Thursday, December 31, 2009

Holiday Hills Hurt Horribly

My events of the season are now only about a month away - the Akatarawa Attack on the 31st of January, an 8 hour MTB rogaine, and the Kiwi Brevet, an 1100km randonee, starting on Saturday 6 February. Both will involve plenty of climbing, and both will test my endurance. Consequently, when Simon invited me up to Rangataua (near Ohakune) for a few days with the possibility of some reps on the Turoa skifield road, I was keen as!

Simon had done three reps in preparation for the Great Divide Race back in 2008, and our plan was to repeat this session. I'd admitted to my generous sponsor, Oli Brooke-White of Roadworks fame, that I was pretty keen to have a crack at four. I'm not at all sure why. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with the number three. Perhaps I thought that with company, such a silly notion could be put into action. It wasn't to be...

I drove north from Wellington on the evening of Boxing Day. Sarah, Simon's wife had left Rangataua earlier in the afternoon, and was riding to Hunterville on some of the back roads and I was to meet her there. There was bugger all traffic on the roads, so I had time for a coffee and a browse at the 4 Square before meeting Sarah and loading her bike on the back of the car. It was good to have her company on the rest of the drive, and she was pleased for the sandwich and coke I had waiting for her.

The next morning Simon and I were ready to hit the road just after 8am. We cruised down Dreadnought Rd which runs parallel with the highway and connects Rangataua to Ohakune. Simon stashed a second bottle in the bushes near the ranger's station, and we rationalised our clothing for the climb. We started at a pace we'd hope to continue, and rode steadily along, sometimes side by side, sometimes in single file. Unlike our Mt Vic sessions, conversation was minimal - this was business, not pleasure.

The road kicks up nastily after a few kilometres before easing again. Something like a third of the 1000m climb comes in the first half distance-wise, with about 500m gained in the last few kilometres of the 16km road. There wasn't much traffic, and we enjoyed the bush - the tall trees disappeared someway up the climb, and further on the bush vanished too to leave tussock. At the top, I stopped the timer at 68.46 and with the cumulative ascent on exactly 1000m. We put jackets on and then bombed down the hill. On a steep straight section I rocketed away from Simon, using my mass and a good tuck to excellent effect. He got his own back and dropped me on a flatter section which he was able to ride on his aero bars.

After a quick loo stop at the bottom, we were into it again. As with the first climb, the hour passed reasonably quickly. The (rapid) passing of time is one thing I've really noticed has changed for me with all this riding - particularly useful on long drives or plane trips...!

Simon had wagered on a climb of 69:30, while I'd gone with 68:30. With the benefit of the time on my stem and not his, I did a go-slow through the top carpark, and miraculously pressed the lap button at exactly 68:30. We were a few dozen metres short of the top though, and when we finally reached that, the next lap read 17 seconds - the second climb had been a whopping two seconds longer than the first! Photography is always an excellent recovery tactic, and so amongst muesli bars and water from the bottle, I managed to snatch this wee beauty!

I was a bit more proactive with my tuck, and held it longer on the second descent and managed a high-speed of 81.95km/h. Even these were taking us a good 20 minutes, hammering home how long this climb really is. The third started off very well, and we ticked along nicely for the first half. Once the road really kicked up though, my legs started to complain. By the end of the second ascent, we climbed the equivalent of 11 times up Mt Vic, and we'd be at a little over 16 by this final summit. So, it was no surprise really. It was hard to stay out of the small chainring on the MTBs, but this unspoken restriction was adhered to! By the really steep stuff, I was uttering obscenities and was zig-zagging all over the road. At one point, Simon slipped on some gravel, and I heard him unclip behind me as his bike stalled. At the top, I felt really really sick, and was relieved to have stopped. My lungs were fine, but my legs had really struggled for power in those last few kilometres. Our final time was 72:28, 3:40 slower than the second.

It's hard to spot exactly where that time was lost, but I bet it was in the last bit! We rolled back down the hill, and met Sarah, Miro and Shona who were just at the end of their picnic. We gladly accepted their offer of a lift home (note the steady descent from Rangataua at the start of the altitude graph). We had a quiet afternoon, though were both up for a walk the next day.

The ride was very hard, although up until 12km up the third ascent it had been very manageable. The last bit made a huge difference to my overall impression of it though. A fourth ascent didn't even cross my mind! In total, the ride was just over 102km, with total ascent of just over 3000m. A tough ride in anyone's language.

For all the gory details, and animations, check out

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Makara Peak Rally, 2009 edition

The 2009 Makara Peak Rally was held on its traditional date - the first Sunday of December.  It is the Makara Peak Supporters' major annual fundraiser, with significant proceeds coming from entries, donations, memberships, and Zac's BBQ.  This year was the 9th, with Simon Kennett organising the first back in 2001.  As per his original format, the morning featured the Creek to Peak Relay and the afternoon the Tour de Peak.

Today's C2P relay is run on a slightly different course since much of the current track was not built back in 2001.  Only a little of Sally Alley was in place, and while Missing Link was there, Aratihi was not, and nor were Ridgeline Extension, or Big Tom's Wheelie.  Having been the organiser in 2003-6 and a co-organiser in 2007-8, it was great to have Pete Mora take the reins for this year's event, and I was free to race without constraint.  With a play on the vorb thread "Simon and Sifter Ride Around the Block", Simon and I paired up as the relay team "Simon and Sifter Ride to the Top and Back".  I was allocated the first lap, due to my "fast start".   Within less than 10 minutes of the start, I was in last place...

Pete had us line up in the carpark, and we began with a road lap.  Among great names like Jonty Ritchie, Clive Bennett, Al Crossling, Jordan Blake, Alex Revell, and the star-studded Roadworks Cycle Repairs riders Tim Wilding, Alex Tashkoff and Oli Brooke-White himself, I was going to have my work cut out for me.  I was on my Kiwi Brevet race bike sporting a brand new Stan's Raven rear tyre, not yet in tubeless format.  The start was brisk, and I found myself dangling off the back of the lead bunch.  Rather than bury myself, I gambled on congestion on Koru slowing them down, and made my way down South Karori Road about 20m back, neither cool nor calm, but collected.

I almost came a cropper on the new Koru bridge, which last year's Rally proceeds and a 75% contribution from the fantastic Wellington City Council had made possible, but managed stay rubber side down.  No more than 200m up Koru, I had Jordan's wheel in sight, but there was a detectable shimmy in my rear.  Another 100m up the track, I dismounted, cursing my luck, and commenced repairs...  By the time I got going again, I'd been passed by the entire field, or at least those that I'd managed to stay ahead of.   I managed to re-pass all but three of these riders, on what was a pretty unmemorable lap of the park.  Simon was good humoured enough when I finally tagged off to him back at the carpark.  

In the afternoon, things were better, but not much.  Simon had paired up with ace Jonty Ritchie leaving me to fend for myself.  Seeing as I don't often ride in Makara Peak, I opted for the complete tiki-tour, and a hard day out.  Regretably, I have in my possession a fantastic route for this event, but not the skills nor engine to match.  I was not the only one who headed up Lazy Fern to start, followed by the Snakecharmer up to the summit.  Mike Thompson on his single-speed was a sight to behold muscling up the steeper sections while I enjoyed the luxury of several slightly easier ratios.  I had a clumsy ride of T3, and was soon walking my bike down much of Trickle Falls.  I was riding relatively well on Vertigo until I burped my front tyre on a series of steps just before the track dives into the bush.  Luckily the tyre had leapt back onto the bead, so I was able to put more air into it and get going again.  Just above the stream crossing, I grabbed a bit too much front brake on a corner, and peeled the under-inflated tyre off the rim, with no chance of recovering it.  Careful not to get jizz all over my gloves (my Karapoti ones are still sticky), I popped a tube in and got going again.  

The rest of the ride was actually very nice, as I sampled the park's fantastic single-track with very little disruption.   Per attempt, I've crashed more on Leaping Lizard than any other track in the park, and this day was no exception.  Just after the big berm at the end of the ridge, my tyre succumbed to a rut hiding in the long grass, and over I went.  Luckily I didn't impale myself on anything, and was soon "hurtling" down hill again.  After a quick gidday to previous Tour winner Josh lazing in the sun with a book and a first aid kit, I was enjoying the climb up Possum Track.  I was in much better shape than this year, and didn't suffer nearly as much on the long climb through Nikau and Aratihi to the summit.  Ridgeline was reasonably uneventful despite some lousy route choice in places.  I managed to finish in just under 3 hours, about 7 minutes down on the previous year (only the direction of Rimu were different).

