The Kona Odyssey – an epic race or a stunning ride?

A good, tough marathon throws up some good, tough challenges. If these events were easy, I doubt they’d be as popular. And I don’t reckon crossing the finish line would feel nearly as exciting. I normally get chills. The challenges of the Kona Odyssey – a 100km race that starts on the Great Ocean Road and finishes with so much flowy singletrack riders consider moving there for good – nearly had me beat.  My usual optimistic approach to riding must have stayed in bed that morning, and I spent the first 30km of the event reminding myself why sitting down on the side of the track was probably a bad idea.

The weather was perfect, the organisation tight, exhilarating trails lay ahead and the field was full of smiling, motivated bikers. But I was disappointed to find that I wasn’t enjoying it like I had hoped.  My eyes seem to be rejecting contact lenses and this came to a head today with double, blurry vision taking any definition out of the trail.  Coupled with a visit from some good old fashioned period pain, and the associated loss of high-end power that comes with it, and it was almost too much to handle.

The rest of the Subaru-MarathonMTB team set a smokin’ hot pace. Photo: Tim MacCormick.

I watched time tick by as I rode into muddy bogs rather than around them, walked up climbs I would normally ride, slowed right down to read course markings, and wandered off the track every now and then due to a failure to look ahead. I was riding so slow that Rich Tyler, co-founder of the website thought my timing chip was busted. The suitcase of courage was a little busy helping me ride by braille, so I turned to the suitcase of satisfaction instead.

I began to navigate more consciously by colour and backed off the intensity to a more manageable pace.  Finishing slowly would still be a good result compared to many others on the same trails, and certainly way more satisfying than not finishing at all.  Once the men’s field started to come through I could follow their body positions on the bike and pick up some speed, flow and giggles on fast sections of trails.  By the 40km mark high humidity had kicked in and brought with it better quality tears to help my lenses sit straighter on my eyes. Coming into the timed Red Carpet descent a marshal surprised me by commenting on my smile.  I thanked the trail builders for helping me find it.  How good is singletrack when it can shift your mood around in an instant?

Some good bergs mean some great descents. Photo: Mike Blewitt.

Many riders thank their sponsors for their support when a race goes well.  What stood out today was the extent to which quality equipment helps riders to move forward when things aren’t going as planned. The heightened trail contrast from Adidas Eyewear’s LST Active lenses was more important than ever.  And when Marketing Director, Chanh Lê Huy, swapped out my Supernova Pros at the 67km feed zone, because “the other ones are dirty,” I don’t think he knew quite the impact such an action had on my attitude and my ride.

The exceptional trail feel and feather-weight handling of my Merida 96 gave me confidence when mine was low and a brand new set of Maxxis Ikon tyres attacked the dry, dusty trails with predictability and ease.  A women’s specific CamelBak L.U.X.E. took care of my hydration rhythm in the tight, twisty trails, and high end kit kept had me covered from head to toe without a wardrobe malfunction or saddle sore to speak of.  A pre-race phone call from Duncan Miller at DIY MTB had me enjoying the singletrack even more, knowing how much he would be loving it too, and I couldn’t wait to tell the crew at the Bicycle Garage about the race and drag them along one year too.  I only lost about thirty minutes on the course today managing my own niggles and stopping to help a couple of others dealing with their own (carry a chain breaker and joining pin guys, it’ll turn your bad day around too). The equipment I use and the support of the team easily bought me another hour, probably more.  Chris Hellman’s feed zone positivity upped this even further.

I still got a chill as I crossed the line and finished the day feeling like I’d had a lovely, long ride in a beautiful part of the world. It was also one of those days on the bike that force you to make changes that have a big impact on your life off the bike as well.  I’m already counting down the time ’til next year’s event and hoping that in addition to enjoying the riding, I’ll also be able to take in the views.

The journey begins here. Photo: Kath Bicknell.