Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Back in the Saddle

With Christmas Day out of the way and less than six months to the Great Divide Race, it was time to start training. So, on Boxing Day a storm came in from the south giving Mount Ruapehu a fresh coating of snow. Summer, and training, would have to wait for a day.

The next day dawned fine and I was on the road out of Rangataua at 6am. A mix of fog and sun-strike made be paranoid of the traffic for the first half hour, but once I turned onto State Highway One, the ample shoulder gave me room to breath.

I was heading north along the 'Desert Road' - the volanoes Ruapehu and Ngaurahoe standing proud to the west. This is New Zealand's version of the Continental Divide - a string of alps, mountain ranges and volcanoes thrown up by the collision of the Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are fairly common in this young country. Recently, one poor climber had a leg squashed by a flying boulder while sleeping in a hut near the summit of Ruapehu. Today, Mother Nature was on her best behaviour.

The Rangipo 'Desert' is all of a couple of kilometres across, but it's New Zealand's largest, so don't knock it. I'm off SH1 and halfway round Tongariro National Park (the world's 2nd oldest after Yellowstone) after 3 hours. An unfavourable wind starts to brew and my first training ride slows considerably when a rear spoke gives up.

Today's bike, the 'Yellow Bullet', is an 11 year old DBR carbon MTB, long since converted into a commuter by my friend Jonty Ritchie at Revolution Cycles. It's done many rough-stuff touring trips and owes me no favours. We limped back into Rangataua in time for a late lunch. 150km under the belt - slow but steady.

A couple of days later it was time to find out what 3000m climbing in one day feels like. 3000m is about the average amount of climbing you have to do each day to finish the GDR within the time limit. The local ski field access road climbs 1000m - the first half through beautiful native forest with tall rimu and north rata towering above the main canopy - the second half through alpine scrub with massive views.

I'd raced up this road at Easter in 48mins, so was a little disappointed to do the first ascent in 1hr 15min. Then it was time for a picnic with Sarah and Miro, during which the temperature picked up and the road started to melt. The second and third ascents were a bit slower (and totally unnecessary from a training perspective) but the descents were still sweet and the day felt worthwhile.

Another couple of days later my family arrived to help my twin brother and I celebrate our 40th birthday. Loads of conversation, laughter and good food. Perfect.

The last ride of the holidays was a 100k jaunt to Hunterville on the way home. For 70km of this I was following a breeze down the Turakina Valley with it's idyllic scenery and well banked gravel corners. And, during that stretch I saw just four cars in 2.5 hours. I was in heaven! This ride (capped off with an ice cream in Hunterville and another picnic with Sarah and Miro) was the best possible start to the new year. Now back to the real world.

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