Tuesday, 30 June 2015

To the Bay 600

First light in the Wairarapa

“Fuck this for a joke!” - my unspoken thoughts as I ended the 400km “Whanganui Rapids” ride.  Yet here I was, just three weeks later, about to begin the even longer 600km “Off to the Bay” ride.

I've no idea what drew me to the start.  Nick Dunne probably hit the nail on the head when he said it was who I was, or at least – my spin! - who I wanted to think I was.  I just love the idea of these rides, of their adventure, and of the wonderful scenery you come across.  Riding to the point of exhaustion is definitely one way of getting up close and personal with this beautiful country of ours.  I also realised that it might be my last long ride for a while, as Helen was well beyond her generous limits of tolerance about the time I was spending away from her and about what this riding was doing to my health.

Only four of us made it to Masterton on a freezing, late-May morning.  I was there along with the three usual culprits – Craig McGregor, Simon Henderson, and Jeremy Rowe.  The ride was to take us through the back roads of the Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay, going up to Napier then along a different route back to Masterton again.  (http://ridewithgps.com/routes/7685095)

I'd come down the night before to put as much sleep into the bank as possible.  But even this couldn't get me around a 4:10 am alarm clock call, and I was soon rushing through the various pre-ride routines.

It was a bit past 5:00 am by the time I came across the others, who had just started the ride.  Even then, a couple of niggles with the bike forced me to stop.  By the time I'd sorted them out, all I could see of Craig, Simon and Jeremy was their rear lights way in the distance.

I was going to use this ride as a race practice, but without putting myself too much into the red zone and requiring weeks of recovery.  My intention was efficient riding, no unnecessary stopping, adequate hydration (a new goal!) and, as usual, improved nutrition.  To achieve the latter, I was going to take more solids, ditching energy bars in favour of sandwiches, figs and baby food, and to swap my Hammer Perteteum drink for Horley's Replace.  I would try and stay away from coffee and caffeine products, to avoid the chest discomfort I'd experienced last ride.  I was also very conscious of how cold it would be and of my low level of body fat, so had loaded the bike up with warm clothes, which I would slam on if I had to stop for punctures or other emergencies.

So how did the ride go?

The first part of it panned out pretty much as expected, at least in terms of how the four of us went relative to each other.  Jeremy didn't hang around for long before taking off at a speed he was more comfortable with.  I caught up with Simon and Craig and rode with them for a while.  In fact, I was with them all the way to the town of Eketahuna, mainly because their GPS and local knowledge made this easier than finding my own way along the dark, convoluted route.  I then left them and wouldn't see either for the rest of the day.

One thing that surprised me in this ride was how low I was feeling.  The going was considerably more tiring than expected, most probably because I had not fully recovered from my recent long rides.  I was not the only one suffering however, as you will soon find.  But the crucial thing that was of concern was my mindset.  I just wasn't enjoying it!  One indication was that I'd even given up the simple act of taking photographs, despite my camera swinging madly about my neck.  Even the beautiful surrounding countryside didn't move me.

It was 10:15 am when I arrived at Woodville, the 110km mark and our first control-stop.  Five and a quarter hours is very slow, even with a laden bike and long-distance pacing!  It was probably even slower from there to Dannervirke, with the going made tougher by its uphill bits and what had by now turned into a moderate (and very cold) northerly.

At Woodville - only 110 km done and I'm already exhausted!
(The 2nd of only 2 photos I took on the ride)

As I said, I wasn't the only one suffering.  It was while riding to Dannevirke that I came across Jeremy cycling back the other way.  The ride had not been going well for him either and he'd decided not to continue on and destroy himself.  Jeremy is a world-class athlete and I was curious about what impact his turning back would have on me.  Surprisingly, it actually strengthened my resolve.  It acknowledged the fact that the ride was tough and it wasn't just me being a wuss.  I also didn't have Jeremy's excuse of having to optimise my training through a rigorous and heavy schedule, so was determined to press on.

The next main stop was Waipukurau, the 200km mark.  We had booked a couple of cabins there, mainly so that we could catch a few hours sleep on our way back.  This gave me a great chance to off-load some gear (and my camera!).  I even got 10-15 minutes of solid sleep in.

