Sunday, June 5, 2011

Queen's Birthday road trip

The Queen's Birthday long weekend offered all sorts of possibilities - what to make of an extra day off?  For a while I had a spot of cycle touring pencilled in, first on-road with Steve and Ash, then off-road with Alex, but as Friday loomed, an offer to spend Sunday and Monday with Kaitlyn was too good to miss, and so any riding would have to be on the Saturday.

I'd had a tough week, and I figured Saturday's mission should be something with a bit of a kick to it.  I asked the indomitable Thomas Lindup if he'd be interested in joining me (we'd ridden the last few hours of the Kiwi Brevet together, and have been trying to coordinate a ride since!), but the timing wasn't good for him, so I'd be going solo.

By the time I left Revolution Bicycles late on Friday evening, I'd settled on a plan:  catch a train in the morning to Upper Hutt, then ride over to the Wairarapa, cross the Pahiatua Track and then ride as far south as Waikanae, whereupon a train would take me back to Wellington.  Google maps had the distance at about 245km.

I'd really no idea when the sun would come up, but figured I'd make an early start to avoid as far possible night riding on SH1 into Waikanae.  The 6:05 to Upper Hutt was perfect (apart from the obscene hour I'd have to get up... 5-something simply shouldn't be allowed...).

With my Colnago in the shop, it was time to dust off my trusty Roubaix - destined to be my bro's bike, but not yet handed over.  Oli had brought my road pedals with him to Revolution, so when I got home, my first task was to put them on.  I pumped the 700x28C Gatorskins up to 90 psi, and fitted my Garmin Edge GPS unit and Ayup light.  I realised my Fibre Flare light was on the Colnago, so made do with an old LED rear light.  I also fitted my 2.7L Ortlieb seat bag, mostly with an emergency in mind, but also with a view to making the train ride home a bit more comfortable.

I packed a couple of tubes, a multitool, tyre lever, lightweight cable lock, a few zip ties, and a patch kit into the seat bag.  Also, I put in my Ground Effect overtrou, my Flash Gordon, and a Baked Alaska jersey.  With luck, I wouldn't need them until Waikanae.  I laid out my riding gear: thick woollen socks and booties, knee warmers, bibs, a merino vest, long-sleeved Roadworks lycra jersey, winter gloves, and a Ground Effect Vespa vest - a perfect colour for hours on the open road, but not so heavy that I'd cook.  I also put out my Sweet Cheeks chamois cream, a couple of OSM bars, a cotton cap, and a merino beanie.  And of course, a small selection of cash-cards and my cell phone for photos, txt updates and any emergency calls!  Satisfied that things would be pretty simple in the morning, I headed off to bed soon after 10...

5am came quickly, and I resisted the very strong urge to ping my alarm off, roll over, and go back to sleep - I was already psychologically committed to this ride, and I'd regard myself a pussy to pull out now.

When I got to the fridge, I was annoyed to discover I was almost out of bread, so made do with a couple of slices of toast and a bowl of weetbix.  I was soon dressed, and heading out the door.  I was tempted to drive in to town, but went with the relative simplicity of riding - my office is just across from the Railway Station, and the ride in is like second nature.

I was in good time for the 6:05, and had enough time to snap a photo of my bike in front of the rather grand-looking station, and grab some cash from the money machine. 

My bike and I were soon on the rear carriage of the train.  I was warned by the guard he'd be using only the front carriage for passengers, so not to be alarmed when the doors didn't open!  Sweet!

The journey out to Upper Hutt dragged on, and I struggled to stay awake - had the seating been a bit more conducive to sleep, I'm sure I'd have nodded off before Petone!  Soon enough though, we were pulling in at Upper Hutt, and it was time to get on the bike!  REALLY?!  It was still dark, and bloody cold.  I spied a BP, and shot inside for a long-black... 

