Ground Hog Week

"You must be the change you want to see in the world."
Mahatma Gandhi (Indian political and spiritual leader. 1869 - 1948).

In the lead up to April's 24 hour ride, I took a week off from work, and had a "Big Week" of training. Easy mileage and a focus on getting through this day and the next. However, my last day in the office was not filled with an anticipation of time away from work. No. It was thinking about the following day's ride - Miss the numbers and I would have a week off to think about what could have been. Again. April's outing This ride needs to be realistic, and I knew I had my back to the wall.

The ride went well, and thus Day One (Levin Velodrome #3) was a positive start to the week. What can be said about a ride on a velodrome. The places you go physically are relatively limited, but mentally you go everywhere. In the midst of the ride it dawned on me why people do the Race Across America. To cycle fast - Forever. That is an incredibly empowering thought. There will not 'be more about that later' however. No. 24 hours at a balls out speed is fine for me, and frankly to think any further ahead would be a tad foolish. The day ended, and the following day I had a two hour recovery ride. Big thumbs up to all the cyclists who ignored my cheerful greetings on the ride. (Show me a cyclist doing 25kms per hour on a time trial bike and I'll show you someone being a wide berth by every cyclist on the roads).

Day Three was my only visit to the Maungatuks. Up and down the hills until I lost count, and then a few hours on the flat to shake off the fatigue. The day was hot, but I enjoyed shade basically the whole way to the top on each climb. This was blissful. As was the trip north. Down on the bars, and looking ahead, wondering where to travel to next. Just time to fill in the remainder of my day. Just time, my bike, and the road. I got home and felt good. At that point the decision was made to drop a rest day that week, and do extra hours where possible. I would not regret that decision.

Day Four's highlights were two fold. Firstly, I did the Aka's loop in reverse for the first time (Aka's hill first and Paek. Hill last on Lap One). This was an amazing experience, and I found it profoundly humbling that I could know this circuit so well, but at the same time knew nothing of the roads surface when riding the circuit in the opposite direction. No. A small bump in the road is different to a pot hole at 60kms per hour. Even if it is still just a small hole in the road. The Haywoods and Paek. Hill were different also. I've had a few close calls on the Haywood's, so am always very cautious at the top of the descents, but for some reason the road can't come at me fast enough once I get going. It's the same effect in both directions as it turns out. Very cool. Paek Hill is a slow grind to the top, followed by a descent equalled only by a plane coming in to land. Except your probably going faster on the bike along some straights.

But before the loop (in reverse) was completed, I experienced the other highlight of Day Four - The cicadas. I love cicadas. Growing up, with summer holidays away with my family, we were surrounded by those chirping little insects. As loud as the day is long, and seemingly very social creatures, as it always sounds like there are a million of them whenever you hear any. Cicadas live in the Aka's. On this day I was aware of many noises around me; the wind, traffic, insects, my bike, and my breathing. But on the first descent everything happened faster, and this meant I went from an apparent silences to a deafening noise of cicadas in one huge instant. It was cycling's equivalent of the sonic boom. Yes. This special week had some special moments. Places, times, rankings, and egos - All left at home. All that was left was cycling. All week long.

The following day was a flat ride. I actually looked at each day by a number, (rather than a day of the week), and frankly I cared very little about what day of the week it was. I didn't follow the news (at all), and didn't even care to look at the weather forecast - I was covered in sunscreen and had wet weather gear with me. And I needed nothing more. By now I was acutely aware that I was now officially out of society's web for a week. And I was loving every second. So Day Five, and all flat riding. (I still climbed 644 meters). Up to Otaki and cycled every back road, front road, and pathway in the area. I switched off and simply cycled. It was an odd sensation - to cycle these roads - I knew them, but they did not know me. This is 2012, and this year anything is possible. I am not the same person who cycled these roads last year. The miles are now eaten up, and relished. And embraced. On several occasions on this day I wondered if I could just carry on. Forever. This thought would return several times throughout the week.

