The Commute (by rain)

 “A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth”.
(Ecclesiates 7:1).

I had been feeling decidedly underdone over the last few months, and despite all the mileage I never really felt like I had given the training a nudge.  A real nudge – where you get to the edge and look over the over side, and regain your balance before taking a step back from the edge.  That was until this week.

The Aka’s loop has traditionally been an occasional Friday commute on the way home.  This, along with the fact that I have only ever once cycled to home (and back home) every day for a week, made for the logical choice of the Aka’s loop every day for my training from Monday to Friday.  (‘Yes’ – it’s an urban myth that I cycle into work ‘everyday’). 

Once this week was completed start my taper.  The weekend following the Commute by Rain, would – like the previous four weekends – be completely blown out of the water by other commitments.  It’s interesting how life sometimes gets in the way of training.

Five days.  700kms the target.  Aka’s ridden on the way home everyday.  And working fulltime.  Yes.

The week would be a lot harder mentally than I an envisaged, with me arriving home with just under two hours each evening to prepare dinner, shower and change, wash my kit, prepare the gear for the following day, and (if possible) stop briefly before needing to get to sleep.

Physically I was fine.  And I love every minute.

This is how the week went down…

Monday – 137.19kms
As the name suggests, the weather was a tad on the wet side this week. Monday’s rain had me a little bemused.  The Kapiti region had experienced about ten minutes of precipertation in the last six weeks, and the previous week the District Council had put into force the ‘No outside water’ policy – Someone else had other plans.  And just as well.  Apparently Wellington city was 20 days from running out of water.  “Before what??”, I hear you say.  Once again, the local councils have shown that their staff continue to ignore the people paying their salaries, while they earn too much, and displaying behaviour which can only be described as ‘inept’.  For the record – Kapiti’s solution on water shortages is to spend eight to ten million dollars installing water meters.  I’m sure the Roman’s had this figured out – 2,000 years ago – and maybe we should just be grateful that they aren’t looking to invade us.  (Although it would solve the water meter issue).

Unlike the needed solution for water preservation in our region, the circuit for this week’s rides was very simple.  I’d cycle north from home, (so heading away from work), and would cycle up around Mazengarb Park, and around the coast, before heading south to work.  This would be around 45kms.  The pace was ‘easy’ to ‘moderate’, with a focus on drinking lots of water and ensuring that I finished the Hammer Perp before I got to work.  (One prority this week was eating all day.  This started with the ride to work).

Once at work I’d have a quick stretch at the gym, and then to my desk.  Snacking all day, and flat out all week in terms of getting through work.  The days turned into a blur very quickly.

Homeward bound, I rode from Porirua to SH2 via the Hayward’s, and then hung a left at the Aka’s turnoff to follow the Akatarawa Road to Waikanae.  At Waikanae it was a right turn, (not left towards home), and I’d carry on as far as the Peka Peka’s.  Then around the coast.  And then home.  This was about 95kms.

The right turn at Waikanae was an act of will power, and it felt odd to head away from home so close to the end of the ride.  This did’nt get any harder as the days progressed, and it was simply something I knew to expect.  And accept.  (That left turn is usually the ‘almost home’ moment of the, and to head away from home is an odd feeling indeed).

It was rain all the way home, as I had also experienced on the way into work, and I rode onwards feeling very pleased I had brought in a spare kit that morning.

The first day went well, and think the only thing that got to me was the crickets.  This was a little unexpected, and each day I’d hear them in the same stretch of highway.  After turning right at Waikanae I’d have open highway until the Peka Peka’s, and on both sides of the roads there would be fields filled with crickets.  (Amongst other wildlife).  These are the ‘it’s three in the morning and you should be asleep’ type crickets.  Their noise would remind me I was heading the wrong way, and they would also tell me it was getting later.  The crickets also come out at around 5:30pm, so you get this all evening, regardless of how late (or early) it is.

I was (apparently) a little cranky when I got home on Monday.  Tuesday I was happy to be home.  Wednesday I was happy to be safe.  And by Thursday I’d be content to lie down and simply look at the ceiling - Not out of exhurstion, but as a reminder that stopping was possible (even if just for ten minutes) and the world could carry on with me as a spectator for a short while.

Tuesday – 135.96kms
The second day’s forcast was rain, and the weather prediction proved to be spot on.  Actually, the weather service was on the mark for the entire week’s forecasts.  Later, the weather would clear, but not on this day.  Tuesday would be an ‘interesting’ day on the bike, and I would realise that getting through every test on this day would be a symbolic movement forwards, as I moved towards also completing this week’s goal(s).  Tuesday was my test.  And I passed.

