Four Hills

Woe to you oh earth and sea,
for the Devil sends the beast with wrath,
because he knows the time is short.
Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast,
for it is a human number,
its number is six hundred and sixty six.
Opening lyrics of 'Number of the Beast' (Iron Maiden)

Every ride of note has a moment where the fun is replaced with pure effort, and the smile not only disappears from sight…but creates discomfort when occasionally brought into use. This was one of those rides. 'The Beast' (as it was known in the week before the ride) was always thought to be the final portion of this outing – The Rimutaka Hill. I knew I'd be starting my first of five climbs up the Rimutaka's ten hours into a 16 hour ride. These solemn words then, went through my head on SH2, as the final climb of the day grew closer.

I had a sense of purpose at that point, but more acutely, I had a sore backside and it was growing tiresome at times to breath. In short, I knew that the mental part of the day was just starting. Physically I was reaching the point at which I would soon be tired, and thus I was about to start the true ride - The mental ride - within the next 45 or so minutes. I also reminded myself that I was doing the Four Hills, and this would therefore be something to cherish in almost Taupo proportions.

Most of all though I thought of nothing and rode for extended periods of time with no thoughts going through my head except for the continual scanning of the road ahead for debris. On this day I would sometimes be sore, sometimes thirsty, sometimes hungry, and sometimes feeling sick - But I was always free. Free of everything.

Truth be known I really only got my head around the concept of the Four Hills in the week leading up to the ride. The ride was one I had given much thought to and it was to act as a longer (hilly) training ride leading up to the Graperide Ultimate. Once again I'd be doing April’s 505km race, and likewise once again the Kapiti Cycling Club were running the 'Personal Challenge', as they last did in 2009. The bi-annual personal challenges were brought about to challenge individuals at endurance cycling, with the individual essentially choosing what was for them 'endurance'. Matt Oliver compiled a number of challenges and after reviewing the categories I figured it was a little defeatist to complete a 100km or 200km ride as the highlight of the season when ahead was a 505km race.

Thus I once again decided that the Hors Catégorie would be more appropriate. Thus, I came up with something a little more fitting for the situation. Four Hills was to count towards the hill climbing, with the Graperide Ultimate acting as the endurance ride. All in all 820kms of riding would be ahead of me for these two rides, and these thoughts were racing through me head at 1:22am on the morning of the Four Hills. I wouldn't need to switch off a beeping alarm clock at 1:30am. In fact, I was pretty much wired and ready to go there and then. So I did. And not for the only time that day I'd find myself ahead of schedule.

Leaving the house at 2am I rode north towards the Aka's, with I suppose the naive feeling we often have on longer journeys. Safety is sometimes an illusion of comfort, and by the time I reached Waikanae I had already been passed by two car loads of drunken louts. I reminded myself that these people - These motorists - Were not my friends. Every car represented, potentially the end of my ride, and realistically the end of my life if I was unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Being fully prepared to ride off the road to safety, I passed a group of youths walking along the road. They were fairly vocal. "Yah f***ing c***. F*** off yah queer f***er!!!!". Delightful.

The inevitable thrown beer bottle was expected, but didn't follow. The street lights eventually ended and I rode into the darkness. I would only get to talk to one other person in the entire day, and that would be eight hours later. (A pleasant exchange about the respective sporting results the night before). At that point though I accepted that I had no friends at all on this road, with the daylight (still hours away) bringing a slight reprieve from the current surroundings. I then reached the base of the Aka's, and quietly deposited all surplus drinks safely at the side of the road. The day was a simple one. Four Hills (Aka's climb, Paekakariki Hill, Haywood's Hill, and the Rimutaka's Hill) climbed five times each. Then once completed I would ride home through to the Aka's summit, subsequently giving a sixth and final descent of the day down the Aka’s to Waikanae...then home.

The Four Hills - All climbed five times each.

