Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Riding the Pahiatua Delight with the Kiwi Randonneurs

My third ride with the Kiwi Randonneurs and a step up, being 300km this time.  As with the other rides, this was an absolute delight … with the very appropriate name of “Pahiatua Delight”.

The word “delight”, however, doesn't quite sum up all there was about this or any long-distance ride.  In fact, no single word does.  What I want to attempt to do in this ride report is give an inkling of what it's like to do these rides, at least from my perspective.

Any long-distance ride definitely has its ups and downs.  For me, the biggest down (and I'm totally exaggerating here!) is the thought of getting up early in the morning to start the thing.  The day before, I woke up bleary eyed as usual and went through my daily routine of cursing having stayed up so late the night before and not being able to sleep in on a workin day.  And then the sudden realisation – tomorrow the alarm clock would be ringing at 3:30 am!

Actually, when it happens, the early rising isn't too bad.  Everything's been organised the night before, so the plans are quickly put into action.  After weetbix and a quick shower, I was soon driving over the Akatarawas and Rimutakas to Martinborough.  Craig McGregor and Chris Little were already there, but I ignored them until yet more routines were completed.  First was stopping off at the loo for bowel evacuation (which pretty much sums the process, as it's rather annoying being caught short out in the bike) and applying that shammy cream.  Then it was making up my drinks, applying sunblock, and getting the bike and gear ready.  Finally, jobs done, I went over to say hi to the others.

Pre-dawn at Martinborough - getting ready for the ride.  Wayne, Ed, Jeremy, Craig and Chris
Eight of us were down for the ride, but John Keene couldn't make it.  In fact, we passed him early on in the ride pushing his bike back to Martinborough, his tyre having been shredded I think.  Besides Craig and Chris, the other riders were Jeremy Rowe, Wayne McDermott, Ed Allen, and Mike Parker.

As we set off, there was a hint of pre-dawn light on the horizon, the time being a few minutes past 6:00 am.  We rode together pretty much all the way to Masterton, some 50 km away.  This is really beautiful countryside, but it was slightly too dark to take photos.  Sadly, when it did light up, the camera battery had died.  So no more photos from me from after Masterton, but luckily I've been able to use some of Chris's photos.  Unfortunately, they will probably be out of order as I'm not sure where they were all taken, but have a look at the wonderfully scenic views of the skies, which seem to be a theme of many of Chris's photos.

Early dawn peloton

Chris and Wayne

On the way to Masterton (and sadly my last photo)
So how did I feel setting out on a 300 km ride?  Absolutely fine!  I've done rides of this distance and even longer before, and wasn't at all fazed by what lay ahead.  In fact, I was really looking forward to it.  There's a sense of excitement in setting out to explore new country and I was even anticipating those gnarly hills that I'd seen in profile on the ride map.  I think the key thing for this was that it wasn't a race.  I would ride my own ride, not feeling pushed and panicked into meeting deadlines.  If I felt tired, I would stop.  If I felt like riding hard, I would do so.  It was going to be a fun day!

But a long-distance ride is …a long-distance ride.  It is very much a mental game.  Pretty early on, I was feeling quite uncomfortable on my saddle.  I couldn't quite work out why it was happening so soon, and then it clicked.  I was carrying a back pack and it was relatively heavy.  It was weighing down on me and my skinny butt was getting bruised on the saddle.  A lesson learnt and something to change for next time!  But my mind had somehow got into a negative rut, and when I worked out I had left my training wheels on instead of changing to my light-weight, easier-geared racing wheels, I felt a sense of dread.  As I said, it's all a mind game and really depends on how that emotional part of the brain processes all this information.  Any way, later on when I found myself just riding and not even looking at the scenery, I forced myself to look around and managed to shake myself out of it.  Problem solved!

On the outskirts of Masterton, I stopped to turn off my front and rear lights.  I didn't want the battery running out!  I then followed the others.  Soon after, I heard a bit of a commotion ahead and wondered what was happening.  As I rode up, I saw a young man walking along the other side of the street, shouting and acting aggressively.  He then saw me and started charging.  “Okay, here we go”, I thought, as I held my line, looked him in the eye (or at least that general direction, as I couldn't see very well with my glasses), and prepared for impact.  But, as is usually the case in these situations, it was just a feint and I rode on.  Early morning in Masterton!