The Makara Peak Rally's a great way for the supporters to bolster the coffers, and also to promote their hard work in the park.  Unfortunately the event has never really flourished, despite significant attempts to innovate, and excellent support from the local bike industry. With the recession making life hard in 2009, and the sheer effort needed to organise sponsors, this year's edition was run on a shoestring.  Hopefully someone will take up the reins in the future, and we'll again have an orgy of spot prizes in the South Karori Sun.  With Wellington and the park being mostly raced-out by early December, there's talk of moving the event.  We might well see the 10th as a pre-Karapoti event in mid February 2011, and one which uses "the track whose working title was North Face" for the first time.

Two races, two punctures, and two tired legs.  Cheers Makara Peak Supporters for all your hard work in the park.  And thanks for being something of a leader of track network development in Wellington.  Thanks to your great relationship with WCC, and your responsible approach to track building, there's new riding all over this fine city...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Waiotauru River trip

One of the benefits of preparing for an event like the Kiwi Brevet is that it forces you to get very fit. In turn, this forces you to come up with interesting trips to make the huge number of hours on the bike more enjoyable. I'm lucky enough to have Simon Kennett as my training partner, and conspirator. In the last few years we've done some great rides. This trip, a loop from Reikorangi, just behind Waikanae, would take us along the Waiotauru River in the Southern Tararuas through to Otaki Forks, and then back to the car. Rarely for us, we had company on Sunday. While Jonty Ritchie wasn't well enough to join us, Tim Wilding, with the 2009 Singlespeed National Champion's title among his palmarès, was very keen.

For various reasons, we didn't leave Wellington until after 11am, and so by the time we got suited up and were ready to roll, it was after midday. The last time Simon had done this trip, with David Drake about 12 years ago, they'd taken eight hours "riding at a fair clip". It was probably with this in mind that Simon led the charge up Akatarawa Rd "at a fair clip". Tim of course was completely comfortable, while I felt like I was in a race...

We knocked out the road climb in about half an hour. The weather conditions were perfect for climbing really, and while it had been stinking hot in Karori when I'd left home, here it was overcast, and rain seemed highly likely. At the Akatarawa Saddle we had a brief stop, and then headed north up a rather gnarly looking 4WD track. The first 20m were rough as guts - a bog, followed by a very steep couple of steps in worn clay - a condition which had always seemed at odds with the sign posted reading "no 2WD access". I was pleasantly surprised when the track improved dramatically, and we were treated to a very nice climb to just over 800m. There were some very dramatic views down into valleys, and a very enjoyable piece of riding.

The climb was broken up by some fast descents, and for the meantime I was insisting on carrying my bike through bogs. I hate chain suck with a passion, and didn't want to risk clogging up the drivetrain with dirty water at this early stage. We stopped breifly at an intersection, with tracks to Kapakapanui in the north and Renata Hut in the east. The climb since Akatarawa saddle had taken just over an hour, but didn't feel like it! It seems long rides have made me fairly immune to the passing of time...

After a wee bite to eat, we were then treated to the descent down into the Waiotauru. Simon and Tim lead the charge, while I blundered about behind. There were a couple of stream crossings to negotiate, and a very cool culvert passing under the road with a hole in it which gave sight of the water rushing through. There were no incidents, and after quickly checking out Waiotauru Hut...

... we were off down the river. The track had been in great condition to this point, though it was unclear what this section would be like. We had a few kilometres to travel down to the swingbridge, and the last time Simon had done this it was incredibly overgrown and slow-going. We were lucky, and aside from a washout which forced us down into the river bed for a few hundred metres, the going was good.

We had a brief stop for some food before the steep single-track descent to the bridge. I smacked my head very hard on a low branch - while I'd avoided a tree overhanging the track, my focus was on the off camber roots my front wheel was on and didn't see the limb lurking behind. The sound of my neck compressing was a little sickening, but it was immediately apparent that all was well, and within a few seconds I was on the move again.

Crossing a swing bridge is a tricky business at the best of times. With a bike it is even harder...

... and I managed to catch Tim as he fought to maintain his balance.

The next few kilometres downstream of the bridge were barely ridable. In fact, I estimate that the longest section I spent on my bike was about 150m, and many of the shorter sections Tim or Simon rode, I chose to walk. There are some benefits to being tail end charlie - you get more information about what's ahead than the front runners...

Nearing Otaki Forks there were a couple of tricky bits, where the track negotiated its way around slips or other obstacles. We stopped for a few minutes where the track clearly split, and Tim disappeared for a bit of alone time. I'd seen photos of the old machinery at "Otaki Forks", so when we broke out of the bush to see them, I mentally said goodbye to the hike-a-bike section.

After hamming it up with a bit of rodeo riding, we were back on the bikes. About an hour later we were at Otaki Forks proper. We'd gone straight back into the bush, and after a few minutes come across a huge slip. Tim and I scrambled down it to the river bed, while Simon back-tracked and followed the temporary path someone had cut. At the far end of the slip it was clear that the only options were to somehow cross the slip higher up, swim with the bikes, or cross the river and recross it downstream. Tim explored the first option, and eventually I passed his bike up to him. Simon was concerned about the amount of rubble Tim had dislodged, and the risk of plummeting to his death, so chose to cross the river. My preference was to climb, but factoring the bike in, I decided to cross with Simon. Eventually, we were back on the track with Tim, and while I hadn't kept my "plums" dry as Simon had, I'd managed to keep my shirt and bike out of the river.

It was a pleasure to get onto the 4WD track eading away from Otaki Forks. Despite the headwind, I cranked it up for a bit with the boys tucked in behind. Eventually I had to yield and we took turns for a while. We took a couple of left corners before heading back in towards the hills. Some glorious riding later, we were back on the road, with only a few kilometers to go. There was no chance we'd be caught in the dark by this stage, and even when Tim called out that he had a puncture, there was no need to fuss. After repairing what was the only mechanical problem of the ride, we knocked out the last couple of k's and arrived at the car at the end of a nice wee descent.

The entire loop had taken us just over 7 hours, with probably close to 80-90 minutes of stops, and about the same of walking. Nonetheless, we'd had some great riding through some stunning native bush. As always, it was good to get out!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ross's Rouleurs Roll Round Taupo

Back in early September, I posted my training plan through to the Kiwi Brevet (Feb 5+, 2010). This had been devised mainly by my training partner, mentor, coach and friend, Simon Kennett, with various goals in mind. Fitness and all the associated goodies should be well looked after, but the list also accommodated a whole bunch of exciting rides and races which would promise to keep us well entertained.

My last update on vorb took us through to the end of October, culminating in me knocking off a long-term goal - circumnavigating the Tararua Ranges in 1 day.

12/9 MTBO (check, disastrous!))
19/9 120km (check)
26/9 150km (check)
3/10 (WVCC Featherston ride, riding over on Friday evening, riding somewhere nice on Saturday, 80km funride on Sunday, then back over the hill and train from Upper Hutt - check).
10/10 (B grade race Eastbourne - Wainui? - hailed out)
17/10 80km (midnight century earlier in the week, probably Tuesday night after work, 160km finishing around 12) (replaced by Mt Climie ride, no midnight century)
24/10 350km ('s International Day of Action - check!!!!)

Since then, here's what's happened:

31/10 0km (still sleeping - not even ow! Cruisy ride in the Hutt Valley)
7/11 rest
14/11 200km+ (New Plymouth to Ohakune via the Forgotten Highway. Friday evening to Stratford, Saturday as far as we can cope with before calling the Waaambulance... Check!)
21/11 Speedwork? (not quite - 8 ascents of Mt Vic...)
28/11 200km (Taupo with the family. 40km from house at Motuoapa to Taupo, first leg at race pace, 120km with Dad, Sis and Bro back to Taupo). check!
5/12 Makara Peak Rally - check!
12/12 MTBO - check!

Which brings us to the future:

19/12 Mangaone Walkway?
26/12 ?
2/1 ?
9/1 ?
16/1 WVCC 2 Day Tour?
23/1 ?
30/1 Akatarawa Attack (8 hour MTBO)
6/2 Kiwi Brevet

Incredibly, things have gone very much to plan, despite both Simon and I having reasonably hectic and unpredictable lives. We've supplemented the weekend activities with a hill-climb session, and the odd ride around the bays, as well as some secret training, possibly speed burger and ice-cream consumption...