Halfway into work, in the pouring rain, my right shifter’s gear cable snapped.  This meant I had two gears – the big chain ring and the small chain ring.  Well.  Sort of.  I had also been experiencing some issues with the left shifter the previous day, and thus I effectively had one of two gears, (opposed to two gears), for the remainder of the commute to work.  This gave me food for thought, as I need to get this sorted, and fast, so this setup did not become my gearing system for the remainder of the week.

Legs munted.  At work.  Thinking cap on.

I was walking towards my office, and MattO walked by.  We discussed bike cables, cars, and getting to Porirua at lunch.  And by the time I had reach my desk we had the bike sorted for getting to a shop at lunch.  Some might say this was a coincidence.  Some might be wrong.

MattO got me to the bike shop at lunch, and we got it sorted.  Easy.  A BIG thank you to MattO – for the record, I would have ridden the bike home via the Aka’s as it was otherwise, and then once at home probably would have realised that I did’nt have any way to fix the cable.  Plan B at that stage would have been a repeat (with two gears), or taking the mountain bike.

Funnily enough I had a free reign as to where to put the bike when I had arrived at work.  The ‘bike cage’ was relatively sparse, and the fair weather cyclists had obviously decided to drive.  Interesting concept this ‘no cycling on rainy days’ mentatlity.  Skipping rainy days is like avoiding training when you are not at 100%.  You get through those workouts and you know you can do anything.  Yet, despite this sentiment, some choose to say, “Or not”.

Tuesday’s other event was passing two cyclist on the way to work.  One of the cyclists was in dark orange pants, with a blue top, and the one and only light was in dire need of a new battery…about a month ago.  “Mate – you’re basically invisible”, I commented as I rode past the pair.  It was about 6:45am at this stage, and still dark’ish.  It certainly was’nt ‘light’.  We would continue our conversation the following day.

That was the day really.  I found myself ten minutes away from home as I rode through Waikanae South each afternoon, and I would then turn north to continue the journey home.  I would head away again, and sometimes it would feel like this was being done for no reason.  It was being ridden this way for a lot of reasons however, with the most important reason being the mileage needed for the magical number of 700kms.

I finally got to my street, and for the first time in the day I did’nt have a headwind.  Experiencing the tailwind I gave a bemused laugh, and my thoughts drifted back to a testing day.  I did’nt have to pedal once along the street, and coasted to my house.  Two days done.  It continued to rain while I had my dinner.  But I was dry at last.  I looked out the window and recalled also that I had also experienced a puncture on the way to work that morning.  None of this left me in low spirits for the following day – it would be a new day and a new start.  And it was.

Wednesday – 135.65kms
Another day starting with wet conditions.  This time drizzle, and the rain seemingly subsiding.  By the time I was in Raumati South (15kms into the ride), I would see clearer skies, and the day would begin to clear from this point onwards.  In fact, this was pretty much it for rain for the week.

It was yet to become light, and along the exact same road as the previous day I saw the same two cyclists once again.  This time however my friend was no longer invisible.  New batteries on the bike light, a helmet light, and a reflective jacket that is possibly visible from the NASA space station.  “Awesome mate!!  I could see you for miles”.  He had a grin from ear to ear – so much so I got goose bumps as I realised that those lights might be the difference between him being seen by motorists.  Or not.

By 2:15pm that day I became acutely aware that my body temperature was rising.  Once cycling I was fine, and until then I’d get hotter and hotter.  Not a fever.  More like I was sitting in the car on a hot day…with the windows up.  Later on the ride my eyes were getting pretty dry, and by time the ride was coming to a close I needed to get some eye drops in.  A big thanks to Grylls & Keleher Optometrists for sorting me out for eye drops at very short notice.  They worked!!

I finally climbed into bed.  My head hit the pillow.  And my alarm went off.  A new day awaited.

Thursday – 135.86kms
Both Thursday and Friday had clear weather.  Both days also had light drizzle (at times) through the Aka’s.  The Akatarawa Road has a climate all of its own, and by the end of the week I had a pretty good idea on which sections would be warmer, colder, dryer, or wetter.  I’d also know the road better by the end of the week.  This is a road (and a circuit) I already knew well.  (I completed my 100th ‘Aka’s Loop’ the previous day, and at week’s end I’d have completed 102 laps of the circuit – with no fewer than 8 Double loops and 2 Triple loops along the way.  I’m sure I’ve done 3 Triple loops!!  The spreadsheet shows 2 however).

Thursday saw the shifter for the big / small chain ring stop working.  All good.  I’d simply use the big chain ring less, and would flick the bike into the bigger gear with my finger.  (Did it at about 55kph down a couple of sections).

Upon arriving home I often announce to Ruth the number of kms ridden that day.  Not today.  I walked in the door and said, “One day to go”.

Friday – 157.06kms
Upon getting my gear together I grabbed my ‘To Do’ list.  I saw on the list the words, “One Day” at the top.  It was my writing, and I don’t remember writing it.

