Monday, 24 February 2014

Training ride up into the Apiti Hills

This wasn’t a race, but a rather fun training ride, so maybe worth a quick write-up.  Also some photos, which I've stolen from fellow riders that were clever enough to take their cameras (thanks guys!)

Of course, we all probably define “fun” somewhat differently!

My plan was to dove-tail my ride with a “Big Day Out” ride organised by one of the local cyclists, Adrian McKenzie.  They were going to take a couple of vans up to Mangaweka/Utiku, which is about 200 km north of us, then cycle back to Fielding, a distance of around 140 km along some hilly country roads.  I needed to do a 10 hour training ride, so planned to ride up to meet and join them on the way back to Fielding, where Tim Neal was going to prepare a BBQ for us all.

The Big Day Out group (before I had joined them)
Not a good night’s sleep before the ride.  The alarm was set for 3:30 am, but I woke up at 1:00 am and couldn’t back to sleep, thinking about different aspects of the ride and especially how I was going to get nutrition over the last third of the ride.  A total of only 2 hours sleep.

So, at 3:55 am, I was out the door and away.  It was quite windy, with the wind mainly coming from the side.  This didn’t worry me too much.  I just adjusted my pace when I rode into it.  It was going to be a long day, so no point beginning my battles too early.

Because it was Sunday morning, the normal heavy night-time truck traffic wasn’t too bad.  After around 1.5 hours I was off the main highway and travelling towards the country town of Shannon.  Speed-wise, I wasn’t mucking around.  I had only left 4 hours before the others were going to drive up to Mangaweka/Utiku, and wanted to meet them as close to Mangaweka as I could manage.

The night sky was lovely, with bright stars shining between the clouds.  Dawn was even lovelier.  By this time, I was through Shannon and riding along narrow country roads in the heart of flat, cow country.  The farmers were already well and truly up, as I smelled the pungent pong of cow shit of herds going to be milked.  I’ve never travelled these roads and it was great enjoying the new views.

Tim Neal was going to leave Fielding at 6:00 am and meet up with me.  I was looking forward to this and would look ahead for him at every corner or bend of the toad.  It’s nice having a distraction on a long ride and it’d been a while since I’d caught up with Tim.  At last I saw a bright light ahead, and there was Tim.  He was surprised at how fast I’d been, which is always pleasing to hear.

It was good riding with Tim.  We cycled to his place, where I prepared my second lot of Perpeteum (a 4-hour bottle) and refilled my three other bottles with water.  Tim then rode me out of town (!), before returning to do his household chores.  I had cycled a bit over 110 km by now.

Just as I was parting from Tim, several bunches of local riders sped by.  I tagged onto the third and rode along for a while, chatting with one of the riders.  He couldn't believe what I was planning to do for the day.  This is the usual reaction I get from people I talk to, and I never cease to be surprised (and, I admit, rather pleased).  For me it’s just a normal part of the training – no big deal – and it’s something I've worked up to and approached very methodically.  I’m just lucky to have enough time to devote to the vice!

I was probably with the group for 10 minutes, but they were still fresh and a bit fast for me.  Just before Valley Road, I said farewell to my riding companion and dropped off.

I've no idea where this is, but thanks to whoever took it.  It gives a great idea of the lay of the country!
Now, at long last, the flat bits were over.  It was about 10 km down Valley Road, then around 50 km up Pohangina Valley East Road, which follows the … you guessed it … Pohangina River.  Lovely windy roads, quite a few sharp hills, hardly any traffic, and the odd glimpse of the river – this is riding at its best!

The road was getting higher and higher, peaking at around 650 metres.  By this time, I was riding along South Road ... north!  Things were going well.  There was the odd niggle though.  My backside was a bit sensitive and I was continually shifting to ease the discomfort.  My left ankle was also hurting and now, a day after, is quite swollen.  One thing I was trying for the first time was music.  Helen had given me a speaker and iPod for my birthday, and this worked really well.  I will definitely use music at the Graperide.  Another positive development was that I was following some advice from Adam Johnson (owner of local bike shop, Ranga's), who suggested that to reduce neck muscle fatigue I not hold my head so high but instead look upwards with my eyes - it seemed to work, so thanks Adam!

