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 350.org 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 mapmyride.com, 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 350.org 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
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 350.org 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