Friday, December 19, 2014

Two out of three ain't bad

After a highly successful spring cycle tour in 2012, both Simon and I were disappointed not to get away together towards the end of 2013.  We'd simply not been able to find the time.

Simon was busy designing the first section of a track at Makara Peak MTB Park that would become "Three Brothers", named after him and brothers Paul and Jonathan - a fitting tribute to not only their collective efforts at Makara Peak, but throughout the MTB scene in NZ.  And, I was house hunting, successfully as it turned out, blending the Randals and Tumens into one family under one roof. 

It was starting to look like the 2014 version might also slip through our grasp - I was flat out racing every other weekend or so in the inaugural North Island Series and Simon was designing the first piece (and second to be built) of Three Brothers so that volunteers could crack into the actual building over the summer months.  But, this time we had our eye on the prize, and we locked in the second weekend of December.

I'm as race fit as I've ever been, and while I've not clocked up big miles on the bike this year, the intensity's been there, and my legs well remember how to move a bike forward.  Simon's had a relatively quiet year riding-wise, though it's been a delight to see he and Miro rocking Kaitlyn's old Phillips Trailer-bike.  Perhaps on account of our own relative strengths, we agreed to dust the tandem off, charge the Di2 battery, and load it up with kit for two.

Route-wise, we probably let logistical convenience dominate common-sense, and we settled on a reprise of our Triangle Trip - the second spring tour we did together - back in 2010.  For a bit of variety, we'd thought we'd do it back to front, leaving the car in Ashhurst, just north-east of Palmerston North, and riding via Taihape and the Hawke's Bay in a big old loop. 

I'd been lecturing on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, so we had the option of Friday-Sunday, or Saturday-Monday.  The weather looked better for the later grand depart, so it was on Saturday morning that we drove north out of Wellington at a very civilised 8.30am.  The tandem was hung across the back of my corolla - on the diagonal in at least a couple of dimensions to minimise the overhang.  Joining it was my partner Sarah's road bike.  We dropped her in Waikanae, and she rode home via the Akatarawas.  Not bad for a woman who's undergone the sort of transformation as a rider that you only get to do once in your life (if at all)!  It was an absolute pleasure to see the txt a few hours later:  "best road ride evaaaaaaa!!!!!". 

Our usual strategy of parking outside the local police station was stymied by Ashhurst's Santa Parade.  An overly officious fire man refused to let us between his cones to park on a side street (he must have been worried we'd push our way into the parade).  Simon and I had a bloody good laugh at his expense when at the next intersection, we found ourselves on the "wrong" side of another set of cones.

A couple of minutes later, we were not yet done mocking that prick, but we were parked up outside a nice looking home with no fence, and were getting ready to ride.

The Revelate Viscacha behind my saddle, though a mouthful to pronounce, is outstanding kit for this sort of ride, and accommodated both of our overnight gear, plus my phone and GPS charger (!!!), and some extra riding gear should the weather turn foul.  Most of our tools were in a Revelate Gas Tank, and on the handlebars was a very nice 2.7L Ortlieb handlebar bag, loaded with sun cream, butt butter and a whole lot of food.

We also had a custom-made frame bag suspended below my top-tube, courtesy of Michael Tridgen, a local guy Simon had fortuitously bumped into a few weeks earlier at the Eastbourne Fair. He owns and operates Stealth Bike Bags and had not only whipped up a custom bag for the tandem, but had also paid a house-call to measure up.  Impressive - many thanks Michael.  In this bag we put our rain gear, pump, a few tubes, and some more bars.

Loaded, and almost ready to go
Before too long, the was no good reason to linger, and we hit the road.  After a short stop at a handsome map board promoting the Manawatu Cycleway the next milestone was missing the turn off onto Pohangina Valley East Road, nestled between the Pohangina River and the Ruahine Ranges.

Simon, admiring the mapboard
I was soon using Simon's back as an excellent mapboard, as we'd sailed past an intersection which had a small sign reading "Sealed route to Apiti".  We'd stayed on the road which would soon turn to gravel, and I merrily consulted the AA map now laid out across Simon's back.   We wondered outloud what other things we could use it for, and wondered if we might cope with a game of cards in the future...  

As we headed north-east, the riding got progressively less tandem-friendly, and unfortunately the scenery was quite enough to offset the physical challenge.  The countryside was mostly open, with occasional tracts of native bush, and one superb letterbox.



Simon pointed out the Takapari Road turnoff, an 800vm MTB climb which I've not yet had the pleasure of doing...  One day, I'm sure.

Eventually we dropped down and re-crossed the Pohangina River, and started heading away from the mountains.  The river crossing was a bastard, and was a sign of things to come - a steep drop into a one-lane bridge which had Simon relatively hard on the brakes, and then a desperate shift through ALL the gears to finally get into granny gear at about the time that the bike had rolled to a halt...! 

The Pohangina River

At the intersection with Oroua Valley Road, we took a punt and turned right.  The various maps we'd consulted all promised an unsealed section, though none had agreed on the length (between 3 and many kilometres).  In the end, it turned out to be a very short section indeed, and it was so hard-packed that it might as well have been sealed.  On the other hand, the very sharp stone that we clipped within seconds of the "gravel" starting had us digging out a tube and the pump moments later.

Uh-oh

I'd grabbed the pump off my commuter bike, and while it does a great job of filling a road tube quickly (and to a nice high pressure), it has no clamping mechanism.  When I tried to put a bit more air in the rear tube, I discovered it wasn't quite sealing on the limited valve stem protruding from the rim, and I was losing pressure instead of gaining it.  Luckily, I had a brass adaptor in the patch kit, and the pump has a reverse (Schrader to Presta) adaptor, and the combination had us back in business...!

That was the good news.  The bad news was that we'd had one puncture in the first 100m of gravel, and we thought we had at least 3km to go...  Lousy odds, perhaps, but we needn't have worried.  We stopped to let a flock of sheep by, and when the cockie kindly stopped for a natter, he told us that we'd be back on the seal momentarily.  As an added bonus, dodging the sheep-shit wasn't too hard either, and we were heading "downhill all the way to the Rangitikei River".

The traffic was crazy...
Downhill it might have been, but time had marched on, and when we saw a picnic table at the turn away from Rangiwahia, we took the opportunity to sit in the sun for a while.  On the mountain bikes a few years earlier, we'd been able to stay off SH1 a bit more successfully, but this time we had to stick to the seal, and emerged onto the highway at Mangaweka.

We detoured down to the "Mangaweka International Airport" and I smashed back a can of coke, while Simon had an icecream.  As we were getting set to leave, an unlikely looking cycle tourist pulled in - wearing jeans and a pisspot helmet, but he claimed he'd come from Hunterville, and somewhere else before that.  I felt glad to get away unscathed, and felt somewhat safer riding on the shoulder of SH1...!!



The long climb north of Mangaweka was a beautiful gradient relative to the shorter but steeper climbs that had punctuated the riding thus far.  And, that was a welcome relief!

