I will post a video to support this report very soon. Come back and check it out.
The day of the race finally arrived. The night before I was having dreams of forgetting my riding shoes, forgetting my helmet, forgetting my pants. In honesty, I probably would have ridden sans pants if I forgot them, luckily, I prepared them all the night before and had a good nights sleep.
Too good a sleep. We slept in.
We were staying at Lorne at a beautiful house overlooking the ocean from our bed. We dished out of bed and I dressed as quick as possible. Strangely, I had to dress twice.
Once to put on my racing gear, and then a second time placing my gladiators outfit over the top of all my gear.
I kid you not, if you missed me at the start, I looked like the hunchback from 300 with my Camelback under the cloak.
We were falling behind and the race hadn’t even started. We grabbed the kids, jumped in the car and sped out the driveway. Of course, we saw that freakin annoying double flack of white light on the main street as we seemingly passed a speed camera in the main street of Lorne.
Brilliant start to the day.
I drove as fast as possible in a family Subaru with kids in tow. We saw another 4 or 5 cars heading in the same direction at about the same urgency all heading for the last minute start. While I think I can drive reasonably fast, it was nothing compared to some guy in a WRX. He overtook us and was on the horizon in a couple of bends. As it turns out, I should have gotten used to that feeling for the rest of the day.
We pulled up 100 metres short of the start line and there were hundreds of guys all lined up ready to roll. I jumped out of the car and put my bike together in record time and strapped on my gear.
Heidi (my wife) yelled, “Have you got your food?”
“No time.” I replied as I pedalled to the start.
Oh how I wish that I’d listened to Heidi. (Not the first time I should have taken my wife’s advice. She warned me about the perils of having a beard and lack of sex as well).
As I cruised toward the masses, a cheer started to raise. I was shocked at how many people recognised me, or maybe they we laughing at my costume, either way, it felt awesome.
I pulled over to the side and instantly began chatting to several bunches of guys about the last couple of months ‘training’, well wishing each other and feeling the anticipation of what was to come.
I hardly had time to look around and the horn sounded and we were off!
I joined the throng and started pedalling.
I was so pumped. There’s no other way to put it.
I’ve never ridden in a large group like that. Feeling like one organic being weaving it’s way along the foreshore of Apollo Bay.
I wasn’t in a crazy rush and as I turned up late I ended up being pretty close to the front of the riders. As I was casually pedalling, riders were passing me regularly and ALL of them said hi and greeted me with encouragement. I felt amazing. My legs were turning over, it was a nice flat section of road and there was nothing but good vibes in the air as we reached the turn-off up the road toward the Otways.
At this point I had to stop.
Not because I was stuffed. I had to take off my costume. It isn’t designed to breathe as it’s generally not used in long distance stamina events (unless you consider fancy dress Christmas parties where you aimlessly wander the streets of the Hoddle grid till 5am after too many Jägermeister shots).
Coming into the turn, I guess I was coming about 50th, maybe 80th. By the time I took off my gear, gave instructions to the course attendant and hopped back in the saddle, I was about 9 from last.
I knew I was going to fall to the back. I just didn’t really think it would happen that fast.
I got back in the swing of things and started the first climb up Busty Road.
According to mapmyride it was a 350 metre vertical ascent over 3kms. I didn’t feel too bad at all. I got to the top and kept powering. Then it was time to get to Wild Dog Road. This was another 400m vertical ascent. This one started to take it out of me. The best thing was, all the guys around were all helping each other out. We weren’t there to win. We were there to finish. To get the job done. Hell, I even saw a guy doing it on a fixed gear bike. That guy deserves a clap.
From there we headed into the forest on a track called ‘Entrance Exam’.
This is where the fun fire trail began. Steepish descents into mud pits and long sweeping bends that turn suddenly into steep climbs on muddy gravel, sometimes with a little wet grass covering. Thankfully the weather was fantastic, a bit cool with a little cloud cover and no rain to speak of.
