Monday, February 28, 2011

Pukete Spaghetti

I'd been eyeing off this event for a couple of years but it always fell on the weekend of another race... This year, my weekend was free, so I trucked off down to Hamilton for a little 6 hour jaunt around Pukete Farm. It had been a while since I'd done a reasonable length race (although for some reason I keep forgetting the 4 days and 520km I rode around the Whanganui) and the running I started doing again this week meant it would test the legs a bit.

It was a beautiful day and we set off with a le mans start (thankfully, the shortest le mans start I have ever done!). The track is really twisty and windy, a bit like the Royal Albany trails, only a bit more open, so it took me a while to get into a rhythm railing the corners. After a couple of laps I settled into a good pace knocking off an average of just under 19km/hr for my first 3 hours! The trail was quite dusty and I think I had my tyres pumped up too hard making the ride a bit rough because by the end of the race, my lower back was killing me (it didn't even cross my mind to stop and let air out of them once I was in the zone)

There were a couple of highlights out on the lap... The first of these called the "poo shoot" which ran along the fenceline and was a flowy, almost straight piece of single track where I think my max speed hit 40km/hr... Lovely! There was also some sweet little berms to rail and even this one really sandy little berm where you could just slide straight into the sand and the berm would just spit you out pointing the right way. There was also this one little dip where you could get up quite a bit of speed and hit this lip that was almost vertical. I kept pushing my luck with my speed on that one until one lap, I got what felt like a good metre of air then nearly snapped my forks nose-diving into the track on the other side (phew!!! slowed down a bit after than one!). It was awesome fun, just corner after corner of sweet trail, although pretty hard work considering it was generally quite flat. I've always found it bizarre how people complain about climbing hills when at least it means you can ride down the other side... When you are racing on the flat, you have to be on the pedals the whole time with the hammer down.

There was another girl just ahead of me and for the first couple of laps, I managed to keep her within sight, but once I lost her, I think she took about a minute a lap out of me and in the end I came second behind her. After about the first 3 hours, my legs started to get a bit sooky from the running and lack of big rides, but I kept pushing out respectable lap times. I finished my last lap probably 5 minutes too late to be able to squeeze another in, but I was pretty happy with my day's riding and a second place result, pushing out just under 100km in about 5 hours and 40 minutes. Off to Karapoti next weekend! YEEEEEOOOOW!!!

Freeload Rack Review

When I headed off on my first cycle touring adventure a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have had Tim and the team at Freeload hook me up with one of their sturdy, versatile racks to carry my huge load on. I received my rack the week of the event (having left it too late like many other things) and although there was a bit of assembly to do, I was surprised at just how easily I was set up and on my way testing them out.

The assembly side of the freeload rack is just one of the things that makes it so versatile. The rack comes with the sport platform, but I replaced the sport platform with one of Freeload's new touring platforms with side supports for larger panniers. The touring platform gave me more room to strap stuff on the top and the racks allowed me to use a full-size Ortlieb pannier on the back. It also gave me HEAPS of options of where to strap things on, which is handy when you are packing up to go in the morning and you don't have to be so precious about how you pack things up. I set mine up on a hardtail mountain bike, but the design also works with a full-suspension bike. To my knowledge, it is the only rack on the market compatible with a full-suspension bike. The same rack I used on the back of my bike can also be set up on the front of the bike, so there's heaps of different options. The versatility was just one of the things I loved so much about the rack.

The one thing I was unsure of with the Freeload rack when I first put it on was how well it would stay put. I was carrying a lot of weight, and throwing it from side to side as I descended down trails and all I had to hold the whole thing on my bike was 4 bits of webbing around the chainstay??? I was seriously eating my words after day 2 of the tour, when I spent a good 2 hours hauling my bike and my load along a rough walking track, up slick rock and through muddy creek crossings and the Freeload rack stayed put the whole time. The only change I had to make to the rack in testing was that I had to strap the panniers around the rack to stop them swaying from side to side, although I think this had much more to do with the weight of my load than the design of the rack itself.

The other thing I was quite impressed with was that the Freeload rack looks noticeably cooler than any other rack on the market (and looking cool is important right?). The rack was reliable so I didn't need to worry about losing my load and at the end of the four days, the rack seemed to have withstood the battering much better than my body did!

All-in-all, I was highly impressed with my new Freeload rack. I think this will be the beginning of a new a beautiful relationship with my bike!

