Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Not a Strong Ride, but a Good Ride

On the advice of my physio Jane at the highly regarded Capital Sports Medicine, I've been chilling out since the Brevet.  I tried riding to work last Monday but my knee was pretty tender, and when I treated myself to a full body massage on Tuesday it swelled up.  So, the next day I trundled off the physio, and was sent away with some compression bandage and R.I.C.E...

After a week of enduring busses, the odd drive to the fringe of the city, and another session with Jane, today it was time to put the knee to the test with a flat ride.  Coincidentally, I had an errand to run out in Petone - my Ridestrong membership pack had been processed, and included in it was an XL Ridestrong jersey.  It turns out I'm not an XL and more - not that I ever was in the cut of this jersey, and so one phonecall later, I'd arranged to swap it out at BikeNZ HQ for a large.

There was a northerly blowing, and so I got to look forward to a tailwind on my homewade journey.  I found myself a nice comfortable gear - 36 x something smallish, but not too small - and spun away, enjoying some pain free riding for the first time in a while.

I stopped at the BP station to fill my empty water bottle, and apart from a bit of confusion after the Petone offramp, I got out to Hutt Park in one piece. 

Simon, the memberships guy met me at reception and took me into the office to swap the jerseys.  I recognised John Willmer (Cycling Development Manager) and we nattered for a bit.  He and his colleagues had enjoyed following the Brevet online!  As John was showing me out, I was introduced to Benji Hall (Marketing Communications Manager) and enjoyed a chat to him too.  

The ride back into town was even more pleasant with the wind giving me a slightly-more-than-gentle nudge from behind.  Against my better judgement, I couldn't resist grabbing a photo of my new jersey, though in hindsight I should have been more patient and waited for a quieter stretch of road...

I got as far as Bordeaux before having to stop for some food, although this didn't come soon enough to prevent me flipping it into the big chain ring, out of habit.  I've done a few stretches this evening, and apart from a little stiffness around the place, and a wee bit of tenderness in the knee still, all seems in order.  Probably not quite good enough for a blast up Mt Vic on Monday lunchtime, but should be good enough for the Karapoti Original on Sunday week.  I'm having trouble shaking off my post-Brevet appetite, so amping up the exercise side of the budget has got to happen sooner rather than later!

Apart from testing the knee, it was good to get out to BikeNZ finally.  They seemed really interested in everyone's stories about the Brevet, and were keen to hear what might be in store in the future.  I'm glad to have signed up to Ridestrong, lured in by their February-only offer of a free jersey with a $49 registration.  It turns out Rabobank even slings the cash into an account for me!  Score!  Gotta love shopping on the internet (you only have until Sunday)...!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kiwi Brevet - Reflections

I tried to keep the introspective stuff out of my previous Brevet posts, but it had to come, didn't it?!

What an incredible adventure! And strangely, it's one I've barely been able to get out of my mind since. Almost within hours of finishing the Brevet (well of finishing my 48 hour "meal" after it), I was thinking about doing it again, not once, but twice. And this, after telling more than one person that once was enough...

I figure it would be nice to do it once at a more leisurely pace. I'd make sure that I got to climb to Arthurs Pass during daylight hours, and soak in hot pools at Hanmer. And have a 4-shot, half-litre latte in Reefton without fear of puking ten minutes later when already back on the bike... I'd never have to rush to get to bed, and would have time to write proper posts for the web, and would have more photos to talk about.

The competitor which surely lurks within me somewhere, would also like me to compete against myself once more. I'm certain the secret to finishing this Brevet "fast" is to stay at Springfield at the end of Day 3. It would then be a long but relatively straightforward ride to Hanmer for dinner before bedding down at Acheron ready for a 7am start. It's not completely clear to me where to start the Day 3 assault from though. Perhaps Big River Hut? And getting there's not going to be trivial. No cruisy Day 1 finishing in Maitai Valley though, that's for sure. And spending 35 minutes back-tracking for a coat would be a definite no-no - there'd be no place for silly mistakes. Socialising would have to play no part in this version. I would need to take full advantage of my competitive edges: I can be ready to go from sound asleep to on the bike in 10 minutes flat, and I can eat so fast that if I'm eating with others and don't religiously wait for all the food to arrive before tucking in, I can clear my plate before someone's even seen theirs.

