Monday, 23 March 2020

2020 New Zealand Smiddy Challenge—Day 3—Oamaru to Timaru

Distance: 140 kilometres
Elevation gained: 1,130 metres

Hump day on 'Smiddy does New Zealand 2020' started with the whispered uncertainty of the true meaning of the Australian Government’s announcement that all non-essential overseas travel should end, and those Australian’s overseas  should return.

But, after some rather carefully-considered legal advice from within the peloton, the conclusion was reached that no right-thinking person would consider Smiddy 2020 to fall into that category.

We are riders, not travellers, after all!

So the Smiddies cheerfully re-grouped over a sumptuous road crew-cooked breakfast, ready to roll out in a positively balmy three degrees.

However, proving that legal advice is worth what you pay for it, renowned legal scholar Garath Thomas quickly declared he was abandoning us.

The sadness of that announcement quickly gave way to the knowledge we were now freed from the sprays he regularly dished out to all of us.

It was with a healthy sense of relief we headed north, and almost immediately for our first climb of the day.

After some glorious undulations and a couple of pinchy climbs we turned east and headed straight into the rising sun, bringing warmth and joy to the peloton.

We indeed knew today was going to be the ultimate recovery day Emily had promised us at the briefing.

Rather strangely, in what was to prove to be but one of a number of aberrations, our delight turned to confusion as we turned into a rather lengthy section of road under construction, which shook us all to our very cores.
At about this time, the cynical amongst us thought this was another one of Killer’s sick jokes. Made worse by the fact he was not even on his gravel bike, attending, as he was attending to our own welfare in determining what we would happen to the rest of the ride.

Nevertheless, undeterred by the gravel we continued towards morning tea and ultimately, Timaru; safe in the knowledge that this was a recovery ride we would all enjoy. 
At morning tea road crew excelled again not only with the refreshments, but also with a locally-inspired Smiddy Haka, led by Mitch.

It was also at this point that we lost the boys from Sydney, also known as the Wolf Pack. They had entertained us with their hilarity and bike handling skills, which some might say they used to mask at least an arguable lack of preparation for the ride. 
Had they decided that without Gareth they could not go on? Or was it a portent of things to come?

We headed out from morning tea with just a gentle breeze from the right, and then from the left, but weirdly enough, and perhaps ominously, not from the tail.
There was a quietness among the peloton which became deafening.

Grinding on into the reverse headwind, towards lunch and our final destination, the group really start to struggle. Our one last short rest stop was welcomed.
It was here, after such a warm welcome to the Canterbury Plains,  the mood of the peloton was brought back to reality.

Our beautiful Pagey had the sad duty of telling us a decision had been made to cancel the remainder of the ride so that we could all return home to Australia.
Whilst the news was not unexpected to the group, the reality of hearing it was of course, disappointing.

But this would not dampen the true Smiddy spirit. We were determined to finish well and the stronger riders pushed those who were struggling (or at least appeared to be) back in to the group.

With the love that was evidently in the peloton we continued to our destination. Happily there was more gravel in store for us, and more reverse tail winds.  We finally made it, a little behind schedule, and little more tired than we had been led to expect.

Wendo, Mr Smiddy, Stinky Dave, Matt and Killer and all of the road crew did an amazing job to have us fed, packed up, and ferried to Christchurch. We are grateful we had this experience, albeit a few hundred kilometres short of what we had expected. We are Smiddies nonetheless.

Johnno and Kay Kay

2020 New Zealand Smiddy Challenge—Day 2—St Patrick's Day

Day 2—149 kilometres—Wedderburn to Oamaru
A day for mad dogs and English women

It is a great honour for 'Bruicer' and 'Dr Koala' to write the blog for the day. 

These two gentle Smiddy men have been part of 20 different Smiddy cycling challenges between them.

Why, you may ask, do we come back each year for more suffering and pain?

There must be something very special about the Smiddy family and the Smiddy vision of helping others less fortunate with cancer.

The simple truth is, for both men, Team Smiddy is like being part of a wonderful extended family, connected by true friendship, camaraderie and love.

It's the love of helping others and motivating each of us to do better in our own lives, though compassion for others and sacrifice (especially on the part of Bruce’s wife, Jenny)! 

