Cliff Walk, Eketahuna

Our weekdays and weekends are just a tangle of days. With Gerry often teaching on weekends and sometimes weeknights, on top of weekday classes, while also running a photography company where traveling is part of the process (when not in lockdown when all jobs gets cancelled), we have no routine. It’s messy. Most days and weekends just come and go. The joy and excitement of ‘normal’ life Fridays (ay, ay, it’s Friday!) is a big miss, especially when Saturdays are workdays. Unfortunately, the dread of Mondays are still there. Must be ingrained after many years of school, Uni, and work-life, or perhaps just everyday life where there are still lots of memes, and people agonising over the dread of their Monday-back-to-the-grindstone fate.

We often don’t make plans for the weekend. And with the recent Level 4, followed by Level 3 and current Level 2 lockdown, we have been spending all our hours at home. Not that I mind too much. But by mid-morning on Sunday, it felt like a good idea to get out of the cabin and go for a drive somewhere. Heck, even if just to give the car battery a charge.

The weather was miserable: super windy, cloudy, with the occasional drizzle. We decided to drive to the Putara trail head on the Wairarapa side of the Tararua Range, and if the weather was okay, to saunter up the mountain for a couple of kilometres before turning back. It was never the intention to go far, but thought an outing in nature might be a pleasant change from four walls. The nearer we got to the parking area, the more the drizzle persisted and the stronger the wind.

Finally getting there, we parked, looked at each other, poured a cuppa while the car was rocking in the wind, and decided to drive back to Eketahuna before risking a slip or windfall blocking the narrow gravel road, trapping us out in the sticks. We had no business sauntering into the mountains on a day like this anyway, even if being prepared, or just for a kilometre or two.

Unbeknownst to us, at about the exact time we wimped out, a female solo tramper was trapped on the ridge between Powell and Jumbo Huts (not too many miles from where we were), and couldn’t move due to the wind threatening to blow her off the mountain. She called Search and Rescue at 9am, hunkered down in the tussock, and was only reached by 5:30pm. She was fine apart from mild hypothermia, and they all spent the night at Powell Hut.

Another man also got in trouble in the same 130k winds, tonnes of rain, sleet and freezing temperatures, just a bit further along the ridge and deeper into the mountain from where she was (Mt McGregor), and set off his PLB at around 9:30pm. SAR couldn’t reach him, and would continue their search on the Monday morning. He spent the night in horrific conditions without a tent or sleeping bag. With the horrendous weather still hammering the country, SAR couldn’t reach him the next day either. Fortunately he still had some battery life left on his phone, had reception and they could guide him to the McGregor bivvy. Luckily he also had his dog with him, and I can only imagine that the extra body heat generated by the dog might have saved his life. Sandwiched between two mattresses with the dog, SAR reached him at 2am on the Tuesday morning in the bivvy. I guess one could argue that he was foolish for walking into the backcountry in imminent extreme weather without more gear (tent, sleeping bag, etc). Perhaps he knew that with the added body heat of the dog he didn’t need a sleeping bag. It is quite easy to judge from the couch and think his foolhardiness could have cost him his life, but we don’t know anything about him or his backcountry skill level.

On the way back to Eketahuna, I searched for some short walks in or near the town and stumbled upon the Cliff Walk. At only one kilometre long, it is hardly worth the effort. But a stretch of the legs has never been a bad idea.

We parked at the campsite side of the track, donned some warm clothes and rain jackets, and set off in the wind. I had to question whether it was a good idea walking in strong wind given that the walk is sandwiched between trees, the tall ones leaning against the wind. Although the trees provided some shelter, it was at the expense of a calm walk and not stressing about being crushed by a redwood.

The walk is on the edge of the bluff/cliff, but between two fences and trees. Not many views of and down the cliff is possible, but the wee walk is pretty in itself. The trees make a nice canopy in places, and the track underfoot is quite smooth (apart from minor windfall), presumably wheelchair friendly.

At only about 920 metres long, it took no time to reach Eketahuna. Another block and we were in the metropolis that is the city centre. It was such a non-event that we didn’t even think to take money for coffee.

On the way back, we made the steep, slippery trip down the cliff on a narrow track to the historical ‘Old swimming pool’. It’s a lovely spot in the Makakahi River that I can imagine would be a popular picnic and swimming hole in summer.

Back at the car without any fallen trees or branches incidents, we poured another cup of coffee from the thermos and drove home. I guess this walkway really is just a commute from the campsite to town, and for the locals, but if one happens to be in Eketahuna on a road trip and have the time for a leg-stretch, this is a nice walk to consider.

Barefoot and zero drop

This is neither a shoe review, nor expert advice. Just an observation.

There are so many theories out there about barefoot running and zero drop shoes, that it gets tangled up and one can easily just lump it all together as one concept. However, this is not the case, as I was sorely reminded of this week.

