Thursday, June 7, 2018

Queen's Birthday endurance boost

The Queen's Birthday long weekend was on my radar for a decent set of long rides, and for a while I contemplated flying up to Auckland to ride in "the winterless north".  On the other hand, I wondered if that wee expression was in the same camp as the many roads called "Gentle Annie", so looked for alternatives.

A couple of weeks out, I booked a day's annual leave and a one-way flight to Gisborne.  My tentative plan was to ride back to Wellington via Opotiki, Taupo and Whanganui.

As the first day of winter loomed, the forecast charts at metvuw.com started to look decidedly less colourful (a good thing!), and it even looked like I might have a sou'easter on the Friday followed by a northerly on Saturday - perfect for my direction of travel.

I hummed and hahed about which bike to take, but eventually the Crowe-Rishworth got the nod over the bike I'll be taking to France, the deal sealed by the mudguards and the likelihood of rain.  It packed up well into a large cardboard bike box, and I made good use of my Gear checklist when running through a final pack.

My frame bag was full of stuff I hoped not to need (tubes, tools, a bit of first aid, bike lock), and the rest of my gear was stowed in a Revelate Terrapin seat bag.  Given the time of year, I packed some extra neoprene gloves and booties.  I'd also decided to wear my road shoes rather than swapping out the pedals for MTB ones - if my shoes were going to get drenched, I'd rather my feet be warm.


Friday

I woke up to a notification that my flight had been delayed by 50 minutes, now due to get into Gisborne at 11:15am.  That made for a slower start to the day, but increased the likelihood that I'd be riding into Opotiki in the dark.

I had a second breakfast at the Regional Koru Lounge, and rocking jandals and socks, made my way between the terminal and the turboprop plane just as a rain shower started.  Of course, the queue moved quickly until the ramp up to the plane, and then ground to a halt.  I settled into my seat before the rain got through my outer lauers.

The flight was spectacular - I was sitting on the left of the plane, and the skies above the lower north island were clear, affording me amazing views over Kapiti, and out to Mts Taranaki and Ruapehu.  The second half of the flight was over a solid cloud bank, but it cleared again just before landing.

Taranaki and Ruapehu in the distance, and Shannon in the foreground

It took me 40 minutes or so to get ready to roll.  The bike seemed to have travelled well, and I slowly but surely reinstalled the front wheel, handlebar, left side crank and seatpost.  Last task was to fill my bottles, and then the ride began.

Adieu, Gisborne Airport

I'd mapped my daily routes on gpsies.com and uploaded them as Garmin Course files to my 810 head unit, pulling in both the route map and elevation data.  About 5 minutes from the airport, I passed Stephen Sheldrake's AvantiPlus store, and realising it would be rude not to pop in, wheeled around and briefly said gidday.

It was nice to be on the road, not least because the skies were blue and winds light.

Looking back towards Gisborne, about 20 minutes' ride out of town
 About an hour in, I rounded a bend to find a campervan parked on the side of the road, and four men standing by - one dressed in a full body yellow spandex suit (including covering his whole face), with a pair of black undies worn on the outside.  He was also wearing a bike helmet and was astride a road bike.

As I passed, his cobbers yelled "ready, set, go!" and as I looked back, the yellow chap started riding.  I decided to wait for him, and once he'd passed me, pulled up onto his wheel with my new handlebar-mounted GoPro whirring...!

WTF?!


After about a minute of watching his cadence slowly drop, I eased past him, noticing on the way by that he had a huge wet patch on his gimp-suit from the condensation from his mouth...  I really should have stopped a few hundred metres later to ask his mates what the hell they were up to, but simply rode by (high-fived by one of them), leaving the purpose of their stunt a mystery...!

A few minutes later, it dawned on me that the team and I might have to get used to this sort of lark in the mountains of France - it is common for Tour fans to camp on the roadsides for a day or two in advance of the race passing through, and I imagine we will provide good temporary entertainment for some. 