The climbs, aptly named ‘Heavy Smoker ‘, by now were taking their toll on all of us. There’s no way I could get up them without getting out of the saddle. We were all joking that the leaders would be riding these puppies with their tree trunk legs and I’d love to hear from some of the winners how they felt here, but for us regulars, it was a scenic walk pushing shit uphill. (well, our bikes in reality).
Somewhere around here we passed a guy in a triangle bandage sling on the side of the trail. He had some other riders with him, and everyone who rode past check to see if they were ok and trudged on. Apparently he took a fall and lost a fair bit of skin along the way but was ultimately OK.
Shorty after that I passed a guy broken down. I asked if he needed a hand and he sheepishly asked if I had any pliers. I was glad to say I did and stopped to help him with his chain breaker. This took about 5 minutes and all the while we were dropping behind the pack, but I was ok with that. I felt good helping someone else get back on the trails.
Up 100 metres.
Down 100 metres.
Up 150 metres.
Down 60 metres.
Up 200 metres.
Down 100 metres.
This was our lot for the next 15 kilometres. It was hard. Bloody hard. By now my legs were tiring, my back was starting to ache and while I was sipping my Shots of sodium enhanced water consistently every hill climb, and taking my gels every hour, I was getting hungry.
Then, suddenly as I was doing the usual, riding down the hill / crazy descent that may lead to certain death (not really… actually, possibly) I came to the eventual ascent on the other side, and went down through the gears till I came to a stop and hopped out of the saddle and took out my cleats.
Except this time, the left cleat acted funny. I had to twist my foot at an extreme angle to get it out.
I walked to the top of the hill and hopped back in the saddle and clicked back into the cleats.
One of them.
The baseplate to the bottom of my shoe had come off.
Give me a break. I had spent the last week preparing my bike, making sure all the gears, blames, tyres, and every other bloody component was in top shape and forgot to tighten the screws on the bottom of my shoes.
I only have one pedal.
In fact I still had two pedals, except I could only rely on one for proper pressure including the upward pull and more importantly, as I was descending some ridiculous terrain on the fire trail (thanks heaps John…race director at Rapid Ascent) I have practically no dependable balance.
I was holding on for dear life.
This continued for 10 kilometres of climbs and descents. It was insane. My right leg was killing me as it was doing all the work and I had the shakes as I was descending as I had very little control and more importantly falling further and further behind. At one point I forgot I didn’t have my feet in and tried to bunny hop a log over the track. It was small, I’d done it a hundred times. But generally with my feet in. I smashed my front tyre into the log and went straight over the handlebars.
It didn’t hurt and thankfully my bike survived unharmed.
Sooner or later it had to happen…the Sweep (the guy who goes around the course picking up all the arrows and markers) caught up to me.
I was officially last.
He pulled up in his 4WD and asked how I was.
It was John.
He by some freak miracle had a Shimano cleat in his kit that had been there for years. (thanks heaps John.)
Now I really had to get going. If I didn’t keep moving, I’d be out.
I passed the photographer and tried to show any sign of strength to hide the internal pain running up and down my body.
Just after I passed her we left the road and headed into ‘Dirty Dilemma’ and ‘Premature Ejaculation’ (the mud pits) and the technical side of mountain biking started to come into play.
Alas, I was too buggered to play.
This is the sections that mountain bikers dream of. Interesting twists and turns, jumps, drop-offs, tight squeezes through trees and challenges that take a little imagination and luck.
I was not in the mood. In fact I was delirious. I hadn’t eaten anything all day including breakfast and only having my water and gels. I had been in the saddle for five hours. My sugar levels were way too high and there was nothing in my stomach to digest or absorb anything.
I was in trouble.
I was way behind.
I was seriously feeling faint.
I passed out.
I was woken on ‘Short Fast Loud’ by the guys doing the sweep. I had no idea how long I had been asleep.
They gave me a muesli bar and I instantly felt much better. It were as if I were Mario and I just had a magic mushroom. The power up was very surprising. They rode with me for a while picking up the markers and arrows while I picked up the pace along ‘The Overcompensator’. I eventually pulled ahead of them and made it to the Festival Grounds at Forrest without stopping.
