Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hanmer delivers a new love affair

Four days in Hanmer riding bikes and talking bollocks over good wine, what a way to start the week. Hubby and I and a couple of mates headed up to Hanmer Springs on Sunday afternoon and met up with insane winds. We all settled into our lovely wee house and watched the wind tear the gorgeous autumn foliage off the trees and send the leaves spiralling round the garden. We all agree that riding in a forest in that wind would not be the best plan so we headed to the pub. The rest of the day was spent eating, drinking and telling ridiculous stories.

We woke the next day feeling slightly fuzzy in the head with a combination of over indulgence the previous evening and a night of sleep interrupted by various bangs and thumps caused by the wind. Luckily the wind had blown itself out and it was a pleasant if overcast day. The day started well initially with some practice hucking off the deck. I was very happy with my progress on this front and later in the day my new found confidence came in handy. We all agreed to a gentle start zooming around the flat Forest Cruiser tracks and taking it from there. Unfortunately these plans came to an abrupt halt after a nasty head vs. post incident which meant hubby and I had to go into town and get a new helmet. Luckily, the lovely Neil at Krank came to our rescue and hubby’s brain was once more fully protected from harm. Neil also filled us in on the new track and how the forest was riding. We headed back to our little house and I left hubby to nurse his headache while I went for a blast through the forest, retracing some of the fantastic 4hr course. Through the forest, and I was flying at race pace. It was gorgeous in the trees with all the foliage in yellows, oranges and reds. The track was often obscured by the fresh leaf fall from the previous day’s strong winds, which made some of the corners even more exciting fun. Soon I was crossing the road and heading up the twists and turns of Mack 1. I think I actually enjoy this track more going up than down now! It really is a lovely wee climb. From there it was up the road to Larches Picnic area and down Dog Stream. I was humming along, zig- zagging between the rocks when I heard a nasty tearing noise. I slowed slightly in preparation for all the air to evacuate my back wheel, but nothing happened so I continued on and forgot about it. Onto Jolliffe Rd and up I headed, gently spinning and enjoying the lovely day. Soon I was at the skidder site and heading into Red Rocks. As usual the Anthem climbed like a dream up the steeper sections of the climb and I was feeling great at the top. I started heading down the dry track and noticed I was bouncing around a fair bit over the little drops and realised I hadn’t unlocked my front or rear suspension. D’oh! Quickly flicking the two switches on a flattish piece of track and I was soon zooming down the hill, loving every second of the descent, which has become a wee bit rutty. This just makes it all the more fun though. All too soon I was at the bottom and hopping my bike round 180° when I over balanced and took a nice big chunk of skin off my knee. Typical behaviour from me. Get through all the technical, potentially dangerous stuff and then fall off when I’m barely moving.

After lunch back at the house and cleaning up my knee, hubby and I headed out again. This time I took my Jamis as we were going to explore the new track Yankee Zephyr, plus hit Tank Track and a C-Line which have a bit more gnarl than I’m comfortable handling on my Anthem. We headed through town and up Clarence River Rd to Flax Gully and I was quickly reminded that the Jamis doesn’t like to go up hill. She’s such a fatty, and it was such hard work heading up the gravel road that I almost regretted bringing her. As we entered Flax Gully this was soon whipped away as we hit two lovely jumps and the Jamis soared through the air. Fun times. I ground my way up the rest of the track and soon we were at the skidder site, looking out across the barren, logged hillside. We could see Yankee Zephyr winding down and it looked great. Unfortunately it also looked like a nasty steep climb to get up to it, and it was. Also, we took the less scenic, more horrid climbing route to get to it and at one point I even had to push my fat girl for a bit. I haven’t had to do that in aaaaages!

It was oh so worth it! A little bit of singletrack climbing and we were standing on the edge of a steep bank, looking down at a narrow track that dropped away sharply and then started flowing through a seemingly endless series of berms which made perfect use of the gully below us. Down we went and soon there were little jumps off old stumps and drainage ditches to be hucked. The corners were all beautifully formed and once in the gully the fun really began with the need for pedalling and brakes removed by the track layout where you’d drop off one corner into the gully, and swoop up the other side to enter the next corner. This went on for at least 7 or 8 sets of corners until you are spat out on the road grinning from ear to ear and ready to head up the hill and try it again. Unfortunately for me my legs weren’t ready for that so we headed up another hill to Tank Track. On the way up the most ghastly steep bit of 4wd track we found the true entrance to Yankee Zephyr which cuts through some gorgeous old growth forest making the climb much more fun.

