Monday, December 10, 2012

Short and sweet: a Wairarapa weekend

A couple of months ago, while waiting to register for a PNP race in Whiteman's Valley, I was nabbed by Steve Chapman and ended up on the volunteer's list for the Rice Mountain Classic.  I don't really like waking up, so heading over on the Friday evening seemed a good strategy.

In the interim, I asked Dave Sharpe if he'd like to join me, and when Sarah's new MTB arrived early from Nelson, Simon too was keen to come over, though not until the Saturday afternoon.  Martinborough was full up, due to a Saturday afternoon concert, so Dave and I booked lodgings in Greytown.

I was tied up until 5pm on Friday, but was ready to roll from Revolution Bicycles just before 5:30pm.  Dave had suggested I look at the weather forecast earlier that day, so I had storm gear packed.  I was on my Colnago, but with the fron wheel swapped out for one off my commuter bike which would not get knocked around by the wind.  I had my new Revelate seat bag with a full change of clothes, and odds and ends in my jersey pockets, but no backpack.

As we looked south from Jonty's shop door, we faced a wall of black cloud sitting over Island Bay.  Actually, "sitting over" is probably not what it was doing - "slowly marching up" is probably more accurate.  I may have raised the subject of catching a train to Upper Hutt, but within minutes, we were on Thorndon Quay, and heading along the Old Hutt Road.

The wind had already turned to the south, so we made great progress up the Hutt Valley.  I had a fluoro vest on, and that gave me a great excuse to draft Dave for the first half hour or so, until the shoulder widened just south of the Haywards turn off.

The riding conditions were great, and my "fully loaded" bike didn't feel like it was loaded at all.  The short steep pitch past Te Marua was over pretty quickly, and it wasn't until a few minutes into the climb from Kaitoke, that we felt the first raindrops.  About 10 seconds after agreeing that a coat stop was imminent, we were stopping to put our coats on.  I'd also packed my Ground Effect overtrou, and put those on for good measure.  The rain had a touch of sleet in it, and the temperature had fallen a few degrees.

By the time we'd reached the summit, Dave had stopped again to put more clothing on, and we were both pretty wet, at least on the outside.  I'd been looking forward to the descent into Featherston for ages.  I'm not usually one for favourites, but I'm happy to make an exception for this stretch of road.  The surface is smooth, most of the corners can be taken without braking too heavily, and it's not hard to travel at the same speed as the traffic.  On Friday night though, it was pretty miserable.  I rode the brakes most of the way down, both to limit the build up of water on the rims, and to keep the wind-chill down.

Dave had waited for me at a sharp corner near the bottom, and so we crossed the first big bridge together.  I was considering letting out a "YEEEEEEEHAH!" when I heard the very same from Dave up ahead.  Spooky!  We agreed that far from suffering, being on our bikes in these conditions or any others, made us feel more alive.  

We didn't stop at Featherston, and I left the far end of the small town with an unindulged hot pie fantasy.  We rode through to Greytown with a 20m separation - any benefit of a draft was more than offset by the face-full of water that would have resulted.

As (bad) luck would have it, 33 Main St was at the far end of town, but it gave us a good opportunity to scope out dinner options.  The supermarket closed at 8:55pm (?!), so we had about 45 minutes to play with.  Thanks to the tail wind, the 75-odd kilometres had taken not much more than two-and-a-half hours. 

We "checked-in" at the modestly, but nicely appointed Greytown Hotel.  This process mainly consisted of taking off all our rain gear and shoes and socks, and standing at the bar for a few minutes!  After stowing our bikes in the shed a hot shower was the next priority.  That done, we set to rolling our wet gear up in the various towels, facecloths and bathmats our room had come with.  Then it was time for dinner!

We had a short walk in the rain to get back to the shops, and we didn't hold back at the supermarket.  That done, we went to investigate the Chinese Takeaways a little further down, and were soon back in to our room getting stuck into a Goreng each - Barmi [sic] for Dave, and Nasi for me.  They were very different - we'd asked how they differed, and were assured it was a simple choice of noodles vs rice!

After a good long yack, my eyes started drooping, and it was time for actual lights out, to go with my figurative ones.  It was nice to be warm and dry, and the single bed I had was nice and cosy!  Sleep came easy.

My alarm went off in the morning a few minutes before a decent earthquake.  Up on the second storey, we enjoyed the gentle sway of our fairly old timber building.  It seemed to last quite a while, during which time Dave asked "Do you think we should get up?"  I replied, "it depends on whether you're wearing underpants!"  He was, but we didn't.

