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by Pamela Blalock and John Bayley
The Rainbow Rage is one of the biggest cycling events in this area. For months after arriving here, anyone and everyone who found out we were cyclists, asked if we'd heard about the Rainbow Rage. And most who asked had done it or had a friend who had done it. It's had over 1000 entrants each of the last 4 years, with a record 1600 plus in 2001, so it isn't too hard to meet folks who had taken part! And of course everyone told us that we must also do the event ourselves.
I've been doing some work for a local bike shop. I have created a website for them, and have helped with running some small local events. Mike, the owner of the shop was also quite encouraging that we do the ride, and more so that we do it on tandem. He and his tandem partner did the event in 2002, and were the first tandem to finish. And there is a special award for the first tandem. It's a trophy cup, called the Double D Cup. The trophy has been cut in half, so both the captain and stoker get a section. It's engraved with all the previous tandem winner's names. The winners only get to keep it for the year, and then it goes to the next team. This cup was at the shop, and on more than one occasion, Mike suggested we should try for it. Well I'm not into the competition side of things. The event isn't even a race - it's a rage. But we planned to do it anyway for fun.
We did a trial run if you will about 6 weeks prior when we did our 4 day tour over the Rainbow and Molesworth roads. We did this fully loaded on our touring tandem. We took our time, took heaps of pictures, and had a grand time. I kept saying to folks how I just could not imagine racing through such beautiful awe-inspiring country. I'd need to stop and take pictures.
So when we did the actual event, I said we should not take the camera. Well we took it anyway, although it didn't see much use. But as a concession, we did not take our overnight gear with us, and we did take our offroad tandem with suspension fork! Like many other kiwi events, this one is one way. Being the type we are of course, we planned to ride both ways. So we arranged with friends who were driving down to the finish to carry down a couple of panniers for us. We booked a backpackers in Hanmer Springs for the night. We'd stay there, and then ride back the next day - carrying those panniers we'd sent down.
Everyone had warned us about the corrugations on the Rainbow. Well, during the tour, it wasn't so much the corrugations that go to us, but the large potholes. Potholes are something we have gotten used to not seeing in New Zealand. In Massachusetts, they were just to be expected, but here, it is pretty rare to find one on a sealed road. Well Rainbow is metalled (gravel) not sealed, and the section from Lake Tennyson down to the base of Jack's Pass is pretty well covered in holes and rough corrugations. We had initially thought we'd go without suspension, since it makes pedaling out of the saddle a bit awkward, but after the tour, we decided to go for suspension.
I say we didn't have much gear, but that's not totally true. We had a spare tire and tubes and various tools, as well as warm clothes, and the required space blanket and rain jacket. The warm clothes were not packed on the bike though. We were wearing them. We had spent the night with friends in St. Arnaud, and when we started out at 7:30 a.m. to ride to the start, it was about 3 degrees Celsius. So I started with shorts, wool undershirt, wool jersey, wool arm and leg warmers, headband, gloves, and overshoes. John opted for knee warmers rather than legwarmers, but otherwise was similarly attired. We took off the overshoes before the start and strapped them to our racktop bag, although given all the fords we would be riding through that might not have been the best choice.. Jackets were stowed in the racktop as well, but we kept the rest of our warm clothing on. We were the odd ones out though. I noticed most riders were in shorts and light jerseys, despite all the advice to the contrary on the ride website and brochure!
We lined up near the front. We'd be warned that lots of folks walk through the fords and on some of the hills. If caught behind walkers, you suffer the same fate. We had no intention of walking. I'd thought it might be nice to get that Double D Cup, but after seeing some of the other tandems, I figured it was out of reach for us. We had ridden another event (Christchurch to Nelson) with one of the other tandem teams, and they are darn good riders. Actually we rode in the same event, but didn't ride together - they were hours ahead of us. Of course to be fair to us, they did it as part of a two tandem team - fully supported, while we rode solo, self supported. But they are known for being awesome climbers on the tandem, and are both pretty strong cyclists on their own, both road and offroad. I'd seen both their names many times atop the standings of local events. So any dream of us bringing home this cup was gone.
We tried starting near the front since the early part has a lot of descending, but the first part of the route is neutralized - the organizer drives in front keeping the pace down. This would have been cool on the tandem otherwise, but it was tough sitting on the brakes while all around us, folks were jockeying for position. Once finally out of the neutralized area, we were actually quite a ways back and a race took off at the front. We stayed near the back of the first pack for a while, but soon enough the hills began to see us slipping off the back. We toed and fro-ed with quite a few folks, including some we knew, like the lad we are talking to about redoing our kitchen, and the folks from the bike shop where I'm doing some part time work. But then after going through one of the many fords on the route and climbing up a little hill, we passed Bob and Chris on the side of the road repairing a puncture. Bob and Chris are that strong tandem team I mentioned, and this meant we were now the first tandem on the road. Well, it wouldn't last long I was sure.