I made it to the start of Tank Track wheezing like an old woman in a poorly heated house in Southland. I had a quick look down the track and was glad to have my beloved fatty with me. Soon I was bouncing down big roots and over drops without a care in the world, whooping and laughing. Tank Track was good, but over way too quickly. It’s narrow and twisting through old growth forest and the track is criss-crossed by plenty of slippy roots which make for fun drops in many places. It was the first time I’ve ridden that track and I’m keen for more. Unfortunately on that day I wasn’t keen for more climbing so I watched as hubby powered up the hill for another lap of Yankee Zephyr, before we headed down Swoop, and Majuba and I headed home. A great day’s riding.

The next day threatened showers and I woke feeling very tired and unrested. It was a struggle to pull myself out of the warm bed and my upper body had that familiar aching in the shoulders and chest. Too many hucks the previous day maybe? All four of us decided to head out on the Jack’s Pass – Jollies’ Pass loop. As we climbed Clarence River Rd again I felt flat and uninspired to ride and then it started drizzling. Blah. The boys waited for us slower girls where the road meets the forestry road a short way up. The drizzle was fairly persistent now and hubby decided he wanted to ride the singletrack while it was still dry. Our friends continued on up the Pass and hubby and I headed to the correct entrance to Yankee Zephyr and I discovered I had a flat tyre. While searching for the source of my puncture I also discovered I had very neatly sliced my sidewall the previous day when rock hopping down Dog Stream. Luckily my tyre was about due for replacement so it wasn’t the end of the world. Both hubby and I were a bit grumpy after the tyre fixing and I realised I needed more sleep. Luckily the fantasticness of Yankee Zephyr took the edge off. We headed back to the wee house after that and I had a nap.

That night we rewarded ourselves with a trip to the hot pools, which despite the 60 primary school children who invaded the place just after we went in, was lovely. It was a chilly night, with almost a full moon and plenty of puffy clouds skudding across the sky. The warm, healing waters soaked into my aching shoulders, chest and elbow and all was right in the world. After a long long soak we returned to the wee house for night caps of delicious Black Ridge pinot noir.
The next morning we cleaned up the house and packed away our mountain of provisions. We’d all bought enough stuff with us to be staying a month so it took a couple of hours to get ready. Hubby decided he wanted to tackle Jacks-Jollies before we left and I decided I wanted to tackle mini golf. That worked out well so I headed off with our friends while hubby blasted up the pass. The mini golf was hilarious, and I was glad to improve on my shocking 96 from the last time I’d played this course. My putting prowess was much improved this round and I finished with a respectable 54. I bade goodbye to our friends and headed off to the forest to get a quick blast in before hubby returned from his ride. Unfortunately I’d only been going for 5 minutes when he called to say he was in town, speedy bugger!

It was a great trip and although I didn’t get as much riding in as I would have liked I was really happy with how my injuries held up to the fun singletrack. In complete contradiction to what my physio said, my osteo has said I should keep riding. I’m going to see how I feel after this weekend’s Singletrack Fiesta!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mt Somers is like an old friend

Yesterday was my forth Mt Somers race and after a week of lying round and recuperating from the Hanmer 4hr I wasn’t holding out much hope of putting in a stellar performance. I wasn’t too concerned though, I love this race, it’s really fun with a great atmosphere and through gorgeous country.

I woke up on Sunday morning in race mode, which meant I was insanely hyper active and bubbling. I bounced around packing and making coffee for hubby and Dirtdiva and soon we were on the road. Having an extra person in the car meant I babbled on even more than the norm and journey to Mt Somers flew by, well for me anyway. After passing through the traditional fog on Thompson’s Track we arrived to a gorgeous sunny day and unloaded the bikes. Poor Dirtdiva was riding my fat Jamis with its tractor tyres, it was going to be slow on the climbs, but I still think it was the more sensible choice than her singlespeed, good strength training!