I slammed down the cheese and date scones I'd bought the night before, and was pleasantly surprised at their freshness.  I chased those down with a "double shot" instant coffee, before wishing Dave a good morning, and busting a move out to the shed.  The roads had been drying out nicely after overnight rain, but just as I set foot outside the shed, the heavens opened again.  I put my overtrou on to supplement the coat I was already wearing, and dejectedly rolled out.

Within a minute or two the rain had eased, but the cold southerly I was riding into made me glad for my storm gear and I left it on for the duration of the 20km ride to Martinborough.  It dragged on and on, but I arrived feeling glad that my shoes hadn't flooded again.  I had no dry ones, and it would have made for a long, uncomfortable day.

I found the race manager apologised for my 20-minute lateness.  He didn't seem fussed, and after receiving my instructions, I made for a local cafe.  While waiting for my very delicious plate of French toast, I was joined briefly by Steve and Oliver, who'd both be starting in B grade.

I'd been told my spot was about 6km out of town, so didn't linger once I'd eaten.  Expecting to be out on my own for close to four hours, I quickly grabbed a copy of the Listener from the nearest supermarket, before jumping on my bike again.

The 6km seemed to take a very long time.  It felt a lot more like the 11km it actually is to the Martinborough-Masterton turnoff!  Someone had already laid the road cones out, and I had a stop-go sign waiting for me as well.  Luckily I'd not dilly-dallied over (my second!) breakfast and it was still before 10am, the scheduled start time of the A-grade race.

It was nice to get some dry clothes on.  It hadn't rained for a while, but I started off with most of my stuff on: skins leggings - worn for their insulation properties rather than any miraculous healing powers - went on over my damp bibs, then a pair of shorts and my overtrou.  Up top I had a woollen t-shirt, Ground Effect Baked Alaska, then my riding jersey (to dry it out a bit), and over all that, a couple of new garments - a MontBell Ultralight Thermawrap jacket, and a Gore Bike Wear Fusion 2.0 jacket - both highly recommended by Ollie Whalley after his experience with them on his record-breaking Tour Divide race.  I also found a woollen beanie in my bag, so on that went, and for the meantime, I left my riding gloves on.  Despite my damp shoes and socks I was impressively toasty!  After a quick time-check, I grabbed a couple of surplus cones, fashioned myself a chair and started on the Listener.

Before too long, the lead vehicle of the A-grade race arrived, promptly followed by Tristan Thomas and the evergreen Brent Backhouse.  They looked to be riding at a deliberate but sustainable pace.  The peloton soon followed, and a minute or two later, Brad Chandler came through, eager to know how much he was down.  B-grade arrived before too long, then the combined C & D-grade bunches, and then it was time to hunker down with a magazine.

An hour or so later, the race manager and another marshall pulled up, and I was given a bag of lunch goodies and a fluoro jacket which was soon put to good use as a cushion for my makeshift chair.

I entertained myself by reading about Marilyn Waring and disease over-diagnosis, and tried to work out why my cell-phone had been taking such shitty photos recently.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B
Eventually I diagnosed a badly scratched lens, no doubt caused by negligence on my part sometime in the last month or so.

It was a nice surprise when Dave arrived some time later.  He organised himself a road-cone/armchair, and the Listener made way for conversation.  The next couple of hours passed much more quickly than the first two had, and by virtue of the bunches being blown apart as the races developed, I was regularly up on my feet waving the lollipop around.

It was great to see Andy Hagan hammering down off the Hinakura hill on his way to a fine win, beautifully captured by Adrian Rumney, the long-standing master of photographing races in the Wairarapa.

Andy Hagan, thanks to Adrian Rumney
Before too long, the B-grade sag-wagon told us our job was done, and while Dave packed up the cones, I got my warm clothes off and stowed.  With our relatively fresh legs, we passed a few racers on the way back to Martinborough, testament to the toughness of the Rice Mountain course.

We said a quick gidday to Jase McCarty, whose interest was piqued by the smiles on our faces and minimal gear, in stark contrast to the ashen faces and no gear of the riders around us!  We were about half-an-hour behind schedule, but Simon seemed in good spirits when we found him at the school a few minutes later.

Our original plan had been to set off from Martinborough, and take in a 200km figure-eight course, through Masterton and north as far as Eketahuna.   Time wasn't really on our side though, and combined with the very grey skies to the north, we decided to shorten the ride somewhat.  By half, to be precise!

In anticipation of leaving the car for a bit, we loaded my Colnago inside, and then stowed the tandem and Dave's bike on my rack.  Upside down, and on a slight angle, the Robusta didn't protrude too much from the sides of the car, which was pleasing to see.

We stopped at Carterton New World for some supplies.  I made the mistake of buying a fluoro green drink because I thought "mango" flavour would be nice.
We had a few spots of rain leaving Carterton, but it didn't amount to much, and by the time we were ready to roll out from outside the superette on Te Ore Ore Road, we agreed that coats wouldn't be necessary.

