"The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly universe."
I wasn't going to write about this outing. I’m not sure why. I know why I’m going to make the effort though – Because it’s not...an effort. Emailing a buddy last week I simply added to the end of an email that I didn't understand his bigger mileages while he was preparing for the Taupo Enduro. Then I drifted away and made the comments that I had forgotten about this world of cycling. This world of mileages and time on the road. This world of feeling that you are one step closer to reaching your long term goal every time you reach a ride's destination. The 324km trip from Kapiti to Taupo would sum this philosophy up well, with me standing in the Great Lake at 6pm – I was sore and tired, but one day closer to the Graperide Ultimate...and I had a clear conscious that all that could be done had been.
It must be said, that a 4am departure time for a bike ride is quite civilised compared to 2am. Not that the extra two hours sleep make a difference really, but the traffic has a differing tone. No drunken louts or car loads of hoons. Just trucks and vans, setting off for their personal journeys, along this same road as mine. So it was then that I departed Kapiti well before sunrise, and began what would be my longest training ride (by distance) of the season.
The TT bike would stay at home this day and the words, “Stu you’ll have the wind up your arse all day”, were long forgotten. (It would seem that my 'weather insider' would not hit the mark for this journey). It would be a headwind. Additionally, with Taupo 1250 feet above sea level it would also be uphill much of the day. The tone however was set by a sobering time check at Levin. I can cruise up to Levin in 90 minutes, but despite a hard pace for the first part of the journey I found the time at 1:45, and realised that this would be a long day. I had enough food for 16 hours, and now didn't feel so foolish for the extra stash.
Levin came and went though, and my first real moment of the trip was shortly afterwards at the Foxton bridge. This bridge is long. The kind of long bridge where children playing the ‘hold your breath on the bridge’ game...don’t even try. I have also experienced frustrated drivers overtaking into my lane while I’ve been crossing the bridge by bike. Nice. So dangers can exist. Fortunately there is a walkway under the bridge. I didn't bother with that though, and for some reason crossed the main bridge for the first time in about four years. Just as well. Halfway across I looked down below and noted that there were 200 to 300 cows on the walkway. Off to milking one assumes. I sat on 35kms per hour into a headwind, so I wouldn't be off the bridge thanks to passing trucks. Foxton has no real landmarks apart from a water tower, and it also being the last stop before the Himatangi straights.
The long straight after Foxton is a blessing for any endurance cyclist. There is basically nothing to do but cycle for what seems like hours. No features. No signs. No elements to allow that part of the circuit to be broken up mentally. In short it’s tough work. Add to this the headwind, and I simply told myself that Sanson was next, and I’d being hanging a left towards Taupo at the next small town.
It was while heading along the Himatangi straights that it dawned on me that the trip to Taupo is not a long endless road, but nor was it a series of towns. In fact it seems to be (more or less) three distinct 100km rides back to back. Kapiti to Sanson is the first ride, with Sanson to Waiouru the second, and finally Waiouru to Taupo the final leg. Cycling it seems, allows you to see the world you are travelling through in a different way. Thus I accepted that Paul Rawlinson was right – Point to point cycle trips are the coolest outings.
Reaching Sanson I knew the sneaky speed camera would be no threat as I passed through the town, but new elements were being introduced to my ride. Something I hadn't experienced in a while was being felt. It was called “cold”. Yes, I had a spare gear for the ride, but I was thinking ahead to Taupo. Thus I went to text Ruth...and found the cell phone battery was flat. I felt ashamed for this oversight, as everything is usually checked. It would not be the last dead cell phone before this trip was over.
Turning right at Bulls, and therefore towards Taupo (rather than New Plymouth – Which is actually a nice spot if you ever get the time to visit), I focused on this second part of the trip. In short – Long straights and longer hills. The wind was steady now, and I found myself really pushing at times. There would be just two towns for me to pass through in the next 100kms (Hunterville and Taihape), and thus it would be a case of simply keeping to the left and trying to get towards Taupo before the rain.
A storm is a storm - Whether you in a boat or on a bike.
Yes, this weekend’s weather had a single theme. A weather bomb was forecast to hit Taupo on the Friday, and I was aiming at getting into town just before it. I would get wet instead. At 7:30am I had 2 minutes of light drizzle. Then again at 9am I would get several minutes of rain. Then the same at 11am. But getting closer to Hunterville I knew the teasing was done with, and the black clouds loomed ahead. Feeling like I was suddenly in a very small boat, in the middle of a large storm, I sensed that I was rather small in the larger scheme of things. I also reminded myself that this rain was going to make me pretty damned difficult to spot (despite multi flashing lights and a reflective top), and thus I braced for the real ride to begin. At 1142 the heavens opened up. I was soaked within five minutes and felt the chaffing start on my seat. The rain wouldn't stop. 500 meters short of Hunterville I would also, in the midst of heavy rain, get my first puncture of the day. It wouldn't be my last. And I wouldn't find the cause until well and truly back in Kapiti.
