Thursday, December 4, 2008

2008 KONA 24 HOURS, Forrest, Victoria

IT NEVER CEASES TO AMAZE ME that something so simple as riding a push bike can mean so much to so many different people. Kona 24 Hours this year was no exception. Some of us are out there for fun, some of us are out there with a point to proof, others are just out there whether they can ride or not but mostly people are there for a bit of mountain biking adventure.

TRYING TO EXPLAIN the concept of riding a bike nonstop for 24 hours is usually greeted with curious amazement or total ridicule by those who don’t ride, but what they fail to comprehend is that there are elements within a 24 hour event that cannot be easily summarised unless one’s had a go in participating and experience it firsthand. Call it a weekend camping event with bikes or whatever, but to treat this event with disrespect, it can cost you dearly.

THE BATTLEGROUND FOR THIS YEAR’S KONA 24 is once again in the magnificent Forrest MTB Park. A slice of mountain bike heaven carved out by none other than Australian MTB legend Glen Jacobs. It featured miles of twisting single track in an otherwise pretty isolated piece of Victorian bush land. Sweepers, berms, rollers and hip jumps are all signature Glen Jacob affair but for the reason of safety, the race organisers have opted for tracks without too many technical features. I find it a bit of shame because in my opinion, rider’s skill and bikes are progressing every year, therefore so should the track that we compete on. Cross country tracks needs to get more technical, not just to sort out road bike riders from true mountain bikers, but if Aussie riders are to take it to the international level and compete on par against riders around the world, we need more technical stuff to ride in.

MY PARTICIPATION THIS YEAR was already determined 364 days prior during last year’s Kona 24 hours. Andrew, Caleb, Marissa and myself all made a pack to return this year after surviving last year’s slog. This year, we’ve managed to convince 4 more newbies to join in our little fanfare. Brenton, Stephen, Ben and Kathryn have all signed up. With them they bring a mixed level of personality and experience; but more importantly, right attitude towards the event – a healthy dose of adventure carefully mixed with some anxiety and hint of caution.
SEASONED VETRANS DON’T TAKE THIS EVENT ON LIGHTLY and after the disappointment of previous year, Paul’s return to this year’s event earmarked a new level of personal achievement for him. Now sporting Total Freedom Machine colours, it symbolised an end of his association with his previous sponsor Total Rush. Paul’s new green, red and white livery was comically close to a Christmas tree but there was nothing funny at about his preparation to this event. Toned up and ready to battle, the smiles in the camera was hiding a rider with a lot of point to proof; to please his new sponsor and redeeming last year’s disappointment. Not even his wife was immune from his drive to succeed. She was there shadowing his every move to ensure that no details are missed for his 24 hours of torture ahead.
IN A CLEAR DEMONSTRATION of outrageously sound organisation skill, Andrew has managed to bring everything bar a kitchen sink & plasma TV to this year’s event. Twin marquees, mushrooming tents of sleeping quarters in the field behind, gas heat lamps and plenty of food & drink making our team pit the envy of the field. Ben rocked up with boxes of mixed fruits enough to keep a zoo happy, with enterprising Marissa completing the picture with a laptop to time our progress. The ever cautious Kath brought a bed and massage roller just in case. Me? Lame excuse persists. From a sore knee resulting to my botched race at Bendigo 4 weeks ago, to being under prepared or whatever, no excuse was going to save me from this 24 hour that will sort me out whichever way I tackle it.

IN A CONTINUATION OF PAST YEAR’S FORMAT, the race was divided into 3 segments. First 6 hours will be on a circuit loop, to be followed by 12 hours of night racing on a separate circuit, then finally round up by another 6 hours of racing on a 3rd loop. The justification of this was to ensure that technically dangerous circuit are eliminated from the night laps. This I can’t argue, crashing hard in the middle of the night isn’t much fun. So at 1 minute past midday on 29th November, 2008, hundreds of riders set off into the single track to commence their event that would end in 23 hours and 59 minutes.

THERE ARE A FEW METHODS GOING ABOUT how one should tackle a 24 hour race. Pace yourself or go hard and blow up, rest then repeat, the choices are only limited by your imagination and resources. Common logic should dictate the soloist riders starting slow and finish slower, but often this aren’t the case as their progression are often more rapid than those who race in a team. 6 rider teams behave like a pack of wild dogs, barging their way through the course like hyenas after deer, while others seemed to be content to sit in their tents over a Power Bar watching others sweat out over on the course. Our pit was split up into 2 teams of 4 and the agreed strategy of taking things as it come provides ample opportunity for individualism in this event. Be a clown or taking it serious, there was a place for all. Andrew was out to put himself to test, while Ben, competitive by nature, was going to see to it that a non competitive cyclist can mix in with the season riders. Brenton, Steve and Kath showing some nerves while Marissa and Caleb cracked jokes with each other. All I cared about was that I was going to ride my bike again in Forrest.