Taupo was an interesting one, which came at me out of the blue this time last year. I'd recently participated for the first time and had had a real blast. I was chilling at my folks' place when Dad said "I think we should do that as a team next year". It wasn't absolutely clear to me what he meant - although I own enough bikes to bring the family's average to more than one per person, my brother Dave is the only one who I could confidently say had ridden a bike this decade. We'd done a fantastic cycle tour early in 2008 but apart from that, I was the only one who'd touched a bike since. It soon became clear that Dad had in mind a team consisting him, my (non-cycling) sister Millie, Dave, and myself. Months later, it was still on the cards, despite no one (except me) touching a bike, so I let my fingers do the walking, and pretty soon Ross's Rouleurs were entered in the relay. Kaitlyn would be there for support in the last 5km as a Heart Rider.

As the big date dawned nearer, Dad got stuck into indoor training - on his exercycle in front of the TV. He'd been building up to an hour's pedalling, at which point I asked him how far he was "travelling". My jaw dropped when he said only 10km, and I made it a priority to get over there to observe. Needless to say, it was lucky he didn't fire his kneecaps across the room. I wound the resistance back to 2 (from about 7 or 8 out of 10) and told him to leave it there!

Various bike-related dramas were overcome in November, and I even got out for a ride or two with Millie. Dave was mostly too busy, but borrowed my bike the week before, and did some sprint training on top of his January 2008 volume base. I failed miserably on the costume front - originally Dad had suggested the team be riding in Roadworks colours, but creative differences put it all in the too hard basket (sitting inside the very expensive basket) and I procrastinated until a solution was no longer possible. Nonetheless, two of us waved the flag...

We made our way up to Taupo in two cars. Mum, Dad, Kaitlyn and I were accompanied by Simon, who'd be captaining the Kennett Brothers' triple tandem. With 5 bikes on the back, and 5 bods in the car, a rather long shuttle trip for a bike ride was at least enjoyed by many! We drove through to Taupo, registered, said goodbye to Simon, and bought provisions for dinner and the morning's breakfast, then headed back South to our accommodation in Motuoapa - at the leg 4 relay transition.

The logistics had been a bit of a challenge - with so many bikes, riders, and hangers-on, I'd almost boiled dry trying to work it all out. In the end it looked something like this:

  • John: ride to Taupo, do first leg for Ross's Rouleurs, continue around back to Taupo in support of others
  • Ross: drive (early) to Taupo, catch bus to leg 2 transition, ride leg 2, catch bus back to Taupo
  • Dave: drive (early) to Taupo, catch bus to leg 3 transition, ride leg 3, and either bus back to Taupo, or ride
  • Millie: sleep in, wake up, cross road, ride leg 4 to Taupo
  • Kaitlyn: drive (later) to Taupo, ride 5km
  • Carly: (as per Millie)
  • Suze: driver (later)
  • Brigette: soigneur (later)
Dad and Dave's bikes had been left at Taupo the night before. Carly had entered for the Solo, so as to legitimately take part, but was keen just to do the last leg. Unfortunately, this landed Dad and Dave with a bit of waiting around, but apart from that it didn't rely too heavily on event transport or Mum hurtling around ferrying people.

I woke sometime before 6, ate, kitted up, and headed off towards Taupo. I hadn't had a long sleep, but did sleep well, after spending much of the evening prepping various bikes, helmets and jerseys for the event, and making sure people would have clothes waiting for them when they finished, and that my food would be replenished with each new rider. I cruised along enjoying the early morning fresh air. Around Hatepe Hill I caught up with a few Enduro riders. But for Dad's suggestion, there was no doubt in my mind I would have been competing with them, against the lake and the clock. I took advantage of the portaloos at the top of the hill, confusing Dad and Dave who'd passed me in the car, and doubled back to see if I wanted a ride. Far from vanishing into thin air, when I emerged from the loo, they looked fairly relieved (to go with my literal relief).

When I arrived in Taupo, the Solo riders were setting off. I bumped into at least one vorber (shmoodiver), and Richard Arnold, a colleague from work. I decided to dump my knee warmers, and popped these into my drop bag before getting into the fastest relay start group, and getting ready to race.

I made sure I wasn't too far back in the start wave, and within 100m or so, was chasing the leaders pretty hard. I spent the next while hammering along in the middle of the road, passing an incredible number of solo riders with my dozen or so "mates". I'd told a few confidants that I wanted to send Dad off at the front of the field, and was keen to work hard to see that happen. Consequently, I worked hard with the small bunch, and pushed the pace on the hills. Eventually, we came to the end of leg one, and I positioned myself to turn off into the paddock to meet Dad. All the others were doing 80km, and I saw one in Taupo, who seemed a little annoyed at me for working them so hard! He got no apology...

I was incredibly proud of Dad. We started too fast, and had to slow down a bit so he could catch his breath. The hills came time and time and time again, and he kept his short little legs ticking over. When his seat clamp loosened, I cursed my lack of preparedness, but managed to borrow an allen key to sort it out, while he kept his short little legs ticking over until I was ready. I'd been taking off my jacket on a climb (was it raining, or not, or was it?) when I spotted an official photographer up the road. I had to sprint after Dad, but it was worth it!

After a couple of hours grovelling, during which we spotted Oli blasting past on the outside, we made it to the transition. Dave was there to meet us, and after a bit of faffing around, we had Dad wrapped up, eating, and safe and sound, and we were set to get out there. After pulling out the great Stickmen quote - "we're not here to fuck spiders", I did Dave's bidding, put my head down, and rode, like the good domestique that I am.

We passed this hot chick on a hot Eddy Merckx on Kuratau Hill, and after asking after her health, we continued our work. Sporadically, I'd look back to see how Dave was getting on. Invariably, he'd be red in the face, hunched over the handlebars with sweat dripping off his chin, and invariably he'd motion me to get back to what I was doing.

I estimate we passed over 500 riders as we blasted along, and it was a pleasure to be out there! I inadvertently dropped him a couple of times on the flat around Turangi, but most of my time he was stuck to my rear wheel like the proverbial to fur (and a couple of others to his rear wheel)!

When we arrived at Motuoapa, it crossed my mind that Millie and Carly were still in bed. They weren't but nor had they received the heads-up phone call from Dad that had been pre-arranged. No matter... Dave and I rode through the transition, and met them on the highway across from the house. They set off towards Taupo, while I scooted back around the block to leave their drop-bag which had been left out of the second car, but would get to Taupo via the organisers.

This leg was a long one - about an hour longer than when I'd done it alone in the morning, but it was great to see Millie out on a bike, pushing herself in a way which she'd probably never imagined! Carly was ticking along nicely, and benefitting from a much more structured build up, and a bit of cycling in her past. By the time we got to the top of Hatepe, my legs were starting to feel pretty shot, particularly as I'd tried to ride alongside Millie up the hill, and give her a helping nudge, To do so had required incredibly low cadence, and after 180km, my knees weren't so keen.

I raced Dave down the hill, and sadly missed the sights and sounds of Millie and Carly hooning and hooting! Near the airport rise, I was over it, and when Dave challenged me to another race, I decided I'd show him who's boss! After cresting the hill, I realised I was moving about as fast as the line of cars, and rode the next few kilometres to where Kaitlyn was waiting in their draft.

Dave, Millie and Carly arrived eventually, and no sooner had we thought departure was imminent then Millie jabbed on the front brake, and was down on the ground. First aid was administered, and Kaitlyn finally got the ride that she'd been waiting for. I was incredibly proud of her, and it was lovely to see her all red in the cheeks after a hard effort. Millie was overcome with energy and soloed away to the finish...

... while the rest of us stayed in a bunch and all recorded the same time!

We'd done it, and everyone had every right to be proud of their achievement. Kaitlyn ended up 6th fastest girl out of about 76 starters, and the rest of us had had a good honest ride. Dave's got an incredible amount of raw power, and as I think I said back in January 08, I'd hate to think what he'd be capable of trained. Carly had an awesome ride, and absolutely nailed the Hatepe climb and descent, despite being very anxious about them. Millie did too, and probably challenged her limits more than any of us. And as for Dad, he was a machine on the hardest leg of all! I had every confidence in him, and he came up trumps. I don't know what on earth put the idea in his mind, but it was inspired.

