere and do this trip, and the distance in it's own right will keep even the hardiest of riders honest. The trail began through a section of beautiful native forest, and wound it's way along a carefully groomed trail. By the time we popped out onto the plateau on our way up the edge of Mount Pureora, the rain had disappeared and replaced the grey skies with a brilliant blue backdrop spotted with fluffy white clouds. The view across the plateau was stunning and the sun dried our damp gear and made us feel a little human again before ducking back beneath the forest canopy, where the dull light was captured by a million different shades of green. Brightly coloured moss clung to every tree like someone had carefully wrapped each trunk with carpet from a minigolf putting green.

To look at the trail profile of the Timber Trail, you expect some sizable climbs, but over the distance you cover, the gradient of the climbs is quite mellow and could be punched out at a good pace by a more experienced rider, or cruised through by a rider on a slightly more social mission. The trail has gained a reputation for being a bit of a mud trap after rain, and we certainly came across a bit of this along the way, and it made progress slow and frustrating along some sections of trail. To be fair though, I think over the course of a couple of seasons, the trail will wear in and the muddy sections will sort themselves out.

As we picked our way along the trail, I was quite enjoying our cruise through the forest, but I couldn't get the nagging out of the back of my head that we were running out of daylight. I didn't want to wait until it was dark to discuss our plan of attack, because it was obvious that we weren't going to get back to the car before nightfall. I had no problem with moving consistently and punching out a sloid ride, but I knew that Sarah's style was a bit more of the "cruise along and stop and smell the roses", which I had no problem with, but it wasn't going to get us home that evening and I felt bad about that. Sarah's mood was deteriorating by the minute, and I was so, so keen on completing the whole trail, so I figured that the sooner we committed to a plan, the more likely it was that the plan would involve riding into the night and finishing off the whole trail (I know, I know, very cheeky of me!). We discussed a range of options... At the time, the trail was muddy and slow and quite hard work. We discussed riding to Piropiro, then popping out on the road for the rest of the ride back (which, realistically, was about the same distance as riding the trail anyway). We discussed whether maybe I could ride ahead and pick up the car, then drive back and pick up Sarah at Piropiro, and we discussed stopping at BlackFern lodge to see if there was someone who could drive us back to the car. We decided to continue on to Piropiro and make a more definitive call then.

I was glad we had discussed the topic, because it meant that both of us understood that we would have to make a call before dark. We both had lights and enough gear and food to get by on, so we could continue along the trail and enjoy the scenery for the time being. The massive swing bridges that presented themselves along the way were a spectacular sight in their own right. It is a genuine credit to DOC the work that has been done on this trail and the obvious thought that has gone into developing structures that fit in with the natural environment. As we rode across the bridges, they bobbed gently from side to side, swaying lazily, suspended hundreds of metres above the rivers gushing across the valley floor below. It was a pretty cool feeling, like riding on air across a giant ravine.
As we neared the Piropiro turnoff, we crossed a small bridge which then led into a tight right hand turn and a short climb. I got half way up the climb and realised Sarah wasn't there, which was really weird considering she had been right on my wheel only seconds before. I stopped and waited... Then called out to her... Then waited... Then decided I probably should go back and find out what had happened to her... My companion was lying on the ground, still clipped into her bike after washing out on the soft corner just after the bridge. I gave her two options... I can ride out and get an ambulance to come and pick her up, or she could take a concrete pill and get up and ride out herself... Needless to say, she chose the latter option (I'm such a sympathetic soul, aren't I??).
The Piropiro turnoff arrived not long after. By this stage, the afternoon sun was keeping us warm and in high spirits and we decided to continue on, safe in the knowledge that we had our lights for when it got dark. The camping area at Piropiro bordered a clear, sparkling creek, and we discussed how lovely it would be to do the trail over a couple of days with friends, self-supported, and stay at the campground here. The trail conditions had improved. The mud had all but disappeared and the riding was much faster. As we continued to pedal into the late afternoon , the evening surrounded us gradually and gently, draping the landscape with a shadowy calm.
As night descended upon us, we stopped and put our lights on. I remember Sarah saying something about how it was a shame that we couldn't see the scenery, and I suppose it was to a certain extent, but it was such a unique experience to be out on a ride like this in the dark. The evening was beautiful and clear. A million stars blanketed the sky and the moon was so bright that when we were in the open, we could switch off our lights and have it guide us along the trail. It was absolutely magic... Sometimes the best adventures are those that are unplanned.
It had come to my attention as we had made our way along the trail from the start, that there were markers every kilometer... I suppose they put them there so people could get excited as they made their way along the trail, but truth be told, they taunted us... From the moment it got dark, we still had 30km to go, and me being my usual crazy self, decided that it was time to put these superfluous markers to more suitable use. I rode up alongside Sarah and said to her "so, we're going to play a game... And this is how it goes... Every time we ride past a kilometer marker, we need to take it in turns to make a different animal noise". Sarah groaned and said "how did I know you were going to say that?!"... I suppose that's what happens when you hang out with nutters like me... You begin to think like one, too (this is possible also how we came up with the idea of doing a 140km mountain bike ride in the first place).
You would be amazed at how difficult it is to come up with 35 different animal noises, but we managed, even if it meant grasping at straws to attempt to differentiate the sound a tiger made from the sound a lion made. The game certainly passed the time away quite quickly, along with my appalling renditions of "Bicycle Race" by Queen. By the time we got down to the last 5km though, I must admit I was beginning to get over it. The only saving grace was the fact that we rode past a paddock full of deer, giving me an excuse to start reciting "Doe, a Deer" from the Sound of Music, much to Sarah's disgust. We arrived back at the car at 8pm, high-fived each other and jumped straight into the car to crank up the heater. I'd love to go back again and do the ride in full daylight over the Summer.
As we drove back to the bach, Sarah wasn't in the best shape. I daresay it was a combination of the big day out, possibly not eating enough, and probably the cold after night had set in. I did my best to look after her well... I didn't want to miss out on our adventure up the mountain the next day, and I knew she would be disappointed if she missed it, too. In stark contrast to our gourmet meals from the previous two evenings, we whipped up some bacon and eggs for dinner, prepped our food and gear for the following day and collapsed into bed shortly after 11.30pm.


