Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Training Treats...

So there were a couple of really wicked things about training over Christmas this year.

Firstly, the weather... It has been so long since I have been able to get out in a long run of amazing sunshine and dry trails and cultivate my tan lines. Lately, I've been heading out to Levin for my Wednesday rides and doing my time trials up the new singletrack climb there... It's soooo much nicer than climbing that gravel road. A couple of weeks back, I bumped into an entire brigade of trail builders there doing a stellar job, and this little gem of a climb is a perfect time trial test, but best ridden in the dry, so I have really enjoyed getting out there and nailing this climb time after time. What's even more amazing is that the climb tops out around 400m and then the trail meanders across the ridge to then poke its head out with amazing vistas of the Kapiti coast... Just magical on a nice day!

Another particularly magical day of note was Christmas eve... I headed out early in the morning before work to complete my hill repeats on Ngahere Park Road. This road is a particularly nasty (or good, depending on which way you look at it) climb which gets steeper and steeper the further up it you go. I've been using this climb for my hill reps for a month or so now, each time, trying to push a longer distance for each 5 min hill rep. My first climb of the day was average... Probably on par with the climbs I had done there last week... My second climb, however, I completely smashed my previous best marker and added another 100m to my 5min climb (substantial if you consider how demoralising it is when you are racing someone and they are sitting 100m in front of you on a climb). In fact, all my climbs on this day ended up being better than my best climb last session. WHOOOP! What made this day even more awesome was that after smashing out that second climb, I turned around to head down the hill in my oxygen-deprived state and could see, through the clearest of mornings and bluest of blue skies, Mount Ruapehu and its snow-covered tip jutting out of the landscape... A sight I was treated to for every subsequent climb.

Secondly, the food... I've done really well on the moderation front this year! Having said that, though, it's also been nice to be hitting the trails and the road hard and being able to have some sweet little treats to reward myself. I am so lucky to have some workmates who are pretty amazing at baking and I have received some lovely home-baked goodies which have translated rather well into trail-side snacks whilst I am out riding. I have no doubt that the original intention of the person doing the baking was for me to be sitting around with a good book and a cup of tea, savoring the taste of their naughty little treats... Just for the record, I have enjoyed the goodies both trail-side and with a cuppa in hand and they are just as good either way!

Thirdly, I got to spend Christmas day with Cape Epic team mate, John Randal and his family... This was a bit of a last-minute arrangement I made late in November after I told my mother I had intentions of loading up my bike with a tent and setting off on some crazy adventure by myself on Christmas day, to which she told me that I am not allowed to spend Christmas by myself. "It's not right" she said (gotta love mums!). So after opening my Mum and Dad's Christmas Care Package on Christmas morning (thanks for the underpants Mum!), I headed off down to Wellington and received the warmest of warm welcomes from John and his family. Amazing food (thanks to Ma Sifter) and great company. I was so glad I had them to spend the day with. John and I even managed to sneak out for the afternoon and hit up the trails at Miramar... This was a sweet xmas pressie in itself... There is a 125m climb to the top via a trail is called "Conviction". This is one lovely climb... I've never ridden an uphill berm before, but let me assure you it is all kinds of awesome. Once at the top, we were treated to some amazing views on what was a perfect Summer's day in Wellington... A play around on the pump track and then we dropped in to "Jail Break"... Now if you want a fun trail to ride, there is no way you could disagree that this is an absolute hoot. It's like a rollercoaster on two wheels, with these perfectly carved berms and amazing flow. I remember John commenting on how there was one section of the trail where you are on a constant lean and just flowing from berm to berm. I got to the bottom and felt like I had left my brain somewhere back up on the hillside in a pile of dust... My mind was overloaded with trail goodness... So we took the "Repeat Offender" trail and climbed back up to do it again... Four times. What a perfect way to spend xmas day!