The descent wasn't quite as hair-raising as I'd expected it to be, and Simon reeled the bike in as requested just short of the bridge at the bottom.  It is one of my very favourite moments on SH1, and I hoped to get a good view of the deep gorge beneath.  I was slightly disappointed to realise there was no shoulder, and I couldn't quite justify walking out onto the bridge just for a photo.  The unsuspecting motorists didn't deserve to have to deal with an amateur photographer taking up valuable real estate on their roadway.

I always regret not getting a better view off to the left of this bridge
We did notice a ladder, and took it down to a ledge below the bridge.  We admired the steel-work for a little while, and lamented the fact that the view from the top of the bridge would have been a lot better.  Once back at road level, we pushed the bike back up the hill 50m, and when we couldn't hear any cars coming, took a good run at the bridge. 



Next stop was Taihape, and soon after we'd found our lodgings.  The proprietor of the Taihape Motels seemed happy to see us, and even offered us a cold beer.  I gladly accepted - the first I've had in many months - but the cold, savoury beverage was a perfect antidote to a dry, and mildly irritated throat.  (I'd been making good use of the Fisherman's Friend I'd taken to France since Mangaweka.)

After showers, we strolled down the main drag, and grabbed some supplies from New World.  I was keen to buy more than we could possibly want, while Simon was in weightloss mode, and wanted less of everything.  We finally agreed to supplement our cereal with a pack of crumpets and small jar of nutella, and then it was off to find some dinner. 

I'd had a bad experience at the Chinese place near the BP four years prior, so we opted for the only other thing that was open.  Soon after, we were tucking into a chicken, brie and cranberry pizza.  I couldn't see the chicken, but at least I could taste it, and Simon generously offered me the 8th piece, which rounded the meal off nicely.

We only came back to this once the next day, but our hearts weren't in it this year

The finest lancewood I've seen, on the main drag in Taihape

Haha...  A 50c piece glued to the footpath, and a sucker.
Then, it was back to the motel, where be borrowed Shooter on DVD from the office, and settled back to watch Marky Mark (sans the Funky Bunch) shooting people with aplomb...!

Feet up
We smashed back a couple of nutella-laden crumpets each at intermission, and enjoyed a good solid sleep once the movie was done.

The motelier had indicated quite clearly that he wasn't keen to give us access to the bike until 8am, so we had a relatively gentle start to the day.  Things worked out well, and we were able to use the time we had effectively, and were ready to roll as soon as we got the bike back.

As is often the case in those first few minutes of the day, we both quietly ran diagnostics to make our first predictions of how the day would play out.  We were both feeling pretty beat from a hard day before - it had only been 120km, but it hadn't been particularly tandem-friendly. 

GULP!
It didn't help that the first 10km out of Taihape were mostly climbing.  On a short descent, Simon indicated that the front derailleur wasn't shifting, and when that fault repeated soon after what appeared to be a local highpoint, we stopped the bike to check it out.

We were wracking our brains to remember how the Di2 indicators worked.  A red-flashing battery light looked ominous - frustrating since I'd charged the battery a fortnight before and we'd only ridden an hour or so since.  We did a couple of resets, but the front shifting didn't return.

Ahead lay Hawke's Bay.  Between us and it, were 150km of sealed but almost completely uninhabited road.  We had height to burn off, but we'd do so in a series of steep descents followed by long steep climbs.  We focussed on the risks:  if the battery were going flat, we'd soon lose the rear shifting too.  Then, we'd be in the middle of nowhere, and be stuck with manual shifting between granny gear, and the third, second, or first cog at random intervals, if history was anything to go by.  Not only that, but neither of us were feeling that flash.  Not a good state, if things were to go bad. Finally, even if we did get to Havelock North that day, we'd still be a loooong way from the car, and we didn't think hitching with the tandem would be particularly fruitful.  After debating all this for 5 minutes or so, we made the difficult decision to turn the bike around, and to head back to the car in Ashhurst.

Simon gazing longingly East...

The first stretch back the high point brought back fond memories of the end of our second day of the original Triangle Trip. I'd had to walk up this "incline" - a big ring climb on a good day - due to empty tanks.  Even Simon's strepsil hadn't really perked me up.  It was funny to see that slope again, to remember the one square meal bar hiding away in my bag, and to pedal up the hill with relative ease.

While Simon had been up front stressing out about the shifting, I was having difficulties of my own in the back seat.  Slowly but surely, I worked out that Simon's red coat was the source of my problems.  Seated, I was able to look to one side, or over the top of him, but when we'd stand to climb, my eyes were about 20cm away from his coat, and it was literally freaking me out...  Like a red rag to a bull, I guess. 

I eventually asked Simon if he'd consider turning his coat inside out, or popping my black one over the top.  He pragmatically suggested we swap seats for a while, and we did so out of Taihape.  The long climb, now after the bridge, wasn't too bad, but we stopped at the top anyway to catch our breath. 

Rest stop? Don't mind if we do...
With no access to the big chain ring, we were coasting anything other than an incline, so we rolled all the way into Mangaweka.  We didn't go into the village, and turned off to drop down to the Rangitikei.  We were waved on by a loon, who Simon identified as the chap we'd seen at the "airport" the day before.  Another bullet dodged. 

From the river, we had a long climb up onto the plateau between the river and the Ruahines.  Near the top, we stopped and had some morning tea, before cruising on up the remainder of the climb.  We past the intersection where we'd sat in the sun, and Simon briefly cursed his burnt knees.  I must've sat with my legs under the picnic table, and hadn't been affected. 

We had a brief stop, and some honey roasted peanuts, in Rangiwahia, and Simon took over on the front again, this time sans red coat.  The climb up to Peep-O-Day was pretty sweet, and there we stopped to replicate our Graperide trick of sticking some cardboard through the front derailleur parallelogram.  With the big chainring engaged, we picked up some speed along the relatively flat ridge, but the inevitable happened, and we were both chuffed to muscle our bike up some slopes which definitely called for the smaller ring.  Simon's pacing and gear shifts were spot on.



We soon reached Kimbolton, and the first signs of commerce since Taihape.  We felt compelled to stop at the cafe, and we were soon tucking into a bowl of fries.  While we did that, Oli fixed our bike for us, and so when we were ready to set off, we again had a full complement of gears. 

Oli, fixing the front derailleur while Simon and I wait inside the Kimbolton cafe
 
I'd fired a photo up on Facebook when we passed through Taihape, indicating shifting problems, to which Oli had commented: "Loose lead? At the derailleur, battery or under the lever hood?"  I'd checked the lever hood, since that was where the Graperide fault had been, but hadn't checked the derailleur itself.  When I gave the lead a tug, there was no resistance at all, and I immediately knew it had been the culprit.  I pushed it back into place, Simon gave the lever a nudge, and voila, we were (sheepishly) back to 20 gears...  

