Date: 14th February 2005
Subject: The big sausage
Place: Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand
“I can’t do it. I just can’t take any more.”
“Oh come on. You’re three quarters of the way there.”
“My body just can’t take it. I’m stuffed.”
“Look just three more to go. I know you can do it. Just take it slowly, one at a time.”
“No I really have had enough. We’ve gotta stop.”
“OK, you’ve done really well. Let’s pack the last three in foil and maybe we can manage them later.”
It was lunchtime on the second and last day of the Big Coast Ride; a two day, 109km mountain bike challenge over the Rimutaka Incline (North of Wellington) and around the windy South Wairarapa coast to Eastbourne. In a field of just over 800 committed mountain bikers, numbers 804 and 805 (Family on a Bike) rolled in for lunch with the safety sweepers but without kids. The boys had been confiscated for their own safety and our sanity while crossing bouldery scree slopes on the way to the lunch stop. By the time we arrived the volunteer caterers had already served up nearly three thousand sausages in an hour and were busy scraping the grease from barbeques and tidying up. “Would you like some extra to take home?” asked a friendly old guy trying to offload a tray of left-over bangers. While we were coping OK with the race, the sausage challenge had by now defeated us. We managed three at the registration evening, three more at the pre-race breakfast, another three for dinner on day one, but could not face the deadly trio offered at lunch on day two. This event is for serious sausage eaters and we were out of our depth.
“Seven and a half hours I reckon” said one official to another as he nodded at us crossing the starting gate. The electronic timer beeped and the clock was running. With strong legs, no luggage and just the kids in the buggies, we settled in amongst the pack confident we would finish and hoping we would not be last. There was a party atmosphere as glittering wigs, tandems, tag-alongs, choppers and the meanest of mountain bikes began the challenge ride. As we climbed the Rimutaka incline, the more serious bikers began to pass while fun-riders came alongside for a chat or to offer words of encouragement. “Awesome” “Good on ya” “Room for one more in there?” “That’s the way to travel” The boys hooted and waved. “It is going to take seven and a half hours at this rate,” said Kirstie exhausted from trying to chat while climbing. Stuart knew better than to try and converse with Kirstie on a hill.
Riders and bikes everywhere at a lunch stop
This classic ride follows the route of an old railway through long, dark railway tunnels. Unnerving for the riders but a lot of fun for little boys with head-torches and horns. We wove an unsteady path across unseen ground in the pitch black, headlights occasionally picking out tunnel walls as they veered towards us. We followed the meandering light of the rider in front, aiming for a pin-prick of light at the end of the tunnel while praying that no-one would fall and start a game of sardines. After 17km of ascent, we arrived at what looked like the scene of a serious accident. Bicycles lying abandoned, sometimes three deep, with trucks, landrovers and emergency vehicles all around. People lay spread-eagled on the grass while Red Cross officials in luminous orange boiler suits chatted intensely. This was Station Summit, the morning tea stop, where Scouts tended giant tea urns and refreshed tired legs.
Amongst the debris we found other families brave enough to tackle this family friendly, entry level event. Hiding behind a tree we found a soulmate, David, tending his four year old daughter Gracie, long blond curls resting on a yellow pillow inside her bright blue chariot, purple ribbons and pink tinsel trailing in the wind. Five year old Campbell was the youngest pedaller in the field, riding stoker on his Dad’s tandem. Dad, a bearded figure who would have looked equally at home in a gang of Hell’s Angels, offered us some advice about getting Matthew to contribute some power. “Campbell loves it up there. He’s been riding over a year now and pedals all the way,” he said proudly about his son. Kids from 6 to 10 were on tag-alongs while those over 11 rode solo. Most were with their parents in family teams; younger ones riding with Mum and Dad while older ones asserted their independence, shooting ahead with their mates.
|Family challenges: Playing sandcastles on the trail
|Never too young to contribute some power
Mountain bike riders face the triple challenges of terrain, distance and elements. For many, the killer on day one was the wind, the enemy of all cyclists. Out of the 800 cyclists, the Red Cross treated 47 for injuries, many of those riders blown off their bikes in gale force Northerly cross winds. The wind played shoot the duck, picking off riders as they entered exposed sections of trail. One moment you’d be chasing a rider up ahead, the next you’d be in the lead, passing a body forced flat onto the grass verge, wheels spinning, feet still clipped into pedals; hardened professionals baffled by their vulnerability.
The wind played havoc with the overnight camp too, pulling tent pegs like teeth, ripping nylon like paper, turning tents into kites and scattering sausages everywhere. A Dunkirk spirit prevailed over the day’s competitiveness as people helped each other recover tents, keep toilet doors shut and retrieve flying bread and sausages. As the sun set, a band braved the elements and those with energy left danced in the wind.
