The now never to be Forgotten Highway

When all is said and done, and I take time in my old age to look back at my (hopefully) beautiful life, it is adventures like this past weekend that I will remember in high definition.

Not only because of the adventure itself, but because of the eclectic, unique and unforgettable bunch of people I got to ride it with.

220kms from Taumaranui to New Plymouth with an overnight stop in Whangamomona.  Here are the highlights:

  1. Realising one punter forgot their Di2 battery.  Having enough friends in High Places to locate a spare between Papakura and Ngaruawahia
  2. Gaz rolling up next to me, shortly after we had both been dropped up a climb by nearly all women in the group to remind me “Mullarkey, you know a lot of Weapons grade women”
  3. Charley’s Bike Museum – Ohura
  4. Riding along way upwards to be rewarded with views of Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe
  5. Descending behind the likes of David Benson, Gary Sullivan, Paul Larkin and Jenna Makgill and not crashing.
  6. First beer at Whangamomona. The locals at Whangamomona.
  7. Realising that 16kms of deep, large gravel can be fun if, in the words of Jenna Makgill, you  “Just laugh, drink rum and don’t think about it”
  8. Rolling into New Plymouth, all still friends and with all limbs intact.
  9. The van, its driver and the general soigneur support.
  10. Fruit cake and date loaf.

Here is the photographic evidence:

Departing Taumaranui Holiday Park

Departing Taumaranui Holiday Park day one

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and up we go....

and up we go….

This was the predominant view on day one - up and for me at times blurry

This was the predominant view on day one – up and for me at times blurry

It paid to be prepared for this adventure

It paid to be prepared for this adventure

We had lots of local company along the way.

We had lots of local company along the way.

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120km day done. We could smell the beer.

120km day done. 

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Weapons grade women await their beer. Oh and there is Mark too.

Weapons grade women await their beer. Oh and there is Mark  and Cam too.

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Not sure whether I was glad to be back or not....

Not sure whether I was glad to be back or not….

About to be educated by Gayle Brownlee on how to ride through big thick gravel, how to feel alive right there

About to be educated by Gayle Brownlee on how to ride through big thick gravel, how to feel alive right there

A few of the group were about to get loose

A few of the group were about to get loose

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Jeremy ploughing his way through the gravel

Jeremy ploughing his way through the gravel

Ride into a soul destroying Taranaki head wind to finish.

Ride into a soul destroying Taranaki head wind to finish.

Bike packing - best left to the professionals

Bike packing – best left to the professionals

Three cheers for this guy - indispensable driver and soigneur extraordinnaire!!

Three cheers for this guy – indispensable driver and soigneur extraordinnaire!!

The Heaphy

For those of you that have been mountain biking with me, you will know that any semblance of skill or grace I possess on a road or track bike dissipate as soon as I throw my leg over a mountain bike.  I am not a fan of sand, rocks, tree roots or mud – all things quintessentially mountain biking.

Despite this, I really enjoy it when I’m out there, even if I do emit squeaks and squeals at every obstacle. I also really enjoy it despite being embarrassingly spastic.

So when Mandy and Mike invited us to ride the Heaphy track, I leapt at the chance.  It only took five years, but finally the opportunity to get Cam on an (unmotorised) bike had presented itself.  Needless to say, I rail roaded him at every turn, and so it was that we made a plan to do the Heaphy track at Queens birthday weekend.

History

The Heaphy track is 82km long and starts inland from Golden Bay in the north (near Takaka in Nelson) and runs to Kohaihai, near Karamea on the West Coast.

The track is named after Charles Heaphy. In 1846, while a draughtsman with the New Zealand Company, he and Thomas Brunner, a surveyor with the company, were the first Europeans to traverse the coastal portion of the modern track. At the time, they were on an exploratory trip along the west coast with a Maori guide, Kehu.

The inland portion of the route remained uncrossed by Europeans for more than a decade after Heaphy’s coastal trek. A gold miner named Aldridge is believed to have traversed it first, in 1859, followed in 1860 by James Mackay, a warden on the Collingwood goldfields. Over the ensuring years the route was developed to a pack-track standard by prospectors, but by 1900 it was overgrown and infrequently used. With the 1965 establishment of the former North-west Nelson Forest Park, the track was cleared again for use by the public.

Mountain bikes have been allowed on the track as part of a three year trial which ends this year.  Hopefully mountain bikes will be allowed into the future, as this truly is a beautiful bike ride.

Preparation

When we were preparing for this ride I read several useful blogs about various people’s experiences on the track.  I have included this somewhat mundane section for anyone out there who may read this in preparation for the ride.