Aka's Climb

Starting my first climb on the first hill of the day I had a number of time frames in mind for each climb. Two weeks earlier a dry run had been completed, with the outing 177kms, and involving just one climb of each hill. Thus I had calculated the time for the circuit today to be approximately 16 hours. I would be just six minutes out by days end. These thoughts were pushed further and further back in my mind as the day progressed however - The task before me was not to be underestimated or taken lightly.

Likewise, I needed to keep my wits about me, as the 20 to 25 possums seen on that first ascent were expected to be seen on the roads on the subsequent descents - And they were - And these truly simple creatures would pose the first potential hurdle of the day. Expressions such as 'Like a possum in the headlights’ may come across as a bit of a cliché, but the reality is that they really do stop to watch their impending doom, and then at their leisure wander away at the last second. This leads to the rider planning to gracefully move around a sitting possum, and then quickly adjust their path as the possum casually walks to a safer spot at the last second. The possums did this regardless of the direction taken to avoid hitting them. It could have been worse, as sheep would have been in a flock of simpletons, all attempting to make themselves more useless than their neighbour in terms of their positioning.

The summit was reached on success climbs, and I noticed that the times were all within 20 seconds of each other. No slowing as the subsequent ascents were made. Pacing on rides like this is a key issue, so this was a pleasing start to the day. Pleasing also was the full moon, as I discovered that my headlight used for two hour runs in the dark, funnily enough dies after three hours. Nice. Spare lights were on the bike anyway, but lessons learnt. I reached the Aka's summit for the last time and, surrounded by the morning twilight, and raised one finger (index - not middle) to signify that one hill had been successfully overcome. The descent was a quick one, and this was a theme for the day also, with each successive descent quicker than the last. With the daylight arriving I stopped at the base of the climb and collected all of my spare drinks. These bottles would be needed again on another day. Then to home for a resupply.

The Possum - Possibly the world's second most stupid animal.

Paekakariki Hill

Day clothes on, drinks restocked, and daylight now around me - I set off for Paek. Hill and looked forward to shorter climbs for Hill #2. I was now a full 20 minutes ahead of schedule, and the weather looked perfect. That is, mild overcast, a slight wind, and not too hot. The day had begun well. Reaching the bottom of Paek. Hill I decided not to stash away any spare bottles. I had just four bottles with me, so couldn't afford to have any go walkies.

Water however would not be a problem. The day before I had done a drop-off of water at both the Haywood's Hill and the Rimutaka's Hill. This would leave me with more than enough for the entire day. Food would also be no problem, with Hammer Perp at the ready for continual fuelling all day. Thus, the first climb of Hill #2 started, and I once again focused on steady spinning to the top. I would see more cyclists on the roads this day than I had ever seen in my life. (Excluding races of course).

The odd thing was that regardless of whether I was ascending or descending, they were always going in the opposite direction. This hill would be no different. I reached the top and had a quick descent, seeing a few KCC riders coming up the other way. Each descent seemed to bring more and more cyclists climbing to the top. Some I'd see descend, as I climbed again, and others were not seen again on that ride. All however would be home before I’d even reach the Rimutaka's however.

Reaching the summit for the final time I looked down the hill and was thankful that I'd completed the climb. I told myself that half the day was now done, but realistically I knew this was simply a mind game to keep the pace ticking along. I was grateful however that the descents were going smoothly however. The 3rd or 4th corner on the Paek. Hill descent allows for a particularly fast turn of pace, and at that stage the winds at the top of hill were a southerly, so I had a couple of occasions where it was probably best that traffic wasn't coming the other way.

I then looked across the Kapiti Coast and followed the road down the Paek. Hill descent towards the Haywood's Hill. The roads were filled with groups of cyclists, but none of them acknowledged me as they ascended. I flew down the hill and was now nearing seven hours of cycling.

Haywood's Hill

The Haywood's Hill is actually two hills, with a plateau in the middle section. The ascent on this climb would incorporate both rises - As it should. This hill would represent the shortest climb of the day and ironically I'd see the most cyclists while climbing and descending the two sections of each climb. I can only assume that there were two large groups of cyclists about 30 minutes apart from each other, as I saw a line of cyclists riding in one's and two's the entire way up the climb on two separate occasions.