Having lost friends to breast cancer, Jenny has always been a supporter of cancer research and through Bruce's participation in Smiling for Smiddy events Jenny has found another way to support cancer research.

Of course, both men love cycling, being outdoors and visiting beautiful places.

But we all know this is only a very small part of the motivation to come back year after year. (But Dr K admits the Pinot Noirs do help.)

One certainty about a Smiddy challenge is that a surprise or two will always arise, which are sure to provide lasting memories beyond the ride.

Dr K was rather upset with 'Sharky' as they shared a room together at the Wedderburn Cottages.

Due to being completely deaf, Sharky always laughs at Dr K’s silly jokes. Sharky is so thoughtful—he never carries any cash, which gives you the opportunity to be generous yourself, and buy him coffee, or anything really! What an exceptional man and father.

Today’s ride from Central Otago to the east coast of New Zealand started in teeth-chattering sub-zero temperatures of at least -5 degrees. This pushed all the riders into new territory. 

The only exception to complaints about the extremely low temperatures was Aunty Gabrielle, who, at the first toilet stop, was noted to comment "I LOVE these conditions."

Uncle Andrew, a highly experienced Qantas engineer, didn’t disappoint for the second day in a row. He had another mechanical within the first two kilometres—this time a chain was off! He definitely appears to be a loose cog and we look forward to seeing what eventuates tomorrow!

At the first nature stop the temperature was still only -3 degrees.

Several notable casualties of hypothermia were lost to the peloton, as 'J-Dog' threatened us with his digital ear thermometer.

This led to our two Kiwi ride leaders, John  and Ross being warmed up in the sag wagon, as well as Mad Dog, Johnno, Sterlo, and Wayno. But interestingly, no ladies had to be warmed up, until Briony succumbed after the first decent descent.

'J-Dog' tried to nab Harry, whose first temperature measurement was below 35.0 Celsius  in his left ear. Harry insisted on a second opinion, so a measurement was done in his right ear, reading 35.1 C, meaning he escaped the sag wagon.

J-Dog kept his close eye on Harry for the rest of the morning. It was so cold that the peloton looked like a 33 cylinder steam train, charging along the Otago plains.  

The Otago sun made a feeble attempt to warm up our cold bodies, but the Land of the Long White Cloud prevailed at throwing not only  extremely cold air in our faces, but some stinging sleet.

It was almost lunchtime before the kiwi sun started to smile warmly upon us.

'Mark the angel' literally escaped serious injury and a visit to heaven, when during the first fast descent, he developed 'the speed wobbles' and lost control of his bike!

He somersaulted into a grassy dip like a Qantas pilot looking for a safe emergency landing. He escaped only with some lost pride, small leg bruises and damage to Dr K’s new expensive pink Rapha gloves.

Next time Mark will be sure to check his wheel spindle is secure and safe.

'Uphill Harry' expressed his enthusiastic nature once or twice too often, being called back so as to not split up the peloton.  

We were spoilt again by the amazing road crew, who put on heart-warming soups and nibbles to nourish our cold bodies at morning tea at the Dunback Bowling club, followed by yummy wraps and fresh fruit at the Hampden Community Centre.

It was also apparent the road crew spoilt themselves as well today, with some nice, hot pulled pork pies.

Matt’s topless photograph remains a mystery in Michael Fellows' camera.

One day, we will eventually find out whether a soft or hard lens was the best choice to bring out the inner soul of this amazing bike mechanic.

Matt’s own prodigious photography skills, linked with his great work, kept so many bikes on the road today and he definitely lived up to his nick name 'The Lion King'!

For those of you who appreciated finding the souvenir pine cones in your day bag—our spies in the road crew confirmed the guilty parties were the innocent looking Pru and Lu!

The punishment they deserve for their cheekiness will be determined at their upcoming Smiddy trial. In true Smiddy tradition, Mr David Smiddy will be appropriated as the judge and jury!

The scenery throughout the ride was spectacular—with rolling grassy frozen fields book-ended by massive mountains in the distance.

Fortunately, we only had a small (but still challenging) climb to take us to our first view of the ocean off the east coast at 100 kilometres.

We stopped for Sir Michael Fellows to take a group photo. Michael’s contribution to the Smiddy cycling adventures is amazing and we have already had a taste of some exceptional shots he has taken over the last three days.