The Heaphy is not your average biking adventure.  It requires you to carry all your gear including food, tools, clothes and sleeping bags through the track.  The weather in the Heaphy area is also some of the most changeable in the country, and its wet.  Very very wet.

For Cam and I, the first thing on the to do list was actually buying mountain bikes. Not knowing if Cam would actually enjoy this whole bike riding thing,  we bought him an entry level GT with front suspension and for me a slightly better model Cannondale with front suspension. These bikes were fine, but double suspension would definitely have made the ride more enjoyable.

Second on the list was to get fit and learn a bit more about mountain biking. Having just returned from Melbourne, started new jobs and tried for months to buy a house, this task on the to do list was probably left a little late.  However we managed at least one mountain bike ride every week for 6 weeks leading up to it, and I was still out there on my road bike a few times a week.  I should also mention, still a little spastic when it came to sand, rocks and tree roots.

Leading up to our adventure we also needed to finalise logistics.  Mandy was our logistics manager extraordinnaire and sorted most details like flights, transport and accommodation.  One of the more important decisions to make is how many days to ride it in, and which way to ride it.  Being a bunch of enthusiatic somewhat experienced bike riders (barring Cam) we decided two days would be sufficient and that riding it from Golden Bay to Kohaihai seemed the smartest approach.  From the profile this appeared to mean that day one would be mostly uphill and day two mostly downhill and flat (how wrong a profile can be).

We arranged transport to take us from Nelson airport to Takaka where we stayed the Friday night at Golden Bay Motel. Takaka in winter is not bustling so get there before 8pm if you want any decent food.  We were lucky enough to find a takeaway store open at 9pm for some food, and a pub open for a compulsory pre-ride beer.

Golden Bay Motel

Golden Bay Motel

Our transport also picked us up in Kohaihai at the other end.  This was reasonably inexpensive given the number of hours and kms of driving involved.

Our crew, from L to R, Mike, me, Mandy, Cam and Dave

Our crew, from L to R, Mike, me, Mandy, Cam and Dave

For a very decent blog on all other logistics and gear see here.

Day one

Brought to you by the letter C for crash and R for rain

The forecast leading up to the ride was not good.  In fact it was terrible.  Plain and simple it was going to rain, apparently biblically.  Nothing was going to dampen our spirits though, and we woke Saturday morning to blue sky and brisk but not freezing temperatures.

Mike awoke to realise he had forgotten his rain jacket. Dave realised he had forgotten his bike shorts.  Both rather essential items.  Lucky for Dave we had a spare pair of shorts but Mike was in no such luck, until our driver offered to lend him a rain jacket for the expedition. Thank goodness for South Island hospitality!

Bikes loaded, stomachs full, smiles all round and we were off!

Off to the start we go

Off to the start we go

The first day is mostly up hill, until roughly the 20km point when you hit the top and it flattens out for the ride to our hut for the night, Saxon’s Hut at the 30km point.

 The ride started well, at least for the first forty minutes.  Cam realised that despite being the most inexperienced, his annoying athleticism meant he was going to lead us all to the top of the 17km grind to Flanagan’s corner. But the upwards journey was not without the first hiccup of the adventure.  A CRASH for the girl that hates all things mountain biking, this time rocks were the culprit. 

A mis-steer here, a bit of indecision there and before you know it I was tumbling over the edge of the ridge, clutching, grabbing at anything to break my fall. Tumble, clutch, grab, repeat. TREE. *Dazed and confused Mullarkey*.

When I remembered to breathe I first looked down… to see at least 8 metres of drop either side of the tree that had collected me.  Breathe, breathe.  I look up about four metres, to see my beautiful bike teetering on the edge, threatening any second to come tumbling down on me.  Breathe, breathe. Begin screaming for Cam. Loudly. Repeat. Repeat. Breathe.  Breathe.  No one is coming.  Where is the rest of the group?

Minutes pass.  I know that if I attempt to get out myself those 8 metres downwards could become my reality.

A rider, a voice “that does not look good”.  DAVE!!! My rescuer!

Another rider, Mandy!!  “You’ll hate me now but can I take a photo?”.

After being hauled out, downing some voltaren and a quick count of one of my nine lives we were off again.  To find Cam, nonchalantly waiting for us at the top.

Cam had enough time at the top to pose his bike as captured here

Cam had enough time at the top to pose his bike as captured here

At the top - Mullarkey sponsored at this point by Voltaren

At the top – Mullarkey sponsored at this point by Voltaren

Following a brief ride downwards, it started to rain and get rather cold.

