Friday, September 27, 2013

Pace and a rolled tub at the NSW State Champs

Sid leads the bunch - Photo Dave
The Manly Bike life festival at Sydney’s iconic beach of the same name was well attended by alternative lifestylers, with notable appearances from bakfiet riders, a bike powered juice machine, unicyclists and even the odd recumbent tandem.

Start line staunchness - Photo Dave
For the freaks of a different type the main event was the New South Wales State Championship, and lining up on the front row of the starting grid in my Gates Carbon Drive kit I was ready to bring some single-speed noise to the stacked geared field. Cross wise it has been a pretty consistent if unspectacular season , with a high of a 4th place at one of the Sydney championships and a 20th starting from dead last in a tough 60 strong Elite field for the National series rounds, both at Terrey Hills.

Ollie looks the wrong way - Dave
My form coming into the state champs was largely unknown. A month ago I had an amazing week of enduro racing in France at the Trans-Savoie, then a 760km bikepacking suffer fest at the Big Hurt in Newcastle, followed by a week of hotel bound spin-biking whilst in Papua New Guinea on work.
Chaos - Photo Phillip Gray
Turns out the spin bike did wonders and I darted off the line to slot into 3rd place just behind professional XC weapon and ex-olympian Sid Taberlay. For this first stretch of the race I had the strangest sensation of floating, with none of the suffering I normally associated with cross. Oddly I was going proper fast, as fast as I ever have in a CX race, and no amount of energy sapping sand runs nor momentum crushing off off-camber/uphill corners could rain on Sunday afternoon.

Ollie leads the sandy run - Photo Dave
Such was my feeling of pace that I had the audacity to attack our lead trio coming through the start finish line. Every lap I had seen the two in front sit up, and punching along the straight I pushed a gap of 50 metres, much to the support of the vocal crowd who, like me,  were sick of watching an off road bunch ride. Holding the lead on the run and through the twisty flat back of the course through the trees, it was one of these final corners which would prove my downfall . I pushed my front wheel too hard and rolled off my tubular tire, leaving me floundering in a cloud of very un-belgian dust. Damn.

Antics (and facials) like this cost Ollie the lead - Photo David Rome

Photo evidence of the 'gap' - Photo Dave
A quick analysis revealed the tire was well untruly unstuck, as was my race, and with nothing left to do I shouldered the bike and ran as smoothly as one can in Sidi Dragons to the pits for a lightning wheel change. Back rolling, the ethereal feeling of earlier had gone, whether through the effect of the run or more likely the psychological deflation of doing so well only to let it all slip away.
Barrier of doom - Photo Phillip Gray
To be perfectly frank I’m not all that gutted about what happened and am simply stoked to have a glimpse of the good form that seems to have evaded me since I took up long distance riding in earnest. Through a combination of holidays, the French alps and labored exertion in the prison like confines of the Crowne Plaza, I stung together an solid if incomplete performance.  Not being one to waste a good opportunity, I’ve signed up for the WEMBO 24 hour Worlds in Canberra. After last year’s Scott 24 I vowed to return with a proper (Rohloff and belt drive equipped) bike and give the elite category a nudge. Heidi and a friend Venetia are on board for support, and with a bit of luck I’ll be able to stay awake and eat enough to keep me going for the full 24 hours.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The indignity of riding indoors

Shredding the Savoie- Photo Dave Martin

Of late I have been very fortunate to ride in some amazing places. Only a month ago I was in France shredding endless lift accessed descents on my trail bike. After a week in Morzine I got my enduro on at the Trans-Savoie which were both a great introduction to the alps. Life without 4000m of descent a day was always going to be a tough transition, so to fill the gap Heidi and I went slightly north to Newcastle for the HuRT, a tough course which pushed the boundaries of fun. It rewarded perseverance with some of the ‘best trails ever’ and memories of the endless hike-a-bike have already begun to fade.

AK & Ollie at the start of the HuRT- Photo Brad Mertens
In the context of these recent adventures I can’t expect much sympathy for my current predicament. You see for the last week I’ve been trapped in the confines of Port Moresby’s Crowne Plaza Hotel. The only chance I get to escape the musty air-conditioned atmosphere is on the dash between lobby and car, or car and office.  I’m forced to breathe recycled air mixed with people’s flatulence, and this has the combined effect of crushing my spirit.

One redeeming feature of the Crowne is its gym which features amongst other well used equipment, treadmills, stationary bikes and a rowing machine. While I’m the first to scoff at people who flock to gyms for spin class despite glorious outdoor sun, I’ve been forced to reconsider my position in light of the strict constraints that PNG poses.

First amongst these is the security situation. While often blown out of proportion by news media and security briefings, the fact remains that Port Moresby has one of the highest crime rates in the world. While I place a high value on fresh air, it isn’t worth getting shanked over! We can’t safely walk the streets, hence the need for a car escort wherever we go. Time constraints are also a factor, with the long days of a World Bank mission schedule I’m forced to squeeze any Ollie time into the early morning hours.

