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Action Men of the TriHards Complete the Race with an Identity Crisis!

7 December 2008

7 December 2008

Action Men of the TriHards Complete the Race with an Identity Crisis!

The Action men of the TriHards used their local knowledge and strategic thinking to record an excellent result in the race of many names over the weekend. In a star-studded field, the TriHards obtained 321 points, gaining 72nd place (out of 255) overall, and 31/78 in the men’s division, which is certainly an excellent result - particularly in their first outing in such a race.


In 2007 many riders mourned the death of the Urban Polaris, however all good things do not necessarily come to an end. Just like John Farnham “the last time” doesn’t mean the last time. With the assistance of the Mental Health Foundation of the ACT, the race was back again in 2008 with a new name, the “Urban MTB”. Though, as with many other traditional races, the original name stuck and Polaris continue to receive free publicity with the race as riders shorten the name to the previous sponsor.

Some cynics may question the intentions of MHF in sponsoring the event; believing that perhaps the race is a secret scheme by the organisation to identify people of suspicious sanity in Canberra - for not only do entrants spend seven hours with a small mountain bike seat crammed between their cheeks following an uncertain course for a dubious amount of points, but they also pay for the privilege!

However, in light of the poor recognition of the MHF within the ACT, it may be considered a bold move in the direction of more targeted marketing. With one in five people in Australia affected by mental health issues, perhaps running the Urban MTB is a great way for the foundation to identify clients.

The Race

The Polaris is effectively a seven-hour bike rogaine covering all of Canberra. The organisers constructed a course with the intent that nobody could possibly obtain all of the checkpoints. To make things even more interesting, a full-sized map is sent out in the week prior to the race, with coordinates of checkpoints provided at registration. Entrants are then required to mark the checkpoints on the map, and start considering courses to take throughout the race.

There is, however, a catch. The point values of each checkpoint are not given to teams until after the race commences. Teams would leave the start line, ride around a corner, then pick up the checkpoint score listing from one of the many volunteers who assisted in the race, which certainly makes planning more interesting!

A slight difference to this race is the provision that teams may use public transport which, in Canberra, is limited to Action buses. There are only a limited number of buses in Canberra with bike racks fitted; and these racks carry only two bikes (one team). On the bright side, these buses are the intertown routes, and are free services for riders.

[6:00 a.m.] Race Preparation

That’s right, six in the morning! Who would have thought such a time really existed on a Sunday morning? Yet the TriHards were up, and parked at the Stromlo Forest Park, ready to race! The race was limited to teams of two, and Mr GPS and the Cyborg were the only TriHards foolish enough to undertake the event. They met up in the early hours, and proceeded down to registration, where they received their race show-bag, start time and the vital checkpoint coordinates and clue information (and the even more vital coffees and bacon and egg rolls!)

Appetites sated, and brains starting to function with the caffeine lubrication, the team began to prepare the race map. Fortunately, the Adventure Truck has an expansive bonnet, so the whole map could be unfolded across it; which the wind promptly picked up; this led to the momentary contemplation by the team of using the map as a sail throughout the race, holding it up between two bikes. Not only would this provide extra drive, it would allow the team members to be able to see the map at all times (since they didn’t have one of those fancy map boards carried by many of the other lycra-wearing teams). However, this idea was quickly abandoned as the legality of such a move was uncertain.

The first step in preparing the race map was to mark the checkpoint coordinate. The coordinates were provided as a combination of the letter and number coordinates of the map grid, with another two numbers indicating where in the grid square the checkpoint lay. Having a reasonable degree of intelligence, and a couple of coffees under their belts, the TriHards managed to accurately mark all the checkpoints after just two attempts.

Normally, once all of the checkpoints are identified, the TriHards would plan a series of loops for the race, however this race had the complication of not knowing the actual value of checkpoints. This could lead to the potential to have a route which climbed, for instance, Mount Taylor, only to discover that it wasn’t worth any points!

Given these conditions, the hard men of the TriHards plotted courses around each valley, which was easily enough done, given that there were checkpoints in several valleys! They would start with Tuggeranong, with a checkpoint on a hill behind Duffy which could be gathered, prior to moving over to Mt Taylor, through Kambah, then out to Richardson before heading back to Erindale for a climbing wall checkpoint and into Philip.

At this point, the team assumed that the Philip checkpoint, being the MHF headquarters, and sitting relatively isolated on the map would be worth a fortune in points; so they would definitely hit that one, before moving off to ride up Red Hill, then over to Fyshwick and Pialligo and moving into the Civic/Watson loop.

