Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tour debrief – Were those new pants good?

Yes, thank you, they were. If you don’t know what I’m referring to I shall enlighten you. I recently bought a pair of Ground Effect’s Helter Skelter rainpants and I was quite excited about testing them out in the legendary West Coast rain. It took a number of days for the weather to oblige with a stonking downpour, but on Day 5 the rains came down. Result, a very thorough test of the rainpants. The Helter Skelters are ¾ pants with Velcro tabs at the bottom and cunningly built bendy knees. This means it’s very easy to slip these babies on over shoes in a hurry and then fasten the Velcro tabs so you don’t have flappy legs. My pants performed great in the heavy rain and mud of my trip and kept me warm and pretty dry. Of course biking in them for over almost 2 hours meant I did sweat in them a bit, but I didn’t feel like my legs were broiling in their own juices. And although they swish when you walk (I kinda like this), they are quiet on the bike.

As a bonus I found them really well fitting and pretty stylish. As you can see they go rather well with a pair of high heels which then show off your hard earned calf definition rather nicely. They also look good with cycling shoes, which I would recommend. They are hard wearing as I discovered when I fell in the garden during my photoshoot because of my ridiculous shoes.
A bit of mud from falling on the pointy rocks, but otherwise still looking good as new. I would definitely recommend these pants not just for commuting, but also for throwing in the bottom of your bag if you’re heading on an epic ride as they are light and pack down to a tiny package. Helter Skelters = WIN

My other big purchase before the trip was a lovely new pair of Bontrager Race MTB shoes with fancy adjustable inner-sole. I will admit that one of the reasons I got these shoes is because they looked so good. The main reason was their comfort. I wanted a shoe stiff enough for hours of pedalling, but something I could also walk round in since I wasn’t taking any other shoes with me. These babies fulfilled that brief perfectly. Sure my feet got sore after 4 or 5 hours of riding, but that’s to be expected. I didn’t get any numbness or specific point pain, which was great. Also off the bike I had no trouble tracking through forests, traipsing over rocky valleys, walking up steep hills or leaping over streams in these shoes. They had plenty of grip in all situations and there was just enough flex in the foot that I didn’t feel like I was tottering around looking for a latte. That fact that the lovely boys at the Hub gave me a great deal on these shoes helped also. These shoes are brilliant and if I wasn’t worried about wearing my cleats down I would live in them. Bontrager Race MTB shoes = WIN!!!

Packing for a trip the West Coast is very important. I had packed for rain, meaning my panniers were lined with draw-string trash bags and all my various bits and pieces were sealed in zip-slide bags. I choose the zip-slides rather than the zip-locks because of the ease of use. Slide and sealed. Well not entirely. I don’t know if I got a bad batch, but 90% of my Glad zip-slides broke, some while I was packing. I lived in constant fear that the bags containing my Replace powder would break and everything I had in that pannier would become Orange and Mango flavoured. Luckily these were the only bags that didn’t break. In the future I’ll be going for zip LOCK. Note: using lots of little bags to bundle up toiletries etc is great for packing, even if you’re not heading to a region of high rainfall. Glad Zip-slide bags = FAIL

There are two things I couldn’t have done without on my trip (well apart from clothes and food and my bike and stuff). Horley’s Replace and Keywin Shammy Cream. I chose, wisely I think, to only take bottles on my trip and not carry a back pack. Every day I would start with one bottle of water and one bottle of Replace. On a short day I’d drink most of the water and a bit of replace. On a long day I’d drink most of the water and a couple of bottles of Replace. I didn’t bonk and I didn’t cramp so I think this strategy was rather successful. I seemed to recover well, and to help with this I took 300mg of Magnesium every night. Along with starting the day set up for good hydration, I’d start the day set up for sitting on a bike seat for hours by applying Keywin liberally to my shammy. That stuff rocks, and I’m not going into further detail on that matter.

My final product review will be of my nemesis the One Square Meal bar, made by Cookie Time. Yes I hated them. Yes I thought they were too sweet and hurt my teeth. Yes I dreaded putting it in my mouth and chewing them was an act of will power. BUT they are extremely good nutritionally. When I got to Okarito after 6 hrs plus on the bike I knew that my OSMs would provide me with enough of what I needed to get me through the next day. When the going got tough on the big days and I was ravenous, an OSM would sort me out (and its disgustingness would distract me from my ails). I would and will use them again, in races and on huge rides, they are very clever food. If only they were savoury.

So that’s the product reviews done onto the more important stuff, what this trip meant for me. When I first conceived of doing this trip it was so daunting that I planned it out in 40km days because I honestly didn’t think I could do all that riding day after day. I soon realised that a couple of hours riding a day was silly and got training to see what I could handle. After making a more realistic itinerary I really focussed being able to ride for at least 50 or 60kms on consecutive days. Even so I still doubted myself and was nervous about my chest injury and my ability to keep going if I bonked in the middle of nowhere.

I was also a bit nervous about spending so much time alone. I have been a pretty solitary creature in the past, I guess that’s one of the reasons being a writer suits me, but since meeting my husband and getting married I haven’t really spent any length of time completely alone. Would I go insane, would I get depressed? These sorts of questions buzzed about before I left. How would I handle any dramas? Would I get freaked out sleeping in a tent with no one I knew around? Question after question popped up, and by the time I left I was pretty nervous.

How did I go mentally then? I thrived. I loved flying along the road, only having myself to answer to and depend on. After the tough work situation I was in last year my confidence had been battered a bit and this trip not only restored it, but built it bigger and better than ever. I conquered my fears and pushed my physical boundaries further than I thought was possible. I am glad I did this alone, I chatted with strangers, I wrote in my journal, I talked to cows and birds, I sung and I swore and I loved it. Not only has this trip provided my was a plethora of material for my writing, it has returned me a state of happiness and given me back a feeling of capability that was a bit lacking before I left.

We are so lucky to live a beautiful place like New Zealand where we can so easily get out and experience anything from soaring mountains, wild beaches, dense forests, surging rivers and pure clean, sweet air. This country is still a safe place. Not once did I feel nervous or uncomfortable on my trip, or wish I had someone with me for safety. Not only that, on the West Coast the drivers were all, with the exception to prove the rule of the one bus driver in Hokatika, exceptionally courteous. Milk tankers and tractors, buses and campervans all gave me a wide birth when they could, and in return when they couldn’t, I pulled over. Which reminds me, I loved my lame rear view mirror mounted on my handlebar. It was fantastic. I could see traffic coming behind me and if there was a blind corner of traffic coming up I could move over. I know a lot of people think they are silly, but I would never do a tour without one now and I find myself glancing at my handlebars when I’m commuting and being disappointed that I have to twist round to see what’s coming up behind me.

So in summary I say, do a cycle tour. Get out and see the country. If you can handle your own company do it alone, otherwise take someone who you know well and can put up with your grumping/snoring/singing/madness. You don’t have to be super fit and strong to do it, I wasn’t when I left (I am very fit now though). If an overweight 35 year old can do it you can too. It doesn’t have to be 8 days, it doesn’t have to traverse great distances. Just a couple of days will give you the taste of the freedom that comes from carrying your accommodation with you and deciding when you stop and where you go. I’ve come back fit, strong and happy and rearing to get racing.

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