Day Five would have an interesting start. Ruth asked, "How do you feel??" at breakfast. I simply replied, "I feel confused with the world". My brain felt like one of those little glass orbs that you shake to create a snowstorm. All was good once I was back on the bike. Day Five would also give me insights into others. My level of social contact was getting fairly minimal, so seeing others while I was cycling was about as good as it got for six to eight hours a day. Anyhoo - On this day I witnessed, within about 100 meters of each other, the worst and best of what people have to offer each other. Turning away from the coast at Otaki I cycled past someone who was walking their dog. The dog had stopped, and was doing a dirty great big s*** on someone else's front lawn, and I turned around in time to see them wander off with the dog. Said dog s*** left on the front lawn. However, just down the road I spotted someone with a big plastic bag on the side of the road. They were picking up all of the rubbish that had been carelessly left by others. Not some. But every single piece of rubbish. My belief in humanity restored I carried on. I seldom wondered what else was happening in the world.

I learnt three key lessons this week. Lesson #1: Fully charge the Garmin before you go on a ride. (The batteries died with an hour of the ride left). A quick check on Wises gave me the final mileage, and lesson learnt.

Day Six would involve repeats of the Aka's, and then finishing the loop in reverse. When I got to the top for the last time I chatted to a guy who was carrying on through to Rotorua to do mountain biking. Seemed to me that plenty of good mountain biking could place anywhere in the 30kms around us!! He was an ace descender, and I was pleased I asked him to wait a couple of minutes before I followed his car down the hill. I struggled to keep up with him, and he seemed to be going faster and faster. Then about halfway down the hill he swung off to one of gravel areas and stopped. I suspect he had taken one corner too many, too fast, for his liking. He gave a sheepish wave as I started my last Aka's climb of the day.

The only other memory I have of that day is being on the bars the whole way up Paek Hill. I looked down several times to see that the speed was around 30kms per hour, and I felt really good. I imagine I flew down the other side of the hill and carried on home feeling good, but that climb is my lasting memory of that day. No traffic, a steady climb, and legs that kept pedalling away. Happy with the world. As I was.

A Double Loop of the Aka's was the order of the day on Day Seven. It would be a loop in each direction, and it felt odd to do just the single climb to the Aka's to start the day. Equally odd was climbing Paek Hill later that lap, but instead of almost being done for the day I knew I was almost halfway. But before then was the gravel.

There were two sections of gravel along the middle portion of the Aka's, and the descent was, to say the least, a dangerous one. Loose gravel, a downhill stretch of road, and oncoming traffic. Not the best of combinations. One motorist gave me the thumbs up, but as he went by I notice his thumb may have been pointing behind him. For a few moments I wondered if maybe he was gesturing that there was more ahead. Luckily he wasn't. Not until the return trip anyway.

I reached Kapiti, turned the bike around and started off the loop in the opposite direction. It is a truly sick and twisted circuit, and I suspect that an Aka's Quadruple Loop with loops alternating in direction would leaving you unsure if you were Arthur or Martha. SH2 was zipped pretty quickly, despite my pace being ok when heading in the opposite direction towards the Haywoods Hill, and I finally turned towards the Aka's for my last set of climbs for the day.

That was pretty much my cycling done for the day. Literally. 400 meters up the first set of gravel the bike stopped. I never panicked, and simply assessed the situation. "Rear derailer broken...won't go back for a cell phone coverage...need to get the bike fixed today...get a lift. Now." Four minutes later I was sitting in a ute getting a ride back to town. My only thought was to get the bike sorted, and I dropped it off ten minutes before closing. So I'd be on the road bike for the last two days.

