Wednesday, October 27, 2010

SSWC10: The Incredible Adventure

Below is a short (or long) summary of the crazy events that took place in New Zealand during the Week of October 17th - 23rd. As I like to say, the events included: 3 Kiwis, 2 Americans, a Black Sheep, an aerospace company, titanium and many many cool dudes in Rotorua. I left off the last names of those involved to protect 'the innocent'. I tried to summarize the events based on my memory - which isn't as good as it once was. So please forgive me if a detail or two are twisted or forgotten. Also, go easy on me if my sentence structure and grammar are less than perfect. (Just Joking, maybe.)


And, you want the cliff notes of this adventure? Sorry, a story like this can't be summarized. It's all or nothing, dude!


So, Here it is


The Early Days:
Back in the day a dude we’ll call Jasper was searching the internet for information on Black Sheep Bikes. Jasper came along this blog, Back of the Pack Racing. Who knows what Jasper’s initial reaction was, but he spread the word. Sooner, or later, Jasper’s buddy Dan started to review the Back of the Pack site. I guess the humor & the lifestyle intrigued Dan. Who Knows. But Dan and Jasper continued to review the info, checked out the Back of the Pack Operating Instructions and decided to drop me, The Judd, a line. We traded a few emails, talked about SSWC10, New Zealand, garage parties with sheep, etc. Just the normal stuff that single speed fanatics would talk about. We arranged to meet up in Rotorua to tip back a few beers, talk about sheep and race hard in the biggest race of the year - The Single Speed World Championships. Well, that is the beginning of a crazy story. 
A Few Days before The Day:
I traveled to Rotorua on Oct 13th. My goal was to race in the Whaka 100. Why? Because, a 100km race sounded like a nice cool down from my long season of 24 hour racing. Well, I put out a good effort for 60+ kilometers and then coasted for the final 40. (Yeah, 'coasting' is a good word for it.) That’s OK. But something happened - sometime. I didn’t know it.
On Tuesday morning, two days after the Whaka 100, I headed out for a ride with my friend Lenny, an Albuquerque dude representing Big Wheel Racing. To my great shock I saw a massive crack in my Black Sheep. Damn! My brother (The TeddNeck - Click for BPR Profiles) accuses me of riding like a possessed gorilla, so this stuff can happen. But in New Zealand? Come on! It can’t get any worse than this. I think.
Well, I knew that Todd of Black Sheep Bikes was headed towards Rotorua, so I quickly emailed James (Mr. Black Sheep Bikes) in an effort to track down Todd. I didn’t think a fix was possible, but you never know. James responded almost immediately with two options for contacting Todd, so I was in business. Maybe. 
As I waited for Todd’s arrival into Rotorua I headed to a few shops just to check out my options. I headed into KiwiBikes to check on the possibility of buying a new frame and fork. Jeff (the owner / operator) had a frame and fork available - he was more than happy to help me build up a racing bike the following day. That’s cool, but I needed to talk to Todd before I decided on any options. So, I headed off to Bike Vegas, just to check it out. They just sold a Niner frame, Damn! I had a Niner, I liked my Niner. But they had another option....they had The Guinness Bike and were willing to loan it to me for the rest of the trip. Awesome. A zero cost solution! So I was at least back on wheels, now the wait until Todd arrived.
Wednesday night Todd arrived and I met up with him at The Pig & Whistle. I showed him a picture. It was clear that the probability of a fix was close to zero. Todd didn’t bring any of his tools, obviously, and Jeff at KiwiBikes didn’t have the correct materials for welding titanium. So, it looked like my Black Sheep was officially on vacation for the remaining days of my New Zealand / Singlespeed World Championships adventure. 
Bummer! I was bummed out, bummed out beyond your wildest imagination. Why? Because it’s my bike, man. We singlespeed freaks all have an intimate connection with our bikes - no matter what bike we ride. My bike was taking a long overdue vacation - Ok, but I was still bummed out. I knew my friends at Black Sheep Bikes (James & Todd) would fix the bike, restore it to primo racing condition. But when you spend countless hours / countless miles on a bike (Ok I count the hours and I count the miles), you want to race that bike in the biggest race of the year. 