I had baked some cookies and brought along some beef jerky for sustenance on the ride. We also had a couple of hammer gel flasks (we are almost out and have yet to find anything here we like as much). I survived on cookies, and John did the event on hammer gel.
The route has an upward trend to Island saddle with a couple of big climbs before the final long brutal climb up to Island Saddle itself. It was on one of the first hard climbs that we started feeling a good rhythm going and we began to pull away from some of the folks we'd been riding along with. There were still enough riders nearby that we'd occasionally have to alter speed because of congestion, but by the time we reached the final climb, we had a pretty clear line. There were still plenty of folks around, but it wasn't quite the double line of riders we'd hit on previous climbs. We were able to pass slower folk much easier here. We reached the top where a water stop was set up. They had moving hand-offs for folks who didn't want to stop, and John and I each grabbed a cup of carbolyte. We took a couple of cups and tossed the cups to a volunteer up the road who disposed of them. Then we were off down the steep descent.
Just as we rounded a corner, there in the middle of the track stood a cyclist, repairing a puncture. John swerved to avoid running into him, and I screamed at him to get out of the track. Of course to avoid hitting the guy, we screwed up our line, and almost recovered before we fell. John took it pretty hard on his left knee, and shoulder. I got my knee, hip, elbow, and hand. I had pulled off my gloves and arm warmers for the climb, which likely saved me from ripping the arm warmers. John was not so lucky with his knee warmers. Fortunately the camera was in his right pocket! We jumped up quickly to avoid causing other people to fall trying to miss us, and got rolling again - this time a bit slower. We took it a bit handy on the remaining part of the descent, but then started to pick up steam again. About that time, the wind began to pick up steam as well. In past years, record times have been set with screaming tailwinds. There would be no records broken today, as the southerly did its best to slow us down.
Of course these conditions are where tandems really shine over single bikes, and we slowly started catching small groups of single bikes trying their best to ride across the corrugations and around the potholes is little pacelines. One rider managed to stay with us most of the way in, but most of the others we caught struggled for a while to stay on and then gave up - until we caught what seemed to be a well organized paceline. We sat in for a while and rested while we made our way to the front, after which we pulled through and the group followed us to the base of Jack's Pass. It turned out we knew a few of the riders in this group as well - two of whom we'd ridden with during Christchurch to Nelson. They were on tandem then, but on singles this time. Shortly before reaching the turn, I had asked John about taking it easy on the final descent. I was very hesitant to say anything because I didn't want to imply a lack of trust or confidence, but I just kept imagining some other obstacle around a blind corner. The descent off Jack's is pretty steep and very twisty. Well we had to get up the little climb first. It's not that bad of a climb, but after 30 km of gentle downhill, it is still hard. The bottom part had recently been graded, and was actually quite loose. We almost ground to a halt in one loose bit, but did recover. The few singles that were still with us passed us on the climb, and roared down to the finish.
Remember how we passed that other tandem with the puncture. Well they still had not caught us. I had spent a lot of the ride looking over my shoulder expecting them at any moment, but they had not come by yet. Having them behind us actually made me push harder. Other than our tumble, we did not stop in large part due to the fact that we were in front. Well I was certain they'd go flying past in the last 5 km after we'd worked so hard, but there was still no sign of them. We reached the top of the climb and smiled for the photographer - unfortunately she only got the back half of the tandem in the picture, so we did not buy one. I looked back down to the valley and could not see anything that looked like a tandem.
Then we began our slow descent. Unfortunately my comment made John even more cautious. We crawled down. It was really loose on the climb, and John worried about suddenly coming into a loose corner. So we stayed upright all the way down and reached the finish line without being passed by a tandem!
Mike Gane, event disorganizer, as he calls himself, was there to greet us and announce the arrival of the first tandem. Yes, we had really done it. The Double D Cup would be ours. He interviewed us, making note of the abrasions and asked what happened. John passed the mic to me, and I diplomatically as possible described how we did not run over a poor lad fixing a puncture. Well ... given how I felt, I was quite diplomatic. We also got a couple of spot prizes - a pump and some chamois cream, and a couple of Bays Ale - a local beer. I'm not a big ale fan, preferring stouter varieties, but it was darn tasty.
Approximately 7 minutes after we finished Bob and Chris rolled in on their tandem. We chatted for a while and found out they'd knocked out a brake pad while fixing their puncture. Bob estimated they lost 8 minutes on the repair...
We wandered around the finishing area for a while, looking at bikes and meeting up with a few friends. We found our way to the food tent and devoured our meal. Then I went for my massage. When I walked up to the tent, the folks there told me I'd need to wash my legs off with the water from a nearby bucket. Well I still had legwarmers on, so when I pulled down my legwarmers and pointed out how clean my legs were, I was sent directly in. Have I mentioned how totally covered in dust we were at the end. Everyone who came in was totally covered, except for these clean little spots around the eyes, under the glasses. Anyway, my clean legs got a wonderful 6 minute massage. With over a thousand riders, massages have to be short, but I sure would have liked a few more minutes!
