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Urban 09

20 December 2009

20 December 2009

Urban 09

The 2009 Urban was the final event for the TriHards in 2009, and like all good season finales, the event was marked by reminisces of events and races gone by, as the team wound at a leisurely pace over a course covering some very familiar ground in Canberra. Sure, they could have gone hard and set out to win the event, however, that would spoil their leisurely ride down memory lane! (What’s more, it would have made the goal of Rampaging Rick - to beat the TriHards - all that much harder for him; being the Cyborg’s current boss, they thought it may be best not to make it too hard for him, after all, he was already riding with a bike freak.)

This year marked the second year the ride was being organised by the Mental Health Foundation, and had attracted quite a field - including many familiar faces from other events, and some unfamiliar ones amongst the 235 teams in the Urban. Numbers were further boosted by the addition of a shorter, more family-friendly event called the Metro, which attracted a further 75 teams. Both events are basically bike rogaines; which can include some interesting challenges at checkpoints, such as getting a strike at a bowling alley. The Urban is a seven-hour rogaine, while the Metro has a four-hour limit.

The day started incredibly well, with clear, blue skies, a crisp morning that the heat of Canberra’s summer sun had not yet blasted, and Mr GPS meeting the Cyborg in the carpark with coffee in hand. The team headed in to pick up their registration packs, and breakfast, before heading back to plan their course.

Course planning for the Urban is a little different from other events; teams are given a UBD map covering all of Canberra and a list of checkpoints which must be copied onto the map using grid references. This is no orienteering map, but a huge scale, general map, making it difficult to pinpoint precise locations of checkpoints. Fortunately the checkpoints are generally placed in very obvious locations (unfortunately, a great deal of these seem to be trig markers atop mountains!) To further complicate the course planning process, the value of each checkpoint is not provided until after competitors start the race.

With checkpoints spanning all of Canberra, from Hall to the North, to Farrer Ridge in the south, the TriHards had a host of options before them. They broke the course up into three loops: the first down to Tuggeranong through checkpoints on the east side of Burley Griffin, then Kingston, Griffith, Garran and O’Malley, then returning through Mt Taylor, Oakey Hill and the National Zoo to the north side of the lake (though if the points weren’t worth it, they could head from Mt Taylor to Tuggeranong and catching a bus north!)

Another loop would have them travelling north-east, and to Majura Pines, which would no doubt hold a lot of fun for the boys in familiar territory, picking up a few checkpoints along the way as they head north.

The final loop consisted of heading north and west to Belconnen and Hall. The TriHards planned to leave this loop until last, if they had time, and the inclination to do it. After all, it was in Belconnen.

With their initial course planned, the TriHards had just to prepare their bikes, load their packs, and head out. It was then that they realised they had forgotten a pump. In what would prove to be a typical mood for the day, they neither stressed nor rushed. They had plenty of time to spare, and Mr GPS headed home to grab his pump, while the Cyborg attached some good platform pedals to Mr GPS’s bike, enabling him to break a golden rule of adventure racing–don’t try out new gear on a race!

At 8:00 the first wave started (putting the TriHards precisely 28 minutes ahead of Spooner!), heading directly around the corner to retrieve the control values, before having a quick read and determining that it was worthwhile to go all the way down to Tuggeranong. The three questionable checkpoints (Mt Taylor, Farrer and Lyons) were worth 70 points, with another 20 if they collected the checkpoint on Cooleman Ridge. Their path was clear-Go South young men!

They headed out and towards Carillion, via Blundell’s Cottage. The Cyborg, who had been on Tim the Yowie Man’s ghost tour of Canberra on the Friday night before the race, regaled Mr GPS with tales of the cottage’s history, and the story of the ghost of Florrie Blundell which haunts the premises. Unfortunately, this was just setting the scene for a day which would be full of the Cyborg’s commentary and reminiscing! Fortunately for Mr GPS, they were at the Carillion in no time at all, and had their first checkpoint! 10 points in the bag!