Mike in the rain

Mike in the rain

It was at this point that we crossed a few rivers and got wet feet.

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After this, all we could think about was dry clothes, food and warmth, luckily it was not far away as my voltaren was wearing off.

Still in a relationship - end of day one

Still in a relationship – end of day one

And there it was in all its glory, our accommodation for the night.

Seemed like a palace at the time, a palace full of wet lycra

Seemed like a palace at the time, a palace full of wet lycra

The huts on the track are simple but sufficient.  When we arrived the fire was cranking and there were lines to dry our clothes. There was also a gas hob for cooking, lamb cous cous salad has never tasted so good.  There are bunk beds and an outside longdrop. Bring you ear plugs.

Day two

Brought to you by the letter H for harder and hillier than expected and by P for puncture

Despite being an eternal optimist, I was a little worried that I might wake on day two with a leg that wouldn’t pedal.  The crash the day before was epic, and felt like it had left some pretty good dents in my leg.  Who knows why, but I woke on day two ready to go and rearing with energy.

The crew - day two

The crew – day two

Day two was supposed to be easy.  The profile suggested it was going to be downhill and flat.  This proved to be rather misleading and day two turned out to be epic, and completely different to day one.

Flying Cam

Flying Cam

Swing bridge - not recommended after whisky consumption

Swing bridge – not recommended after whisky consumption

The first part of day two is a lot of downhill, a lot of it too technical for me.  I was certainly the slowest in our group and I had to walk some of it.  Cam says at one point I looked really grumpy, but I don’t know what he is talking about. 

The best part of day two, in my view, is once you hit the coast. It appears out of nowhere, and the landscape changes very suddenly.

First view of the coast line

First view of the coast line

Mike and Cam on the beach

Mike and Cam on the beach

The ride along the coast is, to use a cliche, “breathtaking”. Everything about it says West Coast. The waves are big and the clouds are moody.  The ride at this point is challenging though. Trekking along the sand with a heavy bike towards the end of a 50km day is hard work.  Plus it rolls like a roller coaster along the coast line and there are some real pinches in there. Made harder for Cam with his ever deflating rear tyre, already fixed twice.

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Still in a relationship end of day two

Still in a relationship end of day two

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Riding out the other end into Kohaihai was awesome.  We achieved the three goals of any epic adventure; have fun, all be in one piece at the other end and still be friends when all is said and done.

Our driver was there to pick us up at the end, and following a short stop at The Last Resort for food we were on our way back to Nelson to lie down.

The long journey home

The long journey home

If you haven’t done the Heaphy, stop thinking about it and get down there and do it.  You won’t regret it.

Women, awesomely fast women, and lots of them

There has been a significant amount of commentary in the cycling media recently about women’s cycling, most of which has focussed on how we give women’s cycling more profile, and how we get more women into the sport. For me the momentum really gathered speed at the start of this year when awesomely fast woman Chloe Hosking called Pat McQuaid a “dick” over women’s prize money. Now that’s a statement!
Well known website Cyclingtips had his say here, which was followed by SBS cycling writer Sarah van Boheemen with her say here.  More recently Brad Wiggins has backed Rochelle Gilmore’s new pro team Wiggle Honda which will start racing shortly at the Tour of Qatar. Only today was it announced by the UCI that women and men will share equal prizemoney at the world championships.
All of this indicates that finally, due to the numbers and the power of the women in our sport, women’s cycling is starting to get recognised.
Today I lined up with 69 of Australia’s fastest women for the Melbourne Criterium Sprint Champs organised by St Kilda Cycling Club.  It was a privilege just to line up against some of these rock star women.  The roll call was impressive.
Start of the women's elite race, forty degrees plus

Start of the women’s elite race, forty degrees plus

The best part about the day was that there were 69 women, only slightly less than the Elite Men’s field attracted. Some might say the men’s numbers were down due to the availability of A-D grade racing for the men.  However I can tell you that lining up behind those 69 elite women are about 60 others who would have filled out a women’s B and C grade like they did at last weekend’s Cykel Women’s Grand Prix (more on that later).
Today was a demonstration of fast aggressive women’s racing.  While the heat and a lingering stomach virus got the better of me, I stood on the sidelines feeling proud to watch the remainder of the women’s race.  There were numerous attacks, and the average speed was in excess of 40km/h.  This was not your average local women’s race where predictably half the race is spent looking at each other and with several participants refusing to stick their nose in the wind.
Crit action - fast women

Crit action – fast women

To keep up the recent momentum behind women’s cycling, us women need to champion each other’s achievements, and not be afraid to give everything and anything a crack, including occasionally sticking our noses in the wind or attacking at weekly local races where results don’t tend to matter so much.  As my new Cycling Inform team mate Lisa says, whether you think you can or you think you can’t you are right! It is at this local level where women’s racing is likely to continue to earn its respect.
I congratulate every girl who lined up today, and all the finishers, particularly the winner Nicole Whitburn, who as well as having the acceleration of a well honed race horse, is also just such a lovely person.
As for today’s prize money, that is a subject for another day.  I’m tired and need a cold beer!

