The 11.30am start started at 10.30 for some, 12 for others. And so it began, the gathering of like minded souls setting out for a weeks riding around the bottom south of the island. One thousand kilometers over six days atop carbon fibre machinery second to none.
Two van loads embarked on the six hour journey deep into the heart of central Otago...or thereabouts. The mighty river Clutha...aka...Balclutha.
The journey was remarkably quick despite the chronological time span. Captains of industry, airlines, operating theatres and domestic duties amused themselves as best they could completing cryptic crosswords, drinking Heinekin, discussing the minutia of cycle purchasing, snacking on home baking and generally immersing themselves in the necessary evil of pre cycling transportation.
The Rosebank Motel was the first lucky choice of accommodation to welcome the weary athletes. Bikes unloaded, we sauntered to the motel restaurant and fell upon the allocated bar. Three tables of nine were set awaiting our arrival. A quick round later we were seated, feasting on the pre ordered breads and dips.
Strangers became acquainted and cycling psuedonyms were introduced as part of the in race shenanigans.Reluctant recipients received awards for less than outstanding performances.
After a hearty meal of protein with extra lashings of pre race banter, the cautious team members headed off surreptitously one by one for an early night. A hardened handful lasted an extra forty five minutes showcasing their supremacy.
The 6am iphone alarm heralded the new day. The 27 strong team shuffled and mumbled dairy cow like over to the breakfast area. Pre booked continental and hot cooked breakfasts were woofed down in anticipation of a long 170km ride.
Obligatory first day photos were taken in the overcast morning light. The whistle went off and we rolled out into the subdued streets of Balclutha. A full contingent of 25 riders. The vans followed cautiously as we found our confidence riding in such a large group vaguely aware of the directions.
We had all been pre-allocated a cycling psuedonym to while away the many hours. Previous strangers struggled with real and made up names and they were fined dearly for their erroneous ways. An OSH approved skirt and matching fluro anklets were also awarded to a lucky cyclist to wear to advertise any particular stuff up on their behalf.
The first stop was The Whistling Frog cafe only 68 kms away. The undulating hills through the Catlins proved a feast for the eyes. Spirits soared and climbed along with our snaking peloton. With only one puncture, we were on schedule and pulled into the cafe, whistling and leaping.
Southern hospitality was at its best as our pre warned vendors welcomed us with open arms and warm scones. We basked in the mid morning sun bathing in the ambience of this wonderful spot.
About half an hour later we re-cleated and departed, richer for the experience thus far. Swathed in serenity we enjoyed a lengthy downhill.
Another 60 km in the saddle before lunch. More climbing plateaued our spirits, with conversation reduced to the odd throwaway line as the pace intensified. One of the downhill turns proved too technical as one of our team got up close and personal with the roadside hill. A sheepish grin and an adrenalin fueled sprint reunited him smartly and also guaranteed him a day in the skirt tomorrow.
Scone calories long ago consumed left us dangerously weak and no amount of glorious vistas proved distracting enough. Our grainy eyes peered longingly into the distance in search of the aptly named, Stirling Tides cafe.
The staff eagerly dished out the sumptuous delights to a long and grateful audience. Filled full of filo, fish and fresh salads we gazed out at the stirling tides lapping comfortingly at our door.
Choosing the van as a restorative option of self preservation for tomorrows crawl up Bluff Hill afforded me a kindy nap while the rest of the team boxed on in the wind with their filo filled tummies.
Accompanying the support crew we drove on and I witnessed the ride from an acutely more attractive angle. Using the vans as markers , the team knew when to sprint and where to turn.
Invercargill never looked so good after another 45 km of solid riding. The Monarch Motel appeared like an oasis in the distance.
Much back slapping and hand shaking ensued as day one was officially completed.
Massueses arrived on schedule at 4pm. 3x3 many of the team had the hills kneaded right off their muscles. The rest watched on relaxing on the finest of motor inn furniture.