Thursday, December 27, 2012

West Coast or bust! Longest Day 2012

Over the last few years around mid-December, I've had pangs of guilt about not taking part in Tama Easton's brain-child, the Longest Day Ride.  The reasons have been simple - at this time of year, I usually want a bit of a rest, and even though what you do is up to you, riding from dawn to dusk will be a tough day regardless.

Leap to 2012, and the short-list for tandem challenges had the Longest Day right near the top.  Simon had done Nelson-Christchurch with his Bros on the triple a few years (decades?) back, and knew what a pleasure riding a very long way on a tandem could be.  Ha!

We figured Top-of-the-South would make a nice location for a ride, and with Picton so handy to Wellington, we started investigating options for a point-to-point ride from there.  Somewhere on the web we discovered dawn in Blenheim was soon after 5am, and dusk was just after 9:30, giving us 16 hours and change to play with.  But, how far could we travel?!  I had visions of us riding to the West Coast until the official knock-off time, and then turning around and riding back to the place we'd most recently passed through.

We soon ruled out aiming for 500km, and as humans are wont to do, we pencilled in the next obvious choice, 400km.  Lo and behold, Picton to Greymouth via Queen Charlotte Drive and Punakaiki clocked in at 396km, so this became the incumbent plan.

I described this to Dave Sharpe on one of our regular rides, and he wondered outloud if he'd be welcome to join us.  "Wonderful!" was our response.

In the meantime, finding transport back from Greymouth was proving next-to-impossible.  The various rental companies had a hefty vehicle relocation charge, and that aside, there didn't seem to be anything we could fit a tandem inside of.  Flying was never considered for similar reasons.  At one point we were thinking about hiring a regular car and buying a cheap mattress to line the car roof with and just strapping the mofo down.

We considered asking friends from Nelson to do the shuttle from hell for us, and also to recruit a driver from Wellington, but even getting a van in Picton was proving difficult.  Finally Simon hit the jackpot, the scheduled 9am St Arnaud to Picton shuttle would pick us up in Murchison at 8am on Sunday morning.  Now, how to get to Murchison!

The most direct route from Picton is a "mere" 187km, but if you chuck in a side-trip to Westport it then becomes 383km.  By the time we added a visit to the Pacific Ocean at Rarangi, and the Tasman sea in Westport itself, google maps had us at 400km on the dot (literally!!!!).   Plan H was a go!

We were now only about a week out from the event, and we managed a 100km ride with Dave in the Wairarapa.  It was meant to be 200km, but even half the distance had been hard.  Had I been riding my roadie, I'm sure I would have been feeling much more confident, but the prospect of such a long tandem ride was stressing me out immensely.  I don't think I've ever been so nervous about a ride.  No backing out now...

We were on the 8pm Interislander on the Friday evening.  I met Dave at Revolution, and we rolled down the hill to the Railway Station, where we collected Simon, and were soon all checked-in.

Dave's lovely wife, Keryn, was there to see us off, and farewells made, it was time to board.  

We were fortunate to have a very smooth sailing, and we emerged from the stern of the ferry shortly after 11pm feeling well.  Soon after that, we were checked-in at Atlantis Backpackers, and setting our alarms for sparrows'-fart.

I could hear Dave up and about before my phone rudely went off at 0430.  A Longest Day event surely followed The Shortest Sleep.  Dave had not slept well, by virtue of Picton's rail activity through the night.  I collected all my gear and relocated to the kitchen to get ready to ride.  Dave had thoughtfully brought some espresso along to share, and I'd made up a loaf of bread with various combinations of peanut butter, nutella, honey and jam.  

We fired our stuff into a locker, and at about 0510 we were rolling out, only 10 minutes behind schedule.  We rode out of Picton in a light rain, though I was distracted by a hot spot on my right sit-bone.

Simon and I got ourselves in a bit of a tizz on the merits of a second pair of shorts that I didn't have, and the less said about that, the better!  (Sorry mate...)

We were pretty wet by the time we reached Tuamarina.  I was on front of the tandem by this stage, largely to try out the different saddle.  Consequently I made the casting vote to stick with our plan to visit Rarangi Beach by swinging left over the railway lines.

It was about 6km out to the coast, and Simon and I walked the final 200m along a gravel road.  Dave had ridden and he and I watched Simon head down the beach to dip his fingers in the ocean. 

