Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Anthem is a good thing

As I write this I’m struggling to stay awake and my legs are aching in quite a pleasing fashion. Tonight was a more extensive test of the lovely Anthem. Up Rapaki with Michelle and she evilly put the pressure on and I couldn’t help but chase her. This in itself is an unusual occurrence, not Michelle being speedy, but me even trying to keep up at all. However tonight I felt like I could push more, and chase her. I couldn’t catch her, but she didn’t get away either. Well, up the first climb. Unfortunately I’d slightly toasted my legs doing this and on the second, steeper climb I was pretty slow. But my very cunning ploy of lulling Michelle into a false sense of security by pootling up the hill while she raced ahead worked perfectly, as not only did she kindly come back to ride with me, I was then able to sneakily change up a gear and put in a sprint to the finish gate and take the win! I’m such a good friend! Well, I’m a devious wench, but hey, I’ve never ever had the energy for that sort of carry on at the top of Rapaki before. The Anthem really climbs amazingly.

After a brief and chilly respite at the top to take in the sunset we headed up the road and round to the Traverse. Michelle got rewengay (revenge for those not familiar with classic British comedy) on me up the road, by really making me push harder than I wanted too and in no time we when at the Traverse. I was feeling nervous about this. Only my second ride on the Traverse since I’ve returned to riding and on a new bike with strange new geometry; this was going to be interesting. I decided there was nothing for it but dive right in and I was immediately rewarded. Not only is the Anthem a rocket up the hills, it is a laser guided missile on the singletrack (compared to the XLT that I’m used to anyway). I couldn’t believe how incredibly responsive the handling was. While having less suspension made it less forgiving over the rocks, its nimbleness meant I could ride cleaner lines and move about the track like I was hovering. I was blow away by how good it was and by the end of the Traverse I was riding faster than I’ve ever gone before on that track. Oh yes, this bike is fantastic.

Unfortunately all good things come to an end and I soon discovered that there are some drawbacks to all this climbing goodness and defined handling. It doesn’t like the downhills. This is exacerbated by the seat clamp not being a quick release so I didn’t drop my seat before we headed into Sesame St. Dropping down the steep rocky entrance off the cattlestop I could feel things were very sketchy. The back end was twitchy as and seemed to want to float off the ground with the slightest bump. Even through the sweet bermed corners it felt out of its depth, well I felt out of my depth, and by the bottom I wasn’t really grinning, just glad I’d made it down in one piece. Of course, this is the first time I’ve tried to ride it down anything vaguely technical so it’s to be expected that I haven’t wrapped my head around the very different handling. I will get the hang of it, but I do know it will never be the same fun going down as the XLT.

So, to sum up, this is a XC machine and behaves like one. It makes climbing something I want to do more of, rather than a means to an end. It handles like a dream on the singletrack and inspires confidence. It sticks to the track well and makes me want to go faster and faster. It descends like an XC bike, slightly skittery and a bit scary for me, but I know as I get used to it this will lessen. This bike is fantastic and if you’re looking for a well priced race bike I think it’s fantastic. I still prefer my bigger bike for silly, jumpy, downhilly stuff, but right now all I can think is bring on race season. I want to test this beautiful Anthem and my new found legs.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

When it's good it's very very good!

Ahhh, what a wonderful week of riding it has been here in sunny, yes that's right sunny, Christchurch. And it seems the addition of the beautiful new stead to the stable has fired my enthusiasm significantly. I'm into training mode now and am planning upcoming events, all working towards the goal of taking an hour off my Molesworth time from last year. It seems like a big ask, but I've learnt a lot of lessons and I think I know how to prepare better and how to ride on the day to minimise the necessity for stops.