We bumped into a few more folks including Mike who so encouraged us to do the ride. He almost seemed more excited than we were about getting our names on the tandem cup! We collected our panniers from his partner who had driven down, and headed off to our hostel to check in and get cleaned up before the prize giving. We'd stayed at this hostel twice before, and our hosts Barbara and Graeme, were thrilled to have us back and doubly thrilled when I told them we won. Now I will point out that while the event is timed, and they do recognize the first in various categories with a little acrylic plaque that says winner, that this event is not a race, but rather a fun adventure ride. Entrants are ragers, not races. We chatted for a while, then got cleaned up and headed back over for the prize giving. We were still early, so we walked into town for a cappuccino. In retrospect we had plenty of time to visit the hot springs as well. But we had planned to do that after the prize-giving.
Lots of riders were still coming in when we got back to the field, including the final tandem of the day, a couple of lunatics that had ridden a Raleigh 20 tandem - a tandem built by welding two old Raleigh 20 inch bikes together. They barely made it across the start line before blowing a tire, and had mangled the stokers seat post before even leaving the sealed road. They used a log to keep the post from bending more. I don't know how they survived the descents - they must be awesome downhillers. But they did. These guys deserve a special trophy.
So eventually the prize-giving came around and winners from the various categories were recognized, and we collected our Double D Cup. It's pretty cool. Stoker and Captain don't have to fight over it! We also got a couple of bottles of wine and a couple of plaques we get to keep.
Lots of cool spot prizes were given away including a new bike. Thank goodness we didn't win that, and have to haul it home on the back of the tandem. We actually asked Mike, the disorganizer, if he could take the prizes back and we could pick them up later, since we would be riding home. He was quite gracious. We invited him to ride back with us as well, and he was quite tempted. After the first year of the event, he hasn't been able to ride it, since running it is enough of a chore. And I must take this opportunity to say what a great job he and all his helpers do with making the event run smoothly and making it such a great ride for everyone.
After all the prizes were given out, we finally made our way to the hot pools and then dinner. The next day was the end of daylight savings time, so while we had an extra hour of sleep, we had one less hour of daylight for getting home. We flew down in 4 hours and 37 minutes - not a record time, but respectable given the wind. But our journey home could take twice as long. It has more climbing, since St. Arnaud is much higher than Hanmer Springs. Surely the wind will have turned back to normal. We are tired, and we now have more gear, and we aren't in race (uh I mean rage) mode! We need Chris and Bob to chase us home!
We said farewell to Barbara and Graeme and promised we'd be back soon, and began the long climb back up Jack's Pass. I have now climbed Jack's Pass more times than any other single climb in New Zealand, apart from the one up to our house! It is tough, long and relentless. We met a couple of gals at the top who were also riding back through. But we saw no one else that day. We did notice a well worn track along the road. In the end, we finished in the top 50, so not so many cyclists were ahead of us during the event. But for the return journey over 1000 bikes had worn quite the path on the road. You could see the path wind around potholes and seeking out the smoothest line to avoid the corrugations. John made an attempt to take a picture of some of those corrugations, but it just doesn't do them justice.
It was pretty remote out there in the middle of the wop-wops (as they say here). We saw one or two cars heading up to Lake Tennyson presumably. The gate at the far end is locked, and without special permission and the key, you can't drive through. We had phoned to get permission to ride through. But it really dawned on us how lonely it is, when we had a puncture and discovered one of our new spare tubes had numerous holes in it already. Fortunately the other held air - and we did have a patch kit - although there was a short while where I thought it was missing too!
This was our only mishap on the return journey. The wind had indeed changed, so we had a headwind. We were quite tired, and it was uphill all the way back. And we had to open and close all the gates along the way (which were open for the rage) But it was glorious. We took heaps of photos.
We stopped for lunch at the road to Lake Tennyson. I had originally thought of riding out, but we were both so tired that the idea of extra distance was just not attractive. We chowed down on cheese, beef jerky and garlic bread, and cookies for dessert. Then we rolled up the climb to Island Saddle, which I think is harder from this side!
The rest of the day rolled by slowly. It was still quite chilly. The wind had changed, but the cool air brought up by the southerly was still there. The scenery is awesome in this direction. Heading south, it is just big, until you crest Jack's and (normally, but not this year) get an awesome view of the Southern Alps. But going north, the jagged mountain views are quite dramatic.
We got into the garage at St. Arnaud about 8 hours after leaving the hostel, but just in time to get a soda and some chips to wash the dust from my parched throat. We had a great time, and are quite proud to have brought home a trophy. We will not defend. John wants to do it on singles next time, and I have a ridiculous idea of doing it on my single speed. Check back here next year to see how we did!
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
by Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle into that good night,