Stephen had summarised the route for me, so I was expecting the shop at Matawai, not long after the climb finished.  On a mid-summer trip, I might have gone down through Motu Road, but keen to stay clean (and trouble-free), checking out the Waioeka Gorge road for the first time was a no-brainer. 

Coffee and muffin combo lay within
The day had marched on, which made for some beautiful light conditions on the road through to the final climb before the beginning of the long downhill run into Opotiki,


The gorge was indeed stunning, and while far from a free-ride, progress was rapid.

The Waioeka River

Eventually the gorge opened out, and with lights on, enjoyed the last few kilometres into Opotiki.



I'd booked a room at Daisy's Lane, and soon discovered what a great find it was.  I was warmly welcomed by Andre, and soon after unpacking, had one of the very best showers of my 45 years.  I eventually tore myself away from it, dressed, and went out to the dining room for a chat with my hosts, Andre and Hal.  As it turned out, Hal had seen our recent clip on One News, and when I returned for dinner later, not only did they say they wanted me to have it for free (usually, it is by koha), but also made a donation.  They said I was welcome to use the money as I saw fit, but it was very satisfying to make a payment to the Mental Health Foundation after dinner.

By the time I went to bed, I'd washed and dried my riding gear, so left a hefty tip for that service in lieu of the delicious meal.  Whilst introverted and very comfortable not interacting with anyone on these trips, the time I spent chatting to Hal and Andre was a real highlight of the trip.

Stats:  146km ridden, 1300m climbed, 5h40 elapsed


Saturday

I woke to an 0630 alarm, with a big day ahead of me.

Hal was up, so I chatted to him over some cereal and crumpets, before suiting up and hitting the road just before half-seven.  It was chilly, but dry run into Whakatane, some 50km away via roads I'd ridden on a Gisborne-East Cape-Whakatane tour almost a decade ago.

About to dive off SH2 towards Ohope

Whakatane was surprisingly quiet, but I settled on a cafe and had a second breakfast.  I was taking back roads through to Taupo, and wanted the fuel tanks full.

Coffee, map, and kai
I'd planned to take MacDonald Road onto Galatea Road, but both were closed, necessitating a few extra kilometres into Te Teko.  After making the turn south, the climbing began, and so too did the queue of horse floats - about 15 over the space of an hour (I never did see where they all ended up). 

From time to time, a railway line would appear next to the road, only to disappear into a trench or the forest.  Unfortunately, it was out of sight when a train rumbled past, though I did see it on the return trip a couple of hours later, loaded with pine logs.

After passing through a couple of small settlements, I was surprised to find a petrol station.  There were at least two signs outside advertising coffee, but alas, I had to make do with an iced version from the fridge.  In any case, it was nice to have a wee break.

A marae, just before Murupara
When I reached the intersection with SH38, I turned left towards Murupara and eventually found an open bakery.  I leant my bike against a table and went inside to order some food.  A minute or so later, in the queue to pay, I was shocked to see my bike had gone and went quickly outside, only to find someone had moved it just out of sight of the door.  No harm, no foul.

I joined that person at the table after paying.  According to just about everyone who walked past in the next 15 minutes, her name was Nan, and she was obviously a town-treasure of sorts.  She told me that she and her 7 kids had been originally from Wairoa, but had been in Murupara for over 40 years.  She moved away from the bakery entrance when it was time for a ciggie.

Nan.  World famous in Murupara
The climb up to SH5 was long but steady and my legs seemed willing enough.  Eventually, the familiar shape of Rainbow Mountain came into view, and soon after a short spell on the main road ensued.

I'd decided to ride through Reporoa - essentially a back road into Taupo.  I do wonder the merits of this approach.  While the traffic volumes shrink dramatically, so too does the road shoulder, so you do end up more exposed to anyone that does pass.

I made a brief stop in Reporoa itself, treating myself to a custard square - one of my rare forays into high GI carbs since switching to Hayden's keto regime back in November.  It was delicious.

Nearing Taupo, I spied an old Air NZ plane in someone's paddock, which would be a helluva cool airbnb if stripped out and set up as a bedroom.

End of the road for this plane?