Day Eight was the last day with any hills. Aka's repeats, and then head north. Yes. Setting off I was happy with the world, and the climbs started. Twice from the Waikanae side, then down the Hutt side to where the road works were. (Just past Staglands). Then back to the top and three more climbs from the Waikanae side. Time was ticking away and descending the Aka's I knew it was almost time to cycle north. Then I thought, "There must be a way to do this everyday". At some point on every single ride I had some point of utter bliss. On this occasion however it all overflowed - There wasn't a dry eye in the house. I started up my last climb for the day. My last climb for the week. I wondered where it had all gone. I never once counted down the days or hours or even minutes, and every moment had been lived in the present. True living. I'm not sure what the other four million New Zealanders were doing that week, but they sure as hell weren't as happy as I was. You can keep your Mercedes Benzes, fancy restaurants, and corporate share options. We all die. But only by pushing through weeks like this we can also truly live.

I descended and headed north. That afternoon was the only occasion I can honestly say that I dragged my arse home. Only for about the last 45 minutes, but it was enough to remind me that I needed to get everything right, every day. No mistakes. Ever. Not in this game.

Day Nine started at 2am. Not cycling, but a quick visit to the loo. My legs basically collapsed under me when I got out of bed. I hadn't recovered. It was about the same when I got up again a few hours later. "I'll do two to three hours and will be at Alex's Football trials by 11am", was my comment to Ruth. Two to three hours seemed insanely optimistic, but I needed one last push for the week. I met the 805's cycling group, and figured a cruise with some chatting would freshen things up. Within ten minutes someone had commented that the pace was too hot. So many replies could have been made, but I simply smiled, and probably didn't say another word until I headed north as the group went towards the Aka's. I went faster and faster, and apart from a sore arse, I felt completely fresh. It was like I had tapered off for this ride. Pure magic. I called by the Football trials and told Ruth I'd be 30 more minutes. Later I confided that if I had been on the time trial bike, then I probably would have headed north again, with little thought for trivial items like food, drinks, and having my ear bent.

That final day gave me my second and third lessons of the week...
Lesson #2: Never raise your families expectations too high in regards to what time you'll finish your ride.
Lesson #3: No matter how bad you feel before getting on the bike, there always exists the possibility that you can have a good ride.

I arrived at the Football, and watched my son run himself into the ground. He didn't know when to stop, and he pushed and pushed and pushed - Against players better than him. All around. He fought for every ball, and wouldn't back down from anyone. No matter what their reputation was, or who they thought they were. He also didn't care if people thought he couldn't do it - He would prove them wrong. He was Alex Downs, and on this day he would win. And he did. He made it into the First XI, and was happy with the world.

And it was done. Finished. And perfect. The best week of my life. The numbers mean so little in comparison to the memories, but they are worth noting...
Days - Nine
Distance - 1,182kms
Altitude Climbed - 11,057 meters

Sometimes I have looked out of my office window and, on occasion, wondered what it would be like to be outside - all week - simply cycling. All day. Every day. I know now. Yes.

The week stripped away any veneer that remained. All those days, long days, where I fought so hard with self belief that I was something other than the person I saw. All those moments where I pushed on in the last six years. All those choices, the 100 decisions every day, of every week, of every year. That got me to here. Where ever 'here' is. They have all - finally - shown me that I am the person I have wanted to be. I'll acknowledge it's a package deal, but make no apologies for the way I live. I live. And that is something to be happy about. Live by His rules and everything will be ok.

When I was in the 6th form the guidance counsellor asked all the senior students what they wanted to do. I know what I would say now, if that day was lived again. Instead of an apologetic shrug, I would lean forward and look him right in the eyes. I would then simply say, "Cycle all the hours of the day".

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17)
1 - You shall have no other gods before Me.
2 - You shall not make for yourself a false idol, nor shall you bow down to them.
3 - You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
4 - Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5 - Honour your father and your mother.
6 - You shall not murder.
7 - You shall not commit adultery.
8 - You shall not steal.
9 - You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
10 - You shall not covet your neighbour's house, wife, or property.

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