I wasn't racing, so continued riding at a slight distance from the group, foregoing the temptation to catch up to share their drafting benefits.  I was curious to see how long it would take to catch up to various members.  Jeremy had left us ages before, and now it was Chris and Wayne at the front, steadily increasing their gap from the rest of the group.  Fairly early on, Craig stopped to sort something out, but seemed fine as I went past.  I then caught up with Mike and passed him after a brief exchange of courtesies.  After a while, I saw Wayne by the side of the road, fixing a puncture.  I felt for him, as it stops a ride's momentum and puts a slight dampener on things – I can never pump the tyre back to its previous pressure and tend to angst about getting another puncture as a result!  He told me to continue as he was fine, but I did feel somewhat guilty as I left him.

Mike passed me while I was having a leak by the road.  When I caught up, I invited him to draft behind me, but he said he was happy doing his own thing.  He dropped off a bit and I thought I wouldn't see him again.  But he kept his pace up and we ended riding together all the way to Alfredton.

Somewhere- and look at that sky!
(photo from Chris)
Mike and I cycled up the 20 km Whangaehu Valley Road, ending in Alfredon, about 90 km into the race.  Once I had jolted myself out of my sombre mood, I really enjoyed looking around and immersing myself in the wonderful views.  It was a shame the camera wasn't working, but I was taking photos with my mind, much of which of course I've since forgotten.  One particular funny thing was seeing a field of bright green crops standing in contrast to the dry surrounding fields, then suddenly noticing the shaggy white heads of sheep dotted aound the crop, almost totally hidden.  It looked like a Where's Wally puzzle!

Wind was to be a feature of this ride.  The calm start to the day had been all too brief.  By now we were riding right into the north-westerly, it's strength no doubt intensified by the contour of the valley.  More on the wind later!

At last we were at Alfredton.  While Mike sorted his stuff out, I wandered around the school trying to find a source of water.  This took a while, but I eventually found some and mixed some more drink (Horley's Replace) and filled my water bottles.

By this time, Craig and Wayne had arrived, followed by Ed, who we hadn't seen since near the start.  After everyone had refreshed and sorted themselves out, we set off again, turning right and heading for the Pongaroa Pub, some 145 km from the start.

I usually defer to others and fit in with what they decide, but there didn't seem any rush to start, so I rode off with the others following.  My plan was to ride at a pace I was comfortable with and let the others draft behind me if they wanted to.  After a while, I looked back and noticed that Wayne was still behind me, with Ed a bit behind, but no sign of the others.

Wayne and I rode together for quite a while.  I would be on the front for a while, but as I got tired and slowed down, Wayne would take over.  I actually hate drafting behind other people – it spoils the view and takes away my feeling of independence – so when I was sufficiently recovered, I would go back to the front again.  And so it would continue.  It was fun riding with Wayne and helped the time go faster.

By this time, Ed was riding with us at the back.  There was quite a funny moment when we crested a hill and Ed came charging past and went off into the distance, staying ahead for quite a while.  “What was that!”, we said.  After a while, he slowed and allowed us to catch up, feeling really embarrassed.  “It was a freak alignment of the heavens!”, he said.  Of course, we didn't let him off without a bit of gentle teasing!

Sky and land - somewhere
(photo from Chris)
I'd ridden this part of the route in the opposite direction about a year ago.  However, being well into a 400 km training ride, there was much that I was unfamiliar with and it was wonderful reacquainting myself with what seemed a totally different vista.  There was one thing I hadn't forgotten however, which was quite a long and steep hill.  Every hill we started, I would look for clues as to whether it was THE hill.  Finally we came to one where it was obvious - the road just kept going up and up!  I had no intentions of breaking off from Wayne and Ed, but I was definitely the stronger climber.  After a while, I realised that I'd put some distance on them.  When the hill was finally crested (and disappointingly, no camera!), I pondered whether to wait, but decided to go off on my own pace.

So it was that I rode the rest of the way to Pongaroa, where we had our first stop to get our card clipped.  I actually arrived sooner than I thought, which was a pleasant surprise.  I noticed a bike propped up just inside of the alcove of the Pongoroa Pub and walked in to see Chris just finishing off his Kiwi Burger and chips.  He said that Jeremy had been at the same stage of his meal when he arrived.  So I went in to order my own burger and chips, said goodbye to Chris, sorted out my gear, and waited for the others.