With their plan set, the boys unpacked their gear, and began to prepare for the race, the Cyborg discovering his water bladder was wet hoping it was condensation, rather than the thought that he had broken yet another water bladder.

It was at this point that he ran into Richard, an old project manager from his previous life as a permanent employee (and a good biker).

The TriHards
The TriHards, relaxed, happy and ready to go!

As their start time approached, the TriHards headed down to the coral, running into Sam, another of the Cyborg’s former supervisors; this trend was becoming a bit of a concern to the Cyborg, who was well aware of the trend of the MHF to use the word “supervision” rather than the more loaded term “counselling”. Fortunately, moods were jovial, and Supervisor Sam took a happy snap of the boys while they were still happy and fresh.

[9:00 a.m.] Race Start

The TriHards started the race in a very similar fashion to that of the Canberra AROC race the week before; racing from the start to gather the checkpoint scores, then stopping around a corner! It was at this point they discovered that the Philip checkpoint was worth nothing, nor was the climbing wall at Erindale (much to their disappointment). The quick thinking TriHards altered their plans instantly, and set off for their first checkpoint, the trig point on Narrabundah Hill behind Duffy.

This checkpoint was relatively straightforward and simple, save for the fact that the Cyborg was quickly discovering some issues with his brakes; having difficulty slowing to turn off the Cotter Road, and even more trouble on the dirt trails downhill from the checkpoint. Though this would probably be of little consequence; after all, races aren’t about going slow!

With their first checkpoint (and 40 points) in the bag, the TriHards were in a buoyant mood; the TriHards, had a valuable secret weapon: local knowledge. In the adventure race the week before, Mr GPS used his local knowledge to aid the TriHards on their best course through the race, resulting in a stunning time. This week, the Cyborg has a lot of local knowledge of the Tuggeranong checkpoints, while the team would also head back to Watson, Mr GPS’s home turf, for more checkpoints. So, feeling ever so confident, the TriHards looked up at Mt Taylor, their next checkpoint...

[9:30 a.m.] Mt Taylor

The team could almost plot their course to Mount Taylor from their vantage point atop Narrabundah Hill; with Hindmarsh Drive, and Mount Taylor in full view. Mt Taylor is an imposing sight on Tuggeranong, casting it’s shadow (including a radio and tv shadow!) across Kambah. Rising to a stately 855m, it is one of the larger mountains around Canberra. The Mount Taylor checkpoint also marked the start of the Cyborg’s backyard, with the path already chosen based on his local knowledge of bike paths used to get to work, and the following Tuggeranong checkpoints all being in very familiar locations for him.

The team set off at a blistering pace (well, once they’d gotten off the single track where the Cyborg’s brake and tyre combination were proving to be quite moody), and raced over Hindmarsh drive to a bike path highway, reaching speeds of up to 50km/hr. They deviated from the Cyborg’s work route near a school and began to head towards the mountain, ducking under the parkway through use of an underpass, and following a road as far as they could up the mountain.

Then came the climb, and the strategic thinking of the TriHards came to the fore once more. Rather than burn their legs out for the climb of 150m over 700m, the bold men jumped off and began to walk their bikes; seeing many other riders do the same thing. Only one rider was observed to be actually pedalling up, with granny gear in full swing. But the TriHards kept climbing. One foot after another. Left, right, left, right, trudging up the hill, while watching the rider’s legs mercilessly cranking his bike up the hill, spinning with what looked like a cadence of 120rpm to move an inch or so. Left, right, left, right, watching the mountain top become closer and closer. Are you getting the impression that it was a long, hard climb yet?

The sun beat down on the team from the relatively clear blue sky, and that cooling breeze which had been blowing in from the north west seem to have abated, leaving the TriHards to slowly trudge up the mountain, baking in the sun. Left foot, then right foot, staring only at the ground before them, ignoring the top which seemed to be receding as fast as the Cyborg’s hairline, and continuing...

Ultimately, they reached the top around the same time as the rider, save that the TriHards’ legs were not rubber by this stage.

At the top, the TriHards took the opportunity to take a few happy snaps and admire the view. This was because they believed it would prove to be the best view of their race, not because they were looking for an excuse for a break. It is amazing how much Kambah looks like a half-pipe, squeezed in between Mt Taylor and Urambi Hills from the top of Taylor...

Mr GPS atop Mt Taylor.
There was a very nice view there behind Mr GPS.