It's been a pretty inspiring couple of weeks and there's been a lot of soul-searching done during some tough times... But I can feel myself coming out the other side strong and really motivated to hammer the pegs into the ground and make the most of this next 3 months worth of training I have still ahead of me before the Cape Epic and 24 Hour Solo World Champs in Italy... There's been some really strong thoughts and ideas materialising in my mind, and I'm almost ready to lay it out there and say "this is what my intentions are and here is how I'm going to do it"... I won't call them New Year's resolutions, because we all know they are meant to be broken, and I certainly have no intention of that... I'm call them "Training Treats"... The enjoyment I intend to derive from baking myself and hitting this next few months cooked just right... Bring it on!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Touring The Rangitikei - Views, Climbing, Summer and the "L" Word

I'd been looking forward to this all week now. I'd mapped out a little 200km jaunt around the Rangitikei, starting in Hunterville, looping up past Taihape, staying in Mangaweka the night, then up to Utiku and then back to Hunterville. I'd been looking at doing the Rangitikei Cycleways for a while now, but the logistics of a one-way tour were a bit troublesome, and in all honesty, the final two legs of the cycleways were flat as a pancake and didn't really excite me too much, so I decided to create my own little loop that would allow me to ride the first two legs of the cycleway. I hadn't ridden my hard tail since Le Petit Brevet. It had been in at Pedal Pushers getting some love and servicing the forks, so I brought it home Friday night and kitted it all out, changed the tires over and put my Freeload rack back on.

The week leading up to it wasn't very promising. I had this nasty head cold which was just hanging around and by Thursday I had all but lost my voice. As I drove to Hunterville on Saturday morning, I was feeling pretty ordinary, and was wondering if maybe it was my own stubbornness that was driving me out there and I should possibly give myself another week to shake this lurgy. I had also had a pretty heavy week of training, introducing some plyometrics (who likes burpees???) and some running and core work into the mix again, so I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. My whole body ached, and I didn't know if it was flu ache or workout ache. Hopefully a spin on the bike would work it out.

Stubbornness prevailed and the weather was so bloody nice it would have been a shame to waste another weekend on a stupid head cold, so I parked up in Hunterville and put all my gear on the bike and headed off... I had packed really light... No jandals (John's words were still ringing in my head from last tour... "No jandals... Too heavy"), no underpants (shorts would do) and no spare kit or socks. Had I really wanted to shred some more weight, I could have ditched the jacket and arm and leg warmers, being such a nice weekend, but I knew that where I was going was a bit out of the way and I had no idea what the terrain would be like, so best be prepared. I knew the second day would be pretty straightforward, being an established cycleway, but I had no idea what to expect the first day. I set off pretty late in the end (after sleeping in to try and give myself some extra rest).

I headed out of Hunterville and on to Turakina Valley Road. I had uploaded the route from MapMyRide to my GPS, which was bloody fantastic. All I had to do was follow the pink line and it beeped at me if I went the wrong way... Saved having to get the map out and check all the time. I did still carry a map though (kiwimap 29 for Wanganui, Marton and Taihape), which ended up coming in handy on day 2. It was a warm day, but as I descended into Turakina Valley, the breeze was so refreshing. Those little white fairy flower things that I used to play with as a kid were floating around everywhere in the air and they felt like cotton wool balls hitting me in the face as I rode. It was actually quite surreal. The first hour or so of the ride was pretty uneventful and not too strenuous at all. I had seen two cars the whole time, which was nice and the locals were really friendly and waved as the drove past on the other side of the road. It was so relaxing.

Once I hit the valley floor and started climbing, I knew I was in for a tough couple of hours. When I plotted the course originally, I had seen that out of the valley, the road pretty much climbed for 50km up to a peak of just over 800m with another false peak just before it. It was quite strange because it wasn't really all that steep, but it was super tiring... Everything that looked flat was a false flat, so for 3 hours or so, every pedal stroke was putting vertical meters into my legs. The worst part about that was that as it got to the first false peak and then the second real peak, it did get steep, so my tired legs got a battering up the last part of the climb. The first (false) peak came along just as I was passing through Ruanui and the Ruanui Station Deer farm. As I climbed, I noticed Mount Ruapehu come into view, jutting out of the landscape... This would be a common occurrence over the next couple of days. The Mountain would just appear out of nowhere behind the most unsuspecting foreground... It was really quite cool.

