The Wairarapa Loop

From - "Stepping Up", by Stu Downs.
Chapter 7 - The Wairarapa Loop
Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right.
Henry Ford (1863-1947)

So it was that I walked in the door and the usual, "How did it go??", was simply met with, "...oh dear". Caked in a layer of sweat and dirt I was feeling pretty exhausted, but I had to be happy, having pushed the pace until I popped. This outing would end up being slightly longer than the Taupo Enduro, and what transpired made for a memorable day...

Oddly, the early start of 5am was to follow a rather vivid dream about Taupo. There I was, standing at the start line at the Taupo Solo (first indication that this was not my reality), and everyone was staring at my helmet - And the lack of a race number being affixed to it. A few people then commented at how sorry they felt about me not taking part in the event...and I realised that I had forgotten to enter. There it was then, that I watched everyone ride away without me. I woke up shortly thereafter and seeing it was 4:48am put the pillow over my head.

The plan for the ride was simple in terms of others joining me. A communiqué had gone out, and several others had expressed an interest in doing the ride, but essentially I would be leaving at 6am and if others showed up, then great, otherwise I'd go it alone. No dramas either way. As I was leaving the house Sam King-Turner arrived, looking pretty eager to get the day started. A quick check of lights and we were away.

Sam had commented how much he wanted to do the ride so I knew he'd be in for the duration. So it was then, that we stopped at SH1 and waited for the cars to pass before heading south. I noticed that Sam had the exact same shoes as myself, and additionally he also rode an Avanti. The similarities seemed to end about there though. Sam is our club's top cyclist, and while I am thoroughly proud of my exploits over the last couple of years, Sam has a resume that includes the Tour of Southland, the Tour of Wellington, and NZ Nationals. This may not carry any meaning, so in real terms I would be riding alongside (but more often than not behind) someone who has raced against New Zealand's top road cyclists, including Julian Dean. (Who participates in the Tour de France every year).

I knew the circuit however, and a knowledge of the course profile would come in handy. Sam was advised fairly early on that hills were to be taken very easily, but the flat sections were fair game. I have actually ridden the Wairarapa Loop on 2 previous occasions. The first time in a solo 3 day ride, and the second time over 2 days. In fact, this ride represented my second longest ride ever. However, in the week leading up this outing I actually gave the ride very little thought. I had a chest that was wheezy, and was on the bike for just 2.5 hours the week before this ride. The outing would therefore be a true test of my resolve to get the job done.

Sam leading in the Waikanae Crit - Late 2008. (He won on both handicap and scratch time).

Paekakariki Hill and the Haywoods Hill both came and went, with an easy pace. SH2 was not the enjoyable stroll I normally encounter and this would mark the last time on this outing that I would lead out Sam at any point. It was obvious by now that my breathing needed to be sorted and I felt pretty blocked up. As I commented to Sam, "The Rimutakas will finish me off or will clear me out". I was fine by about halfway up the hill. Sam made a point of keep well away while excess 'nose dirt' was sprayed all over the road. Pretty disgusting, but cycling does carry with it a differing set of social norms.

The descent down the Rimutaka's went well, although speaking as a fairly tidy descender (if I must say so myself), I am yet to workout how Sam could go faster than me while not pedalling, (he weighs 10kg less than me). We both passed a car on the way down, and my concern about the legs going flat once off the hill was for nothing as we got back into the swing of things as Masterton got closer.

In fact, the pace was pretty hot. (Well, I thought it was until our chat in Masterton). My normal HR training zone on a longer ride is 70-75% max HR on the flat, with the focus being to stay near the top of the range. (For the Taupo Maxi Enduro it was just 68-72%). This outing had me on 78-83% and while this never effected my breathing I really wondered how long I'd hold this pace. In real terms we were holding 30-32kms per hour on flat sections. (There was no wind).

When in Masterton I told Sam I had electrolyte tablets (to stop cramping) and if he wanted any he was welcome to them. "With the intensity being this low I doubt I'll cramp no matter how long we're out for", was the reply from Sam. I seldom bluff on rides, so informed him that I was right on the edge. He looked startled, but I quickly said to keep the pace up, as I needed to do this ride out of my comfort zone.

So where DO they get the water from...??
To say that the day's weather was perfect would not be an exaggeration. Apart from about 10 minutes of burning direct sunlight while stopping in Masterton, the remainder of the day had slight cloud about at all times. This said, there were basically no winds, and the cool start to the day didn't last long, leaving a pleasant temperature for the outing. Case at point, when we topped up our water at the Tui factory you'd think it was the height of summer. The place was heaving, and we were treated like a couple of lepers for not ordering a pint and bar meal like the other 70-80 patrons in the area. It must be said though, that the sight of the brown algae covered water did nothing for my desire for frequent consumption of water.

About 90 minutes out from Woodville we were enjoying a chat and (with flashing lights) a Police car pulled up next to us. My initial thought was the thought of us getting a ticket (or telling off) for not riding single file, but the cop wanted a debrief on the ride to date. "Where did you start??", "Kapiti". "Where do you finish??", "Kapiti". "What time did you start??", "6am". "How long are you riding for??", "All day". As I said to Sam afterwards, we should have got them to go ahead and top up our drinks.

We then went through the second of 3 sets of road works we'd pass through on the day. With extended sections of gravel we were fortunate to have no punctures on the ride. It should be said though that the two sets of traffic lights through the gorge were brilliant, as it meant no cars flying past as normally happens.

The ride through Palmerston North went well, and with just a final push onto home required we were left with a feeling of having just about got the job done. About 5 minutes after turning south onto SH1 I pretty much blew up. So I lasted 270kms at a moderate pace. The legs felt much better after this, as the pace was considerably slower.

I commented to Sam shortly after Levin that we'd be stopping at a fruit stand. Sam said that we had just passed a fruit stand, but as I pointed out, it was about 30 metres off the main road...and I wasn't cycling that far out of my way!! Half a dozen nectarines went down very well.
A map of the circuit we followed.
Just north of Waikanae Sam turned off for his place. I then continued on alone, and got home enjoying a slower pace and comfortable speed. The final distance was 326kms, with the net time being 12:10. Not a bad pace, with the section from Palmerston North to Kapiti only taking 10 minutes longer than it did 2 weeks earlier on the (200km) group ride. It must be said that spirits were good on the ride and even when I announced that I was "poked" we had a laugh about the situation. (In hindsight, I hope that was Sam laughing with me...not at me!!).

So it is, in the midst of thoroughly looking forward to both the Graperide, (and equally having a month off the bike), I must remember what I have experienced this season. To be honest it would be easy to walk away from cycling right now. I say this not feeling tired (or discouraged) by the sport. I just feel like I've achieved what I have aimed for. Additionally, I seldom relish the smaller moments that make cycling special. Somewhere along the way the Taupo multi-laps (and multiple overnight training rides) have pushed into the background simple enjoyments like the wind on my face being a highlight of a ride. Numbers and heart rate zones have come to the fore during this time.

This said however, the thought of Taupo happening without me is utterly incomprehensible. That moment of starting the 'Final Lap' with the masses is truly unique, and in some ways that very moment acts as a finish line of sorts. After being last to be picked for all of those years I find myself stared at for all of the right reasons. That feeling is rather seductive. I know now that I need to reassess what I want from this point, with a decision to follow at the start of May.
If truth be known I need a new challenge after the Graperide, and the only challenge that captures my imagination is so big that I (literally) feel tired just thinking about it. So I will think about the road ahead, and whether I will follow the narrow path. I'll also try to remind myself that to be able to know who I want to be on the bike...I'll firstly need to define myself off it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well done, good ride and good read as usual.