Better the devil you know?

I am never sure whether it is better to know, or not to know, what pain you are going to inflict on yourself when you head out  for a bike ride.

Following the Mt Macedon challenge ride, I have definitely convinced myself it is better the devil you don’t know, than the one you do. There are numerous bike rides that I would never have agreed to participate in if I had been forewarned of the terrain, wind, rain or other circumstances!

Our new friend Jeremy, and his lovely two wheeled companions Sam and Mark, encouraged Bridget and I to sign up for the Mt Macedon challenge back in September, and so it was that the five of us lined up two Sundays ago to tackle the 130km ride from Gisborne and back to Gisborne over the now infamous Mount Macedon.

The Macedon crew, from left to right, Sam, Mark, Jeremy, me and Bridget

These look like a decent group of blokes to chew the fat with, while suffering your way through 130kms.

Trusty riding companions are hard to find

Team leader Jeremy, ever organised and resourceful, had a laminated copy of the course profile in his back pocket on the start line. The five of us studied it briefly while discussing our ride plan.  Mount Macedon reared up like a monolith in the first 15km of the profile, fortunately not revealing its true awfulness on paper.

The start of any recreational ride is always amusing and frustrating all at the same time, and this ride was no different.  After we had managed to duck and weave our way around those slower and/or less coordinated than us, we rolled along at a solid pace for about twenty minutes until the mountain rose up before us. “See you at the top” I squawked at my more Pantani-like riding companions.

Up I went, up, up and up. Past signs telling me 12% for the next 2kms, despite my Garmin telling me that  20% was the more likely gradient.  People passing me left, right and centre. Glancing down to see not much over 10km/h for most of the thirty minutes or so it took to haul my carcass to the top.  All the time wondering, what thoughts is one supposed to fill one’s head with at times like these? “Stop eating all the cheese and drinking all the wine” did cross my mind at least once.

Bridget and Jeremy  – making climbing the mountain look way too easy for my liking!

Just as I was starting to reconsider ever riding a bike again, Jeremy casually cruised down the road to collect me and tell me there were only a few hundred metres to go. Thankfully from that point on my day got better and better.

Following  the summit of Macedon, we  plummeted our way down into the best descent of the day.  A long, generally wide road, with only two switch backs to deal with, and otherwise some great sweeping and flowing corners.  As we regrouped at the bottom we quickly realised we were minus Sam, who had punctured close to the top of the descent.  By the power of modern telephonic devices we soon ascertained his location, and waited patiently for him to rejoin us.  The gods were smiling on Sam when he bumped into a designated course mechanic to help him, given he hadn’t brought a spare tube along for the ride.

Off we set, and on the bright side only 90kms to go!  The laminated course profile suggested that the rest of the journey was going to be lumpy, but not overly strenuous. How wrong that little piece of paper was.  Up until the 100km point the ride was generally always heading in an upwards fashion.  It was lucky that we were in such good company, things otherwise could have got ugly.

Good company. Great grupetto.

We utilised most of the rest stops on our ride, which thankfully came with free go go juice sportswater and go go gadget fruit cake (the best race food around).  These rest stops were much appreciated by Mark who was hampered by some pretty hideous cramp in the last 50kms.

At this point I was in need of an octane boost

As is often the case in these recreational rides you end up playing a constantly alternating game of cat and mouse with the same riders throughout the day.  The most satisfying part of the ride for me, and I think Sam, was towards the end of the ride when we again caught up to a guy we’d seen many times during the day.  In the last few kilometres he was giving it death to stay away from us.  I explained the “red mist” to Sam at this point and we agreed, just for fun, to organise a chase to catch him and beat him across the line, which we did.  It’s often the small things which are the most satisfying, although to clarify this was not a race!

We finished the day all together, all in one piece and all still talking to each other.  In my mind this equals a thoroughly good day out.  Thanks team, maybe Macedon will be easier next year as the devil I know, but somehow I doubt it.

A story about two friends and the beauty of two wheels

Perhaps with all this “Lance” stuff swirling around, I should join the thousands espousing their views onto the interweb. While I have an opinion on the issue like everyone else, I don’t think much good can come of any further words on the subject for now.  I’ll leave that to the enraged public and more experienced cycling commentators.