The highlight of the Haywood's Hill climb would have to be a cyclist who had given a wave while descending, (when I was on the first ascent), later having a double take and pointing at me when I was descending for the last time, about to start my final ascent. I can only assume he had cycled off somewhere else in the interim - And he look somewhat puzzled seeing me later on his way home. I finished the final ascent and opened my stash of drinks at the summit. It had been tucked away under some bushes that were yet to get the direct sunlight, and thus the water was nicely chilled. I had enough water for carrying some in my backpack to the Rimutaka's Hill, but with another stash there I saw little point.

So all drinks refilled, and feeling a tad relived that no one had removed the water I setoff for a sedate descent down the Haywood's towards the Hutt Valley. Ok - I sat on about 75kms per hour in the middle of the road and zipped through to the intersection on SH2, with the road north having me enjoy a slight tailwind. I'd be sitting on 35-40kms per hour for portions of the ride north, and things were looking rosy. Well - Reasonably rosy would be better summary of the situation.

After nine hours and 15 minutes on a bike the occasional stretch of the legs while cycling doesn't really help you feel much better, and I sure as hell wasn't stopping, so I accepted that everything would get gradually more painful as the remainder of the ride progressed. One thing was for sure, I knew I had five ascents of the Rimutaka's Hill to go, and I REALLY wanted to get the first one done before making up my next lot of Perp. This would leave me four climbs with my fresh set of food.

Clear day, smooth road, and fast descent. Perfect.

Rimutaka's Hill

Arriving at the base of the Rimutaka's announced the true start of my day. My second stash of water had been left in the grassy verge of a property at the base of the hill, (I had chatted to the owner the day before), and two points occurred to me.

Firstly - I didn't have enough Perp left to do another climb and descent. So the water was opened, and Perp made up for the final portion of the day. Secondly, I needed to push the water to behind the tree (not next to it) if I was to use this spot again. Warm water on a warm day - Yummy.

The first ascent of Hill #4 actually had me feeling in good spirits and feeling rather revitalised. I knew that I needed to focus on just one climb at a time, with the summit my sole target until it was reached. The heat had been pretty low key all day, but on the final hill this would be a different story when I was sheltered from the winds. As I reached the first set of road works I felt the sweat start to run down my face - There was no wind and the heat coming off the road was utterly oppressive. Mentally though I would not be broken.

I knew that each climb would be one step closer to the finishing this final hill. About a third of the way up the climb you see the summit, and I suspect that this is the biggie in getting to the top. Ignore how far you have to go, and focus on what is just ahead. Spinning the pedals, always spinning the pedals, I carried on and finally reached the top. (Note to self: Don't cycle over a sandbag on any of the remaining four climbs - No matter how small it is - Spinning wheels in sand on a sloping climb is fun just once). Getting to the top I noted the missing café (when did this go??), and zipped up my top.

One aspect of my day that was totally unexpected was the fun of descending. On longer rides I used to see a descent as a part of the ride to 'not pedal', but now I clicked through to top gear and wound up the bike until I was having cars and trucks pulling over to let me past. Yep - "Get outta my way, this descent’s fast, and they'll just get faster!!". And they did. The tricky part was making sure there was no traffic behind me for the U-Turn at the base of the hill. Not a good look to slam the brakes on with a car right behind you. All went well though and I reached the bottom and turned the bike around for the next ascent.

After two climbs I restocked the water. The water had been moved to behind the tree, but the status had be upgraded from 'Warm' to 'Warmer'. A new approach would be needed if I was to have a stash at the base of the Rimutaka's Hill. Coincidentally, I started to feel a tad sick in the guts at around this stage. Nice. This was all too much mucking around though. All the stops were very brief, but the smaller moments of stopping tend to add up. The next stop would be once the fifth climb was completed, and thought would be to simply top up drinks.

