Saturday, July 29, 2006

Off-road in the Redwoods

Present: Paul, Stef

It was about time Mrs Billy-Bob got dirty [marriage going stale already? Ed.] so it was decided to take the shiny new bikes to the Redwoods Mountain Bike trails, Rotorua (above). Home of the 2006 World Mountain Bike Championships. The Whakarewarewa Forest comprises a network of trials and walks all graded according to ease of passage and technical difficulty. Bikers can just turn up and get lost of their own accord, choosing which colour coded track, or combination of tracks, they want to complete.

The Billy-Bobs arose early (for them) to travel down to Rotorua, approx 1 hour 30 mins drive south of Hamilton, arriving at the very quiet car park around 11am . Bikes out of the car (above) [are those non-TCA-regulation lycra shorts I can see? They certainly hold your belly in! Ed.] followed by a final kit check and they were off. First up was the beginner’s Repco Track (Pale Blue), a Grade 2, 25-minute loop circuit with mainly gentle ups and down through dense pine needle forest.

It was akin - for TCAUK readers - to the exclusive Hambledon Route #1, with terrain at very close quarters beneath tree canopy, similar to the start of the Forest of Bast*d. Stef (above) realised straight away why having the right gear was oh so important, her entry level bike bouncing off tree roots and rutted ground. It was Baltic for the first 20 minutes, with mild permafrost ground conditions. Billy-Bob stopped to adjust his fork rebound while waiting for Stef to catch up, her breath plumes visible in the cold sulphur-smelling air, breaking the mid morning silence beneath the ‘Ents’ like tree stumps. It occured to the Billy-Bobs that the route timings on the track boards were very quick indeed; the Repco track took them nearer 35 min’s all in, although there were a few stops enroute.

Next up was a second Grade 2 track aptly named the Diamond Back track (Pink) 25 mins. This track was more challenging: narrower sections; steeper climbs; more twists and turns over short distances. At no time was it really possible to get up any speed due to the numerous obstacles, log bridges and trees stumps. However, by this time the temperatures were warmer and the ground a lot softer. The down-side of this was that Billy-Bob, in his TCA-issue Helly Hanson thermal base layer (well, that was his excuse), was sweating like a pig in a sauna. Mrs BB was now getting the hang of balancing on a bike on uneven off road surfaces while also managing to change gear just before the ups. The Diamond Back track was completed in 40 min’s which, given her impending cold, was a very respectable first off road ride for Mrs BB. More to the point there was no registered offs (although this could not be confirmed during significant periods when Billy-Bob, in true gentlemanly fashion, had sped off into the distance).

While Stef rode back to the car, Billybob went on to tackle the final track of the day, a Grade 3 by the name of Avenir (Purple) 15 mins. This ride was immediately hard core with more extreme downs through narrow rutted forest tracks.

This was similar- for TCAUK readers - to the infamous Blackdeath Alley Descent, Haslemere, but with more twists and turns. It soon became clear that Billybob was not going to make the official 25 min lap-time suggested on the start board. After two steep climbs the remaining turning sections were all down hill through very narrow stepped tracks. One unexpected ‘drop’ from nowhere nearly sent Billybob flying but, unusually, on this occasion his balance was true. The final lap time was a respectable first outing of 30mins, although 10 mins in the world of mountain biking is a very long time. Looking at his watch, and thinking of lunch, Billybob decided to give the next grade 3 route a miss and pondered what the grades 4 and 5 held in store, and whether his hard tail would even cope with the big drops he had heard about at the mountain bike shop!.

The day was finished nicely with a much deserved visit to the thermal Polynesian spa where the Billy-Bobs soaked their weary legs. A very relaxing experience even though the hot mineral spa made Paul look like a lobster with high blood pressure in front of all the Japanese tourists.

(Posted by: Paul)

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Chichester Challenge 2006

Team TCA from left to right: Scott; Jon; Al

An early breakfast was the order of the day as team TCA prepared for their second attempt at the 'Chi Chal.' There are a number of categories for entry: several walks of varying distance; a few runs and two distances of off-road bike-rides - 30km and 55km. The 'off' for the 55km was 08.30 so, having kitted up at Jon's around 07.00, Al and Jon met Scott at the start line around 08.00 to discuss tactics. The temperature was already well into the mid-20s centigrade.