With an outlook like this, I decided that rather than an easy session on the treadmill and bike, I might as well make the most of the situation and incorporate some suffering, the type that you can only get from stationary machines in poorly ventilated gyms. My regime was to start with a run, putting in some 1 and 2 minute intervals down whilst trying not to drown in my own perspiration. I’d then move to the bike, where a set of 1 minutes efforts reduced me to a dizzy and drenched wreck.

Scary post workout selfie
I’d finish exhausted but slightly elated. The sessions have been a good reminder how much of the enjoyment from exercise comes from the sheer exertion.

Technogym's finest indoor model
The so called stationary bikes bear little resemblance to the beautiful machines they are supposed to model. The features of the Technogym include a saddle large enough to seat a hippopotamus (or the target American demographic fatty). This forced a forward pedaling stance which was far from comfortable. Handlebar rise of almost a foot required a posture normally reserved for the most upright of adjustable stem equipped hybrid bikes. The heartrate monitor couldn’t decide whether I was flat lining or at maxing out, so I largely ignored it and the occasional warning about unsafe HR. Finally, lag on the resistance that meant I could pedal for 10 seconds before I felt any change.

There were however a few redeeming features, namely a serious range of resistance which my puny legs didn’t dare push beyond level 18 of 25, with a sensation similar to riding through treacle resistance enough. Perhaps the best feature (especially in light of the rubbish heart rate measurement) was a power readout, and this allowed me to repeat my intervals with precision (although probably not accuracy). I’ve always wanted to train with a power meter and while the bike itself was far from a dream, it was nice to have.

Filter added to simulate dizziness. Note 'awesome' features.
So this is how I maintained my sanity for my week working in PNG. Safe to say I’m looking forward to returning home where the security situation means I can hit the streets without fear of shanking. Makes me feel pretty lucky, and that is even before I think about the awesome roads and trails around Sydney.
Wonder if I could take it back to Sydney?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hurt Hunter Trail Race

After reading other blog posts about the Hurt Hunter Trail Race I became inspired to write something of my own experience.  Ollie has dropped the ball with his blogging at the moment, so I’m having a go.  Thanks to Ross and Brad for the photos stolen from Facebook, hope you don't mind.    

On the Thursday night previous to the Hurt, at 10pm, after I had come home from a day of turmoil at work, Ollie and I are sitting in bed discussing our lives at present.  “I’m just not sure I can do the Hurt, life in general is just a bit hectic and stressful right now” were my words.  “Me too” Ollie replied.  He had just returned from racing the Trans Savoie (still no blog on that one yet) and hadn’t even been back at work a full week yet.  But the following night we were both sitting on the train to Newcastle, bikes and associated gear at hand.  I’m not sure how or when or why we came to the conclusion to go ahead with our plans, but we did, and there we were. 

Ollie hopped off the train at Woy Woy to stay with Chad and a bunch of hooligans down there while I continued on to Adamstown.  There was a plush inflatable bed waiting for me at Ross and Suses’ house.  I was so tired that night, when I lay on the bed it felt like I was sleeping on clouds.  The next morning Ross customized some settings on my GPS which I’m told would be better for moral, like not showing current speed on the main screen.  He also MacGyver’ed up a leash for my GPS, which at the time I thought was overkill, but later learned that it wasn’t.  Thanks Ross.

My little bike all loaded up.
We went down to the train station and met Joel Nicholson, the only other competitor in the small Hurt.  Ollie and AK were participating in a larger event, the Big Hurt which started in Woy Woy.  Ross sent us off and we biked along a smooth bike path out of town.  Not very far into the ride Joel experienced some issues with his brakes and I later learnt also broke his chain.  I expected he wouldn’t be long fixing it up and I would see him further down the track.  But no such luck.  Reflecting on my experience I think there are two things that would have seriously challenged my attempt at completing the Hurt, mechanical issues and rain.  There is no doubt in my mind that had either of these two things happened upon me I would have thrown a tantrum and called it quits.

I am ready to go!
The first thing on my agenda for the day was getting to a shop where I could buy bakery treats.  I achieved this about two hours into the ride.  I’m not entirely sure where this was, maybe Speers Point.  After that I was pretty happy knowing that I would have enough food to last me a good while.  The whole first day just feels like a big blur.  There were lots of sections I couldn’t ride, had to push and got a little lost on several occasions.  As it was getting dark I started to feel like I was a bit behind schedule.  Not that I knew what the schedule should be.  I arrived in Cessnock at around 8pm.  I was happy to see civilisation, feeling very tired and a bit sore.  My legs felt fine, my back and arms were what hurt.  I had scratches from bushes on my arms that made me look like I was someone with serious self harm issues.  