I now remember stopping around the lake dam to help a couple of guys with a chain link but at the time I was so wasted mentally, I had no idea where I was headed or what to do. I just put my head down and kept turning over the pedals.
Arriving at Forrest, some of the course officials thought I was finishing, I had a long way to go. 65 kays down, 35 to go. I made it to the change over area and found wife and kids worried sick of my whereabouts as my phone had died.
I ate. A lot.
I could feel the energy coming back to me. Heidi was relieved to hear I was OK in a sense, and I planned to rest for 30 mins then head out on the Yaugher Super loop, the next 20 kays of the race. I had ridden that section of the race in the course familiarisation day and knew what to expect. It wasn’t too hilly and pretty technical so I knew if I paced myself I’d get through it and on to the last 15 kay loop. My hopes were up.
Then suddenly they were dashed.
Sam Maffett, Managing Director of Rapid Ascent came over and delivered devastating news. Yaugher had been closed. I’d missed the cut off. The sweep had already been instructed to go round the course and pick up all the markers.
I was officially a DNF.
I was gutted.
Sam thankfully had a plan. I was asked to share some of my experiences of the race in full costume at the presentation of the winners (they had been finished for hours, showered and sipping Long Island Iced teas well before I got to Forrest) and after presenting, I would then head off on the Kona Kula Watt and finish the last loop of 15 kays to bring my total to a respectable 80 kays. This would easily be a record ride for me and gave me some sense of self respect. I was still disappointed, but understood the logistical reasoning. If they’d left it open, I may have been finishing in the dark and the last loop up “Donchawishyagirlfriendwashotlikeme“ is surely not to be attempted in twilight.
I shared an amazing story with the crowd of a lady riding ahead of me in the first 65 kays that would stop and pick up the rubbish that some people were dropping. She was an inspiration to me. Giving up her right to race for time to help the environment and protect that which we came to enjoy. I understand it’s a race to some, a competitive sport, but that doesn’t excuse destroying the environment. By my reckoning if you can fit a gel in your pocket full, you can sure as hell fit the same gel in your pocket empty. If you’re worried about getting left over gel juice on your shirt, write to the designers of you gel and demand they design a resealable packet for this very reason. As a graphic designer I know this would happen if enough people got behind the idea. Honestly, maybe the designers of the packaging haven’t even considered the issue. It’s up to you, the users to make things right. Ok, I’ll stop ranting now and get back to the race.
I finished presenting to the crowd and took off for the final 15 kays. The last loop up ‘Donchawishyagirlfriendwashotlikeme’ was seriously up. A seven kay climb on a gravel road pretty much non stop. By this time in the afternoon, the sun was at the top of it’s zenith and gazing down on us with full force. I could feel myself getting burnt. The tops of my arms, the tops of my knees and the front of my face. It was getting damn hot. I had my Camelbak in my mouth constantly sipping away. I met up with rider 236, Kylie or Katie, I can’t quite remember her name exactly. Possibly a residual effect of being delirious or maybe I’m just shit at remembering names while riding 80 kays. Anyhoo, we chatted pretty much all the way up to the top of the climb. She was patiently waiting for me at times and encouraging me to challenge each section of the climb on it’s merit. It really helped.
Eventually like everybody else she pulled away at the top of the road section as it turned into ‘Britneys Meltdown’. This section was fun, tight single track with deceptively sharp turns leading to treacherous descents covered in overgrown scrub that constantly made the track that little bit more ambiguous. I remember totally missing one turn and smashing into a tree, taking off a chunk of bark (sorry tree.) I was strangely encouraged by the fact that there were about five other chunks of bark missing off the tree as other riders made the exact same mistake.
If that was you, ELECTRONIC HIGH FIVE!
Some of the descents were crazy. For me anyways, maybe for the pros it was business as usual but I found it very challenging. Picking the right line, getting right behind the seat, twisting the body into the correct positions around turns and all the while having good pedal position made this section a whole lotta fun. By the time I made it here, the track had a well worn path and the water sections were mud pits and the dry sections were dust. On some of the descents, on full lock rear brakes I’d just slide down the hill and turn to keep upright!