There were cars hurtling around a racetrack on the outskirts of Taupo, and while I was tempted to stop and watch for a while, the lure of a shower and clean clothes was too great and I kept moving. I'd booked a room for myself, and again, was warmly welcomed by my host.  His two cats were inquisitive, and not at all shy, so I had a bit of company while sorting myself out.

Pretty much all my luggage (and a visitor)

Riding the short distance into the town centre seemed a better option than walking.  I settled on a pork roast for dinner, and then swung by Pak'n'Save to grab some breakfast supplies.

A few calories in amongst that lot!
I was mugged by the two cats when I got in, and humoured them for a little while before ejecting them from my room, and hitting the sack.  As is usually the case after a long day in the saddle, I slept like a log!

Stats:  225km ridden, 1860m climbed, 9h30 elapsed


Sunday

The weather forecast for Sunday had not been great, and so when I suited up, I donned my neoprene booties, waterproof 3/4-length overtrou, and coat instead of my sleeveless wind-vest.

The roads were wet, so there'd recently been a downpour, but it soon became apparent that I was overdressed.  Not only that, but the rubbing of my rainpants on the frame bag was driving me crazy, so I stopped and took them off.

I'd left Taupo at about 7:30, and so there was little traffic on SH1 through to Turangi.  My legs didn't feel super, but I made good enough progress.  I'd anticipated grabbing some McDs (for the first time in years), but Turangi didn't appear to have one, so I raided the local bakery.  They did a mighty fine quiche, and I was compelled to go back for seconds...

I checked in with Sarah, who I was going to see later in the day, and then set off.

The climb over Te Ponanga Saddle kept on giving, with many false summits on the way up.  I took it easy, and enjoyed the views over Lake Taupo.


As is typical using a time-metric, the long climb was followed by a short descent, and then began the  gradual climb up to the day's summit.  I predicted it would be at National Park itself, so was delighted that it came much sooner - at the 42 Traverse turnoff, no less, so easy to remember in future.

The most scenic points of our state highways are usually the bridges.  On the other hand, these are typically narrow, and they're generally at a low-point in the road.  After hitting two bridges fast, and immediately lamenting not stopping, I pulled a u-turn at the next, and walked 50m or so to admire the view from a stationary position.  Well worth the effort involved

Looking up towards Ruapehu, which I barely saw all day
At National Park, the slight downhill was supplemented by a decent tailwind, and I decided not to stop - one of the rare shopping opportunities that went begging.  It was about an hour to Raetihi, and I spent most of that time looking forward to the break!

Outstanding chainsaw work just north of Raetihi
At first glance, the town was pretty much deserted, and I feared the worst.  I needn't have been alarmed though, and the Angel Louise Cafe was doing a roaring trade.  There, I bumped into Rick Zwaan, who'd been the VUWSA President in 2015.  We had a brief chat, and then I smashed back a flat white and some cheese on toast, before hitting the road once more.

I'd had word from Sarah that she'd be riding towards me, having driven from Wellington to Bulls, and smashed out the 42km along SH3 to Whanganui.

For the first 10 minutes or so, there was very, very light rain, but it really didn't amount to much.

Raukawa Falls
Sarah had said she'd meet me half way, and that she did, almost to the metre.  Despite me having a lot of altitude to lose, she had much fresher legs, no luggage, and no cheesy toast to chow down.  It was bloody nice to see her, and we enjoyed duking it out on the few climbs between us and Whanganui.

Once we got down into the river valley, I enjoyed drafting her, full of admiration as she pulled us along at almost 40km/h.

We made a short stop and Upokongaro, in front of the church (wacky steeple and all) built by my great-great-grandfather (and namesake) in 1877! 

John Randal in front of a church built 140 years ago by John Randal


Selfie, and not a deliberate attempt to hide the steeple!
Sarah had checked in already, so after a quick stop at the servo for some cashews, gassy water and chocolate milk, we were soon showered, and thinking about dinner.  We had a nice meal at Japanese Kitchen WA, and after doing a spot of supermarket shopping, rode back to the motel to get some rest.