The Day It All Started:
Thursday rolled around, I finally figured out how to sleep in. My only plan for the day was to ride the SSWC course. So, I could do that in the early afternoon and still make it to the bars for the early party & before the late party. I slept in til 11AM. That is bizarre. I usually can’t sleep after the sun rises, but I did. Did the late AM wake-up have something to do with the late nights at the Copper Donkey? Come on! Of course not.
Ok, now this is where the story gets really interesting.
In the meantime Dan and Jasper were headed north, north to Rotorua. They landed at the Wellington airport. From there they were planning to take an easy drive north and eventually make it to Rotorua by Friday AM. Funny thing. Dan and Jasper ran into Henry (Dan’s brother) in the Wellington airport. The dudes talked about the race. Dan and Jasper said they wanted to hunt down this freak Judd that runs the Back of the Pack Racing team. They were also looking to track down Todd, one of the master craftsmen at Black Sheep Bikes. Ok, interesting - not really. But Henry must have a 30GByte memory disk in his head - because he remembered all this from the short conversation.
Back to Rotorua / Whakarewarewa Forest.
I finally rolled out of the hotel around 12:00PM and headed to the forest. The Guinness Bike was holding up, but man, it had a huge gear on it. (A late night count revealed that the bike was sporting a 32x16.) But I could deal with it. I rode the course at a very slow pace. I stopped at all major trail intersections / crossing - just to mark GPS points. (I need GPS / GoogleEarth maps of my race experience. I’m a data freak.) 
After the long ride I was hanging out at the Waipa MTB Carpark just messing with my GPS, paying zero attention to the world. All of a sudden some dude on a Spot Titanium SS rolled up. This dude saw my patches (the rockers + back patch) on my red team race shirt (I mean work shirt, I mean 'a shirt that doesn’t include ANY spandex’) and asked where Back of the Pack was from and how many racers were in town for the race. I laughed and said that I was from New Mexico and the only racer from the team that made the trip. This dude asked me if I new Dan. I said, ‘Maybe, I’ve meet a thousand people and can’t remember all the names’. This dude then said ‘No, Dan and Jasper are not in town yet. I’m Henry, Dan’s my brother.’ The lights went on. I woke up!
I quickly connected the dots. Dan and Jasper, the dudes from the south island. (Jasper just received his Black Sheep a week earlier, by the way.) Henry asked how it was going. I said Ok, but explained how I cracked my frame. Henry asked a couple of questions about a potential fix. I explained the situation, i.e., Todd was in town but didn’t have the correct equipment for a fix and the local bike shops didn’t have the tools / materials for titanium work. Well, Henry got on the phone and make a few calls, left a few messages. Turns out Henry has a friend that’s involved with an aerospace company in Hamilton. So, Henry and I discussed a few options. But I basically said that I needed to track down Todd and have him check out the frame and the damage. I didn’t want Henry to waste his time if a massive repair job was required, i.e., new titanium tubes. So, Henry took my number and said he’d work on it. Cool. I was off to the bar and off to the 1st SSWC11 team competition at Agroventures
A couple of hours later I showed up at the bus stop - ran into Lenny & Claudia and didn’t see Todd anywhere. Oh well, I wasn’t very optimistic about the fix. So, I tried to put on my happy face and have a good time. Out at the Agroventures site I received a text from a ‘foreign’ number. This text said “Judd. Just talking to Todd. He’s going to agroventures then niner party. Have organized welder and can get you there tomorrow. Going to kiwi bikes to check now. Pls confirm you got this.” Wow, what the hell! Who is this ‘Todd’. Todd from Black Sheep Bikes? No Way! Can this really be happening?
So I confirmed I received the message and was as happy as a kid in a candy store. Turns out Henry was at race registration, walked out of The Pig & Whistle and saw a Black Sheep. Henry asked the dude next to the bike if he was Todd - Todd of Black Sheep Bikes. Bingo Bango. It was Todd, the missing connection was made. Henry and Todd went over to KiwiBikes and talked to Jeff about tools and workspace. Jeff graciously loaned out some tools / some reamers and offered up all his help and his shop. Unbelievable!
Later that night I meet up with both Henry and Todd at Agroventures and the final details were made. Henry arranged for a Helicopter at 8:30 the next morning. We were headed to Pacific Aerospace to fix ‘the sheep’. Unbelievable! Three chance encounters in one day led to a possible fix of ‘the sheep’. 1) The meeting in Wellington of the brothers and Jasper, 2) meeting of Judd & Henry at the bike trails, 3) meeting of Henry & Todd on the streets of Rotorua. 
So, we all hung out for the rest of the night. Partied like pseudo rockstars at the Copper Donkey and prepared for The Incredible Adventure.

The Day of the Adventure:
The plan was for a) Judd to meet up at Henry’s pad at 8:15, b) Todd to bike out to the helipad and arrive at 8:20, c) takeoff ~ 8:30. Well, at 8:05 Henry called and said he was on his way. He picked me up early and we headed to the grocery store. Groceries? Yep, we pay with beer.  We made the short drive to the heliport and there Todd was waiting. This was a big day for us all, but I bet Todd was both excited and anxious. Nothing like 1000 eyes starting over your shoulder and critiquing your every move. Anyway Todd quickly checked out the frame and was fairly confident that he could engineer a fix. AWESOME! Then, a few minutes later the two dudes that started this all, Dan and Jasper, showed up. It was great to meet these guys, in person, after all these email / cyberspace based conversations. 
We loaded up the sheep, the beer, the bodies and headed to Pacific Aerospace in Hamilton NZ. It was a very scenic flight, around 30 minutes. The pilot circled into Pacific Aerospace and landed right next to the management building, right next to a BWM. Sweet! No Helicopter pad, no remote landing, we landed right there - in the parking lot. 

