Cycling week

This week had more cycling in it than usual.

Monday

This was a three-ride day: to work, to town, and home in the evening. As usual, the night ride was my favourite ride – road quiet, air cool.

The traffic – quiet for a few weeks now – is creeping back to its old impatience and noise. Somehow I’ve hurt my right arm (I say somehow, as if I’m mystified, but I know for a fact it was from trying and failing to do a push-up challenge) which makes me feel precarious on the bike. It’s strange, arms – you wouldn’t think they’d make a difference, but they do.

Tuesday

A four-ride day: to and from uni, then later, to and from town. These were all small rides, but it meant sweating through two sets of clothes. I have given up trying to hold back the sweat, so there’s some acceptance here, but I’m not at peace with it.

It was really peaceful though to cycle home at night, slightly boozed, slogging up Raroa then Mt Pleasant in the dark. It’s interesting how I can set out on my bike feeling sort of abysmal and full of self-pity, but once I’ve ridden up a couple of hills I feel cheery. It’s almost embarrassing how quickly a feeling can change, and how making your legs go round and round can be the thing to change them.

I also managed a tiny run today, through the bush. INJURY TALK: My Achilles is still creaking but I think I might be winning it over.

Wednesday

Another four-ride day. Before my morning ride, I woke up early and walked up to the turbine. A lot of people were out and about, with their dogs, or just running, and a lot of Californian quail were out too. I saw one running alone, looking around, as if looking for its mate – it’s rare to see a quail on its own. I was about to write something like ‘A quail is the definition of nervous energy’ but does nervousness mean anything to a quail? Does energy?

Rode to work in foul smoggy heat. I had a guilty moment at a pedestrian crossing in Kelburn, when a pedestrian turned right to go over the crossing but I was going too fast to stop for them. I felt terrible as I scythed through. Worse, I am 99% sure the pedestrian was Dougal McNeill.

Rode to town. Rode back to work. Rode home. All of these were small rides, and not really worth describing, but know that they were full of struggle.

Thursday

Lately, I’ve been craving two things: to be by the sea in the early morning, and to ride on a flat road. So at 6.30am I set off to ride around Miramar Peninsula. (I’d planned to be out by 6, but couldn’t manage it.)

I dipped down into Aro and then back up to Brooklyn, then down Happy Valley. This was an unwieldy way of doing things, and I could’ve gone along Highbury Fling then sailed down effortlessly into Brooklyn, but I wanted to have a series of steep hills first thing to wake me up.

It was very still and clear, and early enough for the day to feel exciting in some way. And early enough to notice those little shifts in communal mood as the morning goes on. As the light changes, we no longer have the same compulsion to say ‘Morning’ and soon enough it’s just an ordinary day and nothing needs to be said.

On Happy Valley Rd I saw a man walking a dog and a cat. Also, a group of older men were cycling at a gentle pace up the road, spaced far apart and all looking delighted about things. Near the turn-off to the landfill, a car roared past at speed to overtake all of them, leaving a smell of petrol and smoke.

The fishing boats at Island Bay looked like they were sitting up attentively. Lots of dogs were out being walked. Someone was bashing their flippers against the sea wall.

For me, the real ride begins once you get past Lyall Bay and reach the airport. Then you go round Moa Point. The traffic dwindles to almost nothing and it’s just you, the sea, the occasional other cyclist.

Moa Point
Going up the hill towards Seatoun

But where were the women? Every single cyclist I saw – some in packs, some solo – was a guy, in fancy kit, on a fast racing bike, and as time went on fewer and fewer of them responded to my hello.

Along Marine Parade in Seatoun I heard women talking and laughing and then saw that they were swimmers, bobbing together not too far from the shore.

But there were no women on bikes at all. The only women I saw were those swimmers. I began to feel self-conscious rattling along in my sneakers and my silly mudguards.

Swimmers at Seatoun

The construction site at Shelly Bay, when I reached it, gave off some kind of dark energy. I rode along and it seemed like this dank, grey place would never end – the ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ signs on every fence, the huge piles of broken concrete, the few remaining buildings looking weird and barren. I wanted to get out of there in a hurry. I worried for the kororā, little blue penguins, and their lost nesting sites.

I didn’t want to go through Newtown or Hataitai to get home, because the traffic was in full roar by now, so I went round Evans Bay and along to Oriental Bay. Ever since they put all the cycle paths in, this stretch makes me nervous. Going into the city, the cycle path keeps shaking you off – you have to cross a busy road three times to get back to it, which just seems to be asking to get flattened. Then, once you reach Oriental Parade, if you don’t want to ride on the shared path with all the runners and walkers and e-scooters from hell, you have to cross over again, and – I’m embarrassed to say this but I’ll just say it – I’ve never been able to figure out how to get back onto the actual road without just hopping off and pushing my bike over the pedestrian crossing, like an animal.

I sped through town as fast as possible, regretting that I hadn’t brought a bag big enough to buy a loaf of bread. I think I saw the writer Damien Wilkins crossing the road, in the morning sunshine, but I was so hungry I could’ve been hallucinating. Rode back up to Highbury and realised my feet had gone numb and made a mental note to go back to the bike fitter.

I made it home in just under two hours, flailed about eating, then saddled up again and rode to the uni. Rode home at the end of the day, when I got snarled up in roadworks and a long, long line of idling cars.

Friday

A four-ride day. I rode to work, then to town to the physio so that I could complain about my Achilles. While I was lying there with needles in my calves, we talked about early mornings. The physio said he read a self-help book that stressed the importance of getting up early in the morning – I had this dreadful creeping suspicion that the author was Jordan Peterson – and that ever since, he had got up early in the morning and it had changed his life.