Coast #1
We were back on SH1 briefly before making a right turn at Spring Creek onto SH62.  This spat us out on SH6 a kilometre or so from Renwick.  It had stopped raining, and we now had pretty much perfect conditions: overcast, cool, and a sweet tail-wind.

We didn't need to stop in Renwick, and were soon plugging away up the Wairau Valley.  Dave was able to ride alongside us quite a bit due to the virtually non-existent traffic. 

It didn't seem too hard to ride at 40km/h in these conditions, and consequently we were making good time.  I enjoyed passing through the corner at which my bro had bought a house a few years back.  We'd spent almost an hour there waiting for his real-estate agent to call in an area with patchy cell-phone reception!

By now, I'd switched my cell-phone/camera from a plastic bag in my pocket to Simon's pocket sans bag.  After years of riding with him, I know he barely sweats, let alone works up a lather like I regularly do!

Coats off, but arm-warmers still on

The first real hint that this was no cruise in the countryside came when we zipped past the Argyle Power Station.  Usually I'd have doubled back to get a decent shot of the cool canal leading from the dam, but had to make do with a lame shot which would remind me of the loss!

Dave boosted once the road started to kick up out of the Wairau Valley.  For the first time, Simon and I grabbed the 36t chainring that had caused so much  difficulty!  The climb was over fairly quickly, and after a quick photo-stop at the first Tophouse turn-off...

... we were underway again.  Dave was sitting in the shade waiting for us not long after.

The cloud cover had gone now, and it was quite hot sitting in front of the General Store at St Arnaud, home of huge carrot-cake pieces.

On account of the tailwind up the Wairau, we were ahead of schedule, so enjoyed a nice break.  Jackets and arm-warmers were now stowed in my Revelate saddle bag, and we all applied sun-screen to necks and arms before setting off.

After only a few minutes' riding we crossed the Buller River, itself only a few minutes old, for the first time.

The road through to Murchison was great tandem country, and Dave occasionally had trouble holding our wheel.  To add to his frustration, every now and then we'd stop to swap seats, mainly to give Simon a break from captaining.  My bum issues had eased, strangely, but it was nice to have a spell on the different front saddle.

We were still ahead of schedule when we hit Murchison, which allowed us to get stuck into a list of tasks.  First up we went to the 4-Square, not only for our next lot of snacks, but to get something for the evening.  Simon dropped that at our room at the Mataki Motel while Dave and I set up camp at a nearby cafe.

Dave had sent a parcel to the motel, and I ducked back there to move it and its precious contents - a change of clothes for each of us - into our room.   That done, it was time to hit the road again.  I was surprised that leaving Murchison was easy - I'd expected it to be psychologically very difficult, but my brain had obviously committed to our plan, and it might as well have been a straight line.

The road between the Nelson and Lewis Pass turnoffs was busy, and there were some idiots driving.  We got tooted at by a campervan, who just happened to have a queue of six cars behind him (it must have been a male, right?).

Crossing the Buller again
Dave stopped for a slash immediately after the Lewis Pass intersection, and Simon and I cruised while he caught us up.

 We continued to collect kilometres, with Westport getting ever closer. 

We had a great stop in Inangahua, where I had a very nice ice-cream and a bottle of powerade.  The store owners were happy to natter and fill our bottles with spring-water.  We also met a cycle-tourist there and chatted to him for a bit.
I jumped on the front and found that each time I did so, I felt more comfortable there.  We'd had a headwind since St Arnaud, and I enjoyed pushing into it knowing how useful it would be on the return trip.

We passed the very cool Hawks Crag overhang...

... and generally enjoyed the stunning scenery on offer.

Slowly but surely the gorge opened up and we knew the coast wasn't far away.  The wind became a cross-wind near the Greymouth turnoff, and was actually behind us for the last stretch into Westport. 

We rode straight through town...

... and after a bit of ducking and diving, picked up a rough gravel road out to the beach.  Again, Dave and I watched Simon take a hit for the team.  (His) fingers duly dipped in the Tasman Sea, it was time to find some kai!

Coast #2!
We were soon waiting on greasies, and not long after, our bellies were full.

My fish and chips were already salted, but I had a supply waiting just in case.

Miraculously, we were only 20 minutes or so behind schedule by the time we were Oscar Mike.  Getting going after a break is always hard work, and the headwind through to the Greymouth turnoff made it worse still.  But, we knew the shape of the road, and as we swung around to the northeast, the tailwind we were expecting kicked in!

