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I’m not an especially competitive cyclist, but I do like an interesting ride. So when I heard about this race called The Dual, taking place on Mototapu and Rangitoto Island, I was keen. Not because I wanted to race other people, but it just looked like a chance to ride around a beautiful place that you aren’t usually allowed to ride around. In the weeks before the race I turned The Roadrat into The Offroad Rat and tried riding further more frequently (I believe this is called training).

I thought I was feeling reasonably prepared, but in the last few days prior to the event, I had trouble sleeping and had nightmares that my ex-girlfriend was trying to smother me with a pillow. I don’t think it was the actual ride I was worried about, so much as the logistics – dropping my bike off at this place, picking up this stuff from from there, remembering to bring these things on the day, and very importantly – getting down to the ferry in time. But as it turned out, all that stuff all went quite smoothly, so by the time the ferry left downtown at 7am on the Saturday morning, all I had to do was follow everybody else.

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After we all arrived at Home Bay on Mototapu Island, there was plenty of time to retrieve our bikes and watch the triatheletes swim up and down. At about 8:30 we were summoned to our pre-race briefing where we heard about the bird trust and were told to be careful. There was an interruption to this – a loud bang. When we all turned to look, we could see a very non-plussed looking man holding a bike with the tyre hanging off the front wheel along with some shreds of recently-expoloded inner tube. It was at this point that I noticed everyone else had brought their bikes to the briefing, while I had just wandered over by myself. Why? I thought. The answer was provided when the briefing concluded and we were informed that the race would start in 2 minutes. By the time I had fetched the Roadrat and packed my stuff, everybody else had gone. So I cut through between a couple of tents and started the race third to last.

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The first part of the course was up and down gravel roads on Mototapu, where I learned that a) the Off-Roadrat is pretty happy on those roads, b) I’m faster than some people riding up hills, and c) I’m slower than almost everyone riding down hills. Then it was across to Rangitoto and what became quite a steep ascent. Coming down the other side was, frankly, terrifying. It was a loose gravel “road” surrounded by nasty-looking volcanic rocks. Crashing on your way down there would be very unpleasant. This is probably why an ambulance was placed there. Part way down, I came across a guy carrying his bike, so I asked him what was up. He told me he had just gotten his second flat tyre and didn’t have a second spare tube. I hesitated for a bit, then caved in to my own good nature and gave him my spare tube, after soliciting a promise from him to give the tube back to me, if he found me by the side of the trail with a flat tyre of my own.

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Now up until this point I had, I must admit, found myself unexpectedly caught up in, well, racing. But after stopping for a few minutes, and then being alone back on the track, I remembered that I was just here for a nice ride. So I slowed down even more, started taking pictures and enjoying myself. Fortunately that descision coincided with a really beautiful section of the course that took us back across Rangitoto to Mototapu. From there it was more gravel roads back to Home Bay where we started, then back up & down some more hills, followed by a turn off to the extra loop for the 50k’ers that the 30km course didn’t take. This section started off fairly innocuously as a left turn on to some grass.

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But it soon became clear that this section was a tour through Mototapu’s armpit. It’s a beautiful armpit I’ll grant you, but the surface alternated between cowpat-ridden long grass, and fields so dry and sunbaked, it was like riding over lumps of smashed concrete. The un-suspensioned Off-Roadrat was not so happy in these conditions. One real bright spot was an aid station we came to. I was coasting gracefully down the side of a hill (like a chimp on a skateboard coasts gracefully down a sheet of corrugated iron) when I spotted a secret military training base  Well that’s what it looked like, except that the buildings all had solar panels on their roofs – a secret GreenPeace para-military training camp perhaps? That would also have explained why the aid-station there, was staffed by the nicest and most enthusiastic children I have ever met. One of them said to me “You can have water or some energy drink.” While I was deciding, she added “It’s not really energy drink, it’s just water with a bit of cordial in.” which was fine with me. Fortified with cordial, enthusiasm and a barley-sugar, I continued.

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And then there was more grass and more cowshit and more fences, and then every few kilometers there would be a person directing us where to go. Finally we made it back on to the gravel roads – I was very relieved. They had told us at the briefing that the very last leg was all downhill, so everytime the road went down, I thought, is this it? Is this the last downhill?

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But none of them were. Eventually I arrived at an intersection and was directed, along with a whole lot of runners, to a grass path heading up a hill. This turned out to be the least enjoyable part of the course. It was more rock-hard uneven ground, but now with a million runners and another million walkers. At times there was a relatively smooth path, but it was jammed with walkers, so I was constantly saying “excuse me” so they would step aside and I could stay on the path. This didn’t work on one guy who told me he couldn’t move sideways because he had snapped his achilles tendon.

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Finally I made to the home stretch – the descent to the finish line in Home Bay. This turned out to be not much fun at all – steep hill, lumpy surface etc. Fortunately it didn’t last too long and I was able to totter across the finish line and collapse under a tree. I got up after a while and had a beer. Then I had a second beer – I believe this is acceptable post race hydrating.

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For a first race, I thought it went well. I managed to finish, I wasn’t injured and apparently I didn’t come (quite) last. Would I do it again? Hmm, not sure. I’m leaning towards riding The Contact Epic around Lake Hawea next year though…