Monday, January 30, 2012

Finding my lungs

Somewhere on the Longest Day Ride I dropped my lungs. Or it might have been the next day evacuating the airport during the earthquakes, maybe I left them on the floor when I tried to crawl under a chair because I thought the light fittings were going to bounce out of the ceiling and onto me. All I know is that since then I’ve been really struggling with having any lung capacity.

This was shown to me clearly when I ventured up Rapaki for the first time in a year. The geotechs and blasters have finished their work and the track is now officially open, although users are warned to “Stay away!” if they are uncomfortable with the ever present risk of rocks bouncing down on their noggins.  I chuckled to see my old friend Danger Officer Commander employing his mighty forearms to repel the deadly rocks and then headed up the track in the sun.

Rapaki is as it ever was, wide and smooth, although a couple of ruts have opened up and filled with deep gravel which could make descending slightly perilsome. As the hot sun beat down on me I was passed by a runner like I was standing still, which I almost was. I was really struggling. In fact I was going almost as slow as the first time I ever rode up Rapaki. My lack of breath was shown to me all to clearly when not too far from the top I had to stop! I just couldn’t catch my breath. Not good.
At the top I lay in the tussocks and enjoyed the stunning view while learning to breathe again. Finally I slowly drifted up the road and across the traverse and then down Sesame St and Dyers Rd. Back to bed with me after that ride.

Last Thursday my hubby and I took a day trip to Hanmer and I was hoping my lungs would be feeling much improved so I could enjoy the flowing tracks. Unfortunately this was not to be and at the halfway point of the climb up Mach 1 I was already struggling. Mach 1 was in mint condition and riding great so even though I wasn’t riding well I still loved it. We very naughtily decided to investigate the progress on reinstating Bigfoot. I ground slowly up the road while hubby took the more difficult option of heading up the Joliffe Track. At the carpark at the top hubby headed into the reinstated Fir Trail while I began the slow process of climbing the 17 switchbacks up Bigfoot.

This section of track hasn’t really been effected by the logging and was mint, although I found that I really struggled with right hand switchbacks and lost my front wheel twice resulting in tree-hugging to save myself. I had to stop a few times on the climb, which was no surprise and hubby caught up with me. Then the descent began. I should really title this naughty ride Blood, Sweat and Fears, because after sweating my way up to the top I was completely freaked out riding down.

Of course this was our own fault for riding a track that isn’t open and ready to be riding yet. With the trees gone and the sharp stones the lie beneath the surface exposed and loose it was nerve jangling riding down. The track is narrower and falls away quickly down the steep banks and what were once fun grippy corners now felt like loose death traps. Finally I came to grief in a steep tight turn where my bike got into the loose stuff and I just couldn’t get it to turn. Skin on knees be gone! After this I ended up walking a couple more of the corners and decided that I probably deserved to lose some skin for riding a closed track. BAD GIRL!

After this we headed up Detox which was in great condition, but I’d lost my bottle and failed to ride the little rock drop. By the bottom I was spent and riding like a complete muppet so I headed back to the car while hubby went out to ride Red Rocks, Swoop, Swamp Track and Yankee Zypher. He came back to the car with bleeding forearms after being attacked by brambles on the more over grown tracks.

So not my best ride in Hanmer and I was feeling a little dejected about my lack of fitness after this adventure. I was also feeling intense burning pain when I applied the liquid plaster to my grazes. Wow that stuff hurts!
Freshly cleaned graze looks fairly minor
Two days later is looking pretty rough and is still owie

So I was a little apprehensive about heading to Living Springs yesterday. The 4wd track climb here is not my friend, I’ve only managed to ride up it a few times and usually I’m ready to pass out by the top. Yesterday I actually rode up it with relative ease. I say relative because to a normal fit person it would have looked like a struggle, but for me it was really good. We sifted around the rest of the tracks, my lovely friend Michelle showing her friend how to ride the lovely tight corners of Zanes. I had my flow on and it was a brilliant ride. But the end of the lap I was feeling so confident we decided to take a look at the Canyon Drop. A very steep pinch climb leads you into a big rollover down a rock into a canyon (surprisingly enough).