Palmerston North... Not as bad as it seems if you ride a bike!

A week ago, I made my first trip ever to Palmerston North. To be honest, I didn't expect much... Everyone promised me I would be sufficiently bored by the end of the weekend and vow never to return, but my partner is studying down there and the trip was a necessary evil, so I packed my bike in the van and off I went.

As I approached Palmy, I was quite taken by what I was confronted with... Beautiful rolling hillsides and mountain ranges... I began frothing at the mouth over what riding might be hiding in those hills and even the prospect of a road ride up through the hills just outside the town.

Saturday I took my partner for a drive east to Waipukurau in Hawke's Bay and we checked out Pukeora Mountain Bike Park. This is a 50 hectare block littered with probably about 15km of Rotorua-esque trails... Dips and berms carved into sweet, smooth trails... Man, it was so much fun. This was probably about an hour and a half out of Palmy, so a nice little day trip with some sweet little towns to stop for lunch or a coffee on the way through. Just remember that if you would like to ride here, you need to be a member of Hawkes Bay MTB club, or you need to purchase a temp permit from the cafe just down the road (we were quite surprised at how easy it was to just rock up and grab a permit... Nice!)

The next day, I headed out on a little adventure of my own to tackle Takapari Road. This is a 4WD track that winds up the back of the Ruahines and climbs up to a height of about 1200m. The first 7km climbs 900m to hit the peak of the climb and then it undulates along the ridgeline and you just turn back when you feel like it. The first thing I saw when I threw my bike over the gate was this wall in front of me which was actually the road ascending up the mountains... there were some super steep sections and a lot of these had obviously just had gravel re-layed on them so they were super slippery to climb. I learnt pretty quickly that if I wanted to get anywhere without pushing my bike, I had to ride really smoothly. I stopped a couple of times on the way up for some photos and noticed that as I got higher, it got much colder and the weather at the top of the climb was completely different to at the bottom of the climb. This was less noticeable on the way up than on the way down. When I was bombing back down the hill, I was certain I had passed through four seasons in the space of half an hour. Up along the top ridge line, there was an A-frame hut and beyond here, the road actually got quite rough and technical. I'd be pretty keen to head up here again and go as far as the road does. It was a hard ride up but the views were amazing, and the ride down was good fun.

So from now on, the bike comes with me when I trip down to Palmy for visits. Looking forward to scoping the area out more!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Te Tawhio O Whanganui

Last weekend, I embarked upon my first ever cycle touring journey around the Whanganui. This was the first time I'd ever carried gear on my bike before (unless a spare tube and CO2 canister strapped to my seatpost counts) so I had decided I wanted to embrace the experience fully and camp along the way, as well. The ride was in the spirit of the Kiwi Brevet and the only rule was that there were compulsory overnight stops along the way. The following is my diary account that I wrote each evening after a day's riding...

Day 1
There was no race briefing or start gun as such. We all just gathered around in a circle and introduced ourselves and then set off at a civil pace at which you could hold a conversation. This was, indeed, very strange to me. It was immediately apparent to me at the start line that I was carrying way too much weight (a lot of it food) but I felt I was moving along ok... Until we hit the first hill. I went from being at the front of the bunch to on my own somewhere near the middle to back of the bunch (sigh). This was going to be a looong day. I eventually settled into a rhythm (albeit a little slower than I was used to) and enjoyed the scenery. It's a beautiful part of the world... And somewhere I likely wouldn't have gone if I hadn't done this ride. I found a couple of friends along the way in other riders. I rode with Greg from Wellington for a good chunk of the day. Today's ride was about 105km from Wanganui to Raetihi via Pipiriki. At about the half way mark, we rolled across this random "COFFEE" sign in the middle of nowhere. Turns out it was a gallery/cafe and the opportunity for a cold sugary drink was very welcome on such a hot day. When we left Wanganui, it was cloudy so I hadn't bothered putting suncream on. By now, I was burnt to a crisp. I put cream on then, but it was a bit of a case of "too little, too late" as it would seem. That first half ticked along pretty quickly. The last half of the day was a painful trudge up a series of seemingly endless hills (and a coupe of fun little descents). The one thing I did notice was that with all the weight on the back of the bike, the wheel stuck to the road like glue which made for some fun on the gravel descents. The climb out of Pipiriki was about 14km and an absolute b***h of a climb. I just kept turning the pedals over and willing it to end. It was so hot, too. I passed a couple of guys who had gotten off their bikes and started walking. It was hard work, especially with all the extra weight. Buses with trailers full of bikes kept driving past us (how demoralising!). Finally, at the top of the hill, with a pained expression on my face, two tourists decided to take a photo of me! The last 5km into Raetihi was painful and my bum hurt a lot (probably a combination of raising my seat height for the road and the hardtail with the weight being a bit rough on the ol' bottom). Finally I got to snowy waters lodge where I pitched my tent for the night. The hosts at Snowy Waters were so hospitable and put on a big feed for us... They also have a pet goat named Mischief, who is more like a dog and loves pats! My gear all seemed to behave itself for the day. The Freeload rack with the new touring platform and sides to carry my panniers made short work of carrying my immensely ridiculous load without budging, and my Icebreaker jersey doesn't smell yet (I plan to not wash it for the whole 4 days straight!). My new Adidas Evil Eye Pro Half Rims also sat nice and firm for the full day without any uncomfortable pressure points. Tomorrow is going to be a massive day with some good-looking off-road options. Jakub and I have just decided to change our route. Instead of doing the 42 Traverse, we are going to have a bash at a new trails which DOC is opening that extends off Bridge to Nowhere. Apparently due for completion in March but should be ready now. Should be fun!

