25 September 2014
A Tale of Two Races
The team at Self-Propelled run events with a focus on fun. They only run two a year: the Mont 24 Hour, and the Kowalski Classic, and if you only did two events a year, they would be worth it, if only because it gives riders a chance to give a little something back to the team who, for some strange reason, delight in spending their weekends out in the middle of nowhere carving trails for us all to enjoy.
And the Kowalski Classic certainly showcases these trails - offering either 50km or 100km of mostly single-track for the riders - with barely a track repeated. There were new tracks, redeveloped tracks (reclaimed after logging in Kowen) and tracks run in reverse just to give everyone a new perspective. With the friendly atmosphere, the Kowalski Classic feels more like going to explore some new trails with 1,000 new mates than some argy-bargy race.
Fifty kilometres of single track is hard work. There isn’t really much of a chance to rest and, while the tracks are nice and not overly technical, it’s just when you stop paying attention that rocks and roots attack! Two years ago I barely made it through 50km, and thought that was enough. Yet for some reason this year I entered the 100km version.
I knew it would be hard.
I wasn’t looking forward to it.
I expected to be riding for about nine hours.
So I had two coffees before I left home.
Sunday 21 September turned out to be cracker of a day for a ride. Clear blue skies, with barely a breath of wind made for some very welcome weather! And, with no rain for quite some time, the course would be clean and dry. Having no grand expectations, I seeded myself towards the back of the pack, in the fourth start wave, which gave me plenty of time to see the elite riders shoot out of the blocks and disappear in a cloud of dust up the fire trail.
About 20 minutes later, my wave started at a much more leisurely pace, without much hustle or bustle as we rode up the fire trail. The Seismic Road climb was intended to sort out the riders before hitting the single track, and we seemed to find our places pretty well with barely a pause before entering the track and starting the ride proper.
I’d love to be able to rattle of track names for you, so you could go out and recreate the course for yourself, but in reality all I saw for the first 10km was other biker’s bums. Fortunately, by and large, my end of the field wear baggies! All the same, we were riding at a good pace and, for such a big field, it was surprising to find myself out alone after only 10km.
I didn’t push too hard, because Imogen had warned me to save some for the second half. So I figured the key to this race would be to relax and flow where I could; to let the SuperFly carry me through Sparrow like a magic carpet flying over the sweet, smooth singletrack.
Before too long I had reached a conga line; there were a few rocks on the course which had a bit of a knock-on effect. The first person slows, so the people behind them slow. They, in turn, wind up losing too much momentum to make it over the rock, and have to stop; so everyone behind them winds up stopping, and so on.
Did I mention it was a friendly ride? Despite these stops, nobody got agro. Nobody called out. Everyone just had a breather, pushed over the rocks, and headed off again, and before long we were all flowing smoothly along the track once more. I managed to tag onto a rider who was just a tad faster than me, which made for a good challenge to try to hold his wheel.
We both crossed a firetrail around the 20km mark, where the smells of bacon and eggs rolls came wafting to us from the feed station. In one mind, with one voice, we both cried out “bacon” and charged into the next section of single track. I reached the well-stocked 25km feed station about one hour and 40 minutes into the race. Bacon and egg rolls, coffee, assorted lollies, fruit and gels. I took a few moments to rest, stretch, and enjoy the view before heading off once more.
For some reason the next stretch felt very long. It mainly consisted of riding tracks in reverse in Sparrow, and it felt very much as though time was going backwards too! This effect was exacerbated when I started climbing up Big Wednesday, looking at all the lovely berms that would be so much fun coming the other way. But, the climb didn’t last long, and before too long I found myself back in Kowen-land. But not as I knew it.
I hadn’t ridden Kowen since the logging, and the first few tracks felt quite different. The forest was more sparse, and more sunlight came burning down up on me - making me wish I had put on some sunscreen rather than putting my faith in the trees to shade me through the day!
