Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Missing Months

This might not be everyone's gig...  (There's more biking in there than I expected, but still...)

Yet again, I find myself stuck indoors.

Let me paint the scene for you.  I'm literally seconds away from a classic Wellington road loop, and a couple of minutes from some of the best mountain biking in the city.  My Colnago and ASR5C sit primed in the hallway, and another couple of options are under the house.  I've no company, and no constraints.  And the sky is blue. 

And, here I sit.

I've been mulling on this blog since late-April, and have been wondering whether it's time to write it on-and-off for the last couple of months.  I guess I kind of wanted to wait until I'd finished gathering material, but that's never quite happened.  So now I write, in the vain hope that confronting it as I type somehow will snap me out of it.  Stranger things have happened...

* * * * *

It's just over six months since the Cape Epic.  I came home feeling as strong as an ox, and as eager as ever to put my strength to good use.  The road Club Nationals was in early May, and I decided I'd enter M1 and if possible ride in support of fellow PNP club member, Silas Cullen.  My hard riding at the Epic had generally been on fast terrain with Megan hanging onto my bag strap, and laying down the power on the road seemed to be the best way of letting rip.

I was enjoying being back home, and managed to sneak in a couple of bays laps with Wednesday Worlds bunch, and rode well enough on the Tip Track to take second place in PNP Hawkins Hill climb event, largely benefitting from a depleted field.  My good friend Alex Revell took first place, and Simon was in third.  I rarely manage to beat him in a head-to-head race on the MTB, and it was a strange, almost unpleasant, feeling (much like riding up the hill!).

Photo:  Pete Marshall
A couple of weeks later, Wednesday lunch-time was wet and cold, and after a ding-dong battle with Tony Keith, something in my lower back went into spasm, and in one fell swoop, my Club Nationals race was gone burger, a little bit of creative writing (posted to the Wednesday Worlds facebook page) not withstanding...
At 11:30 this morning your humble scribe was desperately trying to reconcile the rain of biblical proportions out the window with Metservice's "showers clearing" forecast. For the next 15 minutes it was a case of "will I or won't I" until finally, I suited up, and rode purposefully towards the most important ride of the season.

My approach to Circa afforded me a perfect view of the meeting point, with not a soul in sight. I was elated at the thought of sure victory, then crest-fallen a few minutes later when Tony Keith arrived - a win today would not be a mere procession. Before we could discuss course alterations, or arm-wrestling, we were joined by one other hardy soul.

As we rolled out, Tony introduced himself to young Cameron, but barely had the introductions been made, than hostilities began. The three of us swapped turns into the fierce southerly wind through to Evans Bay. We were the beneficiaries of the new Give Way rule as we made our left turn onto Shelly Bay Rd, and now, with the "breeze" behind us, it was on like Donkey Kong.

As the speed ramped up, poor Cameron popped off the back, and when Tony and I turned into the wind at Point Halswell, we knew the young fella had no hope of getting back on.

The effort barely eased, though the pace was pitiful at times. Buffeted by the wind, we laboured on, and as we turned south to face Col de Branda, we shook hands and agreed to attack the brutal climb with the wind in our faces. Tony drew the left side of the course, and took the hill prime not by virtue of his wind being any less, nor his hill less steep, but, by being the strongest.

Major tree-work, undoubtedly to provide better vantage points for the television cameras which will surely record this monumental climb in future editions of the Wednesday World Champs, meant the peloton was turned around, and would then approach the Col from the rarely used Eastern side. Tony once again took the prime, and an unassailable lead in the KOM jersey competition.

Sensing my weakness, Tony ordered me to sit in as we plowed on into the biting wind. He could sense victory, and needed at least one vanquished foe to witness him in his glorious hour.

I wasn't done yet though, and determined to show at least some flair, and earn some coverage for my rain-coat sponsor, took advantage of the mighty tail wind... to deliver my foe to the sprint prime at Lyall Bay. Unofficial timing clocked us at 70km/h before Tony leapt from my slipstream and unleashed his second jersey-winning effort.