It was 7:15 by the time I'd drained that coffee, and there was little else for it but to saddle up.  The morning was chilly and overcast, but calm.  I had a very nice ride through to Kaitoke, during which I remembered my very first non-commute bike ride - essentially the Big Coast event, but done as a Rongotai College 6th Form Activities trip back in November 1990! 

The ascent of the Rimutakas was a highlight of the day.  The compact gearing of the Roubaix meant I didn't have to struggle at any point, and the road surface was good.  Also, there wasn't much traffic, and cars that did pass me gave me heaps of room.  I had a friendly toot from a ute headed the other way and it reminded me of a vorber seeing me on this very hill some years ago (tylersdad?!).

Just before the summit, I passed some scaffolding on the left which had a punga poking out from between the planks.  Top marks to the contractor who'd decided not to chop that down!  I contemplated stopping for a photo, but was already past it and kept going.  I did stop at the top though, and you can just make out the scaffold to mid-picture.

I set off a few seconds before a truck reached the summit, and decided against racing him for the clear road.  I spent the next few kilometres a few dozen metres off the back of him which toned things down a bit.  Nonetheless, I had a great descent, and rolled into Featherston with just over an hour on the clock.

I hadn't had much water from my bottle, and wasn't feeling particularly hungry, so decided to press on.  I didn't take me too long to reach Greytown which was showing more sign of life than Featherston had.

Leaving Greytown I noticed the head wind for the first time - it may have been windy all along and I'd just turned into it, but my sense was that there'd been no wind at all.

Somewhere along this stretch, I came to the realisation of how sweet an Oli Brooke-White-tuned road bike is.  Despite pretty scant use over the year preceeding my purchase of the Colnago, it dawned on me that the Roubaix was shifting sweeter than the Colnago ever had.  Something tells me that when I pick the 'nago up from Oli next week, it'll be better than new!

I was pleased to reach Carterton, for which I've always had a soft spot.  In my early-20s, they'd elected Georgina Beyer as mayor - something which at the time gave me huge confidence in humanity (the massive swing from Creech and the National Party to Beyer at a later general election was another...).    I rolled through Carterton soon after, and as with Greytown, again decided against a stop - Masterton beckoned.

I had my first meal-stop in Masterton - scrambled eggs on toast and a coffee - and enjoyed eating that over the front section of the morning paper.  I also grabbed a powerade from the fridge, and topped up my water bottle.   A mere 20 minutes after sitting down, I was off again! 

I knew from the ride back in late-2009, the next section would be slow.  The 250m ascent of Mount Bruce happens over about 25km, and while rarely steep enough to look like a hill, the gradient is enough to tax the legs.  The morning's head wind also was to take its toll.

My recollection of the Wairarapa was a bit lacking, and I was expecting to see Eketahuna before the summit.  An hour or so after leaving Masterton, Eketahuna was nowhere to be seen, but I was starting to enjoy the descent off Mt Bruce.

In the name of progress, I decided against a stop at the Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, and continued the "charge" north.  I did have a bit of a break at Eketahuna though - I'm not exactly sure how it entered into Kiwi folklore, but I'm pretty sure that it did have some mystical properties for me as a kid.

I've also a family connection to the place - a good family friend not only lives there, but has the best hedge ever!

Joe used to own "Sweeney See Foods" on the main drag, but no sign of it now.  A shame, cos Fish 'n' Chups would really have hit the spot nicely!

As with the ascent of Mt Bruce, the descent was imperceptible to the eye, but was well noticed by the legs.  The head wind was making me work for it though.

I stopped just south of Pahiatua to photograph the Early Times Trading Post.  Heading north, the two palm trees seemed very out of place - until I discovered the entire main street of Pahiatua lined with hundreds of them.  Despite a lunch-stop looming, I chugged one of my one-square-meal bars, hoping to combat growing fatigue in my legs before it was too late.

A sign for the Tui Brewery at Mangatainoka had me imagining a meal there chased down by a pint, but the 4km to the brewery would have taken me through Pahiatua and out the other side.  The price of a few extra kilometres was too great, and I stopped short, not before coming up with a slogan though:  "Nearly there...  Yeah right!"

