21 March 2014
I have entered, and completed all the Capital Punishments run by AROC - including the legendary first race in 2010. That was a great ride - you can talk to anyone in the Mountain Biking Fraternity (yes, there is a mountain biking fraternity, and yes, girls are allowed. But not electric bikes) let drop that you did that race and receive instant respect. It was a fantastic brown-carpet premiere for what would become one of the premier mountain biking events in Australia - forming part of the Real Insurance XCM, then Maverick mountain bike series.
But all good things come to an end, and the Canberra-based AROC team have decided to ditch their last Canberra-based event and discontinue to Capital Punishment. Whether this be due to recent adverse publicity around the term “Capital Punishment”, an increasing workload due to a growing family, or just the fact that there are so many sections of single track growing in and around Canberra now that it’s not possible to link them all in a single event anymore. Perhaps they just want to leave on a high, as they did with the Paddy Pallin Adventure Race series... (Perhaps they want to take the time to revive the adventure race series?)
I had graduated to the 100km event over the past two years, but this year entered the 50 for various reasons - none of which are that I’m soft. Well, maybe a little. But the 50km course had changed markedly since I had last done it, so it seemed reasonable that I should try the last variation of the Capital Punishment before it goes. In the years that I had done it, the race started out at Campbell, riding through the trails of Majura, then through the untimed section before hitting Black Mountain, the Arboretum and onto Stromlo. But that all changed when Majura was closed, so now it starts at the Arboretum.
Though, I didn’t have to completely step back into the amateur ranks. After all, I’m experienced. I’d copped virtually all the punishment AROC had to offer, at least in Canberra. So I would take the #pro approach to getting to the start of the race - and ride. You see, on several occasions now, I have seen the elite riders of Canberra on their bikes riding to and from Kowen after a race. Seriously hardcore riders. That meant I could be hardcore too. I could ride to the start. From Stromlo. Hey, it’s still about 10km, and greatly simplified my logistics for the day.
Except I was late. Then I realised I had forgotten the little strap thing that holds my light battery on my helmet - and it was too dark to ride without lights. Undaunted, I pressed on with my #pro plan and began the ride to the Arboretum, plagued with doubts and negative thoughts - first among which was the thought that as I was late, and there are only so many ways you can ride from Stromlo to the Arboretum, what would I do if I were to ride head long into the elites? Could I turn around and join them? Sure, my time wouldn’t count, and they’d drop me pretty quick, but if I could just get a photo...
Of course I couldn’t be so underhanded, and rode faster, with the fear of running headlong into the pack foremost in my mind. Much closer in my mind than all the kangaroos jumping around the track, or the fear of wearing my legs out before the race had begun! As it turned out I had nothing to fear. The journey was quick, though not entirely painless, when I had to ride up the hill to the Arboretum complex. But at least I’d made it to the start with plenty of time to sit and wait and ponder all the punishments that had gone before.
It was a fine, crisp and clear Canberra morning. Not too cold. Not too hot. Not raining. Not cloudy. Just a great day for riding. In fact, it was pretty much exactly the opposite of the first running of the race, which is kind of a fitting end for the last of the events that AROC run in Canberra.
Well, it was nice until the ride down to the start. That got a little cold! And there we waited again, watching as the hot air balloons lifted off over near the lake. I’d just taken a few photos (because I was focussing on the important things of the race, not the actual countdown…) when we were off - back up that hill that I had climbed to get there.
Though, this time it was all the way up. Dairy Farmers Hill - so named because it’s so steep cows can’t climb it, meaning it’s the only place a dairy farmer could go for a bit of piece and quiet. The hill would climb, then flatten just enough to give us a little respite, then climb again. And again. And it brought to mind something that Tom had said in an interview he had done for the North Face 100, that other, still-running, 100km event that AROC put on in the Blue Mountains. He said:
I don’t want people to feel pain, I really don’t. I just want them to have a good time in the bush.
Don’t believe me? You can watch it here.
So, of course when we got to the top, I mentally thanked Tom for the terrific view, rather than cursing him for putting a shocking climb in at the very start of the race. But the climb did achieve it’s probable objective, which was to split the field. I say probable, because I still think Tom is actually a sadist and just wanted to start the race with as much pain as possible.
Naturally, from the top, we went down, down, faster than Coles can put a jingle in your head. Then back up. Yes, we were on the Arboretum fire trails, which meant constant up and down, and up and down. The motion was so constant I was starting to feel myself get sea-sick. No doubt another one of Tom’s plans - to remind us all that they still run the Kayak for Kids - though Sydney is really quite a distance for me to ride to the start, even harder when towing a kayak.
