Monday, 2 February 2015

Riding the Apiti Hills with the Kiwi Randonneurs

I don't want to over-kill this blog with reports of regular rides, but have decided to put something about my second ride with the Kiwi Randonneurs, even though I've already written about the first and that was only last week.  Two reasons for this - it's a quick way to share the photos and the scenery was wonderful.  Maybe a third reason too - I love writing (and reading!) ride reports.

The ride was 200 km through the Apiti Hills, from Feilding to Mangaweka and back again.  The route north was along the Pohangina Valley East Road hugging the west side of the Ruahine range, with the route back being straight back over the Apiti Hills.  The elevation contour was one of a constantly rising height until about two-thirds to Mangaweka, with a decline to Mangaweka, and the opposite in the reverse direction.  Punctuating this pattern are sudden drops into river valleys and sharp climbs back into the hills.

There were seven of us at the start, a collection of experienced and relatively new randonneurs.  We rode together for about 25-30 km at a friendly pace.  It was great having a chat with people I'd not met before and catching up with others.  Because I'd brought a camera along, I would dart away every now and then to take photos of the bunch or stop for scenery snaps.

My intention with the camera was not only to capture the scenery, but also to force myself not to be so manic in going as fast as I can and riding to the point of exhaustion.  If I have a camera, I would have to stop to use it and should spend more time looking around for potential shots.  While using these rides to increase my physical and mental toughness, I also want to do them for the sheer joy they offer.  I also don't want to spend days recovering from them.

Leaving Feilding - Jeremy, Tim, Wayne and Mike
Simon and Wayne

The flats surrounding Feilding.  Ed has now joined us (in red).

Happy riders
I had no idea how the ride would proceed in terms of placings ... not that randonneuring is about placings!  I knew that Jeremy would ride off at some stage to do his own (very fast) thing and I suspected that one or two of the riders might ride at a somewhat slower pace.  My intention was to stick with the bunch and have fun, taking photos and just enjoying the whole experience.

The Pohangina Valley East Road is a beautiful rural road meandering some 35 km through rolling country.  There was very little traffic, which meant we could ride much of it two-abreast.  As expected, Jeremy at some stage effortless glided ahead of us on one of the longer hills, not to be seen again for the rest of the ride.  A bit later, Tim stopped off at a small rural school to restock his water and I didn't see him again either.

While on the topic of water, my own approach to this ride was to be risk-adverse in regard to water, clothing and lights.  I had four full bottles of fluid and my back-pack included a wind jacket, polyprop shirt, and lights (should I be caught out late with a mechanical).  I suspect that the others may have suffered from their fewer bottles as the day heated up, but all this equipment does increase the weight.  I've since learned that Wayne had the side of his tyre ripped open but was saved by some equipment from Simon, so I see there's something else to add to my stock.

The hills of Pohangina Valley East Road - Wayne, Jeremy, Tim, Mike, and  Ed


Mike, Simon and Wayne

Looking towards the Ruahine range
I found myself stronger than the others on the hills and would wait up a bit, but after a while realized that I'd even edged away a bit on the flats without meaning to.  I pondered whether to slow down and wait, but eventually decided just to keep up a comfortable speed and leave it to the others whether or not they wanted to join.  I ended up riding by myself earlier than anticipated!

Actually, I felt strangely happy and free riding by myself.  It's great riding with others but I'm a fairly solitary being.  It's a wonderful feeling getting into the rhythm of riding, undisturbed by others, being one with the bike, trying to get the most out of that wonderfully efficient machine you're on, feeling your speed, having a sense of purpose and a joy of knowing that, although the mission is tough, you're up to it.  Because I wasn't racing (um, I'm not entirely sure about that!) and wasn't too tired (yet!), I just lapped up the wonderful scenery around me.

A quick Google search tells me that much of the countryside is on mud-stone.  This means that the rivers and streams carve great scars through the earth.  So although much of the ride was on rolling hills that gradually got higher and higher, every now and then there would be a steep descent  to a river with a steep climb out the other side of the valley.  These steep climbs mounted up over the ride - to a total of 3100 metres according to one of the rider's bike computer.

On my own!

Getting higher and higher

Iconically beautiful!

Riding down a valley on one side ...