I wish I could get up early in the morning consistently. An ideal version of myself gets up at 5am just to write. Remember when the writer Amélie Nothomb, who everyone fell in love with in the 2000s, talked about her morning writing routine – she got up at something like 4am and made a pot of tea so strong that the tea was like syrup, and in an interview she said something like, ‘When I write at this time, I feel that I am a god.’

Cycled back to work up the Terrace in sweltering heat, in a dress – I do not recommend this.

After work, as I rode along Disley Street around 6pm, tired, I saw the man out practising his wheelies again, just gliding serenely up the street on one wheel. Once again, for no reason that I can articulate, this made me furious.

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Cycling week

What is a cycling blog that has very little cycling in it? An embarrassment, is what it is. A shame and an embarrassment. Let’s ride.

Monday

I did not ride my bike today.

Tuesday

I rode to uni and back, in the sunshine, because I’ve started a fiction writing course. It was a warm day, and I was self-conscious about my streaming sweat in the workshop room in front of my new classmates. Once again: how do we cycle, and how do we live?

I’ve been thinking a lot about a bike I would like to buy one day – a Surly Midnight Special, a road bike that ‘shines on pot-holed, deteriorating pavement and the occasional long stretch of gravel’, according to Surly.

The Surly Midnight Special.
Look at it. Image is from Surlybikes.com

There’s a pale pink/purple one at Bicycle Junction (just like the one in the pic) and it breaks my heart every time I go in and see it. I would need to learn to ride using drop bars, which I’ve tried only a few times before. I’ve panicked every time, because it felt like riding an out of control horse – to the point where, on my current bike, the Surly Disc Trucker, I had the beautiful drop bars swapped for straight ones, to the clear disgust of the bicycle mechanic. But if I got a Surly Midnight Special, I would learn. I would learn!

I came across this event I’d like to do, a duathlon, that involves running 400 metres, road cycling 44km, running 12km, then road cycling another 22km. I don’t know what that 400 metres is doing at the start. But for the cycling, the Midnight Special would be ideal. The thing holding me back (apart from my non-racing-appropriate Surly Disc Trucker and lack of 44km fitness AT THE MOMENT) is, I think I’m scared of the people who do duathlons. I wouldn’t know how to act around them. I worry it would be like encountering the Lord of the Rings fans who would sometimes come into the bookshop Dymocks, where I worked for years – at the height of Jackson’s LOTR business – and I never knew how to speak to them. They knew this other world in crazily intricate and intimate detail, and because you didn’t know or care about it in the same way the two of you could never really connect.

The thing to do when you don’t have much cycling to write about in your cycling blog is, you write about all of your most dubious plans.

Another event I’m eyeing up is a 24km trail run in Nelson in May, but considering I can only do a sort of hobbling run/lollop at the moment, this might not be so realistic.

Wednesday

I rode to work today, after running early in the morning, and I have to say, I got no joy from this ride. Why? I just didn’t. My head was elsewhere. But I did have a nice moment when pushing my bike up the hill (too lazy to ride it) to get to Highbury Cres when a woman, walking her dogs, said, ‘Ooh. Is that a proper bike?’ This distinction people sometimes make between e-bike and ‘proper bike’ brings me only joy. At least, it will until the day inevitably comes that I get an e-bike, and then I will do everything I can never to be seen with it.

I didn’t ride home, because it rained.

I should say here that, for all the times I did not ride my bike this week, I did feel guilty. I always think: I should ride because it’s better for the environment, it’s usually faster than other modes, it gets me out into the elements, it helps me get the measure of a day, it helps me defrag. So there was guilt, but something has changed in me in that I can no longer keep my guilt about these things going for very long. It’s like my guilt fitness has ebbed away over the last while. I used to have an incredible capacity for guilt and I would channel all of best thinking and feeling into it. Maybe in some strange way I felt proud of this capacity. But now it’s not long before I flinch away from guilt – I feel the pain and discomfort of it and then I lose interest in feeling more of it. It’s really nice to be able to decide: I simply will not feel this for any longer.

Anyway, that was a roundabout way of saying I didn’t ride home and ultimately felt fine with that decision.

Thursday

I did not ride to work today.

I rode home at the end of the day, though, a short hilly ride as usual, and I struggled. Gasping up hills. Wheezing, at one point. My body just had no interest in anything other than sitting on the couch and trying to write a silly story.

Friday

You’re not going to believe this, but I did not ride to work today.

But I did ride into town at lunchtime to go to the physio again, to get my bad Achilles seen to, and I told the physio about my running aspirations and duathlon curiosity. He was quiet for a while, which I took as a very bad sign. Then he said, ‘It doesn’t sound impossible. It just depends on how much pain you’re going to be in afterwards.’ Very diplomatic. Well, fine. I probably need to scale back my plans. I told him about cycling to and from the ferry last week, and he said, ‘On an e-bike? Or a proper bike?’

On my way home I nearly ran into a man who was just standing in the middle of the road yelling happily to someone who was sitting in their car. This was amazing to me. Imagine being a man just standing in the middle of road, yelling happily. Waving your arms and sort of swaying back and forth, ignoring everything. It must be both terrible and glorious.

All up, this cycling week wasn’t very outwardly productive, and the only Big Rides in it were the ones I dreamed about doing on a bicycle I don’t own yet. Pedal on!

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Cycling week

This week, I’ve been thinking about making some 2023 cycling resolutions. But that is as far as I’ve got – the thinking.

Monday

Cycled around Blenheim. I’ve always felt that this town has a strange atmosphere. Cycled into the New World car park, and it took me ages to find my way out again. In some ways Blenheim is like one big New World car park.

Tuesday

Decided to ride up to Picton to catch the ferry. After my Sunday ride, I was feeling strong, confident, assertive. Around 11.15am I said goodbye to my parents and set off. My tyres immediately sank into the deep gravel of the driveway and I was unable to move. Cries of dismay from Mum. But I recovered, and heaved my heavy load onwards, out of the driveway at last and down Budge Street, into a glarey day.