As I rode into Mataroa, my GPS was telling me to turn right... I looked to my right and there was nothing there except and old "railway crossing" sign, a gate, a fence and a bunch of grass and cows... Bloody fantastic... My "road" didn't exist. Luckily, the ride around was relatively short, and also took me straight past the old Mataroa church, which was quite nice. I tuned onto Ridge road and the climbing began again. The surface was pretty sketchy. It was just loose gravel that looked like it had been recently laid (or had been laid and noone had driven the road to bed it down, which was also a high possibility). It was a pretty solid climb, but there was no point getting up out of the saddle, so I just sat down and turned the pedals over. There were parts of the road where the camber and the gravel combined would cause the bike to slip straight off the edge of the road (frustrating). On one such occasion, right near the top of the climb, I wasn't able to pull it back and went straight over onto my elbow. My whole body still ached from the previous week of training and I actually struggled to pick myself up. My elbow hurt, hopefully just bruised. I jumped back on the bike and soldiered on, a little bit miserable, but happy to be near the top.

I turned off onto Kaweka Road. There was still a lot of loose gravel on the road, but I didn't bother me for the descent (it meant I could drift around corners and do skids!). The descent was really refreshing and it undulated along, prolonging the enjoyment of not climbing. After probably about 10km, I came to an open gate with a number on it, which seemed strange... The road appeared to go straight through the gate. I continued to ride another 50 or so meters and my GPS beeped at me... I was off track??!! There was no other road I could see. I went back to the gate and looked at the screen on my GPS. The map on it seemed to indicate the road went off to the left. Great, another non-existent road... To my left was an overgrown, grassy mess about the width of a car... Surely not??? I turned down there and started riding... The GPS seemed to like it. So my "road" was this bloody grassy, overgrown goat track that looked like it had been used by noone other than cows and sheep for the past 10 years. I either continued on or rode all the way back up the hill and took another route. Deciding it would be a fun adventure, I continued on. As I rode along, I came across gate after gate, and it became apparent that perhaps I was on someone's farm. I felt terrible... I had these images of some farmer coming out with his shotgun and chasing after this mountain biker who was trespassing on his land. I thought over in my head what I would say to anyone I came across ("sorry, I got lost?"). The track became less and less obvious as I continued on, and before I knew it, my GPS was telling me I was off course again. Shit... How was I meant to find a track out here. I scoured the hillsides and could see little farm tracks running everywhere. Which one was Kaweka Road??? I continued on foot, traipsing through huge bushes of thorns which stuck in my legs (and hopefully not my tires?), trying to join back up with this mysterious track that was plotted in pink on my GPS. It was one of those moments when your gut just drops and you realise you could be in real trouble. It reminded me of that track I was riding along at Te Tawhio Whanganui and I came across the bridge that was out. No mobile reception, no water around if I ran out... I was starting to take comfort in small things like the fact that I had extra clothing and an emergency blanket in my drybag if worst came to worst. I hauled my bike up and down steep banks. I saw a road that I thought MUST be it, then when I reached it, realised that it wasn't and that the road I was looking for was potentially another couple of hills and valleys over. I got to a fenceline that was relatively clear and was about to go down it. Then it occurred to me that if I headed backwards, UP the fenceline, I was probably more likely to rejoin Kaweka road. I trudged up this steep hill, through more thorns (my legs were a pin cushion by now). Then I heard a beep. "Course found" flashed up on the screen. YES!!! About 50m up the hill, I could see a gate... That was my road! The track wasn't much better than trudging around the farm. It had been wet and a herd of cows or sheep had stamped their hoof prints into it to set on a fine day like today. It was easier walking than trying to ride a loaded hard tail over it. Eventually it smoothed out and I was on the bike riding again, still a little bit wary that I may bump into an angry landowner... Just for the record, when I got home, I checked the WAMS site to find that the road IS actually a legal public road, which made me feel a bit better. Finally, I popped out onto a sealed road (and the correct road, too!!). I had my own little personal celebration inside and continued on to my night stop in Mangaweka.

