WARNING! Post may contain gratuitously repetitive latest bicycle photos loosely disguised as scenic shots!
Sorry you've all had to endure my maudlin "poor me" posts of late, but after what has felt like (and pretty much has been) months of feeling like utter crap, it has transpired that getting a pesky wisdom tooth removed has, at least for a while, lifted the black cloud of pain and gloom and shone a bright spring sun upon a hidden vein of rare (relatively) good health and humour.
It's not until you've had a bad toothache that you realise how totally dominating it can be - every sphere of your life is affected by the headaches, throbbing, double vision and inability to eat properly. After two weeks of this on and off it all made for a very unhappy and grouchy old bike mechanic, as several good people who didn't deserve it but got it in the ear can testify and to whom I'm suitably sorry!
I'm not sure if HH felt worse because of the toothache, but since the tooth was pulled the hernia is hardly bothering me so I'm not going to question things too much! I'd like to thank my friend Tony Wong for sorting me out with a totally painless (though crunchy!) extraction - from sitting down in his chair to stepping outside a tooth lighter took only 30 minutes. A thousand thanks, mate.
Happily for me this means that I'm at least temporarily able to ride my bicycles in a more respectable manner than in recent times, and what better way to celebrate than on a new steed? Of course, being a part-time bike mechanic means money is no object, but sadly right now most of my millions are tied up in my extensive property portfolio and my Lamborghini collection, so a "new" bicycle actually means one I've managed to fettle up in my spare time using parts I have already lying around the workshop, or that I've blagged (cheers Alex!).
So on the Tuesday evening of the day my tooth was pulled (and after the anaesthetic had worn off!) I put into action a plan that had been festering away in the back of my mind for quite some time; to build a cyclo-cross bike out of my ill-fated singlespeed.
Yep, my 26" wheel hardtail Cove Handjob XC MTB has been cleverly (if I say so myself...) morphed into the 700c CX rig from Hell. I've been trying to get the on road/off road buzz going for a while now using my trusty Casati, but the tall gearing and inability to fit tyres bigger than 25mm were always going to cramp my style on anything but the easiest terrain, so I needed something better. Forty-five minutes after putting the singlespeed up in the stand I had ended up with this awesome creation:
The more eagle-eyed among you will have spotted the slight flaws with my plan. No wheels and no brakes mean no going anywhere. I put the job aside for the next couple of days while I rustled some up...
Some thrifty but reliable Mavic Open Sports magically appeared, along with some swish $20 Innova Venice Beach 700 x 38 tyres and tubes. I also wangled a pair of cheap but cool Avid BB7 Road disc brake calipers by pleading poverty.
The next in between jobs interval I spent building up my new wheels - a Deore rear hub and a scody old Scott/Quando hub were dragged from the depths of my spares bins and mechanically revived. I didn't want/can't afford new hubs, so I figure that's an upgrade for later - truth be told I'm going to eventually pimp it out with some NoTubes Flow rims, so perhaps some bling hubs can happen then.
And lo, Version One of the Handjob CX came to pass, and it was Good.
To continue the theme of my rapidly improving fortunes, Thursday dawned fine, still and pleasantly warm. The minute my feet hit the floor that morning I felt great. Feeling good? New bike? What to do? I flicked the housework and, as soon as I'd dropped Bodhi to school, I returned home, suited up and swiftly sallied forth. I rode through Newtown and into the City delighted at how road bike-esque it actually felt - the 38s weren't much of a drag at all, especially compared to the 2.4 Mountain Kings on my Meta!
I rode up Aro Street and finally popped my CX cherry on the beautiful Transient trail which winds gently up to Karepa Street in Brooklyn. The Handjob needed a bit of vigorous manhandling at times just to keep going without blowing, but even while trying to keep my stomach muscles relaxed and unstrained the 32 x 34 gearing got me over and around every obstacle with ease, at least until I took a mong line right near the pylon exit and lost rear wheel traction for a sec.
Undaunted, I set off once more. I kept heading up until I arrived at the entrance to the new trail the pixies are creating that will eventually sidle around the hill to some point I'm not quite clear about but think might be Planet Ride...Anyhoo, I decided to try it out and thoroughly enjoyed the experience - some cool flow, some mild gnar to test my skills in the drops, and even some rock-armoured g-out action to whoop at! It ended too soon at a pile of tools where the earth was still in the process of being turned into track goodness. I poked around a bit and moved a couple of stray rocks but sadly tool swinging is off the menu for now, so I turned around and flew back the way I'd come, marvelling at how some trails can be built so cleverly it feels like they go downhill in both directions! This is a lush view from where the new trail meets up with Transient, looking towards Northland and Skyline beyond.
I gave HH a break by walking my bike up the heinously steep Karepa Street path, then swung my leg over and pedalled easily up the road to Aston Fitchett Street. From there I dipped into yet another flowing trail recently constructed, the lovely Highbury Fling. The Cove lapped it up, as I found a good rhythm and took a firm grip of the Handjob once more. After a grouse squirt along the trail I stopped to wipe myself off and pause for a moment of reflection over the stunning vista...
