17 December 2016
Three years to Three out of Three!
Coincidentally, it was during another In2Adventure event – their Mountain Designs Adventure Race in 2013 where Junior shared his three goals of any event:
- Get to the start.
- Get to the finish.
- Don’t come last.
Over the past three years, either through misfortune or misadventure, the Cyborg has repeatedly failed to achieve even the first of these three goals. But all that changed in Spring of 2016 when, amongst other things, the latest TriHards coupling were considerate enough to book their wedding on a date not shared by any other event (though, in reality, Engine and Gearbox do so many events, it was probably their only free weekend). And, in the time leading up, the Cyborg had wrapped himself in cotton-wool to ensure he received no injury in the lead up. Well, you know, except for taking on the Bundy Run and the Fling.
But, at around 3:00pm on 25 November 2016, the Cyborg made TriHards history: when he achieved the first goal: he finally made it to the start of the Snowies Mountain Bike Festival.
Stage 1: Time Trial
Stage one of the festival was at Lake Crackenback, a 5.5km time trial to sort out ordering of riders for later stages – and, no doubt, sort out legs that have been trapped in cars travelling up to the event.
I should point out that I had planned to train for this event – the whole festival actually, but in particular for the time-trial. I was interested to see how far long I would last at relatively full exertion. I even came up with a nice, short course at Stromlo to simulate the 5km course. As it turns out, it was a very wet winter and I didn’t manage to get much training in, and the course I had come up with didn’t quite match the Crackentrack.
With hours to spare, I thought I’d go out and check out the course. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to take a quick lap, taking it very easy, and checking out the course. It started with four technical obstacles –nothing too serious - but they could be a little daunting when the pressure was on. Fortunately at the start of the course I (should) be much more focussed. All the obstacles had B-Lines, and it was refreshing to see that the B-lines would actually involve a bit of a time penalty.
Well, apart from the third obstacle, which was a rock garden. Sure, it was after a fast, bermy run down a slight hill, so there’d be plenty of speed. But I just wasn’t game to tackle that at speed so early in the event, and planned to take the B-line.
But, after that, the course was fun, fast and flowy! There were some minor technicalities, rock drops, bridges and the like, which required your attention, but all in all, it was a very fun course. So much fun, that once I finished one lap, I had to head out for another. Albeit, still quite an easy lap.
So I was surprised when my easy lap – during which my heart rate barely moved above a comfortable walk – was done in a time close to my goal time for this stage of 22 minutes. (Yes, as usual, I pretty much just made up my goal times). Based on the amount of fun I was having on the course, I thought I could actually get below 20 minutes, and quietly aimed for about 18.
All riders were assigned start times for this stage, starting within 30 seconds of each other. So, I dutifully lined up, and waited, nervously. I fought hard to control myself from the start: my heart rate was through the roof- despite my legs not putting in the same effort. I cruised around the obstacles, then into the single track, starting to really enjoy myself and flow through the course. I overtook the rider in front of me, and had my sights on open trail.
Then, a little over halfway through the course, a faster rider caught me. He was flying - this guy had overtaken at least two riders to catch up to me! He politely asked me to move when I was ready. So, caught up in the heat of the moment, I pulled aside on the first grassy patch I could find.
I really should have known better. Grass hides stuff. I still don’t know if it was a rock or a rut, but my wheel slammed into something – hard enough to burp air out – and I went down. Mr Speedy slowed to see if I was okay, but I pressed him to continue. It was hardly his fault, and besides, if he stopped my fall would have been for nothing! So he continued on, as did the rider behind him (who also checked to see if I was okay).
Naturally, I was - I’m getting pretty good at falling off bikes. So I put everything back in place, and set off – passing a fisherman who also asked if I was okay. At least I know if I had’ve been in any trouble, I would have been well looked after!
But the fall had gotten my heart pumping again, and for some reason my fast breathing once more didn’t seem to match my leg spin, which felt like they were running through lead. This combined with my now relatively flat front tyre, which felt quite unstable through corners, slowed me down somewhat. But it was a short course, and in no time at all I found myself at the finish arch, surprised to hear that I had still managed a sub-20 minutes time!
So, I had a great time, and managed to beat my estimated time by two minutes! Winning! And Mr Speedy swung by as I was putting the SuperFly away to check up on me; which was nice. Though, really, it wasn’t his fault.
Stage 2: Thredbo Summit Smash
The road between Thredbo and Lake Crackenback resort is long, undulating and shaded. And I don’t mean gentle undulations, as you may find around Lake Burley Griffin. These are big undulations as you may find, well, in Australia’s alpine region… I mention this so that you may be just as impressed as I when I saw other riders riding to stage two – as I passed them in my ute. If nothing else, that should give you an indication of the calibre of rider at the event. The other riders, that is (I was sipping coffee as I drove by...)
