Aka’s Double Loop #2 (August 2008)

The lead up for the 2nd of the four larger training ride before Taupö had me unsure whether the outing would progress until about 48 hours before the ride itself. Ironically, for the opposite reason than the July outing. In July I had completed a 170km outing on the Saturday and had 72 hours to recover before a 205km night ride on the Tuesday, but this time the previous week had seen me ill in bed for five days. By Tuesday I pretty much felt back to normal, so with two days to go I decided it was all on.

The monthly (multi-lap) outings of the Aka’s are proving to be working well, with food, drinks, lights, clothing, fitness, and my sanity all being tested. I will have a fairly good grasp of where things are at by the time October (and the Aka’s Triple Loop) roll around. Due to staff being pretty short staffed I needed to stay a little later than usual and I suspected the additional darkness on the ride may make it tricky. This indeed was to prove to be the case.

I really struggled to get settled on the ride and even along SH2, (which is one of my favourite stretches of road), I was surprised that I hadn’t zoned out. I was pretty occupied anyway, as I make a point of scanning the road for every possible piece of debris while I still have the light. SH2 had a section of broken glass, so this was noted for Lap #2. It is really important to look for what’s there while the light is still helping show the way. I recall on the Aka’s Double Loop just before the Taupö Enduro last year I started Lap #1 at 3:30am and in my infinite wisdom (to save on batteries) I decided that along SH2 (while doing approx 40kms per hour with a tailwind) I’d only have minimal lights showing the way. This was a great idea until a discarded box appeared rather rapidly in front of me and I needed to take evasive action to avoid it. (Oddly, I never spotted it on Lap #2).

The traffic was the heaviest I have encountered in a long time and as I got nearer to the turnoff for the Aka’s I was conscious that the traffic would soon become less of an issue, but conversely the light would soon be gone also. Rather than the light fading away, it felt light the darkness was arriving. A subtle but not insignificant difference, with night bringing it’s own spectrum of difficulties and surprises. I savoured every moment of remaining light and thus the twilight seemed to last for longer than usual. Night eventually won out and once it was dark my previous worries about zoning out were gone. A new set of rules were now being played by and I knew that, with my journey only now truly starting, I wouldn’t see daylight until well after my outing was completed.

The climb was uneventful and reaching the summit unexpectedly I saw the welcoming lights of Waikanae. Following the winding road down from the Aka’s summit back to civilisation I had all my lights on full power and enjoyed the benefit of being able to use the full road while descending at night. With the bike in a low gear and the legs simply spinning between corners I was conscious that I had to make it a quick stop at home when I picked up additional food and drinks. Everything was sitting on the back doorstep for me and this meant I would simply arrive, take what I needed and go. Weighing up what I needed while tapping out 40kms per hour and enjoying the tailwind from Waikanae to Kapiti I decided I needed to change all my wet clothes. This was done quickly and I estimate I stopped for about 6 to 8 minutes. A little on the long side, but this includes mixing up the Hammer Perpetuem mix. I would ideally have this closer to 4 to 5 minutes for an event such as Taupö.

Time was the least of my concerns as I climbed Paekakariki Hill however, as I started to wonder if I had perhaps put on too many layers. I was starting to bake and had to unzip all of my tops to cool down. I realised what had happened shortly after reaching the top of the hill. My clothing choice had been perfect and it was the rapid arrival of cloud cover that had removed the previously cool weather. Halfway down Paekakariki Hill the heavens opened up. Within 2 minutes I was completely soaked and peace of mind only existed due to knowing I had clothes on that would keep me warm even when wet (which they now were), and more importantly I had dry clothes in my backpack. Riding on I knew an additional danger now existed.

One of the most dangerous aspects of night riding (in my opinion) is actually the headlights of oncoming traffic. At times all you can see is the white line in front of you, and this becomes a bit of a lottery as your entire visual world is about 2 square metres of blurred, dully lit roading, that is reflecting headlights up from the wet road. At one point on the long straight heading towards the Hayward's Hill I found myself with traffic approaching from behind me, but a vehicle (with it’s lights on high beam), coming towards me. Not a good combination, and I was acutely aware that the fast approaching traffic may not even be able to see me. Thus, despite knowing the road had little to the left of the white line, I moved to the left to ensure I didn’t end up as road kill. At this point in time I could only see 2 things. A white line and set of bright lights. My back wheel started to slide out and my front wheel was starting to swerve, and I had obviously ridden into the grass, which after weeks of rain was sodden. I had no idea what lay ahead in the darkness and decided that the lesser of 2 evils was getting back onto the road and got just to the right of the white line in time for 2 cars to pass me at a great speed. This all happened in about 3 seconds. I simply grabbed something else to eat and carried on. The Haywood's were ahead and I didn’t have time to worry about what could have been...when bigger concerns were still ahead.

The glare from oncoming traffic made it difficult to see the road at times.

I knew that my greatest danger lay on the Haywood's Hill, and a similar scenario while descending would be unlikely to have any kind of happy ending. Thus, I descended the Haywood's at a relative crawl and was acutely aware that only 18 months earlier I had survived my closest call on the same stretch of road. That occasion also had pouring rain and I had decided that I had a clear run to go for it down the hill. On the final corner I was sitting on 70kms per hour, and obviously looked to sweep across the corner to use my entire half of the road. At this point a car decided to pass me and gave me about a foot of room. I had nowhere to go and breaking in the rain (on a corner) would only reinforce any theories Darwin had regarding the stupid not making it to old age.

Thus I was literally centimetres from the white line around the entire corner and still recall simply watching the front wheel running out of road as I even started to lean my body away from the awaiting gravel on the road edge. I made it out ok, but had I been 2 to 3 centimetres further to the left my next meal would have been through a straw. That was then though, and on this occasion I safely descended with no traffic to contend with. Reaching the bottom of the hill without incident I rounded the sweeping corner and thought about what lay ahead. A surprise awaited however.