The next stretch was a dream - we had a tailwind, and elevation, and proceeded to blast down the long straight run into Cheltenham.  I was on the front, and enjoyed seeing our speed in the low to mid 50s for what seemed like an eternity.

All good things must come to an end though, and boy did that.  First, we lost gravity, as the road levelled out.  Then the wind dropped.  By the time we made the left turn onto Colyton Road towards Ashhurst, we had a very strong block headwind.  55km/h was replaced by about 16-17km/h, and the riding slowly but surely sapped the last energy from our legs.  

While we were sharing the pedalling load, I dare say both of us was wishing for a bike of our own, so at least we could have some short turns in the lee of the other.  On a bicycle built for two, the stoker feels every bit as much headwind as the captain, even though he can't feel it on his chest...

As if the wind wasn't enough, we had a few short hills to contend with too, which added insult to injury.  The last few minutes of the ride weren't all bad though - we had a nice descent into the edge of town, and then Simon took what seemed to me like a random left turn that spat us out onto the main drag about 10 metres from the car!

Our 400km-plus, three day loop had turned into a 250km out-and-back over two days, but I don't think either of us was disappointed.   We were both feeling pretty shagged, which surely meant we'd got in some excellent training.  We were both also glad that we weren't in the middle of nowhere - despite the bike being fixed, we were both conscious of the fact that in a parallel universe, things might not have worked out nearly so well.

The shortening of the trip also had its benefits, and we had both started to look forward to seeing our families again, and had begun plotting what we'd do with our windfall gain of a Monday!  

Most of all, we appreciated that the trip had served one of its primary purposes, and that was to enjoy a weekend away together, out in the open.  However inappropriate the tandem had been for the terrain we'd chosen, it had ensured we were always within earshot of each other, and we'd made the most of that charming feature.  

As always, it was bloody good to get out.  


Sunday, May 25, 2014

2014 Metlink City Safari, aka sifter's really bad at running

These days, if I'm working up a sweat, it's a fair bet I'm either on my bike, or digging trail at Makara Peak.  But, there is the odd exception, including a recent highlight, the Metlink City Safari.

The event is basically a six-hour treasure hunt, with no bikes allowed.  I'd normally be very reluctant to turn up to such a thing, but this event has a special twist.  As the naming sponsor might suggest, the event incorporates public transport - the Seatoun Ferry, cable car, three train lines, and dozens of bus routes.  Though a bike would trump a bus any day of the week, the alternatives offered in this event extend my range just enough to cope with six hours on foot.

I wrote about my fourth City Safari back in 2011, and it was with some delight that I caught wind of the 2014 edition, after a two year absence from the calendar.  The training for this year's event was the same as usual - some riding - but Family Randal did innovate on at least one dimension.  Khulan was invited to join us, and Family Randal-Tumen was born!

The event necessitated a bit of an early start for a Sunday morning, and Kaitlyn, Khulan and I were dropped off by Sarah at the new start location, Civic Square, shortly before 8am.  We got our race packs and vests and were soon joined by Uncle Diggy, who we'd successfully intercepted before he reached the usual start on Queen's Wharf.

There was a relatively cool wind blowing, so we grabbed four seats on the bus parked up in the square and got planning.


Getting organised

The map had a bunch of distinct clusters:  Petone, Tawa, J'Ville and Ngauranga, Karori, Northland, Berhampore and Seatoun.  Our map booklet had been really well put together:  as well as an overview map, and several zoomed-in maps, we had a schedule for all the public transport on the course, event rules, and a couple of pages of clues.  In addition to about 60 controls we might arrive at on foot, the organisers had set 19 extras - all of which were visible from public transport.  They'd also clearly identified the latter on the map and in the clue list, so it wouldn't be easy to miss them during the day. 
The Seatoun Ferry is not only a novelty, but is a very quick way to get to Seatoun from town - it takes about 20 minutes rather than 40-odd on the bus.  Our first plan was to jump on the cable car up to the top of the Botanical Gardens and then collect a few controls under the positive influence of gravity before getting onto the 10:30am ferry.  But, we soon learned that the cable car was closed until midday, so it was quickly onto Plan B - the 10:05 train to Petone.  From there, we had a bunch of options, but we'd let the public transport connections dictate exactly where we went next.  The 12:30 ferry was a possibility, but timing that right would be tricky. 

We had a race briefing at 9am, and then got organised for the warm-up event - a 10-minute prologue.  We were allowed to open our maps for that two minutes before we started, leaving only a small amount of time for planning.  While I was oblivious to the fact that controls we didn't get in the 10 minutes would be available for half-price in the main event, I was conscious of the need to get back on time and was keen to not over extend ourselves.  And, for good reason:  Dave was nursing a calf-strain, and I had been receiving physio on my lower back for a week.  Consequently, we devised a simple route with a couple of bailout points.

The Civic Square is large, and there were just over 50 teams of at least two people in each, so it was easy to casually move to the edge of the crowd closest to our first control.  Not cheating at all, but a useful 20m head start on where we would have been if we'd stayed put.

About one minute in, I noted a couple of things - I'd forgotten to start my stopwatch and so we wouldn't be working towards an accurate deadline, and of even more concern, both my quads were cramping up already!  Not good with only 6 hours and 9 minutes left to go.

Dave and I were on navigation, and Kaitlyn had been delegated the responsibility of txting in our answers.  Khulan was free to enjoy her first orienteering event with no responsibility! Proof-of-visit this year consisted of a multichoice answer txted in to the organisers (or their computer system, presumably).  "2b d" was soon followed by "1e a", "2a b" etc.  We did an anti-clockwise lap of the lagoon, heading home via Harris St.  Our final control was at the top of a short flight of steps to a wall of the City Gallery.  The answers were one of "Get", "Your", "Feet", "Wet" but luckily I had time to take my shoes and socks off, and we finished 90 points in hand, a minute or so later with me trailing in barefoot.


One of the virtues of the txt-in system was live scoring, but it seemed to have a few glitches, namely some inconceivably large tallies!  It was interesting to find later that the largest prologue score of all was by a team that collected all the controls, but were ten minutes late.  They gathered a whopping 230 points, but lost 100 of them due to lateness (10 per minute). Yet another innovation this time was that any uncollected prologue controls were available for half price in the main event.  So, the only disadvantage of being super-late that I can see is being unable to collect any of the controls later.  We got 90 in our ten minutes, but did collect the remaining 140 points in the main event, costing us little time, but netting us an additional 70 points. Food for thought...

The 20-minute hiatus following the prologue was a good opportunity to rearrange clothing, and for me to do some stretching.  My hammies had joined my quads in complaining, and I knew I'd be in for a long day!  At least my lower back seemed fine.

At 9:45 we were off.  We grabbed the northern prologue controls that we hadn't already visited, and then popped over to the Lambton Quay bus terminus to get the price of a can of coke.  The store was closed, but the girls were able to make out the price through the window.  We made the Upper Hutt train with a minute or so to spare.  Perfect!