We rose at 4.30am the next morning (that's more like the time I am used to!) and threw all our gear in the car to head to the mountain. We have learned over this season, that having everything ready to go before we get to the carpark is the best plan of attack... Gaiters on, boots on and lights out ready to go so instead of standing in the freezing cold, we can just chuck our packs on and get moving. The plan for the day was to do the Tongariro Crossing. To be honest, it seemed a little tame compared to some of the trips we had done on the mountain of late, but I hadn't done a Winter trip over the crossing before, so it had to be done. We set off from the carpark about 5.30am. We didn't want to end up mixed in with the tour groups as they came through later in the morning, and, as per usual, we wanted to see the sun rise over this beautiful day.

It surprised us how early dawn was upon us, and as we climbed along the trail, I was already stripping off layers. We could see a layer of cloud hanging lazily over the summit of Mount Tongariro and were hoping it would burn off before we reached the summit. As the sun rose over the other side of the ridge, it projected a brilliant pink glow across to the west, where we could see the full outline of Mount Taranaki sticking out right in front of us... Usually, we would see her summit poking out of the clouds, but today, we could see straight across the plateau to the foot of Taranaki right up to the summit. It was absolutely breathtaking and possibly something we may not see again for some time. I kept stopping to look at it, like I couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing. It was hard to look away from such a beautiful sight.

The previous day had brought snow to the mountain, and as we ascended to the snow line, we found ourselves tramping through fresh, knee-deep snow that was soft like baby powder. We were the first ones to walk through it and it felt absolutely divine. In fact, we didn't use our crampons the whole crossing because the snow was so soft for us to walk straight through in our boots (in a way, a little bit disappointing, because we do like getting our toys out to play with!). As we made our way through the snow up onto the plateau, the large cloud we had seen hovering over the mountain early in the morning loomed in front of us. Unfortunately, it hadn't burned off by the time we got there. After a brief stop for bacon and egg sandwiches (delicious!!!), we moved forward across the crater and allowed the cloud to engulf us. The visibility was quite poor, and it felt still, eerie, and a little bit creepy. Spectacular rime formations covered the rocks and the snow stayed soft and powdery. It would have been lovely to have some views, but being immersed in that cloud was a completely different experience in it's own right.


Our mate Jamie had been traipsing around the Tongariro National Park fro a couple of days now, and we had received a text from him the previous evening tentatively arranging a rendezvous with us on our way along the crossing (he was coming over from the other side). We had been wondering if he had decided not to come over the crossing with the thick cloud when we saw this massive Yeti-like figure descending the ridge towards us... It was Jamie and a couple of new friends he had picked up in his travels. After some pleasantries and a couple of photos, we all continued on our ways. When Sarah and I arrived at the turnoff to the summit of Tongariro, we sat down and had a discussion, then made some yellow snow, then had more discussions, then decided that seeing as we were clouded in and couldn't see the views anyway, that we would leave the summit side-trip for another day... Bummer!

So we cruised along in the fog, pole-dancing on the trail markers, making snowballs and anything else that we found mildly amusing. We found the Emerald Lakes, but they were snowed over. We were a bit disappointed to not have any visibility to enjoy this stunning environment in it's full Winter glory. As we made our way across the mountain and onto the descent down the other size, the sun was trying really hard to punch through the cloud... This massive ball of bright light hanging in the fog above us. Then as we began descending the other side of the crossing, the cloud began to disperse. It flicked across the sky, at first revealing only flashes of stunning views across the lakes, then as we descended slightly lower, the sun burst through the greyness, and the full view danced across the horizon, like we had turned the page in a picture book. Right in front of us was a stunning array of lakes, bordered by the trails that would their way down the edge of the mountain. To the right of us, we could see Te Maari craters billowing out steam. It surprised us how much smoke was still coming out of the crater after last year's eruption. It was a beautiful, but slightly unsettling reminder of how powerful the mountain really is.


We stopped off on our way down at the hut and had a bite to eat and lay down for a while to soak up the rays of the Winter sun. It was an absolutely delightful way to spend the afternoon… Views, great company, cute little birds hanging around and a stunning mountain with some trails still winding down to the bottom of the mountain below us. To be honest, it would have been amazing to just finish the day there, but Monday morning in a more ordinary life was calling, so we packed up and continued down the trail, meeting our buddy Netty along the way, who had kindly volunteered to pick us up at the other end.

No sooner had we clambered into the car then the clouds rolled in and the heavens opened… Perfect timing! We picked up my car from where we had started that morning, then headed to Tokaanu for a soak in the hot pools before making our way back home.


You know, it surprises me just how many people say to me “wow, I don’t know how you fit it all in” or “I wish I could do that”… It perplexes me… Anyone can do it, and anyone can fit it in if they want to make it happen. I love living a life less ordinary… And after 32 years, I think I am only just beginning to realise how special that is.