And, if he ever comes up with such a crazy idea again, he'll be in bloody trouble...

Turning over a new leaf

For a few years now, I've been writing about riding on VORB, a popular New Zealand-based forum for cyclists of all flavours. It's had its ups and downs, as have I, and I'm now ready for a change of scenery... The original thread is at, and while I'll aim to publish all new stuff here, I'll probably cross-post over there too, at least in the meantime. As well, I'm going to try to drag over some of my highlights here, perhaps after some editing. In any case, I'm hoping the might of google will help me put "virtual pen to electronic paper"* more often, and provide friends, family, and unwitting interlopers with relative shelter from the inanity of vorb!

*Blatantly stolen from

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Plymouth to National Park (from the vorb files)

When Kaitlyn was young, there were many times when I was driving through Stratford in deepest darkest Taranaki that I would look at the "Forgotten Highway" sign and feel a flicker of desire in my legs... Fast forward five years or so, through in a cycling conference in New Plymouth, at which Simon would be a speaker, and the Kiwi Brevet in February, for which some miles are required, and I finally had my opportunity. A flight to New Plymouth and a day's annual leave were duly booked for the Friday of the conference, and a seat on the Overlander from National Park back to Wellington and we were locked and loaded.

As the Firday drew near, other preparations made evenings a bit more interesting. I fired some Maxxis Locust knobblies on my Giant CRX commuter bike, and dug out my old Blackburn rear carrier which hasn't seen a bike for about 10 years! On Wednesday night I practiced loading up a GPS course onto my Garmin Edge and on Thursday I perfected my packing, Simon had given me a 5L drybag for my birthday. Into it went Icebreaker long johns and long sleeved top, a Ground Effect Baked Alaska, some Ground Effect 3/4 overtrou, and a fresh pair of socks. I put my muesli bar bag on the bike, and two bottles, and into the pockets of my riding jersey I had my cell phone, wallet, some photocopied pages from Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides (3rd edition for the Forgotten Highway, and 7th for Fishers Track), my Ground Effect Flash Gordon to keep me dry, and toothbrush and toothpaste (which never ended up in the drybag), and my sunnies case with hayfever pills, suncream and yellow lenses inside. In a saddle bag I had a spare tube, tyre lever and puncture repair kit, and a Lezyne multi tool. Not a huge amount of gear, but an interesting experiment... For the first day, I also had a couple of huge pieces of lasagne which I'd frozen overnight on Thursday, and would thaw out nicely on the ride around Mt Taranaki.

My plane left Wellington just after 11. I left my car in town with my bro, and rode out to the airport, stopping briefly at Burkes to frot my new Giant XTC Advanced SL frame, and at Rongotai College to say gidday to Mum and Dad. At the airport there was no drama getting the pedals off and the back end of the bike bagged up. I took the lasagne off in case the baggage handlers felt peckish.

I stepped off the plane to a windier day than I'd left, and there was a bit of a chill in the air too. I cruised into town and met Simon during the lunch break of the conference. We conferred about the best way of getting the lasagne to Stratford, and since he had no access to a fridge, we decided I should haul it. I grabbed a sub-of-the-day from Subway, nipped into a supermarket for a nasty green but cheap and relatively palatable (watered down to half strength) Mizone, and a 3 pack of my favourite Apricot and Chocolate Bumper Bars, and I was set to go...

With the route all set up in the GPS unit, all I had to do was follow the pink line, and soon enough I was climbing Carrington Road (or is the Street? One on the map, the other on the ground...). The bike was a little heavier than usual, and I was in no rush, so didn't push it too hard. In all, the 400m climb was spread over about 20km and an hour later it flattened off in amongst some native bush. I looked back a few times, and never really got a stunning veiw of New Plymouth, but it's down there somewhere!

I stopped in at Pukeiti Rhododendron Gardens and had a coffee, before setting off again.


Soon after there were some very funky road cuttings, and shortly after taking the next photo, it started raining, and the sleeves went on.


 During the long descent which followed I lost about half my elevation, and sensation from various bits and pieces on my body. I stopped to say gidday to an incredibly heavily laden cycle tourist who, judging by the amount of gear he had in his four panniers, was doing the entire country by bike. He was pleased to hear the coffee shop wasn't far away, and even more thrilled that he didn't have much climbing left to do...

The course I'd laid out on got its knickers in a twist at some point and had me cross a ford on a gravel road, and then the "road" disappeared entirely. So, I winged it for a we while, before the "peep" from my handlebars indicated "Course Found..." and I could relax again, knowing I'd find my bed...

The rest of the route looks fairly flat on the elevation plot looks pretty flat, but the variations in speed highlight the constant rollers in there. I worked pretty hard with what was almost a tail wind, and before long was making my way into Stratford. A quick photo of the clock tower to prove I'd been there...


 ... and then it was off to my digs for a hot shower and a lie down. Simon arrived soon after I started to get bored, and about 30 seconds after it had started to piss down. After he'd settled in, we nuked up the lasagne, and went for a walk into town. I bought a double chocolate muffin for dessert, and was astounded to read on the packaging that it consisted of 29% of my recommended daily calorie intake. On the walk back we passed a chinese takeaways, and although I had my heart set on a deep-fried mars bar, I made do with a sugar-donut...

We then walked home, alongside a mouse running along the gutter for a short time, before hitting the sack.

We were in no real rush in the morning, and woke to a beautiful day, looking west at least.


After packing up, which doesn't take long with the amount of gear we had, we shot into town for some pancakes, and then hit the road...  With full bellies, we started our 150km journey from Stratford to Taumarunui along SH43. This was my first time ever, and Simon's first time in a looong time.


 Surprisingly, Stratford sits at a higher elevation that Taumarunui does, and most of that difference was burnt off in the first stretch. Going west to east we were typically travelling up valley, before climbing over a saddle to drop into the next valley. Over the course of the day, we'd have over half a dozen such climbs, but all within a 200m range. The Mt Vic sessions no doubt were going to help a lot.

About 60km or so from Stratford, we arrived in Whangamomona, where we stopped for lunch in the old hotel. To the right is the road which leads to the Bridge to Somewhere ride, which I'd heard about from my friend Mike Lowrie  

and which was one of the reasons I'd always been interested in coming through here...


 After a very nice sandwich for lunch, we set off again, leaving a dude on horseback, and an assortment of motorcyclists and tourists to their business. I bought a frozen muffin for afternoon tea, which I stashed on my bike. Shortly after Whangamomona, and at the top of a climb, we ducked into a gully and were confronted by a very cool old tunnel, with trusses in the top, and which has been lowered from its original level over the years. The walls were all bare rock, and it was well worth the photo stop(s)...


At the bottom of the descent, we had a 12km section of gravel road, but the surface was dry, and there wasn't much loose gravel to slow us down much (I think I can spot a decrease in speed around the 80km mark on the Garmin graphs...). Another climb, another valley, another climb, and slowly but surely the day ticked on and we got closer and closer to dinner. We shared the muffin, and various other snacks for afternoon tea before knocking off the second to last major hill and dropping into a nasty little valley at around the 106km mark. There were three short but nastly little ascents followed by a 180-odd-m climb which almost had me walking! I'd faltered a little on the second hill in this valley, and felt great on the third, which was a little less steep. This longer one kicked up towards the top, and it got to the point that I could barely muster the strength to push the 36x25 gear. Simon all but vanished up the road, while I grovelled, spending a few minutes at 7km/h!

Things came back together a bit after that, and any climbs weren't as steep, and afternoon tea had kicked in! We made it to Taumarunui after about 8 hours riding, and pulled into the service station for a bloody good feed. Lollies, bars, cinnamon buns, croissants, coffee, powerade, bananas - you name it, down the hatch it went... We must have spent almost an hour there before tottering across the road to the Hilton (Motel), where we checked in, and cleaned ourselves up.

The evening's a bit of a blur, but I do remember that by the time we headed out for dinner, the supermarket had closed, as had most everything else - probably everyone had gone home to watch the footy. We dared not walk past a kebab joint in case it too shut up, so we ordered kebabs, and headed back to our room. I made the mistake of choosing "Extra hot" from the chilli options: Mild, Medium, or Extra Hot. I'm usually a hot guy, when confronted with a choice of Mild or Hot. I suspect Wellington's Hot is Taumarunui's Medium, and within a couple of bites, my innards were spasming, and Simon had to put up with all sorts of weird sound effects as I fought back hiccoughs and giggles... Eventually I finished my kebab, and washed it down with a nice hot cup of tea. I have a vague recollection of watching some TV - perhaps a movie - but no details come to mind...