This past week I've managed 3 roadie rides, one of which is the longest I've ever done on the roadie and it felt good and another of which was great fun with Michelle. I've never really roadied with anyone before and I can now see the attraction of cranking out the k's, all the while gas bagging and laughing. Fun. I also managed to head out on the new bike for a lunchtime ride up Rapaki. Rapaki has been completely resurfaced and is now riding quite a lot like a road. It certainly was on the day I went up as I had to contend with 3 huge Fulton Hogan trucks, a big roller and a digger. Even with the comical in ditch dismounts to let the trucks by I managed to hoof it up the hill in 33 minutes. Oh yes, that is fast for me. And shockingly, it makes me want to climb more. Yes, I've turned that corner in my riding where I actually want to ride up hills. What's happening to me?!
The new stead in it's element, at the top of a hill after a fast climb.

The highlight of the week has to be Flying Nunn. I finished work early on Thursday and managed to convince my lovely husband to do the same and we loaded up the trusty Starlet and headed up the hill for a couple of runs of the Nunn before it got dark. Oh, it was running so sweet on Thursday. Dry, but not dusty and flowing like warm maple syrup over fresh blueberry pancakes (I hope everyone's had a satisfying breakfast this morning). I was feeling determined to ride the whole thing without having to walk. Something I've yet to achieve. I had excellent flow and none of the nerves I felt last time I was here. Everything was going brilliantly and I was riding faster and better than ever before on this track. I nailed the first part I've never ridden and then attacked the nasty rocky corner that psychs me out every time. Bugger. wrong line, oops, falling fast. OW! Knee straight into big rock. Of course if I'd been wearing my trusty knee pads I would have been completely unscathed, but I wasn't. Fool.

Don't worry Mum, this graze isn't as bad as it looks, really!

After limping for a while and then walking it off I was riding again. Pretty tentatively at first, but by the time I got back to the car I wanted to go again. But the blood flowing down my leg and filling up my sock made my caring husband suggest that I shouldn't be pushing my luck. I so wanted to go again, but it wasn't to be. It turns out he was probably right as I managed to give myself a nasty pumpkin soup burn later in the evening so it seems mupperty was my lot for that night.
Sunday dawned sunny, the tracks on the Port Hills were open and a group of 5 chicks and 2 brave men were ready for Nunn repeats. I was interested to see how my legs would go after the 50km roadie of the previous day. Last year a 45km roadie took me about the same amount of time as the 50km ride, but I was broken for a least a whole day afterwards. My legs still felt good on Sunday and although the heavy bike was heavy, not as heavy as Rita's crazy cool downhill bike, I went up the hill pretty well. We did three runs and not once did I manage to get that troublesome corner. Seems some corner sessioning is in order. The rest of the track was brilliant and I got to experience some sideways action for the first time in the last berm as it was a bit wet.
Don't worry Mum, this rock garden isn't as bad as it looks, really!

For your extra entertainment I’ve included this unflattering video (unflattering for me) of what happens when you get a bunch of chicks together for some excellent riding, roadie heckling! Remember kids, white lycra is never right, especially if it’s a bit old.

It was the best week of riding I've had since my broken elbow and I just want more and more and more. I can't wait to get out on the bike tomorrow. What to do? What to do?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Surprise Present

Sometimes things happen that really make me think the concept of karma isn’t entirely flawed. One of those things happened to me this week when I received an email from my beloved husband entitled Mountain Bike for Sale. I was intrigued by this as we had agreed there would be no new bikes for me for quite a long time, well at least the next couple of years, unless I actually got off my butt and trained for something truly Epic. I’m not training for something truly Epic as I want to have the freedom to ride different stuff if the mood takes me, rather than long endurance rides come hell or high water. So what could possibly be in this email? A new singlespeed for my husband, perhaps? No, a woman’s cross-country bike. A bike made for racing. A 2007 Giant Anthem. As I read the list of parts on the bike I became at once both excited and apprehensive. Surely this quality of bike would be well beyond my means. And then I saw the price and immediately picked up the phone to make sure my husband wasn’t teasing me. It was a bargain.

