Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mon petit Petit Brevet

Since the ill-fated Whaka 100, my excitement about Tim Mulliner's "Le Petit Brevet" had been slowly eroding as it became more and more certain that I'd not been able to take part.  A couple of months ago, Simon and I had pored over maps and spent a couple of hours on the internet, analysing the course and its services.  We had flights booked, and an accommodation booking for Okains Bay.  I'd sourced new Ortlieb bags from wiggle.co.uk, and after the Triangle Trip and of course the Kiwi Brevet, had my gear list dialed.   Sadly, as the weeks went by, training was non-existent, and my knee-niggle refused to settle.  The Great Forest Rogaine was too stern a test, and a fortnight out, full participation was out of the question.  I was uncertain about whether being on-course would affect riders' enjoyment of the unsupported nature of the event, but Simon was encouraging.  Finally, the point of no-return came, and on Wednesday I made the decision to head down with Simon, and ride gently through the middle of the course, short-cutting all but a couple of essential hills. 

Rather than opting out completely, I decided to still take the light-weight approach.  I packed an almost-complete set of clothes:  Skins leggings, a pair of Ground Effect Juggernauts - slightly more bulky than my stubbies, but much easier on the eye - a long sleeved woollen top, and a woollen beanie.  Undies and socks were the thin end of the wedge as far as comforts go, so didn't make the cut.  As the weekend drew nearer, the weather forecast worsened, and so I added a woolen singlet, and my Ground Effect over-trou - scorned by me at first sighting, but I'm now unable to deny their worth.  Riding gear consisted of trusty Roadworks bibs, knee-warmers, my soigneur.co.nz woollen jersey, and the very versatile Ground Effect Flash Gordon.  Zip-off sleeves are a great thing for those of us that tend to overheat.  The jersey was of course a tough call, but I couldn't bring myself to look like I was in race mode. 

In my handlebar bag went a bunch of accessories:  zipties, tyre boot, patch kit, multitool, Sweet Cheeks chamois cream, meds, suncream, lip balm, the awesome Led Lenser headtorch I got from Ma and Pa for my recent birthday, a short cable lock, toothbrush and paste (regular sized!), a survival blanket, bog roll and some lube.  Since I was on holiday, I also packed Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, and a slightly better camera than the one my cellphone sports.  I had a photocopy of the 1:250000 series map of the Banks Peninsula, and three OSM bars and a small block of chocolate for emergencies.  These bits and pieces all fitted nicely into my handlebar bag, and the clothes went in my seat bag. Pump, a tube and a couple of bottles were on the bike, as was my Garmin Edge.  Ironically, I chose not to pack my charger.

Fully loaded for a weekend away!
At 11am, I left work and met Simon for the ride to the airport.  We made decent time, and were able to strip down the bikes at a leisurely pace.  They both clocked in at around the 13kg mark with seat bags included.

The flight to Christchurch passed quickly, and soon we were rebuilding the bikes.  One of Simon's aerobars had been rotated on the carbon handlebar, and one of my seat-stays now sports a bare patch.  Otherwise, everything seemed in order.  We rode into the centre of town, and soon found ourselves at the Cycle Trading Company on Manchester St.  What an awesome bike shop!  We sifted in there for ages, admiring the great range of commuter and touring gear, and some of the ancient bikes hanging from the ceiling. 

This Jones Special was my favourite...

We made some purchases, including a Bontrager feed bag, and then headed off towards Tim Mulliner's place.  Not only had he organised an event for us, but was kindly putting us up for the night too.  En route, we chilled out at a small park, and enjoyed catching up for the first time in what seemed ages.  One of the downsides of me being injured...

 We made one final stop at the New Brighton pier before finding Tim's place nearby.

It was great to catch up with Tim, and his partner Tina, both Kiwi Brevet vets.  Tina had prepared a delicious lasagne, and I was envious at Tim and Simon's excuse to tuck into seconds, thirds, and maybe even fourths.  We eventually cut the conversations short, and turned in.

The alarms went off fairly early, and at about 6:45am we set off for Hansen Park near the bottom of Rapaki Track.

Tim and Simon fully loaded for 300km of hills

It was a nice ride, and I had a good opportunity to observe the two distinct setups.  Tim had most of his gear on his back, while Simon didn't seem to have much gear at all! 

We were among the first to arrive and with every new arrival came the opportunity to investigate a new setup.  It was hard for me to be there and not to be participating fully, but I knew I'd made a good decision - both to withdraw from the event but still to head down to Christchurch.  It was good to see some of the Kiwi Brevet crew - Ollie, Michi and Jasper.  I was disappointed not to see Darren Tatom, and even missed him a bit later as I watched the riders go by!

There were a few fasinating setups, not least mfw's (from vorb) steed with his entire food supply electrical-taped to his frame.  Ingenious!

At about 7:45, Tim started the briefing, and I slunk off, in search of a decent photo spot on Rapaki.  I followed my nose and soon found a likely place.  After continuing up the hill a bit, I realised the first place had been the best I'd find, and had a short ride back down the hill to it.  About 10 minutes later, the riders were visible, and I got shooting!