Unfortunately, due to important family reasons, he had to leave us this evening to return to Australia. We wish him all the Smiddy love to get him through the coming days and weeks.

Today’s ride was a testimony to the Smiddy vision of teamwork, spirit and mateship.

Johnno became the latest recipient of the 'Smiddy Spirit' jersey, which he wore proudly and revealed for the last sunny 'warm' 20 kilometres of the ride today.

For some of the riders, after two (some three days) of cycling in challenging conditions today was another big effort to arrive safely and together as a team to our final destination of Oamaru—a pretty seaside town with lots of history.  

A special mention should be made of the efforts of Hollywood superstar Mark Trayner, who took it upon himself to help Dr Koala up almost every hill during the day.  

Dr K was very happy to help warm up a very cold and grumpy Hollywood, by allowing the touch of the 'Hand of God' on his back. Many others also helped Dr K and others in pain during the day, including Archie, Peter, Ross, Killer, Mad Dog, Timbo, Johnno and Sir Stephen Russell.

The day’s ride finished with the traditional, warm Smiddy huddle (probably not a good idea in light of the COVID-19 pandemic) …

2020 New Zealand Smiddy Challenge—Day 1—Lake Wanaka to Wedderburn

Distance: 154 kilometres

You may well ask why Hayley and I are doing the day’s technical wrap-up, being complete newbies. I asked this too.

But Krista assured us that our keen observations would be of interest. So, let’s go back a bit and tell you how we ended up here.

As you all know, Stephen and Russell have been a huge supporters of the Smiddy charity for a number of years.

Stephen has always wanted to share his enthusiasm with his greater family, and rode with his older brother Andrew, who is an elite cyclist, in Tasmania a few years ago.

I had always watched Mater Smiling for Smiddy with interest from London. I had been on the mailing list for years and read Sharky’s wonderfully engaging and heartfelt reports with great admiration for his style and his commitment to his friend, Adam Smiddy. 

I asked Stephen if he honestly thought I could manage to train over four months of London winter, by myself, and reach the cycling standard required.

Stephen told me it was totally achievable for novice riders.

So, with that in mind, I made Hayley and Andrew (his brother-in-law) sign up to keep me company. All of us were novice riders. 

Fast forward to roll-out this morning and we managed to creep out of the resort, without disturbing the other guests.

With David Smiddy’s ringing of the cowbell, we were off. Seconds later there was a loud explosion. Uncle Andrew’s tyre had exploded in the pitch black morning, in a newly formed peloton. 

The first 35 kilometres to Tarris, despite being in the dark, was a gentle introduction to peloton riding.

The road continued alongside a dam and before we knew it, we’d taken a welcome right turn into Cromwell for the first of the infamous Smiddy morning teas.

I could see the much-missed hand of Maria Smiddy in the line-up of childhood heroes; famous saos and cheese and delicious melting moments.

A huge thanks to the road crew for your organisation, friendliness and non-sweaty faces at each meeting. It’s a huge boost to see you at every stop.

“Only a cheeky hundy to go” quipped Hayley to John. However, we had done no hills, and hadn’t practiced precision cycling between rumble strips and deep storm drains on a loose gravel surface. 

The hill climbs started after lunch and I mean, immediately after lunch. I think they were enjoyed by everyone.

My eye was caught by the soft light playing on the gently-contoured hills to my left for about two seconds, then back to the slog.

False summit gave onto false summit, but eventually, we were released into terrifying, gusty cross winds on the descent into the plateau.

We were finally given a tail wind on the flat where Stephen and Hayley let rip at the front of the peloton and quickly got pulled back into line by John.

I, on the other hand, was beginning to bonk further back in the peloton, and it’s not as fun as it sounds.

Thank you to all the heroic 'hands of God' who got me through it and force-fed me my first gel. Bleach.

A few more eye-wateringly scenic hillocks and valleys, and we rolled into Wedderburn up a gravelled hill. I had finally perfected the gravel warning signal, unfortunately nobody paid the slightest bit of attention. 

So that’s the longest day in the bag. Totally achieved by the novices. Could someone remember to wake us in the morning? We're not entirely sure we’ll regain consciousness.

Hayley and Gabs