The public transport controls were all flags, and Dave made out the Brazilian one we weren't supposed to be able to see from the train.  Score!  It was also cool to spy our dear friends Simon and Miro on the poster advertising the event.

A poster featuring Simon and a very young Miro
Our route through Petone was designed to minimise walking, and we were one of only a few teams that stayed on the train until the Ava Station.  We picked up control 17 just adjacent to the station, and then 69 outside the local pool, a couple on Jackson Street, and then a few more on the way back to the Dowse Interchange.

The map showed a simple route to our next control in the bush below Dowse Drive.  There was a track exactly where we expected one, but there was also a team studying the mapboard there intently - not a good sign.  We went confidently past them, and started down the track, but there was no immediate intersection as we expected and the track was definitely heading in the wrong direction.  So, we went back up to the road, and after a minute or two, headed into the bush.

We quickly picked up an old bench which was easy going and may even have been what was shown on the map!  After a little bit more cross country walking, we were back on a main track, and a minute after that we were txting in the answer for another control.

It was almost a kilometre's walk to the next point of interest, after which we knew we had 12 minutes to get back to Petone Station for the southbound train.  While I was navigating, Dave was busy with his iphone, and the Didibaba app which he'd installed especially for the event.  Its ridiculous name aside, basically it was a google map with all stations and busstops shown on it.  By selecting any of these stops, live timing was given for the next transport options.  Very handy and much easier than entering the stop code into Metlink's website.

Our final control of this cluster was worth 80 points, but necessitated a trip into Korokoro Stream, to read some graffiti on the underside of one of the buildings built over it.  I drew the short straw, and opted to keep my shoes on for this one.  It was a squelchy jog/shuffle back to the station.

We made the northbound platform on time, but Dave and the kids hadn't noticed the underpass to the platform we needed so looked a little concerned once they'd seen the train arriving.  It had just stopped when we emerged on the other side of the tracks, so not a moment was wasted!  Perfect, again!

We liked the look of some controls in Ngauranga, so jumped off the train there a few minutes later.  There was a 10-pointer right at the station, but it involved climbing over a small fence to a "stock effluent disposal facility", and nobody seemed keen!!  I was worried about getting stuck on top of the fence, but Kaitlyn took point, and in the end Dave was needed to solve the clue.

It was then over to the bus stop, and we enjoyed a ten-minute wait for the 54 bus up into Newlands.  Had we been keen runners, we would have had enough time to scramble up the hill immediately behind us to pick up a 30-pointer in the pine trees, but, we weren't, and instead enjoyed a nice rest and a bit of lunch!   Knowing exactly when the bus would arrive made for a stressfree wait, and Khulan made creative use of the time.  The photographic output was not the creative highlight though of the break though.  That has to go to the caramel slice she'd made for us the day before, and it was very hard to save some for later!

Cavernous bus stop at the bottom of Ngauranga Gorge!
All four of us missed the flag on the left of the bus on the way up Ngauranga Gorge, but we txted in a question-mark anyway and were subsequently credited with the points.  We jumped off the bus at Salford Street, and began our walk back down to the train station!
Another price check on a can of coke
Our route was via Wakely, which pretty much connected Clive's Foodmarket containing our third can of coke control to the bottom of Ngauranga in a straight line.

There was a 70-pointer half way down to keep us entertained (and to justify the walk) and a Japanese flag near the bottom.  I was lucky enough to get my feet wet again soon after.  While I would have liked dry feet, it was actually quite cool walking from one side of the gorge to the other through a large culvert.  I could have done without counting the 33 brackets holding one of the service pipes to the wall, but I did like the 100 points we'd just gained!
I drew the short straw for wet feet (again)!
While I was under the road, Dave was scoping out our transport options, and it seemed like the train was the way to go.  Nearing the station, the kids asked "will we make it if we don't speed up?" in response to being told the train was three minutes away.  It was about 12:30, and we had just over two-hours to go.  Energy levels were definitely waning!

We'd decided to head to Seatoun, but the train was really slow after the Kaiwharawhara stop, and by the time we'd made it to Lambton Quay, the Valley Flyer was long gone.  The next promising option looked to be an Island Bay bus, but that wasn't due for a few more minutes, so we jumped on an Eastbourne bus heading to Courtenay Place.

Resting up, and scoping out the next connection
We were off it only a few stops later, ducking into the now-open Cable Car for another 70 points.  It was a slightly stressful visit on account of all the other patrons (including a large number of City Safari teams), but it was made easier by the woman at the ticket counter who told us exactly where we needed to look for the answer to our clue!  From there it was across the road, and almost immediately onto the Island Bay bus.

The ride to Berhampore was another nice opportunity to rest up.  It was lovely to see Megan on the bus, with whom I'd written a stats textbook - she'd just returned from a trip to Croatia, and had plenty of stories to tell.  I managed to keep one eye on the map, but my teammates were doing the same and didn't miss the two flags out the window!

The map had the bus stop we wanted on the wrong side of the Dawson St intersection, so we ended up staying on the bus and having to walk back - luckily only a short distance.  Control 81 was a nice mural opposite Martin Luckie Park, and it was a surprisingly mellow walk from there to the rear boundary fence of the zoo, from where we could see a "White/Blue/Yellow"... Facade.

Our next control was a hundred metres down Rodrigo Rd overlooking Kilbirnie, from which we planned to drop down to the Zoo entrance (50 points), and down the main drag (20 points) to jump on a bus up Constable St (20 points).  Unfortunately, we had only 8 minutes to make the 11 to Seatoun, and a couple of extra to make the 44 to Strathmore.  We didn't think we'd make either if we stuck to our plan, so headed down the Kilbirnie side.  On the one hand, we'd forgo 90 points, but on the other, the extra distance the buses would have to travel would ensure we'd be able to catch them.

It was frustrating walking down to Crawford Road.  The missed points grated, but equally as much is was a shame to be missing out on seeing Siobhan, Dave's partner, in Newtown.  It was a sound sacrifice though, and we only had to wait a minute for the Seatoun.  The Strathmore was 4 minutes behind, so we planned to get off the Seatoun at the Strathmore shops (50 points) before catching the Strathmore up the hill.  After that, we weren't sure, but we were enjoying making it up as we went along!

No sooner had we made this plan, than the bus stopped at the Kilbirnie shops, and the driver proceeded to get off.  His replacement seemed to be taking ages to get organised, allowing the Strathmore bus to catch up.  We were worried the 44 would be faster, so gave up on our complicated transfer plan.  It was probably just as well, since the new Strathmore driver seemed to understand the urgency, advising us to get on before the old driver signed off.

Our next control was about a minute from Mum and Dad's place, so we let them know our ETA, secretly hoping they'd be waiting for us at the control with some pick-me-ups!  They didn't disappoint, and as well as hugs and kisses, we were treated to some chilled water, sliced apple, and some chocolate!  Nice work team!
Grandparents ahoy!
The Eastern Walkway was a very quick connection across to Beacon Hill - even on our weary legs we probably took less time than it would've taken the grandparents to drive there.

