Aka's Triple Loop #1 (September 2008)

Several weeks before this third Aka’s overnight outing I decided it was time to truly see where the training was at. I finished reading about the quest by Ranulph Fiennes and Mike Stroud to be the first individuals to cross from one side of Antarctica to the other unsupported. Their sledges weighed a massive 485 pounds each and as Ranulph described, it was tough from the very start. After several attempts, he could not actually move the now fully loaded sledge. “I tugged again...and moved forward. I will never forget that instant. Never. I could pull the sledge.”

This was literally the first step of a journey that would last 95 days and 2,380kms. The amazing journey of these 2 true explorers got me thinking about pushing myself to find where I am really at with the training. If I am to set off to complete four laps of Taupo, (and later in this same season complete a 1,010km ride at the Graperide 'Ultimate'), then I must step out from the shadows of distances I already know I can complete. Thus, feeling suitably inspired by the efforts of individuals who seem to thrive on finding their limits I decided that (a month ahead of schedule) it was time for the Aka’s Triple Loop...

Fiennes in Antarctica. (He was to lose all his fingers in a later expedition).

As with most larger outings, the preparations for the start of the journey begin several days before the day itself arrives. Wednesday saw me have three additional carbo loading meals throughout the day (two plates of rice, and one of pasta) along with eleven weetbix for breakfast, and snacks of fruit throughout the day. My usual approach for carbo loading is that if you can still face another meal, then you haven’t had enough. By Thursday I felt adequately full and obviously on the day of an outing it’s not advisable to overdo the food, so I backed right off, so while having twelve weetbix, I only had two additional carbo meals during the day.

Thursday’s start actually had interesting beginnings, with a ride into work seeing me manage to cycle over something sharp. I still have no idea what it was. This left my back tyre with two cuts. One of which went right through. I checked for glass fragments and found none, so placed pieces from a plastic bag between the tyre and the new tube, and then carried onto work. The situation left me getting to know a few more people at work. I was pretty confident that the plastic would hold, but a single drop of superglue on each cut would eliminate the possibility of the plastic wearing through on the outing. Thus, after speaking with a string of people who had no super glue, (and who all possibly think I’m completely mad with my random query!!), I decided that this was a training ride and thus it would be interesting to test how long the plastic could hold.

There was no panic to leave work early for this outing. On the Double Loops, the difference of leaving earlier would be meaning arriving at home at 1am rather than 2am. But on the Triple Loop getting home at 7am rather than 6am isn't a biggie. Shortly after 4pm I gathered together all of my gear from my desk and simply said “See ya” to a colleague and I headed out the door. Like any good training ride there was no fanfare at the outset. Getting on the bike I felt no excitement or emotion about the ride ahead. This outing was going to be 80% mental and staying on top of things mentally would determine my success. I still had two hours of daylight ahead of me, yet the ride wouldn’t be over until after sunrise.

An important task during the hours of remaining light was to assess every obstacle and scattering of glass while the light was good. By the time I reached the top of the Haywards Hill for the first time I felt I had an odious task ahead of me in the darkness. Firstly, the headwinds had given me no respite and I was starting to wonder how long this outing would last. Secondly, and more concerning, was the state of the road. All along SH58 and also up the Haywards Hill there were pockets of smashed glass. Riding over just one fragment of glass could see me needing to stopped for an extended period of time changing a tube, getting a chill, and struggling on with the ride. It was comforting to know I had spare clothes with me, along with five spare tubes.

After a swift descent down the Hayward’s Hill I was pleased to feel a cold, gusty, headwind as I made the final turn on the descent. I knew that once at the intersection I would be turning left and could enjoy a tailwind. SH2 is one of my favourite stretches of road and the experience has been made even better with the side of the road now totally clear of both glass and gravel. Thus, sitting on 35-40kms per hour I stayed in my target HR range (68-72% on the flat sections) and pushed on towards the Aka’s.

The Aka’s Loop

Feeling good and with the light still favourable I started my first of three climbs into the Aka’s. I enjoyed the last of the light and knew it was important to get to the washed out section of the Aka’s while the light was still good.

Recent flooding has literally washed away one side of the road in one section of the Aka's. During the Aka’s Double Loop #2 I had experienced problems finding a smooth section of road to cycle through, and thus I had decided that on this occasion I would need to establish where I actually needed to cycle. I decided to follow the left side of the road, and although muddy, it was smooth. Also, being on the left was also further from road’s new edge...which falls away to the river some 40 metres below.

