Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Cyclic Saga, indeed

Well, nothing ventured, nothing lost (or something like that).

After coming 4th at our first attempt last year, John and I have been gagging to have another crack at this 2-day MTB rogaine. We're almost as fit, and certainly more experienced in standard MTB orienteering. But the Saga is more like a foot rogaine with bikes. This clash of styles was to be 'problematic'.

We got to our railway carriage accommodation with time to spare and sorted out our compulsory gear for inspection. Pretty much everything you'd need to survive an uncomfortable night out in bad weather. At registration we were a bit disheartened to hear that we would be using the same venue as 2 years ago. Things would need to go perfectly for us to do well.

The maps were handed out at 9am and we chose a route within a few minutes and set off up Mt Alexander - the highest point on the map. Everything ran very smoothly as we collected several valuable controls on the way to the summit, which was the first place the 8-year old map started to differ significantly from reality. We found an extra track that wasn't shown, which was a nice surprise. A quick bite to eat and it was off to the foothills. Things got a little trickier, but with one or two quick conferences we were soon on the right track again and enjoying the thrill of the points mounting up.

Four hours into the first (7.5 hour) day we stopped to assess our options. We had 920 points and were averaging our usual 10 km/hr. All was well with the world, so we decided to head to the SE corner of the map - the furthest from the overnight camp, but an essential area to cover if we were to stay in the hunt for the win. We calculated some 'early-withdrawal' times at a couple of spots and headed off down the main road at a handy 35 km/hr.

As soon as we started up the next main climb, things started to unravel on us. The map showed a 4WD track which wasn't there. For standard MTB-O proponents, this is a real problem. The standard rules forbid riding off-track, so the maps mark tracks extremely accurately and they are your primary navigational feature. In the Saga you can go wherever you want, which encourages you to navigate by topography first and foremost (just like a foot rogaine).

We read the topography OK and knew where we were, but failed to recognise that it was a good time to consider abandoning the track and head cross-country to the next control. We hiked on up the ridge where the map showed a track and by the time we got to the top were starting to fade. Next up we got more confused by bogus mapping of man-made features and mis-read the topography, going out of our way to head down the wrong ridge. Even after an extensive search, the next control was nowhere to be found (if only we'd looked 500m to the west!). John had a puncture. We got dehydrated. Worked out where we were. Lost heart. Searched for a control that really was mis-mapped. Had another puncture. Switched into cruise mode and headed for the campsite, a looonng ways off.

By the time we got back, we were two and a half hours late and in last place. After our lateness penalty of -10 points/minute, we were on zero! But we did get a good 10 hour ride in, totally 100 km.

The next day we stayed in cruise mode and tried to avoid anything that looked unnecessarily arduous. Not an easy task when you are surrounded by hilly farmland covered in soft, rutted, grassy 4WD tracks. There were some nice views of the Hurunui River, but the tops were in the cloud - cold and damp. This section of the map was also out of date, but it didn't have any imaginery tracks added. There was only one really unpleasant walk up a sheep track through prickly matagouri scrub. Still, it had us wondering what we were doing there.

John suggested that if it got any worse we throw our survival blankets into a patch of matagouri so dense that we'd never be able to retrieve them and then lie down to die of hypothermia. "That'd show the f&#kers!"

Fortunately things got better, so we carried on at a reasonable pace to reach the finish of day two in just under the 6 hour time limit. Didn't cover much distance that day, but the altimeter I'd borrowed showed a total of 5,700m ascent for the weekend. Be keen to know what the winners did. They collected over 2,800 points and must have completely monstered the course.

Our shocking result aside, it was a good weekend. John and I get on remarkably well together, even when things go pear-shaped. It's generally really well organised. We'd go back to compete if they guaranteed a decent map and a new area. I like a good saga.

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