Once on the ground we meet Damian - the CEO of Pacific Aerospace. We unloaded the sheep and headed towards one of the shops. Damian introduced us to one of the welders and made the necessary arrangements in terms of workers / materials. This was now Todd’s show - so Henry, Dan, Jasper and I headed off to a 2 hour tour of Pacific Aerospace. Todd went hard to work. 1st he removed the aluminum shim - milled it out, reamed it out, whatever you call it. Then he welded the cracks - no problem!


Three interesting notes. 1) Todd was not experienced with the specific welding machine at Pacific Aerospace. So Todd had to ‘tune’ the welder and alter his technique a bit. Nothing like learning on the fly, in a high pressure situation. 2) Pacific Aerospace has titanium sheets, but not titanium welding rods. So a machinist skillfully cut off a small sliver of titanium and fabricated a piece of welding rod - awesome! 3) A new aluminum shim was required. No problem, a machinist skillfully created a new aluminum shim, just in a matter of minutes. Awesome!
After the welding was completed, we thanked the Pacific Aerospace crew, handed over a few cases of beer and headed back to Rotorua, on the Helicopter, for Part 2 of the job.




After arriving in Rotorua we hit up a sushi bar / restaurant, talked about titanium and Black Sheep Bikes, and laughed about the adventure. Next we walked over to KiwiBikes and Todd went back to work. 
Todd and Jeff worked on the aluminum shim and prepared for the final assembly. We were missing one thing - epoxy. So Jeff gave us a few options on shops. We ended up at a costume store / crafts store and found the goods. (I believe this is the shop that many singlespeed freaks went to for the outrageous costumes that were put to the test on Saturday.) Back at the shop Todd and some of the KiwiBikes crew muscled with the shim, made a few last minute tweaks and then the final assembly. It wasn’t an easy fit, but the shim fit. Jeff cut the horizontal slit in the shim, required for the seat post collar. The fix was in. The job was done! UNBELIEVABLE! Just 24 hours earlier I was hanging at the trails with The Guinness Bike. Now I was back in business. My sheep was ready to roll, well almost.
I headed back to my hotel, a nice 45 minute walk. (Ok, ok, those that know me know that I don’t believe in walks. There is no such thing as a ‘nice walk’.) I stopped off at a liquor store, purchased a 6 pack of my favorite NZ beer - Speights Distinction Ale - and headed to the bike assembly shop, the shop in my hotel room. So, 3 beers later my sheep was rolling. I was set. I was the happiest dude in the world. What an amazing adventure! What an unbelievable set of circumstances!


The SingleSpeed World Championships:
The fix was in, the job was done. But we had a race on our hands. I showed up to the race venue ready to roll. No breakfast, not much sleep. But I was set. I had a new bike; I was psyched. I meet up with all my friends. Dan and Jasper were sporting the plaid - in usual Back of the Pack fashion. It was a day that we would all remember. 
I won’t bore you with the race review. That is covered in a separate blog posting - Click Here for the BPR SSWC10 Race Review, Dude! All I can say is the sheep held up. The sheep took a pounding from me and the trails. But it held up - zero problems. I had an unbelievable race. I loved every minute, every mile of the race. I had a perma grin the entire race, I finished with a perma grin. I was the happiest dude in the Whakarewarewa Forest. Enough said. 


If you want to check out all the pictures of the adventure:
Click on this Link!



Final Thoughts:
I was a bit hesitant to make the trip to NZ solo, but then again all us Back of the Pack Racers ride / race solo. So I decided to go solo, that’s just what I do. I knew that the trip would be a trip of a lifetime - so I was going. I couldn’t walk away from all the experiences that were waiting for me in NZ.
Well, as it turns out, it was The Trip of a Lifetime. I made a large number of friends, friends that all have the same singlespeed addiction, friends that all tear it up on the trails. 
I’ll never be able to thank / prepay all those involved, but here is the short list.

Henry, 
the man with the plan
Todd, the bike builder - Black Sheep Bikes
Dan, Jasper -  the bikers, the rockstars
Jeff & Crew - KiwiBikes
Dave & Crew - Bike Vegas

And By the Way:
I was born in Minneapolis Minnesota but grew up in Durango Colorado. While in Minnesota my dad, The Padre, had a sailboat, a 1976 Ensign. The boat was named 'The Kiwi'. Interesting, isn’t it? 
















2 comments:

  1. Awesome story! I rode with Jasper a bit at the Kiwi Brevet, back in February. Dude's hardcore! Even in little old New Zealand, home to about 4 million, I reckon you got bloody lucky!

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  2. Hey dude. New Zealand was a blast. I'm definitely going to return to ride on the south island. He'll, maybe I'll move to NZ.

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