Working their way up one of the many hills.
Unfortunately, by now it had started to rain.  Albeit the rain was light, but when combined with a strong, cold wind, it meant pretty chilly conditions.  I stopped to put on my short-sleeved polyprop shirt, but even this combined with my wind jacket failed to keep me warm, skinny bugger that I am.  Finally the road turned to gravel.  I rode along it for a while, thinking it would soon turn to seal, but this failed to eventuate.  By now I was concerned, as I was worried about getting hypothermia.  I was also out of my Perpeteum.  What should I do?  Continue on to the group, where I could refill the Perpeteum and at least have the option of sheltering in a van if I got too cold, or turn and race back to Fielding?  My worry was the gravel, which I hadn't expected and thought that maybe somewhere I’d taken a wrong turn and so would miss the group.  I sent a text through to Adrian, but of course it didn't transmit given how isolated the place was.  I decided that the choice with the least down-side consequence would be to turn around.  So I was now on my way back.

Thanks to whoever took the photo :-)
And I was racing, with my mind focussed on keeping warm and getting back to Fielding as fast as I could.  Strangely enough, there were many aspects of this that I enjoyed.  I was no longer aware of any discomfort or niggles, just on gripping the bike hard (I was cold!) and powering along.  I felt strong, fit, and very independent.  It’s a great feeling.

I did ponder several times whether it would be safer to find a sheltered spot and wait for the group and jump in a van to warm up, but pride wouldn’t let me do that.  There also really weren't any good spots to shelter.  By now, I was totally out of water, had eaten my banana and three gel packets, and only had two One Square Meal muesli bars, which I didn’t even bother with given how dry my throat was.  No great problems, but it would still be uncomfortable making it all the way back to Fielding.

Finally, relief!  I was passed by the lead group of cyclists from the Big Day Out bunch.  I dropped back to the first support van, where Mark Donald gave me the last bit of water from his bottle.  I then set out to catch up to Glynis.  Hilariously though, I soon found the bunch stopped.  We had arrived at a country café where we’d planned to have Devonshire teas.  If the group hadn’t caught up to me, I would have cycled past.

It was good to stop, chill out, have a coffee, and catch up with people.  However, because there was a crowd of us and only a husband and wife looking after the place, we were there for a while too long.  But eventually we were off again.

Group photo outside the country cafe (I'm 5th from the right)
Stupidly, I had re-filled the water but failed to re-mix my Perpeteum, arguing to myself that I would be fine for the remaining 40 km of the ride.  It was really just a case of laziness, which would have its consequence.  After about 20 km, I found myself really flagging.  The lack of food over the last few hours was beginning to take its toll.  We were now on Valley Road, re-grouping after having climbed the last big hill.  From now on it would be flattish, but with that strong wind still making conditions somewhat challenging.  It wasn’t long before I dropped off the bunch.  Adrian nobly stayed behind to help me.  I assured him that I was alright, but he said there was a rule of “No one rides alone”.  Great rule, but not one I appreciated.  After a while I rode up to him again and finally persuaded him to ride ahead.  He did so and actually managed to catch the group, which by now was a long way ahead.

Once Adrian had left, I immediately stopped and lay on the ground for a full 5 minutes, relaxing body and mind.  Then I forced myself to finish one of the muesli bars.  The break was just what I needed, and I got back on the bike feeling re-charged.  I think it was only about 15-20 km back to Tim’s place, and I just got into the endurance mind-set and slugged it out.

As I wheeled into Tim’s place, I quietly felt a bit of a champ.  It had been a good day out and I felt I had put in a great effort.  Tim and Liz had a spa and swimming pool and had also laid a superb BBQ out for us.  Tim congratulated me earnestly, which I felt very flattered by, and forced a beer into my hand.  It was wonderful catching up with people and I think everyone thought their Big Day Out a great success.  Fantastic hospitality from Tim and Liz!  Great organizing from Adrian!  As for me, it didn’t take me long to begin to wilt.  I’m afraid I wouldn’t have been much company, but I think people forgave me.  In all, I had been on the bike about 12.5 hours, not including stops, and covered around 270 km.

The full team!
And here's some great footage taken of the ride by John Barber:


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Ha ha, how can I discretely remove a correction I made in the form of a "comment", without seeming like a heavy censor - against myself no less :-)

  2. legends grow from humbleness Andrew, so I predict great stories from and about you in years to come. Humbleness is something you have by the barrow-full and is an asset many would do well to learn from.

  3. I'm continually astounded at your efforts Andrew - and you're always smiling. Keep on keeping on. Glynis (I'm the Gwyneth in your Big Day Out blog :o)

    1. Glynis, I'm surprised that you still speak to me. I'm always getting your name wrong. I know I called you Dianna for ages. Inexcusable! I loved the brief moment I rode with you. Was never able to catch you up after that!