And just to add to my pain, as I was riding along I saw another of the photo signs - saying there was a photo in 20m. Naturally, I started looking for the camera. Riding, and looking, and riding, and looking. Then I saw it! Right next to the track, and it was an automatic one, which managed to catch me crashing into a rock because I was looking at the camera instead of the track. I think they did that on purpose...
All was forgiven a few minutes later when I found myself roaring through the Kowalski Beer Garden, and Last Call. It’s funny just how rejuvenating some nice singletrack can be! Then it was through transition, and another pause before the second 50.
It was here that I started to get worried. I was a bit tired, but if the second half was like the first, I’d be okay. I thought I had enough to make it through. And I made it to the halfway point in about 3:30, which had me on track to come well below my target of 9:00 hours for the day. So, all in all, I was feeling good. Until the rider next to me spoke.
He told me the hard work was yet to come. He’d looked at the course, and the course profile. Something I’d neglected to do. He told me about the climbs to come. Four of them. Long, steep climbs. And I (foolishly) thought - “It’s Kowen. How big can they be?”
So, after a bit more of a rest and a stretch, I headed back out and onto Seismic for the second half of the event. And I don’t think it could’ve been any more different from the first. It was like night and day. It felt as though the team had decided that anyone signing up for the 100km was signing up for a challenge, and challenge us they did!
The next 40km are a bit of a blur to me now. It just felt like 40km of hill repeats. We climbed the WEB track - which is great fun going down, but not so good going up. Then we climbed a huge firetrail climb. And when I say we, I mean I. And when I say climb, I mean walk. I knew there were more hills to come, so took the opportunity to rest my back, and legs, and just walk to the top.
There was a food station at the top! A lot of riders were stopping to rest here. They had nice, sweet, cool, watermelon. I really should know better, but I just can’t help myself; on a hot day, and a long, dusty ride, who can say no to watermelon! So I downed two pieces and headed out for more hill repeats, with the watermelon sitting like a stone in my gut.
And I was starting to really struggle. Easy tracks started to become very hard. The smallest of rocks stopped me in my tracks. I even took one jump a little fast and came down with the front brake on - fortunately I realised my mistake before any true calamity could befall me. Just as I was wondering how far I was from my car, I came to the last food station.
They told me it was only another 15km. With one bugger of a climb. I could do 15km. Surely. So I had more watermelon and headed out on some single track. Then a fire road. Then a climb. But the climb wasn’t too bad. It was steep-ish, but not as steep as some of the climbs we’d already done, and certainly nowhere near as long. And it petered out at the top on some cool, green grass, with some nice views of Bungendore.
And then it was down Love You Long Time - a long, flowing track, with a few surprises but nothing I couldn’t handle, even in my exhausted state. The smile returned to my face, and I remembered why I was there. All too soon that was over, and I was back plodding along firetrail, and past the last feed station again - 7km to go.
Seven kilometres, which went by in a blur. More reversed tracks, which I stared to recognise as the start of the Mont from a few years prior. I was nearly there! I could see the HQ. Pain forgotten, I managed to put on some more speed and return to an almost empty HQ, which meant there was no queue for pizza!
It was definitely a race of two halves. The first half was fun, friendly and flowing. The second was, at least for me, a bit of a sufferfest. I’d rate the 100km version of the race as one of the hardest races I’ve done, and the 50km version as one of the most enjoyable. So it was kind of like getting two races for the price of one! I finished in around 7:25, which far surpassed my expectations for an event with so much single track. I really was hoping to just come in under nine hours.
Thanks go out to Self-Propelled Enterprises for putting on the event, and the Kowalskis, Paul Cole and Alan Anderson for crafting a network of fantastic tracks out there. Of course, all the volunteers who marshalled on the day, and provided smiles and conversation at the various food stations warrant a very big thank you.
You can find our bodgy photos, and some nicer ones from Aurora Images in our Facebook gallery here.