Looking at all that, maybe I'm really back to doing the Brevet only once more. The problem is, Version 2 looks to me nothing like a Brevet's meant to be. There'd be no photos, and no new Facebook friends at the end. If it went to plan, it might become a thing of legend, but it would be so solitary. It might as well be done alone, at Easter...

There were a lot of specific things I loved about the Brevet, and as Simon alluded to in his comment on my gear list, my Brevet lasted a hell of a lot longer than 5 days. I really enjoyed getting fit, including doing targeted (and slightly mad) hill sessions building up to the sort of climbing we might expect day after day. I loved sorting out what gear to take, and how to carry it. Tweaking the bike was a lot of fun too. I loved sorting out the technology side of things. A cell phone makes a great notepad, and a GPS unit a great navigational tool (provided it's got good info uploaded to it, and has enough juice to have it on...). All this started way back in October, and motivated (along with the Ak Attack) some pretty sweet riding.

The Brevet itself was packed with challenges, both physical and mental, often side by side. As anyone who's read back knows, I'm fairly clear that my mind controls my legs, and if my mind isn't on the ball, yesterday's fantastic legs can very easily be today's shite. Luckily, the mind came to the party day after day, at least regard to getting the legs fired up.

The riding in "my Brevet" was damn hard, and so much of it was alone, but I think the freshness of it made me relish the experience more than fear it. In fact, I was never scared, which surprises me a little somewhat. We really were in tiger country a lot of the time, and I don't think anyone could be blamed for freaking out at an indistinct intersection in the bush, or alone on a pitch black road with energy levels starting to wane...

Simon and I had trained together a lot over the months preceding the Brevet, but we went into the event without explicitly defining what we might expect from each other. We'd booked accommodation together, but even that came with no guarantees. I went in feeling incredibly untested, whether that was reflective of the true situation or not. It's not always easy being associated with someone with such huge experience as Simon, his CV extending to World Championships back in the day, and his incredible 4000km Brevet - the Great Divide Race of 2008.

Not being able to predict my own performance meant I couldn't predict any potential strain on our friendship. In the end, I think our friendship worked well for both of us, and we got to enjoy a small amount of chilling out at the end of the day in familiar company, shared some cost efficiencies, and had someone to talk to at crucial parts of the event. Simon's insistence I eat his gingernuts probably saved me from crashing my brains almost within sight of Blenheim, and he'd probably have missed his room booking at Culverden, or more likely he'd have done the business, but wouldn't have had so much in the tank the next day. I also really hate to think of him leaving that delicious chunk of chocolate cake on the "ground" and regretting it later. I'd like to think that as he fought off hunger pangs on the blast towards Hurunui, at least he knew it had gone to a good home!

I found my obligation to others much simpler, though I sometimes felt a bit cut-throat. It was weird riding away from Jasper on his singlespeed at times (I bet it wasn't weird for him when it was the other way round! TAKE THAT GEARDO!), or leaving Tim, Chris or Thomas to sort out load issues, or heading out of town when someone's only just arrived. On the other hand, I knew well enough how hard it is to ride at someone else's pace, and so could justify it to myself on that basis. Plus, we were all there to test ourselves, and sometimes it's easier to do that when no-one's watching (internet viewers aside...).

I've seen plenty of evidence that the Brevet was a great thing since getting back home. It was very very cool to read the discussion on VORB and around the place as the event unfolded. It was also great to see new connections being made, and to read about people thinking ahead to future brevets. Nothing delighted me more though than a Facebook message "Charlotte Ireland and Jeff Lyall are now friends". I'm a little bemused by this reaction to tell the truth, and I've spouted about it before, so there's probably similar emotions out there among you.

I do like how the Brevet brought people together though. I was friends (in the Facebook sense) with both Jeff and Charlotte. We'd wave on road rides, or stop and chat on a sifty MTB ride, and probably stop for a quick chat before or after a race. Jeff and Charlotte weren't friends before the Brevet (obviously), but as Wellingtonians had more than likely been at the same events on many occasions. They ended up moving together through the Brevet course, in the same way that Tim, Simon, Jasper, Darren, Thomas, Chris and I did. It was cool that the Brevet put them on each other's radar, in a way that I really doubt any other event could have. Nice!

As if there's any doubt, I can't wait for the next event of this type. Hopefully Simon and I can put together a simple HOW-TO on organising a Brevet. I love the idea of seeing more of this beautiful country! So much so, that I've already started scoping out a course for a central North Island 3-4 dayer...