What goes up must come down, and so the TriHards set off on the southern path to head down into Kambah. The Cyborg was now on familiar ground once more, being a resident of Kambah, he had performed a number of the requisite climbs of Mt Taylor with dogs and children. The boys considered ignoring the path for a moment, and riding straight down the southern slopes of the mountain, and decided it would be much too Man from Snowy River for them so continued along the path, only to be overtaken by another team who had been told by the marshal that it was permissible to ride down the track.

So, in no time at all, the TriHards were back on their bikes and flying down the mountain towards Kambah, and checkpoint 31.

[10:45 a.m.] Beyond Thunderdome

The next checkpoint was in the Adventure Playground in Kambah; which held no navigational challenges at all for someone with local knowledge of the area. The TriHards crossed Sulwood Drive, where the Cyborg considered taking Mr GPS to show him the site of the infamous accident which broke both the Cyborg’s arms (and ring finger), tore his shoulder and resulted in a week’s stay in hospital, plus titanium structural enhancements. But, this was not a scenic tour, and the boys were on a mission, in known territory! So instead they shot straight down the road to the adventure playground, passing another team on the way.

From behind, the TriHards thought it was a family out for a recreational ride; but on seeing their bibs in front it became apparent they were competing in the race! The team consisted of a mother riding a bike with a nipper in a tagalong, the father riding a bike with a baby in a trailer, and two more younger children riding their own bikes. An excellent family adventure!

The Adventure Men of the TriHards arrived in the Adventure Playground of Kambah to find the checkpoint located atop a wire climbing frame. The Cyborg asked the attending marshal if it was permitted to shake the frame in an effort to beat the competitors already on it, to which she replied in the negative. There goes about the only chance for a bit of "Beyond Thunderdome" style racing! Nevertheless, the Cyborg made quick work of the climb, without actually hurting anyone, and they Gued up and set off for more adventure.

[11:00 a.m.] C2’s Backyard

The team was now well and truly in the Cyborg’s backyard, with the next checkpoint in Urambi Hills; the same Urambi Hills where Mighty Jack takes the Cyborg for walks; so it was very familiar territory, and the TriHards rode up the Kambah bike highway to the checkpoint in short order and returned to find the Polaris Family starting to consider whether they could get their bikes and associated equipment over the gate. Then it was back on the Highway and out to Richardson.

The Kambah Highway path is a well known, and well-worn path by the Cyborg, being the path that Mighty Jack likes to take the Cyborg for runs on his bike (without ducking in front of the bike!) The Cyborg had previously achieved speeds of up around 50km/h down this track trying to keep up with the black streak, so knew it to be a great way to get down to the Lake, which they did within minutes.

Unfortunately, everywhere in Tuggeranong is uphill from the Lake, however the ever-optimistic TriHards realised this meant the ride back would be all downhill! So they pushed up into Richardson, in quest of the shops and some face painting. Riding strategies began to come into play on this leg, with Mr GPS slipping in behind the Cyborg’s bike and drafting up to Richardson.

The checkpoint at the Richardson shops was easily found, and the team opted for the 20 bonus points possible through getting their faces painted. In line with the TriHards’ marketing and branding strategy, rusty nails were painted on their faces, before they engorged some sustenance and began to plan the rest of the ride.

[12:15 p.m.] Action Men!

Now, almost half way into the race, the team had to consider their second loop. Their original plan of maybe hitting Erindale and Phillip was now looking rather foolish, considering it would garner them no points. This, obviously affected their decision to go for the Red Hill checkpoint, which lay between Phillip and Civic. Taking a bus to Civic seemed like a very viable option; it was within the rules, would provide them with a much-needed break, and would undoubtedly be much faster than riding into Civic, particularly for the paltry points they could pick up along the way.

Mr GPS with his warpaint.
Mr GPS proudly displaying his warpaint at the Tuggeranong Bus Terminal.
A painted Cyborg
The branded Cyborg at the Tuggeranong Bus Terminal.

So, with the target of the 12:15 bus, the boys headed back down the (downhill) Richardson Highway to the Hyperdome. And they pedalled, and pedalled. Yes, I mentioned it was downhill, so in theory it should have been an easy cruise... Just as easy, if not easier than the Kambah Highway. But such was not the luck of the TriHards, if they were going to get a chance to slack off on a bus, they would have to work for it, and the wind took it’s toll in sweat to pay for their future rest.

