Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Raetihi, The Bach, and The Neverending Climb Of Mt. Ruapehu

Seems like just about everybody in this country has a holiday house somewhere. It's always some run-down little shack in the middle of a wilderness area, or on a lake, or on a beach, and it's not a holiday house. It's a bach. We drove down to the Starr's bach in Raetihi after christmas to spend a few days out of the big city. This is the perfect antidote for a brain fried by the Auckland metropolis. Tired of traffic? Tired of other people? Looking for some nature outside of a city park? Come to Raetihi, population 1,000. It's a 5 hour drive on two lane roads through some killer landscapes, so the time goes by reasonably fast. The landscape of the central North Island came about when God loaded a shotgun with volcanoes, grass and trees, took a few random shots, dusted the whole thing of with 50 million sheep and 30 million cows, then went off to finish the Grand canyon. It's quite a bumpy place.

Looking out the window of the bach in Raetihi, you can see what looks like the biggest, gnarliest mountain on the planet. This big bastard doesn't have a peak, it has three big glacier-covered crags, jutting up at the sun like enormous Leno-esque chins. In short, it's huge. I think as cyclists it's a natural reaction (even for those of us who aren't the best climbers) to say, "We should ride up that."
And we did.
It was one of the most miserable experiences of my life.
Correction. The first 10k was actually quite pleasant (as climbs go). The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm. It wasn't too steep, and it was what I would imagine a ride through the Amazon would be like. Green, intense forest. Lush canopy. Tropical plants. Thousand year-old trees. With 10k down and 10k to go it gets steeper. Much steeper. This is where I run out of gears and my heart rate strays above 200 and refuses to come down like a freaked-out cat in a tree.
And my brain starts to hate me.
I think, "I should really concentrate on track next year. There are no mountains on the track."
I think, "I sould finish college and get a real job."
I think, "I should take up lawn-bowling."
This goes on for half an hour.
At 5k to go every pedalstroke feels like squatting 500 pounds on the 30th rep. My speed is embarrassing, my heartrate is frightening. I will die on this mountain, I'm sure of it. We've climbed above the treeline, nothing grows at this altitude, just rocks and snow. Around every corner is a steeper pitch, more road and the next corner to shoot for. Tunnel vision sets in, my heartrate has now been at 220 (its limit) for 30 minutes, plus 45 minutes of 200+ before that. Things are looking desperate. My exertion and the lack of oxygen at this altitude (somewhere above 6,000ft.) turns my breathing into ragged, uncontrolled gasps. An hour has passed with my effort red-lining completely out of control. Eventually one corner becomes the last, and it's over. Finally.
When the spots and red patches dissapear from in front of my eyes I find an amazing sight. These mountains, these huge monstrosities bursting out of the grassy hills could put the Rockies to shame, could make Park City look like L.A. There are a total of 3 small clouds in the sky, and they do nothing to dampen the view. Then just like that, it's time to descend.
Large portions of this road we climbed at around 8k an hour, the same sections we descend at just under 90k/hr. It took us almost two hours to get to the top and maybe 15 minutes to hit the bottom.
Total ride time wasn't anything to write home about, maybe about 3 and a half hours, but at the house I eat and immediately collapse like I'd been out for a 7 hour death march. I was so twisted that I was still tired the next day after 12 hours of sleep. I blame genetics for making me into a sprinter... And my loathing for climbing, that probably doesn't help either. Nope, just genetics. Thanks Dad. DT


piglet said...

Climbing: 1 1/2 stars out of 4.
Writing: 4 stars out of 4.

daddio said...

Dig genetics, embrace genetics, and above all thank genetics...let the stick boys have their climbs, then crush them in the sprints and steal their women...Chipo would be proud.

mum said...

I just don't think "hooking" and / or "chopping" would be legal tactics in lawn-bowling...better stick with cycling.

newmie said...

And the second time up the mountain...how did that go for you?