As I rolled in to have a look at it I lost my bottle, that thing is steep and a long way down. The lovely Michelle showed me how it was done and then I was rolling in and committed. WEeeeeeee! My forks bottomed out as I hit the bottom and then I was safely zooming out. Awesome.

After that we drove up to Brake Free and sessioned that for a while and I’ve start to get some confidence over jumps again. Then in a fit a madness I decided I wanted to ride down Sesame St and bike back up the hideous steep 4wd track. I was pretty impressed that I managed to ride most of it and only lost my front wheel once! Then an out and back along the Traverse and I was grinning ear to ear. By far the best ride I’ve had in ages. I was really flowing well and rode the Traverse cleaner than I ever have before.  I’m really looking forward to heading back down for more time on the Queenstown tracks this week. Come on fitness, I know you’re there somewhere!

Monday, January 23, 2012

New bling and encounters with greatness

After my adventures on Bob’s Peak (no it doesn’t belong to the slightly mad Geared Facile builder who I work with), I realised that I would need to be equipped with a new toy for Queenstown 6hr Super D Enduro. As luck would have it, a quick trip to my lovely LBS, Hub Cycles, and I discovered the Joplin seat post was currently on special. Great news for me and my bank account, and it also meant I didn’t earn any stern looks from my better half for squandering our precious earnings on toys.
Crank Bros Joplin 4 - bring on the Crank Bros hate you haters

In next to no time the post arrived at the shop and I soon had it in my hot little hands (this is actually a literal statement, my hands are pretty much always hot and are rather small, but perfectly formed).  Unfortunately a weekend full of many tasks meant my lovely new post stayed in its box till today. Fortunately one of those tasks was spending all of yesterday at Round 2 of the NZ MTB nationals at Living Springs.

The day started out quite bleak and I was mighty glad to spend the morning in the timing tent with Dunedin track building impresario Hamish Seaton, after working a stretch on the registration desk. The age group racers battled rain and freezing winds and I was glad I had a blanket to wrap my legs in.

After lunch, and a brief drool over Anton Cooper’s gorgeous new Trek, I grabbed my fluro vest and radio and headed up the hill to marshal the Elite and U19 race. And what a pleasure it was. My spot had good sightlines uphill through some tight switch backs and then down through the forest across a couple of slippery bridges. Watching the Elite guys and girls race was really inspirational, but watching Anton was a real highlight. I’ve seen him race quite a few times, but usually not through technical tight stuff. He rode my section much faster than any of the other riders on the course and seemed to move his bike with almost inhuman skill. The boy is fast. It was a great afternoon cheering young  Disco Slippers and all the other awesome riders on, so I wasn’t regretting not being able to ride myself.
Anton Cooper pinning it at Living Springs - Photo Peter Ball

Today I rectified the lack of weekend riding. The Joplin was super quick and easy to install as I decided not to go for the version with a remote as I don’t really want more cables and bar clutter on my bike. The under seat lever is easy to reach and works great. After a few circles of the driveway I was happy with my seat position and soon I was pedalling up to the start of the Nun.

Being able to just drop my seat fully and blast straight in was awesome, but felt a bit weird. I’m very much used to riding the Nun with my seat up. Having it right down made a huge difference. The back end behaved better, I hit more of the little jumps and got more air than I generally do and I would have had one of my best runs if I hadn’t gone through one of the two puddles and ended up with an eye full of mud. And I’m not exaggerating about that. I managed to ride down the rocky section I was half way through, then stopped and tried to rinse the mud out. The rest I blinked away and I’m still getting little lumps of mud coming out the corner of my eye now. Gross.
This is the section of track I was half blinded for. Not fun.
Second run was even better. I found the optimum drop for my seat, right down just wasn’t quite right and by the third I was pinning it. It would be interesting to see if I can keep up with my husband on his big bike yet.

By the end of three runs my legs were jelly and my lungs gasping, but it was brilliant. The Joplin seat post was smooth and worked brilliantly. I love it. I really can’t wait for my birthday when I head down to Queenstown for more gondola shuttles.

