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The Exorcism

Posted in Epics, Icons, MTB, Racing by brettok on March 8, 2010

Back in my youth, my mates at the time were fascinated by the controversial ‘horror’ film from the 70’s, The Exorcist.  They would quote lines from it verbatim, and although I was yet to view it, I soon knew the best/worst of the expletive-laden script.  Finally, I saw the film one night at a midnight to dawn session at the drive-in, and while it scared me somewhat, I still didn’t want to turn away and miss any of the vomitting, swearing, levitating, head-spinning action.  Kind of like how I feel about Karapoti;  it’s a hell of a race, but I couldn’t turn my back on it.  Not until the demons of last year were finally cast out.  

As most would know, I missed the coveted 3 hour club by the barest of margins in 2009.  It was a nightmare of a day, the course drowned under torrents of water, conspiring against me, my drivetrain and my vision, resulting in the longest 20 seconds of my life.  20 seconds that lasted, oh, around 364 days.

There was no way I was going to miss out again this year.  No way.  I swore that if the 3 hour mark was breached, then there’d be no reason to return again to this holiest of grails, steeped in history, with it’s feet planted firmly in Hades.  

Hell is meant to be hot and dry, so why is this place always wet?  Overnight rain had made the course resemble what it was last year, but not to the same extent.  The gorge had its usual slalom course of puddles to negotiate on the way out, and I was thinking that installing a Crud Catcher/Flinger mudguard thing on the downtube was the best $5.76 I’d put on my account that week. Nevertheless, my glasses were still copping their fair amount of flak, but this time there was no spare set, no thought entertained of stopping to clean them, even with the anti-fog cloth in my jersey pocket.

I got in a little group with Chris The Courier, who I hadn’t seen for over a year since his move to Canada, and who’d spotted me on the start line.  For a second, I’d wondered who this dude was smiling and waving at me;  he’s shorn off his long blonde mane, but I soon recognised his smile and laconic manner.  I knew he’d be a good ally in the group, and when the others started to drop the pace a little, I followed his wheel to the Warm-Up Climb.

We crested the climb with me in front, before Chris blasted past me on the loose, rocky descent into the creek like I was standing still. I almost was, not wanting to biff this early on.  Up Deadwood, the heart feeling like it was trying to escape the confines of my ribcage, and taking the lungs with it.  This is where I usually mentally am at my lowest trough, but I felt surprisingly calm for someone who was fighting the bike and the wet rocks and roots for a modicum of traction.  Chris rode away over the top, never to be seen again.

I thought I saw Rigid coming up behind me, but the white helmet/blue jersey combination belonged to Annika Smail, guru-ess of the women’s scene, and I knew she was leading the ladies as I’d passed Nic Leary earlier in the gorge.  Annika usually deals out a good degree of hurt to the guys, so I thought if I stayed in contact with her I’d be in pretty good shape.  Of course, she went past me and put a little gap into me on the rolling section, but I kept within spitting distance of her (not that I would spit at anyone during a race, or otherwise).  I re-passed her in the Rock Garden, which was cleaned with aplomb except for the very first drop, where some guy was splayed across the rocks, sliding down on his arse with bike flailing and trailing.  

Another major obstacle ticked off without incident or time lost.  I was feeling confident, strong and ready for the next challenge; Devils Staircase.  Starting in Pro/Elite really pays off when you get to this section of the course, no lining up to clamber up the slippery walls, and a chance to ride some sections unhindered.  It was just me and Annika, swapping turns to ride, crawl, slip and stumble our way up.  Thomas Lindup was just ahead too, and he egged me on to ride through the middle of each of the axle-deep bogs along the trail, some of which I obliged.  I didn’t care about my drivetrain, because there would be no lubing of the chain this year, which I briefly thought about as we exited the Staircase, into the open and the encouragement of the people gathered at the feed station.  I hardly offered them a sideways glance as I kept the pedals turning, not even wanting to entertain the merest hint of stopping.  Glasses spattered, chain muddied, on I went.

I love Big Ring Boulevard.  Did I just say I love something about the Karapoti?  It’s a chance to get some respite for the heart rate, to stretch the legs a bit, and to have a blast at high speed and make up some time.  Annika had passed me again on an uphill, then let me past again on the descent, Thomas was just in front, and we were joined by singlespeeder Marcello Ojerio from Rotorua.  (SS legend Garth Weinberg had stomped past me on the way to the Rock Garden earlier, on his way to an amazing 2:36… incredible.)  Marcello must’ve seen a twenty dollar bill on the side of the track, as he was soon disappearing into the undergrowth at high speed.  I enquired as to his welfare at 45kmh, and heard a fading “yeaahhhhh” as I went past.