Despite the wind, the team arrived at the interchange with about 5 minutes to spare for the 12:15 bus, giving them time to remove loose gear from their bikes before the bus’s arrival. The pair found the bus, when it arrived, to be comfortable and air-conditioned, as it took a circuitous route through Wanniassa and out to Woden. In the cool bus, with comfortable seats the teams regathered their thoughts and began planning their route around Bas’s front yard, and (for once) their second loop looked achievable.

Once again, Mr GPS was very familiar with this turf, in addition, one of the checkpoints was the spirit level checkpoints the team had already visited once in the February AROC race, and in the week prior to the race during a warm down ride after the Canberra AROC. Their new plan was to ride from Civic, up through Ainslie and through Watson, duck into the flowerbed at Dickson, then nip into Lyneham. Then, if time permitted, the team would run down to the spirit levels near the museum, and cross the bridge to pick up some checkpoints on the return to Stromlo. The plan was to be back across the bridge by 3.00 p.m.; an hour should be plenty of time to ride the short distance back to Stromlo Park!

[12:45 p.m.] Stairway to Heaven

At around 12:45 the refreshed team had to leave the luxury of their air-conditioned, padded-seat accommodation and resume their trials once more, the first checkpoint being the fire escape stairs of the YWCA. Mr GPS had a fair idea of the location; however assistance from another team sitting down to lunch in a shady café was most welcome. Consequently, the checkpoint was found without any hassle, and the boys were on their way once more, riding through Civic and on to the next checkpoint at Ebden Street in Ainslie.

It was around this time that the Cyborg discovered his leaking bladder had finally managed to become completely drained. Mr GPS offered the option of stopping in at his place on the way to the Watson checkpoint; however with his coffee machine non-functional, it probably wasn’t all that worthwhile.

[1:00 p.m.]Filler Up!

The checkpoint at Ebden Street was a house; the MHF head office, where a friendly marshal greeted the team and informed them that there was a tap in the front yard; a rapidly dehydrating C2 took the opportunity to refill the leaky bladder, then spend the next five minutes trying to squeeze it into his bag!

[1:25 p.m.] Somewhere Over the Rainbow

With a full bladder the team was ready to move on to the next checkpoint, near a totem pole... They headed out on their mission, and were sorely tempted to hail a passing bus which had bike racks on it, but unfortunately missed their opportunity for a little more air-conditioned comfort! Nevertheless, they rode on, through leafy streets to Rainbow, another MHF facility, to find the checkpoint located in a pleasant garden courtyard. Such a tranquil setting would have been ideal for a moment of relaxation and meditation, but the team had more important things on their mind; while the backpack water bladders had been emptied, their contents had filled other bladders, which in turn required immediate drainage.

[1:30 p.m.] Go North!

Having completed this checkpoint by the TriHards cut off of 1:30, the option of the Watson checkpoint was viable, so off they set. Passing within a whisker of Mr GPS’s no-coffee machine house, and heading towards their northern-most checkpoint at Southern Cross 10 TV Station. This checkpoint was hanging from the gate, as advertised, and easily gained; the next stop was Northbourne Avenue.

[1:45 p.m.] Lay Me Down in a Bed of Roses

Checkpoint 35 was located at the intersection of Northbourne Avenue and Antill Streets near Dickson, where the MHF logo could be found in a flowerbed. It was an easy run down along Northbourne Avenue from Watson, only having to stop at the main lights there. It was from this point, that the Cyborg observed the flowerbed looked like a big jump, with the checkpoint hanging over it. Some cool manoeuvres could be undertaken to punch the control card at this checkpoint, but the idea was quickly dismissed. No doubt the MHF, organisers of the event, would not look kindly on bikies hooning through their flowerbeds!

From here is was a short burst into scenic Lyneham to visit Checkpoint 10, where a marshal kindly asked if we were heading straight back now? Of course we were, we were just going to pick up a few checkpoints on the way!

[2:00 p.m.] How can you tell if it’s a level playing field?

