Friday, November 16, 2012

The Crocodile Trophy ~ Continued with Stage 4

 IRVINEBANK LOOPED COURSE (4 26km loops/600m elevation gain per loop)
4 26km loops around Irvinebank didn’t seem to bad on paper until we hit the back half of the course that was an old, beat up 4 wheeler trail I would guess. It took me by surprise as we hit the first few technical parts and I bailed my bike on the first one as I felt a bit pressured by all the guys behind me and couldn’t see ahead as we were right behind each other. I cut the top of my middle finger and busted up my knee and shin and other fingers on the rocks. Luckily I had my Wilier gloves on or it could have been a lot worse. Thank fully the wind was hot and dry and dried the blood quickly to make a plug to stop the bleeding (as I didn’t fancy licking it for the next few laps)!
I counted my lucky stars I made it through the first lap and decided I would just take my time on this stage and have some fun. I caught up to Guy, a man I met from Townsville at the first depot stop and we rode the remaining 3 laps together. It was nice to have some company and as we stopped at the next depot, I joked at how we must look like pigs at a feeding trough, shoving watermelon, cut up bananas and cereal bars, Red Bull and whatever else there was into our mouths before taking off on another lap.

With each lap I got better on the technical side and really began to enjoy it and the last 2 laps, barely got off except for a couple of sandy creek beds which we had to walk/run and a couple of little up hills that were too steep to get up. I was happy to be in one piece and had gotten better as I went! It was also nice to see the supporters as we came through town each lap as we had spent the last few days in the bush with the rare sighting of locals or supporters unless they happened to live in the remote land that we passed through.
It was a hard, hilly course and the first half, very dusty as the dirt road was open to trucks (big ones!) and cars and at times you couldn’t see anything at all in front of you and just had to hope you had a good line.
Guy and I parked our bikes at the pub, like everyone else who had finished before us and had a nice, cold beverage in our dirt clad kits and bodies. Judy, Guy’s wife joined us and celebrated another stage down and a win for me.


As we started day 5 and headed from Irvinebank to Mt Mulligan, the weather was overcast and a light drizzle that was a welcomed relief to most of the riders from the 40+celcius days we had experienced. The first 15km was fire road and the next 17km was a more technical, rough, rocky, beat up old track and my plan was to take it easy through that then pick it up on the flatter, smoother roads that followed.
Through the last part of the technical section I locked up my brakes for what reason I don’t know. It wasn’t technical at that one place but before I knew it I went over the handlebars and landed, smack on my back and winded myself. As I lay there on my back, unable to move for a short time, I hear Franko (one of the Mackay boys) yell out from the hill ahead ‘ Kate Major…. are you ok?’ and I yell back ‘yep, I’m just givin the earth some lovin’!”. And on that note, flipped myself back over, dusted myself off and tried to catch up to Franko’s group but couldn’t quite bridge the gap. I found myself solo for the next 70km into a head wind for most of it. A little sore in the SIJ and left shoulder from the flip but figured it would be a little stiff and sore for the next couple of days.
At first I was annoyed that I had to ride alone and then I thought ‘just enjoy this quiet time by yourself and take in the Australian outback scenery and smells as the light rain always enhances the bush flowers aromas.
I went through a couple of gates where I had to get off and open them and close them behind me and the last gate I got to a group that caught up to me. In this group was the girl in second (to me) and a few other strong male riders (all Euro’s) that should have been at least 30min-1hr ahead. I don’t know much about bike racing and tactics but it didn’t take me long to figure out something was going on for these guys to be together with 40km to go. We rode the next 15km together and one of the guys went ahead before that…. so it turns out to get the girl’s drinks and food at the last depot, with 20km to go. As I pulled in to grab a cereal bar, she by passed the depot and took off with the group of guys that she was with. So I take off from the depot to time trial to catch them and with some hills ahead I knew I could catch her…. until I see a hand go on her back and helped pushed her up the hills ahead. The guy with me who I know is a stronger rider than me said he would work with me if he could to help catch them but just sat on my wheel for the next 5-10km before taking off on me on a hill and re joining their group and adding another hand to her back, to the finish line to finish around 5mins ahead of me for first place.
I was a little annoyed to say the least when I saw this going on right in front of me and then to have at least half a dozen or more riders afterwards say they saw it going on from before depot 1 (32km mark). I don’t mind being beaten as long it is done fairly. I can’t stand cheating of any kind and that is why I decided to mention this incident in my race report. It doesn’t set a good example for fellow riders, spectators, kids etc and really put a dampener on the race for me. Cheating like that is just as bad as taking performance enhancing drugs or any other form of cheating. I told the race organizer but he blew it off saying it is not allowed but due to it not being written in their rules, that they couldn’t do anything official about it but would mention it at the race briefing!
Mt Mulligan Station was a huge mining town back in the early 1900’s in Australia until a huge explosion. It also has some rich Aboriginal history and is said to be the birthplace of the Rainbow Serpent and is now owned by a friend of my brother in laws’, Gordon. I was fortunate enough to meet Gordon and he offered me a real bed for the night at the station. I couldn’t believe my luck and with my sore ribs, shoulder and hip from my crash, I took him up on the offer and had a fantastic night’s sleep!