Ollie (r) and Lance leading the charge

Event organiser, Tim Mulliner (L), and Darren Tatom.  Michi Speck in behind.
The field were spread over a few minutes, and when the last came by, I saddled up and joined them on the ascent of Rapaki.  I passed a few, then stopped for a few more snaps.

The field makes its way up Rapaki
At the top, I met scatter from vorb, and we cruised along the road together. We met and chatted to a few riders as they crossed from singletrack on one side of the road to the other, and even rode with someone taking their first shortcut!  We chatted to Jeff at Sign of the Kiwi while his espresso was being prepared!  Classic stuff.

Further along Summit Road, Ahad, another vorber, zipped past - he'd had a late start.  The descent to Gebbies Pass was sketchy, and I felt for Michelle on her road tyres.  Wet cattle stops on corners and skinny tyres shouldn't be forced to mix on fast descents. 

View down to Lyttelton Harbour

At Gebbies, we turned right and dropped down off the course.  We had a decent break at a very nice cafe down the bottom, and after yakking for an hour or so, Michelle delivered me to the end of the Little River Rail Trail, and then headed back towards Christchurch.  It had been really nice to have company, and great to meet someone I'd interacted with online for many years.

A kilometre or two into the rail trail, I stopped, and put my seat up a bit more, realising finally that it had been low since the plane trip.  The rail trail itself was very nice, and passed alongside Lake Ellesmere, apparently home to very many black swans and their bevy of "ugly ducklings", as well as all manner of herons.

Little River Rail Trail
The rail trail eventually left the side of Lake Ellesmere, and headed out onto the peninsula proper.  I almost came a cropper on a corner/drop/bridge combo which snuck up on me, but managed to avoid the ignominy of crashing on a Grade 1, suitable-for-all trail.  

I arrived at Little River to see the sad sight of one of the many earthquake-damaged buildings of the region.

I pulled in at the first cafe on the left, and struggled to choose lunch - everything looked so delicious.  I made a nice discovery in the magazine rack - not only was there a Spoke Magazine, but it was the edition in which my Kiwi Brevet article featured, including Caleb Smith's lovely photo of me cresting the Maungatapu Track.  How strange to see a photo of me riding in a Brevet while in the back of beyond not riding in a Brevet.

"Wish you were here" reads the title...
I took my time over my meal, but eventually headed outside again.  I lowered my seat a bit, pleased that an experiment on the rail trail had correctly identified the currently-correct seat height.  Within a few minutes' riding I was almost on the Brevet course, and just missed Ollie Whalley making a left turn towards Hilltop up ahead of me.  I found a nice spot near the intersection, and spent the next 30 minutes stretching before Simon and his brother-in-law and riding buddy for the weekend, David Drake, showed up.

Oh hurro!
I rode with them until the turnoff to Harman's track (the scene of the very first MTB event in NZ) where we separated for the ride up to Hilltop.  I cruised up SH75, and after what seemed like an eternity, swung into the carpark of the Hilltop pub, to find 5 bikes leaning against the wall.  Inside were Simon and David, with Ollie, Michi and Lance, and all were getting stuck into all manner of food and drink.  I was there for about 40 minutes before they took off up Summit Road, while I went to the top of Harman's Track to wait for the next riders.

After 20 minutes or so they arrived: Tim, and Geof, one of the guys who'd called me by "sifter" at the Whaka100.

Tim and Geof appear out of the cloud
I took my time packing away my camera, and then followed them along Summit Road.  I was tempted to wait at the Double Fenceline trailhead, but wasn't certain there'd be anyone still on that part of the course, so continued.  Visibility was down to about 20m in parts, which made for some nervewracking riding.  I ignored the turnoff to Little Akaloa - that taken by the others - and proceeded down the ridge to Okains Bay Road.

No sooner had I passed a sign reading "give way to uphill traffic" and negotiated a steep switchback, than I almost got run off the road by a granny intent on straddling the centre line in her car.  I was very pleased to be so narrow!

The descent to Okains Bay was a long one, and I had a strong urge to live here for a while - I wasn't looking forward to the ride back out in the morning.  Espresso Jeff's sister Karen was down at the Bay store, and was piling into a pack of fish'n'chips.  She'd missed Double Fenceline, and was chilling out waiting for her bro.  We nattered for a while until I started to cool down and headed off to find my digs.  When I got there Simon and David were there, and Tim was there too.  At one mention of hot chips Tim disappeared, and after about 15 minutes, the three of us joined him.

There was quite a crowd, and it was fun hearing the various accounts of the day's riding, and it was fantastic to have such a well-stocked store to spend time and money at!  After dinner, Tim decided he'd head off, joined by Geof.  David, Simon and I left Karen and headed back to the backpackers, giving at least one more rider directions as he passed in search of food.