Day 2
Jakub and I decided on a route change last night. Apparently there is an old DOC track that joins to the right of Bridge to Nowhere and loops through Whakahoro and out to Owhango. The track upgrade for bikes is due to be finished in March, but a reliable source told us it should be ready to go now. I left just before 8am to head towards the trail. The scenery riding the road into the valley was stunning and I felt great. I had tunes pumping into my ears and they were like a soundtrack to the landscape as I went whizzing past. I finally arrived at the bridge to Nowhere track. Once again, the scenery was magnificent. I caught up with Jakub here and we stuck together for a few k's, following a herd of cows up the track. It was pretty wet and slippery, but ridable. These cows were surprisingly stupid and let us herd them for about 2km before they realised they could stop running and just step aside and let us through. The trail was fast and fun, albeit a little bit wet. When I got to the locked DOC gate, I hung a right down towards Whakahoro. The first part of the trail was so sweet! It was like a rocky 4WD track with a slickrock surface, which reminded me a bit of Wiseman's Ferry, back in Oz. At the bottom of the descent, I popped out onto a vague farm track then into an ankle-deep mud pit, which sucked my rear wheel in up to it's hub and made pushing my load forward pretty hard work. I then picked up the formed track DOC has been working on, which was quite nice to ride, although very boggy in some places (they'll need to drop some gravel in there for a bit of weather-proofing). About and hour or so into the track, I came flying down a descent and nearly straight into a gorge... There was a bridge support on my side, and the other side, but the bridge hadn't been built yet... F@#K!!! I was about 5 hours into the ride, which had been predominantly downhill, so I wasn't too keen on turning around and going back. Worse still, my water bottle was nearly empty and my reserve water supplies had bounced off the back of my rack back along the trail somewhere, so I had no water and no idea how far to Whakahoro. After some scouting around I found the old trail which, fortunately, still had the bridge intact. Past here, the work on the trail had not being finished and it turned into a rough walking track which was 90% unridable. There were stream crossings where I'd get to the other side and be faced with a scramble up a rock wall. Twice I had to remove my panniers and walk them up then clamber up with my bike. I filled my bottle with water from one of the streams but tried to avoid drinking it in case it wasn't ok. I spent the next 2-3 hours manhandling my bike over seemingly impossible terrain, all the while wondering if I was on the right track. I figured as long as I was heading north and was on a track, I would eventually end up SOMEWHERE. Eventually, I popped out onto a rough farm track and then to my delight, on to a road next to a cafe. When I asked the lady where I was, and she told me Whakahoro, I was beside myself with relief. I was even more stoked, when I was told that I was the first biker to ride the new trail that DOC had started building for us bikers! I was able to pick up a nice cold drink (for the record, apparently the stream water is fine to drink). I set off up the road to Owhango which was a painfully steep climb on a hot day. By the time I got to Owhango, it was 6pm and I still had 100km to get to tonight's stop. I stopped in at the local pub and asked them to fill my water bottle, much to the amusement of some drunk locals, then headed off towards Taumaranui where I replenished supplies and donned my Ayup lights for the 89km hill-filled ride in the dark to Whangamomona. The climbs were huge and I was so tired. I was so lonely riding that road in the dark by myself. All I could think about was being at home in bed snuggled up to Clare. It made me cry. About 40km out of my overnight stop (about 10.30pm) the first car in about 2 hours came past. I secretly willed it to stop, and to my surprise, it did. A guy jumped out and offered me a lift and I reluctantly accepted. I didn't want to take the soft option, but I knew I'd be at least another 3 hours out on the road and I wasn't in a real good way. I'd been playing with the idea of knocking on someone's door and asking if I could pitch my tent in their front yard. Turns out the guy that picked me up was a friendly local by the name of Willy and as we drove along, he filled me in on little historical tidbits about the area. When I arrived, I was surprised to find I wasn't the last rider in. A group that had traversed straight across the Whanganui River to find the going pretty tough along the track they picked up had just arrived, and half their group had stayed at one of the DOC huts which meant they had a spare lamb shank meal which they kindly offered to me. I pitched my tent and crawled into bed.