As I mentioned at the start, my mood of late has been somewhat uncharacteristically bleak. I know that absolutely everyone is super busy these days, but my experience is the only true yardstick I have, and I must admit that sometimes the manic and oft-times disordered lifestyle we Brooke-Whites have managed to create for ourselves (and can't quite yet escape!) has meant I've spent too many days feeling like I'm hurtling at warp speed from pillar to post tending to everyone else's needs but my own from the second my eyes open to the minute they close.
Like most of you will relate to, a ride is often the best way to escape all the stressful family and work demands of the day. This hasn't really been possible for me the last few weeks, and if I have tried the nausea and pain have consumed my thought processes so, far from creating positivity, riding has been contributing towards my negativity - when you feel like shit, you ride like shit, then you ride like shit so you feel like shit. How amazing at last to once again be able to sit under a tree feeling good and whole, putting the world behind me, and without a single voice to be heard except for the tuis; to paraphrase the words of some clever trail-pixie, I was alone but very definitely not pining...
Still, after one's fill of time alone, company is sought. I decided to inflict myself and my new bike upon poor long-suffering Jonty, so I carried on along Highbury Fling until I came out at the bottom of the Rollercoaster. From there it was a quick road ride to the Northland shops and Revolution Bicycles. As it was largely Jonty's tales of derring-do on his CX bike that had initially got me enthused about the concept, and as my Handjob had originally come from his erstwhile part-time helper monkey Selwyn, I figured he might be interested in my project. Ironically, he'd just been riding his own Handjob, so it was cool to compare the two.
After he expressed a suitable amount of feigned awe at my vision and technical nous, and after a cup of his delicious coffee, I set off for home and the daily grind. The fang down the hill and through town showed me again that this bike was exactly the versatile weapon I had envisaged - I had lucked out in that the geometry and my build had made for a bike with near-perfect weight distribution and handling off-road, and rare aplomb on-road also.
Amazingly, the next day also offered sun and a brief opportunity to ride, so I seized it with both hands, grabbed the Handjob and scarpered out the door. I headed on the road through Newtown, over Constable Street, and along Cobham Drive. A grunt up to Mt Crawford in an increasingly strengthening NWer was followed by the reward of a total hoot of a ride down the aptly named Conviction, which certainly required some!
Less than an hour after rolling out the gate I was busy spannering, but with an ear to ear grin that didn't leave me all day. After a 'streemly busy afternoon I gave the bike the couple of tweaks it needed. Despite initially trying to get the 'bars as close to level with the saddle as I could, I had decided on my ride that the stem needed to be slightly lower as well as a tiny bit longer, so on went my trusty Salsa Moto Ace, along with some wider handlebars but with slightly less reach, some Jonty-inspired old school XT cranks and a TA chainring (46t x 32t), and finally some Salsa Rasta q/r skewers to complete Version Two. Perfetto!
Saturday I spent in the shop for a few hours, before knocking off some of the housework I'd escaped earlier in the week. Sunday I spent an enjoyable morning watching the All Blacks hammer the hapless Scots, then catching up on emails and paperwork. That afternoon I headed out for an epic MTB ride with my two trusty cohorts Al and Matt, sadly though with no photographic evidence...
We rode from Al's place along the trail that parallels Buckley Road, getting flayed by the overgrowth but loving the terrain. We rode up Mt Albert, then flew down the hill towards the Baboon enclosure and on to Karitane. Deciding that the possibility of bursting open like a ripe tomato might Oh! the boys out, I decided to give the jumps a miss. Al hit them up then led us down a stupid-steep slope behind the tennis courts that for some reason totally freaked me out. I walked my poor ashamed Commençal down the hill and eventually found the boys standing around getting cold.
Then we pedalled up the road and onto the ever changing Mt Vic trails. A quick loop of the skills area, then some fun trails led us towards the Velodrome. Somehow Matt and I lost Al, and Matty had to depart to see his daughter ride shotgun with Father Christmas in the annual Parade. I sat down above the track I spent so many summers racing around as a kid, and was just about to phone Al when he hove to after taking a quick detour down to Ruahine St, so we ambled up some new singletrack (more new trails?!?) that has been created by Simon Kennett, John Randal and many others on behalf of the WCC. This gentle gradient zig-zags up the hill to Alexandra Road, bypassing the usual nasty grunt up from the Velodrome and making yet another lovely off-road route to enjoy. A quick sample of some of the criss-cross tracks on the town side of the hill led us down to Pirie Street, then we urbaned it through the quiet streets of the city (everyone at the Parade, perhaps?).
Incredibly, we randomly bumped into Matt again on Vivian Street! He had successfully caught the eye of his daughter so, mission complete, he was free to find us, and find us he did, even though we had had no idea where we might have gone after we parted.
We headed up Aro St and up Transient, where I was able to regale them with exciting stories of my CX heroics. I showed them the new trail, where Al turned some dirt over with the shovel as Matt and I moved a few more loose rocks. We decided then that enough was enough, as we were still faced with the ride home up the hill to Southgate. We headed back down the way we'd come, but as we took a slightly baffling (my fault) route through town we realised that the promised southerly was eventuating, and quite a southerly it was - we were gifted a rather stiff headwind for the ride home! The ride up Mt Albert was "fun" as I somehow managed to embrace the suffering and enjoy the feeling of spent legs, so before long we were sitting around the table debriefing over a quick Powerade...