For the first 6km or so I rolled along the cycle path beside SH1.

Heading north on nhe cycle path between Blenheim and Spring Creek.

This path is a triumph of flatness. Not pictured here obviously are the horses and ponies, the vineyards, once again the small bridges . . . anyway it was all over too soon, and at Spring Creek I was shuttled off onto the highway, alongside the trucks and speedboats and campervans and horse floats. I was feeling less strung-out than when going in the other direction on Sunday, though, and didn’t need to let out as many yelps of fear.

When heading north, you have to cross over the busy road to get to the clip-on bridge across the Wairau. This is terrifying – the passing cars travel so fast it’s like they’re falling from a great height. But your reward for crossing over is the bridge.

The clip-on cycle bridge over the Wairau.

I rode slowly so I could take in as much of this bridge as possible. The glittering water, the pale stones of the exposed bed, the tiny cross-hatched wires along the bridge surface. When you reach the other side, the cycle path halts and you’re sternly pointed back to where you’ve come from. Wanted to sob: Please. Don’t make me go over there. I am your son.

The end of the path.

Stopped at Speeds Rd after Koromiko for a breather. The ice in my water bottle now a warm slurry. Traffic roaring. I saw a red and white edge-marker post lying on the road and, not far from it, a flattened sign: ‘Please drive safely’. Excellent.

Saw only one other cyclist: a lithe guy on a road bike, with the words (I think) PHYSICAL SYSTEMS MANAGEMENT on his backside. What could it mean? I shrieked ‘Hi!’ as is the custom, but he scythed past without a nod. Fair enough. Weirdly, though – or, weirdly to me – he was riding way out on the right of the shoulder, on the white line, as vehicles whipped past just inches away. He stayed there for as long as I could see him. Maybe he was trying to draft the cars, or maybe this is some road-cycling thing I don’t understand.

I’m embarrassed to say that after about 18km my legs were sore. I think the soreness was from trying to keep up a good clip the whole way, and because I’d cycled and run the previous day, like a loon. Anyway, there’s a hill on the approach into Picton that just about finished me off. It’s not a steep hill, more a slow, sweeping grind, but I had two full panniers – which could’ve been fuller if I hadn’t resisted Mum’s urges to fill all my remaining space with lemons – and much of the shoulder is gravelly, the sort of surface that your tyres want to have a fight with at every turn. I soon found myself crawling, breath like sandpaper, imagining the passing drivers shaking their heads.

But then – the sweetness of the descent, and all of a sudden you’re in Picton, the gravel turning to a cushiony tarseal that feels almost cool and plump, like the skin of a perfectly ripe banana. Then I was nearly hit by a car surging out of a side road without looking. Still, I managed to make it to the terminal in one piece.

All up, this ride took around an hour ten, faster than the way in. Had a bird-bath in the terminal loos and felt like I had returned to civilisation, until five minutes later, when a flood of fresh sweat was unleashed upon me.

There were just two other cyclists on the ferry, and as we unlocked our bikes at the Wellington terminal I got talking to a woman who had cycled from Nelson in the early morning. We were talking about the intensity of the ride up to Picton and she said, ‘I don’t think New Zealanders like cyclists very much.’

Maybe it’s no good to think about people in this way – I think the assumption of being disliked can bed in, and fester, and make your riding life feel horrible and combative, and it becomes harder to see all of the small kindnesses that drivers sometimes give you. But on the whole, I have this heart-sinky feeling that she was essentially right: that NZers don’t like cyclists very much. Or maybe when you are on a bike it’s just safest to assume that this is true.

Rode home from the ferry terminal up to Highbury, the streets all quiet. Legs felt like shimmering mirages about to disappear.

Wednesday

I’m very lucky to have a few more days off from work. This was a no ride day, but I bought a new front light. One which unfortunately reminds me of Elon Musk’s hideous ‘cyber truck’ thing.

Thursday

Rode into town to go to the physio.

INJURY TALK INTERLUDE

I have a chronic Achilles injury that I am desperate to fix so that I can up my running mileage. But to be honest, it’s been going on for so long that I’ve mostly given up hope. I think it might be all over for this Achilles. The new physio I saw today is convinced that it can be fixed. He massaged my leg with a percussive gun and then stuck needles into my calf. He said we need to fully exhaust all our treatment avenues – strengthening, mostly – before trying more drastic measures, such as something called Shockwave Therapy, which involves blasting ‘high energy sound waves’ into the leg. I’ll do the strengthening, but secretly I want and must have the shockwaves.

Friday

A small ride into town, then back up, sweating hugely in the muggy pre-rain, pannier full of groceries. I can feel the work year looming and I am nowhere near ready. Maybe a Big Ride on the weekend, to shake out the Fear.

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Cycling Sunday

I haven’t ridden my bike much this week, beyond tiny essential journeys in between eating and sleeping and reading. But I did read a memoir by an endurance athlete. When I’m really tired, I can only read a memoir by an endurance athlete. The only storyline my brain can grasp is one where someone forces themselves to run, cycle, swim thousands of miles through punishing heat and cold for no particular reason. Once I’ve read one of these books, I can move on. Anyway, the one I read earlier this week was Finding Ultra, by Rich Roll. It’s about a guy overcoming alcoholism by becoming a vegan and doing five Iron Mans in seven days. It’s sort of mesmerising, deeply American, and earnest in a way that I found excruciating at first but was increasingly drawn into, despite myself. Rich Roll’s catchphrase is: ‘Time to get to work.’ This bit below made me hoot with laughter (uncharitably) – it’s when Rich Roll has begun his fourth Iron Man in as many days, in Maui. He has just finished a hellish 3.9km swim, and now needs to cycle 180km, then run a marathon after that.