Emails were sent, times were arranged and on Saturday I picked it up to take it for a few test rides. Simply riding it on around the lawn I knew I wanted it. By the time we got it home and I took it for a very very fast blast up Kennedy’s Bush Rd I was thinking of it as mine. It is light and fast, with lock outs on the front and rear shocks and a lot less suspension than my lovely Jamis. It goes up hills so well. I was grinning madly when I got home and looking forward to a proper ride up Kennedy’s in the mud.

The next day was sunny and again I got over excited on the road and zoomed up faster than ever before, too fast in fact because I was a bit pooped by the time we reached the dirt. Lifting the bike over the gate was so easy. Not the difficult and comedic struggle I’m used at all. Kennedy’s was very wet still and traction wasn’t great, but the bike felt good and was nimble so even we I started to spin out in the mud I could quickly change my line and find some grip. I almost enjoyed riding this bike up hill, but I was a bit nervous about heading down the wet slippery singletrack with less travel and unforgiving tyres. It went well enough and I was just starting to get the hang of the different geometry when a terrible stick-through-rear-derailleur-tragedy occurred up ahead and Michelle’s hanger broke. Thank goodness for soft breakable hangers. The derailleur seemed fine and was safely stowed in a backpack for the coast back down the hill.

The Anthem felt weird to me going down hill. I’m used to the squishy speedy descents the Jamis provides so I was pretty tentative on the Anthem. It was all good though and the Juicey 5 brakes were great, with good modulation and control. They were singing me an unpleasant song by the bottom so it might be time for new pads. It was a great ride, with the exception of the stick incident, and when I got home I transferred the money straight into the sellers account. So now I have 4 bikes, which does seem like a lot, but I love them all differently and can’t wait for race season to arrive. I can’t thank my lovely husband enough for this gift, it really has lifted my spirits immensely and given me more drive to race after this bleak, depressing winter.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Know thy enemy!

Last year, in a burst of keenness and 1 day after competing in the Wee McGregor race in Tekapo, I decided I wanted to ride the Godley Head track for the first time. I was feeling confident after a great race and had talked to a few people about it and thought it was within my abilities at the time. OH Ho ho! How wrong I was.

My main problem was that 1 day after doing my first even 40km race I should have been either lying on the couch or at the most sifting round Bottlelake, not taking on a new track that I didn’t know at all. I foolishly had in my head that because the track was at the top of Evan’s Pass it wouldn’t have any climbing and even though my hubby tried to warn me I was determined. Imagine my shock and horror when confronted with the first switchback up the hill and the realisation that I really needed to recover, not hammer my feeble legs up steep pinches.

It was bad. Very very bad. The sensible thing to do once I realised I didn’t have the strength required for the track would have been to just stop and go home, but I am pigheaded (shocking I know!) and forced myself onwards. Then I found myself confronted with what seemed a vertical wall of rock. Ha! No one could ride up that, except of course my hubby just had. I got off and dragged my bike up. And from that point on I was off my bike pushing more than I was on it. Sure I was tired from the race, but psychologically the rocks and pinches really got me that day and when the track levelled out I was in such a bad head-space I couldn’t enjoy the flowing singletrack and fun structures you’re rewarded with after the rocky gauntlet. In fact I couldn’t ride at all. I would have to say it was my lowest riding point to date and as I waited for my hubby to bring the car round to pick me up I truly hated riding for the only time since the bug bit me.

Why am I telling you this shameful story? Well it turns out winter is a great time to get to know this track. It’s closed at the moment so no one should be riding it and that means I can walk it without fear of annoying any riders. And that’s just what we did on Saturday in the glorious sun. I want to ride this track and conquer my fear, but I want to go into it with my eyes open this time, not with vision distorted by fear. The first switchback was as I remembered it, and I was surprised that the first big rocky climb looked as steep and impossible as my first visit.

This photo really doesn't do justice to the steepness of this horrible bit!

But further on, through the rocks, I began to see the lines I could ride. Yes there are quite a few places I will probably have to walk in this rocky uphill, but there are lots of bits that are within my skills, and hopefully by the time the tracks dry out, within my strength. If you love riding rocky stuff, this is definitely the track for you, especially if you are one of those masochistic types that love climbing.