Dinner was planned for the Tikokino Pub, some 30km away.  I arrived there just past 6:00 pm.  It was dark and I was very tired by now.  I sorted out my stuff while waiting for dinner and tried to relax.  I must have looked quite a wreck, as I frequently caught myself sighing and rubbing my face and hair.  People were friendly and I had several pleasant conversations.  They couldn't believe what I was doing.  When I left, one of the female customers and the manager called out across the room telling me to take care.  They looked quite concerned.

You can imagine the voices in my head arguing with one another at this stage.  A very loud one was telling me that the ride was too much for me and I should turn back and catch a sound sleep at Waipukurau.  However, it was soon silenced by an even more determined voice.  Napier, the half way point, was only 70km away and it would be back home from there.  I just needed to take one bit at a time.

The next ten or so kilometers had several steep uphills, peaking at the highest point of the ride.  My main struggle over this part was trying to keep food in.  I suspect that my stomach was already tight from the physical stress, and that the added exertion of the hills was making it very uncomfortable with the extra food in it.  Thank goodness, it stayed in!

From the top there was an amazingly long downhill.  The hills were now over, at least for a while, and it was nice to be in completely new countryside.  Seeing the various “Napier” and “Hastings” signs and knowing that I'd made it there on my own power gave me quite a buzz.

I was pretty tired though.  There were a couple of times on this stretch when I just stopped and sagged on the handle bars, totally emptying my mind and relaxing my body for about a minute.  This is quite recharging and tends to help me through some physically-low periods.

After some distance, I worked out that I'd taken a wrong turn.  Despite seeing the turn-off to Napier some way back and even acknowledging it in my head, I must have just continued on in auto-pilot mode.  The symptom of a tired brain!  Rather than retrace my steps, I decided to press on.  I would get to Napier, but through a different and longer route.

However, as I continued on, I began to worry.  That morning had been the coldest of the year (according to one of the farmers at the Tikikino Pub).  A mist was settling down and it looked as though it was going to be another really cold night with a good frost.  My tired brain also concerned me.  What if I needed to make a repair far from anywhere in the early hours of the morning?  How would I manage with my physical tiredness, the coldness, and my confusion?  I became more and more conscious of the risks I was taking.

Suddenly the possibility that I might stop and rest up in a motel for the night dawned on me.  This was something that Helen had suggested to me if I got into trouble.  What an amazing idea!  The very thought of it filled my mind and I felt a huge happiness just thinking about it.  At the next intersection, I turned towards Hastings rather than Napier.

But Hastings took a long time to come.  I still wasn't convinced that my decision was a good one.  I was also aware that tiredness meant that I mightn't be thinking straight, so decided to ring Helen and talk through the logic of it.  She was all for the idea and began ringing around the various establishments.

As it was, it was another hour before I got into the Apple Motor Lodge, which Helen had managed to book for me.  What hadn't helped was the very limited communication I allowed myself through my failing old cellphone that was running out of power.  There were quite a few wrong turns on the way there and misunderstood instructions from people I passed – more confusion from Andrew!

Even now, some 3-4 weeks later, I can still remember my absolute joy on arriving at the motel.  The owner was very friendly and had stayed up for me.  The smile didn't leave my face as I showered and settled down to sleep.

The sleep was bliss, albeit somewhat broken.  I was up and out of the motel by 6:00 am, now taking the fastest route back to Masterton – straight down the No. 2 highway!

As you can imagine, it was a long haul back home.  Again I didn't take much in, despite the route being quite pretty.  Without map and my route notes now useless, I didn't know how long it would be to Waipukurau.  As usual, I lowered my expectations so as not to be unpleasantly surprised.

It was probably 8:30 am when I rolled into Waipukurau.  You can imagine my surprise when I saw Simon there at this late hour.  He had found the going tough the previous night, especially with the cold, and turned back from Tikokino Pub to return to the cabin for the night.  He was happy to see me, as he was hoping to ride back together.

I felt quite refreshed after a short break in Waipukurau, but this didn't last for long.  Both of us found it hard going, despite the relatively easy roads.  One thing that I noticed was how badly the local roads were designed for cyclists.  There is little verge and the frequent judder bars meant that we had to ride on the road-side of the white line.  Fine for the safety of motorists, but not of cyclists!

