The MTB Report 4 Aug 2012

I didn't actually report last weekend's epic ride. 75km out to Yellomundee Regional Park, 15km or so around the park, 75km back. There was a fairly nasty incident involving some random western suburbs assclown who wanted to run me off the road and wasn't afraid to either say it or attempt it. He failed, of course, being an incompetent driver. But still, let's speak less of that and instead speak of today's ride.

Last night (Friday), I drove out to Jenolan Caves, where I'd booked a room at Caves House. My intention was to do a reconnoitre of Kanangra Boyd National Park in preparation for October's Kanangra Classic 100km race.

I'd tried this once before, in the company of James and Dave. That story is well told, how we managed less than 20km in over three hours, by way of a crash, a puncture, and a performance of much of Jesus Christ Superstar to the trees at large. This time, there was to be no mistake. On Friday, I'd acquired a new camelbak, packed a spare tube and pump, thrown in a handful of energy gels, some gaffer tape, my toolkit, chainlube, helmet gloves, changes of clothes and everything else I could conceivably need. To this I added a bottle of Old Rosie Scrumpy and I was off.

After a night's warm toasty sleep, I was ready and off to the park before 9am, even the park's wallabies were still yawning. It's August in Kanangra, and "warning, ice" signs were out. It certainly was cold, but not - quite - below freezing, at least if you don't factor in windchill. I parked up near the wonderfully named Budthingaroo Firetrail, about 1km from the startline of the Kanangra Classic, threw on my gear, and I was off.

It was cold enough to keep on a windshell for this opening section, which was familar from May's disastrous ride. This time, though, there was no mistake and no struggle. The opening rough climbs were easily dispatched and the descent to the first river crossing (on the Mumbedah Firetrail, not Mount Emperor as I wrote previously) accomplished at speed without either falling off the path or crashing in the creek itself. The first demon of May was exorcised, my max speed counter showed 52.3km/h, and I was out of the saddle and dancing in the pedals toward the next creek crossing. The leeches were clearly not in residence this time, as I splashed through and continued on my merry way.

Soon, the right turn onto Mount Emperor appeared, and some fast descending was the order of the moment. One more creek crossing to come before reaching the fateful location of May's puncture fiasco, and it was one on which I'd badly messed up the approach last time. No mistakes now, straight through with a splash and onwards to the Ben Lomond Firetrail, the scene of the puncture on the last ride. As I passed the disaster site, I checked the clock. 40 minutes elapsed, almost to the second.

Last time round it had taken maybe an hour and a half to get to this point. And this time I was flying in comparison, though still not running at full steam. My plan was to run the first lap at a "fast exploration" pace, maybe 75% effort, and then do the second lap with the throttle fully open. After 50km of trail, the full-throttle pace would probably not be much faster, but knowing the route would make the lap quicker. However, a problem was brewing which started to nag at me.

There are a lot of creek crossings on the route. And it was cold. It was maybe five or six degrees, and while I'm not a stranger to cold conditions, my wet shoes and socks - holding water already shockingly cold from the splash - were making my feet feel... well, perhaps feel is not the right word. An antonym to "feel" would be more appropriate. What my feet were was numb. And the sections of trail following are fast. They're Oaks-fast. Already-cold air rushing past at 35km/h and more, over feet utterly soaked in already-cold water? Not nice.

Soon I met the Kowmung Firetrail. Fast. Sweeping. Very smooth. 45 km/h and more in places. Here, I experienced what I'm coming to think of as an "Eagle Moment". A wedge-tailed eagle, sitting on or near the firetrail, was spooked into the air by my approach, and led me down the path for 100m or more. It's a stunning experience, and the second time it's happened to me. It was a stunning moment, and it may have contributed to my outbraking myself on a corner shortly afterwards, though I just managed to slow myself in time to save actual injury.

Shortly, the race route hooks leftwards, back across what I think of as the "infield", towards the start-finish straight of Kanangra Walls Road, along Boyd River Firetrail. I figured at this point it might be prudent to make a little audio or video "diary" piece occasionally, so I took a first here.