Once the track levelled out hubby and I amused ourselves by making channels out of some of the big puddles on the track and watching them drain in the sun. We really didn’t have the right tools for the job, but we’ll remember to take something more appropriate than a walking stick next time. The further I walked along the track, the more I wanted to ride it and when we got to the first structure I really wanted my bike. In fact by the time we got to the second and third structures I was aching to ride and having walked the Anaconda the previous weekend (sweet bermed heaven) I knew the reward for those initial moments of pain and anguish would be worth it.

As we walked back along the track to car in the fading sun we were both satisfied to see a number of the puddles we’d drain were drying nicely. We were less impressed to met 4 bikers who were obviously blind or believed that Track Closed signs didn’t apply to them. Grrrrr. For me, this winter walking wet tracks is great. We can earn some trail karma by helping the tracks to drain and I get to form an idea of the actual riding required, rather than going in blind and blowing up. Bring on more sun next weekend, and then bring on the drying weather.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

More needles please sir, and a side of laughter.

This winter has become a real dog, a rabid dog, in fact, which has latched onto me and has given me a right proper chewing in the neck regions. This has left me suffering in both mind and body. Regular readers - the hardy few - will have noticed that there has been a long period of inactivity on this blog. I put it down to the metaphorical lock-jaw this cold and dark winter has gifted me and the creative centres of my brain. I've had a good few weeks of uber colds and generally feeling like a rather neglected and overused dish rag. Fortunately the recent sunny days have been a balm to this affliction and I've been dragging myself out on my road bike for sunny lunchtime rides. Mmmmmm vitamin D, so wonderful and nourishing.

None of these rides would have been nearly as enjoyable as they were without the wonderful skills of my divine osteopath. My gammy elbow is not well suited for the roadie, especially in the cold, and this has been keeping me off the bike till earlier this week. In the meantime my lovely osteo has been filling my arm and scar tissue with needles and they have really been doing the trick. While I don't quite look like this when "needled up":

I do enjoy the sensation of my acupuncture points activated. When I finally got back on my roadie after what seems like a couple of months of avoidance, to my great happiness and surprise I discovered that my arm is greatly improved and was almost as straight as my unbung arm. Fantastic! The best improvement is that after an hour of riding it only just started to hurt, instead of after 10 minutes. I've since been on 3 more hour long rides and while it’s definitely sorer than that first ride the improvement is significant.

Of course my osteo doesn't only provide me with sharp slivers of metal inserted into various points of my body, sometimes with added electricity, he also sorts out my muscular stresses and most importantly entertains me with an endless supply of hilarious anecdotes. I am not at liberty to share these gems with you, but I can say that upon discussing my recent uber cold and its accompanying hideous sneezes, I was gifted with a brilliant story involving a couple of broken ribs, a policeman's elbow, an effort at politeness and an epic and admirable moment of unco-ordination. My poor sore ribs were tested by the gales of laughter this story retched from me, but it was worth it for the vast improvement in mood that a long bout of laughter brought about.
Dangerous police elbows highlighted for safety, but also beware of the swaying hips!

Just to let you know that the urban myth that sneezing 8 times in row produces a sensation that is the same as an orgasm is a bloody lie. I was great afflicted with the sneezes for 2 days with my uber cold and the only sensation it produced in me was pain. Pain firstly from the intensely explosive sneezes throwing me to the floor and simultaneously ripping my throat out, and then later on by their insistent nature causing my ribs to feel like I'd crashed into a number of trees at high speed while downhilling. Stupid sneezes. At one point I was wondering if I'd managed to contract some strange hybrid of whooping cough and hay fever that left me with the dreaded whooping sneezes. I, and my ribs, have recovered and while I missed the last three night races due to my affliction and recovery period, I feel I am ready for hours of roadie training in preparation for the Molesworth and Moa Hunt and various other races I want to do towards the end of the year. Right now it’s just good to be in the sun, it feels like I've been in the dark way too long.