After about 10 minutes in the communal lounge, gazing into space and being entertained by Simon's factoids about birds, and their upper and lower mandibles, and semiplumes, I realised I'd hauled a book all this way and rushed off to get it.  Someone had a Neil Young CD playing, and I was able to listen to Heart of Gold - a song which Kaitlyn had spent the last term at school learning to play on the guitar.  What a beautiful reminder of the opportunity costs of these adventures.

Eventually it was time to turn in, and despite the room smelling of something proverbial, sleep came easy.

When I awoke, the other two beds in the room were empty.  I trust Simon and David had been courteously quiet, but was quite shocked that I hadn't heard them leave at all.  They'd left me a couple of hard-boiled eggs - I ate one, polished off the half packet of Tim Tams from dessert the night before, and set off.  I realised I'd forgotten to fill my water bottle, and upon finding the store closed, decided I'd manage.  Rather than grovel up the devil I knew, I decided to follow the Brevet riders on the gravel climb out of the bay.

What Hill Road?!  Gulp...
While the climb was too steep for me to ride in places, the views it afforded were well worth it, and the sections I walked were good opportunities for a bit more breakfast.

I had a short diversion through some private land, before eventually concluding the farm track I was on was not Cameron's Track up to summit road. Rather than back-track, I pushed up the hillside before soon regaining the correct route.  As I climbed, the road got more and more exposed, and soon I had my overtrou on. 

View down to Okains Bay

The track crested a high-point before a fast descent to Summit Road. I'd intended to retrace my "steps" of the day before back to Hilltop, but the wind was so bitter, I turned around and instead dropped down to Akaroa Harbour.  At Duvauchelle, I met Karen and Jeff, who'd camped out on Big Hill Road in a shed, with Ahad for company.  They'd decided to pull the pin and were setting off to Hilltop to meet some friends in the sag-wagon.

I had coffee on my mind though, and in true when-in-Rome style, a plate of French Toast.  The wait for food was punctuated by the sobering discovery of the explosion at Pike River Coal mine, but it was otherwise nice to be a little less isolated.  After a nice break, it was time to saddle up again.  The climb to hilltop went surprisingly quickly, and I was flagged down by Jeff, so stopped in the garden for a bit.  He was there with Karen, as well as Claude (who Simon had almost crashed into on the lake-front at the Great Forest Rogaine) who was also calling it quits.  There too were Roscoe and Dominator (more vorb-handles) who'd obviously been home overnight!  They reported Ollie had finished at 5am - what a machine!

Rather than head down SH75, I took Harman's Track which the others had climbed the previous day.  The gravel section was steep with plenty of corrugations, and I was glad for my suspension fork and light load.  No sooner had the gravel turned to seal when I encountered an SUV hurtling towards me.  I shat myself, but not nearly as much as the driver, who I suspect was lucky to keep his vehicle on the road.  We were both lucky I was well to the left and so narrow!

Soon after I was back at Little River, with a bunch of riders with only Lake Ellesmere Spit, Kennedy's Bush climb up the Port Hills and a whole bunch of flat kilometres left ahead of them.  I chatted to Ahad a bit, and Claude again, and then grabbed a little to eat.  I sat outside, and enjoyed watching randoms perusing the bikes in the stands. 

Claude at Little River

I left with Sean and John, and rode with them as far as their turnoff.  I enjoyed a bit of a tail wind, and was soon at Tai Tapu, and ready for another sit-down.  My knee was really aching by now, and so I popped a voltaren with my icecream sundae, and settled in for a bit of reading, hopefully letting the anti-inflammatory start to take effect.

The ride back to Tim and Tina's wasn't over nearly quickly enough.  They were both home, and it was good to see them.  I listened intently to Tim's tales of a cold and short night in the public loos at Little River, including details about how they'd rigged up the hand-dryer to stay on (until a fuse blew).  There was no sign of Simon and when I flicked him a txt I head his phone peep in the next room. 

Tim and I headed out for pizza around the time it started to rain, and Simon arrived soon after we returned.  More tales ensued, and the evening became rather hilarious when Tim brought out an old copy of Classic New Zealand Mountainbike Rides, and his very own pie-rating system, and some great hand-written notes! 

Tim and Simon's energy belied their exertions, but eventually common sense prevailed and we all turned in.  I got up in the morning in time to thank Tim and Tina for their hospitality.  Simon awoke soon after they left, and soon he and I were heading off towards the airport.

We stopped briefly at a pie shop, and I was finally able to take another voltaren - I bloody needed it as my knee was killing me.  We made another stop about 10 minutes ride from the airport - near a bike shop that the Kennett Bros had done some debt collection from in Classic New Zealand style. 

We arrived at the airport with enough time to not have to rush, and were soon back in Wellington.  The voltaren was doing its thing by this stage, and the ride around Evans Bay to work, tail-wind and all, was pleasant enough.

Simon and I parted at Te Papa.  We'd ridden in excess of 500km over the weekend between us, and while both having entirely different experiences of the good and bad of the Banks Peninsula, it, once again, had been bloody good to get out.

1 comment:

  1. Nice work, John. Although you weren't able to participate as fully as you'd have liked, it's great you were still able to be a part of the event. Hope the knee comes right soon...