I knew exactly where the large section of broken glass was on SH2, and thus I simply turned the legs over and paced myself for the inevitable long stretch before the Aka’s turnoff. Flashing lights ahead reminded me of the fire appliance I had seen just before the Paekakariki Hill earlier in Lap #2. This was no emergency however, and my long standing theory that no road works were actually being continued were dispelled when I realised that the stretch of road I was currently on, (with 4 lanes of traffic), was being bottle-necked into a narrow single lane.

The road workers were very keen to direct me and stated “Go to the right of the truck mate!!”. This seemed to be a good plan and I passed by the right hand side of the large truck, (parked on the right hand side of the road), and rode onto the bridge with oncoming traffic in the other lane. It felt odd for all the traffic to be on the wrong side of the road. Odder though was the situation I now found myself in. In my lane, ahead of me, was tar being laid. In the other lane was traffic occasionally passing though in either direction. Then there was me, with no idea of whether oncoming traffic was going to come sweeping the corner towards me. So I just went and hoped for the best. All was well and the road works actually proved to be a stroke of luck.

With the rain continuing and the road obviously wet I knew roughly where the glass was, but had little chance of actually seeing the glass. Thus, with traffic being held up I simply rode to the right of the white line along SH2 and only moved to the left for the occasional groups of vehicles. Adequately impressed with my cunning plan of avoiding all the glass I reminded myself that this ride had a primary focus on safety first, pace second, so I was prepared to stop to avoid debris if need be.

With the rain now in my face, positive thoughts in my mind, and a few quiet words, I started into the Aka’s. I put all of my lights on for the climb to the summit. Looking back I suspect that having just 1 light on the last time I came through here (for Double Loop #1 in July) made the experience a little more spooky than needed. A well lit road made the passage through the hills more objective. With heavy rain I could hear occasional rocks falling into the trees, saw 3 goats running along the road, and scared a small group of ducks sitting in the middle of the road. The experience is also made a little more bearable knowing exactly how far it is to the top. Speaking as someone who was scared of the dark until I was about 9 years old, I think it is safe to say I have moved on. Ironically though, my greatest danger now lay within me.

With the rain in my face through the Aka’s visibility was minimal.
A decision needed to be made that would potentially determine this rides success. My lights were by now only adequate for the slow climb up to the Aka’s summit. Thus, I needed to decide on risking a descent in next to no light, or stopping at the top and swapping over a set of batteries. I desperately just wanted to reach the top and go flying down the other side of the hill. But I knew safety needed to come first, thus swapped the lights over. This took time however, and by the time I departed down towards civilisation again I was slightly chilled. In hindsight my mistake was not “stopping at the top” per se, (as I stopped in a relatively sheltered spot), but it was my body simply rolling downhill once I had cooled off. A future similar situation will see me stopping several hundred yards from the top, swap over required gear (including putting on an extra layer) and then powering my way to the top to get the body warm again.

I hadn’t stopped short of the summit however, and by descending into the cold I was rapidly getting colder still. Near the bottom of the descent I was actually shivering enough that I started to think of the symptoms of hypothermia. From memory 1 of them is complete apathy, (I could be wrong though!!), and although I had no desire to stop or give up I can now understand why someone would simply sit down on the side of the road and huddle in the cold. Stopping just before a long straight descent I put on an extra layer.

I only saw 1 motorist in the entire length of the Aka’s (the second time around) and at this point they passed me and asked if everything was ok. I said “yes”, though truth be known that despite wearing 2 pairs of gloves my fingers were by now frozen cold (and also wet) and I didn’t mention that I was struggling to actually do the zip up on my jacket. (Note to self: Include spare gloves with spare gear in backpack!!). It was good to remember that motorists are simply other people trying to get from A to B also. His evening would be over well before mine though. Despite the fast descent I was warm within about 5 minutes. Reading this, in a warmed room, the above notings about getting cold may seem a little overly detailed, but in October’s ride I’ll still have 7 hours on the bike at the stage I pass the Aka’s summit for the second time. Misinterpreting how I manage the temperature around me could be a move that could end the ride...and also serious dent my confidence heading into Taupö.

Now onto Kapiti. I was pleased to have the street lights around me again and I looked forward to the last 40kms, all of which is well lit. So with just 4 laps around a 10km circuit to complete the outing I started along Kapiti Road. This final section is more mental than physical, as each lap basically goes right past my house. Obviously it would be easy to make an excuse to cut the ride short and simply stop, but by pushing on when it is easy to stop I hope to build on my focus for November. I had a smile on my face as I counted off each lap, but was very conscious of the event I was preparing for. The Maxi Enduro will see me doing over 3 times the distance of this outing, with the first 100kms having hills and Hatepe Hill awaiting me 20kms from Taupö on each lap. It’s nice to feel on track for November, but it would be a little foolish to start looking any further ahead than the Maxi.

I arrived home at 2am and, unlike a month earlier, had no Tour de France to watch. That event was long gone and the Olympics were still 24 hours away. Thus, I had a protein shake and channel surfed until 3am. It’s amazing that after so long on the bike I wasn’t even hungry. Before using Hammer products I used to raid the cupboards returning from any ride over 40kms. Now my biggest concern is making sure I get the empty wrappers out of my pockets so they don’t go through the wash.

Waking up at 11am the next morning I thought about how safe I had felt on the ride and really feel that I was watched over on the outing. While some people may consider a ride like this their idea of a personal hell, I felt like I was in my happy place and another lap would have been achievable. Starting my Friday I also felt content...as I knew that Taupö was now 1 day closer.

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