Elite athletes are interviewed before the 'off'

As the horn was sounded by the mayor all the tactics went out of the window as Scott shot off into the distance on his fixed-gear bemoth (crazy fool!) never to be seen again that day... Jon and Al initially also got separated in a bizarre 'novice horse-rider plus dog blocks the path' incident. However, Jon caught up with Al on the first ascent, only for Al to pull away on the following down hill section; and so it continued. After the first long ascent past the familiar charcoal burners we caught our breath and regrouped at the first check point over a cup of water.

The first 1/4 of the route followed our regular route up onto the South Downs way east of Harting Down and, having finally reached the top, Al slowly pulled away from John with his lower centre of gravity finally paying off. I think we perhaps both took stock after passing a less fortunate rider who had had a nasty spill on the very fast but rutted section of the track, just before the Royal Oak at Hooksway. We were perhaps reminded of Jon's rather nasty 'off' when we previously entered this event (severe enough to split his helmet!).

At around half-way Al pulled up for an snack (Above) and was caught up by Jon after a few minutes who cracked open his multi-grain feast (it looked much more appetising than Al’s very chewy Boots toffee & banana flavoured energy bar). Still, it was a relief to stop under the shade of a tree to get out of the boiling sun. We settled back in the saddle and soon hit the official half-way checkpoint above Buriton, got our cards stamped, took on more water and pushed on knowing that there would be time to get our breath back on the long, tarmac descent.

We were able to stay together for most of the remaining 17 miles; Jon edging ahead on the up-hill sections, Al screaming past on the down-hills. Or so it was until Al missed a sign-post on the gradual climb to the hills above Chichester. Having put in about 0.5km in the wrong direction Al noticed Jon in the distance climbing a different track – something of a Whacky Races moment. Turning round in hot pursuit Al got within 50 meters of his quarry on the super-fast descent and caught Jon at the final check-point. The last, slightly tedious, road-ride back into Chicester is a slog we were only too familiar with having done it many times on the ‘long Chicester route'. We eased the pain a little by slip-streaming a group of 5 rather fit-looking cyclists who towed us along nicely.

We crossed the line together, after approximately 4.5 hours and immediately made our way to the bacon butty stall, and then the fabled Women’s Institute stand for a cuppa and a slice of cake. We reflected on our super-human acheivement but were brought back down to earth during a chat with a chap who had just completed the 23 miles x-country run (a TRAINING run for an ultra-distance event in Switzerland). Having taken on essential nutrients and being thoroughly demoralised we had a quick pint before rather painfully remounting and cycling the short distance back across town back to Jon’s for a much-needed shower.

(Posted by: Al)

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jon Ditches it at Ditchham

Present: Jon; Julie; Scott

The ride kicked off at Julie and AD’s with Scott as keen as beans, turning up on his bike from Petersfield. Jon arrived late after a mad dash back to Chichester to pick up his helmet and Campelpak. We set off up toward the Harting Store before turning right and taking the track that would lead us to the bottom of Torberry Hill.

Scott – the new recruit and keen local biker guided the ride and led us on a similar route to that which AD took us previously. We climbed to the top of the hill and then, after a brief photo stop, raced down the track, passing some very startled (terrified more like!) mountain bikers in yellow who watched in trepidation as we careered over the numerous speed bumps and up the other side.

The next part of the ride saw us biking through arable crops with wonderful views toward Ditcham. We followed tramlines along the downs for awhile enjoying the sunshine, peace and quiet when the next thing Jon had toppled head over heels over his handle bars after hitting a deep rut (above, left) at reasonable speed (off-spot pictured!) – go the veteran TCA member! Jon picked himself up and dusted himself off ready for the next downhill stretch.

The remainder of the ride to the Victoria Pub in West Marden was relatively un-eventful except for the numerous run-ins with stinging nettles and brambles gradually overtaking the narrow tracks, all par for the course. We stopped at the pub for a pint (Julie still on fizzy lager!) and crisps before starting off again up the hill toward the back of Uppark.

We biked along the top of the downs until arriving at West Harting Down (above, right) and the most challenging part of the ride – the Devil’s Toilet. Once again with our hearts in our mouths we tackled this demanding stretch of down hill and reached the bottom with relief. Then it was plain sailing home to the ‘Caravan’ and Julie’s basil, lemon and feta chicken with greek salad and strawberries and ice-cream to finish. The ride was completed in record time, attributed in part, to Julie’s improving fitness (now only 1 mile behind the boys instead of 2!).

(Posted by: Julie)

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