I felt like a plaything as we made our way to the base of Col de Happy Valley. I was, by now, well and truly at Tony's whim. And soon, we were both at the whim of the weather gods as the heavens opened once more.

Needing to earn some respect and salvage some pride, I took long turns up Happy Valley, but, at the critical moment, my legs started to falter, and I couldn't match Tony's brutal acceleration. Seconds later, through the rain on my glasses, I could barely make out the sight of Tony, arms outstretched, crossing the line for his first World Championship win. I hung my head as I rolled across the line in what seemed like an eternity later, imagining the glory he was now basking in and which I'd had such high hopes of calling my own.

It was hard-man's conditions out there today, and Tony Keith owned them. He is the new World Champion.
I'd loved my Yeti on the Cape Epic, I'd decided it was a keeper.  But, it was a bit bling for general MTB use, so I decided to rationalise my fleet a little.  I toyed with the idea of an SB-66, but in the end decided to get a bike suited to the riding I love, rather than the riding I don't.

Soon, I was seeing photos online of new wheels, and then one of the most beautifully proportioned bikes I've seen.

Yeti Big Top Ahoy!

Oli finished the build just a few days out from the Wainuiomata Six Hour Wurldz.  Simon had lost interest in the event shortly after I'd turned down Tim Wilding's suggestion he and I enter a Roadworks team, and by the time that had all been confirmed, Tim too had cooled on the idea.  So, it was me, myself and I, and my stunning new steed.

A six hour race perhaps wasn't the best shake-down ride, but I started on the Big Top.  Unlike the previous year, I was riding in my cherished Roadworks kit, and also riding well - or at least happily.  I'd felt out of sorts the year before, and struggled with the tightness of the trail, but wasn't conscious of that this time.  The unfamiliar set up caught up with me around the three-hour mark, and perhaps too late I switched onto my ASR5C which I'd taken as a back-up bike.

My lower back was causing me grief - not the same spasm as I'd had before - just a growing feeling of discomfort.  I pulled the pin around the 4.5 hour mark.  Any earlier, and I think once the dust settled I'd have wondered if I'd been a bit of a pussy by stopping.  Any later, I'd have ridden myself into a pulp and would have obliterated any sense of enjoyment I'd had from the earlier part of the race.

All in all I'd had a good day, and had enjoyed the riding for the most part.  I waited for a while for photos of the event to surface, but once none showed up - to complement the failure of the timing system to produce any lap times - I lost interest in writing about the event.

I've been in this blog-writing game long enough to know that this spells trouble.  When I'm well, the passion I have for the bike spills over into my words (I hope), and they come easily.  The icing on the cake, and the cake's better for it, at least to my taste.

What with the Qantas Club membership I'd shelled out for before the Cape Epic, I'd put travel well and truly on my radar.  My sister Millie had set sail for London back in September 2010, and I hatched a plan to spirit a now much-more-grown Kaitlyn over there unbeknownst to her aunt.  After a stressful week or so (on account of Millie booking me a surprise side trip to Turkey), the beans were spilled, and when she met us at Heathrow, she was looking for two familiar faces instead of one.

As luck would have it, the Roadworks clothing order I'd been managing was ready from Ultimo the day before Katy and I were due to depart.  Luckily I was able to boost out to Petone and the hundred-odd assorted garments and sizes were all present and accounted for, and I was even able to deliver most of them that evening before making the 6am flight to Sydney the next morning.

Katy and I were only with Millie for a week, but it was action-packed. Highlights, in no particular order, included a train trip to Paris...

Waving the flag(s) on the Champs-Élysées

...a bus tour of Stonehenge and Bath, the Tower of London, and the Queen's birthday Trooping of the Colours.  I even snuck out for a ride, while Millie and Kaitlyn went to Harry Potter World.

The ride took a bit of effort to organise - I'd spent hours online before booking a guided ride in the Surrey Hills with Danielle from and after a bit of a mission with the trains was suiting up and getting my pedals onto a rental bike...