The spirit levels down on Acton Peninsula were the next checkpoint, all more or less downhill from Lyneham; so the TriHards jumped on the Lyneham highway, which led them down, through Lyneham and O’Connor, then the ANU and out to the lake. They crossed over the hill of the peninsula and down to the lake, only to find they had to go back uphill to reach the checkpoint. It was fair to say that, at this point of the day, that little rise was looking more like Mount Taylor! However, the boys grabbed the checkpoint quickly, and sucked down their reserve supplies of Gu to provide sustenance for the last leg - around the Lake and back to Stromlo - and they were half an hour ahead of schedule - there was plenty of time to waste

[2:45 p.m.] Land of Bikes

Perhaps it is a result of a classical education, but for some reason I think more of doomed, insane princes talking to skulls rather than bikes when the word "Dane" is used... However, the clue for this checkpoint is the home of bicycles (for another reason altogether, on reading those words, China comes to mind). The TriHards did another quick uphill dash to the embassy to punch yet more holes in their card, and proceeded back down to the lake; on course for Weston Park.

[3:00 p.m.] Don’t Pay the Ferryman

The TriHards encountered a few teams heading towards the lakeside at Weston Park, who reliably informed them of the location of the checkpoint; which was indeed handy. However, on their arrival, there was no checkpoint to be seen! Seeing the TriHards in distress, two young girls provided ready assistance and informed the team that the checkpoint was in a kayak, and the man paddling the kayak had headed back up the lake.

The TriHards had the scent once more, and were back on track to find the checkpoint, sure enough, it was located after just following the lake’s edge a few metres, controlled by a man in a folding kayak. The Cyborg, with a keen interest in kayaks, asked about the kayak; it turns out that the owner had taken it out on the ocean on several occasions, and it handled quite well for him. Aah, for the convenience of a kayak you could put in your boot...

[3:30 p.m.] So Zoo Me!

With their second-last checkpoint in the bag, all the TriHards had to do was circle the lake around to Scrivener Dam and head back to Stromlo. It seemed easy enough, easy enough to not even bother pulling out the map again. The few hills on the path were starting to feel like Everest to their tired legs (not to mention chafing in other parts of their bodies!) and the long day was truly starting to take it’s toll on the TriHards now.

But it was all worth it, when in but a few minutes they had arrived at the zoo, and gathered their last checkpoint at an underpass under the parkway. They had Stromlo in sight, and with the ability to view it, there was certainly no need to refer to the map!

[4:09 p.m.] Is that a cold beer?

The TriHards quickly went through the underpass, and into the pine forest, often used for the Rally of Canberra. The tracks were sandy, causing the bikes to slip and slide along, and not assisting in traction during pedalling at all! This was certainly the hardest part of the race for the TriHards, a hot wind was blowing against them, carrying sand and dust, as they pedalled through soft dirt on windy tracks, which would often turn away from Stromlo.

After following a few of the wrong tracks, the TriHards elected to follow their own path, moving through some single track and up towards another wide track which lead to Uriarra Road. Finally, a little after four (their cutoff time) the TriHards were back on bitumen, pedalling uphill for a very short time, until they got off their bikes to walk them in sympathy for other riders.

Once the level ground of the gates was reached, the boys remounted their steely steads, and headed for the finish line, completing the course at 4:09 p.m, with an excellent result of 330 points (cut down to 321 due to the tardy factor). The MHF marshal to greet them and take their control card was one of Chris’s previous supervisors, again! She told them where the beers were, and congratulated them on completing the race; then asked the question “So, are you going do more training for the event next year?” But the TriHards are too smart to fall for such ruses - knowing that this was a leading question; only an insane person would be thinking of competing again in the year after seconds after extricating a bike seat from their cheeks!

“Never again!” was the reply (though, knowing full well they’d be back on their bikes next year, with the greater goal of actually managing to appear in the first page of results). Insane: no, stupid: perhaps; Normal: never! Besides, if the TriHards didn’t go out on wild adventures and punish their bodies, the race reports would be awfully boring!

[5:30 p.m.] Presentations

The TriHards actually hung around for the presentations for this event; not because they no longer had the use of their legs, but because they were actually interested in the results (and there was a nice Mongoose bike to be given away to a random rider). They were amazed at the (fully lycra-clad) winning team, who managed to visit all but two of the checkpoints!

Thank you and Good Night!

The Urban MTB (okay, okay, Polaris) is a long and challenging event; even more so for the organisers who have to plan it, then set up all of the checkpoints first thing in the morning before the race even starts, then hang around long after everyone else has gone to clean up. The TriHards would like to thank MHF and the Wild Horizons team for organising and running the event, and certainly look forward to riding again next year! (Which can be said now, because there has been long enough time for the pain to pass!)

Race Stats

Date: 7 December, 2008
Location: All over Canberra
TriHards: Bas (Mr GPS), Chris (Cyborg)
Placement: 72/255 Overall, 31/78 male