The HuRT kind of is a form of self harm.
I found a Chinese Takeaway, went in and ordered and when I came back there was a very bearded man waiting with my bike, Brad!  It was great having a chat and hearing how the others were going.  He had seen Ollie earlier in the day and said he was super stoked on the ride.  He also suggested that from here I ride up the hill out of Cessnock and camp a little past the lookout, warning me that the climb was pretty tough.  I imagined the worst possible trail I could just to prepare myself but was pleasantly surprised to find it was a gravel road all the way to the lookout, and then a nice trail from there.  This was the only pleasant surprise in regards to trails and expectations.  I was so tired I stopped riding at only 9.30pm and set up camp, waking at 5.30 the next morning.  So I had a huge sleep but still didn’t feel that perky the next morning.  Thankfully the Paxton shop opens at 6am even on Sundays.  I got a slightly warmed pie and a coffee and made my way towards the start of the Great North Walk which would take me up into the Watagans. 

Chinese takeaway at Cessnock.
In the description on the Hurt website it mentions ‘man handling your bike up some fairly rocky out crops’ in relation to the climb after Freemans Waterhole.  It doesn’t say anything about these kinds of manoeuvres for the climb up into the Watagans after Paxton.  When scrambling up the side of the mountain this occurred to me and I wondered if these ones aren’t worth mentioning, what must the next ones be like?  Eventually, after a lot of pushing, pulling and grunting I made it to the top and was greeted by lovely views and nice fire road trail. 

I did have one very confusing navigational problem which sent me trudging through the bush and wandering around in circles probably wasting about an hour’s worth of time.  Morale was pretty low at this point.  What kept me going was the fact I wasn’t in a very easy to be rescued position, I had to keep going until I was near civilisation for someone to come pick me up.  Further down the road were trails that I had ridden earlier with Ross and a bunch of keen mountain bikers.  Once the trails started looking familiar I started to make better progress.  I managed to get myself to Cooranbong where I had a big sit down and ate lots of food.  While I was sitting in the shade a man jumped out of his car down the road and gave me a big thumps up, told me I was doing great and to keep going. 

So with that encouragement I decided to push through to Freemans Waterhole and then see how far I could get after that.  This was the turning point for me, where I committed to getting it down as soon as possible.  I also found Coke-a -Cola.  I drank a can at Cooranbong.  I felt so good and road the section between Cooranbong and Freemans Waterhole really well.  I couldn’t quite figure out why I felt so good until finally it dawned on me... the coke.  It had such a huge impact on my riding, I wonder if it should be added to the band substances list. (NOT!)   

Once at Freemans Waterhole I decided to use the public toilets to try and clean up a bit.  I washed my face and arms so that I was almost presentable enough to go into the store.  I still got some funny looks when ordering my subway sandwich.  I sat in a dazed state eating and thinking about what I had to do next.  I had a feeling that the next section might be the hardest to come yet, but dared to hope that it would be like the climb out of Cessnock up to the lookout, smooth gravel road.  Those hopes were crushed less than five minutes out of Freemans.  I recall standing at the foot of a ‘rocky outcrop’ wondering how in the world I was going to get myself AND my bike up there?!?!  I’m not sure how, but I did.  I think darkness was an advantage at this point because if I could see how far there was to fall I probably would have freaked out.  I kept going at record snail pace. The motivation now was to get as much of this hard stuff done so that in the morning it would be behind me.  Finally I found myself riding downhill rather than pushing up hill so I just kept going. At 11.30pm I realised that I was pretty close to the finish, about 30ks to go.  I did some quick guesstimations and figured that at the pace I was going if I pushed through it would mean I’d finish around 2 or 3am.  Not ideal.  So I put up camp to finish it off in the morning. 

When I pulled into the finish at the surf club I wasn’t sure that it was truly the end.  It didn’t feel definite enough.  I wanted to phone Ross and ask, but my phone was dead.  I asked a passerby if there was a pay phone close, and he offered his mobile phone for me to use.  Ross confirmed that I was at the finish, congratulated me and informed me that Brad was on his way to pick me up.  How lucky am I?  So spoilt.  Brad and I sat at the beach for a little while and chatted about the event, then he drove me to Ross and Suses’ place where I had a shower and Suse made me coffee and toast, yum.  She even dropped me off at the train station. 
I made it!
Man it felt good to get home and sleep in my bed.  Mean while Ollie was still riding the big hurt.  To put things into perspective, I rode 325kms in 2 day, 2 hours and 15 minutes.  Ollie rode more than twice that distance and only took a day longer.   
The Hurt was really hard.  It was probably the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever attempted.  Parts of it were heaps of fun.  The overall experience has given me confidence in my ability to ride hard stuff, to ride for a long time and to be brave at night camping on my own.  Go me. J 

I was surprised by how many people were watching me, people I don’t even know.  I am really grateful to Ross, Suse and Brad for giving me a place to sleep, picking me up and generally being super supportive.