After stopping in at the pub to get a bottle of ginger beer, I headed down to the Mangaweka Campground. It was unfortunately down hill, which meant I would have to climb back up in the morning... I'll deal with that tomorrow! Over the past week, I'd been emailing back and forth with Trisha, who runs the campground. She was an absolute gem! Originally, the cabin (or Pavillion, as they call it) was booked and when I mentioned I was riding in and would prefer not to carry a tent, she told me they could have a tent there, pitched and ready for me when I arrived for $15!!! And for an extra $25, they could also have an inflatable mattress and sleeping bag there for me, too! Awesome. In the end, the booking for the Pavillion was cancelled, so I grabbed that. It was pretty basic, but perfect for what I needed. Nice to have somewhere to cook and some room to spread out and prepare for the next day and a bed to sleep in. Trisha had also been so kind as to pick up some supplies for me from the local general store and leave them for me in the cabin so I didn't have to stress about getting there before the store shut. She really did bend over backwards for me, and it meant I didn't have to carry so much stuff with me, so I was very appreciative of her help. I would highly recommend you stay at the campground if you are doing a tour through there. It's a really lovely spot and Trisha was just fantastic. You can check it out here.

I spent the evening eating and getting ready for the next day. The humid weather had caused me to develop a couple of "hot spots" on my bum. I put some antiseptic ointment on them and then went to sleep in the nude to give it a chance to air out... They didn't cause me a single problem the next day, which I was thrilled with. All the same, I really should have learned after Le Petit Brevet to put chamois cream on right from the first day, not just waiting until the second. My elbow was quite bruised but otherwise okay and my whole body still ached from the week before. My throat still hurt and I still didn't have my voice back and my abs were so sore I couldn't cough. There were a couple of options for the next day to reduce the distance I was doing if I needed to, but I'd make a call on it in the morning.

The morning brought a warm, overcast day. I had a bit of a sleep-in and planned to head out a bit later... No point in rushing. I made some breakfast and then went and checked on my bike to find my rear tire was flat. I knew when I had done it, too... There was a drain down Kaweka road yesterday that I managed to pull my front wheel over, but the rear was too heavy with my gear to bunny-hop it, so I must have pinch-flatted it. It wasn't fully flat... More like a slow leak, and I considered just pumping it back up and seeing how it went, but I remembered how much trouble I'd had with getting those tires onto the rim on Friday afternoon and I really didn't want to be out on the road stuffing around with trying to get tires on and off, so I decided to change the tube. I put a new tube in and pumped it up, then as I unscrewed the pump from the valve, it unscrewed the valve with it and let all the air out. ARGH!!! I tried again, and it did the same thing... I should have cut my losses then and just tried another tube, but I didn't... I tried another two times with the same result. Finally, I just swapped it out for another tube and that pumped up just fine. I was a bit annoyed with myself that I had just pumped up the equivalent of five tires with a hand pump. I felt a bit nervous that this now left me with no more spare tubes for the day. If I got another flat, I would need to patch it. I decided to do the full planned distance (which was another 105km). I didn't feel great, but yesterday I felt fine once I got going and I suspected today would be the same.