As usual, I get near the end of a post, and wonder whether I've said what I meant to say... I hope so... 


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kiwi Brevet - Gear Review

  • Bike:  2009 Giant XTC Advanced SL.  The best money can buy.  Many thanks to Giant New Zealand for hooking me up.
  • Fork:  White Brothers Rock Solid carbon rigid fork.  Suspension corrected for 26", 425mm axle to crown accomodates 29er wheel.
  • Wheels:  front 29" Stan's ZTR355 on Hope Pro II hub with DT Spokes built from new by Oli Brooke-White.  Rear same but 26", rebuilt by Oli one week out, with all spokes replaced (ex-Simon Kennett GDR wheel)
  • Tyres:  front:  29er Stan's Raven 2.0, rear:  26" Stan's Raven 2.2, both with Stan's sealant.
  • Drive:  Shimano XT (except front derailleur, XTR, ex-Simon Kennett GDR)
  • Brakes:  Avid Juicy 5, 160mm rotors
  • Pedals:  Shimano XTR
  • Bar and stem:  Specialized S-Works carbon riser, with ESI Silicone Chunky grips, Singletrack Solutions plastic bar ends.  Raceface Evolve XC stem.
  • Seat and post:  Ritchey WCS Carbon seatpost (mmmmm...) and Fizik Arione saddle.
  • Rack: rack mounted on front fork.
  • Bags:  Topeak Tri bag mounted to top tube, Topeak Aero Large seat bag with Q-spear bungee, Pacific Outdoor Pneumo 5L dry bag, Camelbak Mule with 3L bladder
  • Other:  2 x stainless steel bottle cages, front and rear Kathmandu LED lights, Fibre Flare rear light (I must have had at least a dozen people ask me what it was on my rear stay...)
All expertly and lovingly assembled and checked by Oli Brooke-White over months before the event.

The bike was absolutely perfect, but it made a huge difference being familiar with it fully loaded up. I'd taken it around Makara Peak (including down Ridgeline Track) and up the Skyline to Kau Kau, as well as riding it a bit over Mt Vic.  I'd also done plenty of riding on it unloaded to make sure the seat height and cockpit set-up were spot on.

I had some chafing on one of my sit bones - fairly standard I guess - though I suspect the skin was a little inflamed going in.  What started off as a small blemish (maybe a pimple) was an open 2cm patch by the end of day 2.  Chamois cream (see below) was essential to get through this.

My gloves and grip combination (as well as the front tyre and carbon fork and bar) were out of this world the best I could have hoped for (I reckon).  I have one numb finger (#4 on my right hand, go figure) one week on, but that's it.

The event would have been impossible to do on this bike without the rack mounted on the front fork.  It performed admirably, and apart from sliding down the fork a bit when wet, gave me no drama whatsoever.  A great test of a great Kiwi product!

I never really got on top of the loading of the seat bag.  Any time I needed anything from it, I was lucky to not have to empty the whole thing out.  I don't know how necessary the bungee was, but it gave me good peace of mind if nothing else.  I didn't carry my camelbak on my back at all, but would have if the weather was hotter (with the extra 3L of water).

I wouldn't change anything about my set-up, except perhaps putting a 2.2 Raven on the front.  Oh, and not getting a saddle sore...

  • Ultimo bib shorts and short sleeve riding jersey.  1 pair Icebreaker woollen socks.  Louis Garneau shoes with 3 velcro straps.  Very stiff
  • Specialized BG Gel short-finger gloves
  • Giro Atmos roadie helmet and cotton roadie cap
  • Adidas sunglasses (the ones that are on special each year at Taupo)
Perfect.  Wouldn't change a thing.  

Having only one of everything worked fine possibly only because it wasn't too hot, and because I was able to shower and rinse the chamois each night.  Even the socks didn't get too horrid.  One of my feet showed some signs of trench foot on the last day, but not until then.

The gloves were key for comfort, and I also rate the nice light, highly vented, helmet.

  • Skins full length tights - I wore these to bed each night
  • Warriors footy shorts - I wore these to protect others' sensibilities definitely could have done without but would have been useful if we ended up walking anywhere in an evening...  We didn't...
  • Icebreaker long sleeve shirt (150 weight)
  • Icebreaker socks (same as riding socks, but cleaner.  I only wore these once...)
  • Mellow Johnnie's long sleeve Santini riding jersey
  • Louis Garneau knee warmers
  • Ground Effect Baked Beanie
  • Ground Effect Flash Gordon
Perfect, wouldn't change a thing - except maybe forget the shorts.