Always time for a quick photo.  Here, atop Beacon Hill
By this stage we knew we couldn't get down into Seatoun in time to make the bus that would get us back into town, but points-wise, that wasn't a disaster.  Only 110 points waited down there and we were able to salvage 70 by taking the quicker route into Strathmore.  We grabbed a 30-pointer before peeling off most of our elevation on a long flight of steps.

Down, luckily!
The price of the can of coke at the Strathmore dairy had changed since the multi-choice answers had been set, but we didn't waste any time asking what the old price had been.  We had about 20 minutes to get to the airport terminal for the Valley Flyer, so kept moving.  We were also ahead of a Seatoun bus which would get us into town on time, which gave us an alternative option.

We'd just picked up a 20-point control on Crawford Green when Dave said the Seatoun was imminent.  We saw 2 or 3 teams waiting at the bus stop, and they started waving us on when they saw the bus coming.  We ran, and a minute later were sitting on the Seatoun.  This worked out well, since we were soon passing another control.  By the time we'd passed the Kilbirnie fire station, Dave pointed out there was an Airport bus just behind us - this would not only save us heaps of time, but also take us past a control just outside the bus tunnel.  Sweet!

There was another team waiting at the bus stop, and we all protested when the driver of the Valley Flyer told us his bus was excluded from this game we were playing.  Our saving grace was the logo printed on our race booklet, and he quickly backed down, thank goodness.  I now wonder if paying cash would've crossed our minds...

The 15 minutes saved on this bus was put to good use in town.  We jumped off in Courtenay Place, and swept up the remaining prologue controls before hobbling back into Civic Square...!

4 sets of sore legs, but 4 smiles too!
Unlike a traditional race, where everyone goes the same way, the aftermath of these events is always an interesting highlight.  I enjoyed catching up with various folk, especially Michael Wood, who'd been the previous organiser of the event and who'd obviously been on hand to ensure this one was a great success.

I completely missed us being announced as second-placed family, so was surprised to be congratulated.  Managing sixth overall was very satisfying, but didn't bring nearly so much satisfaction as how much we'd all enjoyed ourselves.

Dave had been an absolute gem with Didibaba (urgh) and I enjoyed being lost in the map.  My experience rogaining with Simon has basically been to come up with a solid plan at the outset, and to execute it.  With Dave and the girls, we were thinking a lot more about "what else could we be doing" and that was all facilitated by the public transport.  It does much more than offer progress to those with weary legs, and really adds and exciting dimension to an already complex event.

The girls had been wonderful motivators.  They were great with the clues and answers, a few "what control are we at again" queries aside!  I loved seeing them hooning around our fair city, and hearing them chat and laugh away.  As all our legs got tired, the absence of serious complaint, especially from them, was very impressive.  My greatest source of joy from the day was knowing Uncle Diggy was seeing and hearing all of that too - coordinating all of us to be together more often isn't as easy as it should be...

Sarah came to collect us (with down jackets x 4!) which was just as well, since we'd had to hand in our bus passes in exchange for our afternoon tea.  She was a good sport and walked to the car on her own, returning a minute later to pick us up outside the library.  That 100m to the carpark was 100m too far for the rest of us!!!

We all can't wait for next year!  (Now that our legs have stopped hurting...)

From www.citysafari.org.nz, with thanks

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Karori caper

Once in a while, you'll hear Karori being referred to as New Zealand's largest suburb - sometimes the Southern Hemisphere's.  Whether or not these trivia are fact is difficult to verify (I wasn't able to just now), even combining the respective powers of google and the internet.  So, I'll simply claim it's pretty big.

I've lived here for over ten years now, despite growing up in the Eastern suburbs, and regarding Karori as a long way away from anything, and a bit of a hole.  There are a couple of ways in at the eastern end, but only one way out in the west.  Taking the main route from Karori Tunnel to the top of Makara Road, you'd spend just under 5km driving through Karori.


Karori, surrounded by hills (and MTB tracks), with Chaytor St on its eastern edge

I know for a fact my mood is much better when I'm riding, and I've also observed that I'm much more likely to ride when I've got a plan. And, I'm even happier when the plan's a bit quirky.

I did wonder a few weeks ago, if someone was to ride every street in Karori, how many kilometres it would add up to?  And, how much climbing would there be?  It soon became obvious that I'd need to find out.

Over the last few weeks various things combined to elevate this ride in priority.  I liked seeing Clive Bennett's download of his route through the Royal Albany Trail and I wondered what Karori would look like.  (Exactly like a map of Karori, I suppose...)

The concept of Everesting also came up this week.  While I "like" the idea of notching up 8848vm of climbing in a day, the constraint of doing it by repeating the same climb over and over again, descending the way you went up, over and over again, leaves me a bit cold.  Being exposed to that monotonous concept made me think again about variety, and traversing every inch of a suburb would surely supply that.

The final key ingredient was the Easter Tour, and for some reason, that gave me the kick up the arse I've desperately needed.  As a consequence I've actually ridden my bike quite often over the last couple of weeks.  Wednesday Worlds have been supplemented by longer than usual commutes: once via Makara and Johnsonville, and a couple of times on a hilly southern loop, taking in Ohiro Road, Murchison St, Mt Albert and Mt Vic.   Starting those rides six months earlier might have seen me in very good shape right about now, but I'll take late over never.

The weather forecast for Saturday was pretty good, and by Friday evening I knew that within 24 hours I'd know exactly how many kilometres I could notch up without leaving Karori, and without too much unnecessary duplication.

I asked Simon what he was up to, but he had other plans.  I became a little self-conscious about my plan, but when the morning dawned, I flicked a txt to Dave, who happened to be very conveniently located.

"I think I'm going to try a ride I've had brewing for a while now.  I want to ride every inch of every road in Karori.  I'm fascinated to czech its stats."

A few minutes later:

"Mmm sounds like fun :-)"

50 minutes after that, we were rolling out.

I'd thought a little about the start of the ride, and had realised that with three climbs into Karori, one had to be ridden twice.  So, I didn't start my GPS until Dave and I were down at the gates of Zealandia, previously named the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, so surely part of Karori.

From there we rode up Chaytor Street and onto Karori Road, before making the first left turn onto Beauchamp Street in the village centre.  Just up the hill was home, and finishing near home seemed to require starting there too.

The curious format of this ride was immediately apparent.  We turned right onto Cook Street.  75m later, we swung a U-turn, and were soon back on Beauchamp.  Left onto Lewer, U-turn, Beauchamp.  Right onto Spiers, U-turn, Beauchamp.  Dasent, U-turn, Tisdall, U-turn, Henderson, U-turn...!  I've passed these dead-ends multiple times per week in the last six months, but still I'm surprised now at how many there are!

We climbed the steep section of Verviers Street past home, and then onto Shotter.  We were already in a decent groove, and taking left turns where they presented themselves was instinctive.  Later I'd remark how nice it was to be doing such an apparently strange and haphazard ride, without having to communicate each and every turn.