At the start we barged our way into the second row of riders in the Intermediate race and after the briefing and Mexican wave we watched the Challenge riders blast away. Then it was our turn and for the first time I wasn’t dropped by everyone in the first 100ms and found I was able to stay in touch with the main group of riders. Knowing the exact layout of the course was great, it meant I wasn’t worried about pushing too hard off the start as I knew there was a downhill where I could have a wee rest not far after. Into the paddocks and the long wet grass sucked at tyres and pulled energy from legs and I thought of Dirtdiva on my squishy bike, it was going to suck. Once the pack spread out a bit more I managed to find a tyre-wide bit of dirt to ride in and began moving up the hill at a better pace, then the first little bit of down and I zoomed past more people. On the gravel roads I held my own for a change and I was working really hard, my heart hammering in my chest. Around the base of the hill and the track was slippy and fun in the shady spots and I knew we would be in for some very slippery sections on the climb. At one point I was bombing along and hit a patch of mud a bit fast and off line and skidded through it sideways, laughing like a madwoman. Fun times.

Soon enough we hit the first steep climb and all around me people got off their bikes. One woman next to me said “Why would you even try to ride that?!” and I replied in Ed Hilary styles “Because it’s there” and proceeded to ride the whole thing, picking my way through the walkers. I was wheezing and stoked and spun further up the hill, determined to ride as much of the hill as traffic and mud would allow. Up the hill I went, forward on my seat, using my arms, but relaxed as I could be, just spinning up the hill, letting my legs do what I know they can and pointing my bike at the route with the most traction. Up into the manuka and the track became slicker and slicker and I picked my way through the traffic with many people encouraging me. Unfortunately my crossmark tyres couldn’t find traction and my back wheel spun out and that was it for my climbing for a while. Round the corner and the track dried out a bit as we climbed higher and I was able to remount and ride, much easier than pushing.

I was going really well and felt strong still, the traffic wasn’t so thick that I couldn’t ride for walkers, although there were a few people riding who were a bit scary. One guy was trying to remount and wasn’t able to get enough momentum to get going and would zoom off and topple, I was worried he’d fall into me, but he didn’t, that came later when a guy tried to pass me on the inside of a rutty corner and chose a bad line. He went down into my back wheel, luckily I managed to stay on the bike, but I stopped anyway to make sure he was ok, which he was. The climb pitched up one more time and my legs and lungs finally exploded. I could see the clearing in the bush up at the next corner and knew that was where the track levelled out a bit. I pushed my bike up with everyone else, but unlike them I was wheezing like an elderly smoker. At the corner I stopped briefly to take in the amazing view that went all the way across the plains to the sea, and try and get my heart rate under control before I keeled over. Then back on the bike and up I went. I got to the top in an hour and was really happy with that, but even happier that I could unlock my shocks and point my bike in the right direction. I blasted down the hill, passing people like they were standing still, calling early so I didn’t frighten them. My bike felt like it was part of me and I grinned and whooped. Unfortunately in my enthusiasm I chose a shockingly bumpy line into the creek crossing at the bottom of the farm track and bounced my chain off. Luckily I had enough speed to coast through the stream and spin my legs uselessly on the other side. Of course everyone I passed on the downhill streamed back past me as I fumbled with my chain. Ah well, more targets for the next bit of downhill.

I had so much fun on the second part of the course. I loved every second off it and I worked as hard as I could the whole time. I caught up with a few people who’d gotten away from me on the climb and managed to stay in touch with them as we got back on the dirt roads and climbed up the nasty pinch. Then the head wind hit, of course, but I was blasting along the smooth clay road. A group tucked in behind me, which amused me greatly. I’ve never been going fast enough at the end of a race to be drafted before. Luckily for me they were kind enough to return the favour and as we hit the climb back up to the paddocks near the start my legs felt great and I powered up the hill dropping both the chick and the guy who were with me. I was shocked but pleased. Up ahead I could see a woman in blue and I wanted to catch her very badly.

