It’s 1996 and I’m sitting transfixed as rain lashes down on the windshield. This isn’t drizzle, this is serious, here for the day, unrelenting, I want to fuck up your bike type rain. There’s silence in Lizard’s ute as we both watch people trying to either warm up, a completely futile exercise, or make their way to registration by slipping over on the grass which now has puddles taking up residence.
As I sit there, I am 100% locked in that I don’t want to set foot out of the truck, let alone become part of this race… My second thought is that I secretly hope that the Lizard was feeling the same way, as make no mistake, if he said we had to hit it, then there would be no debate.
As the rain continues to intensify and, like a Nigel Farage interview, the scene unfolding before us becomes increasingly unpalatable and horrendous, it’s like I’ve won lotto when Lizard finally speaks…
“Well mate, this is pretty fucked… I’m not going to set a new PR today in these conditions and you’re not going to go under 3 hours, so I reckon we pull the fucking pin”
The sense of euphoria that sweeps over me is delicious… I nod furiously in violent agreement. The only thing slowing our escape from Karapoti Park is as we throw our race plates out the window at someone to register our utter refusal to be subjected to the horror that a wet Karapoti Classic unleashes on a human.
For the international readers who are at this point thinking “What the fuck is he cunting on about now“, I would be referring to the oldest Mountain Bike race in NZ, if not the southern hemisphere: The Karapoti Classic. Started in 1986, the Karapoti is simplistic as it is brutal. 50km’s and around 1,400m of climbing on a loop course that has remained essentially unchanged since 1986, the Karapoti is a ritualistic endeavour for some, and a horror show for many.
Given I fled the scene in 96 with my beautifully preened tail tucked firmly between my legs, 1995 was the last time I was subjected to the fuck piggery flogging that is the Karapoti Classic. From a timing perspective as a 16 year old I managed a 3 hours 17 mins outcome that day. Now this is an important point, indeed the timing aspect is the whole fucking reason for this post, so let’s collectively dwell on this for a moment.
Of the 15,000 riders that have wet their feet starting this race since 1986, only 723 of them have gone under 3 hours for the race. Like any race that never changes its course, it naturally begs to have a theoretical threshold applied to it so that cyclists can use those data points to assert dominance over one another at a BBQ.
If you’ve ever been awkwardly introduced to someone at such a social occasion, you’ll know what I’m talking about: “Oh, have you met Chad? He’s a cyclist to!“, a glance at Chad indicates that while Chad may ride a bike, he’s not your kind of rider… As you process the fact his garish T Shirt indicates he’s stood on the side of the road at the Tour de France and taken a Selfie while screaming out “Go Froome!“, he invariably takes a hairy legged step forward and starts with the classic go to dick measuring metric: “Hey mate, what’s your Taupo time?” Luckily for me, my natural response was always “I don’t have one, because Taupo is for pussies, but what’s your K2 time like YO?!”
But in the MTB world this one always stumped me… I had never been back to Karapoti and when in 1998 I started to do what we didn’t realise was ENDURO, I moved further and further away from that dreaded 50km loop and it’s life sucking climbs. By the mid 2000’s the idea of returning let alone going sub 3 was beyond laughable. And yet it remained an annoying thorn in the side of my amateur palmares that I had never made it into the club, with a bottle of bud… As I slid into the M40 world, it would take some sort of epic set of circumstances and Bromance to ever knock this cunt off. What do you know?
As I mentioned in my Pioneer wrap up post, you may find yourself emerging from that insanity a changed rider, or at least be able to tease out the form is affords you long enough to dominate summer in such a fashion that it ends up biting a pillow. Indeed, this is the scenario that I found myself in as I rode the wave of post Pioneer super powers all the way into March. It suddenly occurred to me that there was an alignment of all the planets required in order to access the Sub-3 Club:
- The right weight
- The right form
- The right bike – Effectively this box was double ticked with the Blur 3
- The right level of peer pressure from T Bone
- The right course conditions
- The right weather
Granted, the last 2 could only be confirmed late in the piece, but at Dirty Mission HQ it was now painfully obvious that we had a strike window here to travel back through time and pick up where 16 year old me should have put a bullet in this muthafucka.