Stage two would be a 21.5km journey from Lake Crackenback back to Thredbo along the Thredbo Valley Trail (TVT), which would be a trending climb. That is, it would undulate (more like the aforementioned undulations around Lake Burley Griffin) but ultimately the whole trail is a climb. I don’t know why I didn’t think more on that. But, I didn’t. Instead I thought: Hmm, 20km. That’s like, about 1:20. I won’t need any nutrition for that, water will be fine.
With an hour between check-in and starting, I was sorely tempted to sneak out for another roll on the time trial course. (It really was a lot of fun!) I had to keep reminding myself that in fact I had two stages to go that day, so had another coffee instead.
Fortunately it wasn’t too long until the briefing. Where Simon, the course director, reminded us that we would be travelling through national park, and that it wasn’t on to just duck off behind a tree. We would be passing by at least two campground with drop dunnies, so if we needed to go, that’s when we should. Naturally, that was when my bladder decided to remind me I’d just had a coffee. But I put it off, to start the stage with everyone else instead...
We started with a climb up the road in Lake Crackenback resort and onto some of the single track from the time trial. The spread probably wasn’t as good as it could have been, but I found myself in a pack running at a fairly decent pace.
The track rolled and flowed, the undulations ensuring that we’d get respite from climbing with some short downhill sections. The field was spread out, and I was catching up to some riders. I was having fun. Which is an odd thing to say on a climb. Well, fun for about five kilometres, after which my bladder reminded me of the coffee, and Simon’s mention of using the toilets. Fortunately, the Diggings campground wasn’t too far beyond that point, where I had a chance to finally be done with the niggle, before posing for a photograph by Mr Motivation, who was camping there. Naturally, he was somewhat disturbed by the fact that I’d paused to chat during a race, and that I didn’t seem particularly worried that I was so far down in the pack. So, I pushed on.
By about the 14 kilometre mark, it started to feel like work. It didn’t help that this was probably about an hour in for me, which is about my limit for riding without nutrition (yes, it could be argued that I have my own saddlebags full of food on me). Fortunately there were plenty of things to distract me from the effort – the fast-flowing river (I spied some kayakers running down it as well – that looked like a lot of fun!), riding over cool metal bridges. And the fun volunteers dotted throughout the course yelling encouraging words at us.
The last few kilometres of this stage took in the end of the Flow Trail at Thredbo. Which sounds like fun. Until I realised we had to climb up to it. By this time I was really running on empty. Which was a bit disappointing, because I reckon it would have been a lot of fun with a bit more juice in the tank. Thus the stage was done, and I was left with several hours to go and find myself some food and drink, and relax before stage three. Fortunately, my accommodation was just down the road, so I could go back and relax (and not sleep) in comfort...
Stage 3 – Thredbo All Mountain course
Believe it or not, Stage 3 was the second-shortest stage, with the great majority of it being downhill, yet it was the one which worried me the most. Not least of which was because it involve climbing to the snow-capped peaks about Thredbo. Fortunately, in this case, the climbing was mechanical, and I had my first ever ride in a chair lift. Which didn’t help my nerves at all.
And, in my usual style, I arrived at the start with plenty of time to spare – or stew as the case may be. I was reassured by a few fellow riders that this course would in fact be fun, more along the lines of a very long Skyline and Luge for those of you familiar with Stromlo. But it was still a very, very long way down!
Race Director Robyn, who was sending us all off in 30 second intervals, was very upbeat though, chatting to me and reassuring me that it would be fine – telling me she’s not a mountain biker and loves this track. Just as my time ticked over she said, “You’ll be fine, Chris, because you’re awesome!” (She must know me well!) Now, this had two immediate effects on me: first, my confidence was indeed boosted. And second, I suddenly had that song “Everything is Awesome!” from the Lego Movie in my head (by the way, if you haven’t seen that movie, you definitely should. In fact, you should buy a copy. BUY a copy not pirate it. One of the TriHards worked on that movie, so in a roundabout sort of way you’d be supporting us. Well, McFly. And come to think of it, he is the reason I missed the first Snowies MTB...)
Coincidentally, that was just about the perfect song for that descent! Everything was awesome! It was just over 6km, and 20-odd minutes of fast flowing fun down the mountain. Of course, there were a few tricky spots, some tight squeezes between rocks, and one not so large rock drop off which caught me by surprise and nearly sent me over the bars.
That was a great stage, and a great track! Between the jingling song in my head, the back and forth switchbacks, and regular pops over rocks and roots, I started to feel more like a barrel in Donkey Kong than some old dude on a mountain bike. It was over all too soon – and started to cement in my mind the idea that this event has some of the best tracks I’ve ridden to date.
Stage 4: Thredbo to Crackenback
Stage four saw us take the track of Stage 2 the previous day in reverse – riding back to Lake Crackenback Resort from Thredbo, although with some interesting early single track – and some slightly different track at the end. I was hoping that, with a general downhill trend, this should be easier than the effort the day before.
And we had an interesting twist on this stage instead of self-seeding, or seeding by time, we were going to start in waves of Elites, followed by men, followed by women. Of even greater interest was that a cursory glance at the starting line up showed a packed field of females! I didn’t count, but would venture a guess that there were at least as many women competing as men. And they looked fitter.