I knew that if I was to go under 3 hours, I’d need to be at the bottom of Dopers around midday.  As I refueled along the valley, checking my watch it was just past 12.  A slight panic, then relief as I rode through the creek and started the last major obstacle, the heinous 5km small-ring grunt that stood between me and the conquering of my chronological nemesis.  I was still feeling good, and thought I should get out of the saddle and give the taint a rest, and try some other leg muscles for a while.  ‘A while’ became ‘a second’ as my quads threatened to to tie themselves in knots and drop me to the ground in a screaming mess.  I’d done that about 85km into the Highland Fling a few years back, and knew it wasn’t recommended.  Back into the seat, into a rhythm and watch the Rotorua trio ride away from me.  I was happy to suffer alone, with my thoughts and mantras for company.  

I was surprised to see The Godfather come past me about halfway up, stomping his 8kg Cannondale Flash up the steepest pitches like a 50-something year old gazelle.  The top seemed to come upon us quicker than I was expecting, the pain was definitely intense but somehow quite soothing, if that’s possible.  I’d been telling myself to just keep pedalling, that this was it, my destiny, the reason for climbing the Tip Track, the road bike hill repeats, and once I’d crested the rise, it was only a matter of bringing it all home.

A few near misses on the way down the Pram Track around some rutted, greasy corners played on my mind, and I also remembered the flat tyre that cost me the 3 in 2007 along here.  Rain started to fall, my glasses were still near impossible to see through, and discretion was decided to be the better part of valour until the bottom.  I was riding so cautiously that Marco came past just near the bottom, surprising himself more than me he told me later.  Another guy also passed, but through the river I managed to ride it out while they pushed.

The other dude started to bury it down the gorge, and I thought it’d be wise to get on his wheel.  A face-full of red clay splatter advised me otherwise, so I went to the front and encouraged him and Marco to get a train going to the finish.  About twenty metres later, I was driving the locomotive solo.  A quick check of the watch told me I was well on track, but there was no point in easing off, in fact I wrung every last iota of energy I could muster and smashed the pedals all the way back, giving the 20km Challenge riders plenty of warning as I barrelled down on them.

Hitting the seal, over the bridge, into a stiff headwind.  I’d speculated in the months before if my 36-11 gearing would be enough along here, and I was answered in the affirmative as I struggled to get any more power from my weary legs.  I couldn’t ride that sucker any harder.  I knew it was in the bag now;  all I had to do was get across the river without falling into a hole and drowning, which I thought I’d leave to Marj to do…

Up the slope, over the timing mat, and into the arms of Karen, who was a welcome sight as she cut off the transponder from my fork and gave me a heartfelt congratulations after she’d witnessed my disappointment the previous year in the same spot.

I don’t really know what I felt right then, relief?  Joy?  Certainly not pain.  I didn’t know what my time was, but I knew it was over five minutes inside the cutoff, and I was glad I hadn’t cut it too fine.  (2:52)  I thought a beer was in order, I could taste it already, but I didn’t want to leave the finish area so I could see how my friends had done.

Rigid came in about three minutes over, Marj was disappointed with her 3:22 (but still 5th F Pro), and Josh was next in, having started 20 minutes behind us, posting a stomping 2:46 and 5th in class.  Rachel won her age group in 3:26, which would’ve put her in 6th in Pro women.  Awesome.  Mikey had started 40 minutes behind me, and there was no way I was risking missing him come in, so I postponed the beer while the clock ticked off.  Getting close to 1.40pm, it wasn’t looking good.  The time came and went, and I knew there’d be a forlorn Mini-Me coming in.  3:03 was not what we expected, and the disappointment on Mike’s face must have been akin to what mine had looked like 12 months earlier.  

The curse was lifted, maybe shifted, not that I’d wish that on anyone, especially not Mike.  I was feeling bad for him, but also the relief inside me was palpable, and the genuine well-wishes from my friends was all the more sweeter as I knew how good it felt to join them as a member of the club.  No priests were required, just a healthy belief in my own spirit, and a good dousing in the holy waters of the Akatarawas.

*Thanks to Caleb for the pics.  More here…


6 Responses

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  1. caleb said, on March 9, 2010 at 8:13 AM

    josh did a 3.46.. awesome!, i think you mean 2:46

  2. brettok said, on March 9, 2010 at 11:47 AM

    Na, let’s handicap him anyway we can…

  3. Josh said, on March 9, 2010 at 12:30 PM

    Dopers is actually 5km, not 3km long. That fucker does seem to just go on and on; I was in prayer the whole way up, fervently hoping the cramps that I could feel coming on would just hold off. For a while I was worried I’d be crawling up that son of a bitch.

  4. Marjolein said, on March 9, 2010 at 6:04 PM

    Yeah, like me…. Not only did I crawl, I almost drowned too 😦 Nothing holy in that water!

  5. Mini Me said, on March 9, 2010 at 7:12 PM

    It’s about time!!
    Job well done Brett, and for me….. There’s always next year. I do have to remember though, I did make the club last year but that doesn’t make this year any easier to swallow.

    Come on Brett, age group next year??

  6. Verónica Mónica Florina said, on June 1, 2011 at 4:24 AM

    I’ve recently started a website, and the information you offer on this web site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

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