Come with me if you want to sub 3
So, with something that vaguely resembled interval training and the weather gods deciding not to fist us, the scene was set to finally close out the last remaining Bandito goal in my cycling life. All I had to do was not drown, avoid punctures and empty the tank in the correct fashion.
Alarmingly, I felt fucking fantastic during the warm up, even though it was barely 5 degs, so was unusually confident that it was going to be a reasonable day out, especially given intel reports indicated the course was in as good a condition you’re ever likely to see the Poti. For the uninitiated global readers, this flogging starts in it’s usual, but unusual manner of a frozen river crossing run, you can see how casual Bone and I took this tense build up:
Lined up behind the 2018 aqua bike champion, Das Bone, I was determined to emulate his walking on water feats to get the sub 3 quest started right. The most important part however was to ensure you didn’t end up being THAT cunt who trips over and drowns in the river as you’re trampled by an army of frothing Banditos. Case study:
The gun sounds and I’m not 4 steps into the worst way to start an MTB race available when shock cripples me, FUCK this is cold and unexpectedly deep. In spite of following the Labrador perfectly, my footing goes and as my knee and shin are torn open by river rocks, not only does my sub 3 flash before my eyes, but I start to wonder what AT will say in the eulogy as I drown right here in front of him in this cunting Upper Hutt River: “he died doing something he didn’t really love at all… And was only involved with due to an inability to reconcile his teenage years”
To be clear, this was full submersion, like a fucking U Boat, without a wolf pack… Luckily for us, AT (last seen in the Haute Pyrenees) not only captured the moment, but assisted with this useful graphic which attempts to intimate that I wanted to be a… Oh fuck… A… Triathlete:
By the time I righted myself the shock and horror took hold and even though I found myself on the road, I was totally soaked, shell shocked and going backwards faster than the Simon Bridges preferred PM poll. I couldn’t hold a single wheel, let alone get a proper breath back. I think this is the point where someone who’s watched too many war movies says something like “Mate, no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy!” Please, fuck off and watch Platoon again.
Finally Kento, a fellow Bay Bro, came past me and I knew this had to be it, I HAD to go with Kento and I screamed internally to “GO you cunt!” By now the Garbaruk 10T was getting a creaming and it was full gas into the gravel with Bone in the group. Through that cunty ditch thing and I had to make a move past a flailing Kento, before starting to move up the ranks.
I was trying to only pass banditos who looked marginal or presented a hazard and I stuck to this policy until I ended up with Gav. Holy Fuck, on Gav’s wheel? Karapoti stalwart and guaranteed sub 3 afficiando? I’m staying right the fuck here then. Amusingly I managed to stay on his wheel and finally drop the heart rate down, simply trying to keep shit tranquilo and stabilize before the warm up fisting and deadwood tea bagging.
I’m a bit hazy about the aptly named ‘Warm Up climb’, but I think I had passed Gav and it wasn’t until halfway up that Hiskey (eventual M40 winner) came past me, which was a WTF moment as I had no idea where I was. Gav and I arrived together at the bottom of Deadwood (the first ‘real’ climb of the race), where I outlined to him I was simply there for a Sub 3, somewhat bemused he suggested like a teacher that wants to encourage you not to end up a meth head that I needed to set my sights a bit higher than that based on how we were rolling.