I arrived at work and had 112kms to go to reach 700kms.  Simple.  Ride 113kms and the way home.  I recalled aiming to do ‘the same’ distance for a return trip to Palmy about eight weeks ago.  Upon checking the distance about two days later I was stunned to see the figure – 199.99kms.  I kid you not.  That would not happen again.

It was a productive day at work, with the exception being a work colleague telling me I don’t eat properly.  It is interesting to note that they don’t participate in sports, and they smoke.  (A friendly chat is what I needed at that moment).

Then home.  I turned right at Waikanae, and wound the bike up.  Past the Peka Peka’s, and onwards to Otaki.  Every back road on the way.  And the same on the way back.

That final commute of the week was an odd ride home.  Tired, but energised about the completed week.  Happy, but disappointed at the week ending.  Goal almost completed, and ‘the goal’ not truly started.  A mixture then, of emotions.  For the record, no tears on this ride – no matter how many kms it was, this was a build-up ride, in a build-up week, in what will be a build-up year.  The emotions will be bottled up for truly epic outings – mentally though, this week came close to being epic – some of it felt like I was 350kms to 400kms into a ride.  The distances all look achievable, and they are, the biggie for me was the ‘not stopping’ aspect of each day.  If I had done this circuit every day, and had taken annual leave for the week, I would have felt underdone.

Home then.  And it was done.  The arrival was a little anticlimactic, and part of me expected a finish line.  Ruth summed it up well with the comment, (and smile), “Are you happy??”.  “Yeah”, I replied.  My smile was as wide as the sky.

Dinner.  Shower.  Bed.  Sleep.

The next day would be a recovery spin at City Fitness, and then shorter (but sharper) training each day.  The big mileage was now behind me, and the training simply took another form.  You do not stop.  Not unless you want to go backwards.  No.

One last Graperide then.  The word, “again” is surfacing a little too often for my liking, even for an event as special as the Graperide.  Yes.  An ending – While I still love this sport.  That is how it is done.  New days await me.  It seems like six months ago that a chubby cyclist lined up for his first race.  That was six life times ago.  Also.  So many memories.  Farewell my friend.

Five laps.  And then a finish line.  A start line also – at the 505km mark Ultra Triathlon begins.  And everything stems back to one very clear goal – Crossing the finish line at the Florida Double Iron.  That’s it.

I wish the best of luck, and safe cycling, to those I line up with for the Graperide Ultimate.  My ‘Brothers’ – as I have said so many times before.  And with good reason.  Likeminded people, chasing what appears the same to an outsider, with the reality being that every cyclist is pursuing a goal as unique and special as they are.  ‘Racing’ – the true race – is each individual against themselves.  Everyone knowing that they can stop at any stage, and all the pain goes away.  Or you can carry on, for more.  More of everything, including a life worth living.

This ride is different though.  No.  No chit chat.  No line-up.  No photo opportunity.  No exchanging of stories.  No laughter.  No talking.  And good luck getting as much as a smile out of me.  No.

Turn up.  Warm up.  And race.  A team time trial this time.  With four Brothers you’ll never see on the starting list.  No.  Not for this race.  Not for any race.  Ever.  Again.

When I did my first race in 2005, Steve Avery, Steve Fitzgerald, Frank van Kampen, and Douglas Mabey were all alive.  I finished 74th of 76 starters.  In those subsequent years they all died at some point.  All died while out on training rides.  They will be in my thoughts for the 505kms – I’ll be riding with them.  I’ll be riding for them.  I cycle past where Steve Avery died on every single commute to work.  (And I recall how I had stopped cycling that winter because it was ‘too cold’ – not again eh).  Steve Fitzpatrick will always be remembered when I think of both ‘Petone’ and ‘PNHQ’.  (The latter reminding me of him often, as I work for the same organisation as he did).  Frank van Vampen is thought of on every ride as I pass Te Horo.  (Where his memorial is – One thoughtless driver and a good guy gone forever).  Douglas Mabey will be missed – I pass his house on every ride north, and he was always doing something really cool for the events he lined up.  (And for the record – he did chat on rides.  You only needed to ask him about Paris Brest Paris).

This ride then, is for four people just like you and me – who happened to be in either the wrong place or the wrong time.  And that was it.  So excuse my lack of chit chat.  And I won’t apologise if it’s a fast start.  It is probably the way they would have wanted it.  One last ride for all of us.

It’s funny what you think up while cycling 700kms over five days.  Maybe everyone should have to do it from time to time.  The world would be a better place, and I’d no longer hear how it was a ‘horrible day’ every time it was cold, rainy, or windy.

Commute by Rain
One race left – Five laps.
Race with four Brothers.
Racing for my friends.

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