I was soon in sight of the police station for the second time, and then into new territory. I'm a sizable bloke (6'3" and 85kg in my birthday suit), and while this makes for good energy stores, the same body needs a good recharge time too. I'd eaten well enough in the last couple of days, but this lack of sleep was starting to get to me, and it was starting to show in the mornings.
Simon was soon out of sight, and Chris had blazed past me too, en route for Porters Pass, and Springfield beyond that. We'd set off in cloudy weather, but it soon cleared, and I was afforded beautiful views of the interior of the Southern Alps - the first time I'd seen it. I pulled up to Jasper on his singlespeed, and rode alongside him for long enough to learn that he and Darren had spent a very comfortable night in Otira. He'd also seen Thomas and Tim at camp in Arthurs Pass, so we were all moving pretty much in unison as with the previous day. He'd not seen Andrew who I'd last seen at Ikamatua, but who hadn't wanted to cut his break short to leave with the 5-man train.
Between photos, food, and trying to get the right mix of clothing, I stopped a few times before cresting Porters Pass. Jasper had always been in touch, and had come by me on the final ascent to Porters Pass, though he didn't have the leg speed to keep with me on the steep descent off the alps, and I made good use of my big ring getting to Springfield. Even if I'd consulted my map heading into Springfield I think I'd have overlooked the turnoff which would have saved me some riding after lunch. Simon and co had turned off the course at Annavale and Pocock, while I didn't ride any of Annavale at all, costing me about 2km in all. Not a big deal, but it dented my pride somewhat.
There was no sign of any bikes at the first cafe on the right, so I kept riding towards the Caltex. There I grabbed some OSMs and various other bits and pieces, and while paying enquired about the best place to grab some food. The woman at the counter recommended Max's back down the road, so, seeing as it was the way I was headed, I took her advice. Once there, I ordered a cup of coffee, and some scrambled eggs with some extra toast. I seem to recall smashing down a muffin too! Jasper turned up, and ordered some delicious looking pasta. Food envy in an event like this really is hard to suppress, unless you're watching someone eat an energy bar...
I txted some folks at home suggesting I was going to pull the pin on Hanmer Springs that night, and aim for Culverden instead. I'd felt really crap in the morning, and wasn't certain I could cope with the extra 37km to Hanmer on top of what was already a huge day. I copied Simon in on the message in case he was around, and sure enough got a call a minute later. He, Chris, Tim and Thomas were at a cafe further down the road, and joined Jasper and I shortly. They'd independently come to the same conclusion about Hanmer Springs, and so the search for accommodation in Culverden or Hurunui ensued. Eventually Simon made a booking at a motel in Culverden, and asked them to set aside a loaf of bread and some spreads for us. "No problem, but we'll be closing the office at 11pm, so we need you here by then." That gave us a good ten hours to get there, and we anticipated that would be plenty.
I set off to make up the Annavale Road section, and arranged to meet Simon at the intersection with Pocock. As we rode down Pocock Simon asked about the status of my GPS unit as he didn't have notes for this section (though I'm certain he had the topo maps stowed away). No sooner had I confirmed all was well, Simon realised he'd left his camelbak somewhere in Springfield. He whipped his bike around, and I kept going. I could see Chris and Tim ahead when I made the turn into Frasers Rd, but knew Simon would have no such luxury by the time he got back. Seeing as I wasn't in a rush, and we'd barely ridden together, I pulled off the road, and lay in the shade of a hedgerow, taking advantage of a nice bit of down-time. Actually, it was a pretty sweet spot, and I enjoyed the best part of 10 minutes doing some stretching, and relishing in the opportunity to lie down and close my eyes for a minute or two. Jasper rocked past telling me what I already knew, and before long Simon himself arrived, clearly pissed off at his mistake. He'd left his map out on the counter too, so it was probably just as well the bag had been with it as he'd unlikely have remembered the missing map.
I hadn't told him I would stop, and so he was probably pretty relieved to see me. We caught Jasper in Sheffield, and I made the scheduled call-in just as a freight train bound for the West Coast rolled past. Curse my luck!