    • SPOT satellite tracking unit
    • Sony Ericsson C510a phone with 3.2MP camera.  Sealine Cellphone Dry Bag
    • Credit card, EFT-POS card, Driver's Licence in bank coin bag, and about $80 cash
    • Homemade helmet mounted light with 8 x AA rechargable battery pack
    • Garmin Edge 705 GPS unit, mounted on stem
    • 60mL bottle of Finish Line Cross Country wet lube
    • 2 x 26" inner tubes, taped to top tube.
    • Giant Control Mini 3 pump, mounted in bracket on seat tube
    • Tyre boot (3.5 x 7cm piece of old Michelin road tyre), single Tacx tyre lever, patch kit, new glue.
    • Lezyne V10 multitool
    • SRAM Powerlink Connector
    • Sweet Cheeks Butt Butter (invaluable... - used mornings 2-5) decanted into a small (3cm diameter - the Wattyl lolly jar from Taupo's race pack would have been perfect, but I didn't notice I had one until after buying something from Plastic Box...) ointment bottle
    • Sun Sense Clear Gel SPF30+ decanted into a 60mL hand sanitizer bottle (used mornings 2-5)
    • Iodine tabs
    • 2 x 900mL drink bottles (marketed as 1L, but still bigger than anything I found locally...)
    • Nuun Lemon+Lime active hydration tabs
    • Strawberry Gu Chomps energy chews
    • assorted sticking plasters and strapping tape.  Paracetamol and panadol.  Several 75mg Voltaren tabs.  Antihistamines
    • Funky little travel toothbrush with a 5mL tube of colgate! 
    • Chapstick (unused, though I should have put some on to avoid slightly cracked lips now...)
    • Proven's Intimate wipes (Gynaecologically tested... - I didn't end up using any of these, having had overlooked my ability to shower each night)
    • toilet paper (approx 40 squares, "lent" to another rider...)
    • ear plugs (ex AC/DC concert, unused on this trip and discarded after night 2)
    • survival blanket (unused)
    • yellow lenses for sunnies (unused)
    • cell phone USB cable?! (unused, but would have been handy if my phone ran dry, assuming I could have got near a PC...)
    • very small (5cm or so) Victorinox pocket knife (unused)
    • 1m long cable lock and padlock
    • [FORGOTTEN] GPS unit charger...

    I'd also have taken the Allen key specific to the freeload rack and perhaps a couple of long zipties.  I realised in hindsight how much faith I'd put in a new product, and a few bolts here and there!  (It was well deserved though...).  I'd consider a set of brake pads next time - small cost with huge potential regrets if needed...

    The quantities of most things were perfect.  A second bag of Gu Chomps would have been wise though, and might have made a huge difference to my last day...

    I don't think I'd bother with my cell phone cable again.  I put the phone in flight mode except when blogging photos, making call ins, and on occasion at lunch stops to check messages etc.  This seemed to preserve battery life particularly well, and helped have the phone ready for photos.  To be honest, I hadn't fully considered the implications of learning to blog directly from the phone at the last minute (the cable was partly with photo upload in mind). 

    A lightweight sleeping bag is the next extra I'd consider.  But then, do you also add a bivvy bag or fly?  And a sleeping mat?  It's a really tricky one...

    I'd be super keen for some discussion on this list.  What do you reckon I should have had?  What was I lucky to not need?  Is there anything I should have left?  Comments please!!

    Postscript:  here's packing list 5.0 (January 2013)

    Kiwi Brevet - Day 5

    Despite not making it to Hanmer Springs as planned, this day still sounded so simple:  ride to Hanmer, then through the Molesworth back to Blenheim.  So straightforward...

    The day started earlier than most, with the siren going off at 5:30am.  The motelier had given us some small boxes of cereal but we were running low on milk, so the pickings were slim. Despite having very little to do, socialising took its toll, and it was 6:30 before we were ready to leave.  Today's load would be marginally lighter with my leftover butt butter and my toothbrush staying in the room!  This cycle-touring lark is not at all like tramping where the load gets lighter as the days go on!