Our plan was to stop for a feed at Dannevirke, 55km on from Waipukurau.  But both of us were definitely ready for food by the time we got to Norsewood.  What a lovely little village it is.  That elated feeling I had when stopping at the motel the previous night was still with me, and I'm sure that I still had a grin on me while scoffing down the most delicious of scrambled eggs on toast.

Simon - after a breakfast stop at the historical Norsewood

I really can't remember much of the riding from here on.  It was hard and slow.  I'd developed some pretty good saddle sores by now, which got more and more uncomfortable as we went on.  It's funny the thinking that goes through your head when you're exhausted.  It's not the brightest.  For example, I sometimes compose sentences and prose in my mind when riding, but when tired this would be the most simple and stupidest of sentences that I would repeat and repeat for minutes on end.  Mathematical equations, such as the distance to go, would be all over the place, often with me just repeating a word or two for minutes - “four … thirty eight … four … that's four … divided by … four ...”.

Simon burst out laughing at our stop at a rather posh cafe in Dannevirke.  We were on a sofa and I'd just finished rearranging my clothes.  There I was, sprawled back, bare-footed, with my gear all around me.  It would have looked quite a contrast to all the other rather tidy customers out for a Sunday morning treat!

Getting ready to sprawl on the cafe sofa in Dannevirke

So it was a long, long slog back, made bearable by Simon's company.  It was so nice to have a distraction and there may even have been aspects of the ride that I enjoyed as a result.  Many thank to you Simon for your company!

At last we made it to Eketahuna, with only 50km to go to the end.  However, now the question on our mind was - “where's Craig?”  ((Or, if I was to be honest, it was more on my kind companion's mind.  My own most unworthy thoughts were more along the lines of, “Fuck Craig, he can look after himself.  I just want to finish this ride!”))  Craig was still out on the road.  He hadn't got to Ekatuhuna yet and the cut-off time was imminent.  “You just wait”, said Simon, “he'll arrive minutes before the deadline”.  And sure enough, a couple of minutes before 5:45 pm, there was Craig.  Boy was he pissed off!  “You and your fucken hills!”, he accused Simon, the course designer.  The number of the customers at Pongaroa Pub had meant that he had to leave before getting his meal there and then had to really hoof it to make the time limit.  He would have been really blasting the last bit and my memory is indeed of three nasty little hills that would hardly have been pleasant for a tired cyclist.  (For those who don't know Craig, I need to add that his comment was at least half said in jest.  Both Craig and Simon seem to take immense pleasure in fitting as many vertical metres into a ride as they can! ;-) )

Three tired individuals snacking in Eketahuna - Craig, Simon and me


We kept Craig company the rest of the way to Masterton and he definitely wasn't loafing around.  With the looming time limits, he was really moving it.  Not bad when coming to the end of 600km!  Out of the four of us, Craig ended up being the only one to finish the full course.  Another stirling effort from the President of the Kiwi Randonneurs!

You could not imagine the mad joy that swept over me when Simon and I finally rolled into the motor lodge grounds.  Although I hadn't completed the full 600km, it had been a difficult 500km and I felt pretty pleased with my effort.  The shower that followed was pure bliss, as was getting back into normal clothes, both actions no doubt accompanied by an insane grin.  Simon and I then stopped off at a Chineses takeaway, before driving our separate ways home over the Rimutakas.

Now, this blog has taken me ages to write.  I usually try and do them within a day or two of a ride, so as to get a better chance of accurately capturing my thoughts and feelings.  The problem with that, though, is that the writing is pretty much an endurance session in itself and adds to my time “away” from Helen, so I was reluctant to tempt fate too much this time around.

However, as I've delayed it more and more, the blog has become harder and harder to write.  So, rather than delay any further, I'm just going to publish it.  I already know the subject of my next blog, though.  It's something that I wanted to eloquently fit in at the end of this one but have been struggling so much to put into words.  It's the matter of where I am now with this sport.  Essentially, the issue is one of dealing with conflicting needs and of achieving the right balance.  More on this next time!

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