WITH A TEAM OF 4 in our group it was awhile before it was my turn to commence my 24 hour campaign. Conscience of my deteriorated level of fitness and knee issues, my goal was to finish the race without incurring further injuries. Under the glaring eyes of the crowd at the transition zone, I proceeded to clear the very first steep hill climb after start / finish line, when I really should have walked up it. So out the window it went my conservative race approach, all within 50m of starting my race. As usual, the long non-technical climbs irritated me whereas descends and technical terrains kept me happy. If only the whole race was to be like that. A bit of overconfidence in a loose corner sent me crashing off the bike but beyond that little spill, my progress was linear and unexcitingly steady.

THE SECOND LAP after a round of rider rotation meant that by the time I headed out again, I would be tackling the night loop just before the sun set. There’s nothing like riding in a sunset in Australian outback. Wildlife stirs while air cooled. It was pure magic riding conditions. The lights I was carrying wasn’t necessary as there was still enough daylight to see where I was going, and this gave me a huge advantage over others who will have to track the same course in the darkness. Poor Kath, a total novice to night racing, had the unfortunate draw of tackling her first ever night lap unseen in total darkness and to no surprise she didn’t like it. By then Caleb also did his back in and had called an end to his race campaign, so after a quick conference Brenton and I would take turns to soldier on and see how far we could push.

DE JAVU. That’s all I can say about my body. Not long after I headed out again, my legs started to do the usual trick of cramping up just when I thought things were going rosy. This was becoming an annoyingly regular occurrence on all my long distance rides and I’m at lost how I can overcome this. Sure enough my knee soon followed suit, each heavy pedal stroke was greeted by a pain that’s just too complicated to write here. The ride back to pit soon turned into a fine balance between pushing in the dark and not packing my knee in. When I finally completed my lap, I was 20 min overdue. Upon my return to the pits, broken Matt (he destroyed his ankle a month earlier so no riding for 6 month) was there in our pit, drowning his sorrows over a beer with Sandy who also missed entering this event through indecisions, Both harbouring some regret for not being able to participate in this event while I ditched my bike and gone searching for some ice.
While I sat in pit nursing a knee feeling like a grapefruit and listening to Matt and Sandy discuss life’s trials and tribulations, Paul soldiered on unwaveringly by our pit. Paul’s event has been a quiet but determined progression, never buckled under pressure on his way to a strong solo finish. When Brenton returned from his lap, we all agreed we to take time out and get some sleep in preparation for a big push next morning.

GOOD AFTERNOON, Good Evening, Good Night and Good Morning- all of which probably mean the same to a lot of us over the last 24 hours. The sleep didn’t seem to reduce my swollen knee but the daylight did brighten all our spirit. Kath then Brenton went out first only to return complaining the new lap format being more difficult than it needed to be. But I was determined to give the 3rd circuit a go, despite going against sound advice from Caleb that I should sit out. You only live once and I was happy with my decision to head out as I got to ride the fabled Mariners Run, a technical track best described as being similar to the “Karate Monkey” track in Whistler, albeit without the steep gradient. The technical bits were immensely enjoyable despite the hill climbs doing my knee in again. A big wild slide while burning through a berm kept me awake for rest of my lap for otherwise a steady progress to the end. As I completed my lap I noticed no one but Kath was present. No doubt that everyone’s had enough of riding and gone somewhere for a cold beer. Content with finishing my stint and ready feet up, I had not noticed that Kath headed out for another lap so she can beat her XC racing nemesis Megan Lawson. For Meagan to be ahead of Kath in a race it was like waving a red rag to a raging bull – no way was she going to take this sitting down. An hour and twenty minutes later, Kath sprinted past the finish line and returned grinning like she’s just won lottery.

THE AFTERMATH OF AN 24 HOUR SLOG usually results in a field littering with walking wounded, but this year the carnage level seems to be down thanks to a less demanding track and milder weather. Our cause was made a lot easier by two particular individual’s endeavour, from organising entry to this event to picking up after others., credit must go to where it is due and we all have a lot to thank Andrew and Stephen for. Everyone took away something unique from this event, and for those who got something positive out of it, they’ll no doubt return to this place another day.


Highwheeler Bike said...

Andrew great work on this! I think I have a'96 GT LTS2. The rear suspension needs rebuilt. Where do I get the plastic parts (at least they look like plastic) I hope you have an answer. I love riding this bike.

Andrew Liu said...

Hi Highwheeler, thanks for your positive feedback.

Try this place for high quality spares:

Good luck - Andrew