K2 Ranch to Nipika: 73.7Km and 3,813m of climbing
Brrr – it’s cold and damp and I don’t smell particularly pleasant but we can hear folk stirring and figure we should do likewise. We know today is a monstrous elevation gain and figure that if the wheels are going to come off, at least more than yesterday, this will be the day.
We see that the pack is now seeded for the start and take up our designated spot in the last group. Before we’ve had too much time to wonder about what the day will hold, we’re off. We wind around the K2 Ranch and I’m definitely a bit tentative after yesterday’s performance. Gina is pretty quiet which is not the best sign. She’s also wearing about 30 layers of clothes. Being a California girl she is suffering big time, leaving me as the only one to sport our “We’re too sexy for this ride jersey”
Still the fact that we actually completed the first day is a surprise to some and that encourages us. For a short while at least, because we break out onto a tarmac road and the pack just takes off. Literally. There is no nice social, “we’ve got 72.7km to go – let’s take it easy” mentality. Instead we’re pretty quickly consigned to a lonely ride along the tarmac.
But all is not what it seems and as we get closer to the first real climb we join back up with folk who probably had one cup too many of the amazingly strong coffee they serve at the mess tent, the effect of which is now wearing off.
So it’s a steep long long climb to the first aid station and it is cold. But its double track and manageable so we’re pretty content. Even after the first aid station it gets steeper but we’re still riding. Slowly, admittedly, but we are riding.
Eventually though, even the long wheelbase of the tandem, is not going to get us up this hill. Everybody is walking now. This poses another question of our preparation. What now? Do I carry the front triangle and Gina the rear? Clearly this is a non starter so we begin the first of many miles with me pushing the handlebars and/or putting one hand behind my saddle and kind of pull/drag while Gina pushes on her saddle.
It must be comical to watch. But that’s what we do. And the damn hill gets steeper and steeper and steeper. I mean like scrambling steep where folk are taking a few paces and then stopping to rest. And we’re talking about fairly fit people here. We’re doing everything we can to push, heave, drag and bounce the tandem up this scree face.
After what seems like an eternity we come off the face of the scree slope and walk our bike up a very narrow trail to the top of the pass.
So we’re hoping for a decent ride down but unfortunately there are so many log crossings that we’re back to hopping on and off every few meters. Sometimes we don’t bother to hop back on and walk around the next curve thinking that there will be an unrideable section only to find it fairly manageable. Then when we do the reverse we immediately get to a section we have to dismount on again.
It’s really frustrating plus I’m managing to smack my shins repeatedly as we walk the tandem. Not really hard but repeatedly. As in over and over again. As in making me want to grab the tandem and if it was human strangle it – slowly, to prolong the payback.
It’s taking us forever to get down. We haven’t seen any other riders for ages. And then we hit the bloody stream crossings. Going over the stream once or twice is pretty cool but after the twentieth time of crossing the same bloody stream we are done. We have to try to lift the tandem with Gina lifting the back wheel. Sometimes I’m trying to roll the tandem while Gina is trying to lift it. Other times it’s the opposite.
Finally we get to a place where I have to let go to get across the stream. I suggest to Gina that the grip she has on the bike won’t stop the front wheel from trying to get away. But rather than suggesting up an alternative I go forwards anyway and then Gina nearly lands on her ass in the stream. Helpfully I pipe up with “I told you that was going to happen” to which I deservedly get the retort that it was not Gina’s idea to do this. “Well done, Phil”, I say to myself “What happened to staying conscious about how hard this is for both of us?”
Luckily after our little spat we come around the corner and there’s the course designer bloke. I forget his name (and he is a genuinely great guy) but he comes out with a magnificent one liner that enables us both to channel our frustration in his, and the organizers, general direction. He says; wait for it, “There’s a bit around the corner where you’re going to have to walk”
“Ha ha ha ha ha” If only he knew. I am totally incredulous and dumbfounded and speechless that I can’t even get my mouth to work. I think I just stare at him like I’ve got rabies or something. Gina though, does us proud, and demands to know the distance to the checkpoint. It’s like 3km or something but I could forgive the course designer saying 2km under Gina’s take no prisoner’s tone. We know we’re desperately close to the cutoff time. We kind of do an ungainly run down the hill with the tandem and all of a sudden we can see the timing tent not 30 ft away. We take a couple steps and Gina just sinks into the mud right up beyond her ankles. I continue running with the tandem until I realize my wife is nearly knee deep in mud and 15 ft behind me.
Luckily I can tell she’s past caring at this point and she manages to ooze her way out of the mud and join me as walk the tandem to the timing tent and a very desirable fire road pointing downhill.
We are literally at the cut off time and we yell our number out.
One of the guys makes a motion that we should wait for the truck to the finish while the other has made eye contact with my mud wrestling wife and is gently shooing us off down the trail. Surprisingly enough, I’m sure I can detect a German accent on the young man suggesting we are outside the time limit. Typical, why couldn’t he be English – nothing ever runs on time there.
Anyway we scoot, over his protestations, and it’s just a joy to be riding instead of walking. I really push and Gina does likewise. We go down and down onto a gravel road and we are hauling. We curve around a beautiful river and then up a vicious little climb and we’re suddenly in the Nipika grounds.
We have to pass the folk who have been in for a while as the tents line the course and their encouragement gets us the last 50 yards to the finish line. This time I reach out and hold my wife’s hand as we cross the finish line and she’s smiling as we come to a stop.
We make it in 9hrs and 40mins. I think the cutoff is 10 hours. Two days and no time penalties.
Maybe even time for a shower tonight although odds on tent romance are still very long.