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