Tuesday, January 28, 2014

French, Kissing, and the USA

I've long realised that with cycling, the hardest part is deciding to do it.  It feels the same with this particular blog.  But, I feel like I've got to start somewhere, or I might never get going again.

It has been a long, dry spell - much longer than any I've had since I began spinning yarns, but it's well time to remind myself how much I enjoy this second hobby of mine.

I returned home from France feeling fantastic.  I'd carried a bottle of emergency medication EFI (see the Tour d'Afrique for that wee gem), and despite being only on bread and water, had had no need for it.  I remarked on more than one occasion, that "my mood has followed me home", and I was treated to three weeks of blissful existence back in Wellington.

To this day, I'm not sure what the magic ingredients were, and certainly have no idea whether any are replicable here.  Surely I don't need a diet of close to 200km a day in stunning countryside to lead a "normal" life?!  

I eventually crashed, my mood returning to pre-trip levels (or perhaps lower), and the "Missing Months, 2013" began. 

I didn't ride my bike much.  It wasn't that I'd dug myself into a hole in France - far from it, I returned feeling fit and strong.  It was simply that I didn't really have the inclination.  I'd gorged myself on some of the sweetest road riding the world has to offer, and getting out in the dreary Wellington conditions was not high on my list.

That said, when I did get out, it generally was a treat, thanks to my new riding buddies.

Khulan, Kaitlyn and I - their first time to the top of Hawkins Hill
Kaitlyn's riding had improved unbelievably in the first half of 2013, thanks to the W.O.R.D. programme.  It was there that Kaitlyn met Khulan, and how I consequently met her lovely mum, Sarah.  To use an old-fashioned term, we'd been courting before I went to France, and were very happy to be reunited upon my return.

Misty, stoned on Sarah's catnip conditioner

My riding seemed to consist of cruisy family rides, or outings increasingly above my pay-grade.  A highlight of September was a call-up for the Hope Gibbons Team Time Trial.  I was invited to ride for Tank's Henchmen, and while I wouldn't have a TT bike, I thought the least I could do was wear a proper helmet.

Kaitlyn showing how it should be done
The race itself was a blast.  There were five of us:  Dan Waluszewski was our powerhouse, while Joel Healy was our road captain, sharing turns with Matt Webb-Smith.  Darren "Tank" Gordon and I hid at the back, making up the numbers.  I was feeling sufficiently good on the return leg that I thought I could help a bit at the front.  A couple of short turns had me on the ropes, but at least I felt like I'd made a decent contribution (other than throwing a sizable wind-shadow for Tank).  It was very cool to realise our names would be added to such an illustrious shield.

Joel, with the Hope-Gibbons Centre Shield
Next cab off the rank was a trip with Dave Sharpe.  We'd planned to go through the Heaphy, but the weather forecast looked to be utter shite, and at the last minute we changed our flights.  Instead of getting drenched in the Kahurangi National Park, we got drenched in the Waikato instead.

We rode from Hamilton Airport to Mangakino, taking in a few sections of the new Waikato River Trails, mostly fueled by a sweet lunch put on for us by Stephen Butterworth at his home in Cambridge.  While ordering takeaways for dinner, we overheard a pakeha dude who easily could have passed for Billy T James.  We had a good night's sleep, during which time our clothes dried ready for the next day's onslaught.
Waipapa Dam late on Day 1?

The one car we saw on the road bash to the Timber Trail

10 minutes into the Timber Trail on Day 2?  The last time I got my camera out of its waterproof bag...

Loading our bikes onto the waaambulance

Day 2 consisted of a very wet ride through to Taumarunui.  We'd anticipated going further, but by the time we arrived, we were so over riding in the rain, we called it quits, and the following day were rescued by Dave's dear wife Keryn.  It was a shame the trip hadn't panned out the way we'd hoped (twice!!), but we were both very glad to be home a day early. 

It was then back into the family rides, giving us the opportunity to check out the booming WORD after-school phenomenon...

Ash, briefing the next generation of MTBers!
... and some sweet new trail in Wainui ...

Jonny, Khulan, Lucy, Kaitlyn and Ariella, on Freewheel at Wainui
The next milestone was my 40th birthday.  I don't particularly like being the centre of attention, but I did have a lovely time, surrounded by family and close friends - some of which proved themselves amazingly creative!

