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Mr GPS Gets his Century

20 April 2016

20 April 2016

Mr GPS Gets his Century!

Like many other people, I was really looking forward to Batman vs Superman. I’d seen – and enjoyed – Man of Steel, and all the latest Nolan Batman films, and thought, “Wow, combining two good things makes for a great thing, right?” Instead it turned out to be long, convoluted mess. I should point out that it wasn’t a bad film – it was quite enjoyable, just disappointing. I had similar high hopes for the Urban Polaris, recently revived by the National Trust. And whilst I ran around gleefully announcing it’s return to all who would listen to me, and counting down the days to the event, some small part of me had to wonder...

Spoiler alert: It was awesome!

I really enjoy the Urban Polaris – I’ve only done it twice, but enjoyed it immensely both times. It’s fun, challenging, irreverent, and can be tricky. The concept was devised by the sadists at Wild Horizons, who included such things as zero-point checkpoints on top of mountains, so that you can ride to the top of a mountain for naught but the view. It’s madcap foolery, more akin to a scavenger race run throughout Canberra than a serious biking event (though people can, and do, take it seriously). I can’t even call it either a road race or mountain bike race, because you can use whatever you like, and it’s still an open question as to which would make the better choice.

So when I saw a new incarnation of the race being advertised – it hadn’t been run for a number of years – I was very excited, and got in touch with Mr GPS immediately. After all, we were the original TriHards Polaris team. Unlike Batman and Superman, no fight was required to resolve any differences: we were both on the same page straight away (and neither of our mothers are named Martha). And, in line with our new team strategy, we had one goal: fun.

Like all Snyder superhero movies, our tale starts out dark. Very dark. Six in the morning dark, when we turned up at the Old Bus Depot for registration. Fortunately there was light in the dark – a ray of hope for the team. Our Wonder Woman to save what could have been an ungodly mess – in the form of a smiling barista in front of a coffee machine. She even gave us a little tip: her sister works as a barista on the Stromlo checkpoint (bonus!) Suitably informed and caffeinated, the team picked up their packs and started marking out checkpoints.

People in a warehouse
Be prepared: Bring your own table and chairs.

In Urban Polaris tradition, entrants are given a map (in this case, the excellent Canberra Cycleways map along with a list of checkpoints with short descriptions and associated coordinates on the map. It is then up to the team to transcribe the coordinates onto the map. Did I mention it was freakishly early in the morning? I know I’m up at that time pretty much every day, but that’s so that Max can take me for a walk to wake me up- and all I have to think about is not tripping over. Two hours gave us plenty of time to mark up the map – we were finished in one – so we headed off to do what all decent people do at seven in the morning: have a good brekky.

In this time, we caught up on news, chatted about Batman vs Superman (Mr GPS, who had heard of my, and others’ disappointment, went in without expectations, and quite liked the movie) instead of coming up with a course. Really, without knowing the value of the checkpoints (you get that once you start) there wasn’t much point. So we just relaxed, then rode back to the HQ for the start, where we spotted. Another Dynamic Duo – the Dirty Femmes - who liked to kiss all their checkpoints on the map for luck. We could tell by the shades of pink on all of them.

Marked up map.
Pink lipstick really makes those checkpoints pop!

To the Bat Cave to determine a strategy! Well, back to the truck, with the value of checkpoints to determine a course. And there were no surprises! No checkpoints on Mt Taylor worth 0 points. And not much variation, with checkpoints worth 10, 20, 30 or 40 points. There was a good scattering of checkpoints around central Canberra, with a few in Belconnen, Tuggeranong and North Canberra. Given the TriHards’ strategy of having fun, and utilising the public transport option, the team wisely decided to make their way north to Mr GPS’s house to pick up his MyWay card (which would also mean they could visit the checkpoints amidst the single track at Mt Majura!)

Canon pointing over city.
Okay, this one was pointing at the library. But I swear the other one is aimed at Parliament House!

So off they went via the Railway Museum, then through the Jerrabombera Wetlands – on the way seeing a fallen rider already! He looked a bit of a mess, but seemed sensible, and his partner was already calling in help, so the TriHards moved on to their next checkpoint – the War Trenches! Bet you didn’t know we had those in Canberra! Then they utilised the Cyborg’s memory from the Mountain Designs Adventure Race in 2013, to climb up the front of Mt Pleasant which – in Mr GPS’s wise words – was no Mt Taylor (for which we were very, very grateful). Even more impressive was that the lesser climb had much nicer views from the top. And canons! Canons which used to point out over Sydney Harbour, but now look to target Parliament House … just in case.

Then we were onto Mr GPS’s home turf – going off road through leafy Campbell (a very impressive suburb indeed!) and onto firetrails skirting Mt Ainslie around to Hackett where we popped into the Bamily household for a quick bike tune, before heading over to Majura.

Girl with a mountain bike
Our pit crew checking the drive train.