    The road from Culverden to Hanmer Springs was pretty straightforward, and it was a simple matter of spinning the pedals around.  Roughly an hour and a half later Simon and I pulled into Hanmer Springs together.  He'd been up the road most of the time, but a pit stop had allowed me to pass him at the turn off.  Chris had fire in his legs after missing last night's train, and had been out of sight to me virtually the whole time.

    A slow drizzle was falling when I parked up outside a small dairy.  Tim was there with his meal well underway. I went inside and for some reason was underwhelmed by the selection.  Simon ordered a pie, and I followed suit, though I asked for a cold one.  I had in mind scoffing it quickly I guess.  It was about 8am, so after making the Hanmer call in, I rang Kaitlyn at home.  It had been difficult to coordinate speaking to her, what with the school day, limited stops and even more limited cell phone reception, and early starts and late finishes.  It was really nice to hear her voice, and to tell her that today was the day that I'd be done.

    I grabbed a coffee from the cafe on the corner, and walked my bike across the road to the supermarket.  It was closed, as Tim had warned me, but the bakery next door was open.  I headed in there, and grabbed an apple turnover and some treats for the day.  The woman kindly offered to put the takeaway stuff in gladwrap.  I think she'd seen my type before.

    When I got back out to my bike leaning outside the supermarket, Thomas was there, sporting a brand new pedal on his bike. Shimano XT on the left, and a $5 flat pedal with toe clip and strap on the right.  The base plate in his shoes had cracked 7km north of Culverden the night before, and with a distinct lack of shelter, and no doubt grave concern for the push home, he'd backtracked.  Darren had helped him tape his foot to his pedal, whereby he re-rode the 7km to start from where he'd left off. The owner of the local bike shop was lurking around by this stage wondering if any of us had called him to leave a chain and tool out.  "Not guilty!"  Thank goodness...

    Eventually the supermarket opened.  The bananas weren't that ripe, so I passed on those.  I grabbed an apricot and a one square meal to complement my baked goods.  The day wasn't shaping up to be hot, so I didn't bother with a powerade - the first time I'd left civilisation without a third drink bottle.  It was just through the Molesworth, and we'd be there.  Right?

    Tim and Chris were long gone by the time I was ready to go, and I assumed Darren was well away by now too.  He was consistently the earliest starter of our informal "group".  Thomas and Simon looked about set to go.

    Before I could saddle up, Simon suggested we spend the day in the hot springs instead of riding through to Blenheim.  I laughed at him, cringing at the thought of my raw arse in super-hot water, and jumped on my bike.

    After a few kilometres of seal, Jollies Pass Road eventually turned into gravel.  The Kennett Bros' ride profile had this climb shown pretty much like a cliff, although I was beginning to get the sense that the horizontal scale involved severely distorted the gradient of these climbs.  In fact, the road was in perfect nick, and the gradient wasn't too bad.  I stuck the bike into granny gear and spun my way up.  Simon had passed me during a quick pitstop near the start of the gravel, and when I eventually repassed him, chugging along with his disadvantaged gearing on the 29er, I was so overwhelmed I lost control of my bike and had to put my foot down.  Curses!  It's so nice not to have to do that on a long climb; not only does it completely wreck any rhythm you have, it's bloody hard to get going again, and it robs you of the important psychological boost borne by success. 

    Soon after, the climb mellowed out significantly, and life got much easier.  According to the altitude graph, that was the single-biggest climb of the day done.  I was feeling fresh, and my form was good.  My legs were feeling fine, and the pain in my butt was manageable.

    After a photo stop, a quick bite to eat, and clothing rationalisation, it was time to set off again, this time bound for Acheron Accomodation House, DOC's public hut at the southern boundary of the Molesworth Station.  The ride there was great, with the (gravel) road in excellent condition.  Simon wrote in the log-book, and I popped over to the long drop.  Damn, wearing bib-shorts is a nuisance sometimes!

    The Molesworth Station itself was about 65km from one end to the other, although in the middle it became Muller Station.  Not only did the name change, but the quality of the road deteriorated quite markedly.  By this stage the sun had also come out in full force requiring various stops to shed knee warmers and long sleeves, and to apply sunscreen.

    Somewhere along the way we were each offered a slice of apple out the window of an oncoming SUV.  Swapping notes with everyone back in Blenheim the next day there was a common theme - everyone got some apple, and everyone's apple tasted a bit weird.  The elderly couple must have had a whole bag in there, and the woman who was cutting them up must have recently applied moisturiser of some sort.  The apple was great, but the lingering aftertaste was not so great.