Down the paddock I went, in my big ring, pedalling my lungs out. She was still riding really strongly and was also speeding down the paddock. Slowly but surely I reeled her in and popped out onto the gravel road slightly ahead of her. Then I pedalled with everything I had. I flew up the wee incline on the seal and pounded down the road, through the intersection at 50kph and then down to the entrance to the domain. I smashed it into the grass shoot and collapsed over my bars at the end as the man with the wire cutters removed my timing chip. I was dizzy and my legs felt like jelly, probably a sour lime flavour. I stumbled through the various tents and collapsed on the ground, completely wasted and stoked. I’d finished in 1:50:19, 9 minutes faster than the last time I did this race. I was 9th in Intermediate women and I cursed my olderness, as if I was still a sprightly 34 year old I would have been 3rd in Open Women with that time. Still I was faster than 50% of the field and more than 50% of the intermediate woman and I am so happy with that. It was a great day for me and reminded me why I love racing so much. It’s not about winning for me, I’m unlikely to ever win a race, it’s about beating myself year after year. The only person I want to be better than is me in the past and racing lets me measure if I’m able to do that. One more race to go before I take a month off the bikes and try and heal my injuries completely. 2.5 laps of Living Springs for our club champs, it’s going to hurt me a lot, but I’ll enjoy every minute of it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Solo for the first time

Oh so many bad Star Wars puns and Madonna song lines are running through my head right now, but I’m going to try and rise above the cheap laugh or innuendo and get down to the story.

Saturday was my first ever solo race and it was a 4 hour one. I’ve always been intrigued by 6hr solos but that seemed just a little beyond me so when I discovered that there was going to be a 4 and 8 hour race in Hanmer I was stoked. A number of discussions on the portal of time wasting and secret girly knowledge revelled that there was going to be a great turn out of Vorbettes and I got onto booking a house. And what a house I booked, it had the most stunning and disturbing carpet in the downstairs room. I’m glad I didn’t have to sleep in there or I would have been mentally scarred for the race the next day!

The day dawned brisk and bright and there was a layer of ice on the car. Brrrr. My various aches and particularly my gammy elbow were not happy about this. Hubby and I loaded up the car and headed to the camp site to set up while the rest of the girls lazed about in bed. In no time we had the tent mansion up with the other CSC riders and I was getting my usual pre-race jitters. I got to meet the amazing Jude Young, who is the primary reason I’ve even considered riding endurance races. She’s an amazing rider and an extremely cool person (who is probably not over the moon that I’m say such things about her). My bike arrived with the sleeping beauties and I went for a token warm up, planning to do most of my warming up on the first lap.

I’d talked to a couple of fast guys about the lap and they said they were cranking it out in 30mins at race pace, so I thought I’d be lucky to get through a lap in an hour. I set my goal to ride for 4 laps and settled myself at the back of the pack for the start. The hooter went and we were off! Those at the front zooming off, and those of us at the back setting off at a more leisurely pace. I pootled off up the road synchronising my watch and speedo, and looking like I was out for a Sunday ride. I am very serious after all!

The first lap sent us straight up the road and missed out all the singletrack climbs. I wanted to warm into the ride rather than blow up in the first 500ms as I’ve done in other races so I just spun up the gentle incline as people passed me. Soon we were at the turn off to the Larches picnic area and I discovered it was a very fun steep drop with a root running across it for excitement. Wooo hooo! Straight over the edge and I was slamming on my brakes as the people in front of me struggled to negotiate the bridge. Sigh. This was to be a feature of my first lap. I slipped past a couple of people before the bridge and one after and soon I was flying down Dog Steam track, floating between the rocks and ruts with a huge grin. Into the twisty single track and I passed a few more people before we hit the climb and they all went past me again. The grind up the 4wd climb was long and pretty gradual with only a couple of areas where it pitched up a tiny bit. I chatted to people as I spun up, saving my legs for the hours ahead of me.

At the top of the road I crossed the skidder site and headed down to the entrance to Timberlands, controlling my speed for the tight turn into the trees. Going down Timberlands was brilliant fun, although I had to pass a few people so I couldn’t really let loose on that lap. Even so the descent was over in what felt like seconds and I was popping out of the trees onto the gravel road and heading down. Cutting through the DoC area and on a walking track we were soon crossing under the road bridge and into the super fun twisty singletrack on the other side of the road. I was held up here a lot, but managed to pass plenty of people and found a fantastic flow. I was loving this race already. The first section of singletrack was super fast and fun and ended with a nasty pinch up a bank. From there it was more singletrack, but it was gently climbing and my legs could feel it. Soon I was out, crossing the road again, winding through the narrow walking track and zipping through the trees to the camp site. And I was grinning and very excited that I had more laps of this fantastic course to do.