There was a surprising amount of road between us and the main drag again, and I was amazed at how close to Wrights Hill Road we came (on Mewburn Rise).

We'd discussed "what defines a road" and while I initially tried to articulate continuous seal, Dave more sensibly suggested roadways with names.  It turned out there were very many of those which were glorified driveways, but grabbing them all seemed like just the ticket.  Dave's eye for them was proving better than mine, resulting in a couple of early and unscheduled U-turns, as if we needed more.

We were soon turning left off the main road onto Burrows Ave, both mentally noting we'd have to come back to grab a bit of Karori Road we'd skipped on our loop through the hills.  I'd been to the end of Blakey Ave once, but hadn't noticed Beatty disappearing up the hill, and it surprised me.

Back on Burrows, we saw Jim, and stopped for a natter.  It was fun to explain what we were up to.  In turn, he told us about the Kei car is his driveway - a small sports car that looked like everything was at about 75% scale.

We were sure to ride all of Richmond down to Karori Road, before turning around to hook into Collier.  One of virtues of doing this on bikes was that we were able to jump onto the kerb to double-back, rather than making a somewhat peculiar and potentially dangerous manoeuvre in the middle of the intersection. 

Progress seemed slow, but very pleasant.  On account of the fiddliness of the route, we were mostly going quite slowly, and as a result, we were able to chat almost constantly.

Topics came fairly naturally, and were sometimes motivated by our surroundings.  I knew of Fiona Grove's existence, but had no idea that off it came Ruth Grove, Debra Way, and Emily Way.  I wonder who these were named after - maybe the daughters of the developer?  Or a city councillor perhaps...

We were soon at the far end of South Karori Road - the outlet of Karori's catchment.  We spun around, and soon after I enjoyed the quite remarkable sight of the countryside... 

Middle of nowhere?  AKA, 4km from the Karori shops.

We'd both dressed for rain, and while it was chilly, there'd been no precipitation and it was a nice spot for a short stop to reorganise clothing (and to take a photo or two).  


Locked, so no chance to swap steeds...
We made the left into Allington Road, and having visited the ends of Hathaway (complete with its impressive driveway-to-nowhere) and St Albans, we were soon at the top of Allington itself.  We were just under 30km to this point, but I was surprised to see only 800m of climbing.  It had felt like more.  I was also surprised to see that the South Karori Road-end was lower than the Karori Tunnel (87m vs 132m asl).

The highlight of our excursion up Thurleigh Grove was observing a man borrowing his neighbour's hose.  The funny thing was they lived across the road from one another...! 

From there it was up to the top of Makara Road, and on to the northern slopes.  We thought to gather up some of the Karori Road sections we'd missed earlier, and a bit of a communication breakdown saw us discover Natalie Way.  Score.

Percy Dyett Drive and Montgomery Avenue weren't as hard to climb as I was expecting, and it was interesting to sense yet another change in the vintage of the houses we were passing.  And to imagine where the roads were extended into the hills - minor roads at the bottom becoming major roads further up, where space wasn't at quite so much of a premium, and the planners future-proofing things somewhat.

We passed a couple of vege patches on the side of the road and had good views back over some of what we'd already seen at close quarters.

Silverbeet and Makara Peak
It was the end of another nice clean loop when we popped out of the bottom of Sunshine Ave.  I'd been looking forward to seeing exactly how far up the hill Chamberlain Rd went, figuring we'd be pretty close to Montgomery by the top of it.  The bigger surprise was David Crescent on the other side of the valley.  Again, houses I'd seen over the years, but with no idea of their access...

We were unaccosted in our tiki-tour of the Futuna Close estate, and did wonder whether the houses were only sold to members of the church?  Dave and a bus driver outdid each other for politeness on Karori Road when we were grabbing Newcombe Crescent. 

Not a road...
While I was very pleasantly surprised at how my legs were holding up, we both quite happily concluded that the driveway into Johnston Hill Reserve was not a road.  There certainly wasn't a street sign there, and we gave it a miss.

I was fascinated to discover the road loop connecting Hatton St and Homewood Crescent, to add to the various other finds along the way.  I'd probably have done an anticlockwise loop of Seaforth Tce had I been on my own (or in front, or had the chance to give Dave my sales pitch), but clockwise was perfectly suitable, even with the short climb on Old Karori Road back to the intersection.

We were both surprised to see that Old Karori Road actually becomes Whitehead Rd for a few dozen metres, only to pick it up again on the right along Curtis St.  We guessed the original route went through what is now a bush-clad path.

It was very nice to ride straight past Creswick Terrace.  "Northland" we agreed.

Climbing Birdwood Street really felt like we were on the home stretch, though it was into the most tricky quarter of the suburb navigationally.  There were quite a few blocks - luckily an uncommon feature elsewhere.

We did the best we could, finding the odd gem hidden away, including this street sign 50m from the end of Joll St.  I was very glad neither of my tyres let go at the bottom - a damp bit of road covered in rotting leaves. 

No thoroughfare, and a bit of a challenge in both directions
We clocked up 69km at the gates of Marsden College, which I'd never seen before, and immediately afterwards caught up to local legend Brent Backhouse at the end of what looked to have been a hard ride!  We saw him a couple more times as we ducked in and out of the various streets in the vicinity.

Thanks to Backy for the photo!

We'd been fairly disciplined to this point about grabbing things pretty much like a clock hand wipes the clock face clean.  But, the structure of things had made that easy to do.  Here, we deviated from that strategy and went as far towards home as Campbell Street, working our way back towards Messines Road.

I was surprised at the extent of Donald Street, and wondered why it had been left as a deadend.  We climbed Duthie St up to Messines, before finally looping back past Clive's old place to grab the south-eastern extreme of the suburb.

Leaving only Wrights Hill Road.  For the last couple of hours we'd been mindful of it, often questioning why on earth we'd not done it first.  Both sets of legs were starting to wane, and the thought of the longest and steepest climb in the suburb wasn't the nicest thing in the world.

We broke the bottom half up by grabbing Voltaire, but nothing could really shelter us from the steep pinches in the top half.  Soon though, they were done, and we allowed ourselves a short stop at the end of the to admire the view.  There were a pair of Harleys parked there, and it did strike me that motors were a pretty sensible bit of technology.

A few minutes later, we were back home, and it was time to get some data off my GPS.  I sheepishly enjoyed seeing the map, despite knowing exactly what it would look like.  And we were both surprised by the stats...

Mission accomplished!

... and in the vertical plane too!

For the record, we rode 86.57km, and 2558vm from the sanctuary gate back to home, all within the suburb of Karori, and a height envelope of 92m to 323m above sea level.  We knocked that out in just over four and a half hours, about four of which we were happily chatting away.  Fun times...! 

Maybe Miramar Peninsula will have to be next...