Today I woke up in a revenge mood and was determined to show Alice that cheating doesn’t get you anywhere. I was a bit tired to start out and had to work really hard to stay with the group ahead of me but knew I needed to to get a break from the next pack behind. There was a strong headwind and I couldn’t get dropped and get stuck out there all by myself again. I wasn’t sure how long I would last but was going to give it a shot.

 One of the local Cairns guys I met was out in his van cheering me on and other riders he knew too. He said to me before the start to just go out and have fun, don’t worry about what happened yesterday, that was yesterday’ and I took his advice on board.
The guys at the front made a big move that broke the pack up and I couldn’t hold it any longer and dropped off with three other guys that happened to be Aussies. We rode together until just after the first depot where the climbing began. It was hot and there was no shade and it was up, up, up with a few short, rocky descents. I made a gap on the guys and found myself riding solo for some time until I caught up to a guy I remember from yesterday. He tells me I’m riding strong and am the strongest girl in the race by far, even after what happened yesterday. That gave me more fire as he was riding with that group so I eventually dropped him too.
Due to the dirt, dust and hot, dry air, my chain was squeaking big time and a couple of young European riders came up on a hill and gave me some lube…..quiet times again!
One of the Mackay boys passed me and I kept him in sight and we left depot 3 together and rode most of the way until he got a flat. We passed a team of euro’s and they didn’t like that and I was solo again after the Mackay guy got a flat. I was nearly out of water, even after re-filling my Nathan hydration pack and 2 drinks bottles less than 20km before so started to ration my water and that is when I see the road to Maitland Downs and an unexpected depot that had coke and water! I downed a couple of cups of coke and water and refilled my drink bottle as we had 10km on the road to go. Christian had caught back up to me and we rode the last 10km together. About 5km down the road I could see some riders coming from behind…they passed us like a freight train…it was the euros!!! I guess they didn’t want us on their train!!!

My ribs and shoulder liked the smooth road to finish and I went and visited the Mackay guy’s tent and their support crew went and bought us hamburgers (with the lot i.e. meat, lettuce, cheese, tomato, pineapple, beetroot, egg, bacon and BBQ sauce) and hot chips (with gravy and salt)…. the highlight of my day and hit the spot big time!!!
There were no showers set up for the females so the boys let me use their portable shower tent to rinse off.  Hadn’t washed my hair in a couple of days and it was starting to feel like dread locks could form at any time!
That night I slept under the Mackay boys tarps in a real swag as it was a wider mat and more comfortable for my ribs to sleep on.

As the Kookaburras woke me up again at 4.30am I dragged myself out of the swag on the hard dirt and got moving for breakfast.
I was planning on taking today a little easier than the day before but when I saw Alice and her merry men riding up front I thought ‘oh no you don’t’ and got fired up. I rode along side her for a while and was feeling surprisingly good…or better than I expected. So I decided to try to stay with this pack as long as I could. It didn’t last that long but long enough that I couldn’t see anyone coming in the hills behind me. There was one other guy who I had met from Australia in the days past, Steve and we rode together for the rest of the day together. He was hurting to start but warmed up and hung in there and got stronger as we went. We picked up some faster guys who were hurting and formed a group as we went. I found myself again hanging on the back for dear life and finally fell off the back and so did Steve.

 We worked together on the never-ending hills and I knew I was probably going too hard to hold that pace but didn’t care. The last 15km we had a thick, rocky, sandy river crossing to run through and a climb out to follow. I really noticed the heat but knew I only had to hang on for another 15km. I was low on fluids and had to start rationing. I was now hanging on to Steve’s wheel and busted out a gel at 10km to go as I was going backwards quickly. One of the other guys in the group that dropped us was now riding with us too so he and Steve took turns out front whilst I once again, held on for dear life! With no water left at 3km to go I just had to hang on and then I see the Crocodile Trophy banner and was happy to be done….a lot harder stage than the profile suggested.

One of the riders Garmin’s apparently read over 50deg Celsius in the sun.
I camped that night with Nick and Gary and it didn’t cool off until well in the night/ early morning. Everyone was lying around like lizards in the after noon, as it was so hot!
Once again, no showers for the girls so I showered in another portable shower then laid out like a lizard in the shade as I was officially buggered!