After a quick change to fingerless gloves I was off again and dreading the upcoming climbs. Up Black Dog and it started off flatish through the trees and then became progressively steeper until it finished in a rather horrid little pinch right at the top before exiting on the 4WD track. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be and I was pretty happy that I could do it twice more, although in the back of my head I had started hoping that I would do it 3 times more. Down the loose road and into Mach 1 and this climb was fuuuunnnn! Jeremy Inglis and a couple of other 4hr riders blasted past me, politely, and I nearly lost it in one of the downhill bits when my back wheel hit a rock and bounced out sideways. Luckily my madcore skillz saved me. At the top of Mach 1 it was out onto the road and back on familiar ground. I had no traffic around me entering Larches and blasted down and onto the bridge, whooping. I brrrrrraaaapppped my way along Dog Stream and eased into the climb up the 4wd track.

Then one of the great highlights of the race. I was privileged to be lapped by one of the legendary racers of the mighty Bushlove Racing Team. Luckily I managed to maintain my composure at the sight of such manliness streaming past me and weakly cheered him on. I did some skidz down Timberlands and blasted down the road in a cloud of dust, then it was into the walking tracks briefly. Suddenly I hear a call of “Go Mel!” Yay, I love being cheered on. Then I was overcome with excitement as my new hero went past me, Ollie Whalley! Legend of the Kiwi Brevet, bridesmaid of the Alpine Epic, monkeyboy of Ventana. As he went was me he did a sic huck and loose as whip and I swooned slightly.

Giggling like a school girl I zoomed through the fantastic singletrack and passed a couple more people. I was getting lapped pretty regularly now, which was to be expected, and those passing were super polite and considerate which was great. Suddenly there was a deafening yell behind me of “Mel!” and I almost crashed into a tree. I returned the greeting with a hearty cry of “Dayle!” and let him slip past. We chatted for a while and then that crazy man on his rigid singlespeed disappeared into the forest, grinning like a madman.

My second lap finished and I was feeling pretty good and the clock was looking friendly. My arm was hurting a bit and some of the singletrack was really biting at it, but I was beginning to think 5 laps might be doable. I was having so much fun, that my niggling pains weren’t really an issue. The third lap went by in a blur of hucks and skidz and grinning, and soon I was back in the pits grabbing a handful of sour snakes and sorting an aggravating issue out. Back out on the bike I planned to push this lap and head straight out to get a fifth in. My body had different ideas.

As I climbed up Black Dog I could feel the muscles in my neck and lower back hardening up and on the short descent my lower back was really sore. Up Mach 1 and the twists and turns were really biting into arm. On the 4wd track I was riding up with one arm, trying to rest my right arm as my hand was get very sore and I was having difficulties changing gear with it. Down Dog Stream I tried to rest my lower back by not standing too much, but I couldn’t help myself, it was so fun to blast down there as fast as I could. Up on the climb my neck joined the pain party, but I was still sure I was going to get another lap in. Down Timberlands and the 4wd drive I was having so much fun I didn’t notice the pain. In the singletrack on the other side of the road it all began to unravel. There’s plenty of roots on that singletrack and every one I hit sent a bolt of pain through my right wrist and into my elbow where it’s screwed together. My fingers were starting to tingle painfully and my thumb was almost unusable. I checked my watch and realised I might have enough time for another lap, but I needed to stop and rub some Voltaren in my arm or I wouldn’t be going anywhere. I pushed on and felt awful. As I entered the campsite I couldn’t hold the bars with my right arm at all and my back was poked. I looked at the time and realised that I’d have to keep going without stopping and pull out a sub-40 min lap to get another lap in and pulled the pin. I rolled over the finish line and was met by my wonderful friend who helped me back to the tent. I rubbed Voltaren into my arm and collapsed in a deck chair.

