The first big ride of the year. We all have to do it, to push the boundaries of endurance and to push out into the discomfort zone. For some it’s the first century ride of the year, it may be hitting the 3 hour mark and for others it’s just about heading out into the unknown and exploring. Whatever the target distance or time, it is the boost we need to test our fitness and begin the process of building towards the year's pedaling goals. The first long ride sets the benchmark, ascertains the limits and gives focus for the coming months.
Personally my cycling goals are based around bike packing races, multiple days in the saddle riding across counties, countries and continents living off instinct, sleeping in hedges and eating whatever presents itself. Therefore my first Big One of the year tends to be my first weekend of discomfort and suffering!
I have been lucky enough to be based in New Zealand for the European winter months and have enjoyed plenty of sunshine, mountains and mtb trail riding. However, although I had been riding plenty duration hadn’t really exceeded the 2 hour mark and a large percentage of riding had included taking advantage of the Gondola in the Queenstown mountain bike park. Although great fun, great for improving bike handling skills and a great workout for the whole body but I decided that as I was targeting long distance races I probably should do some actual pedaling.
The second weekend of January presented me with a perfect time slot for the first ‘Big One’. I found myself in Christchurch with a free weekend and a GPS file for the Petite Brevet, a 300km off road Brevet route around the Banks Peninsular south of Christchurch. This was an area I was keen to explore so decided to use it as an excuse to get out and ride.
Typically the weather was less than ideal. Rain showers had been forecast however I decided that New Zealand rain would probably be warmer than British rain so set off anyway. Riding out of Christchurch into the port hills offered fantastic views of what was to come, mainly cloud shrouded hills. Despite the cloud the temperature and humidity were high enough to prove uncomfortable. My body was settling into the rhythm of riding all day and a quick lunch stop was enough to top up the energy levels as the road conditions deteriorated into gravel and the gradients increased. It’s fair to say that the Banks Peninsular is anything but flat. Afternoon turned into evening as I repeatedly climbed up into the clouds and then dropped back down into valleys. Although it wasn’t actually raining the humidity in the valleys, clouds on the hills and general amount of water on the ground ensure I was totally soaked.
Civilisation was also hard to come by and the small villages that I did pass through were all but deserted and shops were certainly out of the question. Even finding fresh water was a bit of a challenge, the streams we flowing fast and were dark with dirt washed from the hills. In the end dehydration was beginning to kick in so I took the chance to top up my bottle at a clear looking stream and generously applied chlorine tablets. The murky result in my bottle was enough to see me through to night fall and the town of Little River.
Little River was shut. Any hopes of a warm meal before bed were dashed so instead I treated myself to 10 Jaffa Biscuits and a wash in the public toilets. The weather was forecast to deteriorate overnight so rather than push on back into the hills I decided to spend the night sheltered in the veranda of the local rugby club.
I awoke with dawn and continued on my journey after another meal of Jaffa biscuits. The forecast rain was yet to materialise but as I crested the first climb of the day and dropped down a long steep valley to the coast the heavens opened. I’m sure Little Akaloa Bay is a fantastic place with beautiful views, however on this particular day it was obscured with low cloud and rain. Stopping briefly to take a photos resulted in uncontrollable shivering despite wearing all my clothes so I set off back up out of the valley hoping the climb would help warm me up. I was warm by the summit but after descending down into Okains Bay my body was even colder than before. Taking shelter in the porch of the village hall I ate some food and decided on a plan of action. Should I continue on my planned route or cut my losses and head directly home? I opted for the latter with common sense prevailing over valour.
A full cooked breakfast in the town of Takamatua gave me enough energy for the 40mile ride back into Christchurch and the rain even lifted as I rode closer to the city. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t complete my planned ride however the first Big One was now out the way. 12hours riding over 2 days in the rain fuelled by Jaffa biscuits is a tough one to kick it all off but now it’s done. The miles are in my legs and my body and mind are primed for more to come in the rest of the year.