The wind gave us a welcome boost, and it helped to offset the greasies sitting uncomfortably in the bottom of my stomach.  Despite that, our legs were holding up remarkably well given we had travelled over 300km already.

The sun was also at our six, and the light conditions in the gorge made for some stunning sights.

Lower Buller Gorge
The local light conditions weren't so good though, and Dave ended up with a nasty jolt through his wrist.  I asked Simon to call out impending bumps as early as possible, and I'd relay this to Dave.  It was odd to be literally stuck in the middle of all this.

Warning is good, mkay!
We made great progress through to Inangahua, but were slightly disappointed to find the shop closed.  It wasn't the end of the world though, and great for our schedule as we didn't stop for long.

We'd remembered some nasty bumps lay between us and our beds, and it seemed to make sense for Dave to ride at his own pace back to Murchison while Simon and I cruised after him.

We literally had to cruise for a bit, because no sooner had we farewelled Dave, than we got stuck on a stretch of road that was perfect tandem territory.  We trailed him 100m or so back until the first incline of any note, at which time he was goneburger.  

It turned out the hills had been much steeper in the opposite direction, and consequently the distance was ticking by.  We started trying to predict when we'd finish.

Another missed photo-op on the outbound journey had been a very rustic stables.  I asked Simon what he thought about stopping.  He wasn't keen, but slowed right down so I could get a snap.  The photo's terrible, but it reflects how I imagined I'd feel so late in the day.  On the contrary, I was feeling pretty damn good, and now with many hours of tandem riding under our belts, Simon and I were functioning really well on our long bike.

Near the top of the Buller Gorge was a rather battered sign reading something like "if you don't fit under this sign, turn around".  The sign north of the bridge just ahead was in pristine condition, but this one looked like it had been smacked by a vehicle just a little too high.  Presumably moments before it turned around, bound for Reefton and Rahu Saddle! 

As the kilometres passed by, we started to enjoy our almost complete achievement.  We weren't even going to need to fire up the lights!

About 5km out, with 395km in our legs, I had a look at my GPS unit, and reported to Simon that we were riding at 45km/h.  Astounding, since we were still riding upstream.

For 9:20 on a Saturday evening, Murchison was looking very quiet indeed. There was certainly nothing open that would have been worth a stop on our way to the motel.

Dave met us on the doorstep of our room, and he reported he'd only recently arrived back.  I celebrated our arrival by taking my shoes and helmet off, and emptying my pockets.  Some chocolate milk and peaches, and then a hot shower followed soon after, and then a deep sleep that comes easily after a long day in the saddle.

Soon after we'd surfaced in the morning, Simon got a phone call from the St Arnaud shuttle, asking us where we'd been the previous morning!  How the booking had been screwed up remained a mystery for the timebeing, but we were very relieved to learn that they'd still come to pick us up.

I'd developed a sore throat the previous day, and I was pleased to note it hadn't worsened overnight.  Presumably it was dehydration related rather than being the onset of a cold.

We had a fretful wait on the main road, especially as we weren't sure what would happen with our connection through to Picton. 

Toothpaste and Fisherman's Friend
Eventually a van showed up, and while the driver fuelled up, we loaded the tandem and Dave's bike onto the bike rack at the front of the trailer.  The van returned just as we were finishing, and we piled in.  The driver was a friendly man, despite his wild goose-chase the previous day (during which he'd locked himself out of the vehicle).

The St Arnaud transfer was a piece of cake, and the trailer was simply hitched onto another van.  Simon chatted with the driver, while Dave and I had our own conversation rather than strain to join in with the one occurring at the front of the van.

The drive to Picton didn't seem to take long at all.  Relatively speaking, we made rapid progress.  We disembarked outside Atlantis, and retrieved our gear from the locker.  Then we made for a cafe, and enjoyed a late breakfast.

I guarded the bikes outside the superette, and was quite amused by the "No Bikes" sign in the window.  Not for the next day or two, at least.

We'd brought our original ferry booking forward to 1pm, which meant we didn't have long to wait after swinging past the bakery.

I was shocked when Simon, a teetotaller, grabbed a table in the bar on the ferry.  The air-conditioning was tip-top though, and it made a nice spot for another very calm sailing.  I treated myself to a beer, and enjoyed the cold, savoury drink.