Stats:  221.5km, 2500m climbed, 9h40 elapsed


Monday

The original plan for the final day had been to ride all the way back to Wellington.  The iffy weather forecast had resulted in Sarah driving as far as Bulls, but we were both keen to take a less-direct route than SH3.

After a relatively slow start, and some bircher muesli and scrambled eggs, we suited up, and rode for a minute or so to a nearby cafe.  As we were leaning our bikes up against the wall, we were accosted by Paul Chaplow, who just happened to have been riding by, and had recognised me.  He'd moved from Wellington to Taumarunui, and had recently taken up a new job in Whanganui.  Bloody small world innit?!

After a nice chat with Paul, some decent coffee and a scone each, Sarah and I made for the Drury Hill elevator, only to find it closed.  As if that was bad enough, to add insult to injury, we instead had to ride up the steep road alternative!

Whanganui from Drury Hill
As sluggish as my legs had felt on the long run between Taupo and Whanganui, they were decidedly unwilling for the warm-down.  We had a long false-flat to start, and instead of fretting about it, and trying to push through it, I instead decided to simply enjoy the countryside and cruise.

And there was plenty to enjoy.  We were bound for Hunterville via Fordell, on yet another road I'd never checked out before.

There were a dozen sulphur-crested cockatoos hooning around in this stand of trees

And more than a dozen sheep in this yard
My legs perked up just before we reached Hunterville.  I was astonished to find there was a lot more town than is visible from SH1!

Over a light lunch, we deliberated about how to get to Bulls from there.  Prior to leaving Whanganui, I'd thought about riding via Feilding, but on reflection, we decided to go via Marton instead.  We back-tracked slightly, and in doing so, stumbled upon a marked cycle route, which took some of the subsequent decision-making away.


We foolishly chose to stay on the main route (rather than the 3A alternative), and found ourselves grovelling up Mount Curl Road.  As if that wasn't bad enough, the first kilometre or so of the descent was very chunky gravel, and not at all pleasant on our loaded road bikes.  Thankfully it didn't last long, and neither of us came a cropper.

We didn't stop in Marton, and managed to avoid all but the last couple of kilometres of SH3 into Bulls, where we found the car unmolested.  We quickly loaded the bikes onto it, and not much more than a couple of hours later were back in Karori.  The traffic had been pretty sweet, and we took good advantage of the backroads into Otaki that we'd ridden together only a few weeks before.  I was glad not to be riding them again, to be completely honest!

Stats:  113km, 1260m climbed, 5h40 elapsed


Reflections

After a stressful May, it was bloody good to get this four-day ride in.

The forecast rain never eventuated.  Well, not where I was anyway.  Northland, and the East Cape got smashed, and while the bad weather was around, it was always either ahead or behind me.  A miracle, but I'll take it.

I leave for France on June 29 (four weeks from the start of this trip).  My endurance will dip slightly over that time, but I'm very pleased with where it's at, and much more relaxed than I would have been without this trip.

Various factors made this ride a confidence-inspiring training event.  The bike I'll be riding in France is literally half the weight of my long-weekend setup.  The temperatures will be decidedly more pleasant - I know I run well in the heat, so figure things will feel much easier by comparison.  Knocking those miles out solo was a lot harder than riding in a bunch - even the short time I spent with Sarah was noticeably easier with a bit of drafting.  And finally, I've got a great bunch of guys to ride with, and getting to know them more while out on the bike, will help the time fly by.

In total, I covered 705km in the four days, with total riding time of 26h30.  With the exception of the Opotiki to Whakatane, Taupo to Turangi, and National Park to Raetihi stretches, it was all virgin road, and stunning road at that.  While my legs weren't always flash, my mood was great, and all contact points held up nicely.

It was wonderful to feel like I had no choice.  Riding those sorts of miles in and around home would have felt like a battle of will-power.  This route might as well have been a straight line, and it was just a simple matter of keeping moving.  I suppose subconsciously I knew there were bail-outs, but there was no need to contemplate them.



I do love it when a plan comes together, and this one certainly did.  Next stop, France!

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