I’ve just spent a glorious ten days or so on holidays with the Mr. and it’s been filled with plenty of cycling adventures, three of them to be exact!
First cab off the rank was the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge in New Zealand on November 24th. Our stay in New Zealand was a lot of fun and even though we didn’t cover a lot of distance, the places we visited were simply stunning. It’s hard to believe that there’s a country so geographically close to Australia, yet so geographically different. After Australia’s parched landscape, the lush greenery of New Zealand was a visual treat.
We arrived in Auckland at 2am and whisked ourselves off to a hotel close to the airport for some well deserved rest. Later that morning, we picked up our hire car and headed south towards Taupo. The road and views were picturesque and we visited the town of Matamata, where the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies were filmed, determining that we would visit “The Shire” on our way back to Auckland. We ended up taking a back road to Taupo as there had been road works along the way slowing traffic. As we approached Taupo, we came across cyclists who were competing in the Ultraenduro event – 4 laps of 160km around the lake.
Feeling happy that about only pedalling 160km, we checked into our accommodation, which afforded a spectacular view of the lake and town (see above). I quickly reassembled my bike and rode down the really steep hill (all good views are at the top of decent sized hills) to the township to register. What really struck me was how friendly and helpful all of the volunteers were, and this was to become a theme for us in New Zealand. We felt that everyone seemed genuinely less stressed and more relaxed than we Aussies are. Such friendliness helped us to chill out and enjoy the atmosphere. Once registered, it was a bit of an arduous ride back up the hill to home base, however Mr Lucy had outdone himself with a magnificent cheese and fruit platter which we enjoyed with the view as the sun went down.
The talk at the event had centred around the weather holding fine, however, this was not to be the case….
The weather on the actual day of the event was overcast to begin with. Luckily I had the best soignéur in the world in Mr Lucy, who carried all of my gear and generally put up with my indecision about whether to wear leg warmers, arm warmers, rain jacket etc. Knowing that I would get warm, I reluctantly peeled off my leg warmers and rain jacket which I rolled up into a tight ball to fit into my jersey. Did I need to go to the bathroom? Of course I did – and there Mr Lucy was, again lending support as he held my bike while I clattered off to a Portaloo.
Then, like the scene at Helm’s Deep in “Lord of the Rings” where it started raining before the main event, battle, the heavens opened. I whipped on my rain jacket and the ride began. It was a quick ascent out of town and up the first climb and about ten kilometres in, I found fellow Brisbane rider,Selina, and her partner Tony. I marvelled that we had to travel overseas to finally enjoy a ride together, but we managed to form into a group and build some momentum.
At the 30km mark, I started to experience what I would describe as some unwanted mental rot. The build up to flying out of Australia had been a tad stressful and now it was me alone on the bike trying to process my thoughts. This seemed to coincide with the road becoming particularly rough and my pace slowed as I managed to lose Selina and Tony’s wheels. When you’re by yourself and you’re feeling mentally deflated, everything hurts. This negative mindset persisted and rather than try and fight the thoughts, I surrendered to them instead. This strategy was doing nothing to improve my mood and at about the 60km mark I was beginning to feel frustrated.
“Are you going to be a sad sack for the next 100km?” I asked myself.
The less emotional side replied back, “for goodness sake woman, get back on the next wheel that goes past. Yes, it’s going to sting, but that’s what your anaerobic metabolism is for!” The practical side of me always has to throw some science in (ha ha). The emotional side backed me up by telling me that when it came to resilience and the capacity to endure tough times, that it was what I do best.
I spied a group of four coming towards me and quickly sped up so I could catch them as I went past. Mission accomplished. The next challenge was the Kuratau hill climb and for a non climber, surprisingly I was beginning to feel like I wanted to push harder. I passed Selina and Tony at the rest stop and tried to focus getting back into the groove. I marvelled at the steaming cliffs of Hipaua on the descent. Selina and Tony caught me and passed me, bugger! I had a giggle at how these events are like cat and mouse.
Then as luck would have it, a tall stocky gentleman started to pass me. As the wind was beginning to whip up, I felt that a position sitting on his wheel would be just the ticket to get me home in a reasonable time. I jumped on and the name on his event bib, Franzwa Van De Merwe.
“What a South African name,” I thought to myself. It’s odd what you will begin to think on a long ride.
To cut a long story short, Franzwa was a bit of a legend – we swapped turns and I was starting to find my time trialling legs and feel good, all thoughts of mental rot well behind me. After about 15km though, he was beginning to flag and waved me on. I was now on relatively flat road next to the lake and rain was beginning to pelt down. As good fortune would have it, I found four riders from Auckland who I gathered were road racers. We worked together as one, the notion of knowing to swap turns and be efficient transcending international boundaries. The pace was exhilarating and as we approached the long two kilometre or so drag of the Hatepe Hill, I wondered how I would keep it together on the climb.
I believe that the climbing gods were smiling upon me as the five of us worked that hill like a well oiled machine. It’s times like this when I think, “I’m not so bad after all!” The last ten kilometres of the ride was mostly either downhill or flat with the odd pinch climb. One of the Auckland girls, who I later found out was only 18, was beginning to struggle.
“Get on my wheel,” I urged, “you’ve got this!”
After the fantastic work we had all been doing over the last 30-40km, I wasn’t going to let a comrade down. She rallied and we all crossed the finish line, tired but triumphant. It was great to see that Selina had just finished seconds before me, but as my teeth were chattering and I was covered with mud, finding the local shower was top priority. As New Zealand caters to many tourists who probably camp, I had been thrilled to find an amenities facility right next to the registration area where I could pay four Kiwi dollar coins to have a hot shower – splendid!
I was pleased to finish the ride in five hours, twenty minutes – not quite the five hours that I was hoping for, but the conditions and my mental state didn’t help. However, I’m very happy that I pulled it together and finished strongly and on a positive note.
Finally, I’m glad that I didn’t nail my time goal because it means that I can plan to come back next year and give it a crack. The Lake Taupo Challenge is an event I would recommend to all – everyone I met was particularly friendly and helpful and the spirit of the event embodied fun and everyone having a go. Thanks must go to Mr Lucy for being a great “bag bitch” (as my friend Mellie would say) and my coach Liz Hepple, for her expert coaching.