Finally acknowledging that night had truly arrived I was within minutes of the Aka’s summit when I decided it was time to switch on my lights. A fully charged battery awaited me after each lap, but frankly adequate lighting is more valuable than water or food, so it is never wasted. Tentatively pushing the button to switch on my lights I knew that, with the exception of the occasional street light, I would be reliant on my lights until sunrise.

Enjoying a fast descent down the Aka’s I felt I could use more of the road, with the occasional oncoming traffic being seen in advance via their headlights. Coming back is my confidence in flying down hills. About four months ago I was descending at an insane speed down the Maungatuks and my one focus, (rather than slowing for corners), was to simply catch the riders who had left about 30 seconds before me from the summit. I got my line wrong on a corner and proceeded to lock up my brakes, and slide along on my back for about ten feet. Wearing a thick winter vest my back was totally fine, but I lost all the skin off my left elbow, hyper extended my thumb, and my shoulder hasn’t been the same since. I went up the hill again the following Thursday and made a point of descending a reasonable pace.

Like most aspects of sports, it is the mental aspect that is the hardest to control, so descending confidently (while feeling safe) has been a priority over the last few months. On both the Aka’s Double Loop #1 and #2 an issue was the braking on technical descents. Needing to push the pace and then quickly brake is ok if all is going well, but becomes a bit hair raising after a spill. Thus, I popped into The Bike Shop (Kapiti Road) and they recommended a brake pad that actually had three types of materials. What I liked was it was exactly what I needed, but interestingly it wasn’t the most expensive item on the shelf. I was also pleasantly surprised at how much more responsive my new brakes were.

Feeling happy with the world I sat on 40-45kms per hour from the base of the Aka’s to Waikanae. I knew I was enjoying the final few moments of the wind being my friend on Lap #1, so I made the most of it and looked forward to later laps when I knew the entire road would be mine. The push through to Waikanae also warmed me up, as I was starting to get cold on the descent, but more from lack of exertion than the temperature being bitterly cold.

With my friend the wind now against me I knew it was hard times until I reached SH2. Between Waikanae and Kapiti I was being two to three feet to the right of the white line at times and I struggled to understand how the previously enjoyed constant tailwind I had enjoyed could be so gusty. This was nothing compared to what lay ahead however.

Arriving home for a quick change of clothes, and collection of food / drinks, I paused to consider this outing. All the gear is left on my back doorstep, as going inside and dealing with queries like “How’s it going?” would only act as a distraction. Standing there however, I could hear Alex (my seven year old son) talking inside the house. I reminded myself that the time spent on this outing could have been spent with my family, so there was to be no piking out after two laps. I had completed 75km’s of a 300km ride and it was important to remember that the outing was to be done properly...or not at all. The changeover took eleven minutes, and I was then onto Lap #2.

Gusty headwinds were the order of the day until SH2, so I simply put my head down and looked forward to reaching the far side of the Haywards. I reminded myself that there was no rush and at times (out of necessity) I was in bottom gear. This is before I even reached Paekakariki Hill.

Things initially became easier up Paekakariki Hill. I was sheltered from the winds and enjoyed simply riding up the hill at my own pace. The calm conditions were deceptive however, and near the top I experienced Paekakariki Hill’s winds as I had only seen them twice before. Standing to get more power was useless, as it simply gave the wind more surface area to blow around. I got to the top feeling decidedly tired, but pleased the road didn’t go right over the top of the hill.

At the top I zipped up every layer of clothing I had on and thought this best for the quick descent down the other side. The descent was anything but quick however, and with winds being funnelled through the valley I was cycling straight into the teeth of what the winds had to offer. I stayed in the big chainring for about 30 seconds, and I was near bottom gear as the descent continued. The descent felt like a climb for considerable periods of time. I simply thought of reaching SH2 and tried not to blow up while forcing my way through the winds.

Reaching SH58 I turned left and thought back to being here hours earlier. It would be the early hours of the following morning when I’d come through here again and moving forward into the wind was the only option.

Unfortunately the majority of the glass, which I had made a point of noting when I came through in the daylight, was now not visible in the dark. I was tempted to stay well to the right of the white line, but needed to keep an eye over my shoulder also, so I didn’t end up in harms way. I did notice at this point however that my breath was now clearly visible in the cold air. I left my jacket zipped up on this ascent of the Hayward’s Hill.

The Hayward’s pose a risk on the descent if cars are passing you while you're trying to keep a good line, but on this occasion I had the road to myself. This didn’t make things safe per se though, as approaching cars all seemed to have their lights on high beam, and at one point I lost track of where I was in relation to the edge of the road. Not a good look. It also felt like I was spending half the descent looking over my shoulder for traffic following me. I am yet to work out why, but drivers seem to be particularly impatient on this stretch of road.