We'd covered a fair distance (across and up!) that day, and the rest was well deserved.

I woke at 6:30am to find Simon stretching his legs. Figuring I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep, I suggested I join him on his intended walk, and we did the length of the main drag. On the return journey, we decided not to wait for cereal from the supermarket, but to grab some breakfast from the bakery instead. Assorted goodies slipped down very nicely, and before long we were on the bikes again.

At the far end of town the highway rose to a bridge over the rail line, and in a fit of intimidation, I put us down a deadend along which I'd hoped to avoid the measly 10m climb. Instead, GPS unit on my bike, I had the embarrassment of conceding we'd gone the wrong way, and had to do the climb anyway. We stopped a few times in the first few kilometres to adjust clothing - always difficult to get it right early in the morning. We also passed the spot where at one stage the 350km ride was going to start from.

We went off course at some point during the next hour, and instead of following a back route to the outskirts of Owhango, we continued along SH4. We declined to take the first rpad down into the valley, thereby avoiding some climbing, and a whole lot of descent on wet gravel road - by this stage it was drizzling on and off. Instead we took Oio Road which is sealed all the way down into Kaitieke. We had a short climb to get out of the valley Owhango's in, where we stopped by a funky road cutting to admire the view.



The next descent was cold, long, and wet as we burnt off about 300m. We were a little nervous as to what state we'd find Fisher's Track in, and we thought about climbing the sealed road up to Raurimu. In the end we decided we'd rather walk significant chunks of Fishers than grovel back up to the highway, with another shitty climb from Raurimu to National Park still to do, so we pressed on down valley along Upper Retaruke Road. This promptly turned into gravel, which our machines were well set up to deal with, and we made good progress.


 After about 10km of gravel, the road turned off and started to climb, and before long we reached the start of Fisher's Track, beside a flash lodge at the bottom of a cloud-filled valley.

The climb was quite remarkable, and we both had little trouble maintaining traction. We didn't move particularly quickly, but we both really enjoyed the climb. The ride had been written up by the Kennett Bros as a descent which is dodgy when wet, but it is absolutely mint as a climb. I carried my bike over a few bogs and things, but Simon rode just about all of it.



Time flew by fairly quickly, but our deadline never really threatened, and we enjoyed the ride up through patchy native bush. We chatted about MTBing, MTB parks, and what makes a Classic NZ Mountain Bike Ride. This one for me was exactly that, and I recommend doing it if you're ever in National Park. I reckon rocking down the highway to check out the Raurimu Spiral before dropping into the valley and climbing back up Fisher's Track would make an awesome loop ride - probably good for half a day if done at a sensible pace with plenty of photo and picnic stops.

We made it to the railway station about 40 minutes before the train was due to depart. There was hardly anyone around, and since we were sodden, we started to get changed in an open wood shed adjacent to the platform. No sooner had we committed to this than the train arrived, and dozens of people piled off. So, not only did we no longer have any "privacy" but we were also at the very end of the queue for lunch... Waaaaa....

I couldn't stand the thought of staying in my wet pants, and after checking out the train's toilets, bared my butt to anyone that cared to look my way. It was well worth it though to get my dry long johns on. We hosed the bikes down before loading them onto the train, and then had a few minutes to organise some lunch. Hot soup was off the menu on account of the competition, but there was plenty of yummy, although pricey, counter food. It all disappeared pretty smartly, followed by a couple of wraps from the train's pantry, and coffee or two...

Simon jumped off at Taihape to meet his wife and daughter, and I enjoyed the rest of the trip home on the train.

What a great way to spend a weekend! Super company, super countryside, and great training for the Kiwi Brevet. All I covered just over 300km, with over 3500m of climbing. Conversation was excellent throughout, and the gear I packed was pretty much spot on. A pair of jandals would've been nice, but at least I didn't have to haul them around!\

Originally published on vorb

Thursday, October 29, 2009 International Day of Action

As you'll see if you look in vorb's "Simon and sifter ride around the block" thread, riding from Upper Hutt around the Tararuas had been on my mind for a while. What I hadn't anticipated, was that the post disappearance debarcle of 2008 rendered the outcome uncertain - Klarkash-ton told me on Saturday that he figured we'd done it.

We hadn't - my knee injury prevented it in the summer of 07/08, and bad weather and various other commitments ruled it out in 08/09. Simon and I had put together a "training" schedule targeted towards the Kiwi Brevet in February 2010, and we'd pencilled the Tararuas ride in for the longest Saturday of the year - 19 December.

It got brought forward though, when publicity about the International Day of Action reached us - how cool would it be to ride 350km on this day. Initially, we didn't put the two together, and instead we calculated we could ride 350km from Taumaranui to Wellington. In the end, the expense of catching the train up, and the prospect of spending hours on SH1, got us thinking about putting the two rides together, and the seed was sown.

Simon came round home a few weeks ago, and we had a play with, and google maps to scope out a route. The shortest loop from Upper Hutt and around is under 300km, so some lengthening was in order. I really enjoyed the Martinborough-Masterton Road when I stayed over there a month or so ago, and that added a few km. A return trip from Upper Hutt to Wellington added another few, and a little diversion just north of Otaki, using the Centre Champs course I got shelled on, added a few more, and the 350km was locked in.

The Day of Action started just after midnight on the 24th of October, and so would we! We planned to catch the 11pm train out to Upper Hutt, which would have us there in time.

Weather and busy lives meant the training plan was a little disrupted. In particular, the last few weeks were pretty much a write-off as far as long rides went. Things completely went to custard on the Monday prior when Simon answered the phone with an obvious sore throat, and the next morning, things were worse on that front, not better. It was clear, he was not up for the ride.

By that stage, I felt committed, though I was gutted to be going ahead without Simon. Nonetheless, he made it clear that I should go ahead, and so I went on with my preparations.

I collected my Specialized Roubaix from Oli Brooke-White at Roadworks complete with its new cassette and chain, positively gleaming without its usual coating of road crud and old oil. It also had new tyres and a second roll of bar tape on... Oli also gave me a larger saddle bag to use, and I picked up a Topeak Top Tube Tribag for munchies. A couple of stickers - one for the front of the bike, and one for the back of my jersey and I was sorted.

I drove the bike down to Glenmore St, not being overly confident of wanting to ride back to Karori, and not wanting to be stung with the Saturday morning parking limits. I was wearing my Roadworks kit (shorts, jersey, plus arm warmers), knee warmers and booties. I had a Ground Effect ristretto merino vest under my jersey, and the vest (but not sleeves) of a Ground Effect Flash Gordon. Roadie cotton cap on the head, Icebreaker beanie in the pocket, and some winter LG gloves rounded the costume off nicely.

In terms of food, I had two bottles of replace on the bike, and six (!!!!) Cookie Time apricot and chocolate Bumper Bars (nom nom nom) on board.

I also had my Tojjarific light (helmet mounted with 8xAA cells in back pocket) a couple of spare tubes, repair kit and pump, and multitool, as well as a tube of suncream, sunnies (yellow lenses in, other lenses in the saddle bag) my cell phone and the bare necessities from my wallet.

The train ride to Upper Hutt was fascinating. I got to the train in good time, a little anxious about the "only 2 bikes per train" rule - I needn't have been. I sat in a carriage with a non-representative sample of society. The worst was represented by a 15 year old boy who reeked of vomit. I rudely eavesdropped on his conversation with a couple of bogan chicks who got on at Petone - he'd spent 2 hours at the station spewing, and had no idea where his skateboard was. His Dad was picking him up at the station as was going to be "fucking pissed". I sincerely wished that he would stop burping, and that he didn't smell so bad.

Further up the carriage were four more kids. These were sober, though possibly intoxicated by the lord. Initially a girl was playing a guitar and singing. Later, she handed the guitar off to a young guy who was a beautiful player. He and she then sung, and it was quite something. A pissed mid-30s dude joined them but didn't seem too keen to sing. A goofy looking guy with half his dinner on his chin also sat with them. It was nice that they didn't object.

When the train pulled into the station, Monolith, ThingOne and Klarkash-ton were waiting for me. Mono and Clive had ridden out from Karori - in fact, I passed them in the car, and K-ton had driven over from Waikanae. It was too cold to wait for the International Day of Action to begin, so we set off.