What a Blast!
This was what I came for, it was really enjoyable and then I was hit by ‘The Sledgehammer’.
Just as you get into the grove, you literally bottom out into a creek and then climb 300 vertical metres. I can’t imagine what it’s like for a Pro after 90 kays of riding, chasing the leader or fending off the pack, to find yourself at the bottom of this climb. I assume they run it. With all the powers of my creative mind I can’t perceive a way to ride it, either way, the Pros are freaks which I now have true admiration for.
I pushed and sometimes pulled my bike up. Thank goodness my Kona is Carbon Fibre and light as a feather, if it was a steel tank I may still have been sitting on that hill. This then led into a short 5 kay section of jumps, logs and technical challenges. I even took the A trail on a couple of them which I felt proud to attempt. (sometimes by accident as I didn’t know what was coming). Surely as ascent follows descent, I made it to the final road section of the race and turned into the Forrest grounds for the last time. In full gladiator uniform i finished the final 15 kay loop and rode over the finish line.
By now all the punters had left. The show was over and it was just the stragglers like me coming over the line. In saying that, the other “stragglers” did ride another 20 kays that I didn’t. I was amazed that two minutes after I crossed the line a 65 year old man finished the 100 kay event.
65! That’s incredible.
As I crossed the line, those that were still there all cheered. Not just me, but everyone that crossed the line. And that’s the point. We finished. I was euphoric. I probably don’t look like it, but I was elated to be over the line. Strangely, I still had energy. I remember thinking, “Damn you Yaugher! I woulda had you if I had the time!” But I don’t regret my experience. In fact, it was one of the more amazing sporting experiences of my life.
I have high jumped two metres at one time and the floating sensation over a bar isn’t even close to the feeling of knowing that I gave that race everything I had. I’m thankful to the guys at Rapid Ascent and Kona for the experience. I thank you all for following my journey and enjoying the ride with me over the last 3 months.
Meeting you all on the race course was fantastic, chatting to friends and fellow riders all going through the same pain created a unique bond. It was an experience I’ll never forget. (Well it is on the internet and if I do I guess I can come back here and remember).
Did it hurt?
Will I Kona Odyssey again?
Ultimately, the challenge was, ‘Could a no talent ass clown with no previous experience take on the Kona Odyssey and finish?’ Well, the answer was yes and no. No, I didn’t finish, but yes, you can take it on. I thoroughly enjoyed the race and as a beginner I savoured the challenge. I felt like a winner at the end. If you’re thinking of trying a long distance cross country race, I fully encourage you to try it. The other riders were more than welcoming except for two elitis jerks I met along the way. I met them at the 2nd food station and I was clearly bringing up the rear and as they were 15 kays ahead I guess they had a feeling of superiority. To quote them, “Well, at least you can tell your poofter friends driving 4WD Subaru’s in the city that you get out on the weekend and pretend to be hardcore.”
I was so faint by that time it washed over me and made no effect and it wasn’t till later doing the last loop that it sunk in how offensive that statement was. I then rode another kay and realised I didn’t care. There are jerks in every area of life and nobody owns the trails or the event, (except Rapid Ascent, they actually own the event), but it is open to ALL. No matter what your skill, the car you drive or the job you have. I am not embarrassed about coming last or what I do for a living and I’m glad to be discussing it with all of you. To those blokes, if by some miracle you’re reading this, I hope you consider that at some stage, we are all beginners and if others aren’t welcome to try, then this sport will die.
But it won’t, because you, like me, will continue to try. To give it a go. To overcome personal challenges whatever they may be.
Over the last three months I have grown a love and appreciation for the sport and recreation of Cross Country Mountain Biking.
I hope you have a better preparation than three weeks of sickness like me.
I hope you sign up for the Kona Odyssey next year.
See you out there friends.
As a final note, later that night I came home and attacked my face with a blade. Over the next 30 minutes of bathroom antics that funnily enough you never see in a shaving commercial, I finally took off my Kona Odyssey costume for good.
It took me three months to create this effort, yet later that night with my wife, I can’t say I regretted losing it.