A card, by Kaitlyn and Khulan

A cake, by Keryn!
On the riding front, it was time to dust off the tandem.  Simon and I rode at the Martinborough Charity Fun Ride, managing to sneak off the front in the final kilometres and taking line honours.  Logistical pressures were eased by the generous loan of the Bike Wellington van!

Plenty of space for a tandem in this fine ride!
In the meantime, the blending of the Randal and Tumen households was going great, so much so that Sarah and I decided to sell up our respective houses and buy together.  The whole process actually went very smoothly (and quickly), thanks in no small part to the efforts of local MTBers Katie Underwood and Bill Brierley, providing real estate and legal expertise, respectively. 

We spent a week with my worldly possessions squeezed into Sarah's place, before the big move finally occurred.  While Simon and I were demolishing the weirdest lounge-room feature you've ever seen, the girls were all at Women of Dirt.  Kaitlyn and Khulan were riding with Lucy and Abby as WORD (and finishing an impressive 6th in the Dirty Girls team division), while Sarah was riding with Simon's Sarah and Jo McKenzie as the Muddy Mamas!

WORD, after a great day's riding, well and truly enjoying the post-event buzz!
The next day, it was my turn to get out.  I was nervous, having done little riding over a cruisy 90 minutes, and feeling trashed after moving a few tonnes of possessions a couple of days earlier, but a repeat of the Waiotauru Loop was an opportunity I'd have been crazy to miss.  Tim, Simon and I were reuniting for this trip, joined for the day by Matt, Thomas, Edwin and Jonny.

Simon surprised me on the way out by saying he'd be doing it in the opposite direction; weird I thought, but he made it clear I was under no pressure to join him.  I stuck with the others, and remember fizzing on the way up to the Akatarawa Saddle to be riding with these guys. There was something special about a small peloton of MTBers that morning.

Getting set to leave Reikorangi, Simon clockwise, and the rest of us anti-clockwise
As is often the case when riding in such a big group, stops were plenty.  The most dramatic was thanks to Thomas, who cut a corner every so slightly, and got literally stuck in a tree.  His bike kept going while he hung momentarily by a stout branch which had penetrated his backpack just above the bottom strap.  I thought he was very lucky to be alive - none of us had a battle-trauma kit (or training) and I'm not sure we would have coped had the branch gone through his ribcage.

Thomas, alive and kicking


A landcruiser memorial at Waiotauru Hut
We bumped into Simon soon after crossing the swing bridge, and swapped notes about track conditions.  After a bit of hike-a-bike we were at Otaki Forks.  I enjoyed being able to actually ride my bike again, but energy levels were definitely waning by the time we reached the cars (a couple of minutes later than Simon).  Still, it had been good to get out, and I figured I'd bought myself a bit more time with respect to my dwindling endurance.

While I had no inclination to ride the PNP Series, the girls were keen as.  Kaitlyn was out of town with her mum when the series final was on, but Khulan raced.  While supporting her, I ended up following a wee fella around who'd been left on his own by an older boy who was supposed to be looking after him.  I nattered away while he pushed up the climb out of Long Gully, and watched in envy as he rode straight under the gate at Wright's Hill Road.  I demanded a re-enactment, which was nowhere near as cool, but gives you the idea...

Try that on a 29er!
In early December, Simon and I took the tandem over the Cook Strait for the Woodbourne Tavern Rotoiti-Renwick Serious Fun Ride, by the organiser of the Rainbow Rage.  We'd hoped to ride to the start in St Arnaud via Nelson, but another lousy forecast put us off that and instead we made a beeline for St Arnaud itself.  Just as well, since a 90-minute ferry delay had us arriving in Picton late, and at least with an 11:30pm arrival in St Arnaud we could sleep in and enjoy a day's rest before the race on Sunday.

The race went well, and we claimed line honours in a sprint finish, a few seconds over 2 hours for the 90km course, but well outside the record held by another tandem bike.  

Overnight gear for two on board that sucker!
In late December, I made a trip to Hawai'i to meet up with a dear friend, and my second-ever riding buddy, Rich Martin.  He was having Christmas in the western-most island of Kaua'i with his wife Jenn and their two daughters.  I travelled with Kaitlyn and her mum, disappointed to be leaving Sarah and Khulan at home over Christmas (fortunately not a big deal in Mongolia) in arrangements that had been made well before my trip to France and certainly before my home life took a serious turn for the better. 

