It was the start of a very long day! My alarm went off at 4.45am and I gulped down a quick breakfast of muesli washed down with a cup of tea before my ride turned up at 5.15am. We got to the ferry terminal in Devonport in plenty of time and the excitement slowly built as more and more competitors arrived. Eventually the ferry made its way across the harbour from downtown Auckland and we clambered aboard to join the rest of the racers.
The trip over to the islands took less than half an hour on a very calm sea and after disembarking we wandered off in near darkness to find our bikes and prepare for the 8 o'clock start.
I am not competitive by nature but was a bag of nerves before the start. I have been having so much pain in my ankle since the operation (especially after riding on bumpy terrain) that I wondered if I had 50km in me.
The start was very slow as 600? mountainbikers of varying abilities climbed up a long and winding farm road heading over toward Rangitoto. Most riders were in their granny-gear and I was barely turning the pedals on the Pugsley as overtaking was nigh impossible.
This procession continued up to the summit of Rangitoto where the cautious riders slowed down even more and the skilled and impatient (me) finally had some room to move and took off like madmen down the other side.
The Rangitoto part of the race was over very quickly and we then crossed over a bridge to Motutapu again for the remainder of the race. At this stage we were mostly on farm roads (double-track) and without the impressive views the riding would have been a bit boring. I was feeling really good up to the 35km mark and would power past geared riders uphill only to be overtaken again when we reached the flat parts.
Motutapu and Rangitoto islands could not be more different. Motutapu is now mostly covered in farm pasture but 800 years ago it was minding its own business when a volcano erupted out of the sea right next door to it. They are almost touching and while one is covered in grass on top of rich soil, the other is a mass of volcanic rock covered in native bush.
The last 15km was a real grind as the terrain changed to riding the ridge-lines of farm paddocks. At least the grass was dry, but it was still energy-sucking to ride on up endless hills. I was walking a lot of the steeper sections by now as I didn't have anything left in my legs, but I was not alone. The sides of the track were littered with cramped-up riders doubled-over in pain or rolling around in agony. I must have also passed 15-20 people fixing punctures.
With a light bike and a granny-gear 99% of the course was ridable. I might put two chain-rings on the Pug next year and double my gearing options. A slightly lower gear to make the hills and something a little higher so I don't lose so much time on the flat sections.
It was with great relief when I crested the final hill and looked down on the finish line far below me. One last burst and a wheelie over the line and the pain was over.
I was mainly aiming to finish and hoping to get under 5 hours if I did, so I was really pleased with my time of 3:54. If I get a bit fitter, alter my gearing and don't take any photos I reckon I could break 3:30.
As soon as the race was over I hobbled into the cool sea to stop my ankle from swelling too much. At this stage I was thinking the last thing on earth I ever wanted to do again was a 50km mountainbike race on a volcano, but after a sit down, something to eat and a cool beer with my new riding buddies I was making plans for the next one...
Why wouldn't you?
When we got to Motutapu it was well before 7am and we had to walk from the wharf to the start-line in near darkness. This was the view looking back east to the ferry as the the sun was coming up.
I borrowed a set of friends for the day from my mate Dale. A good bunch of guys and I enjoyed their company both on and off the race-course. I'm the tall old one at the back.
This was taken on Rangitoto half an hour or so into the race. You can see the jagged volcanic rock to the right, much like parts of Kona in Hawaii.
I was flying downhill from the summit of the volcano as the Pug's tyres were ideally suited to the fine loose gravel. I passed a ton of riders on full-suspension bikes and was even catching some air on the bumps.
When we reached sea-level and the road flattened out a singlespeed was not the ideal mount to have and I thought I may as well stop and take some photos. If I passed 50 riders on the way down I swear 100 rode past me as I was taking this shot!
About halfway through the race on Motutapu I saw a guy ahead taking a photo of the view so I pulled over and we did the camera-swap-bike-portrait thing. My home is in the distance somewhere in the East Coast Bays.
The run to the finish line was down that hill in the background (steeper than it looks) and through this chute. By that stage the marathon runners were sharing the same track and it was really rather dangerous but the pug just loves downhills and I was scything through runners like a slalom skier. Great fun!
We had to wash our bikes after the race and they came back on separate boats the next day for collection in downtown Auckland.
The event was very well organized but there was a bit of a wait for the ferries as lots of people were leaving at the same time. We just missed out on this one and had to wait 45 minutes on the wharf for the next but everyone was still buzzing from the race and the time went quickly.