‘I washed the salt from my body in the nearby showers and immediately tried to rehydrate and replenish with several liters of coconut water, Endurance Elixir, and avocado sandwiches. But with an already ailing stomach, it was tough to get any calories down without gagging. And as the blood rushed to my gut to digest the nourishment I could hold down, my sense of fatigue increased. Then there was the oven-like heat. The sun was now high and stifling, scorching my beaten corpse with a blistering dryness that far exceeded anything we’d endured on previous days. Fixating on a young couple napping on fluffy white beach towels, I felt my blood boil with jealousy. I had to force myself to turn away. Time to focus. Time to get to work.’

There’s another nice ‘corpse’ moment: ‘On cold rainy nights when I ran drenched and corpse-like through the dimly lit neighborhood streets, that questioning voice would return: Why are you doing this to yourself?

There’s something about this writing that I find sort of terrible, but I can’t look away. It’s so muscular, so crazy-eyed, this man in such thrall to his body, at once caged by it and freed by it. There’s a fair bit about the horror of saddlesores, which I enjoyed, and then this moment of delight: ‘Thanks to the remarkable natural properties of tea tree oil, my undercarriage seemed to have miraculously healed overnight.’

Anyway, I really recommend it.

Sunday

My only notable bike ride this week was today, New Year’s Day. I set off down the hill at 7:30am, riding through quiet streets, past a big breathalysing station on Aotea Quay, and underneath SH1 to the ferry terminal. When I got there, my front light broke. Regular readers will be familiar with my bike light curse. Then I caught the ferry across to Picton.

So – taking your bike on the ferry. It should be straightforward and normal. And it was in the past! In the past, you would push your bike up over the gangplank with the other cyclists, lock your bike on the vehicle deck, and walk up the steps into the ship. After the crossing, you would ride straight off, ahead of the cars. But now there is a new system. You put your bike on the back of a little truck at the terminal. Then the truck drives onto the vehicle deck. Fine! But at the end of the crossing you have to go down to the vehicle deck and find the little truck with your bike on it, but then you have to wait for all the cars to drive off, including the little truck with your bike on it, so it seems a bit pointless to have come down to the vehicle deck, and nobody seems to know what is going on or what you should do or when you will see your bike again. Once all the cars have left, you and all the other confused cyclists walk off via the gangplank, and then you are all herded by officials into a fenced enclosure, like goats, and then you have to wait for people to unpack some other truck. Finally the truck gets out of the way and a man frees you from the enclosure and then at last you can walk around to the front and collect your bike from the car park.

Then I rode the 28km or so to Blenheim, which took around an hour fifteen, with hot sun and a head wind most of the way. I’ve done this ride a few times but had forgotten how scary it is for the first 22km or so, on SH1, with campervans and speedboats and horse floats rushing past and only the painted line between you. The slipstream of cars is powerful, especially cars towing things – you can almost see it, like a spasm in the air. There is a decent enough shoulder most of the way, but the shoulder had glass and rocks and clumps of dirt in it and, at one point, tonnes of tiny little apple-like things – crab apples? gooseberries?! – that my tyres wobbled around on, like a cartoon villain on marbles. I was also shocked by the amount of roadkill I saw – hedgehogs, possums, a hawk, both wings still fluttering upwards. The scariest bits were bridges: here, the shoulder would usually narrow right down, so cars would need to give you room, but it was almost like they didn’t know how to, at speed. I wore my hi-vis and kept as far left as I could, and in a few places really hustled, trying to get through a narrow bit before a car came up behind me.

I was gripping my handlebars so tight and concentrating so hard that I barely looked up to take in the landscape. I looked up properly near Tuamarina, and saw fields full of bright grey claw-like trees. The whole way, I saw only two other cyclists, both serious-looking solo road cyclists going in the opposite direction. We waved.

Then an exciting thing happened: I came upon this sign for a bridge. I’d heard at some point about the ‘clip-on’ bridge that forms part of the Whale Trail from Picton to Kaikōura but I think I’d assumed it would be completed sometime in the very distant future, maybe when I was dead. But – there it was.

An exciting sign near Tuamarina
The Whale Trail ‘clip-on’ bridge that goes alongside the Wairau River Bridge. Incredibly great to ride on.

After the brief sanctuary of the bridge I was funnelled back into the dark churn of SH1 for a few km. I was really relieved to reach the cycle path at Spring Creek, around 8km from Blenheim. I was just about to zoom onto it when I heard a massive crunch to my right and saw that one car had rear-ended another. (This could be a crossed-out line in Kenneth Koch’s poem ‘One Train May Hide Another’.) Everyone seemed fine enough, standing around forlornly stabbing at their phones, so I sped off.

The path from Spring Creek is a picture-book path. There are trees that rattle their pods, a paddock with horses and ponies, small bridges with streams under them. What it is about a small bridge crossing a stream? There’s a good handful of ones just like this.

After the mayhem of SH1, the peacefulness of this path felt like almost too much. I could’ve ridden along it for hours, the sun scorching my beaten corpse.

Then, abruptly, I was passing the sign for Blenheim, and turning off to the road where my parents live, and I heard the sound of my mum hacking at some branches with a pair of loppers. When I heard the loppers, I knew I was alive.

It remains to be seen whether I will cycle back along the same route to get to Picton on Tuesday.

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Cycling week

There were some good rides and there were some bad rides.

Monday

Rode to work. Friends, this was a bad ride.