Throughout the ride, I took photos which would normally form the basis of a blog.  Danielle even kindly helped me out with the detail I had no hope of recalling after just shy of 4 hours in unfamiliar country.

She wrote:
We started from Box Hill and Westhumble station in the village of Westhumble on the opposite side of Mole Valley from the famous landmark of Box Hill. From there we climbed Ranmore Common on the North Downs Way National Trail up through Denbies Wine Estate taking in views down on the market town of Dorking on the way.

From the top of Ranmore Common, after a bit of random singletrack, we dropped down to the valley bottom between the North Downs and The Surrey Hills. We saw evidence of the 1940 World War II Stop Line on the way down. After crossing the valley and leaving the chalk hills of The North Downs behind, we began to climb the sandstone Surrey Hills.

The first hill we climbing in The Surrey Hills was Holmbury Hill. We climbed the hill twice effectively; on the first run back down we took in 'Twig's Trail' (natural)  followed by 'Barry Knows Best' (man-made) before climbing all the way back to the top of the hill where we looked South towards the South Downs and even spotted Dunsfold Aerodrome where Top Gear is filmed. We set off for our second run which took in "Yoghurt Pots', 'Telegraph' and 'Mutiny' on the way to the valley between Holmbury Hill and Leith Hill.

On the way up Leith Hill we rode some doubletrack through Abinger Common before climbing all the way up to the top of the hill and the local landmark of Leith Hill Tower. From here we had time for just one run back down into the valley. After a brief diversion to the new trail 'Moonbase', we set off down the way-marked 'Summer Lightning' (named after a beer at the local microbrewery). The took us all the way down the to sleepy hamlet of The Rookery, before we then crossed the valley and began the climb back up to the vineyard via The Coach Road bridleway.

From the top of Ranmore Common there was time for one more singletrack - 'Red, White and Rose' before dropped back into Mole Valley for the last few hundred metres on cycle lanes and finishing at Dorking Rail station.

In total we travelled 47.1km climbed 1069m with a moving time of 03:23:41. I burned 1760 calories, which just about covered the bacon sandwiches I had for breakfast!  :)

Atop Holmbury Hill...
I felt bad not justifying Danielle's efforts when I got home, but, the crucial spark was missing.  Indeed, the whole trip I'd found happiness and marvel only in watching Kaitlyn experience it all for the first time, and of course, seeing her and her aunty walking side by side in two of the iconic cities of the world.  And, it was all worth it just for that.

We got home to discover my grandmother had taken a nasty turn and was very sick in hospital.  I sat with her for the most of the last two days of her life, and held her hand while she slipped away. 

Ash and Steve organised a surprise day trip to try to perk me up a bit.  I met them downtown early one Saturday morning, and was surprised to find we weren't alone.  Soon my Big Top was on the trailer, and some good conversation, Jeremy, Mike, Julie, Ash, Steve and I were Oscar-Mike at the K-Loop out the back of Palmerston North.

We all continued to natter on the climb, which was Jeremy's local ride back in the day.  We had a couple of runs of a fun little section of track before dropping through the pines on some steep and sometimes tricky singletrack.  Before too long we were loading the trailer again, and getting into some clean gear.

We made a quick stop in Shannon where I ate an delicacy which can best be described as cross between a raspberry bun and a custard square.  

I felt a little sick afterwards.

The bikes came off the trailer again at Kohitere Forest, near Levin.  We were joined by Rod Bardsley, who I've had a soft spot for since he sold me a DBR V-Link back in '98 - my first real mountain bike. 

I rode with Ash on the first climb, but cut loose on the second climb of the day, putting myself in the hurt box, and staying there as long as possible.  I could still taste my legs in my mouth when Steve joined me on the side of the track.  We headed back down to the others, and I didn't have too much time to rue my bike choice on the rough descent before we were back at the car.

We celebrated the impending end of our "Mountain Bike Adventure" with an ice-cream, before heading back to the big smoke.

As the weeks rolled by, my poor mood was punctuated by occasional glimpses of light, usually spontaneous.