I was gutted I couldn’t keep going, because the course was so fun, but I wasn’t surprised. I’ve been having so many problems since I hurt myself before Christmas that smashing myself on singletrack for over 3hrs was bound to shake everything up. The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the sun, chatting with old friends and new, heckling, I mean supporting riders and generally having a fantastic time. Once the painkillers kicked in I felt great and was stoked with my ride, and was very happy to discover I’d got 4th in my division, 20 minutes ahead of the person behind me.

The whole day was fantastic and I can’t wait to do it again, so hubby and I and some friends are heading up to Hanmer for 4 days of riding in a couple of weeks. Yeeeehaaa! Just in time for me to get a bit of training in for the Singletrack Fiesta the CSC is holding on the 1st of May. In the meantime, we’re off to Mt Somers this weekend and I’m going to race the Challenge race for the first time, I’m a sucker for punishment. I’ve promised my physio I’ll take time off from riding and heal after the 1st and I will. It’ll be hard, but I’ll do it!

A huge thanks to Rachel for looking after me and my hubby for all the support.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Playing about and healing

After the Wee McGregor I was feeling rather spent, very satisfied and really sore. My elbow didn’t like the 22km bumpy descent and was absolute agony after the race. My chest/shoulders/neck (csn) injury, which just keeps persisting, wasn’t much better. My physio ordered me off the bike and I begrudgingly complied. After a few rest days both elbow and csn had settled down to being annoying rather than horribly painful and I felt happy enough with them to head out to the Vulcaniser open day.

The Vulcaniser in North Canterbury is a loop of gorgeous hand sculpted singletrack made up of evilly steep climbs and twisty fun descents. I had entered the Vulcaniser race which was cancelled because of rain so this ride day would let me know what I missed out on. And what I missed out on was pain. I am not fit enough to race that course, and I don’t think I’ll ever be unless I can drop 15 to 20kgs (which I have no plans to do in the near or distant future). It was fun, but I did a lot of pushing up some of the steeper bits. The descents were great and I rode all of them except the one rooty steep bit in the “Boars Nest”. Unfortunately my hubby had mechanical issues which meant only doing one lap, but to be honest it was so cold that I was happy to leave. Now I know that I’m destined to marshal at the Vulcaniser, not race it.

Following that I did some more resting of my injuries, with just some sifty road rides thrown in to keep my fitness from completely disappearing. With the return of my regular physio and his evil fingers of pain and neck/back cracking torture I was soon back in the forest and checking out how the Bottlelake trails are riding after all the logging that has gone on. The loops are all joined up again and most of the track is pretty sweet. There are a few nasty little sandy bits, but all in all it’s looking mint for when night racing starts up again. Unfortunately I learnt that a couple of laps on the singlespeed straight after painful physio treatment makes for feeling pretty crap so that was that for riding for another few days.

Of course I’ve also been playing on my fantastic BMX. I’ve ridden at both North Avon and Hornby tracks and while both are really fun I think I like North Avon’s better. This is unfortunate given it is on the other side of town, while the Hornby track is just up the road. Oh well, I’ll just have to get better at the Hornby track. I’m starting to get a feel for the bike and can do very small manuals. I spent an hour on Easter Monday practising wheelies and lifting my back wheel in the back garden and have improved a tiny amount. My arms are telling me what hard work that was. I’m looking forward to the time in the very distant future when I can roll along the footpath on my back wheel and do bunny hops over the curb.

I took a friend for a ride up Rapaki on Monday, which I thought might be tough given I’d done a couple of hours around the forest on Sunday but I was surprised how well it went. It’s the first time I’ve been up Rapaki since my tour and my legs just ate the hill up. It helped that it was the first time my friend had been up Rapaki and I got to just cruise along, but I was still surprised at the gear I maintained and how fresh I felt at the top. I can’t wait to hammer it up there soon and try and get a new personal best.

In the final bit of news I’m off to Hanmer this weekend to do a 4hr solo race. I’m very excited about it, and not just because of the racing, which I’m aiming to do in a more laid back fashion. Heaps of my great friends are coming up to race and support too so it’s going to be a fantastic weekend away. I’m looking forward to seeing how many laps I can do in my 4 hours without blowing up, but I’m mainly looking forward to hanging out with loads and loads of cool people. Bring on Friday!