On the Boyd River Trail, some climbing began again, and the first signs of energy depletion started to show. My feeding plan called for five energy gels, the first of which was due at the end of this firetrail, but I brought it forward. Though I'd carb-loaded I obviously wasn't quite as well-fueled as I'd hoped - and skimping on breakfast probably didn't help - a note for October, to be sure. Still, thorugh the previous section, my average speed was bumping up against, and occasionally tipping over, 18km/h

So, off I rode up the wet, muddy Boyd River Trail. Yet more splashes made the numbness in my feet even more evident, especially under the shade of the trees. I stopped to wring out my socks and rub some warmth into my feet, which didn't much help, made a second video note concerning the freezingness of feet and the horrifying taste of GU coffee flavour gels, and soldiered on.

Hitting Kanangra Walls Road, one now turns left, rides for about a hundred metres, then turns left onto the Kowmung Trail, to head again toward the back straight. Again, it's fast and smooth, and soon you're back where you were earlier, speeding down a smooth, graded trail back to the junction with the Boyd River Trail.

This time you turn right, down a trail marked as the Uni Rover Walking Trail. Technically, it's the Morung Firetrail, and leads back to Kanangra Walls Road, which is the "finishing straight". Of course, no more than 100m down this trail lies the biggest river crossing of the circuit, across Morong Creek. There are two ways across - a 4wd-compatible ford, which is long but shallow, or a shorter walking section to the right of it, which I took.

Well, the water was cold. Colder than I've ever felt Bedford Creek on Anderson's Firetrail. Colder than any sensible person should endure. And once out the other side, the numbness was alternating with burning pain. So I sat on a handy rock and wrung out my socks as best I could, and tried to massage life back into what were previously my feet but now appeared to be simple meatsacks attached to the bottom of my legs. I did a video diary, calling it a "point of interest", on which it's clear I'm in pain, and, after a short while, rocked on, to find a firetrail almost exactly representative of the entire course in microcosm.

Up until this point, my average speed was 16.9km/h

By the end of this section, my average speed was still sitting at 16.9km/h, unchanged over the last half an hour or so, I was at almost exactly 40km done, and out of the bush section proper. Ride time was two hours twenty minutes here, with 10km to go.

I did a quick video diary, speculating that maybe, if Kanangra Walls was smooth and level, the last section could go at 30km/h, making the lap two hours 40 minutes (though I confusedly miscalculated on the video). As it turns out, the 10km back to Budthingaroo is harder by a fair stretch than my 25km/h commute. Yet, still, it's faster than the rest of the trail, and when BikeBrain ran out of battery at 46.2km, I was averaging 17.1km/h and looking at 2:41 on the ride time meter.

The final section was a shitfight, my legs complaining and the trail refusing to play nice, but I kept in the top chainring and pushed hard. There's a very fast section here at which I broke 55km/h last time round, and I'm quite certain that the average for the section was upwards of 20km/h. I was hanging out for the car. I knew I needed to stop and warm my feet, and maybe just have some lunch. When I got off the bike, I found I couldn't stand upright, because I couldn't feel my feet at all. So, I held on to the car to keep myself upright, fired up the engine, abandoned the second lap and tried my best to bring my feet back to life with ugg boots, warm socks and the footwell heater.

I estimated "under 2h50m", which is an everage speed of 17.65km/h. Even if I'd done exactly the same average as at the end of Morung, 17.1km/h, we're still looking at 2h 55s, at what I think is about 75% effort overall.

My current target for the October race is a flexible "under six hours". I think I'm pretty much there. Assuming 75% effort in the first lap, and 95% effort in the second, I'd revise my target to 2:45 per lap, and 5:30 for the race. It's not a winning time, given that the 2011 winners averaged about 22.5km/h, but it's certainly very good considering where I started. In January when I started riding again I was nearly 110kg and struggled on most climbs. I averaged not much over 10km/h at that time. I think I might be going OK. But let's wait until October.


posted @ Saturday, August 4, 2012 10:25 PM

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