It was reassuring to have the GPS unit still alive as we made the series of turns into the start of the Wharfedale. We were 4 by the time we turned away from Oxford, having caught up to Thomas and Chris who had missed a turn after crossing the Waimakariri. There were a bunch of gates on the gravel road up to the Wharfedale, and Chris dropped his SPOT tracker at one point, so we were pretty slow getting through there as courtesy (and probably the desire to rest) kicked in. Consequently we started the track as a group.
Thomas was having brewer's droop issues with his gear dangling off to one side of his rear carrier, and Chris was having trouble on the more technical sections of what was the nicest bit of mountainbiking of the whole route. I followed Chris for a while, admiring his retro woollen jersey and retro saddlebag.
After blasting ahead to get a photo, I eventually made my way past him, and was soon overcome by impetuous desire. A couple of minutes later my legs and lungs were starting to burn, and I finally realised I'd been enjoying the beech-forest singletrack a little too much. I quickly buttoned off but had taken some time out of Simon so was close by when I heard a strange noise, followed by an obscene exclamation from him. He'd reached a tight switchback which had previously had some retaining boards. The boards had disappeared leaving some short waratah sections protruding dangerously from the ground. While focussing on avoiding a couple with his front wheel, the rear had swung in to short-cut the corner, and had snagged on the steel, tearing a short gash in the sidewall. The Stan's jizz was no match for a cut of its size, and so Simon set the bike down to insert a tube.
It's hard to break long-held habits so I too stopped, and started fossicking around in my seat bag for my tyre boot. It turned out to be bigger than Simon's and nice and chunky (trimmed from an old Michelin road tyre) so he gladly accepted it. He also took advantage of my pump, which at probably double the weight of his very sexy pump, definitely is a more efficient tool for inflating a 2.0 tyre! The boot was doing its job nicely, so after packing up, we were good to go again.
The change was relatively quick, and we soon moved past Thomas who was still having luggage problems. We also caught and passed Tim, and caught up to Chris just before the Wharfedale Hut. Tim had warned me about the water deterioration beyond the hut, and I regretted not heeding his advice at the last stream we forded with its beautifully clear water. Chris too was on the prowl for water, and was debating to head off to the supply down below the hut.
I was pleased enough to not get stung on the wang, after sorting my bib-shorts out for a quick leak only to see the ground below swarming with wasps. I tucked myself away and went and found a quieter spot, squirming at the thought of how unpleasant a wasp-sting to one's nether regions would be! It still makes me squirm a bit actually...!
There was very little singletrack of note beyond the hut, and soon we were out in Lees Valley. The 4WD track surface was pretty lousy, and the first section required several crossings of the river, during which Simon, Tim and I lost touch of Chris and Thomas. The etiquette of this sort of event is hard to establish, and the "every-man-for-himself" ethos is pretty easy to lean on, especially when you're tired and just want to get to bed. On the other hand, company is very nice to have, not only to help pass the time, but also for logistical reasons of safety and route-finding.
At some point in Lees Valley we caught up to Micki who had just finished repairing a puncture on his Ventana 29er. We had a chat to him - I hadn't seen him since Havelock or thereabouts! Once we hit the gravel through Lees Valley and on to Okuku Pass Rd, Micki dropped back, and Simon, Tim and I took turns driving the pace through the valley. There was a fair bit of climbing, but eventually we had our bikes over the gate at The Brothers, and we were in the private land section Simon had negotiated access to.
We had a quick snack, with Simon tucking into a delicious looking piece of chocolate cake. My food envy was in full swing when a large hunk of cake fell to the ground landing squarely on a dried cowpat. I contemplated the situation in a split second, before asking Simon whether he was going to pick that bit up and eat it. I guess because he was able to enjoy the majority of the wedge with no cowpat contamination, he declined, mocking me for even suggesting it be eaten. With Tim looking on in amusement, I calmly bent over and picked the piece up. I didn't bother going through the motions of dusting it down - over the last few days I'd ingested worse after following cars down dusty roads and gasping for air beneath a bright white light and all the flying insects it attracted. The small bit of cake was just as delicious as it looked, and it hit the spot nicely! The costs be damned...
The roads through MacDonald Downs were in stunning condition - smooth, and wide - though they spelt the end of my water supply. I regretted more than ever not taking Tim's advice about refilling at the last stream crossing before the hut. After a bit of a roller-coaster ride of climbs followed by fast descents, and a very cool signpost not unlike the one at Makara Peak, we reached the far end of the property, and were within coo-ee of two farmhouses.
