“Just send this guy an email and see if you can get a spot” says Tom Akass, seemed harmless enough. What are the chances I’m going to get one of the 25 spots that are open in the Alexandra stop on the TranNZ Enduro? Well pretty good actually being that I got an email back 10mins after sending my request. I still needed to get the day off work and with 2 others already signed up with the day off I thought not happening… “So about your time off request” “I can’t have the Wednesday off can I?” “Nah Wednesday’s sweet I just need you to work the Saturday?”
So there I was signed up for my very first enduro bike race. It takes a lot to make me nervous but this had me totally shaking. But hey there is only one way to get better and since I seem to be on this mission to push myself outside the comfort zone this seemed reasonable. The TransNZ Enduro is a 5-day bike race, timed descents and untimed uphills around the South Island. The first 2 days spent around the Canterbury area, and 4 days based in Queenstown. The Alexandra day is the only stage where they open a few spaces for some locals to get in on the action.
My riding had improved SO much over the summer, just with loads of time on my bike and I’m willing to give anything a go so what did I have to loose really! I was struggling to keep my brain in line on this one. NO matter how many times I told myself I could do it, it didn’t make up for my lack of downhill abilities. I hit up Sticky Forest as much as I could riding over rocks and trails I’d normally avoid. Tom said if I could do the Bilantis Rock roll before the race that would be good, I didn’t. An evening up Cardrona Bike Park helped me feel a little more confident. Although I’d never ridden in Alex before I knew the terrain was pretty barren and rocky.
Niall and I headed down the Friday before the event to scope out some of the trails. There is no trail map so we went to the local bike shop for some insider knowledge. Just follow your nose was mostly what we were told and look for pink arrows, as these were the markings for the course. Starting with a steep climb up the road, then an easy track around into what looked like some potentially more technical trails, stopping every once and a while to discuss our direction. Finally we found a pink arrow! Not being overly prepared for what the down hill would offer I forgot to drop my seat (rooky mistake) and as I came into a steep rocky section I had a bail over the bars landing on my elbow which of course started to bleed immediately. Note to self; borrow elbow pads for race day. We continued on, Niall offering advice on lines to take and how to ride them. Walking back up a few places to give it another go, I knew I could walk sections I didn’t feel comfortable with but that was not really the point it was a bike race after all. I left happy to have had a chance to check out the terrain but still not overly stoked in my ability to keep it rubber side down.
Race Day Tom A and I convoyed to Alex with Ewan and Henry (also Henry’s first Enduro) and met Tom B (another co-worker) down there. After a short race meeting and some track notes about a steep cliff and the easy route vs a not so easy route on a couple sections we were ready to go. I turned around to grab my bike and the boys were gone. Oh great I get to spend the day by myself! I followed the string of riders toward the trails trying to keep my nerves at bay. Half way up I caught up to Ewan and Henry who were happy to hang out with me for the day. When we reached the top of the first of 5 stages the line of riders behind was amazing. I was kind of happy to be near the front not having to wait. The first stage was one of the more technical, so nothing like starting with the hard stuff no warm up just straight in. I lifted my bike over the fence informed the rider behind me I was going to be a bit slow so maybe give me a bit more space. I watched as the people in front shot off down the track over the rocks and disappeared, my hands were sweating,
anticipation killing me. It was my turn, I waved my hand over the timer and I was off round the corner over the first rock slab it was a bit steep, technical but I felt good. More techy stuff, rocks to navigate, all I was thinking was the pink dots are the line just follow them. Down into a little valley I could see Henry in front of me, ummm not to far behind ok I got this, I’m actually doing pretty well. Climbed out of the valley round another corner the track straight ahead this must be the cliff section they were talking about but it’s relatively flat with a steep drop to the left, I reckon I can go a little faster through here. The thought had no more then crossed my mind when BAM! I caught some soft dirt and went straight over the handlebars landing right shoulder then head first on the ground. I got up super fast, caught my breath, hopped back on my bike thinking I need to get to the bottom before something really starts to hurt. I blinked back the tears from my eyes rode though more slabby rocky bits, some stuff I recognized from last weeks mission. I walked some bits being really annoyed at myself, my shoulder throbbing hoping my helmet was still intact. Made it to the bottom where the girl at the timer asked if I was ok in which I replied with a “NO I’ve done something to my shoulder” I continued down walking one bit because I could barely put any weight on my bars, to where Henry and Ewan were waiting at the bottom. Ewan being a ski patroller quickly assessed me telling me it was probably just muscle damage, the medic gave me some panadol and ibuprofen. I didn’t want to give up but I didn’t know if it was a good idea to continue on. So being the stubborn person that I am I sucked it up and carried on. Peddling up to the bottom of stage 2 was a struggle, my head not in the right place, any small amount of confidence I’d had completely gone. The Tom’s had just finished stage 2 clearly having a little battle for who would be the fastest Tom. I decided not to ride the next stage as it was just was technical as the first stage and waited at the bottom for the boys.
The drugs had kicked in by the time they had gotten back to me and we continued up to stage 3. I really enjoyed the uphill with my right arm draped over my bars not offering much in the way of help. This stage started with a big smooth rock slab, and few smaller rocky sections, I struggled to turn my handlebars and squeeze my brake, fairly essential movements, the tears started again and I knew it was over. I made it to the bottom after walking a few sections and being really annoyed at myself. Luckily this was where the food station was and I drowned my sorrows in chips and sugary treats. I hung around waiting for the boys to complete stage 4 and pondering how I was going get back to town. Fortunately I met a Mom who’s teenaged boys had taken the day off school to compete (I love this place), half way down we ran into Tom A who was on his way to collect me.
Reflecting back on the day I’m super proud of what I managed to accomplish. Yeah it wasn’t a stellar performance, I fell of my bike (what’s new) but I pushed myself to do something outside my comfort zone. What I did manage to ride was far bigger and more technical then anything I’ve ever done before, how could I not be totally stoked with that! I don’t want to live in a cushioned bubble just doing what I can already do, I don’t care if I’m bruised and battered I’m living life to the fullest and enjoying every minute of it. The best riders didn’t get to be the best riders by playing it safe did they? If you only do what you can do, you will never be more then who you are now. – Shifu, Kungfu Panda 3. This just leaves room for heaps of improvement next year!!
As far as the battle of the Tom’s, Tom A (25:65) beat Tom B (27:64) by 2 minutes, which I was informed is a lot. So Tom B is now know as the second fastest Tom:) Feature Photo: Tom Akass – photo credit TransNZ