Aka's Double Loop

It would be fair to say that July started with some wild weather. The Kapiti Coast had it's far share of the wetter weather, with lightening strikes and even a tornado hitting the coast. These events effected roads I cycle on a regular basis, closing some and damaging others - fortunately I wasn't on them at the time. Stories included a 20,000 litre water tanked being shifted off its base during one storm. The water tank was full. Worse happened elsewhere in the country I'm sure. I carried on though, never stopping, towards this goal of mine. This goal of many as it turns out.

The support I have received has been humbling, both from those willing to help out with the fundraising, and also those wanting to help with being involved with the record ride support crew. These people - in the darker days of my training, with no crowds, no cheers, and no fanfare - these people put their hands up and said 'Yes - I'm behind you'. Names are noted for schedules, and are also 'noted' in the larger meaning of the word. Many years from now I'll likely recall these names with greater fondness than the achievements I was helped towards.

Rain runs down my back.
During this storm that finds me.
My belief found too.

The Aka's Double loop was very much looked forward to for this season. Kicking things off in 2007 (as I trained for the Taupo Enduro), I have always looked ahead towards rides that encompass multiple laps of the 95km loop. This ride would be no different, and in the weeks leading up to this ride I sometimes wondered what may lay ahead for me on this occasion. The two bridges that link the settlements throughout the Akatarawa's are currently gone - repairs are afoot to replace them. I'm certain small nations have been invaded, inhabited, and repopulated in the time it has taken the contractors to do bugger all in those sections of road. Cyclists are not complaining though, as this all means closed roads and thus a safer journey towards home on each outing.

So it was then, that shortly before 6am I setoff for my outing. Not epic, not 16 hours, not a ride to Taupo or the Four Hills - But long enough. It was pitch dark on SH1 and I managed to get into a good rhythm very quickly, with the knowledge that Ruth had work later in the day, so time couldn't be wasted. This journey though would have a number of speed bumps, and the first one was me reaching for the Hammer Perp as I neared MacKay's Crossing. My hand reached down to the empty drink bottle holder, and 'yes' I quickly realised that I had just joined the 'forget your drinks on a long ride' club. "Dammit!!", I said out loud. This annoyed me for two reasons. Firstly, I needed t go back home to get the bottle, and secondly I would never again be able to say (with a righteous tone of voice), "How the hell can you forget drinks on a long ride??".

Drink collected, I setoff - Again. A bit more of a rushed feel now, but time still on my side. I passed the spot I had turned back previously, and pushed on towards Paek. Hill. Then, out of nowhere I hit a mental bar. It was square, so never rolled as I hit it, and I fully expected two punctures from the impact. Pulling over I assessed the damage - Slightly buckled front wheel, and back wheel fine. No punctures followed, and with everything that followed on this day I'd actually have no punctures all day.

The climb up Paek. Hill went fine, and I knew to take it at a reasonably steady pace, as I was carrying all of my drinks for the entire day, so no point in pushing too hard this early. The morning had been a cold start, and a white frost had covered everything around Kapiti. Nearing the top of the climb however I felt a tad foolish for wearing so many layers, and amongst other things had five upper body layers, two pairs of gloves, and two pairs of socks. The descent that followed put this to rest though, as I speed through an ice filled valley, and my extremities once again started to feel the chill. My feet would regain feeling after midday.

Empty - The roads, cafes, and golf courses. Everything seemed attended, and no one else seemed interested in this day just yet. I approached the Haywoods Hill, and recalled the Four Hills ride, where this climb had been an afterthought. I felt pressured to get the tempo riding going and felt good as I sat on an honest heart rate up this hill. The descent was honest too, and once again I few down the Haywoods. All was good, and I gave a friendly wave to the elderly driver who had reached me halfway down the descent, and had then slowed down, allowing me a clean run down the hill.

Swinging left onto SH2 I experienced pure sun strike for the first time ever on a bike. I literally needed to hold my hand up to see the road ahead. After hearing stories about cyclists 'knowing the ride' in these situations, and then cycling into temporary traffic signs, I wasn't taking risks. Reaching Brown Owl corner I was feeling pretty good about the world, although to be honest I was still a little annoyed about forgetting the drink at the start of the ride. I knew what I had done to forget it, and it wouldn't be happening again. Aka's now, and a road closed to vehicles lay ahead.

Starting up the first gentle climb I was cruising and felt great. I looked back to check for traffic and was conscious that my heart was beating hard now. Actually - it was beating really hard. I could feel my mouth taste that lactic acid 'blood' taste you get when sprinting really fast, (which I wasn't), and I coughed as breathing became constricted. What the hell was happening??!!!! Reaching for my helmet strap I thought about untying the strap to loosen the tightness under my chin. My veins on the neck were really pushing into the strap and I figured this wouldn't be wise while cycling. I was still cycling, and as I commented to the doctor several days later "I don't stop for no bastard on these rides".

Looking down at my heart rate monitor for the first time I saw in was sitting on 205 to 208. I'm normally on 135 to 140, and the monitor is accurate. The elevated heart rate remained for about three to four minutes longer, and then dropped back down to the normal heart rate for my cycling. It would transpire that I would have six hours left on this ride, and I was left feeling washed out, hollow, and sick - immediately after the episode, for the remainder of the ride, the rest of the weekend in fact.

The hills were climbed, descents manoeuvred, and flat sections ridden, but I simply thought about getting home. I also pictured at one point an overweight doctor telling me that this journey was over, and in an uncaring manner telling me the words that would convince me that carrying on towards the record ride was no longer an option. These thoughts and images didn't help, and I had a few tears while carrying on. Never feeling rested or experiencing lifted spirits I rode the remainder of the outing flat and empty. Waikanae, Kapiti, passing the mental pipe, climbing and then descending Paek. Hill, same again at the Haywoods Hill, and SH2 (bringing no sun strike this time), and the Aka's once again bringing footbridges and carrying of one's bike through the mud. I was over it and had even considered stopping after one lap.

