The Taupo Odyssey - A Four Lap Feat of Endurance
Friday 27 November saw 14 keen men line up for the start of the 640 Km Maxi Enduro — four laps of Lake Taupo.
Staff Sergeant Ron Skelton completes 640 klm ride of the Maxi Enduro Friday 27th November 2009 (AW-09-1217-4).
It was an odyssey of cycling, sleep deprivation and caffeine abuse. This would be my second start in this event having completed it in 2008 in 34 hours 29 minutes. As an unsupported rider this year I returned a little more experienced, a little lighter and on a better cycle, with a support vehicle & driver, and determined to break the 30 hour barrier.
I set out with a simple plan to ride as far as I practically could until sunset, hold a steady pace through the night, and hang in there until I finished on Saturday afternoon. At the start there was a break away of four, then a loose group of my self and two others. I did the first lap of the lake — 160 km in five hours 45 & started lap two on my own.
By sunset I had completed more than a lap and a half. I changed into night clothing — layers of polypropylene and merino wool — and carried on with the support van right behind me lighting up the way with its head lights.
Coming back to Taupo about 2330 hrs I set out on lap three still feeling reasonably good. But aware I was pushing a little hard I carried on in search of sunrise witch happened as I was between Turangi and Hapete. Strategic use of coffee kept me very focused, and I coasted into Taupo at about 0630 to complete my third lap. I stopped at the checkpoint and set up for lap four, leaving the support vehicle behind as the main race got away.
At 0700 I was still confident I was in for a top five finish. I set out, and my aim was to hold a steady pace to the end if possible. By then I was feeling the pace I had been holding. Getting a wobble or two was a bit scary as the main event was going by in bunches averaging 35-40kph. The riders did a grand job avoiding me and shouted lots of encouragement.
Maxi Enduro riders were all wearing distinctive pink helmet covers to identify themselves. About the three and a half lap mark the rain set in and I really felt the cold. I wondered if it was really such a good idea to drop about two kg of body weight for the event. Turangi was in sight and only 50 km & Hatepe hill separated me from the finish, but the tank was almost empty and every incline saw me in my lowest gear.
Then it was Hatepe hill and a long slow grind up the hill — a low gear balancing act as I was barely turning the pedals. I passed several single lap riders who had dismounted and were pushing their bikes up the hill. I was running on empty but could still ride, and soon crested Hatepe for the fourth and final time. There was only 20 Km to Taupo and I was certain I was still in fifth place. I had no legs left to launch after another Maxi rider if they passed me but settled for a finish and was certain I would go well under 30 hours.
I glided through Five Mile Bay and climbed into Taupo. Seeing the Ironman markings still painted on the road made me glad I was on my bike and not doing the marathon. The last 10 km was marked at every kilometre, and I kept a steady crawl to the finish line. It was over. I dismounted and the volunteers recovered the timing tag from my bike and several Army cyclists greeted me and helped me make my way out of the finishing chute. There were lots of hand shakes and congratulations.
In a mass of thousands of cyclists I got to the building we had the use of and reclined for a well earned nap, having completed 640 km in 28 hours, 6 minutes and 52 seconds. About two hours later I was up and very hungry. I attended the prize giving and display by the Red Checkers aerobatics team, and had a great chat with fellow cyclists. I discovered I had finished 3rd in the 640km event but it took a while for it to sink in and I expected it to be an error as I was certain I was riding fifth. But accidents and the night ride had taken their toll on the field and I was well pleased with third place and my time of well under 30 hours justified the many hours of cycling I did as a build up.
It is a real balancing act to prepare for this event, work at a fulltime civilian job, fit in Territorial Force training, and get sufficient training on the bike.
I would like to thank the many people who supported my efforts — 6 Hauraki Battalion Group for the use of the van, Reliance Transport (my civilian employer) Jeff Webb & the team at Avanti, plus Waitakere for the awesome service & support with the bike. The Department of Cycling for the many rides as part of my build up training, Army Cycling, and especially Trooper Leslie Port from the Hauraki battalion for the outstanding effort as my one-man support crew for the first 480 km of the event, passing out the food and drinks, and the eight hours of night driving sitting right on my back wheel to light up the road for me. Without his support I would not have achieved the results I did.