The ride to the summit of the Rimutakas was sweet. I rode alongside K-ton and we chatted, while Clive and Mono rode together. At some point Mono received delivery of a shell jacket, which he'd deemed unnecessary in the comfort of a relatively balmy Karori. I took point on the descent, and we all got down the hill without incident. I really enjoyed the road - it wouldn't be a bad one to know off by heart...

We topped up our bottles at Featherston, and Clive tightened a loose brake pad before we set off towards Martinborough. Soon after the pace got incredibly hot, and I let myself drift off the back. My survival instinct is good, and I knew it would be better to ride 300km on my own, than blow my legs in the first 100km, and have to wait for a train. Soon, K-ton headed back to me as well, and by the time we regrouped we were in Martinborough.

Getting onto the Masterton road is a little awkward, but I'd had the benefit of scoping it out. The only car I remember from the first four hours of riding came towards us heading to Martinborough just before the Hinakura Road - it was quite a treat having the place to ourselves.

Time ticked by nicely, and around 4am we pulled into Masterton. A couple of jinks and jives, and soon we turned left onto SH2. We rode past the Shell station, closed yet open, and pulled up at Maccas where I treated myself to a hot chocolate. I had no idea why none of the others partook, but I was pleased for the warmth and the sugar hit. I also swapped my cap for the beanie - things were cooling down... The carpark had some bogans sifting in it, and they pulled out just as we were leaving. No doubt they thought we were mad to be out riding at that time of night.

North of Masterton, I was really pleased to have an altimeter on board to confirm that it wasn't my legs crapping out, but rather a steady climb in progress. We were getting a car or logging truck every 10 minutes or so, which made a change from the first four hours. The summit of Mt Bruce surprised me a little; I wasn't expecting it until after Eketahuna. Despite my altimeter sometimes telling me porkies (e.g. -50m along Oriental Bay) at the summit its reading was only 1m different from the sign's. My brain was not capable at that time of "day" of computing whether I was up (consistent perhaps with the bike's height above the road) or down (consistent with an error).

The descent off Mt Bruce was excruciating... We had a brief stop in Eketahuna, but apart from that endured over an hour of freezing cold temperatures, literally. At Eketahuna, some way through the descent, I put my cap back on over my beanie, desperate to try to keep a little more of the chill off. Mono was riding with both hands behind his back, and I was too scared to mention to K-ton that he must be freezing with short fingered gloves on. My fingers were all numb, and only small patches of my feet had sensation; at one point I became convinced that I had a stone in my shoe only to realise it was simply a patch of un-numb foot...

The sun was starting to rise, but while there was some light, there was definitely no heat. The grass alongside the road was frosty, and we all rode along, mostly in silence, kilometre by kilometre getting closer to the point at which we would begin to warm up again.

We reached Pahiatua sometime before 7, and before the sun had lifted above the hills. Immediately we pulled into a servo, and got inside ASAP. It was probably a cold room, but to us it felt positively tropical. We all drifted towards the pie warmer, and took turns putting our hands on the glass front. We may have removed pies from the oven, and studied their ingredient lists intently, first in the left hand, then the right. Most were replaced without purchase. I microwaved a Cookie Time cookie, and chased that down with a latte. Mono's body shivered just as he was about to take his first sip of hot chocolate, and I LOLed when I noticed Clive's gloves in the pie warmer. The story gets no better than that folks, and if I forget every detail of this ride but one, that's the keeper right there... A short trip to the loo, which seemed to be even warmer than the shop, and it was time to set off again. A quick stop at a water tap, and we were rolling.

We took the first left to Palmerston and finally we had the sun on our backs. K-ton dropped a chain and I stopped for him, while Clive and Mono cruised along ahead. We started the climb up the Pahiatua Track just behind a father-and-son duo out for their Saturday morning regular. We nattered to them a bit, told them what we were up to, and marvelled at their attacks up the hill. [embellishment] Determined not to let the breakaway go, the four of us immediately got into a pace line, and before long we not only had regathered the pair, but smashed past them in a daring passing manouver on a treacherously windy (as in bendy) descent.[/embellishment] We'd obviously got their goat up, because they put in a second attack which we simply could not be bothered with respond to...

Before we knew it, we were on the outskirts of Palmie, and turning south towards home. Frankly, the road to Shannon sucked balls. The undulations in the road were unpleasant in themselves, but worse was the lack of shoulder coupled with a lot of traffic, and the fact that we'd had eight hours of riding by this stage on virtually empty roads. It was a relief to arrive in Shannon, where we were greeted by Mono's wife, who was heading to Palmie for the day.

I grabbed a bit of apple slice, a powerade and a couple of bananas from the 4-square, and a coffee from down the road, and we sat in the sun for a bit, and had a well-deserved rest. We were there for about 45 minutes in the end, and when we set off, we were sans lights and the others a few items of clothing. Surprisingly the long break hadn't seemed to have done any of us any harm, and before long the pace was back up to where we'd been before.

We hit SH1 just south of Levin, at which point the traffic picked up a lot. There were a couple of shitty bridges over the rail line which we managed to get across without any scares, and on this stretch I witnessed the closest any of us came to an altercation with a car. I didn't ask him about it, but K-ton was up ahead riding along a straight with a passing lane on it. From what I could tell a car had been about to pull out into the passing lane, and had realised that someone was about to pass them. Their over-emphatic correction had led to them swerving way out onto the shoulder, so that all I could see was K-ton silhouetted by this veering car... If the whole thing had happened half a second sooner, I think he'd have been toast...

We turned off SH1 just north of Otaki onto South Manukau Rd. This gave us some respite from the traffic, though added a few little hills. We rejoined SH1 at the start of Otaki's 50km/h zone, and cruised up the inside of a short queue. Our only major mechanical came about 3/4 of the way to Waikanae - K-ton punctured, ironically only a kilometre or so from his home. Clive and Mono grabbed a sit down up the road while I hung around ready to offer assistance during what would prove to be the slowest tube change EVAR!!!! Eventually, we got going again [embellishment] woke Clive and Mono up from their deep slumber [/embellishment] and continued South.

Simon was waiting for us in Waikanae, and so our 4 became 5 for the trip over the Akas. Simon and K-ton had gone to college together and while they nattered at the rear, Mono, Clive and I cruised up the hill. Eventually the inevitable occurred, and I laughed quietly to myself as Mono responded to Clive's attack within a couple of kilometres of the summit. I found them both a few minutes later, sitting in the sun. Simon and K-ton were another few minutes behind. After a couple of photos, we were off again.

We made it safely down the Hutt side of the Akas, despite a bit of traffic. Clive and Mono made repeated digs at each other, despite over 350km already in their legs. It was well past midday by now, and they'd been at it since about 10:30pm the previous day. We were all in good spirits though, and hadn't had to endure any drama! Simon and I said farewell to K-ton at the Upper Hutt turnoff - he returned to his car knowing full well that he'd cope with the Taupo Enduro, and a new member of the double century (200 mile) club.

Simon paced me up to Clive and Mono, and took up the lead position as he led us all the way back to Wellington. It was a generous gesture, and the three of us behind took it for what it was. I think we were probably all wondering whether we should help out, but each decided that we'd stay put. At Ngauranga, we rode side by side until the Tinakori Rd turnoff, where Mono and Clive headed home to Karori. It looked like each of them was going to have to do a few laps of Karori Park to clock up the 400km each was after. What an amazing effort! I was really impressed with the way they seemed to be able to knock the shit out of each other throughout the ride, but without doing themselves irreparable harm! I wasn't at all confident at my own ability to survive, so had kept well out of it.

Simon and I continued through to where the festival was in full swing. I warmed down by doing a lap of Waitangi Park, arriving back to Simon with 350.2km showing on the speedo, with an elapsed time of a few minutes under 15 hours. We'd estimated we'd spent about 2 of these hours resting, based on Monolith's riding time. The average speed including breaks was 23.4km/h and with breaks probably just under 27km/h, not bad for a ride of 350km, with 2700m of climbing (Rimutakas, Pahiatua Track and the Akatarawas being the only steep ones, and Mt Bruce a 30km long false flat).

I felt remarkably good at the end of the ride, and while my legs seized up a bit, I didn't feel too bad at all. I rode back to my car and drove home for dinner, a bath, and a good long sleep.