No guy ropes, no tent
On events like this, family teams face an additional challenge, that of keeping the family happy, coping with tiredness, tantrums, mixed ability cyclists or restless passengers. Our kids were up dancing until darkness, refreshed by an afternoon snooze in their buggies. “Look Mum, a cow poo dance,” laughed Matthew as he imitated the ska dance of the band while compressing a cow pat. The morning after they were shattered; as far they were concerned the race was over and it was time for a lie in. While early riders were setting off and late risers were queuing for breakfast, we spent an hour trying to wrestle Matthew’s thermarest from under him and cope with a tearful tantrum. We were one of the last to leave the campground and faced a day full of further challenge having missed breakfast altogether. “One biscuit each,” said Stuart, “we’ll fuel up at tea break…. it’s only 20km.”
“One biscuit each,” said the official handing out the rations at tea, some 2 hours later. Feeling pleased we’d overtaken a few stragglers on the Ocean Beach climb, we were confident a biscuit would see us through to lunch. “Can’t be far,” said Kirstie, “probably half way, maybe another 10km.”
Still in touch with the pack on the Ocean Beach climb
We’d been warned the going would get tough but were still in denial. We thought we’d seen it all in our travels so far, but touring and mountain biking are very different disciplines as we were about to find out. The trail looked flat and easy, yet everyone was walking. It was hard to understand why, until the sand gripped your wheels and your feet sunk into the deep soft ground. With four wheels to push and the weight of the children in the buggies, progress was slow to stop. For two kilometres. Arms straining, feet slipping, wheels spinning and sliding, sweat dripping, tongues cursing, we inched our way forwards with a little help pushing from Matthew. “Why are we last in this race Dad?” he asked as he puffed, panted and helped us along.
It looks straightforward but this sand is a killer
You know you’re struggling when you meet Sweeper Sid, the cheerful yellow jacketed rider who sweeps for stragglers at the back of the ride. Sid and his mounted marshals swept in to help us out as we arrived at a long section of bouldery scree. “It’s going to be real bumpy for the kids along here. Would you like us to give them a lift in a truck?” The boys were keen and it seemed a safer option looking at the distorted terrain ahead. They jumped happily into Ted’s bright red Truck clutching Puppy The Wuppy, Spiderman and a lollypop each. The quartet waved us goodbye as we bumped and scraped our way through the rock slides.
We were the only riders in this alien landscape but we were not alone. We began to feel looked after as men in yellow jackets appeared from behind boulders to give us a push on steep sections, haul the bikes through swamp or lift us over a tricky ditch. A convoy of official vehicles sweeping the trail followed behind, having as much trouble as we were negotiating the terrain. We wondered whether Matthew and Cameron were faring any better than we were. An hour and a half later, powered only by two biscuits, we were reunited at a late lunch. “Going in the truck was fun,” said Matthew, “I liked the bumpy bits. Cameron nearly hit his head.” “I not hungry I had a lolly Mummy,” said Cameron looking disgustedly at yet another plate of sausages.
Helping hands get us over the bouldery scree slopes
We crossed the finish line after a final gravelly 20km from Pencarrow Head to Eastbourne grinding against a blustery coastal headwind. As the electronic timer beeped for the last time, the Event Director sounded his car horn to mark the end of the race. “Seven and a half hours” said one of the officials as a round of spontaneous applause rippled around the school field and the marshals quickly dismantled the finishing gate before we could even get a photo. When you are trailing buggies and transporting children, it’s not the time or the winning that matters but taking part. Well, we’d have to say that because we came last, accompanied by David with Gracie in her buggy and a relieved Sweeper Sid. Elated and exhausted we collapsed on the field with a box of left over muffins donated by the caterers. “Look, there’s our luggage,” said Stuart pointing out four lonely bags transported all those bumpy kilometres for us. The kids ran wild on the playground, celebrating their freedom and the end of the race. “Why did we lose the race Dad?” asked Matthew. “We won our race Matt, in our own way,” said Stuart.
We finally made it…..four lonely bags greet us… but where is everyone else?
The few remaining riders hopped into their cars and headed for home. The masseurs and caterers packed and tidied up around us. With the competition finished, we transformed ourselves from hardened mountain bikers back into tired tourers. We were pleased to have completed the challenge and grateful for the help, support and professionalism of the whole event team who helped us to do it. We are especially proud of our two boys for tackling the event so cheerfully and pushing when it mattered. Families are made of this.
We left the site last. It’s habit forming. “Would you like a sausage for your tea?” asked a kindly caterer as we set off, “We’ve got loads left over.” Matthew pulled out a little tin foil parcel from his buggy. “No thanks, we’ve got some,” said Kirstie. As the caterer drove off laden with sausages, we tossed our foil package in the bin and headed off for a celebratory pizza. No pepperoni.