Monday is nominally my day off, and it began yesterday in the usual way by my feeding and wrangling Bodhi as I try to answer as many emails as possible, while putting on a load of laundry and somehow eating my toast and swilling a coffee. Once I'd dropped off Bodhi I returned home, ordered a bunch of rims and parts online, hung the washing out, did the morning dishes, then cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom (only four rooms to go!). Next it was off to the supermarket, and by the time I'd unloaded the bags and stowed the supplies it was already well past 1pm and time for hanging out the next load of washing! I contemplated a short ride, but as it was getting perilously close to pick-up time I pulled the pin on that idea. Happily for me, just then Jacq arrived home and offered to pick Bo up for me. Seeing as the huge pile of work in the shop had been either done on Saturday, or was in the queue waiting for the parts I'd ordered, I felt as free as a bird and I switched off the phone and set out on the Cove...
I rode through town, around the waterfront, then up Ngaio Gorge to Crofton Downs, and onto Chartwell Drive for the slow haul up to the entrance to the Valley Of The Horses.
A sketchy gravel descent showed me that I still have a lot to learn about descending on a CX bike, as I drifted out of control around corner after corner getting wrist pump from trying to rein in the Handjob. The rigid forks, thin tyres and the light weight (26lbs) were a totally different kettle of fish from the 30lb Meta with it's big bags and five inches front and rear...I lined up the side of the puddle at the bottom through wind-teared eyes only to realise I was careering towards a mother duck and her downy offspring - more by good luck than good management I somehow missed the tail-end charlie by a couple of centimetres, much to the vocal outrage of the fiercely protective Mama Duck!
After the flat of the Valley, and negotiating the last gate to have avoided the superb cattlestops, it was on to the next climb, an extended effort on a nearly all-grass incline. Again, the bike handled it very well and I was able to slowly make my way up without recourse to walking and, more importantly, without popping my Tegel Timer. I stopped, sipped some water and looked back at the way I'd come...
The reverse aspect shot across the valley shows the next climb of the day, the one up to Skyline.
I'm happy to say I handled the next skittery gravel descent that led down into the valley much better, then I steadily made my way up another grassy ascent on to Skyline and the beautiful views it offered on this hot, still Wellington day.
By the fence my bike was propped against I noticed a trail heading off into the distance. Wondering if it was the sidle track I'd heard of that led to Cemetery Trail, and always keen to ride a trail I've never ridden before, I naturally decided to check it out.
A wicked narrow little trail and some inadvertent letting go of the brakes spat me at speed into a couple of dodgy situations, but again the sweet manoeuvrability of the Cove held me in good stead and I was able somehow to ride it out. Before very long though I came to the end of the trail and, not wanting to end up riding an illegal trail into Otari I somewhat reluctantly turned around and headed back the way I came...
Soon enough I was back on Skyline and bouncing madly along the sun-baked tracks, made rough by the hooves of those evil cattle when the way was muddy from winter rains. Doing my best Paris-Roubaix impersonation I set my hands on the tops and tried to roll a big(gish) gear over the lumps and bumps, while doing my best to swerve around the massive cowpat landmines.
No mucking around, I dropped straight down the steep descent off Skyline, across the cattlestop and into Cemetery Trail at an inadvisable speed. Amazing how a trail you've ridden a hundred times before seems so very different on a new bicycle...
I almost made it around this hairpin until my rear wheel started to disappear down the bank - certainly the closest I've ever come to making it at any rate!
A pause now for a quick message from my sponsor. Please note that there is plenty of space for further ad placement...
Damn, thwarted. A blown down tree meant that CT wouldn't finish in the anticipated blaze of glory...
...but luckily the substituted detour sample of the Blue Trail was a delightful run alongside a babbling brook (not to be confused with a babbling Brooke-White!) before it petered out into a slightly lame climb up some steps and into the Cemetery proper.
I stopped in again briefly at Revolution, at least long enough to disrupt Jonty's day and force him to brew me yet another quick java. I then set off up Moana Road to George Denton Park and onto the Rollercoaster for a super awesome fun reverse crack at Highbury Fling.
I'll never tire of the views of Wellington these rides give me, and I hope you don't either Dear Reader!
I then shredded down Transient to Aro Street as fast as my skinny wheels could carry me, but always mindful of the possibility of walkers or riders appearing around the corners...
A sifty ride home in the baking sun completed my fourth ride in five days and, more importantly, I rode home happy. I know I don't ride much at all compared to some people, but I don't believe I love it or need it any the less for all that. To me, riding is sanity. It's morale. It's what keeps me (relatively) civil and helps me cope with the at times irksome vagaries of other humans. It helps me think. It lifts my spirits and it helps me rid myself of the demons. I really have no idea if I will be able to ride tomorrow or the day after, but at least at the moment I know I actually can ride if the time allows, and for that I'm very grateful.
Today, life is good.
Thanks for reading, Oli