Raroa Rd was busy, with a lot of traffic coming down as I was climbing up. A 4WD came up behind me, got very close, and started revving. I got nervous and thought I’d better take the centre of the lane to stop it from trying to overtake and potentially squashing me. This made the 4WD angry and the revving increased and seemed to get even closer, so I made the ‘Wait’ sign, as in held my hand palm out behind me. Later I wondered if maybe the driver had misinterpreted me; maybe they thought I was saying, ‘Go on ahead’? But I was out in the middle of the lane on a narrow road and there was traffic on the other side; it would make no sense to say ‘Go on ahead’. After a few moments the traffic cleared, so I pulled over to the left. It was a blind corner but I was getting freaked out about the closeness of the 4WD, which then shot past, fast and insanely close, and then I saw it was also towing a long, high trailer, which rocketed past a few inches away, so I decided now was the time to scream my lungs out.

A few weeks ago I saw a comment on a ‘Bad driving’ thread on the Cycle Wellington FB page. The comment was a complaint about a cyclist who yelled and cursed at a driver who’d cut them off or something, and the commenter had thought the cyclist responded badly. The cyclist should’ve been more constructive, they thought. The word ‘constructive’ has really stuck in my head. Imagine being able to control yourself to such a degree that you remained measured, thoughtful, constructive at all times, even when you might be grievously injured or killed in that moment. This is probably something that the most enlightened Buddhist monks are able to do. But for the rest of us, it’s a strange sort of fantasy about human behaviour.

I used to feel bad about screaming or swearing at drivers who nearly knock me off but somehow, over the years, I’ve given that up, and I no longer feel bad. It would be nice to be the bigger person in these scenarios. But the fact is, I am not. I am the smaller person, in all senses.

The ride home was also unenjoyable – it’s just the time of year; people are on edge, seething with a special festive rage – but it was less bad than the ride in.

Tuesday

I have recovered. Regenerated like a sea sponge. Today’s rides were good rides! It rained on the way home.

There’s something I want to say about rain. The best kind of rain to ride in is light but splotchy. It falls straight down, not sideways. This doesn’t make sense really, but the words ‘gravel rain’ always come into my head, because it’s the kind of rain where you can smell the road and the stones on the road. It’s usually those few moments when the rain is just starting up and is still deciding what it wants to do. Or, no – it knows exactly what it is going to do, but it’s just giving you a few minutes of grace. The rain saw you riding along and was like, ‘Just so you know … I am here. But you carry on.’ So, gravel rain. On the ride home it rained like this for about five minutes, and then it changed to a steady, grinding rain – let’s call this SUV rain – which isn’t as good to ride in.

Wednesday

No commute to work today as the work year is technically over, but this afternoon I had to ride into town. This was a bad ride.

I was riding up Taranaki, towards Jessie St, when a massive black VW ute with the number plate 4XBOYS suddenly accelerated with a roar and overtook me really close. Not for the first time this week, I screamed in shock. He would’ve hit me if I’d moved slightly to the right. The whole thing felt weird – properly intimidating, and I wondered if I’d somehow done something earlier, along jammed-up Ghuznee St, that had annoyed this driver. I had ridden past the long line of traffic to the front of the queue; maybe that had done it.

I caught up with the ute on Jessie St, where it was waiting at the intersection. This is where I did something stupid. I pulled up beside the VW and knocked on the window. The thought was: I wanted to ask whether the driver realised they had passed me so closely. It was a stupid impulse – never confront! never escalate! – but I couldn’t let it go. I genuinely wanted to know if they had seen me.

The driver was a little man with a cap on. He looked straight ahead, ignoring me. I politely knocked on the window again, because I am an idiot. Then the man looked at me with this horrible look of disgust on his face. I think this told me that yes, he had seen me and yes, he had meant to pass me that closely. So I shook my head and rode off. I felt really awful.

Then I rode home and filed a community roadwatch report, since I remembered his ridiculous numberplate.

Thursday

I needed to ride to Newtown today, so I was nerdishly excited to try out the new cycle lane along Adelaide Rd.

Near Memorial Park I bumped into my friend Rachel, who I think reads this blog. Somehow we got on to talking about falling over. Anyway, hello Rachel!

The new cycle lane is excellent. I felt so relaxed riding along it that it felt like a whole new road. I had to turn right onto Rintoul at the lights, but managed to go fast enough to get out ahead of the traffic, flailing my arm.

The new lane back towards the Basin felt kind of weirdly narrow, like being on a fast treadmill where you’re scared your legs are going to go off the edges, but, you know, we take what we can get.

On the way back towards Highbury I got this notion to ride up to ye old golf ball. I got to the top of Brooklyn Hill before realising my legs were literally mashed potato and I just could not do more hills today. Turned down Ohiro, zoomed along Tanera and down Mortimer and Durham, then up again to Highbury. Lay on floor.

Friday

Two good short rides today. The first was into town to meet my best friend to go to the pub. This is one of the best rides you can do and I recommend doing it at least once a week. We went around some shops first and I wondered how much time I have spent in my life locking and then unlocking my bike – trying to find a good pole or bike stand, searching for my lock or searching for my key, clipping or unclipping my pannier, digging around in the dark hell of the pannier, sometimes getting myself into a rage when I cannot find what I need. Apparently we spend one third of our lives asleep. I spend one of the other thirds locking and unlocking my bike.

Rode home in early evening. A really good ride, post-rain. Everything rinsed clean. Went up the Terrace and Kelburn Pde as I felt like some steeper hills, and the roads were calm. Front light conked out once again.

Christmas gift guide for cyclists in your life

A good front light.

A good rear light.

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Cycling week

Friends – the season of sweat is upon us. What can be done?

Monday

Cycled to work in some kind of strange heat. What is this?

Cycled home. What can I say? I’m not happy about this heat situation. Who is happy? For all who ride a push bike, summer is the season of sweat, and the season of endless clothes changes, endless horrible little towels at the bottom of the pannier, endless laundry, endless stink.

