18 November 2015
... at least he didn’t fall off.
The final Capital Punishment sheeted home the number of marathon mountain bike events undertaken by the TriHards. In case you haven’t been paying attention - there are quite few and, after a while, they all become a bit same-ish. Go ahead, read the reports and see for yourself. We’ll wait. So, the TriHards decided it was time for something new, and found out about the Rock & Road being put on by Wild Horizons.
The race is a new concept - a duathlon of sorts, combining the disciplines of road cycling with that of mountain biking- the theory being that most “serious” mountain bikers also had a roady in the stable to work on their base kilometres. And, as a brand new event, the TriHards had to send someone along.
Someone with a roady and a mountain bike. Someone silly enough to see a brand new race format and say, “Yes, I’ll give that a crack.” So, we sent the Cyborg, who is not a runner and, as it turns out, isn’t much of a rider either. Hopefully he can write though, here is his story...
You know, I’ve been to a few Wild Horizons events now (okay, three), and they all seem to have somewhat of a familiar air to them. A common smell to them so that now, whenever the distinct odour of cow shit comes my way, I think of Wild Horizons. No, no, I am not casting aspersions as to their honesty or integrity - quite the opposite. It is the fact that their events tend to be held in the middle of nowhere - where you can find fertilizer aplenty - that links them. And it is indeed a good thing - I mean, who wants to ride a bike around town?
So it was that I turned up to the Rydal Showgrounds early on a May morning, to register, then drop the trusty SuperFly off, with an esky and change of shoes for the second leg. I’d need to top up, and change (shoes) before the second leg, because I had taken on the 80-40 version of the event.
The Rock & Road came in two flavours - the Max Rock & Road (80km road, 35km mtb) and the Mini Rock & Road (40km road, 20km mtb). In addition, riders could do it as a relay, with one rider taking the roady leg and the other doing the mountain bike leg. Being solo, I naturally elected to do the Max event - conveniently ignoring the fact that I’d never done a roady ride that long before - particularly on undulating country roads (Rydal is near the Blue Mountains - that really should have given me a bit of a clue... ) No, if I was going to spend at least six hours in the car to get to an event, I might as well spend at least the same amount of time at the event!
Once registered and set up, I just had to wait around for a while, and chat to people. Friendly people. Lots of friendly people, who looked very fit, sporting carbon road bikes, carbon shoes, and hairless legs. This, of course, didn’t worry me at all, as I drank a second coffee before heading down to find the hairy-legs section of the start which, coincidentally, seemed to be right about where I thought I belonged - at the top of the last third of the pack.
We started on time at nine, and rode out, in a fairly polite affair at the back of the pack, cruising down a hill, then up a slight incline. It really was all very tame. And I started to be overtaken. A lot. Still, this was a road ride, and if I should find myself at the back of the pack, surely that would just mean I’d have more people to draft off? Isn’t that what Roadies do?
Before the gap got too wide, it shortened dramatically, and the course wound down a fairly steep turn. So steep in fact that many were riding their brakes all the way down. I began to purposely block from my mind the fact that the return route would take us back up this steep descent. Fortunately, I didn’t have to distract myself for too long as the way cleared, and we began on some serious undulations.
I’ve heard that roadies like hills. Roadies ride hills that go for kilometres. In fact, roadies would probably call these huge, steep hills at the start “undulations”. I was feeling more like an ant sitting in Dolly Parton’s navel gazing upwards... These feelings of inadequacy were only exacerbated when I spied a roady coming back the other way - already - leading a small pack, and pushing hard towards the top of the hill I was just starting to descend.
In a cruel twist, or a bit of divine inspiration, the Wild Horizons crew had set the turnaround point at the Tarana pub. This worked well because the minis, on seeing the pub closed would turn around and go home, while the more experienced maxxers would see a closed pub and think, “Hmm, closed, but they’ll be opening in a while. I might just go for a little ride until they open...” and head out of town on the longer course, hoping to build up a bit of a thirst on the way.