We were Oscar Mike!

The intersection with SH2 was nearly our last, but we managed to weave away around a car that had bailed on its right turn at the last minute. (Mum, I've embellished, don't worry...)

We spent 10 minutes or so on SH2...

... before making the right turn onto the Mauriceville Road.  There, traffic volumes dropped off to nothing, and Dave was often riding alongside us.  Tandem perk #1 = three-way conversations!

The road was basically following the disused railway line, and at least one house we passed had a few metres between it and the road, and another few between it and the railway.  Cheap, perhaps?!

We had a welcome stop in Mauriceville.  Mostly it was nice to be off the saddle.  Tandem perk #2 = sore bum.  We read a little about Maurice, admired the limeworks, and then it was back on the bikes.  

Much of Mauriceville
We'd mapped out a back road to Eketahuna which would avoid a few more kilometres of SH2, but it turned out to be unsealed, and we didn't want to risk puncturing, so the highway it was. 

Say cheese!
Dave popped into the store at Eketahuna, while Simon and I sifted outside.  A kid walked past with a couple of amazing looking ice-creams, and I quietly considered heading inside for one.  A local stopped to chat, keen to tell us about his cycle touring down south on a Morrison Monarch, a bike which Simon had coveted back in early 80s but which I'd never heard of!

We swung past Joe Sweeney's place...

File photo:  Queen's Birthday road trip!
... but the hedge had seen better days, and we didn't stop!

Our return route was via Alfredton and "Route 52", the latter turning into Whangaehu Valley Road before spitting us out a kilometre or so from the car.  This was great tandem country, and Simon, keen to avoid my whimpering, was shifting like a boss.  The tandem was purring too, now in resplendent with a mint chainline, by virtue of the 36t chainring Oli put on for us earlier in the week.  The traffic had also remained non-existent, which made the whole experience even better.

With our Longest Day ride looming, I thought it might be a good time to try out the captain's seat, and so we stopped and swapped.  Mostly it was OK, but I was surprised how much we wiggled around!  It was good to see what it was like anyway, and swapping saddles for a few minutes also offered some butt-relief. 

Yes, Simon's holding onto the top tube!
All three pairs of legs were definitely waning, and it was very nice to suddenly arrive at the intersection with the Castlepoint Road.  The riding had been sweet, but it was also some relief to stop.  Dave and I had clocked up about 225km over the past 24 hours, in a few sittings.  Simon had been generously riding at my cadence for the last few hours, so his legs needed a break too!

We loaded the bikes back onto my car, and made our way back to Wellington, only stopping in Greytown for a bit of kai.

*  *  *  *  *

Tired, but happy.  And, with all of Sunday to enjoy yet.  Somehow, it seemed a lot to pack into basically one half of the weekend.

Dave's company had been a real treat, and despite our 10-odd years' age difference, our similarities are many.  He's also pretty damn handy with a camera (thanks heaps for the photos, Dave!).  And, it's always great to ride with Simon, even on the tandem, which is becoming less like an instrument of torture with each ride.  

The logistics of the "trip" had been remarkably simple, and I was very pleased with the setup of the bike, and the gear I'd had.  It was all an interesting tester for a big mission I have planned for next June.  I look forward to sharing the details of that in due course.

I have a distinct aversion to both seasickness and car sickness, and between these two ailments, both the Wairarapa and Top of the South are destinations which I've neglected to take advantage of over the years.

I now realise that what's an impediment to me driving a car over is actually something quite special on a bike.  The ride to Featherston or beyond could easily be shortened by an hour by using the train to Upper Hutt, and some sweet riding, or even just relaxing, awaits.  There's damn good French Toast available in Martinborough too. 

Got amongst it (a reminder for me as much as anything).


  1. Awesome, bro. Best writing in ages, and hysterical at points. Love your work, and I loved hearing about your weekend's riding; it sounds like you had a great time.

  2. Love the self portrait by DS with you guys in the background - although its not really following the Oli Brooke White school of studied nonchalance!!

  3. Great read Sifter, excellent weekend by all accounts.

    We still have a mint condition Morrison Monarch in the folks house in Upper Hutt!, classic 80's riding.

  4. Mate - im just some random fulla who stumbled across your blog a while back. Just wanted to say your writing/style/details are awesome. They inspire me to get out and follow similar great adventures in, what we often ignore, is a world class backyard.

    Thanks for the inspiration - happy pedalling.

  5. It's a nice feeling when, on Saturday night, you feel you've already had a weekend's worth of action! Great blog, looking forward to hearing about the future plans.