Iona tells of accompanying a friend who is completing the second of two laps (the enduro).
My friend Helen has called in at our motel for an inter-lap pit stop and is soon feeling freshened up after a shower and breakfast despite having cycled since 1:30am. We set off in the brightening morning light and proceed round the back streets to join the course at the roundabout on SH1.
Helen’s keen to get some miles under the tyres before we hit the main crowds. It’s pretty clear going as we miss any start groups on the first hill and head west past groups of excitable kids and a strange selection of red-clad cheerleaders, obviously from one workplace – maybe it’s their community service plan? The enduro and relay riders take a slightly longer route so we enjoy the relative solitude and the cool morning air on the hills that take us to the highest point of the course in its top western corner. I even have a chance to take the lead for some of the distance.
The great thing about Taupo is the social encounters. As everyone is labelled with their name (or at least the one they’ve chosen for the ride) you can do things like cry out “George Bryant! Fancy seeing YOU here!” as you pass random strangers.
The transition points and drink stations are entertaining with the slight anxiety caused by inept relay riders launching themselves like wildebeests into the fray. One year we saw Buck Shelford cruising in, only to fall in an undignified heap as he failed to unclip from his pedals at a drink stop.
Things go smoothly, although it’s all I can do to keep up with Helen, despite it being her second time ’round.
It’s a great run down Waihi Hill with few riders to impede my no-brakes descent. On the flat again an Australian is bemused with the noise of my pannier bag, containing my picnic food and drink, and drops behind to avoid it. The bag is a source of great amusement to many, getting nearly as many comments as Helen’s enduro cap.
The licorice cafe is a welcome sight; Helen beats me there and has just started her coffee and has mine waiting on the table.
Helen’s brother Andy turns up and we re-slather ourselves in sunscreen while shovelling down coffee and food. A quick visit to the salubrious cafe loos and we’re off again.
Andy is supposed to be pace-setter for Helen on the last 40 km to Taupo. This soon proves to be needless as Helen starts zipping past any bunch in her way – and there are many. I manage to keep up for a while, but just before Hapete I let her go and cruise in the shade of the gum trees while cooling my head.
Hatepe has its usual littering of walking cyclists and others swerving all over the lane having made ill-advised gear changes. Then it’s all pretty much downhill but for the seventh year in a row the wind prevents a speedy trip down Hatepe. I manage to get up to 62km/hr but not without having to pedal furiously.
A certain camaraderie arises among the riders (at least those that can still speak), and yet again I’m left wondering if I should have perhaps put in more effort… Nah, I like the fact that I can enjoy the views of the lake as the road leads down and ’round the corner into the chute.
Helen and Andy are still eating their ice-blocks when I join them at the finish line. I help myself to the complimentary pineapple before we wend our way through the crowds and back to the hotel to peel away layers of sweat and sunscreen in the shower.
It’s a happy bunch that convenes for venison stock pot, custard, fruit and a single malt or two after. Bragging rights of course go to Helen, what a legend.
Naturally, bed time is early and most of us have one of those too-knackered-to-sleep-well nights.
All over for another year and the trip home passes quickly: new socks in Taihape, coffee and slice in Foxton and some Swazi tops in Otaki, finally, a quick nip over Paekak hill with no slow traffic.
Next year? Each year so far I’ve said “maybe” and ended up deciding to go near the last minute. The chances of paring back my time looks slim, unless I do something extreme like not bringing panniers of picnic items. Still with a bit more training and a better start bunch … maybe I will come back in 2013!