But first let me backtrack a bit. For the past five or so years, I’ve run in Altra. Since I always walk around barefoot in the house, going zero-drop was a no-brainer. No fuss, not frills, no getting used to it or gradually phasing it in. To be honest, I don’t think interchanging between zero-drop and six to eight or even ten millimetre is something that will really affect the average runner (if a blind test was done). But according to the experts, this is not the case and one shouldn’t just jump into zero-drop shoes.

In my arsenal I have Torin for on-road, TIMP for more cushioned off-road, and my trusty go-to trail shoe, the Lone Peak. Heck, I even have a pair of less cushioned Superiors in the mix for shorter trails, which I absolutely also love.

Our daily 8k run is fairly hilly, with an elevation of around 125m. I guess some stronger and fitter runners may call it undulating. But some of the hills I am yet to jog all the way to the top.

So this week I took a pair of Altra Delilah (gifted to me by my friend, Nina) for this daily 8k hilly on-road run. A (discontinued) women specific (mens equivalent is the Samson) minimalist performance shoe with a razor-siped sole grip, suited to road, track, trail and anything between. It is zero-drop (obviously) and has no cushioning worth mentioning, just a thin rubber sole to protect your feet from stones and the like. It is pretty much as close to running barefoot while still wearing shoes as one can get, and is meant to help you improve posture and running technique.

It should therefore come as no surprise that I immediately could feel a difference in my running style: not landing as hard as with a more cushioned shoe, and ‘trotting’ more, for lack of a better word. I felt silly, self-conscious, and was glad to be in the country where not a lot of people could see me. I tried my best to run as normal as possible, and thought I managed okay apart from the downhill sections.

And clearly the shoes did ‘improve my running technique’ as my calves were terribly sore the next day – muscles I probably don’t use on a daily short trot. I realise that with a plonking-style of running one doesn’t use your muscles as much, perhaps relying more on shoe ergonomics, and your own joints to propel you forward? But there was no escaping the fact that these shoes will not help propel or soften the blow on landing. I was forced to use more muscle in order to save my joints. Which I think is a good thing. Trouble is, I would obviously have to ease into this, and perhaps change my initial plan of running in them twice a week, to just once a week for starters. Of course this all looks nice on paper and I’m sure these shoes will improve my running style and activate muscles that I don’t normally use, but will I stick to this plan? Only time will tell.

While we’re talking Altra – if you buy the TIMP 2, go for half a size bigger. It was designed to be ‘snug’, but it is snug to the extend that the size changed. They fit okay and I will no doubt pile on the mileage, but on technical terrain there is no room to manoeuvre, which is very tiresome to feet if you’re constantly rubbing and bumping against the sides and front. But then again, I like my shoes loose fitting.

Mini long loop from home

Date: 4 September
Distance: 30km
Time: 4.07

During last year’s Level 4 lockdown, we ran short out-and-back stretches in our tiny neighbourhood. So this year, we went back to doing this the moment the second (in 18 months) Level 4 lockdown started on 18 August. Running in our neighbourhood means that we are running more hills, which is good. Longer might make you stronger, but so do hills – perhaps even more so.

After three weeks of running up and down the hilly road, I figured I should be in a better place for running uphill. At our last hilly outing three weeks ago (the Mukamuka Munter) it was obvious that we run mainly on flat surfaces, and on-road, as was evident by our time, not to mention how I was huffing and puffing to get over the mountain. But we made it to the finish in one piece, and committed to getting more hills into our training regime.

We are lucky to live in the foothills of the windfarm. At the far, dead-end of our road there is a gate. I have often looked past it to where a wee forest is edged on the side of the mountain, just below the turbines. The turbines are so close to our place, it feels like I can reach out and touch them. We can hear them on wind-still nights. A contradiction in terms it would seem, but that is when the wind (usually a westerly that blows the sound towards the Wairarapa side) is light enough to move the blades, but calm enough that we can hear them loud and clear on the Manawatu side. Speaking to a neighbour yonks ago, it transpired that this road past the gate, apparently, does lead through this forest and all the way to North Range Road. We’ve been meaning to chat to the farmer to gain access, but haven’t got around to it yet.

So we opted for an alternative which unfortunately meant quite a bit of road running, and only about a third off-road. But the good part is that it included a hill of some 700m elevation.

It was overcast and somewhat windy. The forecast claimed sunny, one degree Celsius during the night and seven kilometre per hour winds reaching 13km/h by noon. By morning it was six degrees Celsius (so not terribly cold), overcast, and the wind was not too bad. By 8am, with a belly full of breakfast, we were on our merry way.