But it wasn’t long before the Arboretum spat me out, and I was rolling on the outskirts of the new office park of Wright. I span up the all-too familiar Cotter Road climb, and entered Stromlo through Brittle Gums and Holdens Creek before running onto my Stromlo trail nemesis: Fenceline.
Now, Fenceline is a relatively straight, easy track with a slight incline. Absolutely nothing to worry about. Most people could probably ride through there on a unicycle - in fact, people have in previous versions of the Capital Punishment. And I’ve never come off there; it’s just that for some reason by the time I get to the end of it, I tend to feel as though I’m going to cough up a lung. It’s probably all psychological. Kind of like an aversion to putting on events in Canberra.
Then it was the standard loop to the top - Loop 2, or the Blue Loop for Stromlo regulars. And now I was very familiar with this loop, being my standard training ride. In fact, the whole course of this single track section reflected my recent (last year) training rides. So I was feeling quietly confident. Well, except for the bits that I didn’t like.
So, I was happily cruising along, knowing I’d make it up the hill sooner or later, when we started to bunch up again. Someone at the front of the queue was having trouble navigating some of the rocks and turns on the more simple Bobby Pin Climb track. This didn’t bode well for the remainder of the climb, which grew more technical on Emu Run. By Emu Run I was behind the front runner, who was stumbling and stopping at each rocky outcrop. I slowed a little to give her a bit more space, knowing that we had that corner with the two drops coming up - and she’d certainly have difficultly with that.
Sure enough, she made the first drop, then fell on the second. I knew it would happen, because I did exactly the same thing the first, and second times I did the Capital Punishment (though, never when just riding out there). But I didn’t hang around to empathise. Not that I didn’t care, but there was a queue behind us, and only so much room for people to hang around there, so I checked if she was okay, and continued my ride up the hill, and onto the fun stuff!
Western Wedgetail, Skyline and Luge. A chance to rest, recover but, more importantly, a chance to enjoy riding again. To feel the thrill of wind rushing through your helmet as you drop your bike left and right to rail the berms to the bottom! I even passed though that bottom rocky section of the Luge- which had put my sub-three hour ride to bed in my third Capital Punishment-without incident.
Feeling refreshed, I didn’t bother to stop at the feed station, and headed straight into Slant Six and Willo which led me out to the northern side of Stromlo - near the fun tracks of Double Dissolution and Party Line. But no such fun was to be had yet. No, instead we headed down a rocky trail and out to the west of Stromlo - to a region I’d been torn apart by blackberries as I got hopelessly lost during an orienteering event a few years earlier. Not that that worried me now. The track would be signposted.
And it was. It was indeed. Sign posted fire trail. Which pointed up hills. Lots of hills. And down hills. Lost more hills. Occasionally there was a little flat-ish run. But, by and large, it was a little like that second-last remaining AROC event, the North Face 100 - just a constant slog meant for our enjoyment, a fun time in the bush...
It was during one of the reprieves that I rode past the 35km marker. There’s something about the 35km point in a 50km race. You’re more than half way, so it should be a relief; but still so far from the end. For some reason, my legs just started giving way, and I felt entirely empty. Kind of like Stromlo would feel like in the first weekend of March, 2016 when the hill isn’t buzzing with people being punished...
Fortunately Terminal Velocity shook away such blues, and I was back into single track. Climbing, rocky single track. But, at least it wasn’t fire trail. At 40kms the rider behind me called out that we only had 10km to go - to which I replied it was a good 10km too! And it was indeed. Double-dissolution, Crim Track, Party Line, Dingo, White Gums - you know the drill. Fast, flowing tracks which are a lot of run, all the way to the crit track and the finish.
All in all, it was a great ride on a great day and while I did manage to do the 50km in my shortest time ever, this meant that, to my shame, my estimates for my finish window was out by a full half an hour. By the time the Immoral Support Crew arrived, I had already packed the car and was just about to head home. Fortunately, she didn’t have Buddy with her, so Tom’s lunch was safe.
I have enjoyed the Capital Punishment in every year it has been run - it has been, to misquote Tom, great fun in the bush [on the bike], which I hope was his aim. And if this is the case, he was indeed successful. The first race gave me a great excuse to buy a new bike; and the second made me say “Bugger this, I need a duallie”. Who am I going to turn to now to find an excuse to get another bike?
I’d like to thank Tom, Alina, the rest of the AROC crew and all of the volunteers who have put on such a fantastic event over the years. We will surely miss them next year. Or maybe I’ll actually get around to trying the Willo instead. Okay, okay, I might actually turn up and do the Kayak for Kids next year. If they’re still running it...