And finally tonight I want to share this photo I took when I was in Alex of me and my Mum (or for grammar Nazis, my mother and I). We’re riding the River track that runs from Alex to Clyde and you can tell we’re loving it. My Mum is the reason I started riding bikes, she’d been doing races and endurance rides for years before I got my first bike since university. I love riding with my Mum, she’s always up for a challenge and she’s got great skills. I certainly hope I can still ride so well when I’m in my 60’s (sorry Mum, love you).

Friday, January 13, 2012

Skyline Gondola Queenstown – 5,000 metres of descent

It is raining outside, which is good for Central Otago because they really need it and good for me because I’m knackered. I’ve been making the most of my time down here and on Wednesday hit the BMX track. That thing is loooooong. But fun. And very good for the skills as I found out yesterday when I drove through to Queenstown to hit up the Gondola on Bob’s Peak which now takes mountain bikes.

Arriving at about 10:30 (the gondola opens to bikes at 10) I soon had my purple half day wrist band ($45) and was in line for the gondola with a lot of downhill bikes. My little anthem suddenly looked even smaller and I felt a little apprehensive about what I was letting myself in for. At the top I had a quick chat with the guy at the bike workshop (you can hire bikes from the top or bottom) and was on my way. First stop Hammy’s, the longest and easiest trail on the hill. I took it easy and tried to tune into my bike and by the halfway mark realised I was being an idiot with my seat still all the way up. After dropping it 5cm the second half flowed much better and I was looking forward to my second run of the track. Hammy’s has plenty of little jumps and rollers for pumping. The BMXing really paid off!

After a few more Hammy’s, with a bit of riding on the structures beside the track, I decided it was time to move onto Vertigo, a blue grade 3 track. This was brilliant. Because it’s a bit harder and perhaps because of the steep entry it doesn’t seem to get the traffic of Hammy’s and was in excellent condition. While Hammy’s has plenty of big bermed corners, a lot of them are loose and badly rutted as riders brake hard and they see a lot of traffic. On Vertigo most of the corners are smooth and super-fast and there are plenty of roots and little step down to challenge. There are some bigger jumps too, but all are rollable if you’re willing to drop your speed. I really need to work on my jumps as I managed a couple of exciting nose wheelies just before the descent to the halfway mark.
Hairpin turn on Hammys one side...
... gorgeous view on the other

From the halfway mark I dropped into Original, which has plenty of steep sections, rooty blown out bits and in the later sections big wheel eating braking bumps and loose ruts. Plenty of challenges for someone on a steep angled cross country bike and halfway down it my brakes were singing the “I’m freaking hot” song.
As usual the camera doesn't do justice to the steepness

Each run down the hill I got more confident and learn a bit more about carrying speed and hitting the right lines. I was even starting to get a bit of air in places, on purpose too. Riding up in the gondola was the perfect opportunity to eat, drink and stretch the fingers. And on a number of occasions, chat to fellow riders. On my final ride up the hill I was sharing the gondola with a local chick on a downhill bike. I’d been wanting to ride Singletrack Sandwich, but as it is a black diamond grade 5 trail I was a little apprehensive about heading down it on the Anthem. She told me it was just steel and narrow, with one rollable drop and I decided to give it a go.

Down Hammies to the halfway mark and then a wee rest to prepare myself. Entering Singletrack Sandwich you are slightly lulled into a false sense of security as it starts off level, twisting over roots, through trees. Then it drops. A lot. The first corner was really steep and badly rutted down the middle. I stopped to examine it before I rode it, found a line I liked and rode it no problem. The next corner was even steeper and super loose and powdery. It looked ok, but I soon discovered the my bike didn’t want to turn so I bailed gracefully and walked round it. I was glad I did because the drop was at the bottom of this corner and I don’t think my seat was down low enough to safely roll it. So I walked that too. Next time.
My little baby hanging out with the big kids

The rest of the track was fairly straight forward in comparison to those two corners. Lots of roots, ruts and narrow bits, but really fun and in no time I was back on Original and then whooshing onto Hammy’s for the last time.
Oh so good!