Then they ducked under King’s Avenue Bridge and over to the east basin of Lake Burley Griffin to hail a kayaker who held the next checkpoint. They rode along the bank, and saw a lone kayaker out in the water. A lone kayaker, in what appeared to be a much better kayak than expected. Paddling a long way away, with no interest in the people yelling and waving from the shore. Concluding that this was not the kayaker they were looking for, the TriHards rode further around the bank, which revealed no kayakers. They rode almost all the way to the Boathouse, with still no sign of the kayaker! In line with their “taking it easy” approach to the race, they weren’t worried by this early disappointment, and headed back up to King’s Avenue to get the checkpoint at Old Parliament House.

Mr GPS riding past the National Portrait Gallery
The bike limbo section.

Not being in an overly competitive mood, or rushed, Mr GPS elected to take on the race official’s challenge at Old Parliament House. The volunteer provided them with snakes, telling them that should they be able to tie a knot in the snake with their tongue, they would win a prize. Mr GPS came close, and they both received a little torch for his efforts. So, with snakes in their bellies and another 10 points on their card, they set off for Kingston, Mr GPS’s old home, and place of morning coffees!

Mr GPS used his local knowledge to tremendous advantage, and led them to Kingston in no time at all. The TriHards buzzed around Green Square headed straight for the checkpoint to nab another 10 points, leaving them in fine form to race off and grab another 10 points just around the corner at Griffith. Mr GPS kindly allowed the Cyborg to run in to punch the card (no doubt, using his local knowledge once more to his advantage - the checkpoint was on the second floor!)

The Cyborg was also breaking an adventure racing commandment, and trying out new equipment on a race; in the form of a helmet cam (though, he had it mounted on his handlebars). Heading out of Griffith marked the hour mark since they started the race, which meant the first memory card was full. The Cyborg impressed himself to no end by changing the card in his camera without stopping his ride. And it was uphill!

View from atop Griffith
The tower coming into play early.

The next checkpoint from Griffith for was on the fire trails behind Deakin. Once more, their knowledge and experience came into play. The TriHards were familiar with these fire trails; memories of those muddy tracks travelled in the November 2007 AROC came flooding back - it was on these trails that Father Brendan’s chain had snapped on his bike, which he took in his stride by just not using his brakes as he flew down the slippery, muddy trails. They also knew that these fire trails would lead them straight into Garran.

After grabbing the Deakin checkpoint (which was in a very similar place to a checkpoint in that November AROC!) the TriHards headed up the fire trail that they slid down in the race. As they climbed, the Cyborg laughed, congratulating himself on wearing his clip-in shoes and pedals for the event, pulling up on the pedals at the same time as pushing down.

A familiar fire trail for the TriHards
Ever had the feeling you have been somewhere before?

Then, 18 minutes and 57 seconds into the new memory card, and metres after the top of the hill climb the Cyborg’s rear wheel struck, and stuck on a rock, the camera caught the bike falling to it’s side, slowed somewhat as the back of the Cyborg’s head struck the tree next to the path; before bouncing when it hit the ground. Unfortunately, the camera was mounted on his handlebars, so the footage itself is not all that interesting, and certainly wouldn’t make the grade on Funniest Home Videos. On the bright side, the Cyborg is very impressed with his new bike helmet!

A quick walk to relieve a slightly twisted ankle, and regather his senses, and Mr GPS led them off again on the fire trails towards Garran; his memory not fading at all over the years, and guiding them impeccably into the suburb, where he managed to track down bike paths which lead them directly to the Easycare Landscapes checkpoint where they accrued another 10 points, and fridge-magnet notepads! (While riders they saw who stuck to the road eventually caught up!)

With the day beginning to heat up, the TriHards headed out from Garran and towards the very diplomatic O’Malley. Once again, Mr GPS took them on a short course through bike paths which led them almost directly to the Bulgarian Embassy for another 10 points. The plan to sing the Bulgarian national anthem quickly faded when everybody realised they actually had no idea of the words. For those interested the translated lyrics can be located here.

With the the harder work ahead of them, the wily TriHards elected to take a break in a park across the road. Sure, there was no coffee to be had, but the scenic O’Malley made for a nice spot to rest and take in some rolls, sitting on a park bench under a shady tree. (Where the bikecam managed to record some excellent footage of grass.)

From O’Malley, the next target was the checkpoint at the underpass near Farrer Ridge; this is where the Cyborg’s local knowledge came in handy. Many a time he had walked that ridge with his trusty dogs, and was familiar with all the paths winding through the hills and grassy sections. Indeed, he knew the exact location of the underpass, crossing through it sometimes when the dogs were in a more energetic mood and elected to lead him into Fadden Ridge!