Tuesday

Cycled to work. How to stop my sunscreen from melting in white rivulets onto my clothes? How to wear make-up? The only answer is to embrace the dishevelment. To take a change of clothes, and slap on make-up once the sweat has abated. But every year I think there must be some way around it; post-bike ride, there must be a faster way back to decency.

There’s a lot of advice out there around this. Some people swear by a single sweat band; some people drive into their workplaces on the weekends to deposit a set of clothes for the entire week; some people use those shower-in-a-can things; some people ride very slowly to avoid sweating at all. Maybe the real problem is that I want too much. I want to ride a bike in the heat and the rain and the wind and I also want to look well-put-together at the end of it. And every day I discover again that I simply cannot have both.

Cycled home. Dying. Had a cold shower but it didn’t take. Immediately sweating again. Feel like George Costanza.

Cycled into town for a gig. Arrived soggy.

Sometimes I regret cycling into town, because it means I’ll have to ride home at the end of the night, when I’m tired. But I was glad I had my bike this time. The night ride was a joy – a slowish 30-min slog, windless and very dark. Why is it that the night seems darker when there is no wind? People complain about Wellington’s dark roads and they have a point but I like riding along in the dark, as long as I have my front light. Felt like an owl.

Wednesday

Cycled to work. I can always tell that I am not doing very well mood-wise when I ride along and keep imagining gruesome accidents I might have. At every turn I vividly see myself getting mangled. Maybe I should walk for a few days. One can still get mangled while walking, but it’s less likely.

Anyway, I rallied, and after work cycled into town for a dinner. Now, again this could have gone either way – I could have been unhappy to have to get on my bike at the end of the night, especially when full of food. But it was the right call – another excellent night ride, a slow but consistently paced plod up twisty hills.

Thursday

Left bike outside at night, and it rained, so the next day my bike was cold and wet. Getting onto a wet bike is a very particular feeling. Like riding a large aloe vera plant. Cycled to work. The ride felt too short, and I consider maybe I should break out of my bubble more often and start doing a few longer rides before work. This seems like an excellent idea but it remains to be seen whether I will actually do it.

I’ve had a pretty good run with traffic this week. There have been the usual speeding bozos, but nothing more egregious than usual.

Cycled home, sweating like hell. Heavy legs. Profound end-of-year-itis. Sometimes when I’m riding along I think of a bit in Tirra Lirra by the River – I must’ve read this when I was about 13 – when Nora Porteous imagines what it would look like if her feet inscribed trails as she walked around her suburb. All of the trails looping and crossing over one another over the years until it’s impossible to trace a single journey, and eventually the roads and paddocks and sports fields are thick and dark with ink.

Friday

Cycled to work. The heat! The heat. I simply refuse to stop mentioning it.

Cycled to a party, then cycled to another party, then cycled home near midnight. Even when you have had a great time at a party, even when you want to stay at the party, there is something so free and freeing about riding away from that party. So I was really enjoying riding along until, five minutes in, on Tinakori Rd, my front light died. I charged it only yesterday but this is a needy light, needier every day. Got off the road and went very slowly along the footpaths. This was workable. But then I reached Highbury and was plunged into proper darkness. Got off and walked, in – I was going to say defeat, but no! Just got off and walked in the dark.

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Cycling week

Monday

Against all odds, it’s another Monday morning. Steamed up Raroa in the dark hell of rush hour.

On the ride home from work, in sideways gusty wind, I started thinking about this triathlon I did a few years ago, when it seemed like triathlons might be something I should get into. I was hopeless in the sea swim – fearful of seaweed, other people’s arms and legs, sharks, water – and leaden in the run. But I was good at the cycling leg. I overtook loads of people, which I only mention here because I will take any opportunity to brag about it. But there was something ridiculous about blasting around Miramar Peninsula on a touring bike with rattly mudguards amid all the slick racing bikes and the proper sunglasses that actually stay on your face. I should’ve at least taken the mudguards off, and got cycling glasses, but couldn’t be bothered. I realised that, even if I did train more, hone my race strategy, learn how to ride in clip-on shoes and so on, I would never truly make the leap from trudging commuter to sinewy racer.

Tuesday

No commute to work – my schedule is all over the place this week as a deadline closes in – but a little 20-min loop in the morning, for bread-and-milk reasons.

In the late afternoon/early evening I decided to set out for a Big Ride. Foam-rolled legs, pumped up tyres, slathered sunscreen, and set off to the golf ball on Hawkins Hill. What makes a ride a Big Ride? It’s any ride that happens outside of ordinary life admin. It can’t be a ride that gets you to work or the supermarket or an appointment. The purpose of the Big Ride is the ride itself. Also it should be longer than 30 minutes, and have some hills in it.

From Highbury, I managed to get to the golf ball in about 40 mins, and then it took around 30 to get home. Tried to keep up a fast clip because I couldn’t be away from my work for too long, but after the ridiculously steep Durham and Mortimer and Helen and Apuka my legs were fried and I slowed to a gaspy crawl.

I love this ride because it has a good amount of climbing each way, and obviously a good amount of downhill zooming, and throughout there are glimpses of chalky sea and usually a ferry ploughing along.

Even though I love the ride, the radome – actually the whole area around Hawkins Hill – gives off a sinister vibe to me, which is another reason to try to go fast. It has something to do with all of the private land around there, and how one time I was berated for my ‘bad attitude’ by a man in a Weta t-shirt after accidentally/idiotically stumbling onto his land, having missed a paint-peely, largely concealed sign saying trespassers would be prosecuted and their dogs shot. I was shaken for a few days after, so shaken that I started to wonder if maybe I really did have a bad attitude, and now the whole area has an unfriendly charge to it.

Still, though, a good ride. A Big Ride is a good antidote to everyday toil.

