Race day came, and we just needed to pick up our timing chip and get on the shuttle. I was feeling pretty stoked to be there with the boys. The shuttles were fancy as far as my experiences go. Instead of being in the back of a wrecked ute scattered with gravel and spilled petrol, it was a van with comfy seats - covered in tarpaulin so we didn’t ruin them. The ride took us 790 metres up Fringe Hill for the first stage on the first part of Te Ara Koa and then cutting into Fringe Down Hill (FDH).
I had a few nerves kicking about. I have rarely ridden Te Ara Koa in the wet so I took it carefully until I hit more familiar terrain on FDH, although I clipped my pedal on a tree and winded myself on the bars. I thought it was all over but somehow was able to carry on. I think FDH runs best with some rain so it wasn’t horrible. The rest of the downhill went fine, finishing when FDH crossed the Dun Mountain Trail.
There were another six stages before the next shuttle: Redwoods (crashed), Turners (sweet - such a flowy track), Lollipop (running mint), Top Dog into Hot Box (slow leak - in the tyre) and Matai (hard work). No time for snacks. Crashing twice on Redwoods - the shortest and easiest stage - was worse than listening to my sister talk about the gender pay-gap (even though she might be right). The hecklers seemed to enjoy it.
The second shuttle was 450 metres up Kaka Hill to Putakari, the eighth stage. There was a lot of waiting down the bottom which gave me time to finally eat a sandwich. I was tired and cramping up. I thought I’d lost my water bottle which was a bummer, since it’s got plenty of nifty logos on it. Putakari was good, but I was just focusing on getting through the slippery rock gardens with no injuries.
Matia Face was next. It was steep, wet and real sketchy. I crashed in a popular spot (and the spot that took the impact is quite popular too, at least with me), and just trained it down with Leo. I wasn’t there for good race times, but for good times with the boys. Surprisingly, on the last section - Loam Ranger - my whole family came to watch the last drop. They never did that when I played cricket - but to be fair, that was the most boring sport imaginable.
After the long day we earned a burger and a ginger beer. It was a good feeling being able to complete my first enduro race and to keep the race number-plate as a memento. At prize-giving Santa Cruz sponsored some carbon wheels as a spot prize. They did a coin toss and I got out on the first round. One of the other sponsors, Camelbak, had mountain bike bags, and my number wasn’t called. Which reinforced to me the desperate need to get a sponsor. The financial casualties included my cassette, brake pads, a fork service and new gear outer cable. Physically I was fine, apart from the glandular fever which turned up the day after. My parents claim a link, but I can’t see how training four hours a day for several weeks during exams could lead to a compromised immune system. It seems I might have an argument on my hands for next year’s event.
I ended up 17th in the under 21s (out of 22). I was just happy to make it through and not completely die. The fastest on the day were Brady Stone with a downhill time of 44:33 and Anja McDonald with a time of 57:59.
Words & Images: Jack Greenaway & Digby Shaw
For the best of NZ mountain biking, subscribe to our print edition.