Getting home with ten minutes to spare before Ruth had work I commented that I 'wasn't right', and explained what had happened. I didn't feel right the following day, and when I awoke on the Monday morning feeling no better I went to the GP. An ECG and blood tests came back aok. No heart attack, no signs of issues, no indication of damage. When getting the results at work the following morning at work I commented to the doctor that I felt a pushing against my heart 24x7. I was very clear that there was no pain at any stage, but just the sensation of a light pushing, and this had existed since the ride on Saturday. I thought this might have gotten me into the specialist (which as the next step - at $450 - for a 'heart echo'), earlier than by Friday…and I guess it did. Next thing I know I was in an ambulance off to A+E, with the on call cardiologist waiting at A+E to check me out. A little OTT if you ask me.

So an x-ray, heart monitoring equipment, and a series of specialist blood tests. I said to the cardiologist what I was training for, and said I wanted a green light or red light - not a question mark hanging over things. The doctor said he had dealt with athletes with this issue a few times, and with everything coming back looking 100% ok he suspected it was viral. The pushing on the heart, especially when leaning forward is consistent with some viral conditions - apparently. Otherwise the tests were 100% ok. No issues, no scarring, and no $450 heart 'echo test' now needed…as it transpires I had a better test done at the hospital for free. The staff were bloody good every single one of them.

I was told to nothing until the following Monday. I knew he had dealt with athletes when he said, "No cycling for three to five days…and this also means no running…and no swimming either. No training. Ok??". He then said nothing and looked at me waiting for a response. I concurred with this approach, and he said one more ECG would be done, and if all good I could be on my way. Had about 30 minutes before I left the hospital and this gave me plenty of time to think about the road ahead. "Green light or red". Who really chooses these paths we walk?? We do. I thought about not carrying on. Maybe I could thank the supporters, find some kind of irony in the fundraising being for Kids@Heart, and my issues, and then I could wrap things up - Being happy with these last few years of journeys and events and training and friendships formed with kindred spirits. Then a new life…without the record ride.

I then thought about this ride ahead of me, knowing that walking away would leave me unfilled. This is the exact reason why motivation has never been an issue for me - this feeling of needing more. I know that this ride is enough. It would be my last overnight ride, and commutes to work (when they happened) would revert to one hour leisurely escapes from my working day.

Looking then, I thought about 'green'. The green light then, maybe I would look towards this room in front of me and would find a sign. This journey's path being in my hands. Yes. Yes indeed. This room had some green. Here and there. Around the edges, and maybe more, if I looked hard enough. The life I had before would return soon enough - The ordinary life - where greater goals were behind me, and my biggest challenge would be reminding myself that sometimes it's ok to take part for the enjoyment of it. In that moment I longed for the Taupo velodrome - all of it - over and over and over. I looked ahead of myself and the back wall was a light shade of green, with the ceiling a lighter shade still, and those curtains were every shade you could expect of this colour that I know saw everywhere. Yes. Things would be fine. No doubt and no backward glances. And never any fear.

Walking towards me came the doctor for one last time, and all was good. I had undergone my 4th ECG within 24 hours, and results were discussed. The all clear was given, and questions asked. Everything was ok, and everything was going to be ok. Moments were thought of - smaller moments, never taken for granted, soon enough becoming all there would be once again. But after this one last great journey. Yes. I have my arena. On a day where New Zealand votes, I too will have an opportunity - to do something great, or merely be a footnote on a missing page, in an unreturned book.

I commented to Paul Rawlinson that I knew that it would boil down to two decisions when I had this scare. Either a healthy life, of laughter, and time with family, and growing old, and all the while watching of my children growing up before my very eyes. Or conversely - I could take a step into the unknown for one last great outing, and then finally have nothing left to prove. Not even to my harshest critic - myself. Paul commented that if I was to go with the option that would guarantee me seeing my children growing up, then he hoped that one day I'd recall (or perhaps realise) that some mountains are just as beautiful when seen from a distance. These sentiments were objective and are without fault.

Many years ago I recall walking the Kepler. Surrounded my snow on that first evening I stood at the top of what seemed the world. I was grateful I experienced that moment, and I also knew I needn't return to that place. Pure tranquillity beneath my feet I could see Lake Anau outstretched before me. I can still smell the alpine air when I recall that moment, with the feeling of weightlessness you have when your pack is removed, and most of all I experienced nothing around me but silence. Not the artificial silence that merely exists in the absence of noise, but the silence that comes into being in those moments where you disappear back into the world you life for. I sometimes envy those who have the ability to enjoy life in small doses. Maybe they can see more than I can. Or perhaps they're just looking in the right places.

So the Aka's Double loop is behind me. I had planned for each type of ride once only, but I'll this ride again in a few weeks. I'll be stronger, fitter, and will get everything right. I'll also finish the ride feeling good. The only thing that will be the same will be 200kms of cycling with no stopping. 'No stopping for no bastard'.

"Everything but the Cape"
Not a superman.
Undies not on the outside.
Sometimes just tired.

1 comment:

Tim "The Potato Guy" Neal said...

As always Stu, inspiring reading.

We all forget something at least once my worst was only last weekend when after all the build up and planning and fussing over every one else with dinner the night before, water, perp, gels and hot soup and fresh bread to share at the summit of the final climb across the Gentle Annie I went and left my shoes at home 1 1/2 hours behind us. To say I shed tears would not be a lie.

Glad to hear that all has panned out as OK :-)