An impromptu spot of manual labour on "Windmill"
I had a weekend in Vegas for an MTBO weekend - again gold-dust on the blog front, but again, no inclination to put words to the pictures.  Stark and frustrating contrast to the no-blog-on-account-of-no-photos scenario of the Wainui race, I was now in no-blog-despite-photos mode.  I'd enjoyed the riding too, with a reasonably good outing in the middle distance race on Saturday morning, and a 3rd in a wet rogaine on Sunday. 

I started to get the bit between my teeth a little at PNP's Balfour-Pennington handicap series.  I rode well in the first round off a Break start, and was promoted to Scratch for round 2.  In between I managed a win at the Wednesday Worlds, and was feeling quietly confident I'd at least manage to survive in the scratch bunch.

Tapped out at Worlds, but victorious
The race was at Whiteman's Valley, and started with a small hill before the gradual climb up-valley to the turnaround.  The pace was hot from the start, and I was feeling under pressure, but OK.  I knew once I'd weathered this initial storm things would settle down.  But, I didn't make it that far.

Our bunch of 20 or so was rolling around clockwise.  There were gaps everywhere and instead of sitting in the back, looking after my legs, I tapped myself trying to close gaps.  A couple of minutes of that, and I was in the red.  I'd just hit the front of the queue, and as I swung right, I inexplicably went all the way right, and sat up in the gutter on the other side of the road.  I'm really not sure what happened.  It would have been smart to at least roll to the back of the bunch, and try to seek shelter while recovering from the effort.  I pulled the fucking pin at the front of the bunch!  WTF?!  Who does that?!

I'd been for an MTB ride with Simon earlier in the day, but it had been cruisy, and I'd eaten well afterwards, so I don't think it was my legs.  I was just hating riding in that bunch, and I couldn't bring myself to endure it.

It was a day of strange turns of events.  I blew my race, but felt a strange transformation come over me when I got home.  I wasn't bummed, but rather, I felt determined.  I got on the scales for the first time in months.

I started the next week with a ride through the country side to Johnsonville before dropping down Ngaio Gorge to work.  And, I ate less than I normally would.

Round 3 was in Wainui, and I was back in Break.  We had a great ride, and I felt strong.  We managed to stay away from Scratch and got to the front of the race.  I was 4th in the sprint, and we were only 10 seconds slower than scratch had been, helped a bit by our monstrous group which only grew as the race progressed. 

Photo:  Oli Brooke-White

By Round 4, I was a couple of kilos lighter than I'd been in Whiteman's Valley, and had a few more kilometres in my legs.  And, the race was a doozy!

We had two laps of the Blue Mountains-Wallaceville circuit to ride.  The Break bunch was large again, and were pretty sedate up Blue Mountains for the first time.  The intensity of the week before seemed missing, and I got barked at a couple of times for trying to up the pace a bit.

I felt OK on the second climb, and watched 3 or 4 ease off the front, but was confident so long as the gap didn't open up too much, I'd be able to close the gap after the summit.  That all changed when Stu Houltham blasted past 100m or so from the top.  I knew the guys ahead would latch onto him, and I'd be stuck.  Jason McCarty drew the same conclusion but we were a bit indecisive over the summit and decided not to totally throw caution to the air.

To chase, or not to chase, that is the question...!
Again, that all went out the window when Tristan Thomas and Dave Rowlands came rocketing past.  I'm still learning when it comes to road racing (and by in large, I'm an eager student), but I could see that the finish line of my race was Tristan's wheel, and if I didn't give 100% to hold it, there'd be no race left in which to expend my reserved energy.

So, I put my head down and pedalled my guts out.  I wasn't as close I'd have liked to be, but I couldn't shut the metre or so between us down.  Though it wasn't closing, it wasn't getting larger either.  What was closing was the gap between us and Stu and co, and after a couple of tortuous minutes, the chase was over and the race changed again.

We got organised, but before too long, it became clear that the scratch boys: Tristan, Dave and Stu, were keen to shake off Tony, Steve and I.  We made it hard for them, and I enjoyed shutting down one attack by Dave - the run down-valley and the pace we were riding at suited me well and I was in the right place (and gear) at the right time.