My helmet lock did the trick while I was inside having a quick plate of pancakes and yet another coffee, now into the second half of the trip.

The road through to the Pahiatua Track was a bit convoluted and dives south for a bit before heading north again to the base of the climb.

A few hundred metres out, I stopped for a photo, and to take off my windproof vest.I figured I'd be working up a bit of a lather on the climb.

The ascent was a sweet one, and though my legs were starting to feel well used, it ticked past quickly.  At the top it started to spit, and after a minute I pulled over and put my Vespa back on.  I enjoyed the descent, and despite the patchy drizzle, enjoyed letting the bike roll a bit.

I was ready for a refuel, and on the outskirts of Palmy, a supermarket was the ideal opportunity to grab another powerade.  There were no loose bananas, so instead I made do with a small pack of peanut M&Ms, half of which I'd scoffed down before I hit the road again.

The tail wind out of Palmerston North was a great sign of things to come, and things were looking good.  My bike was continuing to hum along, and while my legs were starting to tire, I was still able to tick along nicely.  With the wind-assist, I was often good for 40km/h, and it was heartening to be making such good progress.  At one point I saw a guy grovelling in the opposite direction.  He said I'd chosen well - little did he know I'd done my fair share of grovelling into the wind myself!

My final stop was in Shannon, where I finally managed to find a Havana coffee to wash down a very yummy bit of caramel slice.

Soon after leaving Shannon I was on SH1, and suffering!  I'd always thought the stretch south of Waikanae was horrid - little did I know it's similar rough-chip virtually the whole stretch between Levin and Waikanae!  I was pleased to be on the Roubaix - surely the funny inserts on the seat stays and fork actually do dampen the vibrations a bit?!   My feet were starting to ache a little, and while my legs were good in favourable conditions (e.g. flat or down hill), my speed was dropping off at any sign of a rise.

While the distance advisories in this neck of the woods had kilometres appearing out of nowhere, the road was fairly familiar, and I knew that soon I'd be in Waikanae.  It was just after 4:30 when I reached the outskirts of town, and about 15 minutes later I was enjoying an apple and some chocolate milk on the platform at the station, bike already safely stowed in the dog-box.  I was glad to have a dry shirt to put on - well worth the effort of hauling it around.

The train ride back into town was a nice way to end, though I did get a little cold and crampy by the end of it.  And, apparently I looked a bit wrecked.

Simon picked me up from the station and took me back to his place for dinner with Sarah and Miro, and then while he read stories to his not-so-wee-any-more girl, Sarah dropped me home.

I put on some very loud music and jumped in the shower.   Weary, but not tired, I watched an episode each of Sons of Anarchy and True Blood before finally hitting the sack.

I've spent most of today feeling hungover, with a nasty headache to boot.  On the flip side, I also feel very satisfied.  I think the ride was fairly ambitious given my recent riding.  I think this has been the longest ride distance-wise since the Kiwi Brevet back in February 2010, and only one of 3 or 4 rides over 100km this year.  Was good to know that with adequate fueling, I can still crank out the miles.  And, good to see my head come to the party nicely - so nice to bite off an ever so slightly unmanageable chunk, and to enjoy giving it a good crack despite not being confident it was a done deal. 

In all, the ride clocked in pretty much at the 245km google maps said it would be.  Just under 9.5 hours elapsed between stations, and Garmin tells me my ride time was just under 8h20, for an average moving speed of 29.5km/h.  Stats aside, it was bloody good to get out. 

And, once done I still had a whole weekend to enjoy - the advantage of cramming two or three days riding into one!


  1. Awesome ride John. Sounds like you got some of the best weather of the long weekend while you were out there. D

  2. What a keener. I love your seat pack. Beefy, like it's owner.

  3. Good on you, bro! As I said elsewhere, it was very cool to get your updates through the day. Cheers, Oli

  4. Nice write-up John, best way to visit Palmy is to go no further in than that New World :-)