It’s probably a good time to momentarily dwell on the cuntiness of the Karapoti course, because to be clear, it’s not really a ride you would go out and do for a fun day out on the bike. It doesn’t really offer any great views, it has essentially fuck all singletrack and its 50km route consists of cunty climbs or dragging 4wd track. A work of MTB art it is not. It’s essentially broken down into the following sections:
- Drag race up the gorge
- Warm up climb and Deadwood climb
- Rock Garden descent
- Devils staircase climb
- Big ring boulevard descent
- Dopers climb
- Full gas back down the gorge
It’s also conveniently book ended with that absolute muthafucka of a river crossing… So like a van ride with the Rodfather you start wet and end even wetter.
Bottom of Deadwood was as cunty as expected, not a surprise given its around 32% if you believe the GPS. Many Banditos were off and walking, except for Jase who handled it like a boss as he ground past me, thus handing me my second WTF surprise that he had been behind me this whole time… Fuck me, THE Karapoti ambassador had arrived and if there was ever a wheel to follow into the S3 club then this was the master right here.
You see, Jase holds the record for the most Sub 3 Karapoti’s, with a staggering twenty fucking three (Yes, 23) to his tally. I therefore got out the matchbox, chewed some negative rise stem and made a pact with myself to follow Jase for as long as possible as he was the best insurance policy going around here. The Blur 3 more than willing & able in taking up this endeavour.
Onto the Deadwood tops/rollers and it was me, Jase and Gav. Admittedly I was mildly overawed to be rolling with this company, but if you’re ever going to get a dream ride this was the crew to be with. I’d already mentally locked in that Deadwood tops went on longer than a weak wristed hand job, but I was still surprised how many fucking rollers we had to contend with, especially given how this group was smashing them. Jase’s gravel road DH speed something to behold, lots of deep breath and high trust moments.
I could tell I was burning matches through here, but I just had to suck it up and hold on, as every minute I could stay with this group felt like it was worth 2 minutes off my race time. Just before the start of the Rock Garden I managed to cunt myself on some slick rock and almost spread my nuts all over the Blurs top tube… Jase was gone and Gav had to swerve around me. Heading into the RG and Gav pulled over, mumbled something about 2W form and demanded I go first.
Clear run into the RG then and I was soon reunited with Jase as he backed up behind a Hardtail Bandito induced traffic jam at the first and biggest rock drop – No one was making anything great again here and the human chicane scenario cunted it up for people who were equipped to ride it. Tripodding ensued and I sort of pushed my way past the hordes of terrified Banditos in a sense of disbelief of the caliber of some of the riders around me. I didn’t even have time to drop some sort of slur like “fake riding” as the Rock Garden Wild Ride was ON…
I lost count of how many near misses I had down the Rock Garden, but my left hand line all the way down seemed to pay off as I dispatched some more banditos in a manner that was only a few inches away from being an accident. Without intending to, I had somehow ripped up my risk mitigation strategy and egged on by the Blur, tore down the gnar infested gully where many Karapoti dreams come to die.
Oddly the bottom quarter of it was the slowest for me, I think because I’d ridden my luck so hard at the top I just wanted to stay in one piece. I was also now ahead of a number of riders who on paper I had no business being in front of from a form and physical perspective. Jase and I therefore started Devils staircase together and after I reiterated my sub 3 goal like a broken record, Jase calmly said (and without any hint of heavy breathing might I add) “see that guy just up there, that’s Hiskey and he’s leading our category… you could win this thing”
Suddenly, shit gets wobbly
I’m not sure if it was the shock of that concept, a general disbelief about how well things were rolling or the curse of the commentator, but shortly after that shit started to get difficult – Jase strode away from me on the carry section of the Devils Staircase due to my usual achilles heal of walking with a bike, and by the top I found myself completely alone… Well, not totally alone as at last it was my ONE chance to see a friendly face.
Yes, the Mayor of the Akatarawas was on the scene to snap some PRO level photos of me gloriously cresting the second major climb, and I had been looking forward to seeing the Rodfather for a much needed Bromance booster. So, naturally this is what happened:
Unconfirmed reports indicated that upon arrival at the top of the Devils Staircase, he moved off into the bushes to unpack his secret stash of 1998 Mountain Bike Action magazines, complete with pages stuck together, and commenced his highly valued ‘Alone time’, which we understand involves pleasuring himself to images of purple anodised Ringle hubs and general Euphoria for simpler times when we didn’t have to try and remember what the fuck LSC does versus HSC.