* * * 

15 May, 2016 (second attempt):  Western Hutt Hills, approx 120km



24 September, 2016:  Miramar Peninsula, 120km



22 October, 2016:  Adelaide Road to the Airport, 176km



16 March, 2017:  working back towards Adelaide Rd, 100km


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Losing my appetite at the PNP Easter Tour

I do remember feeling quite excited when I first saw confirmation of the 2014 PNP Easter Tour.  I'd really enjoyed the 2013 edition, and that had been a great stepping stone towards my cycle tour in France - five hard stages in three days.  What's not to love?!

I entered A grade, as I had the year before, but as the event drew nearer, and the field started to fill up with some very classy riders, I became increasingly nervous.  The GrapeRide had been a solid 150-minute time trial, and I knew my form wasn't terrible.  But, I also knew I wasn't in the shape I'd been the year before.

One week out, I got my knickers in a real knot.  Simon had recommended some 10-second sprints followed by a bunch of 2-3 minute hard hill climb efforts, but I faltered in between suiting up and actually getting on the bike, and the session went begging.  Simon was pragmatic, and simply suggested I switch to B grade.  I emailed Dave Rowlands, and with his blessing, the move was made.

A few days from the event, Wednesday Worlds almost ended prematurely - when a van pulled out of the carpark at Houghton Bay in front of us, and I got popped halfway up the not-so-Happy Valley.  I swung by Oli's for him to give my Colnago a quick once over, returning the next day with my new TT rig.

My days of riding time trials on a road bike are over, with a BMC TM02 recently acquired from Capital Cycles and added to my handsome fleet of pushbikes.  I've been so busy not training, that I've only had a chance to ride it once.  That ride was a real eye-opener though - easing into it around the bays, getting used to the position on the aero-bars, had still amounted to 30 seconds off my best time from Freyberg to Brooklyn lights.  Promising...!

The plan for the tour was to swap my wheels from the Colnago after stage 3, and the return visit to Oli ensured brakes and gears would all work perfectly well - all I'd need to do on the day was swap a new cassette onto the rear wheel.

Ready to rock and roll

While my "training" had been lack-lustre, I'd been onto the logistical aspects of riding at Easter.  I had a room booked at the Copthorne, and by close of play on Thursday, had done grocery shopping to at least see me through the races on Saturday - events during the Easter shut-down are not without their challenges.  I'd organised to drive over to Martinborough with Alex Revell on Saturday, and before putting my feet up on Friday evening, picked up a pair of wheels he'd left with Simon.

I met Alex at 6:45 in the morning - just as it started to rain.  The drive over to the Wairarapa was a great opportunity to catch up, and the conversation was engrossing to the extent that I never noticed when the weather perked up.  Over on the other side of the Rimutakas, the skies were blue, and racing seemed like a lovely prospect.

We arrived in Martinborough a few minutes after 8am, and found a park near the hall.  Soon after we were both signed in, and final preparations for the morning's stage were underway.  This included pinning a pair of numbers onto our jerseys and handing over spare wheels to the wheel wagon.

The response to the tour had been excellent, and there were about 150 riders present for the race briefing.  Jorge Sandoval, Dave Rowlands and Mike Sim all made points about safety being a priority, and then it was time to roll out.

A grade were first on the road, and a large B grade (plus A grade women) field followed five minutes later, bound for two laps of the 50km Millers Road circuit. 

The first couple of kilometres were neutralised, but in my opinion, they should have kept speeds down for another few.  No sooner had the pace cranked up, than we were blasting through a section of road with regular metre-square gravel patches in it.  I counted at least six bottles on the road, and one puncture, but at least everyone stayed upright.

Aside from Wednesday Worlds, and the odd tandem race, it has been a long time since I've raced in a bunch, and I was finding it quite nervewracking.  My legs felt fine, which was at least one thing off my mind, but the dynamic swarm of the bunch was taking some getting used to.

I heard the sickening sound of the first crash before I saw it, and moments later I was passing one rider lying prone in the grass at the side of the road, with a least another person down beside them.  That was the first time I'd ever witnessed a road crash, and it didn't do my nerves any good.

Once over Millers Road, I decided I wanted to be at the front at the end of the lap.  I thought we were going to ride through the road repairs again, and wanted to be able to see what was coming.  As we made the left turn into the finish straight, I rolled gently off the front, and a few hundred metres later was surprised to see only two riders were with me.  They both sprinted for the line, and I followed them across in third place.

As it turned out, we hooked back into the course beyond all but two of the potholes.  One of my "breakway" companions stopped for a wee, and I cruised until we were swept up by the peloton a few minutes later.

The group split over Millers the second time, and I was the last on the back of the main field.  My mass gave me good acceleration down the other side, but even with the reduced bunch there was no room to pass, and I slotted in behind about 30 riders.

It took about 15 minutes for the group behind to fight back on, and throughout, the riders ahead were taking up the whole width of the lane, and there really was no obvious way of making my way up to the front. My legs were still feeling great, but my position was poor.

At 5km to go, I knew I'd done my dash in this stage.  There was a lot of pressure around the front of the bunch, and with riders 4 or 5 abreast, short of an acceleration on the wrong side of the road, there was no way forward. The left turn into the finish straight successfully negotiated, it was a simple matter of following wheels to record the same time as everyone else.

Or was it...

More horrible noises from up ahead, arms and legs flailing in the air.  I moved left, away from the worst of the sound, and instantly had nowhere to go but over the leg that was on the road in front of me.  In my dreams, I'd have sublimely popped a bunny hop over it, but my instincts are not that quick at the best of times, let alone at the end of a 100km stage.

I picked myself up off the road, and then my bike, spinning the wheels quickly to assess the extent of the damage (they seemed fine, apart from a rattle in my rear wheel).  Next checks were to me, and I instantly noticed a quite grotesque swelling above my right wrist.  I'd crashed only a few seconds earlier, so immediately assumed I'd broken my arm.  Though, that didn't seem quite right as I had no sharp pain, and seemed to have a complete range of movement in my hand.

I was already very angry, and swore loudly as I surveyed the carnage in the middle of the lane.  I saw at least one cracked front wheel, and watched someone struggle to untangle himself from two bikes.  Samara had blood on her knees and elbows - hardly the thing she needed a week out from the Cairns MTB World Cup race.  Brett was sitting up with blood pouring from a mangled top lip, looking dazed and confused. I'd gotten off lightly, it seemed.  (Later, I'd learn the damage included a broken collarbone and three broken ribs, punctured lung and broken tooth.  I was pleased a broken ankle was not among the injuries...)

I sat down against a fence, and fumed.  The Rivet Racing boys were soon offering me some jellybeans, and an ambulance officer checked out my wrist.  It had swollen up even more, and the skin was now feeling uncomfortably tight.  It looked like someone had taken half a banana, ripped it lengthwise, and inserted half of the half under my skin.  Still no sharp pain, and strength in the hand, and it was declared that nothing was broken.  I was given 3 paracetamol, an icepack and a compression bandage, and was sent on my way.