During a walk around the Waikiki area with Jo and Kaitlyn, I spotted an interesting bike, and one which reminded me of the source of much internet-furore during the previous month - Specialized bullying the Cafe Roubaix Bicycle Studio over the use of "Roubaix", a name it turned out they didn't even own...

A Fuji Roubaix
After a fascinating tour of Pearl Harbor, we flew to Kaua'i to meet Rich, Jenn and the kids.  My mood was embarrassingly lousy, I think a combination of challenging circumstances, but also a very busy end to the year, and very low mood generally since returning from France, perversely despite an increasingly wonderful environment.

Rich and I hired bikes to supplement the car he and Jenn had.  There was only one roadie our size available, so Rich took that, while I got a 26" MTB beater.  I couldn't quite bring myself to spend double on the XTR laden carbon Stumpy, and the irony of being forced to hire a Specialized bike wasn't lost on me.

We drove to see the Waimea Canyon one day, and I decided that rather than subjecting the others to my foul mood again, I'd make myself scarce a couple of days later.  It was a 30 mile ride in undulating terrain to get to the base of the climb, and then an 18-mile, 4100-foot climb to the road-end.  The day was hot and dry, and my bike was clunky, but I had a great time nonetheless. I decided not to stop on the way up, and instead collected photos on the way down.  The views from the Kalalau and Pu'u o Kila lookouts were stunning, and well worth the extra effort over the viewing platform we'd stopped at in the car. 

Looking North over the Pacific Ocean, 4100 feet below

This was a magical descent, rarely needing the brakes despite its often steep gradient!
The 100-mile return journey took me eight hours, during which I knocked out almost 3000 metres of climbing (about a day's worth of the 80,000m Garmin reckons I clocked up in France).  While the weather was arguably much better than NZ's summer, the sun promptly set at 6pm or thereabouts, and I just got back to the resort before Rich mounted a search party. 

The ride had an immediate, positive effect on my mood, which was great (and also telling).  Time alone, perhaps?  A good old-fashioned physical thrashing?  Or, maybe I have some strange affinity to the right-hand side of the road?!

Realising a car would ease the logistical pressures on our next and final day in Kaua'i, I indulged my inner bogan and rented a Mustang convertible, just the thing to return the bike with...

After a couple of days recovery, Kaitlyn and I celebrated being back on New Zealand soil, and the arrival of 2014 with an MTB road trip.  Sarah and Khulan had been waiting patiently, and we gave both my Corolla and packing skills a good work-out.

We drove to Rangataua, anticipating riding the Bridge to Nowhere the following day, with Simon, Sarah and Miro.  Alas, when we woke, Sarah was sick in bed, and so we left without her.  We were shuttled to the start of the Mangapurua Track, and soon after got stuck into it!

Simon was keen to get a photo of Kaitlyn and Khulan for the next revision of Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides, which gave us plenty of excuses for breaks.

The girls, working it!
The trip was as spectacular as I remember it being and I was glad to be in such fine company.  While the day did march on, we were in good time for our 4pm jetboat, and had plenty of time to sift at the bridge before hooning down river to Pipiriki.

That night, the bug that had stricken Sarah unleashed itself onto Khulan, Simon, and then Kaitlyn, and with two bikes washed, Sarah and I made the call to return to Wellington, feeling certain we'd be next!  Taupo and Rotorua would live to fight another day! (As it turned out, we managed to dodge the bullet, despite me finishing a can of drink off for the girls on the jetboat a few hours before Khulan brought her share back up.)

A few weeks, and quite a bit more tandem racing, later, I'm glad to have reminded myself how much fun it is putting these things together.

I started 2013 with an amazing trip on the horizon, fully anticipating that it would be the highlight of the year.  At the time it was bloody amazing - at some point I'll have to confront that and go back through my photos.  Maybe there's a story in there after all?

Looking back today though, it hardly registers.  The standout riding accomplishment for the year was Kaitlyn's, not my own.  And for all the awesomeness that is, making a family blows even that out of the water.

A belated Happy New Year to you all.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful that things are going so well, but damn the demons. Great to read your Tales once more bro, they have been missed far and wide.