The road sections were unfortunately on reasonably busy roads. The Aokautere-Pahiatua Road (Pahiatua Track) saw quite a few cars and trucks coming by, but the Fitzherbert East Road extension towards Ashhurst was worse. Luckily we only ran about 4k on the latter. Pahiatua Track from top to bottom is about 9k, which was all included in our loop.

From Fitzherbert East Road, we turned right onto Forest Hill Road. Once off the busy roads and on the country roads, the run became more enjoyable. No need to constantly watch out for cars, and having to get well off of the road when trucks approach. After a kilometre or so, the uphill began in all earnest. We tried to jog little bits, but was reduced to a walk every so often. We knew that this road goes all the way to North Range Road, but didn’t realise it goes through private land, and a permit is required for access. A friend told us a few years ago that he often runs in this forest and so we assumed the closure pertains mainly to vehicles. From the North Range Road side, there used to be a gate, but I don’t remember any access warnings/issues. My understanding was also that the army sometimes uses this area for training.

After about 4k on Forest Hill Road, we reached and jumped over the locked gate (12k). We went through a tiny paddock and after about 50m there was another gate. Once we were over that I felt more comfortable that we were safe from the bull. Actually I couldn’t see whether it was a bull or a cow, but it was eyeing us and I was in no position to start sprinting should he decide to chase. Mind you, a raging bull might have pumped enough adrenaline to make me clear the average fence not touching sides.

Naturally, once we were in the Aokautere Forest and having jumped two gates, I instantly felt super guilty. Although it would seem that lots of runners use this forest as a training ground, I felt like a trespasser (which I was), and as if we were being watched all the time.

About 700m in, we reached a fork in the road. I checked my Topo Maps app, and saw that the road I thought we should take is quite a bit longer than the alternative. At this point I thought that the quicker we can get through the forest and onto North Range Road, the better. I was, however, uncertain about the alternatives as they didn’t look like proper roads. But as it turns out, they were just the same as the ‘main’ road. We turned right and after about 1k we reached another fork with the road veering off in three directions. Instinctively I thought the middle road to be the right one. Gerry suggested we go right as this road seemed wider and more like the correct road. I couldn’t disagree. After a few hundred metres, another fork made us once again question our direction, but when we reached the fence line of the windfarm still a few metres further, it seemed like the road was going in the wrong direction (heading back towards Palmy). Out came my phone and Topo Maps again, and so we backtracked to the fork where we went wrong, to take the middle road. Always follow a hunch. Haha.

Back on track, I was amazed by the beautiful area almost on our doorstop, but being a ‘trespasser’ spoiled the experience. With lots of the pine trees still in their teenage years, little bits of sun came through the clouds to warm the way. Even though it wasn’t meant to be that cold, it wasn’t warm either, mainly because of the wind.

The section through the private land was just a bit over 5k and almost worth the unnerving situation. Having said that, we will obtain formal permission to be there for next time. At the top near the gate just before reaching North Range Road (at 17.2km), it would appear that someone (the forest manager perhaps?) decided to make sure no 4WD vehicles can go down that road, by dumping two truck-size humps of soil right across the road. I’ve noticed the gate being flattened the previous time we were on NRR, but this was new (at least in the last two or three years). It took some clambering but we got over the obstacle, and clearly we were not the only pedestrians/MTBs going through there, as there was a clear, narrow path to show the way.

Once on North Range Road, we turned right again and immediately had to start negotiating the mud puddles. Even after a few sunny or no rain days, the 4WD section was still quite muddy. The wind was also very strong by then, and the wind-noise in my ears was deafening. It was evident that the 4WDrivers have carved up the road much more than last time we were up there.

Once we reached the Te Rere Hau windfarm gate (20.5km), I knew that the road was almost all the way downhill back home. The 3.5k we had left on NRR had only a small little incline, while Pahiatua Track was downhill all the way. With the new windfarm in progress on South Range Road, the quality of NRR has also improved. However, the super course gravel was very uncomfortable to run on. The road is wider, cleaned up on the sides and with a new (coarse) gravel topping.

The wind was very strong by then, and my arms and hands were starting to go numb from the cold. My core was still warm so didn’t feel the need for an extra layer.

Hitting Pahiatua Track (24km into the run), the road was busy as always. It is not the best road to run on, with only a narrow shoulder, and some parts lacking a shoulder altogether. For short sections we were somewhat sheltered from the wind, but most other times the headwind would blow me to a standstill. Lots of cars were out on the road.

I was tired and sore, but with the last 5.5k on-road downhill stretch, I could run all the way.

Back at home we had a shower, and made lunch before venturing outside for a bit of puttering in the garden. Late afternoon we made a campfire and had some vino to celebrate. I’m not nearly back to ultras, but am getting there slowly but surely. Getting back into the swing of things just take much longer than I hoped. And I still need to do lots of work on my mobility, strength and flexibility. My buggered hip and leg is still part of the package.