Ahead was SH2, a clean road, tailwind, and a chance to catch my breath. The winds assisted but my pace was notably slower this time through. I was somewhat preoccupied by the thought of the Aka’s, and my journey slowly got me nearer to the forest that joins the Hutt Valley to Waikanae. With less traffic, and on this outing no road works, I felt that my legs were holding up well. The Aka’s eventually arrived and I was to pass through a stretch of road that had left me fairly shaken up during the Aka’s Double Loop #1.
Psalm 23:4
Even though I walk through the dark valley of death, because you are with me, I fear no harm. Your rod and your staff give me courage.

I accepted that the reality was that this was a forest and with it being night I would be a little foolish to expect there to be no animals there within. Starting the climb into the Aka’s it was sobering to start the winding journey through the hills, in pitch dark, miles from anywhere, alone...and passing a cemetery.

About 30 minutes later I had totally convinced myself that this was a road I knew well, but it was simply dark. Feeling rather pleased at the success of my self hypnosis, I suddenly heard a very loud noise from my immediate right. The closest thing I can say it sounded like would be a chicken fighting a possum. I considered turning back to investigate, but instead decided that perhaps getting to the upper end of my heart rate range would be better suited for the occasion. I’d be back here in 95kms and if I was that curious I could look then!! Then, standing before me, was a large dog in the middle of the road. It wasn’t budging, which suited me as I simply rode around it and decided that perhaps a little above the heart rate range could be a temper solution to the current state of affairs. I figured that the extra exertion would warm me up and get me closer to the summit a little more quickly.

I wasn’t hanging around to see what was really going on!!

A little nearer to the top I needed to contend with what was now a muddier version of the previously sighted washed out section of road. Feeling the tyres sinking into the road as I progressed the area was passed safely and I wondered how I’d be feeling in 95kms when I would be passing through again. At the top I slowed down to admire the view of the lights and began what would be another chilly winding road to Waikanae.

Feeling like eleven minutes may have been a little sluggish for the first transition, I was weighing up simply grabbing my food and drinks the next time through. This would save time and thus would have me on the again road sooner. This foolish thought was dispelled almost as hastily as my descent of the Aka's, and I basically bombed it down to Waikanae...feeling a little on the cold side of comfortable the entire way down. A fresh set of dry poly-prop tops awaited me at home and reaching Waikanae I wasn't bothered about time delays at the upcoming transition...as all I wanted was dry, warm clothes. Maslow may have been onto something when he explained that physiological needs override everything else. Within two minutes I had gone from worrying about saving time to not caring how long the transition took as long as I got warm.

Maslow was right...and once warm I was happy.

Nearing Kapiti, and with the time now just after midnight, winds were buffeting me well to the right of the white line on SH1. I was then passed by a large truck who gave me plenty of room and gave a friendly toot. Very encouraging. No doubt the driver was thinking, "Where the heck is that mad bugger off to?".

Arriving home for the second of my two transitional stops I swapped over my tops, the food / drinks, and also all of my lights (including smaller spotlights). The changeover took 15 minutes, but it was time well spent and I felt good as I pushed the bike along our path at the back of the house. Climbing onto the bike I told myself "95kms and I'm back in Kapiti". I then headed away for Lap #3.

The headwinds were slightly stronger than Lap #2 and nearing Paekakariki Hill I was passed by another large truck that gave a friendly toot. I waved out to the driver and was unaware at this point that this was the last vehicle that would pass me (heading in my direction) until hours later when I was back onto SH1. The road was now mine.

I must have been getting a little tired climbing Paekakariki Hill, as the rumbling skies were noticeably louder than the previous time I had been up this same climb hours earlier. The intense noise almost sounded like a train. I considered the storm brewing at the top of the hill, and then with relief realised that it was a train. Possibly one of those situations where it's best to be alone...

Nearing the top of the hill I was feeling decidedly knackered once again. I thought seriously about the merits of getting off and pushing, but fortunately I was weighing things up at the stage I reached the top. Looking back at the Kapiti lights I considered how many people were still awake in the township I live in. I would suspect that not many, and almost certainly no one riding around on their bike!! Things looked peaceful and quite from the summit, as they tend to from a distance.

The Paekakariki Hill descent once again had me looking forward to SH2, but I had a distraction this time around that assisted in taking my mind off the headwinds. My lights had come loose and I tried several times to simply twist the bolt as I was riding. This was didn't make much of a difference, so off with the backpack and the allen key set was put to use.