Without much ado, we were off! Only to run straight into a quagmire – which the elites rode through without much trouble, but us mere mortals couldn’t be bothered with that much effort so early in the day (which was yet to include the marathon), and walked our bikes. Then it was onto some tight single track. Just as this was ending and entering back into the forest track, I managed to turn straight into a tree… which sent me to the back of the line (including a stack of ladies who had already caught up to our wave!)
Sure enough, the TVT was much more fun on the return trip. It was a good mix of flowing track, with some sketchy bits covered in gravel, just to keep us on our toes, and a few pinches, just to make sure we didn’t slack off. Time, and riders, moved quickly down that track, and I found myself back in Crackenback with plenty of time to spare to prepare for the marathon.
And by prepare, I mean, of course, grab a coffee.
Stage 5: Marathon
The final stage, a marathon taking in three 15km laps of single track around Lake Crackenback Resort –including some of the fun fare of the time trial track – was scheduled to start at 11, which was bringing it quite close to midday on what was looking to be a warm day. I was looking forward to this after all, I had ridden a lot of these tracks already, and enjoyed them, so the chance to go around a few more times was very, very appealing!
In the tradition of the Man from Snowy River we were led out by a horse and rider– I thought the leaders were actually going to catch the horseman! Then we turned into the flowing single track and headed up toward the Diggings campsite. I found myself in quite a fast moving group for this stretch, and held on for a few kilometres, until everyone slowed on a climb, which wound up just a bit too slow for me, so I had to get off the bike.
I don’t know what it is about climbing: I have a very narrow speed band for climbing. I just have this pace at which I can climb pretty much anything, but any slower, and I need to put a foot down, any faster and I feel like I’ll explode. At any rate, this pause dropped me from the back of the pack, and I found myself alone. This in itself wasn’t bad, as it gave me some space to really have some fun on the track.
Perhaps a bit too much fun. The tracks were fast, and flowy – though there were some gravelly bits where the bike would slide beneath me – and I was really enjoying myself. However, I have limitations. While the distance I’d done in the past three days, or the time I had already spent on the bike didn’t accumulate to some of my longer rides, I was starting to hurt. Perhaps it was the more technical nature, the more bumps, or just because I’m getting older, but I was beginning to feel some pain in my wrists. (Which, by the way, where the reason I couldn’t participate in the previous version of the event –I had damaged my wrists and was waiting on a determination as to whether I’d need a rebuild.)
That’s when I hit the wall of the race. The time I started thinking more about the pain in my wrists and wondering if I was actually doing myself more damage. I even spent as much time as I could riding one-handed just to give the worst one a bit of a rest. Rolling through transition at the end of my first lap, I contemplated dropping out. After all, I’d already had a heap of fun, would I really want to ruin it with injury?
But the atmosphere was so good, and I’d ridden so far without incident, that I thought I’d just go another lap. I’d concentrate on riding smooth (and really, that’s the most fun) and just take it easy on my body for a while. And it worked. By halfway through the second lap, I was feeling much better, just as the elites shot past me – which was to be expected really, the elite riders are generally twice as fast as me.
Which, when you think about it, was really good in this event. I mean, the elite people were flying throughout this event. They were just crazy fast. Most of the riders were. So, by maintaining my half-as-fast (not twice as slow) speed as a better breed of elites, I must have been doing well!
So, come transition, and cheers from all the volunteers and spectators, I was driven on to finish the final lap. And by now I had recovered and was feeling much better, so began to push more. Smooth is fast. Smooth is good, and I was really enjoying the trails again. Though, it has to be said, I was still glad to finish!
All in all, the Snowies was a great event, and I was glad to finally get there, and it’s definitely an event to put on your calendar. I certainly want to book in for the next one – I’m sure it’ll be even more fun with more training kms under my belt! And, now that I have a bit more knowledge of the course, I’d probably plan some better nutrition – particularly for stage two, which took much longer than I had expected.
There are plenty of accommodation options up there – from staying at Lake Crackenback resort, to camping at some of the grounds there. Bear in mind that while the distances look short on paper, they all take their toll, so it would be wise to ensure you get some good rest. I’d recommend staying at Lake Crackenback Resort, or Thredbo.
Lake Crackenback would be ideal if you’re up with your family. In fact, I’d probably book a few days on either side of the event. There’s plenty to see and do around there, with walks, single track, archery ranges, golf courses and even trampolines. The family won’t get bored while you’re riding.
If you’re going as a single, or with a bunch of friends, I’d recommend staying at Thredbo – that’s what I did, and it worked out quite well for me. Stage two brings you up to Thedbo with a few hours before Stage three, which meant I could just go back to the apartment and relax. Then stage three ends at Thredbo too, so I didn’t have to worry about driving anywhere, I just got cleaned up and went to dinner (I left my car at Crackenback that morning). Stage four is a ride back to Crackenback, so there was no need for a shuttle or running around, so it was all very easy.