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Shortest Day, Longest Ride

Words: Liam Friary; Images: Cameron Mackenzie  

On any type of hard challenge, you develop two minds. There is the mind that knows and there is the mind that chooses not to know. The balancing act between the two keeps you more than occupied. There’s always something that’s popping up: the climb is too steep, the distance is too long, the wind gusts are too strong, the bike’s got something wrong with it, I’m feeling exhausted…. I think you get the picture. Most if not all these issues are out of your control and you must do your best to ignore them. However, you do have to be aware of the mind’s current state and you can’t always dismiss those issues. But if you thought about the enormity of the challenge in its entirety then you could be overwhelmed.

My alarm sounded just after 4 a.m.; I reluctantly peeled back the duvet covers. Half asleep, I brewed a strong black coffee and then sat quietly in the morning’s silence. The moon was out, as were the stars; a faint streetlight glimmered in the hills. This is a special and spiritual time of day. There’s just something good about being up and ahead of the day.

This was the shortest day of the year in our antipodean country. So, to mark the day my riding buddy and I undertook a challenge: shortest day, longest ride. Such a challenge isn’t anything new within cycling circles, as riders are often searching for new ones, but for me this was the first time attempting one. Also, I wanted to give it some flavor with a train transfer, a border crossing and a ride through some beautiful landscapes on mixed terrain, where I’d need tires with tread that was versatile. So, inside my garage a few nights before the ride, I tubelessed-up a pair of the new Kenda 4titude gravel tires. They would prove ideal for the arduous day in the saddle because, being a faster tire (120tpi), they would help with the transitions on tarmac and be robust enough for the gravel roads.

The steed, complete with Kenda 4titude gravel tires.

Time seems to evaporate rather swiftly in the morning. But I still managed to get out the door on time knowing I had to get to Auckland’s Britomart railway station by 5:40 a.m. to meet my buddy. I rode through the city past street sweepers, delivery trucks, newspaper drops and the odd person running or walking their dog. Over these city streets, the Kenda 4titudes rolled so efficiently that they felt like road tires. Even the profile of the tire doesn’t seem too “gravelly’ as it has a more rounded profile. There was no lost effort as I carried speed all the way to the train station.

At first, I was the only passenger waiting in the large, century-old building—which was once the city’s chief post office. Being alone felt eerie, but the security guards put me at ease; and it wasn’t long before my ride buddy showed up. We shared the platform with a few construction workers. On the two-hour train ride south, we would first head to Papakura and then swap trains to reach Pukekohe, which would be our ride start. We chatted with a sense of anticipation of what the day would bring. 

Being dark outside, it still felt like the middle of the night when we switched trains, grabbed an espresso and jumped on the second train. The sun now slowly rose, its rays shining through the windows of our train carriage, just before we reached Pukekohe. On this brisk mid-winter morning, it felt good to be back on our bikes. The sky looked clear as we crossed a bridge over the train tracks. This was going to be a beautiful but brutal experience, as on this shortest day we had to cover 145 kilometers, with 2,000-plus meters (more than 6,500 feet) of climbing across mixed terrain. The edges of city sprawl slowly drifted into the background as the roads and landscapes ahead of us turned rural.

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