Once again managing to avoid the glass on SH58 I reached the summit of the Hayward's and 'enjoyed' another quick descent. This time I made sure I had one of my smaller spotlights flashing and cars were quick to dip their lights. Reaching the bottom I felt relieved to have made it to this far, as descending in the dark at 70kms per hour is not for the faint of heart. Additionally though, I was also relieved that I now had the wind behind me and thus could relax a little heading towards the Aka's.

Feeling decidedly short changed with the amount of tailwind I was experiencing along SH2 I decided I must simply be getting too tired to be making the most of things, but apart from the occasional twinge in my left calf I was actually still feeling relatively fresh. This was mainly due to riding within my comfort zone, rather than focusing on a specific time for the outing.

With light drizzle falling I started the climb into the Aka's for the third time on this outing, and was busy wondering why the road was dry if it was raining, when I passed two goats. Not a big deal, but with their backs to me (and with their big white tails pointing in the air) I had no idea what exactly I was cycling past until I was right next to them. Too bad if it was aliens waiting to be taken to my leader, as they would have assessed that this planet had no intelligent life forms if my current state had been considered to be representative of mankind.

With noises from the forest, and possums running behind me from time to time, it was obvious that the surrounding area had plenty of nocturnal activity happening all around me. I was actually relatively relaxed and even stayed composed when I heard a chain being dragged behind me for a few seconds. What was I going to do?? I also passed a dead possum in the middle of the road. It didn't look like it had been pecked to death, so I simply assumed that it had been run over since I had last come through hours earlier.

In many ways finally relaxing while in the midst of a darkened forest was symbolic of an important lesson for me. I had focused on what I could control and gave little thought to those factors I had no influence over. This left me concentrating fully on what was happening around me. This sounds like common sense, but remaining objective is not always easily achieved when passing through a forest at night. I was mindful at this point how lucky we are to not have roaming lions and tigers in New Zealand. The logistics of also carrying a rifle on this outing may have severely tested my ability to travel light.

Stopping just short of the Aka's summit I removed my glasses and poured half a bottle of water over my face. I needed to concentrate fully on the descent and this was not the time to start thinking about my journey coming to a conclusion. One mistake would see me end up in a ditch, so replacing my glasses I started my descent and never bothered to look at the Waikanae lights from the summit.

Nearing both Kapiti, and also 5:30am, I was conscious of many things...
- I now had four laps of ten kms each to complete my ride.
- No hills were left on this outing.
- Anyone seeing me would simply assume I was having an early bike ride.
- It was doubtful that I would get anymore friendly toots.
- The road was no longer mine.
- Lastly though, I pondered how a duck could be run over two feet to the left of the white line on SH1 near Kapiti.

This final point does not bare thinking about.

Arriving in Kapiti, unlike the previous two times at the Kapiti Road roundabout, I could continue straight ahead. I knew I that these last four loops were needed to make this an honest outing. The first lap seemed to take an eternity and as with the other longer rides, getting mentally tougher only kicks in when you finally accept that the ride may go forever and you cease caring if it does.

Kapiti Road during busier times.

While reaching my hybrid state of being both Zen like and also knackered, I enjoyed the falling rain which had now begun. The morning had also arrived. Not the spectacular early morning sunrise that you tend to get living near the coast, but instead a slow retreat of the darkness that left a murky, dull, and rainy day in it's place.

It was close to 7am now. There is a cyclist from the Kapiti Cycling Club who I often see along Rimu Road at around this time of the morning. I had a feeling that I would see him on my final lap. I didn't. Instead, along this final stretch of road on my outing, I was passed by a cyclist wearing jeans and boots. This summed up my speed at this point. It didn't matter though, as I could finally turn left into my street and knew at last that I had made it through my journey.

Stopping outside my house I was having a post-ride stretch while leaning against my bike. It had been just over 300kms on this journey. All I could think of was how this ride would have been thought to be impossible for me even just a year ago. I also thought about how most of our limitations seem to be self imposed. Asking myself why we doubt ourselves, I remembered setting off the previous day, knowing at the time that I just needed to try my best and not worry about the rest. There is no shame in aiming high and being smashed on the rocks of life’s coastline. It is an infinity better option than shrugging your shoulders and saying “I may not make it”.

In the midst of my thoughts, my Wife popped her head over the fence and asked how the ride had gone. I paused. I usually have a million things to say after a longer ride. All the highs, lows and absolutely everything in between. What could I say though that would capture this experience?? I thought about Ranulph Fiennes' referring to his style being the "Polar Plod". Very apt for my style on the longer rides. So with those million thoughts racing through my mind, this amazing experience of self belief wouldn't be relived just yet. I saw little point in chatting about the ride as if it was idle gossip, and smiling now, I looked up and simply said "I did the Triple Loop".

I’ve been told cycling is dangerous. Cycling however...saved my life.

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