I post about the Karapoti every year, but it’s the worlds oldest and arguably toughest MUni race, with a unicycle category since 2003. It’s 50km of giant hills, big rocks, unicycle eating bogs, river crossings, in Upper Hutt, just 30km North of the UNICON XV venue in Wellington, NZ.
This year we had 5 unicyclists competing, including three from Australia. Will Sklelars, Geoff Huntley, John Bradley, Sean Bennett and myself (Ken Looi) all took part, and Seans son Jeremy on a bike. It was also one of the roughest courses we’d seen in years. With heavy rain just before the event, the river mass start was particularly interesting. Imagine a start line that involves running across a river which came up chest deep.
We lined up on Saturday, alongside the retro (no suspension/clipless pedals), singlespeed and tandem bikers. The Pro-elite riders went first, in a frenzy of splashing as they ran across the Akatarawa River. Several riders went down and were swept away by the river.
We were up next, but strategically picked the shallowest part of the river to cross. Geoff Huntley took the deep end, but was out of the river first as it was also the shortest route.
From there it was onto a short 1km road section up the Karapoti Gorge. Will Sklenars flew past on his 29" Schlumpf, and that was the last I saw of him for a while. It made quite a change to be doing the chasing! The Karapoti was very rough this year, with lot’s of exposed rocks and slippery mud. However, that worked to our advantage, as the gears and brakes on the bicyclists began jamming and skipping. It didn’t slow down the unicyclists nearly as much!
The first big hill, appropriately called Deadwood (that’s the feeling in your legs at the top!), was the perfect oppotunity to pass hundreds of bikers as they were all reduced to carrying their bikes. I almost caught Will after he bombed down Deadwood and hit the river at the bottom. Unbeknownst to me, he’d pinch flatted and had jumped off the trail at the top of the hill to fix the puncture. I kept racing ahead thinking this guy had some sort of rocket propelled legs!
The Rock Garden was next, and the roughest I’d seen it in many years. Big slippery rocks and bike sized drop offs made for an interesting section. I rode the last bit but was not suicidal enough to do the middle section.
At the bottom of the rock garden was the hike-a-bike section, known as the Devils Staircase. Even the top-proelite riders/ex Olympians are off the bikes and scrambling up this hill. Several riders were on all fours and many more ended up sliding back down the staircase as they lost their footing.
The Jelly-Bean rest stop at the top of the Staircase was a good chance to refuel and then it was onto the fastest section of the course- Big Ring Boulevard. Unfortunately, we had no big ring!
I was hoping for a good time, or even beat my old Karapoti record of 4hrs11min. Alas, I must have lost a lot of time on Big Ring as I spent most of this section dodging rocks and bicyclists flying past. I hit Dopers Hill just on the 3hr mark, which left me an hour to get to the top and back down to the finish.
Dopers was the final of the ‘big three’ hills, and certainly the longest and hardest. After numerous false tops, I reached the top in 3:30, after coming close to hitting the wall and cramping before I eased off the climbing legs.
From there it was a very fast and very steep downhill back to the Karapoti Gorge.
I hit the finish line in 4hrs20min, which was 9min off the record, but for the conditions pretty reasonable. The top bike time was 2hrs28min (record 2hrs14min).
Will came in next, looking surprising fresh considering he’d been out on the course for 5hrs40min and had two punctures to contend with. Sean Bennett came in next, followed by a exhausted John Bradley. Geoff Huntley came out on the medical support van…the body a little worse for wear.
I can hardly walk today, so hopefully the others are Ok
Ken Looi 4hrs 20min (Placing 520)
Will Sklenars 5hrs40min (Placing 821)
Sean Bennett 6hrs 44min (Placing 859)
John Bradley 7hrs 26min (Placing 865)
Geoff Huntley DNF
Total riders: 1011
Total finishers: 865
Fastest time: 2hrs28min
p/s: if anyone is staying on after Unicon 15, this is a ‘must do’ event in any MUni riders ‘to-do-list’.