    As the corrugations started to take their toll on my body, I stopped and let a bit of air out of each of the tyres.  I found this a bit nervewracking, and probably could have let a whole lot more out.  I'm still a bit of a tubeless novice, and what experience I have had has been pretty unpleasant.  So far, so good on this trip though, and I didn't want to risk rolling the tyre off the rim now, nor getting a pinch flat on the rocky surface.  So, with plenty of air still in the tyres, I bashed along with vibrations passing through my super-stiff bike frame and fork into my wrists and legs.  Apparently you're better off at speed, but it's hard to find power when you've been riding so much, and you've got to overcome the bumps to do so.  I look back on my reluctance to stop to get these things sorted with a bit of bemusement.  Habits formed during intense two hour race efforts so easily carry over to these 70+ hour events, apparently...

    We eventually reached Molesworth, at the northern end of the station.   It was mid-afternoon, and well before the 7pm closure.  There was a good water supply, and I refilled my two bottles.  I scoffed the last of my bakery food, leaving only two one square meals for the "downhill" run home.  Tim was about to leave, but hung around to chat for a bit, and to curse the corrugations with us, and the apple!  We left together, and were straight into a climb.  Fueled by my final hunk of caramel slice, I shot up the hill, passing both Tim and Simon.  We rolled quickly down the other side, and we were straight into an almost identical climb.  My near-instant caramel-induced strength had all but disappeared, and by the time I reached the top, both Simon and Tim were out of sight.  In fact, the only sign I've seen of Tim since then has been online...
    Any chance I had of catching Tim was well and truly evaporated by a prick driving a flat deck truck with a load of timber on it.  Simon was ahead of me at this stage, and we were dropping into a wee gully with a left bend in the road.  The descent was fast, and as the road curved around the slight corner, you eventually had a similar ascent up the other side.  With a clear road, the best approach would have been to hammer it on the descent, and carry as much speed into the climb as possible.  With luck and good management you'd barely need to pedal on the other side.  I could see that Simon had had his climb disrupted by this truck, and calculated that I'd meet it at the very bottom of the descent - right where I'd be going fastest.  I eased off a little and watched him nervously.  The truck was coming fast - despite having a diesel motor and a bunch of gears, he seemed to have the same strategy as a cyclist would, though he seemed less concerned about other road users.  When he eventually came past me, my shoulder was within centimetres of his mirror, and he'd not slowed down at all.  Years of cycle-commuting in Wellington forced my instinctive reaction to shy away from him, and this shifting of my weight pushed me off the side of the road.  I was carrying decent speed still, and was very luck that there were no fenceposts, rocks or holes to ride into.  I'd have done myself some serious damage if I'd hit something, not to mention my bike.

    I stood in the field for a few seconds, catching my breath, and cleaning out my soiled shorts.  Then there was nothing for it but to get back on the road.  I took it slowly at first as the adrenaline flowed through my body.  I imagined stopping the guy on his return trip, but realised I had no way of doing so.  If I were to block his path, I was certain he'd just run me down like a hedgehog or possum...

    As my body started to wane, it was exacerbated by a change in the wind.  It was no longer hot and sunny, but we now had a cold headwind to contend with, and it was threatening to rain.  I made a quick stop to put on a long sleeved jersey, and another to add a shell, then another to put knee warmers on, and yet another to add sleeves to my vest.  Once again, a reluctance to stop quickly led to multiple stops which could probably have been avoided if I'd assessed things a little more carefully.

    The altitude graph showed a slow descent into Blenheim, however the downhill trend was really just a loss of a metre or two over each kilometre ridden - i.e. not much of a descent at all.  This section was as hilly as any other, and for the first time since the day before on the Wharfedale, I got off my bike to walk up a hill.  Are we there yet?!

    When we stopped at Hodder's Bridge, Simon was clearly concerned about me.  It was about 7pm by now, and any chance of getting into Blenheim before midnight was looking increasingly slim.  The maths just didn't stack up - we didn't seem to have that far to go, but things were really happening very slowly.  The truth of the matter was, I was blown.  My body was down to self preservation mode, and it was struggling to find energy to do simple things, let alone ride up hills.