We had left the supplementary maps for Majura back at the hq, but vaguely recalled where the checkpoints were, so our attention turned to discussing the best way to get to them: we could take the quick way – fire trails – through Majura. Or we could go via single track – Planet Claire, Love Shack et cetera. Like there was a choice. In no time at all you could hear the native call of the mountain biker (a hoot) as they flowed down the single track.

But the singletack fun was short and sweet; then we found the back gate to Innabaanya. Closed. And it was marked as private property, and saw no signs of marshalls. We thought it best if two hot, sweaty middle-aged men didn’t trespass onto a Girls Guide camp, so headed around by the firetrail, only to find the checkpoint was on the other side of the fence.

Given neither of us could fly, nor did we bring a grappling hook gun, we’d have to ride all the way out to the highway, and back for the checkpoint! But this brand-new road was nice and smooth, and we did spot what looked to be a nice little pump track (which we considered trying out, but thought better of as we’d already effectively had a detour).

The next checkpoint was quite obvious on the firetrail, kind of sort of on the way to Bat Cave and Pinot Grinio... Upon checking our card, we began to consider the idea of just riding some single track at Majura for a few hours, then heading back to HQ, picking up some checkpoints. But, really, that’d be a bit like Batman saying, “Hey, you know what, I think I’ll just leave Superman alone, and just cruise around Gotham taking out crims for a while. That’s much more fun.” And only having half a movie. Which probably wouldn’t have been such a bad thing either...

Scrivener Dam backed by Dairy Farmers Hill
Sure, the hill looks very tame in a picture...

Instead, just like Batman we headed out again towards Canbera’s first neon sign (which was not the TriHards symbol). Then we formed up to take a fast ride down Northborne Avenue (the first for the Cyborg) where they could test out their mad road skillz... with a quick detour into Dickson to get a checkpoint on Canberra’s first cycleway, during which the Cyborg updated Mr GPS with the new cycling laws whereby it’s now legal to ride across pedestrian crossings (at less than 10kph). Then it was on to free coffee – I mean, the Ride Shop where they were offering riders free coffee (and sold us a bell to make Mr GPS’s bike street legal, while also giving us a chance to read a big poster with the changes to the laws written on it!)

Recaffeinated, the TriHards rode through Civic and over the lake to start gathering checkpoints in Yarralumla and Deakin, before heading out to Scrivener Dam. There was another checkpoint nearby, atop Dairy Farmers Hill, worth 20 points.

So I took over navigation duties from Mr GPS to pick up checkpoints on the bike highway running from Yarralumla through to Woden, taking in checkpoints at the Woden Flood Memorial, and the Callum offices (which, was until that time just known as the tubey building). Did we mention this checkpoint was just across the road from the Woden Bus Interchange? And that bus travel is allowed in the Polaris?

This opened a wealth of possibilities! Well, actually, just one: it meant we could get a bus to Kambah, giving us time to grab some lunch before visiting two checkpoints on the way to Tuggeranong. The first of these was at Kambah Woolshed, where we paused for a quick chat with another of the great volunteers out on the day – and felt a few drops of rain falling.

Then it was another quick downhill run to Tuggeranong (after all, we were heading south) where the orange checkpoint identified the old wall I’d never actually seen; it was interesting to find a bit of history more or less in my backyard! Though, with only an hour or so remaining for the race, not so interesting to waste too much time exploring- so we headed for the interchange to jump on another bus taking us back to the city - or Albert Hall, which wasn’t far from the event hub.

Rider with facepaint
Cyborg in 2008
Marked up map.
Mr GPS, in almost the same spot, 2016

That gave us the opportunity to collect potentially two checkpoints on our way back to the hub: one at the gallery, which proved to be moderately elusive, and one at Manuka Oval. Having lost a bit of time looking at the gallery, we found ourselves approaching Manuka Oval with about ten minutes to spare - not enough time to make it up there and back, well not enough to risk the penalties. Besides - hopefully there was coffee at the end! So we rode on, making it to the finish by 3:11 - with about nine minutes to spare!

But there was no coffee to be had. Nary a drop in sight. Nope. Just sausage sandwiches. And beer. And a band. Somehow we managed to set aside our disappointment, and relax at the end of a long ride. But, most importantly, Mr GPS finally managed to almost crack a century! The TriHards covered just over 92km - in fact, probably a tad more than that as I was a bit late in starting my watch, which means we can call it a century. Even - better: we achieved a top speed of 86km/hr.

We had a great time at the Urban Polaris this year, and the National Trust and organisers of the event did a great job of putting it on - in our minds, the event was even better than previous ones. A huge thank you goes out to the team who organised it, all the volunteers on the course - and all the children of volunteers ordered to man the checkpoints throughout the day!

What? You want to know where we ranked? And what about the other Barista Sister on Stromlo? Or the Dirty Femmes? Why did we give you all that superfluous information throughout the report? Well, this is just the Dawn of Polaris! You’ll have to wait until Urban Polaris 2017 for everything to make sense.