Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Pongoroa Pub Ride with the Kiwi Randonneurs

I never intended to do reports on any but major rides and races, but here we are with my fourth account of a Kiwi Randonneur ride and it's my fourth such ride!

Each of these rides have been so different from the other, at least in terms of how I've ridden them.  They seem to have progressed from racing at the rivet (trying to keep up with Iain Clarke on my first ride) to a gentle meander for the second half of the ride today.

Ironically, I hadn't planned to take it easy on the Pongoroa Pub Ride.  With a far slower 400km ride booked for the next Saturday, my plan was to go fairly hard on this one.  There is a great joy and satisfaction in pushing yourself and seeing how fast you can go over such a distance.  So how did I discover the other side of long-distance riding?

The start of this ride was at a very civilized 8:00 am, requiring only a 5:15 am alarm call for the drive up to Ashurst.  Fifteen people had signed up, well up on what I think was only one person on one of the rides a couple of years ago.  The club is really expanding!  One of the great things about the Kiwi Randonneurs is that it caters for all types of people, from racers to tourers.  There were definitely some really fit, competitive-looking people at the start!

Race briefing from Simon

Tour de Ashurst

The ride started with us doing a circuit of the small town of Ashurst, with the group staying together until we crossed the Pohangina River.  We were then on to Saddle Road and starting our ascent of the hill range separating the Wairarapa from the Manawatu.

I was rather surprised at seeing the main group quickly put some distance on me, as I didn't think I was too bad a hill-climber.  However, it was not a worry, as I was not fixated on racing and would sometimes slow down and even stop to take photos.  The 300 metres ascent was made somewhat harder by long stretches of loose gravel, the result of extensive road works under way.  Over-shadowing us were scores of gigantic windmills.  Very impressive!

Initially I had Chris Little a bit ahead of me and was rather tempted to catch up and have a chat before he blasted off into the distance.  I've ridden with him a couple of times before and he's a great guy.  But with my photo taking, I was eventually passed by Ross Cheesman and Craig Lucena.   I was by myself when I crested the hill, but still had Craig in sight and Ross a bit further on.

Roadworks on the hill

Craig Lucena

Looking back over the Manawatu

We were soon through Woodville, riding along the No. 3 Highway, and then crossing the Manawatu  River and onto the Gorge Road.  I caught up with Craig soon after the bridge, as he had stopped to lighten his liquid load.

Craig and I rode together all the way to Pahiatua, where I waited as he got some drink from a dairy.  We then cycled north a bit before turning east, off the No. 2 Higway and onto the Pahiatua-Pongoroa Road.

It was good riding with Craig.  I was surprised to find that he came from Paraparaumu, my home town.  He doesn't do much riding apart from these long ones, so I'll try and encourage him to join me on a couple of Sunday rides with the 60/40 group.  I suspect he was struggling a wee bit on the ride, but you wouldn't know it as he would rush past to take his turn at the front.  A tough dude!

First sight of the Wairarapa

Crossing the Manawatu River.  Craig on the bridge.

Craig Lucena

The Pahiatua-Pongoroa Road is lovely.  The first part of it was flattish and followed up a small river for quite a way.  As I slowed to take a photo, I was suddenly aware of Ross Cheesman behind us.  He must have stopped off at Pahiatua and we'd passed him.  We were then riding across the river, up through the few houses and church that made up the village of Titoki(?), and then up the remaining 200 metres to the summit of the range.

Ross was the stronger of the three of us, but we rode together all the way to Pongoroa.  I really enjoyed riding with the two of them.  There's a great feeling of fellowship undergoing shared labour, especially in such beautiful surroundings, and I have got a huge respect for them both.

On the Pahiatua-Pongoroa Road.  Ross and Crais in the distance.

Ross Cheesman

Nice views

Ross and Craig waiting for me at the summit

We were surprised to find the Pongoroa Pub empty of other cyclists.  Apparently the others had left 15 minutes before our arrival.  They must have been hooning it!

I got my card signed, filled up the water bottles, made some more electrolyte drink, then relaxed into a chair to enjoy what I had ordered – an orange juice, flat white, and pie and chips!  I wasn't really that tired, but it was good to just take it easy and enjoy the moment.

Luuk, Craig L, Craig M, Lis, and Tim

After a while, the rest of the riders arrived – Tim Neal, Luuk van Basten Batenburg, Craig McGregor, and Simon Henderson.  Simon didn't hang around for long as he had some sandwiches with him, so he and Ross left, with Craig and me a bit behind him.  We were heading north, then swinging west again to Dannevirke.