As they used to say on the tv when I was a kid, "I love it when a plan comes together."


In my haste to get that all down (in about 10% of the time it took to do the actual riding) I forgot a couple of things...

That was one of the coolest rides I've ever been on, and I'm thrilled with almost every aspect of it.

Monolith, ThingOne, and Klarkash-ton were fantastic companions. The vibe was very very cool, and never was there any stress, perhaps with the exception of the mutual hatred of the cold north of Eketahuna. But, even that was largely suffered in silence. Completely apart from being hard core enough to join in on such a wacky ride, these guys were brilliant to ride with, the entire time. Fucking unbelievable really, in a ride like that!

It was weird doing it without Simon. Though I'm used to him having adventures without me, it still weirds me out when it's the other way around. I couldn't have done it without him though. To all intents and purposes, he's my coach, as well as my training partner, and best friend, and he knew perfectly well how to set me up for this, both physically and mentally.

Thanks also to my generous and kind sponsor, Oli Brooke-White at Roadworks. Those of you who've paid even the smallest bit of attention will have noticed his logo in my avatar, the way I'm invariably dressed in riding photos, and the not-so-subtle links in my posts. You're also likely to have stumbled on the huge respect Oli has within the vorb community for his skill and knowledge. You'd be forgiven for thinking that our relationship is: he keeps my bike going well, and gives me sharp prices on parts and labour, and I pimp his business. Of course, his incredible skills as a mechanic are probably the least important contribution he makes to my riding. What I would hate to lose more than anything is his faith in me. Not only does he help me believe that I can succeed (which surely is the critical ingredient to completion of a 350km ride), but he also helps marginalise the fear of failure - I know that he would have backed me even if I'd caught the train home from Masterton in tears. Both of these factors are so important, and one without the other wouldn't be nearly as helpful, at least not for me. I count myself incredibly lucky to represent Oli, and Roadworks.

When I set out the other day, I had been inundated with well-wishes, and also a few words of advice. I was warned about the lows. Strangely, they never came. I think my post of a week or so ago might be in some way linked to this, as well as my quality companions, and supporters. It was fucking freezing (like seriously cold - I have never been colder in my life), I bumped my big toe a few times as my shoe loosened, I overtightened my shoe and crushed the side of my foot a bit, my butt started to hurt a little on the way back down the Hutt Road, but never did I have to dig into my handbag of courage (a shame really, as it is a charming place). It was an incredible experience, as I've mentioned, and throughout, I enjoyed being a calm place, enjoying one of the activities I enjoy more than anything else.

24 October was one of those great days to be alive!

Originally published on vorb

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Riding and Racing Weekend Away (from the vorb files)

I'd been getting increasingly excited about this weekend as it drew nearer - most unlike me...

The weather forecasts had been fairly changeable, and it was with apprehension that I monitored the big grey clouds over the Hutt Valley on Friday. Nonetheless, shortly after 3:30 I set off from my office near the Railway Station. I was riding my Specialized Roubaix, and had in my backpack a full change of clothes, bike lock, a novel, toothbrush, rain coat and spare riding shorts and jersey. As seems typical at the moment, I was wearing arm and knee warmers, and booties...

Despite the strong northerly, I made good time up the Valley. With the Round the Block ride coming up, and the Kiwi Brevet further ahead, I was concentrating on spinning, and I don't think I left the 36t chainring. The wind truly sucked after the River Rd bridge, but apart from that it had been almost a non-issue. About 1h10 after setting off, I was about to pass the Caltex at Upper Hutt, when I saw a familiar face waving at me from in front of a wee green subaru. A minute later, my bike was on the rack and I was tucked into the back seat surrounded by luggage, and Simon's family, feeling particularly fraudulent. My regrets eased somewhat as the drive progressed, and got wetter and wetter, and they virtually disappeared when a huge gust of wind on the Wairarapa side moved the car a good metre towards the armco barrier. At that point, I was very glad not to be on my bike.

I stayed in the car all the way to Martinborough, and we enjoyed pizza together at the cafe on the south side of the square. I then saddled up and rode for about 25 minutes out towards the wind farm, turning around at Ruakokoputunu Rd (?) - the turnoff for the Haurangi/Aorangi Crossing. I got to my digs a little later, pleased to have burnt off a little of the pizza.

I'd rented a cabin at the Martinborough camping ground. It was very nice, though barely large enough for the queen bed, and my bike and gear. Spot on though. I read for a bit after a shower, and then hit the sack.

On Saturday morning I walked into "town" and found a cafe for breakfast. After a coffee, some blueberry pancakes, and a session with the Dompost, I went in search for bananas (unsuccessfully) and some sports drink. Then, back to camp, and time to saddle up. The day was clear but cold, and so it was back into the Roadworks armwarmers again, and vest in the back pocket. I got myself onto the Martinborough-Masterton Road, which seemed to be pointing me in the wrong direction (?!) but was otherwise a glorious stretch of riding.

I ticked along again focussing on smooth efficient pedalling. Time ticked by nicely, and I started to recognise parts of the 2 Day Tour course of a couple of years ago, including the hill where I shocked a few folk, and then the rollers where I took myself out of contention for the second hill prime...

I turned off the Martinborough-Masterton Rd at Te Wharau, and enjoyed the steady climb to the high point. It was nice to be riding sufficiently gently to notice the slipways and associated hydro facility on both sides of the road. The descent down the other side was incredibly fast, but not too technical. At the bottom I turned north again, before making a poor choice - instead of following the main road towards the lime works, I went straight ahead hoping to connect up to the Castlepoint Road. Alas, after a few kilometres it turned into rather gnarly looking gravel, and I again decided discretion was the better part of valour and back-tracked (disturbing a local hawk feeding on some roadkill for a second time).

Soon after this, I began to regret not finding those bananas, and within a few milliseconds of that was buzzed by a magpie, and instantly after that reached a stretch where I'd have to grovel into a stiff headwind for what seemed like an eternity...

Finally, I was on the outskirts of Masterton, and ready for food. I made a quick stop at a dairy for a can of pepsi and a muesli bar, then cruised into the centre of "town" in seach of a proper feed. I was beginning to wonder if I'd find one, when a big sign advertising all sorts of prizes for baked goods caught my eye. Tada! Perfect! As I was pulling in, a local harpy hung her head out the window and shouted "nice arse" which cheered me up even more!

Lunch was good, and was just what I needed. It was about 2pm when I set off again, this time following SH2 through to Greytown (where I stopped for another coffee) and then the road between Greytown and Martinborough, which finally seemed to follow the wind. The evening was pretty hopeless really - I didn't enjoy my meal much, and was convinced that the "scotch fillet" was actually a piece of rump. I sat through too many boxing matches on the TV at a local pub before deciding to pull the pin shortly after 9. I slept well that night after about 5 hours of riding, and 130km or so. The bag was all packed, and clean gear laid out for the morning's race.

I'd arranged to meet Simon at the square at 8am, which would give us enough time to ride to Featherston to make the race start at 9am...

Sunday morning was pretty cold, but it was dry as we set off from the main square in Martinborough. I had all my gear on my back again, with a couple of full bottles on the bike, and dry pants, long sleeved top, and jacket on over my racing kit. The forecast said to expect the worst.

A few km out of town we passed a woman memorable for two things. Her bike was creaking and groaning as if it was about to fall apart, and she had a wacky party mask on the top of her helmet - kind of like a glossy John Key on cardboard, attached with some elastic. She said it kept the magpies away, though in hindsight, I reckon the noises emanating from her bike might just have done the trick unaided... Alas, shortly after passing her, Simon needed to tighten his seat, so after a brief pause, we had to repass her again.

It was lightly raining by the time we reached Featherston, but we were well warm. I had about 15 minutes to register, pop to the little boys room, and get to the starting line, all of which I managed with a minute or two to spare. We made our way off the start line through Featherston, before turning south and getting into our work. This leg was great, and I was feeling no ill effects from the day before. Since Taupo last year, I've really enjoyed riding in a big bunch, and despite the inclement weather this was no different. We had a lead car 100m or so up the road, and traffic was low anyway. The course circumnavigates Lake Wairarapa, with the south and north legs the longer ones. I would guess about 25-30km before the course turns left to cross below the lake. I was riding about 30 riders back from the start, and I'd thought there were another 100 or so right behind. We slowed for the 90 degree turn into a short climb, and as I accelerated out, I checked behind me to see empty road! At that point I realised I was in a bit of trouble, and as the climb leveled out, I got into the drops and started desperately chasing the bunch ahead, which had gapped me through the corner... I went at 100% for about a minute and had closed about 75% of the gap to the bunch. I had riders on my wheel, so signalled to them to come around. There were 2 guys and a young woman, the latter taking the first turn. As she started to tire, I was astounded to feel our speed dropping off, despite the fact that we were now almost back in the bunch. Having put so much effort in to help these guys (as well as myself), I felt I was reasonably justified in shouting "help her!" and within a short time, we were safely ensconced in the back of the bunch, the battle won, but certainly not the war.