So, out onto the scenic route I headed - even managing to reel in a few riders. It was a nice day for a ride - clear and cool but not cold, and very scenic in the countryside, full of farms, long winding (undulating) roads, and horses which seemed to come up to the fences and laugh at us.
But it didn’t take very long for all that scenery to just become another bloody hill to climb, and I started to occupy my mind by counting down the kilometres, much as I did the previous day on the drive up. This monotony was broken by a patch of corrugated dirt road. It’s worthwhile mentioning the corrugations - because while you may think they’re tedious in a car, that’s nothing compared to the effect they have on you when riding a road bike! Still, somehow I felt more comfortable on the dirt, and began to pull back even more riders.
Then it was done, and we were back on the road, down over a bridge and into O’Connel. This pretty much marked both the turnaround, and lowest point. So the good news was that the ride was half over, the bad news being that it was all climbing from there on in - including those monster climbs we came down at the start! And there was a headwind brewing.
Somehow, I did surprisingly well, and rode strong up all the mountains, but once we got back to Tarana, I started to have problems. My drink had run out. My drink, which was also my food. I made it up the first couple of climbs okay, but when I found myself running out of momentum coming up the huge hill, I just bonked. There was nothing left in the tank. I would have been possibly 5 to 10km from the hub, and just had nothing left.
To make matters even more interesting, the mountain bike leg cut off was about 20 minutes off, at 1 o’clock. After walking up the huge hill, I hopped back on the bike and pushed on somehow, and found myself grinding up the steep dirt driveway to the hub with about two minutes to cut-off. During that time, I had been half-hoping I wouldn’t make it, that I’d be cut off and would be able to just stop and relax. But now that I was climbing the hill, and so close, I had to push - and so I did!
As I sat there, changing my shoes and swapping in a full bladder, I heard the announcer mention that they’d extended the cut-off time. Apparently the road ride was a bit harder than they’d anticipated! It was good to know it wasn’t just me! By now I’d been off the bike for a few minutes, and for a bit more of a break I walked the SuperFly out of transition, so I managed to have a bit of a rest really.
Then it was on the mountain bike - the part I actually kind of looked forward to. That is the bike I spend most of my time on, after all. And the mountain bike leg started with about 10km of single track. Nice, easy, flowing track that didn’t push me too hard, or throw up anything to really put me off my game. All in all, I was having fun, albeit at a slower pace than usual.
All too soon the single track gave way to fire road and forestry trails, and more climbing! Then we split from the Mini-R and R course and branched out on our own. And the Wild Horizons team must have thought the Maxxers would be a serious lot, so made up a course which seemed to include every mountain in the surrounding area! And just to really make sure we went all the way up and all the way down, we also crossed through a ford (after giving way to some 4WDs over course!)
About twenty gruelling kilometres later - with a gazillion vertical metres - I was back on single track on my way to the hub, wondering why the hell I took on the full course my first time around! The constant refrain in my head was: “Next time, do a smaller course first! Do the smaller course first!”
Ultimately, however I made it back to the hub where it was particularly easy to spot my bike as there were only three left! Fortunately the tuck shop was still open, so I managed to get some food, and speak to some people while walking my bikes back to the car and packing. I was heartened to hear a few of the more roady-looking guys say that the road course was in fact hard, and definitely wasn’t something someone new to the road should have undertaken. Or maybe they just saw how close I was to throwing my road bike under the wheels of my car...
All in all, the Rock & Road was a great event, which will push you no matter which discipline you prefer. I would, however, strongly recommend that if you’re not sure of your abilities, do the Mini-R & R, or consider doing a relay team version the first time. I think it would be a whole lot more fun when you’re not feeling dead on your wheels!
I’d like to thank the volunteers and marshals on the day - one of them had a nice chat with me out on the mountain bike leg as I contemplated climbing yet another hill! And, of course, that bunch of sadists at Wild Horizons. They certainly put on events which can be fun, but if you want, can really challenge you too.