Back during the chocolate cake episode, I'd suggested Simon (as event organiser) pay a visit to the owner, and thank them very much for access through the land, "oh, and by the way, could you fill these bottles? And, do you have any roast dinner lurking around that you don't want?" Alas, it was unclear where we should go, and besides, the 11pm deadline at Culverden was looking pretty shaky. Instead, we pressed on, and I refilled my bottles at a sprinkler tap, firing a couple of iodine tabs in each just to be safe.
One of the downsides of plotting the route on mapmyride was that my expectations were a little out of whack. I was expecting a fairly major road, but it was simply a good old New Zealand back-country gravel road that greeted us. The sun was going down, and accordingly lights had been prepped. As we ground up the last big hill, I looked back to see where Tim was to see a second white light on the climb behind him. I guessed it was probably Chris - the other likely options being Thomas or Micki. He was still a few hundred metres away, so when Tim crested the hill, we couldn't really afford to wait, and got straight into the "getting to Culverden on time" business.
The gravel road at speed was pretty sketchy. There was generally a good line in the wheel ruts, and we were making good speeds. However, off that line was often a treacherous pile of loose gravel, and any foray into that had sometimes dicey consequences. In one instance, Simon was ahead and both Tim and I simultaneously lost control of our bikes. Magically we both managed to stay upright, but it was a close call for both of us, and came out of nowhere.
We met a couple of vehicles which threw up dust and briefly made for challenging conditions with our strong white lights. Eventually Tim had had enough near misses, and felt discretion was the better part of valour, and eased off. Unlike Simon and I, Tim was carrying sleeping gear, shelter, and porridge, and had no tight deadlines to meet. No doubt his incredibly long ride for a pie taught him a lesson or two about how best to cope in this sort of event.
Now just a familiar two-some, Simon and I plugged away at the miles. My back-lit GPS unit was fired up at regular intervals, with quite abit of route choice to be done. I pitied anyone who'd have to navigate their way through these roads in the dark with just cue sheets or maps. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally came to the end of the gravel, and reached SH7 through to Culverden. An AA sign read 14km to go, and a time check indicated we had 35 minutes to make our deadline. We'd been hammering it on the gravel roads for a bit over an hour, and had left Arthurs Pass at 7am, so it had been a long day. All that mattered little though, and the end was in sight.
Simon, aware that only one of us needed to meet the proprietor, suggested we toss a coin. After fumbling around for one for what seemed like forever, he found one and tossed it. I called heads - it was tails, and it was Simon's choice. After an agonizing wait, I heard two little words... "you go". Actually, it was much simpler than that - "14km in 35 minutes - you'll be sweet! See you there!" No need for a coin.
The road was quiet, and the conditions perfect. I adopted my favoured position with my hands hooked over my avid brake levers, and my butt just so on the saddle easing the pain in my raw patch ever so slightly. Hunched over the bars, I found the right gear ratio and my preferred cadence, and got into it. It was basically a straight, flat run into Culverden, and the lights on the main road flickered off into the distance. It seemed like it took an eternity to reach them, but with 10:54 reading on my watch I was welcomed to Culverden by a sign on the side of the road. After riding through town, I rang the motel for confirmation of their location - I was only a few hundred metres short. Seconds later I could see the owner walking out to the road to flag me down, and soon after that, I was processing the payment and making idle chit-chat.
Darren was already ensconsed in the room next to us - he never ceased to amaze me at how he got through the same load as us with so little apparent fuss. His feet were a sight to behold - trench foot he said! We chatted for a while, and then Simon turned up. Soon we were joined by Chris, and Thomas stopped in to say gidday too. The motelier had made some filled rolls for us (1 each) and had provided a loaf of bread. There was plenty of marmite, but less peanut butter and jam. Nonetheless, eating something was far better than nothing.
I enjoyed a nice hot shower, despite the shower head being aimed only a little higher than my navel. Who are these short people that motels are so often designed for?! Chris scored the double bed for the night, and Simon and I shared the two singles in the other room. He hit the sack a minute before I did, and by the time I went in, he was already asleep. It had been another hard day, not quite what we'd hoped for - we were gunning for Hanmer - but we were very well positioned to get to Blenheim the next day...