We eventually caught up with Simon and Ross, with Craig then pursuing Ross as I stayed to chat with Simon.  I ended up riding with him the rest of the way.  He's a great guy and it was nice talking with him.  Still post-recovery from a bout of illness, Simon was struggling with the heat on some of the hills, and on one occasion had to stop to allow his body temperature to settle down a bit.  This made it a slow ride, but a ride that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Simon also convinced me that the easier pace was also better for me, as he is an adherer to the Arthur Lydiard school of getting a huge amount of base-level fitness.  I might see how this goes, as I've definitely been taking a while recovering from rides over the last month or so.

Enjoying Dannevirke hospitality with Craig McGregor and Simon Henderson.

Finally we made it to Dannevirke, 150 km into the ride.  Finding a cafe, we settled down to wait for Craig McGregor.  All up, we were there for ages - about an hour and a half all up.  Definitely enough for me to down two milkshakes!

Rather than take the planned route along the No. 2 Highway back to Woodville, we decided to take a longer but quieter detour.  The roads were generally empty, which allowed us to ride three abreast for long periods. It was pleasant, although I was beginning to feel a bit like the kid at the back of the car who always wants to know “How long to go?  How long to go?”

Craig and Simon

A final look back at the Wairarapa

Simon ascending the last (big!) hill

Back to the alien presence

A disappearing sun

At last we were climbing up the big hill over towards the Manawatu.  It was dusk as we came down the other side, with the sun just disappearing over the horizon.  The gravel sections of the road works were definitely treacherous going down, but we made it through in one piece.

It was a very late 8:00 pm by the time we got back to our cars in Ashurst.  After a bit of internal debate as to whether to return quickly home to my lovely wife or join Simon and Craig for some dinner on the way, the call of food and more immediate company won!

Another wonderful day out with the Kiwi Randonneurs!

8:00 pm and another ride done and dusted!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Weekend warriors

On every Saturday and Sunday, weekday workers hit the roads and do battle.  We battle against wind, weather, gravity, and the friction of rubber against tarmac.  But, most of all, we battle against each other … and against ourselves!

The weekend ride is the highlight of our week.  It's when we toss aside the stresses of work and concerns of family life and get in touch with what is our primeval selves.  It's when we feel real and truly alive!  When you're struggling up that hill, half-blind with sweat and gasping for breath, desperately afraid of being mown down by those behind but still in the hunt for the blurred figures just ahead, there is no room for any other thought.  The convoluted layers of social responsibilities and expectations laid down by millenia of civilization are stripped away, and all that matters is survival.  Most important though is pride.  We need to hold our heads high in that small band of brothers and sisters that we are part of, and it is this pride that keeps us pumping away on the pedals.

Most of my blogs have been about my long-distance races or training for them.  But today I decided  to take my camera along and join my friends in the 60/40 group, one of three cycling groups that leave from Paraparaumu each Sunday.  I've written about the 60/40 group before, but with no photos (Riding with the 60/40 group - part 1, Riding with the 60/40 group - part 2).  I've also written about and taken photos of the ride we did today, but with no other riders (Training and the place of long rides - part 2).  Today I was going to do the whole thing properly.

I started with the 60/40 group almost three years ago and have been riding with them off and on ever since.  What drew me to them was their friendliness, and this is something that keeps me returning.  Although my relationship with most remains on the level of cycling buddy, they are all important to me and I care a lot about them.  Indeed, I need them.  Whenever I'm feeling cut off from people through too many long training rides by myself or being particularly stressed at work, Helen would tell me to recharge myself with the 60/40s.  It always works!

Ride briefing from Russell

Janice, Russell, John and Doug

Shane, Howard, Guy, Viveca, Simon, and Martin
As usual, we met at 8am just outside Paraparaumu's Bike Barn.  I think there were 14 of us there, with a 15th joining us as we rode past the Raumati turnoff.  The route was to be the 95 km around the Akatarawa block, consisting of Paekakariki hill, a  choice of the Moonshine or Haywards hill, and the Akatarawa hill, but with the extra challenge of Kaitoke Hill being thrown in today.

The ride begins along the flat No. 1 highway.  The pace is not usually intense, as we're still warming up and also getting re-acquainted with each other and catching up with the news.  The group has quite a spread of abilities, which tends to be fine on the flats, as the stronger and fitter members do most of the work at the front.  However, it becomes apparent when we hit the hills.  And what a scorcher of a hill Paekakariki Hill is!