I set off and climbed out of the river and back to the highway. To get to Utiku, had to ride straight along the highway, which was a bit boring, and was, once again, false flat the whole way with a slight head wind, so I didn't particularly enjoy that part of the ride. I had planned to do a slight detour off the highway on my way, but as I passed the "road" I was meant to turn on to, I saw it looked like another Kaweka road, so decided to flag it and just burn straight up the highway to the turnoff. By the time I turned on to Gorge road, I felt pretty good again, and in fact, probably better than yesterday! I felt really strong on the bike, and once again, it was a lovely day out. There were some spectacular views to be had again and whilst there was still a bit of climbing today, it was by no means as taxing as yesterday (1800m of climbing compared with 2100m of climbing yesterday). I cruised along at quite a good pace, following my GPS, until the little pink line came to an unexpected end... It seemed that maybe the course hadn't fully uploaded and I was forced to switch back to the good ol' map, which was no big deal... Just a little inconvenient. It just goes to show that technology is very convenient, but shouldn't be relied on. My progress was pretty quick until I got to Sandon Block Road. Once again, freshly laid gravel... It was just a matter of being patient with it (which I'm not very good at!). I finally popped out onto Vinegar Hill Road after enjoying an exhilarating descent down the gravelly Sandon Block Road. I then had to endure one more climb up to the top of Vinegar Hill and then I was on the home stretch to Hunterville.

It's always nice to get out and do these rides alone. It's great time to clear your head, reconnect with the bike and figure out what's important in life (riding a bike is one of those things!!!). It was a ride I'd definitely do again. 210km and just shy of 4000m of climbing in two days. Great training and amazing views. What more could I ask for???

Friday, December 2, 2011

Mitre 10 MEGA Summer Series - Nirvana on a Sunny Thursday Evening

The first evening of Summer had arrived in true style here in Palmerston North... The sun was out with a few fluffy clouds hovering in the blue sky and a very slight cooling breeze to top it off. I have been riding my bike to work all this week... To do otherwise would be criminal, the weather has been so nice. So today, I cruised into work on my Yeti 575 and had to spend the whole day looking it at in the office, with it begging me to ride it... Soon my friend... Very soon... 5.30pm came and I was out the door in my kit with bike in hand and a big grin on my face.

Our store is sponsoring the MMBC Summer Series, which is a multi-lap short course race at different venues close to town. The aim of the game is to ride your guts out for 45mins plus one lap. After feeling a little jaded for the past couple of weeks, Coach Sadie and I had decided on a week of rest for me, with just some active recoveries... This event didn't really fit in with this plan, but I certainly had no intention of missing out on the fun. I wore my baggies in the hope that it would make me feel a bit less serious about lining up on the start line. In hindsight, it probably moreso made me ride like a complete hoon. I had pumped a bit of extra air into the rear shock on the bike and made some minor adjustments since the weekend, so when we took off from the startline, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily the bike was carrying itself... Contrary to our plans for a week of rest, my heart rate hit the red within about 50 metres the start line and stayed there for the next 45 minutes. I spent the first lap in front of Katherine... The bike handled really nicely over the singletrack along the river and it really only took me that first lap to realise that I didn't need any brakes along this section of track. The second lap, Katherine passed me and I thought that I may have dropped off the back but I stuck there pretty tight, and overtook her again just before the little technical mound near the end of the lap. She was catching me on the flat firetrail sections, but the majority of the course was singletrack and the 575 really had a mind of it's own... I dropped the hammer along the river, hollering and hooning, railing corners and doing fat skidz. I truly believe that nirvana is when you are riding a bike so hard that you can barely supply your limbs with oxygen, but you don't even notice because you are having too much fun... I was having such a blast.

I think each lap got faster and faster, especially along the section of trail by the river. I didn't see Katherine for the last two laps. Trees and shoulder-height grass whipped at my limbs and flashed past in an instant. I was sorely disappointed at the end of my fifth lap to find I'd missed the cutoff by about 30 seconds and wouldn't be going out on another lap. What a hoot!!! We did spot prizes (all really awesome stuff from Mitre 10 MEGA, of course!) and then I enjoyed my roll home back along the river. What a perfect way to see in Summer! May there be many more days and evenings like this over the next three months!!!