The white whale

Wednesday

Legs were feeling strangely energised. Rode to work mid-morning to meet my co-workers for coffee.

Rode home afterwards, via Aro, for scone reasons. Then back up Raroa (Raroa twice in one day – I planned badly), and took a slightly longer route up Highbury Rd to avoid Mt Pleasant. Started to feel the familiar sweaty tingle of a blood sugar low. Funny how I tend to feel these first in my teeth – a sweet, high-pitched buzz – and my hands, which feel like balloons. I get this whenever I do too much exercise fuelled only by caffeine. Should’ve had breakfast before setting out, but in my defence, well, I didn’t. Drew strength from the scone sitting in my pannier, focused on each pedal stroke, made it home.

Thursday

No morning commute. Had to ride into town right at the end of the day, and got snarled in unmoving traffic trying to get home. Saw maybe one bus the whole time, so all the cars make a horrible sense. Scythed around and through the cars but it took forever to get to Aro. Riding up Aro St was stressful. Was overtaken too closely by a massive SUV. Why do SUVs often look so furious, so angry to be alive, as if they’re saying they never asked to be born? This one had CROSSFIT on it. I haven’t missed my rush hour rides this week.

Friday

Rain. Had hoped for a sneaky Big Ride to celebrate meeting my deadline, even though – there’s a flaw in the logic here – I haven’t technically met my deadline. Thought about going anyway, but couldn’t summon the will; even though you feel great afterwards, riding in rain is plain miserable. Then the rain stopped for a while: opportunity! Didn’t go.

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Cycling week

It was a week of complaints.

Monday

An earlyish ride today. Steamed along, fuelled by a terrible mood.

Before riding home today I went to adjust my rear light and the whole bracket thing snapped in half. I have consistently bad luck with bike lights. I’ve stopped believing that there is such a thing as a good bike light. In the last few years, my rear lights have all broken or stopped working after a few months or the on/off button has jammed, rendering a good light useless. My front light is only about three months old and already, after one use, it’s flashing red to be charged again (and this was after I got the first one I bought swapped out because it wouldn’t even turn on). What I’m saying here is that, if you are reading this blog and you are a bike light manufacturer, please send me some bike lights. They will break or mysteriously stop working as soon as I touch them, but either way I will write about them. At length!

After breaking my light I biked home in an even fouler mood. Waved my arm at a ute that passed too close on Plunkett. Yelled ‘Nice! Nice!’ to a car that veered over the centre line as it came towards me. Thought about my to-do list and involuntarily hissed, ‘Godddd!’ while speeding down a hill. Tomorrow will be better.

Tuesday

Rode up Raroa in a foul mood. Have affixed rear light to back of bike with a rubber band that I’ve kept from another bike light that broke last year. Precarious, but so far it is holding.

Rode into town for haircut. Ended up with some kind of extreme Bon Jovi situation. A woman in the hair salon looked at my bike shorts unhappily, or perhaps I was projecting as I too was unhappy about my shorts. I always think shorts are the most practical solution but then when I get off my bike I am envious of everyone else wearing normal pants.

Was thankful to put my helmet on my hair. Thought about buying a new bike light while in town but put it off.

Rode down Lambton Quay in a suddenly chilly northerly wind, then past Parliament, up Bowen St. The left-hand lane was blocked off, pushing cyclists out into the middle lane. There was no way I could keep up with traffic going uphill, so it was dicey, with cars whipping past close. Tethered bike to a pole and stopped off at the pub. Then another pub. Rode home on quieter roads, happier. They’re putting a bike lane in on Tinakori Rd, which was exciting.

On Plunkett saw a guy walking along towing a vacuum cleaner in the dark.

Riding down the steep hill at the end, a little white arrow went scything past my wheels – Jerry on his way home also.

Wednesday

No morning ride today, because we’re still deep in the manuscript pile. But I needed to do an errand at lunchtime so flew down the Terrace, then rode home via the CBD, half thinking I would stop and buy a new bike light, but couldn’t bring myself to go into a bike shop. Sometimes you just aren’t in the mood to be floundering around in front of guys who know a lot about how things work.

A Range Rover cut me off on Victoria St, blasting suddenly left across the lane. Even with the cycle lanes on it, Victoria St is bad news, and one of the few roads where I’ve been knocked off. It was a slog (need another word for slog) home through Aro. I haven’t seen any rats on Mt Pleasant for a long time. There used to be loads of them, just jogging lazily along.

Thursday

Morning ride up Raroa. Slow. Pannier heavy. Cars too close.

Rode into CBD in the afternoon to dentist. Had wisdom tooth extracted. Expended a lot of energy quivering with pure terror in the chair, so the ride home via Aro was very slow (and probably a bad idea; I’m told you shouldn’t ride a bike after a tooth extraction) but actually pretty good. Not too much traffic, afternoon sunshine, slack jaw flapping in the breeze.

Friday

It was a no-ride day today, which I always feel guilty about – what is a day, if it is not bookended by the drama of the bike ride? – but I was glad not to go far and enjoyed catching my breath. One of the reasons why it is really good to ride a bike is that you can occasionally have a day when you don’t ride a bike, and the world feels a little bit different on those days.

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Cycling week

This week, we continue our adventure into extremely boring blog posts. It was a patchy week on the cycle commuting, with a lot fewer rides than usual, but, on reflection, most of them were good rides.

Monday

I ran outrageously late today, so biked to work on quieter roads. Sometimes when you’re running late the only thing is to give in to the lateness. Immerse yourself in the lateness. Lateness has a different feeling on each form of transport. In cars it’s generally just plain stressful; on buses and trains it’s frustrating, because you are powerless and forced to sit with yourself. Late biking is best because you can usually keep moving through the lateness; you’re not just stuck there, curdling. Also, you have only yourself to blame for the lateness, but you can shake off some of that feeling by going as fast as possible.