So they set off with a rough plan of following a horse track beside Erindale Drive until they reached the start of Farrer Ridge, when they would cut in to the reserve and skirt the base of the hills. A far better course of action than attempting to ride up the steep, heavily trafficked hill of Erindale Drive to the underpass!

When they reached the start of the hill at Farrer Ridge, the Cyborg took over navigation; they watched another dismount and walk their bikes over the steeper, more scrubby part of the hill right next to the road. The TriHards remained on their steeds and turned into the reserve. They cruised easily along the slightly rocky fire trail, and ducked around the front of the hill, taking an easy run down to the underpass (and beating the walkers!) The only downside of this shortcut was Mr GPS having to listen to the Cyborg reminiscing about the various puppy adventures he and his boys had had in these hills...

The view from Farrer Ridge
Farrer, the familiar stomping ground of the Cyborg and his dogs

The boys took a break in the cool shade of the underpass to tighten up Mr GPS’s map board on his bike; a welcome relief from the warming day; and they planned their assault on Taylor! The year before, they’d attacked it from the steep north side. The week before, during the rogaine leg of the AROC race, they’d attacked it from the Pearce side. So, just to be a little different, and have a break from all the trail riding, today they were going to hit it from the south side, riding along Sulwood Drive until they reached the entrance.

Fortunately, Sulwood wasn’t too busy, and it now has quite good space for bike paths; they made short work of the bitumen, a welcome, smooth relief after the bumpy trails around Farrer Ridge! Then the real test began. At 40 points, Mt Taylor was the most valuable checkpoint of the event, and for good reason! The TriHards rode, then walked their bikes up - not, of course, because they were tired, they were trying to be considerate of all the walkers out for their weekend recreation; occasionally stopping to pat dogs on the way. After all, it’s only polite, if you say hello to people, you should say hello to their dogs as well.

View from the top of Taylor
The view from Taylor to the Tower.

With their control card checked for another 40 points, a key navigation feature for the rest of the race came into view: Black Mountain Tower. After all, it looked kind of like the needle in a compass, except it was upright, and didn’t point north. All the same, it would be visible from every checkpoint, save that of the checkpoint actually in the tower.

The climb had taken longer than they had expected, and the TriHards were still keen to include the Majura leg in their ride, so they decided to skip the 20 points at Cooleman Ridge in favour of heading directly to Oakey’s Hill (a course they’d travelled but a week ago in the AROC! A few more seasons of AROC and there was unlikely to be a ridge in Canberra they had not visited). They took their bearings to the tower and set off on the relatively nice formed road on the north side of Mt Taylor.

Now, a note about Mt Taylor: the TriHards didn’t walk all the way down! Once it levelled off a bit, to an angle less than 90 degrees, they were back on their bikes, and flying down the fire trails running behind Pearce and Lyons towards Oakey Hill, and another 20 points. They punched their card and put Black Mountain Tower in their sights once more, before heading down a goat track on the other side, which proved to be a true test of their riding skills in dodging the many and varied rocks on the path.

The view from Oakey Hill
The Tower from Oakey
The view of the Tower from the zoo
The Tower from the zoo

The path gave way to road, and the road gave way to sealed bike path; a luxury after the rocky track! The TriHards made good speed to the Zoo for another 10 points. They were hoping for an excellent challenge at the zoo, such as having to jump into the Cheetah enclosure, and see if they could ride faster than four legs can run to get the checkpoint. But they were to have no such luck - either the cost of entering the zoo would be too prohibitive, or that pesky public liability insurance would have forbidden it! Instead, they tamely punched their card in the carpark and aimed their bikes once more towards Black Mountain Tower, or more precisely the Peninsula.

Travelling to Black Mountain Peninsula
The Tower guiding the TriHards to Black Mountain Peninsula.

Upon Arrival the TriHards steadfastly avoided many picnics and Christmas parties, and through their strength of will managed to resist the temptation of the jumping castle, before arriving lakeside to a collection of other teams. Their mission here was to swim across to a little island, maybe 25 metres away. Mr GPS volunteered the Cyborg for the task, knowing his enjoyment of the water. So, in went the Cyborg for the quick swim to the other side, dodging a bird which insistently swooped every time the Cyborg’s head rose across the water; but it never actually came too close (the Cyborg was less concerned about it’s beak than the fact that it seemed to be looking as though it was practicing for a dive bombing run!)

