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October 2014

Life and near death


We pull up to the entrance of the forest, and wander over to Mountain Bike Rotorua, where everybody stands around and makes small talk. Before the ride, if it is a day of leisure with no time pressure. After the ride, on any other day.

Subjects are predictable. 

The wondrousness of the trails, the near miss, the crash, the old thing that didn't work, the new thing that did.

So it was an unusual day when Tak, the proprietor of Mountain Bike Rotorua, related an incident that had taken place that morning: a guy experienced heart failure right there in the carpark.

While nobody could be considered lucky in a situation like that, there was considerable good fortune involved. 

The MTB First Aid programme of the Rotorua Mountain BikeClub has purchased a defibrillator, as well as a bunch of other useful and potentially life-saving hardware, and it lives in the Mountain Bike Rotorua HQ. The MBR people are trained in first aid, but by pure chance, there was an intensive-care unit nurse on hand. Everything worked as it should, and the man was conscious and able to speak within four minutes of his collapse.

Chalk one up to Wendy Ardern, the club member who created the First Aid programme, and all the people who donated to make it happen.

The following day, a visit to the same place connected us up with a visiting Australian couple, Aysha and Aaron. 

They had just returned from their ride, and they were more than usually excited. First, she had binned it getting out of the carpark, and given herself a decent bruise on the leg. Then, he had hauled her up to the top of Tokorangi. She had cursed him for a good part of the long climb, which she admitted to walking most of. Then, next to the most photographed tree stump in the Whakarewarewa Forest, with the splendours of Rotorua laid out before them, he proposed.

It was like he had set himself up for a fail. Take your chosen one, have her injure herself in a humiliating way, make her go to a place you have never been yourself, on the off-chance it’s romantic, via a route she really doesn't like. 

But he didn't fail. She said ‘yes’. And in the circumstances, that ‘yes’ is probably one you could take to the bank. Anybody might say ok when the environment is a softly lit restaurant and there are several glasses of champagne on board. But committing to a relationship when you are standing amongst the wreckage of a clearcut, in a stiff breeze, having limped to the spot pushing a bicycle, that is a match made in heaven.

Probably just as well he didn't follow it up by taking his new fiancee down Eastern Spice.



A fool's errand


Last week’s newsletter was about events, and why we keep doing them. For example:

Last Saturday’s 2W Enduro in Rotorua was intended to be a gentle start to the enduro season, and the courses selected were all fairly mellow. They went down hill, but not as precariously as a lot of other trails.

Then it rained. There was pretty consistent rain for most of last week, but there was also wind. A fool could talk himself into believing the wind may have kept things dry under the trees.

On the startline, in the pleasant surrounds of the Holiday Inn, there was a cropped view of the sky, a rectangle described by the buildings and foliage around the poolside garden where 300 entrants assembled. The same fool could look at the clear patch of blue above and surmise that the day could turn out to be almost summery.

Then it rained. During race briefing a cold and steady downpour brought jackets out. A fool who only minutes before had been saying a jacket was a waste of effort, too hot, too sweaty, fumbled in the backpack for a raincoat.

One of the good things about the enduro format as 2W reads it is that stages can be done in any order. We chose to start with the one that turned out to be the worst in terms of mud. It would not have got any better during the day, but it did pack our bikes, shoes and in one case teeth with an undesirable vegetation-reinforced slurry that would be with us for the rest of the day.

We had ridden our bikes up to that first mud plug, but we made our way to the next stage by riding across the forest to a bus stop where a shuttle awaited.

Imagine intensively farming pigs in a turkish bath-house on wheels. Now imagine the pigs are all talking excitedly at once. That was the vibe in the shuttle, full of steaming people coated with mud. The windows fogged up, which made it much harder to see that it was snowing.

But only until it turned to sleet, then rain again. Familiar trails were made foreign by a slimy coating, and speed added a wind chill factor to the zero degrees at the top of the hill. Comments were heard about how weird braking is when you can’t feel your fingers.

The sun came out, and a fool could imagine the triumphant refreshments among fellow competitors, recounting the heroic events of the day. At about the same time as we arrived back at the race HQ the rain kicked in again, icy cold and falling for the most part sideways. Fair play to theWideOpen posse for providing beer and pizza to finishers, but such ambiance as there was melted pretty quickly.

A fool could be forgiven for thinking that this type of outing should be avoided, but by the time his bike was back to its usual colour and running as it should, he was starting to look forward to the next one.


Why do we do what we do?



Of all the weird aspects of the bicycle world, they are perhaps the strangest.

Perfectly reasonable people create them. Usually driven by a love of the sport, or that splinter of the sport that most excites them, they endure all sorts of privations and personal cost so a bunch of people they generally don't know might enter. Some of them try to make a living out of their events, and a precious few actually do.

The industry ‘sponsors’ events. Inverted commas signify the difficulty of defining the commercial interests gathered behind any event, and the many novel concepts they come up with to get their logo somewhere visible on the day.

They do that because the way to a customer’s heart is through his or her love of … what? Camaraderie? Humiliation? Despair?

That brings us to the third leg of the event triumvirate, and the one that is the most important: participants. A psychologist could perhaps tell you why anybody would ziptie a number to their bars in exchange for the equivalent of a week’s groceries, but for the life of me I can’t. Taking my personal case as an example, it certainly isn't because I think I will win anything. Unless they have a category which precisely defines my station in life I will make up the numbers: out of contention, out of water, out of breath.

And yet I am a repeat offender. We organise eventswe sponsor events, and I am a recidivist entrant.

I have no idea why I will be lining up for the 2W Enduro on Saturday, but if it is at all possible I heartily endorse it to you. The chance to bang down the same trails as I normally do on a Saturday, but with a different look on my face (race face!) is impossible to resist. As if to confirm the general mass hysteria events produce, you will have to get in quick, it usually sells out.

Even worse, we are now only three weeks from the Nzo Whaka 100. That we would invest in an event that represents the three worst days of my bike racing career (that is how many times I have entered it) mystifies me more than the fact that part of our sponsorship arrangement is an entry for me to have a fourth crack at it. As the name suggests, it is one hundred kilometres of mostly trail, and includes a preposterous amount of climbing. Most events can be entered ‘for fun’. You know what I mean: turn up, climb on, hope to win a spot prize. Not this one. Even if I arranged for somebody to push me up the last two climbs in a wheelbarrow, the one before them would more than likely break me. Am I selling it well? Doesn't seem likely to attract anybody with any sense, yet it is rapidly approaching selling out too!

Events. Strange things. Get in to one.


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