125 km Mt Bike - Lake Hawea Epic
We started in Hawea township at seven AM, a beautiful day ahead. One of those days with mountains all around and little puffs of cloud around the tops. Luckily it looks mostly dry but it's been a bit wet so it will be soggy a in places.
After years of ultra running it's actually nice to be in something different and a little spark of challenge gives me something I haven't felt in years. I have trained quite well without pushing it too much but my running background and nutrition experience should see me through fitness wise. Staying on the bike though with this rocky course will be interesting.
The start was the usual ripping yarn with the first twenty odd kms on road it's pretty quick. The field quickly spreads and I settle into a nice cadence enjoying the views of the lake to my right. It's a bit nippy but I think that will be fine in a hour. After a pretty quick twenty kms I reach the turnoff for the Epic distance into the gravel at Mead Road. Quick drink and eat and it's gravel track time through the trees and good quick time to date. It's here you can see the first of the mechanical issues and I pass a few punctures and even chain breaks. Many more gear failures ahead, your bike has to be ready for this rocky trail. It's rough in places with steep descents and very rocky areas, your bike will get a workout. Don't worry, it's a very rideable course but there are steep steep climbs, steep descents, muddy river areas and a big river crossing at Hunter River (64km). The full 125 km event is tough but manageable with good prep. You need some good climbing strength, the endurance to ride all day and the skills to descend some pretty rocky steep slopes. I would say a full suspension bike is going to make your day easier and a sensible set of tools and tubes etc will combine with your nutrition requirements and ensure your finish.
As the sun rises the full beauty of the area unfolds around us. We are on the left side of Lake Hawea and the full expanse of this lonely area surrounded by the mountains makes this a great race. I make some big climbs and we also ride some rocky rivers. These are a bit new for me as you don't really know if they are rideable but they all are until you get to some longer ones later that I don't wish to try, partly to save the bearings and grease in my bike on a long ride and also I think they are probably a bit too deep today and faster to walk/run. The good thing is I can fill my bottle at any of them and add powder. I know from experience that in a six or eight hour day quite a few people will struggle with nutrition later. Some confidence and aggression has its place in most sports and this endurance riding is no exception.
On we go around the lake. Towards the 60 km mark and the big river cross it gets muddy and grassy. In places the mud is quite bad but it's rideable, and then it's the big rock and gravel of a south island riverbed. Dismount and carry over the twenty or thirty metres of the river. It's cold and thigh deep but also good to get off the bike. On the other side a few people are having a break so a chance to hop on and get cracking on the track through the bushes. It weaves in and out here with a few rocky climbs thrown in. Then there are some quite severe rough rocky climbs and a few more gear breakages visible. The climbing and stiff descents are taking their toll. I am enjoying this now as the athletes are starting to struggle a bit. Ahead the top guns will still be machining along. The views are fantastic and I am very pleased it's a fine day.... Rough weather could make this miserable here. I am pleased to reach the famed 'tea and scones' at Dingle Burn Station. There are some good kids helping and a dog asleep on the track. Everyone is pretty tired here, however it's flat and pleasant and marks a return to a more defined road of sorts. At about 100 km it's time for some very very steep climbs and I am surprised to see everyone around me walking a couple of them. I must say they are steep but I am not getting off and mangage to ride them all and then off around the lakeside trail and under some great cliffs. Gradually we pass under more bluffs and the road gets easier to ride well. On and on until we head towards town still on wide fine gravel surfaces and it's only a few kms out we hit proper road. I get in behind one guy and he pulls us along nicely until town and then final sprint to the line.
This is a great ride in great countryside and I love the fact it's simple and not over pampered or destroyed with reflective this or must carry that nonsense. We should be prepared for races and treated like adults, everyone enjoyed the day and I quickly enjoyed a couple of beers watching the other riders come in. It was a seven thirty day and really great to be back enjoying myself again. Fully recommend this adventure.