Gary, John, and Viveca




Adam, Doug, and Iain
You cannot ride Paekakariki Hill easily.  It's just too steep!  But we all give more than just the minimum required.  For some of us, it's a real struggle and we try desperately not to get too far behind.  For others of us, the race is on as we compete to be King or Queen of the Mountain.  I rarely come first, but like to be as close to the front as I can.  Today, however, I was struggling, still recovering from last weekend's ride.  I was thankful to take advantage of my decision to take photographs and stopped off just short of the top to take shots of each rider.

We tend to wait at the top for each rider to arrive, with some of the stronger riders often going down to accompany the slower ones up.  Then it's an all-out pace down the winding hill to the Battle Hill turnoff.  It's a struggle to shelter in the bunch, let alone lead it, as it twists and turns at speed down the road.  Finally we make it to Battle Hill, where it's time to re-group and have a few bites of food as we wait for the dropped riders.

Regrouping at Battle Hill turnoff

Simon eating that staple of cyclists' diet - the humble banana
On the way to Pauatahanui
From here it's on to Pauatahanui, usually riding together as a group and at pace.  When we really get it right, we even get a rotation going, but usually it's just several of the stronger riders in front swapping turns with each other.  If necessary, there's another regroup at Pautahanui, then it's on towards the Hutt Valley, crossing the range either on the Haywards or Moonshine hills.  I much prefer the Moonshine, as it's away from the traffic, is far more scenic, and is tougher, being longer, higher, and characterised by a “false flat” for much of the way.  Today, most of us turned left to go up Moonshine Road.

Today's ride was somewhat messier than usual, with people having different plans and using the ride for different purposes.  Some rode on while others re-grouped, and different people used different routes.  There's nothing wrong with this, but it did mean the ride was not the typical ride that I was hoping to describe in this blog.

I stuck with the main bunch, staying at the back to take photos.  I then rode up Moonshine Valley alongside Janice and Andrew, chatting with Janice about her plans for an all-night group ride later in the year.  They dropped me on the hill though, but I entertained myself using my camera to terrorise those I caught up with.

Andrew (not me) and Janice on Moonshine Road

Still on Moonshine
Gary and Viveca

Viveca and Gary


Regrouping at the top of the Moonshine Road
We were then down the very steep and windy other side and on to the Hutt Road, making our way along the valley towards the Kaitoke hill.  The bunch remained intact until Brown Owl, where some  hung a left and returned home over the Akatarawas.  Seven of us continued on to Kaitoke Hill.  No photos from me, as it was a bit of a struggle.  Adam was ahead, with Andrew trying to manage his gap with him.  I in turn was trying not to let Andrew's gap increase, only to be pipped just before the top of the hill with one of Janice's typical last minute surges.

The ride back down was fast and we were soon ourselves turning off onto the Akatarawa Road.  We broke into two groups, with Adam, Andrew, Janice, Gill, and me in front, and Simon and Viveca not far behind.  I could sense Andrew really biting at the bit, but Adam was having a great chat with Janice, generously sharing his huge bank of top experience with her.  As a result, the pace was a lot less intense than it might have been.  I still felt very much in recovery mode, so was thankful.  No photos from me again, despite the stunningly picturesque ride.
On to the Hutt Road

Passing huge groups of mountain-bikers on a 20 km event to promote cycling
We've done Kaitoke Hill and are now crossing the river to start the Akatarawa Road ride.  Adam and Gill, Andrew and Janice.

A final re-group after the Akas.
So the Akas were topped and the seven of us descended the other side.  Now, for me, this is the absolute highlight of the ride.  I don't know where my daughter, Raewyn, has got most of her riding talent and toughness from.  It's definitely not from me.  But when I remember my ecstacy charging down that long, steep hill, accelerating past other riders and taking corners at speed, I'm sure that there is at least the insiest bit that is genetic!

And the most important part of the ride, of course?  The coffee afterwards.  Shared effort and experiences makes for great camaraderie!  It's something we all enjoy and there is definitely no hurry to rush home!

So that was it, pretty much a typical 60/40 outing.  When not doing my Randonneur rides, I'm definitely going to be recharging myself with my good friends of the 60/40s, weekend warriors all!

After-ride conviviality - what it's all about!  Iain, Martin, and Russell

Russell, Doug, John, Guy, Iain, and Martin

And, finally, group photo!