The others took ages to arrive.  Wayne had suffered another puncture, as had Ed.  When they arrived, both also found problems with the outer casing of their respective tyres, so spent a while doing repairs.  It was quite a long break as a result, but one I really didn't mind being part of.

Now was the time for the real challenge of the ride.  I wondered how my tired legs would cope with the coming hill.  The road was narrow and windy, empty of cars, smooth and very picturesque – just made for riding!  We were immediately into hills, but the big hill lay ahead.  After a while, I noticed a solid wall filling up the horizon.  “Surely that's the Tararuas!”, I said to Wayne, but he confirmed my fear.  No, that was what we had to get over.

With our mixed hill-riding ability, we quickly became spread out.  Wayne was just behind me, Ed a bit further back, with Craig and Mike out of sight.  It was pretty much a constant uphill pedal, with that hill-wall remaining unbreachable ahead.  What made things worse was the headwind we were battling into.  I was conscious of Wayne drafting behind me, which considering it was a hill shows just how strong the wind was.

After a while, I noticed I had dropped Wayne, so eased up until he caught up again.  It wasn't a race after all!  However, when you're struggling, there's usually only one speed you can go, which is your own speed.  My cadence is always pretty high and I find it difficult to slow my legs down (I'll need to add more low cadence / high load work to my training).  As a result, I again unintentionally opened a gap with Wayne.  But by now I was well in struggle mode, so decided to continue on.

There was a lot of climbing, but I still saw that bush-clad hill range close ahead.  I'm not sure that we ever did crest it, as the road travelled up along the side and suddenly it seemed that the climbing was over.  It was very picturesque with the rocky terrain, but there were no great views to proclaim a successful ascent.

Definitely looks like a hill to me
(photo from Chris)

And another one
(photo from Chris)
It would be great one day to do the down-hill bit with no wind, but it was a bit of a struggle on this ride.  I rarely changed out of the small front sprocket.  Eventually I was down the bottom of the slope, passing a quaint collection of a few houses, crossing the river, and wondering whether we'd also be crossing that next range of hills just ahead.  Thank goodness we didn't and I eventually slogged my way into Pahiatua.

We had to get our clip-card signed at Pahiatua and I was also going to get some refreshments and fill my bottles.  I cycled from one end of the town to the other, trying to find an obvious place to wait for the others.  There wasn't much around, so I went into a dairy to get what was needed.  Finally, with milkshake in hand, I slumped down against the wall outside the dairy and waited.  I was pretty tired and glad for the rest, keeping an eye out on the road while I leisurely finished the shake.

Suddenly, the heavens opened and it started to pour.  Thank goodness it didn't last long, but the drizzle continued.  I was pretty cold by now and had no idea where the others were, so decided to continue on.  So it was back onto the road.  The Randonneurs stay off main highways as much as they can, which is great.  It does, however, mean that you have to be careful in reading the ride instructions.  Luckily I didn't make any wrong turns, although I had to force myself to be confident in my direction taking and just continue riding.  It wouldn't have been much fun retracing all that distance!

(photo from Chris)
The big hills were pretty much over by now.  Sure, there was an extended distance of false flat with the odd hill bump, but things should be a lot easier from now on.  I remember the scenery being as picturesqe as before, but sadly have already forgotten much of what it looked like.  One reason I've forgotten is that it's already several days since the ride.  However, perhaps the main reason is that I was beginning to really feel the distance by that stage.

Now the going was getting tough for me.  With more than 200 km covered, my legs were sore and tired and my arse hurt.  It was difficult to get comfortable.  On reflection, I think I was also bonking, so will have to watch my nutrition more vigilantly next time.  And this, for me, is the essence of long-distance cycling, its defining moment.

Up until now I'd enjoyed the more pleasant side of things – the hills and scenery, the pace and speed, and the company and other wonderful new experiences.  But I could do this from the car or on a club ride.  Things get quite different once exhaustion sets in.  In a way, it's a privileged position to be in, because you know you can do it, whereas others don't.  There's also something primeval about focussing intensely on the simple and very physical goal of just continuing on.  Strangely enough, I also (at times!) become acutely aware of things around me – the beautiful countryside, the startled eyes of sheep, the rocky hills and sound of water in passing streams.  I love the countryside and for some reason, when I'm feeling absolutely exhausted, I feel a really close connection to what's around me.  It's all pretty surreal.  Indeed, in a couple of my tougher races, out of  nowhere I've been overwhelmed by an almost religious sense of joy and ecstacy.