I recovered reasonably from that effort, and enjoyed the next section. We were tooling along, nearing the turn to the north, when all of a sudden the pace cranked up. Someone at the front was using very fine tactics to reduce the bunch size. He'd gone about 500m from the left turn, making sure that everyone hit the corner with tiring legs. A second attack out of the corner and into some short sharp rollers did the inevitable damage to the weaker riders in the bunch, myself included. Well done to whoever was driving it, and well done to those who survived!

I ended up in a group of 5, and we worked together through to Martinborough, It wasn't the best functioning paceline I've ridden in, with at least one of the riders surging strongly to the front each time, really putting the acid on everyone else. I prefer a long steady pull, and after Martinborough, decided I'd be better on my own. I'd love to say I went of the front, but somehow it seemed more appropriate to drop off the back. I enjoyed the last 10km or so back to Featherston. The young woman who'd helped at the south end of the course was on my wheel for most of it. She made a couple of attempts to come round and do some work, but at about half my size, I indicated she should just enjoy the shelter behind, and we ticked along at a reasonable rate. We sat up 100m from the line, both politely easing to let the other in first. We almost lost 3 places as the leading riders from the second bunch were getting closer very fast. It was nice to have held them off.

I made my way back to the hall where my gear was, and managed to wangle a hot cup of tea, and a sandwich. That downed, I caught up quickly with Simon, grabbed my overnight gear and set off again. My hands were wet and cold, and I knew that if I waited around much longer, I'd be going nowhere...

A guy named Grant headed away from the hall at the same time as I did, and asked if I was going his way. I was, and so we left Featherston together. We didn't have much time to chat though, as about 2 or 3km out of town, Grant rode over a bit of glass which slashed his Conti tyre spectacularly (a cut of at least 3cm, right through the tyre). There was no hope of fixing that, so as he started making calls to borrow a rear wheel, I gave my commiserations and apologies and pressed on.

The very bottom of the hill had some difficult steep sections in it, and I was hard pressed to decide between standing in the pedals (with post-race legs, and a heavy bag onboard that was pretty unpleasant) and mashing while seated. Perseverance paid off though, and I slowly but surely cut through the 500-odd metre climb. The traffic was pretty courteous, and at one point I stopped in the gutter to let a large vehicle past, which the driver gratefully acknowledged. There was the odd toot from bike-laden vehicles, and I had a friendly "Hi John" and a wave from someone heading in the opposite direction.

At the summit, I popped my raincoat on over my racing gear and wind vest (I'd ridden up with waterproof overtrou) and I then carried on down to Upper Hutt. I was pretty wet, and happy to stop when I did finally arrive at the station. After checking the train timetable, I went to Maccas to get changed, then found a cafe for a quick bit of afternoon tea. As I settled into my seat on the train, it was incredibly satisfying the see the hail falling outside!

The stats for the weekend: just over 300km ridden, with about 11.5 hours on the bike.
1h15 to Upper Hutt, 34km @ 27.5 km/h
50 minutes after dinner, 20km @ 24km/h
3h20 before lunch on Saturday, 80km @ 24 km/h
1h40 after lunch on Saturday, 43km @ 26 km/h
4h40 on Sunday, 130km @ 28 km/h

Super.  One of the coolest wee bike trips I've had.

Originally published on vorb

Monday, August 31, 2009

Biking (from the vorb files)

Managed to get out on a few rides in the last few days. In fact, in the last four days I've ridden four different bikes. Friday was my bog-standard commute to and from the end of Lambton Quay, on my trusty commuter bike.

On Saturday, I popped my Raleigh 29er single speed on the back of my new bike carrying wagon, and drove out to Eastbourne with my girlfriend Carly. We had a decent northerly behind us and made quick work of the ride out to the lighthouse. Unfortunately Carly resisted all my taunts about racing etc, and so I had to be grown up for the large part. We sat for a bit at the lighthouse, and did a little bit of poking around, collecting a couple of neat pebbles - half greywacke, and half quartz (or something white and hard...). We then saddled up again, and rode a wee way towards Baring Head, before taking the first left hand 4WD road. After a couple of gates, we headed left again, then gradually climbed up a wee valley on to the ridge above the bottom lighthouse. Turning left, there are a few pinch climbs before you reach the second Pencarrow Lighthouse, and if you can stand up in the wind, some stunning views across the sounds, and of Wellington Harbour.


Instead of returning down the 4WD road, we took a funky little singletrack which ended up getting pretty steep and rocky. Carly was on foot, and coped with it admirably, while my big wheels lapped it up. We then popped down a steep bit of singletrack back to the coast. From there it was a bit of a grovel into the headwind back to the car. I was on point, and Carly sheltered behind me, only a couple of times silently popping off the back.

We followed the ride up with a coffee and some stunning caramel slice at the [insert name with Chocolate in it] cafe, just before Days Bay.

I hadn't intended to ride the PNP race on Sunday, but the opportunity arose, so I dusted some Long Gully (MTBO) mud off the Epic, gave the chain some lube, and put a bit of fresh air in the tyres. It was quite a luxury being able to walk to the race venue to register, then pop back home for a couple more slices of toast. The race itself was less luxurious. My lack of a decent warm up had me in the hurt box soon after the start, and lack of mountain biking was apparent when we hit the singletrack. Nonetheless, it was great to be out, and I was enjoying the ride. Karl Ratahi passed me at the top of Nikau, signalling the first of the Vet 2 men. Matt Farrar wasn't far behind, and my old mate Simon caught and passed me in between Missing Link and Aratihi. It was nice to see he was working very hard. I hung onto Mike Thompson's wheel up Aratihi, until he slipped on a rock, and we almost both ended up in a pile on the ground. He repassed me on T3, where I rode like a complete muppet, including taking a dive off the swingbridge which I rode on to far too half-heartedly to make it stick...

It was nice to be back on firm terrain again with Zac's track, but my muppetry came back on Ridgeline, and at the top of the descent into the wee saddle before the climb to the high point, I went down. Kerei Thompson pointed out it wasn't a good time for a rest as he blasted past. I was still out of sorts when I hit the climb, and shifted under load into my biggest cog at the back, and had a complete loss of power. I had a momentary flashback to the last times I'd ridden the Epic... *fall off and step on rear wheel at Belmont, run out of time to see Oli before Long Gully, derailleur hitting spokes in Long Gully race, conclude bent dropout still* I really do shake my head at myself when I've failed to take advantage of Oli's considerable skills. I've had so many bad experiences with repairs around Wellington in my time as a cyclist, with the exception of Oli, it's very hard to go past him... Lesson learnt... What a mong I am, not making the most of priority service of such quality...

Anyway, at least I was at the top of the hill. I shoved the chain in my back pocket, and rolled down the hill. It was quite fun, focussing on maintaining momentum. A couple of times I really needed that chain, but managed to get out of most spots without bloodshed. Ridgeline Extension was slower, but I wanted yet another race finish under less than ideal conditions, so I turned down ryda's kind offer of a bike.

Before long, I was pushing my bike up the small rise in South Karori Rd for the second time during a PNP race. The first time I was rather seriously blown, and struggled to stand up when I finished... This time, my legs were fine. Stu Houltham looked at me rolling down the road at about 25km/h in a full-on tuck as if I was a bit weird... I lost about 5 or 6 places on the road section, and it was nice to finish.

Today, I worked from home, and by the time 3pm rolled around, I'd made good progress on my work, and the sun was out, so I treated myself to a ride on the Roubaix. It is so lovely and light, and it was a pure pleasure to ride it through Makara, Takarau Gorge and up to the intersection of Ohariu Rd and Ironside Rd. There, I turned around and rode back home.


It was a rare sort of ride for me - not often I go out on my own and sift... As always, it was bloody good to get out.
 Originally published on vorb