As a result, all I got was a Homer Simpson style scream and the decidedly un-PRO photo above to show for his 5 hours pilgrimage into the jungle to be a cheerleader of your worst nightmare wet dream. As the Rodfathers screams of encouragement/heckling faded into the background, I did have time to reflect on the fact that he clearly didn’t rate my Bandito powers given he gave me no chance at being at the pointy end.
But perhaps he was about to have a point. I was now on the second big ‘commute’ between climbs and not unlike an ENDURO race, I was busy reinforcing the point that I am a total cunt when racing by myself, my pacing went to shit and I started to struggle a bit. It wasn’t until Gav picked me up as we got to Big Ring boulevard that I got some mojo back.
At this point everything was on track – felt pretty fucking good (it’s all relative), was with someone who knew how to sub 3 the fuck out of the place, DH good times to come and then one climb which I knew I could smash, fucking game ON. But, that’s just not cycling is it?
He who skites, gets the last scream
Some of you may recall my lost battles to cramp at the Whaka 100, something I then managed to get on top of and ultimately skite about at the Pioneer given I managed 6 days without a single twitch of cramp. Given my showing off and declared victory over my main racing nemesis, it made total sense then that halfway down big ring boulevard that cramp would take hold… epic, big and unrelenting left hammy cramp.
Not a twinge either, a big ongoing lock out. I tried to stretch and ride it out, but to no avail and Gav was soon gone. Out with the crampstop spray and in spite of ingesting half a bottle, it kept hitting. Mild panic now started, this scenario or a puncture was really the only things that could rob me of my Sub 3 dreams and I was getting fucking pumped sooner than I had anticipated.
In between seething exclamations of ‘CUNT’ and other useful obscenities, I tried to spin it out and nervously reassessed my battle plan. I was now approaching my only time check of the day… The bottom of the Dopers climb. I knew if I arrived here at the 2 hour mark the Sub 3 was fairly safe… Arrive at 2.10 and you’d be under the cunt hammer big time to make it. As I went through the river at the bottom, I glanced at the Garmin and got some alarmingly good news: 1 hour 50 minutes.
Holy FUCK! A weird combination of relief that we had time to play with, mixed with terror that I may of blown my Bandito load now ensued, not to mention the cramp kicking up a notch for good measure. Not 200m into Dopers and it was clear I needed to stop and try to stretch out both Hammie’s as the right one was now firing off.
My yoga routine surrendered 4 places, including a couple of very fast Bens who I would never usually be seen in front of during a race like this. I was now left frustratingly trying to soft pedal Dopers when I knew it was in prime condition and I should have been going a lot faster. Any attempt to resume normal pace started to illicit either quad or hammy doom. Mentally it’s very weird to be in what is essentially a time trial having to very carefully manage your pace given that at any moment your body could completely reject you. I tentatively crept up each section of Dopers, wincing in terror at each out of the saddle effort and walking the tight rope between not coming to a complete standstill or cramping.
Finally the summit welcomed my cramping Bandito ass, and while I had lost a theoretical 3 minutes off my ‘get it done cunt’ timeline, the Blur was still egging me on to our date with the Sub 3 club entry paperwork. Let it be known the commute across the top of Dopers is a real cunt, and it was sweet relief to finally see the river at the bottom. Come on you cramping piece of shit, just hold together for 8 more kilometres…
Oddly I felt significantly better all the way down the Gorge, but the quads wanted to cramp if I tried anything silly, so I was once again confined to maintaining a steady pace and constant spin with no high revving. To be noted, this is fucking awkward to try and do when you not only have a deadline to meet, but also because you suddenly feel as slow as fuck compared to earlier in the day.
