Saturday, May 07, 2011

A bike ride

Hamish and I had originally planned to be in Central Otago for the first couple of weeks of April so I'd taken time off work. Unfortunately Hamish couldn't go (something about taking a month off later this year - bah), but I'd already booked mine so I found myself gifted with over two weeks in Wellington, with some surprisingly good weather.

One fine sunny morning I loaded up my car, stopped into work to print off a map, and headed over to Masterton to ride the Tour of the Wairarapa course. I decided on TotW because I've only ever done the 50k ride before. Several of the Gearshifters had complained that the 115k course was hard and hilly, but I was just generally curious to see what it was like. With sun, mild temperatures and no real wind forecast it seemed like a good time to give it a go.

I was of course a bit nervous about heading out all that distance on my own, especially when I knew it was likely there'd be no cellphone reception for much of it, and that there was no one handy should I need rescuing. I regarded it as a kind of personal challenge though, so sucked down another harden up pill.

By the time I got to Masterton it was already 11, so I took a little more Hydrocortisone, ate a banana, and got going. I didn't see another cyclist the whole time I was out there, and on the country roads there were hardly any cars. I was in this on my own.

The first 25k were familiar territory and went past fairly quickly. I stopped at the 50k ride turnaround point to have a bit of a drink and a bite to eat, and to psyche myself up. From here on in it was all unknown. I'd never even driven out that way before, so I had no idea what the roads were like or what the hills were like. I was just hoping I could stick to the map and not get lost.

After a bit of a climb I had a rather nerve racking descent on roads covered in wet pine needles. For the record - wet pine needles are not a good surface for cycling, especially with the race tires I've never bothered to change, which have very little tread. From there though I found myself in a lovely valley, surrounded by rolling green hills. I tucked down low over the handlebars and got into a zone, flying through this beautiful location on a deserted country road, feeling rather awesome.

The awesomeness lasted to about the intersection with Dagg Rd, where I suddenly hit a cold and surprisingly strong headwind, which I guess the valley must have been funneling. From there it was a mental battle to Alfredton, as I started to freak out just ever so slightly. I was so tempted to make it an out and back and go back the way I'd come, which would still have made for around a three hour ride, but I knew I'd be disappointed in myself if I did. I had to have faith that the headwind would turn to a tailwind and that I'd be ok.

Eventually I made it to Alfredton, which I'd suspected to be a little town but in fact was just a dot on the map. I got to an intersection and turned right, rode a few metres, stopped, looked at the map, turned around and went left. I nearly ended up riding way off course, but the left turn wasn't as obvious because the road narrowed, and turning right seemed more logical.

Unnerved ever so slightly I started to freak out even more as the wind grew rather than eased, and my average speed plummeted. For some reason I started to worry about getting back to Masterton before it got dark, even though it was hardly going to take me six hours to ride 115k. Sometimes when I'm riding I lose my ability to summon up rational thought! However I was going to get back late enough that it was going to be early evening before I made it back to Wellington.

Between Afredton and Eketahuna was probably the worst part of the ride. There were two fairly gnarly climbs which ordinarily wouldn't have bothered me, but on my own and not knowing how long they would go on for (or how steep they would get) they messed with my head. It was also obvious that there had been lots of stock on the road. If I thought descending over wet pine needles was bad it was just as well I didn't know ahead of time I'd be riding down steep, winding hills on roads covered in cow shit, into sneaky head and crosswinds. Mind you, I didn't expect to find a fallen pine tree blocking most of the road halfway up the second climb either. Thankfully there was just enough room to cycle around it.

At the bottom of the second hill I found myself in a narrow valley surrounded by more rolling hills, not knowing what I was going to have to do to climb back out again. I figured I had at least one more climb to get out and into Eketahuna and was feeling rather anxious about what that would entail. All that talk about there being nasty hills out this way had done a number on me. During the moments when the wind dropped though it was all very beautiful and scenic, and I did enjoy myself in between the moments of panic!

In the end the climb out was long but gradual and nothing much to be concerned about at all. It was, however, nasty chip seal. About halfway up there was a noise like my back tire deflating. I jumped off but both tires were fine. Nothing seemed obviously wrong but when I spun my back wheel there was a rasping sound like something rubbing. Eventually, after a few moments of nervous investigation, I located a piece of gravel sitting above the back brake. I couldn't get to it with my finger so fished out my car keys and after a few more moments of fiddling I managed to get it out.

That small moment of potential disaster lightened my mood for a while, but once I got to Eketahuna I was keen to keep moving and get this thing over with. All plans of a relaxed lunch in the sun went out the window. The next few kilometres were along the highway. Thankfully there was a bit of a shoulder because there were a lot of stock trucks and milk tankers whizzing past. Thankfully also I seemed to have a bit of a tailwind at last, and I fairly flew up another long, gentle incline and down the other side.

At Kaiparoro I turned left off the main road and into cycling heaven. With a true tailwind I soared along a narrow, gently undulating country road through trees and fields at around 35kph. No cars passed to destroy my zen. At one point I stopped for a farmer moving his sheep and he commented that it was a nice day for it before waving me through. I had another near-map malfunction but was undaunted, with victory in the air. I also started seeing signs pointing to Masterton. I was still expecting there to be a final climb before dropping down to Dyer's Rock, but I was no longer nervous.

Finally I got back to what I thought was the intersection that would take me back along the undulating 25k I'd rode at the start. I turned right and pedaled happily onwards, stopping once more briefly for sheep. After cycling along blissfully for some time (the late afternoon sun was turning all the autumn leaves even more golden) I realised something was amiss when I crossed railway lines. Damn - they weren't there before. Checking my map I discovered I'd gone right when I should have, you guessed it, gone left. Story of my day. However I also saw that if I kept going the way I was I would come back onto the highway at Opaki. I was, therefore, not majorly lost. I'd just taken a slight detour.

In the end the detour was a blessing in disguise as it lead to me taking a slightly faster, shorter route back down a long flat road. Still distrustful of my faulty navigation skills I stopped occasionally to check on my progress, but almost before I knew it I was in Masterton. I ended up riding just under 110k on my own, through unfamiliar territory, on my own. I'd only started to tire over about the last half an hour. My average speed was slow, but with no one to draft off it was a speed I was prepared to accept.

I finished off the last of my second Em's Power Bar, loaded up the car, stopped at a dairy for a drink, and drove happily back to Wellington, where Hamish organised dinner and I collapsed happily on the sofa with a bottle of cider. I'd just done something I would never have thought I'd be brave enough to do, and I was thrilled.

1 comment:

France said...

What you’re saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I also love the images you put in here. They fit so well with what you’re trying to say. I’m sure you’ll reach so many people with what you’ve got to say.