With the control card successfully punched, the Cyborg swam back across to the other shore, only to run into Rampaging Rick and Biker Bellato, then Spooner! All of whom had already been out to Hall and that mysterious Belconnen (where Rampaging Rick had managed to get a strike at the bowling checkpoint).

Eager to be off before their competition (giving them the feeling that they were actually leaving them in their dust), the TriHards headed back up to the road, and aimed for Black Mountain Tower again, to grab the Botanic Garden points. They comfortably headed up Clunies Ross Street, managing to evade a noisy, four wheel contraption whose driver didn’t seem to understand what a red light meant, before crossing and heading up the bushland next to the gardens.

Approximately 10 minutes of footage of the sideways ground was recorded on the handlebar cam as the TriHards left their bikes behind to walk into the Botanic Gardens for the checkpoint.

View of the Tower from the Botanic Gardens
No, she is not a TriHard, but if you look close you can see the Tower.

Punching their card for another 20 points, the TriHards looked up at the tower to contemplate going for the checkpoint on the observation deck. However the tower was also their primary navigation marker. If they entered the tower they would lose sight of it, and run the very real risk of getting lost, or entering into some sort of space-time paradox. Surely. They decided it was best not to tempt such fates, and returned to their bikes focussed on heading to O’Connor.

Remembering well the bike highway through the middle of O’Connor from last year, Mr GPS lead them through Turner and quickly to the checkpoint, before they turned their backs on Black Mountain Tower to head down the highway and out to Campbell. Bike paths and roads made quick and easy work of the trip, and the TriHards took their time to observe the tank and parts of ship behind the War Memorial on their way to the Kokoda memorial, where they grabbed another 10 points.

The tower from the kayak checkpoint
The Tower!

Now they were ready to close the loop; they could head back down to the lake, and grab the kayaker they had missed in the morning. Surely the kayaker had had enough time to turn up now! And it was all downhill! So down they raced, back onto the smooth paths around the lake, and the Boathouse, where they found the kayaker on shore, punch in hand! Not only was he there, he even saved them from having to punch the card themselves (indeed a task at that time of day).

Angry ducks
One of the ducks would have a go at the bikers to give his family a chance to get away.

With 25 minutes remaining to them, the TriHards gave up their dreams of Majura, and considered popping up to the National Film and Sound Archive to grab just one more checkpoint before finishing; an easy ride around the lake and into Acton, so long as you can avoid dangerous ducks crossing the path. Fortunately, the bikes were too fast for the angry ducks, and they avoided trouble to wind up at the National Film and Sound Archive - the most haunted building in Canberra!

The National Film and Sound Archive
Reportedly, the most haunted building in Canberra!

But there were no spooky occurrences to hold the TriHards back from grabbing this last checkpoint, and heading back to the finish line at the CIT, coming in just before 15:00; they’d used almost all of their time and had a fantastic day’s riding along the way.

All in all, it was a great ride on a great day. Sure, the TriHards didn’t finish in the top 10, or the top half of the field. But they had great fun, which is, after all, the most important thing about any of these events! Many thanks go to the MHF for organising and running the Urban, and the volunteers who helped out to make it such a fantastic ride.

Race Stats:

Race Stats

Date: 7 December, 2009
Location: All of Canberra except, of course, Belconnen
Rating: Walk in the park.
PANDSI TriHards: Mr GPS and Cyborg
Results: Some people enter these events to win. Some people enter to compete with themselves. The TriHards enter for an excellent excuse for a great Sunday ride.
Event website:

Lessons Learned:

  1. Five hours of casual bike riding makes for very boring footage (particularly when most of it consists of Mr GPS’s rear!)
  2. Local knowledge and good navigation is equal, if not better than, a really flash bike.
  3. Mt Taylor is steep no matter which way you climb it.
  4. Belconnen. We have always intended to travel to this mysterious place, but its never happened, now we’re still not sure if that place exists. If you would like to sponsor us to try and find this place - please email