The next climb went well, except that the traffic seemed to be going about twice the speed as the last couple of climbs. ('No' - It wasn't me going slower - My time to the top was the same). I guess all you need is a gap in the traffic and front cars to be flying up the hill, and everyone else will follow suit. Bit like sheep really. Another descent and no traffic at all the whole way down. Getting to know every corner I was feeling very safe, but travelled at 45-75 the whole way down. A fast descent is great for lifting the spirits, and I now had just two climbs to go. The 4th climb saw my time to the top drop by about 45 seconds to a minute. I knew I was getting tired now, as the mind was beginning to wander.

Two weeks later I'd be in Taupo for the New Zealand Ironman. This year I'd be there in the capacity of watching / supporting, but it wouldn't be a holiday, as I'd be cycling up from Kapiti. Thus, the fantasies of my perfect vantage point while watching the runners began to take shape…a shaded tent…walls rolled up for maximum fresh air……bucket…no…barrel of ice filled with differing orange juice bottles…a cooked chicken to one side…filled with stuffing…and….a deckchair…for me.

'Yes' - It would be a good day out. I also decided that this might mean getting comfortable enough that I may just wave and call out from my seat, as getting up may interrupt the setting. Time would tell. The fifth and final climb arrived then. No more fantasies of days ahead. No fingers raised as I reached the top. No smiles. No acknowledgement of the completion of the hills, (other than double checking the watch to check that it was indeed five completed climbs). It was done, and I had had enough of the hills for one day. Time to go home.

Part of the Rimutakas Hill climb


I really looked forward to a break now, but home waited for me. I had a brief detour at the Jousting event in the Upper Hutt, with offers of free stuffed potatoes from Tim Neal a welcome morsel to break up my outing. I didn't find him however, which may have been for the best, as I looked at every grassy verge on the way through the Aka's in longing manner, knowing how much I'd love to simply lie down and do nothing. The climbs seemed so much more gentle than normally experienced, and I simply rode through the forested areas feeling no emotion, and simply sipping on my drinks from time to time. Then - Out of the blue - I reached the top.

The summit had never looked so good. Not even on the Aka's Triple loops had I been this relieved to get to the summit. My climbs were now officially over. A descent followed, but at a very sedate pace. I knew the traffic would be about, and at this time on a Saturday afternoon cyclists probably wouldn't be expected. I was right too. No close calls, but the cars were travelling at pace, and this was no time for mistakes. I carried on descending and passed the spot where I had left my bottles many hours earlier. It was all green lights on the way home, and I made a point of taking it very easy for the last 500 meters.

This was not a race, and there was a lot to be said for winding down the ride, and arriving feeling on top of things. I turned the corner into my street and felt safe and at ease with the world. It would still daylight for several more hours and I'd relax while enjoying what was left of this day. As with all longer rides, the start didn't feel like earlier that day - Rather it had been a memory of another outing many days earlier. For this day though, this outing, I had done enough. The ride ended up being 316kms, and this will possibly be the hilliest 300km ride I'll ever do. Until next time anyway.

The Beast then - Did not play on my mind on this ride. Where was it then?? Amongst the drunken louts hurling abuse at me?? Taking the form of stupid possums in my path?? Behind the wheel of impatient drivers?? Or perhaps in the form of upward heading roads essentially leading to nowhere?? No. The Beast is within you – It’s that voice you hear, which may say, "Switch off the alarm", or "It's raining today", or “It’s too windy”, or maybe "I can't do that". In short, that part of you that tells you in a voice clearer than any reasoning you'll ever hear - before or since - that there is time. Time to wait, until next time.

There is not time. Not for everything you'll ever want to do. So step back and ask yourself this - "If my life depended on it, could I complete the ride of my life??".

‘Yes’ you could...and ‘yes’ it does.


Four Hills
Face your fears or die.
Death finding you inwardly.
We all die - So live.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great read as always Stu, great ride too!