Mon 19th September: Christchurch to Flock Hill – 112km
Day one, Christchurch to Flockhill, began with a slight drag and little drizzle before our lunch break. We seemed to be making great pace and everyone was in great spirits, if not a little apprehensive with the mountain climb ahead of us. I had worked out that this would be one of the tougher days on the bike and although seeing the Irish Rugby team destroy Australia was a real motivator, nothing could have prepared us for what was about to unfold.
Peter, Garry, Andy, Aisling and Chris in the rain on Flockhill
Just as the drag began turn to a climb the weather changed and the skies opened. First heavy rain, then hail and finally came the blizzard! Soon the roads were covered in snow making them treacherous. Everyone was struggling with the conditions and the field had spread out over a few kilometers after the sheer climb. Earlier I decided to take my layers off as we approached the climb. I had planned to put them back on again when we would meet our support crew at the top of the mountain.
Photo of the blizzard conditions taken from inside one of the support vans
With the conditions worsening cyclists were forced to retire and the support vans were busy picking people up futher back down the route. A few of us were a good bit ahead of any help. I was dehydrated and cramping up but it was far too cold to stop. The only way I could generate any body heat was to do my best to keep control of the bike and battle on against the elements. I had lost feeling in both my feet and hands. My gloves had become frozen to the handlebars and one of my cleats had become jammed with ice, only allowing me to clip in one foot in to the pedals.
Scary skys and blizzard conditions on Flockhill
Some how we managed to reach our accommodation for the night, shook but safe. When I arrived in doors I was blue and shivering out of control. Baz, our Dutch veteran tour guide, immediately worked on getting feeling back into my extremities. I didn’t know it at the time but I was experiencing stage one hypothermia and he was worried I might have gotten frost bite. We needed to act fast. It was only after I stripped off the wet gear, changed into dry thermals and eventually warmed up with a a few hot ports at the huge open fire that I began to realise how lucky I was. We had gone through hell already and it was only the first day. Later we would learn that our experienced tour guides had never led cyclists through conditions as harsh as these. We really were earning the money we had raised for the IRFU Charitable trust.
Andy at the ranch, the morning after the night before, a little shaken up but safe and dry