Not that I was anywhere near those intense stages here, but it did remind me of them.  I was also acutely aware that all these good things were just a few precious gems amongst bucket loads of not so nice stuff.  And this is where the mental side comes in.  Dwell on the positive and purge any negative thoughts.  Distract yourself.  Accept any hurt and just go with it.  Whatever you do, don't angst about the distance still to go!

Farm land somewhere or other
(photo from Chris)

And more bucolic scenes - somewhere
(photo from Chris)
It took slightly longer to get to get to Eketahuna than I'd thought, mainly because it was an indirect route through back roads.  No card to get clipped here, but I felt in need of a stop.  A brief pause at the local store to buy water and coke, and a much appreciated seat while I enjoyed the coke and restocked my bottles.  Less than 100 km to go now.

The scenery continued to be lovely, but with the detail again forgotten.  Finally I was back in Masterton.

Card clipping time again, so I stopped off at the dairy, got the card signed and bought an icecream.  I also had a bit of a chat with the Indian shop-keeper.  I love these brief encounters with other people.  An Indian shop-keeper in Masterton, an Indian assistant at the Eketahuna store, and a lovely Chinese woman at the Pahiatua dairy.  All friendly and uplifting for me.  It's fun making connections between our respective planets; they definitely must think someone who would choose to cycle all day to the point of exhaustion pretty alien.

With icecream in hand, I found a spot of sun (it was getting cold now with the wind, although the showers had cleared ages ago), and plonked myself down to enjoy its sweet, creamy delight.  I wasn't even half way through it when I was surprised by three fast cyclists charging by.  There was Craig, Wayne and Ed!  “We're going to McDonalds”, yelled Ed, as they whizzed past.  Apparently Craig had pushed a fast and unrelenting pace all the way from Pahiatua.  Those many thousands of kilometers he's ridden over the last year have definitely made him the (Energizer) bunny that never stops!  Mike had found the going a bit too tough and had pulled out at Pahiatua, but it's definitely a learning game and he'll be back even stronger.

After sorting my stuff out, I rode off to say hi and bye to my three mates at McDonalds.  I just wanted to finish the ride, get home and have a shower, but I also wanted to say goodbye, as I didn't think I'd see them again until the next ride.  They're great guys that I have a huge respect for and know I'll see lots more of.

I know from past experience that the last 45 km is tough.  Well, it's actually every easy, but you think you're almost there when you're not.  After all, 45 km is still 45 km and you are pretty darn tired!

Looks like a dusk shot to me
(photo from Chris)
The dusk was stunning.  I even noticed it in my tired state, although I'd have to force myself to enjoy the view.  Suddenly I noticed my front light's battery warning signal turn read.  Oh no, will it last?  I rode through the dimishing light and into the dark with the light off as much as I could, only turning it on for the downhill bits and if there was an approaching car.  Because I worked on keeping my expectations down, Martinborough came as a surprise for me, arriving sooner than expected.  The time was 9:15 pm, 15:15 hours after we'd set out and, I see from my new Garmin, 12:50 hours in total on the bike and a distance of 315 km.

As I rode in towards the square, I heard a shout.  There was Chris waiting at a table outside the pub.  It was great to see him.  He'd finished almost two and a half hours before and had been worried about what had happened to us.  I went into the pub and ordered an orange juice and a Knickerbocker delight for the two of us.  It was good chatting with him while we waited.  Then suddenly there was Craig, Wayne, and Ed.  Mission completed!

Knickerbocker sundae at the Martinborough pub!
(photo from Craig)
Chris, Craig and I stayed on a bit, finishing our snacks.  The pub was full of boisterous but very pleasant young women, the main reason being a hen's party in full swing.  A couple of curious groups even came over to have a chat with the three lycra-clad, sweaty-looking gents outide, being pretty impressed by what we'd just done.

And that was pretty much it.  All that was needed was the drive back.  After two hours of driving (including stopping for a pie), I arrived back home at 12:30 am.  The last bit of the drive was a fight against sleep, but there was no fighting it once my head hit the pillow!

I can't wait until the next time!


  1. well done, Im on the mend now and hope to be able to join back in with you guys by June/July

  2. love the blog. Hopefully when we finally meet I will not be going in the opposite direction to you! My tire was find but I split my rear rim so it was a long walk back to Martinborough for me. Gutted I missed the ride but enjoyed reading your blog.

    John Keene