STAGE 8- Maytown to Laura 87km/1300M
This day I decided I would take easy no matter what as I had dug myself into a good hole the day before with Steve. The start was fast again but I kept within myself and just went out at a comfortable pace back on some of the trails we came in on yesterday.
After 18km it turned technical with some awesome climbs that took some thinking of a good line to take and then some rocky, steep descents. I followed this guy up all of the climbs as he took really good lines and we beat some guys up that passed us earlier but didn’t take the right line. On the downhill I let all the other guys go first and made it down most of them better than I thought I might and was quite pleased with myself. As I pulled over on one descent to let a group of guys go down, one of them said in his broken English ‘ you scare me’ …I took that as a compliment (even though I knew it probably wasn’t!) and buttoned my lips as I passed him about a mile later on an uphill that he was walking up!!!
There were a few steep/un-ride able hills that I was forced to push my bike up and found myself solo for a good chunk through some narrower sandy trails. Some were so thick with sand I had to get off and run/walk through it. The last 30km I was with 2 other guys. One I had spoken to previously as he had done some Ironman racing and was a strong cyclist. His name was Fred and he led most of the way. The other guy sat on the entire way; I took a couple of turns where I could and after a cool river crossing a faster euro guy joined us and he paced us the last 10km or so in. Before that I was leading and my front wheel got caught in a deep sandy part and I went down and Fred missed me but somehow went down and injured his hip flexor/quad but got back and still rode strong.

With 1km to go to 2 other guys took off and left Fred and I to ride in. I wasn’t going to take off after all the work Fred had done and pulled us the last 30km and he was disappointed that the other guys did that…. not cool!
Fred went to the med tent to get fixed up and I went to the pub (after cleaning mine and Fred’s bike) to get a drink and met a couple of local guys. One had some snakes and put a Black Headed Python around my neck. It was pretty cool to feel all of its muscles contracting and releasing as it moved around my neck. Apparently they have over 300 muscles in their bodies and if they experience over a 10deg(Celsius) change in temp, it can kill them. A couple of them were suffering from the heat so he had them in the shade, in wet pillowcases to cool off. It can also make the males infertile. He had a good variety of deadly snakes with him and had me pick up a 20kg+ python he had in a lawn mower catcher!
After a chocolate Paddle Pop ice cream, lemonade ice block and a liter of milk I went and had hot shower (yes, hot…. the cold water wasn’t working) and cleaned up.
One more time of cleaning my bike, greasing the chain, washing and cleaning and re filling my bottles and Nathan hydration pack for the following day and I was done.
Sleeping with the boys again, Nick and Gary, there was less farting and snoring this night (from them of course!) and I had a massage to relieve some of the soreness around my shoulder and ribs, which made for a better nights sleep.
We went to the local Laura pub for dinner and I ordered another burger with the lot and it was good but not as good as the Maytown one…. probably because they didn’t have hot chips!

The organizers decided today they would try to have everyone finish as closely together as possible. In doing so, they grouped about 10 riders or so together based on overall times and started them 15min apart, slowest to the fastest.
I was put in a group that was too fast for me with the fatigue I had built up, especially after stage 7. I was hoping to have a more relaxing ride on the last day and enjoy it and have a chat with the other riders. I knew one guy from Cairns and the other from Mackay and they said the other guys said it would be cruisey until the last 20km, and then it was everyone for themselves. So I thought great, I should at least be able to hang at the back…. that lasted less than 4km and I was on my own for another 30km!!! One of the guys I had met before had a problem with his chain and dropped back, only to catch me back up and I rode on his wheel for the next 80km or so. I was so grateful he caught me as if he hadn’t, I could’ve been out there all day…. or at least that is how I felt at the time!
There was a strong headwind, it was hot and dusty and LOTS of corrugated roads and with my ribs and shoulder pain, I couldn’t wait to get onto the last 20km of paved road. As two guys passed by, we jumped on and stayed with them for 10km or so until one of the guys broke away and the other (Mackay guy) stayed with us. He and Christian took turns in the front as I held on for dear life. I stayed with them until the last depot at 115km and they took off before I was ready. Then I noticed my front skewer had come loose so tightened it up and by the time I got going, the boys were long too far ahead.
                                                                    Ant Farm
The next 25km I rode solo into a good headwind and sometimes got down into the aero position when the wind got stronger but mostly just took the time to absorb what I was about to accomplish and the beautiful surroundings of such a harsh country. The fresh, clean air, the sound of the birds in the trees and the smell of different flowers and the sound of my wheels turning around and around on the chip sealed road, brought a smile to my face and a laugh and thought about June and knew she was watching over me and reminded me to enjoy every last minute of it!
At the crest of the last hill into Cooktown, on the descent I let out a ‘woohoo, yeah!” as I had finally done it and raised some money for June’s Foundation.
There were a few locals out on the streets of Cooktown as I headed up the last 1km climb to the top and was happy to be done and to know I would be sleeping in a hotel bed with real showers and toilets and no dirty/sandy floor….ahhh basic amenities!!!
At the top, my friends had finished ahead of me and were there to cheer me up the stairs with their supporters as well. Gary had bought me a liter of milk (which I had been craving for days and had one at Laura) and Judy had saved one of her Weetbix slices for me…oh sooooo good!
I was so happy to have achieved a goal I had set out but the thing that really made my trip a fantastic experience was the people I met along the way (The Aussies and their support crews and the Cairns Mountain Bike club and members to name some).
To have the support of the companies I did to get there, especially Mt Tam Capital, I am truly grateful.
I hope everyone gets to do at least one of their dream challenges in life, as it is a fuel that will keep you going for a long time and something you will look back on and can say ‘I did it’. And at times in life, no matter under what circumstance, you know you will be fine and can get through it’.