11 runs down the hill done and I had time for one more, but I was feeling pretty exhausted so I decided to call it a day while I was intact and headed into town for a gelato at Patagonia Chocolates.  Just as I was finishing my well-earned treat the rain came down so I timed that perfectly. On the drive home I realised I was still very hungry despite the huge ice cream as I couldn’t stop fantasising about Jimmy’s pies. A quick stop in Cromwell remedied that and soon I was back at Mum’s and lying on the couch exhausted.

I cannot wait to head back to Queenstown and do that again, but till then I think I need to get stronger hands and fitter legs and arms.  Riding down the equivalent of 1.5 Mt Cooks really takes it out of you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Maybe I should have listened to my architect

You may recall that just before the Longest Day ride I posted a query regarding my state of cursedness and discoursed on my level of horrible sickness. It so happened that that evening I was arranging a meeting with my architect, who happens to be a rather awesome singlespeed riding mad man, who had read my blog and gave me a well-meaning, but protracted lecture on looking after myself. Some of you may be aware that I have somewhat of a determined streak (be polite!) so I was sure I would ride, and I did and you have probably seen the results if you tune in regularly (it’s the previous post if you don’t).

Well, after that I didn’t feel too bad. Unfortunately the next day my lovely hubby and I were at the airport waiting for our delayed (oh the shock) Jetstar flight when a nice big earthquake hit. And then another bigger one. I am not embarrassed to say that I was really fricken scared during both of them. Seems my earthquake resilience is completely shot and now even minor wobbles freak me.
While in Auckland for chrimble I entered a different dimension.... ooooOOOOoooo

The upshot of all this was a Christmas break with me suffering from  very CFSs like symptoms, including sleeping most of the time, being incoherent at times, terrible headaches and migraines, and feeling completely weak and feeble. Of course this freaked me out even more, and I began to actually regret my awesome longest day ride.
I wasn't the only thing feeling worse for wear after more earthquakes

However now I’m on the mend so I’m not feeling soooo bad, but yes Dayle you were probably right, don’t rub it in.

To celebrate feeling slightly better I did a silly thing and decided that my first ride of the New Year should be the lung searing, technical grin-fest that is Living Springs. Hmmmm. When I got on my bike it felt weird under me. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, but usually when I’m riding the bike and I are kind of one thing moving together. This was not the case on Sunday. And hence I completely overcooked a corner in Zanes and slid out. My forearm and thigh came down heavily on a root and I immediately developed an alien baby to rival the one I got in Hanmer that time.

Needless to say when I caught up to my husband I was not a happy camper having decided I could no longer ride to save my life that I was obviously destined to spend the rest of summer in bed sleeping my life away. Yes, I can be a little melodramatic at times. Fortunately after lying in the grass for a while and being consoled by my man I decided to push on with another lap. And I quite literally did as I really couldn’t ride up the 4wd track, but I didn’t care. My climbing up the switchbacks in The Pines was still good and sooner than I thought was possible for me in my current state, I was at the top of Rhymes with Orange and ready for another attempt at Zanes (via Mississippi). And what do you know, it was brilliant. I was one with the bike and flowed up, over, around and down the track, getting to the bottom much much faster than the first lap. Yay!

 After that awesome ride we headed to Lyttleton for a drink at the new container bar Port Hole on the site of my beloved Volcano. You can still see the cool garden bar, but everything else is gone.
Frequent patrons of the Lava Bar will recognise these steps

Now I am in sunny, hot Alex and with me I have my Anthem, my bmx and my road bike. Fun times are ahead. I’ve already checked out the brilliant pump track, and in the process discovered how effective my grippy pedals are at removing cores of shin flesh.  I’m planning on heading to Queenstown while I here for some gondola shuttlez as I’ve entered the Queenstown Bike Festival 6hr Super-D Enduro at the end of March. So excited about that one. And as if that wasn’t enough fun I’m also heading to Wellington for the Revolve women’s Super V race. Oh yeah, March madness for me this year (sorry about the alliteration, I couldn’t help it).
Artistically placed pedal garks