Suddenly I was out of the bush… Out of the gravel and onto the road… I looked back to a vision of tumbleweeds… I looked down to a Garmin that said something like 2.37 and I did the mental math I was about 3 minutes from home. A sort of euphoria took hold and suddenly I was smashing along in that dirty Ukrainian 10T sprocket with my inner Bandito doing ‘Fuck YEAH’ fist pumps. We weren’t about to just join the Sub 3 club, we were going to be ushered into a private members room to be sprayed down with Moet Champagne while getting lap dances that accidentally graduate to rim jobs. Yes, that’s roughly the false equivalency I was applying to this outcome.
However, the cuntiest start to an MTB race you can hope for also means the other bookend is just the same – Yes, back through that fucking river where 2 hours and 40 mins earlier I almost drowned in. This time however I got to experience the closest I will ever come to child birth level cramp (Ladies, the comments section below is for your faux outrage at that false equivalency), where I was greeted with full double leg lock out… as I stood in the middle unable to move and parents blocked their children’s ears from my curse laden screams, I could feel time ticking away as I was barely able to move my legs:
Eventually I stumbled across and finished things off with the slowest ever grass climb to that timing beam… while my Garmin already had good news for me, I wanted to see the official race clock with my own eyes before standing on an Aircraft Carrier claiming “Mission Accomplished“. And sure enough, there was the fucking data point that this whole thing was about:
It was enough to make me want to scream like a roided up Crossfit evangelist who only owns activewear. But in reality, it was just the cramp:
A strange ride in that it was hugely eventful but also oddly straightforward, helped hugely by the chunk of time spent with the Karapoti landlords of Jase and Gav, a massive thanks to the GC’s out on course who made it a dream run. More to the point, I was just massively stoked to be one and done – A 24 year itch scratched once and for all and I never need to go back to subject myself to the bludgeoning that is the Karapoti.
I know this is an annual pilgrimage for many, but with Sub 3 club membership intact, it was time to bail on this like a feral one night stand. Just to add to this happy ending, the other half of the Pioneer Dream team had a smashing down out, the Bone smashing a solid 10 minutes off his PB, which was previously a mind blowing 2.59.59. It had clearly taken a toll:
My first phone call post event was of course to the Lizard, a call I had owed him for the last 23 years since we sat in that carpark in his ute and made that decision that I never once regretted. He met the news with the same legend enthusiasm that greeted me the day I went under 6 hours in K2. An unnecessary reminder that cycling brings some of the greatest units you’ll ever know into your life.
Some useless bullet points of semi-interest to close out:
- The 2.41 finishing time was good enough for 10th/69 in Expert and surprisingly 8th in my age group
- The fastest time of the day was 2.08.35 from Kyle Ward, something like 39 seconds off the course record – An amazing feat given Kyle had not only a puncture, but also a big off which required using tools to straighten the bars. So yes, holy fuck
- Fair to say the course was in prime condition, so couldn’t have picked a better year to try and go Sub 3
- The very negative rise stem on the Blur was sensational, especially on the unreasonable Karapoti climbs where you really have to sacrifice the perineum to the nose of your saddle for good portions of the day
- The only piece of advice I have is that the real make or break for a decent time is making sure you nail the ‘commutes’ between the top of Deadwood to the rock garden and from top of the Devils Staircase to bottom of Dopers. Yes, the climbs are important, but the real game time wise is in the transitional sections
- And yes, it’s back to the drawing board on the cramp front, I had even double dosed on Magnesium tablets in the fortnight run up to Karapoti, so that clearly didn’t work. The intensity was a lot higher than Pioneer, so here’s an idea – Perhaps I need to do some intervals?
Rest assured, this is the last Bandito post for the year I suspect, the Road to Trans Provence 19 has moved from calling to screaming at it’s impending arrival, so stay tuned for the mission briefing!