It must be said that cycling through towns on a longer ride is very cool. You are exposed to the hustle bustle of a small community for about five minutes, and then it's back to the reality of getting to the destination. Hunterville was no exception, with the township passed and the kms to Taihape noted. The winds continued, and I started to get some momentum back. The hills that followed were long and steep, but I didn't care. For many years now I had wondered what it was like to ride up these hills. Was there more room on the side of the road than it appears?? Were the cars passing too close?? Did it seem like it went on for ages?? 'No', 'Yes', and 'Yes'.
Things flattened out though, and then another puncture. Standing at the side of the road I knew something was wrong. Aside from the puncture that is. Several minutes earlier I had felt my head go all floppy and it would be fair to say I was light headed. I was now cold too. I had a stash of spare food and ate a bar on the spot. More food was put into my back pocket. The puncture was fixed, with my current state summed up by me not even checking for the puncture's cause. I was getting frustrated at my progress and if I had known what was ahead I probably would have wondered why I was bothering at all. The Desert Road would be the true test on this ride.
Taihape was finally reached, and with it a dash along the busy main road, and departure without a second look. There seemed to be nothing to make me want to stop. Waiouru was next and I felt colder as the road progressed. This journey to Taupo had truly started. The fun was gone, and soreness had replaced it. I looked around occasionally, as I cycled, almost expecting to see something interesting. Something different than what I had seen in the journey's by car anyway. Perhaps another cyclist also heading north. The chat would speed time up, with no racing between us. No 'taking turns on the front'. Just chatting on a longer ride. Journey's shared and in some ways halved…if we talked long enough. I carried on alone though.
The Desert Road - Nice by bike in warmer weather.
On one of the longer straights a truck went past with what look like a football on the back - It was the size of a small house. It also looked to be wrapped in brown paper. All very odd. But it was something that broke up the ride. (Ruth and the kids also saw this - So not a hallucination!!). Out of nowhere though arrived Waiouru. "Just over 100kms to go" I told myself. I wasn't to know it, but the ride had just begun.
No Subway for lunch at Waiouru. Not this time. The section of road ahead of me was well known when travelling by both car and bike. Yes, the 'Ruapehu Cycle Classic' had introduced me to the Desert Road. My one and only DNF (broken chain, no tools, lessons learnt), had seen me almost reach the end of the Desert Road, and once again I'd experience what is quite a pleasant ride. Well it was pleasant heading up the hill away from Waiouru. This would be one of the most surreal stretches of road I've ever ridden. At times I was doing a pathetic 10kms per hour into the screaming head wind, but the pace would raise to 25-28kms per hour once out of the wind…going up a climb. Crazy.
After what seemed like about an hour of pushing into the wind I finally reached the aforementioned ascent (that would see my pace increase). This would signal the start of the winding roads. This would signal the start of some descents. This would signal a milestone on the ride. No - This would simply signal me saying, "You have got f***ing joking", as I looked ahead and realised I was now only halfway along the central plateau. This one moment was the only time on the ride where I really felt despondent. I carried on, with frustration slowing becoming replaced by the acceptance that this ride would simple take a lot longer than intended.
Finally I reached the highest point of the ride. The remaining climbs were no problem, and every descent was cherished. This ride was now coming to a close, and with Turangi approaching quickly (figuratively and literally), I thought about the section of road ahead. I was very familiar with the stretch of road between Turangi. I recalled the Enduro and Maxi Enduro, where the fatigue really hit me on this stretch of road on both occasions. I recalled also, the special moments - The elderly woman who had stopped on the side of the road and clapped me while I carried on (during the Enduro) - Or the closing several hours of the Maxi Enduro, where chats with other cyclists seemed to give me more energy than all else. These were happy memories.
As luck would have it, I would be doing multiple rides between Turangi and Taupo once again this weekend. Three days later I would be riding north again. This time, not towards my family in Taupo, but away from them. This time not finishing a journey, but starting one. Our family van had died. Thus, at the crack of dawn three days after cycling to Taupo, I departed Turangi (which is how far we had managed to travel south), and cycled to Taupo once again to obtain a rental vehicle. So the weekend was extended, and in hindsight I was thankful we were all safe.
The road to Taupo - SH1 the whole way.
The trip north from Turangi (both times) was relatively quick. The headwind seemed to disappear, and Hatepe posed little problem on both occasions. The final stretch into Taupo therefore was enjoyed (with a bit more soreness on the first trip north!!), and on the first trip north I arrived in Taupo to great my family. We chatted briefly, and I noted the calm surroundings and wondered if it wasn't more appropriate to have gail force winds and rain surrounding us. The world seemed tranquil at this journey's end, as it often does. We then dropped in to see Jacky James, and the following day would see her complete the Taupo Ironman.
It was a weekend to remember for good reasons, and we would all take away the experience of the Ironman once again. (Albeit as a supporter). All weekend we used raincoats and umbrellas. The sun followed however, as it does, and soon enough the Graperide Ultimate will follow the training. I said that endurance cycling was behind me after the 2009 edition of the Graperide Ultimate. The Ironman followed for me on that occasion, and I therefore return a better athlete. I sometimes wonder where this journey will go next, as I have no idea what is after the Graperide Ultimate. All I know is that the Graperide in 2005 was my very first cycle race, and thus event will hold a special place in my heart. With the training done I await the journey south, and then will have one task - To race.
"Yes", this is a friendly universe.