Day 3
I felt a bit jaded this morning and actually entertained the idea of flagging any off-road routes today and just going straight along the road. Jakub had spent the night sleeping in a ditch in his tent and got up early enough to catch me before I left, and I think we both convinced each other to ride Bridge to Somewhere. I'm glad I did. There were a couple of boggy sections and some precarious wash-outs on cliff edges, but the riding was so fun and the scenery the most spectacular I had seen all trip! I learned that sheep can run faster than my descending bike, but that they don't go through gates or fences too well (poor things!). The dirt road climb out from the end of the track was quite tough... A seemingly endless slog on a loose, gravelly road. I finally made it back to the highway, 30km from Stratford, after riding through one of the area's hand, dug road tunnels (quite strange how you lose your sense of balance when you are surrounded by darkness). The ride to Stratford was just demoralising. There was massive hill after massive hill and I had a head wind the whole way. I did get to see Mount Taranaki, although it was covered in cloud. The only thing that kept me motivated was that I would have mobile reception in Stratford and could ring Clare. I knew she'd be worried that I hadn't called the night before and the last she'd heard of me, I was setting off on an abandoned highway in the dark for a 90km stint of riding. I finally grovelled into Stratford and felt completely broken. I bought a nice hot meat pie and went and sat in the park to eat it. I was in tears on the phone to Clare. I couldn't handle the thought of facing another head wind for 50km to Patea. Finally, I got back on the bike and to my delight, had a huge tail wind. I could sit up and not pedal and the wind would catch my back and panniers like a sail and push me along at 45km/hr!!! Sweet! It took me only a little over 2 hours to get to Patea. My back hurts and my saddle sores are giving me problems. I can't figure out why because I have ridden these distances before. I put it down the the extra weight on the bike in addition to the roughness of a hard tail which is very unforgiving (although great training!!!). I really must cull weight out of my gear for next time!!! I also made a conscious decision to raise my seat height 5mm due to the amount of road riding. This may be causing me to rock on the saddle. I ate a huge, yummy burger in Patea tonight... Only 62km back to Wanganui tomorrow!!!

Day 4
There was an off-road extension option for today, but instead, I'd decided to just burn it back straight along the highway to Wanganui with no side trips... I've done heaps of cool trails on this trip, met heaps of amazing people and learned so much (not to mention the training!) so I didn't see much value in wasting myself with an extra 70km. Last night, it absolutely poured down, so I was quite stoked to be bone dry in my lightweight tent in the morning. Had some brekky then hit the road. It took me just over 3 hours to burn the 62km back to Wanganui. Over the 4 days, I have ridden about 500km (and got a lift for another 40km, so travelled 540km in total) and climbed 7260m... With all my gear on the bike the whole way. I intentionally hadn't weighed my gear (I really didn't want to know), but my guess would have been around the 20kg mark (which is nearly an extra half of my own weight!!!).

I've learned that travelling light is essential to enjoy the experience (but maybe that travelling heavy the first time is a valuable lesson to learn), that people are fundamentally good and have good intentions, and that you should appreciate everything and everyone you have in life, because when they aren't there for you every lap like in a 24 hour race, you sure do miss them! I hope that having done this trip increases the scope I have for adventure and exploring and even training on my bike. I was also quite stoked to spend time with hardened crazymen like Simon Kennett and John Randal and Jakub P and learn the beauty of resourcefulness and taking the time to enjoy the ride... Thanks guys!!!