The ambo hadn't said anything about racing on, and I hadn't asked.  After rolling across the finish line (almost 13 minutes off the pace), I went back to the event HQ, and enquired about whether I could start Sunday's stage 3 if I didn't ride in that afternoon's second stage.  While undesirable, it looked like it was a possibility, though it was one I was keen to avoid.

Within an hour or so, the swelling had gone down considerably, the pain hadn't got worse, and I knew by that point I'd be able to race.  Whether it was a good idea was another question.

I was still really angry about the whole thing.  It seemed so stupid to me that we would crash so needlessly.  The stage was done, we were out of the running for line honours, so the only thing left was to get ourselves cleanly to the finish.

My rear wheel had something loose in it, but it didn't seem to be related to any of the spokes.  (Once home, I removed a piece of gravel from inside the carbon fairing - inconceivably large given the size of the access holes around the place.)

I wasn't feeling hungry, but ate a couple of easter buns, and then went in search of my family.  Sarah and Khulan had been driven over by my Mum and Dad, and I found them ensconced in a local cafe.  I gave them the rundown on the morning's events, and then went to get ready for the afternoon's Kermesse.

By virtue of a very long association with Oli and Roadworks, I had a clean jersey to don for the next race.  This one, a track jersey Ultimo had modified with a couple of rear pockets, nice and tight, making me ever so slightly more aero.  My intent was to keep to the front of the race, and out of trouble.

I went to the front as we turned into the finish straight on the first lap, and spent the next lap or so there.

Thanks to Wheelworks for the photo

I didn't really consider at the time how dumb that was, from the sporting point of view at least, and pedalled way too hard in the context of the contest.  The field swarmed past in good time for the sprint prime at the end of the second lap.

I did one more "suicide turn" prior to the next sprint, and then resumed my spot at the back of the bunch.

The chicane through the square

On the final lap I did move up a bit, but was soon put off that strategy by someone forcing themselves into a hole that, frankly, I didn't think was there.

The road was nice and wide at the start of the last straight, and I made good use of the centre of the road.  I was steaming along nicely, and had passed all but four of the riders, before my hamstrings started cramping, and I started going backwards again, relatively speaking.

The sprint for second...
I was glad to be done, and rode my bike for a minute or so, before bidding my parents and Khulan farewell, and sitting with Sarah to watch the A grade race.  Alex was notably absent on one lap, and it was a shame to hear he'd crashed on one of the turns, and taken a lap out.  He seemed OK though, despite both hands and knees looking the worse for wear.  Joe Cooper single-handedly decimated the field (as a young guy had done in my race), finishing solo.

Once Alex had returned from first aid, his stuff in the car was replaced by Sarah's, and we were off to Masterton for the night.  After showering, and picking up some breakfast food from Pak'n'Save, we temporarily put racing on hold, and switched into romantic-getaway mode, and enjoyed a nice dinner.  My plate was very large, but the portion of pork and mash was more gourmet than I would have liked, but it nonetheless accorded with my desire to eat, and I struggled through it.

The next morning, I ate some cereal and tinned fruit, before heading off to the Sports Bowl.  Sarah was suited up to ride too, planning to ride the main race loop in the opposite direction to what we'd be doing it.  I forced myself to eat a banana before setting off, and had a couple in a pocket for during the race.

The first 15km was sedate, in the scheme of things. I sat near the back, and regularly contemplated reaching for a banana.  It was a good idea to eat while the pace was down, and before the energy stored within was needed.  But, I couldn't quite bring myself to take a hand of a brake, and rather than ease off the very back of the bunch, I just stayed where I was.

I felt very comfortable on the climb, until I didn't.  The pace went on a kilometre or so from the top of Kourarou, and I had to fight hard to stay in touch.  In fact, I didn't (stay in touch) - the acceleration had split the bunch, and while I was on the wheel ahead, six riders ahead, a gap was growing.

90kg comes in handy on a long descent, and I worked my way to the front of my small group.  There was a bit of confusion at the bottom of the hill, with one rider attempting to short cut about 20km of the course.  I lost a bit of momentum in the uncertainty of what those near me would do, and then the chase of the bunch ahead was on in earnest.

I worked hard for about 15 minutes.  Jo Holdaway came through for a turn a couple of times, and eventually we got to within 20m of the back of the main field.  I don't know whether it was my brain, and my tendency to let go when the job's all but done, or the beginning of the end, physically.  In any case, I didn't rejoin the group, and started working my way backwards again.

It was nice to see A grade, and then most of B grade on the out-and-back leg of the course.  Half way through the return journey, I knew I was toast.  My legs felt totally empty, and I started to assess my ability to complete the stage.  I was a mere 40km into 123km, and had a very long way still to ride with little oomph with which to do so.

I found Sarah at the intersection back onto the main loop, and stopped to talk with her.  Another few riders went blasting through, and I foolishly decided to chase a group of three.  30 seconds later, I'd made no headway into their head-start, and I gave in, for good.

Sarah and I rode together, and were passed by C grade by the time we'd reached the top of Limeworks Hill.  There, I handed in my race tag, and grovelled back to Masterton.  My final act of the race was to pick up my spare wheels an hour or so later.

I was bitterly disappointed, not to mention embarrassed.  Pulling out of one race is bad enough, but at the cost of another two was a hard pill to swallow. 

It took at least 24 hours to properly work out what had gone wrong.  Finally, relaxing at home in front of the TV, watching the Amstel Gold Race that had been recorded while we were away, I felt hungry for the first time since the crash, and I realised that I'd eaten much less than I would in a normal day at work.  And consequently, had consumed a fraction of the food needed to sustain a competitive effort in a stage race.

The weekend was not without its positives.  Sarah and I had enjoyed a nice time away, and even got an unexpected ride in together. I had a very nice conversation with Jo G, which was long overdue, and very welcome.  I'd enjoyed the generally social atmosphere for at least the first morning of the tour.  I got tangled up in a bad accident, and had only a few bruises to show for it.  Finally, it seemed I'd dodged a bullet by missing the time trial stage - as had been the case in the Vets' Tour Simon and I had done on the tandem, there were no results, and that would have been gutting had I ridden.

Mostly, the racing had been unpleasant, and this had obviously been a prominent part of the weekend.  Immediately after the crash, I felt I'd lost my humanity.  Where I should have felt pity and concern for the poor chap who'd been at the heart of the carnage, I was overwhelmingly angry about the situation.  It made me feel like a bad person.

It also really made me question my interest in road racing.  For a long time, I've thought at least some races would suit me very well.  I'll never be able to climb with the best, but I seem to go OK on flatter courses.  Physically, that is.  I'm not sure I have the fight in me for the struggle for position.  Maybe I'm too polite, but I also realise it's just not that important to me.  I don't particularly relish beating others, and I'm not willing to fight for position at all costs.

That all said, I'm enjoying the delicious irony of not getting to ride my TT bike in the tour, since I'm now even more certain that that is the sort of riding I want to be doing.

Me, against the clock.  So really, me, against myself.

Sign me up.