 What I will share with you, is a couple of stories about some good friends of mine, who simply love cycling for cycling’s sake. 

 The first is my friend Gaz.  Gaz has been around cycling since he was a young boy.  He was a legendary track rider in his late teens and early twenties, a mutiple national champion and New Zealand Track team member.  However just as his career was taking off he had a bad accident which meant he couldn’t race his track bike anymore. That would be the hardest thing to be told as a lover of any sport.  After an absence from the sport Gaz got back into cycling on the road and on the trails. He is cunning and fast, and simply awesome to watch.  

 When you talk to Gaz about his track cycling career, he gets this sparkle in his eye.  He tells the most hilarious stories about his racing days, and is one of the only people I have met that loves track racing more than I do.  

This week Gaz got back on a track bike for the first time in 35 years.  He even won a few races. Needless to say he was buzzing.

 

The evidence – Copyright Gaz’s facebook page

That is what bike racing is about. Its about loving to race, and being freaking stoked when you do any good.

 The second is my new friend Jeremy.  Jeremy is one of the most graceful bike riders I have met in a long time.  I always stare in awe at his style when he rolls up the road ahead of me, which is often. He pedals like a pro racer, and has that now rare old school charm and etiquette which means he is always content to ride the pace of the slowest rider.

 This morning Jeremy took me on his infamous Eltham Loop. Two hours and 1000m of climbing. We rolled out at 5.30am and as we hit the top of Mt Pleasant the sun was just rising and life felt pretty good.  “This is the best way to wake up” he told me this morning. Jeremy loves to ride his bike, just for the sake of riding his bike.

 Both of these guys loved cycling before Lance, and will continue to love cycling despite Lance.

 It’s a beautiful sport, and you only have to look at these two to remember that.

Guest posting – Amy’s Gran Fondo

Life has been a little flat chat in the Steel Determination household recently, so I asked my trusty riding companion Bridget to write a guest post about Amy’s Gran Fondo, one of the best recreational rides around.  I like the idea of guest posts as well, they should avoid you all getting tired of my musings!

So here it is – Amy’s Gran Fondo 2012 – Focus and Determination – a guest post

Last weekend Dog’s Body Number 2, four little humans and I packed up the Odyssey (with the brand spanking new Focus on the roof) sans my favourite teammate K and headed to Lorne on the Great Ocean Road (http://www.visitvictoria.com/Regions/Great-Ocean-Road/Destinations/Lorne.aspx) for the Amy Gillett Foundation Gran Fondo.

Great Ocean Road

Needless to say, teaming my brand new carbon baby with my first ever roof rack experience was probably not the smartest move.  As soon as the sun went down and I could no longer see the stealth-bomber through the sunroof and I called for multiple toilet, takeout and ice cream stops to surreptitiously “just check” the bike was still there.

The Amy Gillett Foundation (http://www.amygillett.org.au/) is an Australian charity borne out of the death of Australian track cyclist, Amy Gillett who was killed by a teenage motorist while on a training ride in Germany in 2005.  The Foundation’s mission is to achieve zero bike-related fatalities in Australia.

In keeping with this theme, the Foundation managed to organise 110kms of fully closed roads which wound along the picturesque Great Ocean Road for approximately 40kms, before turning inland to loop up through a seemingly endless 5.5% 10km climb to Skene’s Creek, followed by a string of rollers.  The finish line was at the top of a nasty kicker that made grateful that the Dads (our erstwhile weekend training partners) have dragged my sorry arse every which way through, up, down, in and out of Eltham as I knocked off a number of riders who had clearly “popped” before the top.

The course

Dogsbody No 2 and I rented a lovely house in Airey’s Inlet, complete with friendly neighbours who happily devoured the endless supply of pre-race carbohydrate supplies that the little humans volunteered:

 

Unlike previous weekends away with K and J, our pre – race preparation was less red wine and more beach exploration and trampolining with the little humans:

Bouncy little human

 

The start line would not be complete without a posing shot or two & a gratuitous excuse to show off the new wheels:

Posing

The new stead (while not steel racing machine) rode like a dream and I pulled off a solid day’s work which saw me qualify, together with the top 25% of each age group, for a UCI Qualifier’s medal, granting automatic entry to the 2013 UCI World Cycling Tour.  Currently looking for any excuse to quit the day job.

 

K and I will be back next year to take on the team’s classification with the Dads in tow.  Maybe Dogsbody No2 might be on a bike by then!

Turning those circles!!!