Rode home after the gym with sore legs and my usual over-full panniers. Some cyclists are very careful about how much they carry, trying to keep everything as light as possible, but I’ve given up trying to be efficient on this front, and just pile a whole lot of crap in. Wind gusting sideways, forwards, backwards. Again I was outside of rush hour, so it was a good, slow ride in twilight.

Tuesday

No commute today, as I’m still climbing a manuscript mountain with no end in sight. My bike rested inside.

Wednesday

No cycle commute again. I ran instead. A short ride at lunchtime to meet my friend Harry, then the slow hilly ride home. Highbury felt like a secret place today.

Thursday

An early morning ride. The day was beautiful and blue. A car passed me fast on a pedestrian crossing, which I always feel is a uniquely insane move.

In all of my years of bike commuting, my commute is easier than it has ever been – no more daily dread of Brooklyn Hill or Hataitai tunnel or Wallace St or Adelaide Rd – but somehow it’s still hard, and I’ve never perfected it. One battle is finding a decent pair of pants that I can wear on the bike and in the office. Another, in summer, is the curse of sweat (again, like with lateness, the best response seems to be to give in to it). But the most constant battle is with myself and how sometimes, in the face of bad driving, I go septic with rage.

Rode home in a strong northerly. There’s a bit coming up Moana Rd that is both very steep and very exposed to the wind, and on really windy days there are a few seconds when I can hardly move and am totally helpless against it, until I manage to rally and inch forwards.

Friday

This was an annoying morning ride. Roads were noisy and fast and impatient. A ute went blasting past at the top of Raroa, bouncing over the intersection hump to get past.

A few weeks ago, on Kelburn Pde, there was a little tabby cat that had been hit by a car. It had been just left on the roadside next to the construction site for the living pā. Every time I ride down Kelburn Parade now, I think about the cat.

Rode into town after work for a beer and then rode home via the Terrace at night. A long, hilly, calm ride. It was a pretty good ride, roads-wise, but one of those slightly melancholy ones, which I can’t explain, just that you feel like you’re slightly on the outside of your own life. I think sometimes the basic physical work of cycling can do this; it forces perspective. The struggle of going uphill feels huge in the moment, but in the darkness you are aware that you are very small on a quiet road. It also forces you to think about where you are coming from and where you are heading to. I’ve had lots of mini-crises while cycling, where I am convinced I’m figuring something out or realising something, and that life is going to change. I think if I got an e-bike I would probably have fewer of these crises.

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Cycling week

Monday

Rode to work. Sunny. A new neighbour asked what route I take to get to work as she is about to start cycling. Incredibly, she rides a push bike too. One of us! A good ride this morning, except for the usual impatient shitheads.

Rode home. Bad ride. A ute squeezed past very close on the narrowest part of Kelburn Pde, wedging me in between it and a parked bus. I screamed.

Closer to home, a man who I often see doing wheelies on his mountain bike was out doing his wheelies along a small flat bit of road in Highbury. I say wheelies but it’s really one continuous singular wheelie. He just rides along, rearing up. I was in such a bad mood that the sight of that guy in his sunglasses going grimly up and down the road on his back wheel made me furious.

Heavy bug smacked into face on Highbury Rd.

Tuesday

Rode to work the short way, which involves pushing my bike to the top of the very steep hill that I can’t be bothered riding up. My cat Jerry comes along for a walk when I go this way, which holds me up, as we have to go on Jerry time. One morning when we finally reached the top, a woman burst out of her house in her dressing gown and hissed at Jerry to fuck off. Anyway, it’s sunny today, and it’s a good ride. Rode home from work early due to tower of manuscripts to read. The road is a whole different world outside of rush hour.

Wednesday

No morning commute due to reading manuscripts at home. Had to ride to Thorndon at lunchtime. Got tangled up with four fire engines on Kelburn Pde. But riding down the Terrace at high speed in the sun is a joy. Whenever I’m going fast downhill, I feel it in my solar plexus. Riding back home from town, I got tireder and tireder and thought about getting off and pushing up Mt Pleasant, but somehow managed to stay on. Gripe for the day: Why doesn’t Commonsense Organics have any bike racks outside? All the cyclists have to lock their bikes to a fence, like animals.

Thursday

No morning commute. At lunchtime, just as the rain was coming in, I rode to Island Bay through Newtown and Berhampore (around 30 minutes), in cool splotchy rain. It was a good ride, even on busy roads, because my legs felt unusually strong today. In Island Bay I went to Geoff Cochrane’s funeral. I don’t think he would have minded me turning up bedraggled, in sneakers. I still can’t believe he has died. Afterwards I rode home (around 40 mins, taking in the dark hell of Adelaide Rd). A stressful ride but I was in a sort of daze. It stopped raining, then started again.

Friday

Rode to work early to go to gym. This ride was excellent, probably an A/A+: quiet roads, and soft, cool, post-rain air that smelled kind of like cucumbers. Maybe I need to start riding in earlier as a matter of course. But how to wake up earlier?

Rode home. A slow, hard slog with over-full panniers. Air heavy and warm before downpour. Top of Kelburn Pde, as usual, was a pain. One driver was clearly annoyed with waiting for me to get around the roundabout (it takes a few seconds, but I was struggling after the hill) so they accelerated straight over the roundabout hump and had to swerve to avoid a car coming the other way. Fair enough. Going along the top of Raroa Rd, past Plunket St, was hairy as hell today, with people passing too close and too fast, and I found myself getting all wound up. Moana Rd was much more peaceful. Going downhill is great, but sometimes going uphill, when there’s no one behind you so you can go as slow as you want, is soothing. Rain again. Put bike inside with a towel under it. Beer. Manuscripts.

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