... and up again on the other side.
Although I said I wasn't racing, part of me must have been.  I was always conscious of where the others might be.  Initially I would check behind every now and then to see if I could see anyone.  Later on at the two compulsory stops to get my brevet card signed, I was very aware that the longer I stayed, the more likely people were to catch up.  I really wouldn't have minded if they did ... but perhaps there was a small, petty, vain side of me that did.  Shame!

It's quite fun riding a road you've never done before, especially a long and tough route.  The obvious reason is the scenery, but the other is that your mind is always ticking away, making tiny calculations about the distances and terrain still to go.  Eventually I arrived at the highest point of the ride and it was a joy to realise that it would now be mostly downhill to Mangaweka.  The final descent to the Rangitikei River was fun - a long, narrow,winding road strewn with mud-stone chips that had fallen down the sheer slopes beside the road.  This was probably where Wayne had torn his tyre.

At Mangaweka I popped into one of the two cafes.  "Hullo! How are you?  Great day, isn't it!"  It pays to be friendly (even if you're feeling pretty done in!) and it's a great way of interacting with other people.  After buying some coke and asking the two cafe ladies to sign my brevet card, I asked if they knew where I could fill up with water.  In response, they enthusiastically took my bottles and filled them with water from the fridge, wishing me good luck as I left the shop.

About to cross the Rangitikei River to the village of Mangaweka

What goes down must come up - view from the other side of the Rangitikei River

And onto the other side after a second crossing, now on the home run!
From Mangaweka, it was 10 km westward on the No. 1 highway, before turning off and descending to the river, crossing it, and riding up into the hills again.  The next bit would take me up to the highest point again, before descending back into Feilding.  I had to stop a few times to check my bearings, but managed not to stray off track.  Some of the route was on the same road that had taken me to Mangaweka.  As I faced another one of those steep descents and ascents from a river valley, I wondered whether I'd be doing all the other valleys the route had passed through.  Thank goodness, that was the only one!

I was definitely feeling it in my legs now, both the quads and the hammies.  I had to really focus on good technique as I rode up the steeper parts, as when you lose the strength in your legs it's very easy to injure yourself by putting too much pressure on your knees, and also to hurt your back by not using your tired core muscles.

I'm pretty sure that this is the top of the last major hill.  Yay!
At last I had peaked what proved to be the last major hill.  The going was still tough however, as I was now pretty knackered and it was hot.  Flats are a great break from hills, but they can be tedious and time can drag, which is not fun when you're tired.

At long last, I got to the village of Kimbolton.  What a lovely place it is.  I waited behind a queue of people at the cafe/bar, having a friendly chat with some of them.  I then bought some water and a huge glass of juice, which was an absolute delight.  But finally, with brevet card signed and juice finished, it was time to hit the road again.

From Kimbolton, the road is pretty much down-hill for the whole 30 km back to Feilding.  I was sure that there would be some nasty hill providing a last sting of the tail, but no.  Sweet, but a drag.

 At last, there was Feilding, although it took a while riding through the outskirts.  Another stop at a cafe to get the final signature of the brevet card, an L&P lemonade on a table having a great time answering questions from a young lad on the next table - "Did you come first?"  "Have you ever come first?"  "Second?"  "Where do you usually come?"  "At the back of the pack?  I come first in my races!"

From there, it was back to the car to chuck my things inside and (carefully!) put my wonder machine on the rack, then a drive to Liz and Tim's, where Tim had cooked a curry for the riders - the most incredible curry I've ever tasted!

Oh it's so great to be alive!  What a fantastic sport!  I was very pleased at how I'd done.  It was an absolutely splendid ride in terms of the terrain traveled.  I was also pleased with things on the physical and mental side.  Although I'd pushed myself quite hard, I felt my body was definitely toughening up.

In the end, my time (including stops) was 9:14 hours over the 205 km.  Jeremy was more than one and a half hours in front at 7:38 hours.  Three riders were just under an hour behind at 10:09 hours, with the remaining two riders being 10:58 hours.  Although second, I'm not necessarily the second strongest, as I think I was more in racing mode than those behind me.  It's going to be a lot tougher on the longer rides, as 200 km is the shortest ride done by the Kiwi Randonneurs.  I'll definitely have to slow my pace and ride more sensibly.

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