We picked up a few stragglers from slower handicap groups, and our pace got disrupted a bit as a result.  I was surprised there were no hostilities and we were together at the bottom of Wallaceville with a tail wind.

I'd scoped out the left turn near the end, and knew I could ride through it at full noise with about 30 seconds of hard effort between there and the finish line.  My timing was good, and I got the hot line into the corner that I wanted, and opened up a gap on the others.  Going for broke probably wasn't the smartest move, but I didn't want to waste the gap or my momentum.  I was still clear 100m out, and was closing quickly on another small bunch, but it turned out I didn't quite have the legs, and got caught by Tony and Edwin.  It turned out we were three seconds short of the front of the race, and that Scratch had sweet-talked the starter into knocking 90 seconds off their handicap and were all DQed!

I missed what turned out to be the final round, but I had a better place to be.

12000m asl.  Pretty much on top of the world...
While I had an amazing time in Colorado, and was heartened that I could actually have a great time, the buzz soon wore off.  I'd also lost a bit of momentum on the training front.

Another MTBO trip to Vegas - Simon's and my third tilt at a Great Forest Rogaine title - didn't go quite as planned and we got smoked by Rob Garden and Marquita Gelderman.  We were spared the ignominy of three 2nds in a row by another men's team narrowly beating us.  Phew!

I feel like I've been off the bike boil for a bit too long now.  Time is scarce too, as I'm back at the helm of the Makara Peak Supporters after a few years off the committee (not to mention the time black-hole that is depression).  There's a (somewhat traumatic) story behind that too, but one which I'm too tired to tell.  Nonetheless, it's been great fun to be working in the park again - tomorrow the number of work parties I've been to in the park this year will nudge ahead of the number of rides I've had there...

A small but talented crew on Zac's track a few weeks ago

Maybe this blog will serve its purpose.  I was interested to note the "good" races in amongst that lot - the ones where my head was good, and in command of my legs - were in my memory as if they'd been yesterday.  The Blue Mountains race was almost literally two months ago, but I can visualise the last 30 minutes of the race clearly to this day.  Though, I didn't remember it when I started typing eight hours ago.

The guess work continues with my medication.  I've just started on attempt number six (in as many years).  My well-intentioned specialist told me the additional pills would be a bit of a drag - I'd need to take them twice a day.  To which I answered, "depression is a drag - tablets twice a day doesn't seem so bad".

I hope they work, not so much now, but in six months time when the days get short again.  I feel like that's where all my trouble began this year - perhaps confounded by the Cape Epic and its ups and downs.

Some exciting riding's on the horizon, and though I'm behind schedule on my preparation (I should have been riding late this afternoon instead of writing this), I hope I've got sufficient quality in my legs to do some lofty plans justice.

Here's a couple of teasers...

Photo: Oli Brooke-White
Photo: Oli Brooke-White

I'm weary of my mood being so lousy.  If my life was just a bit more shit, I sometimes wonder if it would be easier to cope with it.  The fact is, I'm surrounded by amazing friends and family, a wonderful community, and have remarkable opportunities.  Depression, piss off already.


  1. Here here!

    You are such an amazing guy, I hope the Black Dog lets you out of its dirty clutches real soon. Why do all the good people get depressed when all the munters seem to carry on blithely without a care in the world...?

  2. Hey John!

    Sorry to hear you've been under the duvet a bit recently.

    I'm glad you're back writing, your adventures are always inspiring and generally awesome.

    I look forward to more chronicles of sift in the near future.

  3. Hear hear John.

    And don't worry Oli, Munters get depressed too. Living proof tis I

  4. your words, riding and passion always inspire me BIG J

    very interested to hear about the mission you have planned for the RIGID BIG TOP

    friends, family, community and opportunities 'LIKE'

  5. Glad you got some riding in with a flying visit to England. Stoked you got to ride "Barry Knows Best" was one of my favs from the south.