Most of the crossing was through a very thick fog, but the captain knew where he was headed.  Keryn collected Dave from the ferry terminal, while Simon and I were riding after Sarah had discovered a flat tyre.  We spun away up Glenmore Street, though I wouldn't go so far as to say merrily.  Simon stopped abruptly after the Karori tunnel, and announced he'd walk from there. 

I jumped on the front, and it was nice to be able to stand on a whim!

Ash and Steve, and then Jolene and Kaitlyn, visited that evening, and it was nice to describe some of our day, all 400km and just over 16 hours' duration of it.  It was nice to reflect on the brilliant time I'd had with Dave and Simon, who'd made wonderful companions.

Just before going to bed, I really loved seeing Simon's comment on one of the photo's I'd posted to Facebook during the day.  I know his benchmark of a good endurance event is to not be physically destroyed.  And we weren't.  I'll let him  (almost) finish this story off:

Thanks, mate. Sharing a bike ride that long requires good company, most def. Sharing it on a tandem, wrenching saddles with every pedal stroke and barking instructions for 16 hours - that's like testing a friendship to destruction! Having succeeded, it feels like brilliant madness. But I never want to do that again, this year.

PS:  as of posting this, the fundraising page for the 2012 Longest Day Ride is still open.  If you enjoyed this blog, one way of recognising this entertainment might be to drop a dollar or two into the coffers, which will make their way to Arthritis New Zealand in due course.   Here's the link.  Cheers!

Going big in 2013

A couple of months ago, I decided I needed a new challenge. In the space of an hour or so, tossing and turning, unable to get to sleep, I came up with "Le Cycle-Tour de France".

The route below is just under 3700km including a couple of short transfer rides.  Each day I will replicate a past stage from an actual Tour de France, or, in three cases, a future stage!  Many complete maps are available online, and I've been having fun digging up details on the pre-internet races.  I've picked stages from 12 different Tours, and achieved a near-continuous route briefly touching both the Atlantic and Mediterranean.  Voilà...

The planning has been fun...

Handy use of tandem packaging!

... and I'm slowly but surely accumulating what little gear I'll be taking with me. 

The route above includes five stages in the Pyrénées, taking in many of the classic climbs, including Col d'Aubisque, Col du Soulor, Col de Peyresourde, Luz Ardiden, Plateau de Beille, Port de Pailhères, Col d'Aspin, Ax-3-Domaines, and the grand-daddy, and most-climbed "hill" in the history of the Tour de France, the Col du Tourmalet (assuming it's not covered in snow...).

I'll be replicating the 2000 Ventoux stage where Armstrong and Pantani duked it out, though I won't be fuelled by anything more illicit than caffeine.

A brief visit to Italy marks the first of five Alps stages, which include an ITT up Alpe d'Huez.  Along with stages 9 and 14, this will be one day I can ride with no gear at all.  Notable climbs in the alps include Sestrieres, Col d'Izoard, Col de la Madeleine, Col du Glandon, Col Agnel, Col de la Croix-Fry, Col de la Colombiere, and the behemoth Galibier, which is a 2000-odd-metre climb.   

Apart from the official site and, and CyclingFever have been really useful, with the odd bit of wikipedia thrown in.  I've also picked Ollie Whalley's brain about gear. 

Another Oli, this time of the "Oli" and "Brooke-White" variety, has been living and breathing Tour de France for almost as long as I've been living and breathing, and he will form an integral part in my preparation.  These beautiful wheels were a Christmas gift from both Oli and my dear parents.

Bike prep will be safe in Oli's hands, while rider prep will be more the domain of Simon Kennett.  He's taught me pretty much all I know about myself as a rider, though more recently he's been delegating a bit of the working-over to Dave Sharpe and the Wednesday Worlds bunch.  It's all having an effect, and I've now got six years of some good hard riding under my belt.  I'm pretty sure I've never been as strong as I am now, but you can rest assured I won't be resting on my laurels.  With Simon's help, I'll fashion a schedule for the next six months to make covering that distance and getting over all those massive climbs an achievable goal.

In the meantime, I'll be trying to find out as much as I can about the stages I'm replicating, not to mention honing my writing skills.  The fruits of which can now be found at, thanks to my lovely brother!

Merry Christmas y'all.  I gave myself one hell of a trip away.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Short and sweet: a Wairarapa weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibit A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were Oscar Mike!

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

We spent 10 minutes or so on SH2...

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

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

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

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

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

We swung past Joe Sweeney's place...

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

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

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

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

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

*  *  *  *  *

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

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

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

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

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

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