    I had plenty of water, but dehydration wasn't an issue.  I'd also some one square meal bars left, and I demolished those, but it was too little, too late.  These were really just getting my reserves temporarily back to zero, and not putting me back in the black at all.  Simon had a pack of gingernuts, and was keen for me to eat some.  I accepted a few, but for one reason or another I wasn't keen.  Firstly was the self-sufficiency ethos of the Brevet, and I was keen to do it under my own steam.  More important to me was that to accept biscuits from Simon, I would deny him the chance of eating them himself.  We'd hypothesized about meeting someone with a burst foo-foo valve, and discussed whether we'd offer them some food.  I'd pointed out that once someone had eaten it, it was bloody hard for them to give it back - unlike a spare inner tube, or tool.  In that case, you might have to wait at the side of the road, but when they caught up to you it was a relatively simple matter of claiming it back.  Not so regurgitated gingernuts...

    When cycling into the wind, it's typically easier to draft behind someone, and Simon was in a much better state to work than I was.  I was having a really hard time holding his wheel, and having to surge to regain it time and time again.  I suggested he go on.  He refused and slowed a little.  Minutes later, I made the same request.  Again, refusal.  He said later that he had no confidence I'd make it safely back to Blenheim.

    Behind my cloud I had no such doubts.  I've blown before, and this didn't feel like those earlier experiences.  This was different.  I was tired, and my legs were reluctant to pedal, but I was enjoying walking.  I was also enjoying the sensation of closing my eyes for a second or two at a time...

    As our pace slowed, we were greeted from behind by Thomas on his mis-matched pedals.  He too had been offered a lotioned-up hunk of apple, but apart from that, had had little contact with anyone since leaving Hanmer 13 hours or so earlier.  I remember thinking how easily he was riding, and how easily he could have disappeared around the corner ahead.  I also remember thinking how nice it was of him to hang around.  I suspect he was simply glad to have our company (though I wasn't making much conversation).

    While my legs were pretty useless, my headlight was still going strong, and while we were riding three abreast, between us we lit the road up well.   Eventually we reached the climb up Taylors Pass road.  This was a walk for me, and while slower than riding, I felt I was moving along at an OK clip.  Someone had spray-painted a couple of messages for "KB" riders at the top, though it was hard to have confidence in their claim of "no more hills".  I'd thought that hours ago...

    The turnoff onto the river trail bore no resemblance to what I was expecting, so it was just as well Simon and Thomas were clear.  I was intruiged to discover what "cross river below bridge" actually meant - this was as weird an instruction I'd ever been given!  In the end, it seemed entirely reasonable, and I blundered my way across a dry stream-bed, crashing through some boulders and bottoming out my rear tyre before making it safely up on to the track at the far side.  I reckon that was probably the closest I came in the entire event to seriously damaging something.  It takes more than being sandwiched between an immovable rock and 100kg of bike and man to phase an Oli Brooke-White built rear wheel though.

    Navigation on the river trail was tricky in places, and it was good to have a committee there to make decisions.  Was it a dream, or did we actually meet a Blenheim local, dressed in boots, jeans and a red swandri, clutching a can of cheap beer and smiling maniacly at us under our bright white lights, miles away from civilisation, at 11pm on a Wednesday night?!

    Eventually the trail put us behind a row of houses.  Consulting the cue notes I'd put into my cell phone - a great format in the dark with the backlit display - we made the correct turn onto a side-path, and moments later we were illuminating a "Dashwood Rd" sign.  We were almost home...

    A left turn onto Alfred St was the last bit of navigation needed to get us back to Seymour Square, where we'd left in a group of 64 intrepid randonneurs and assorted supporters, four days, 11 hours and 30 minutes ago.  As we approached the fountain in the middle, we heard voices - Pete was there, as was Duncan from Top Town Cinema.  Michi and Ollie Whalley (who'd finished about 9 hours earlier) also made there way over out of the darkness to greet us.  I made a call back to Wellington, and breathed a sigh of relief.  Someone pointed a camera at me, and I managed a spontaneous smile - how good it was to be done!

    Simon and I were staying at Pete's place, and we followed him towards his vehicle.  He'd had a pretty casual week, and hadn't ridden even a small percentage of 1100km.  It was entirely appropriate for him to take the direct route to his ute, up three or four steps by a memorial.  Like tired sheep, Simon and I picked up our bikes and followed him...

    We stopped at McDonalds on the way home - my first time partaking of this "food" in close to a decade.  Fuck all of that though!  Food!!!  Come to daddy!

    As I inhaled some sort of burger combo, and a filet o' fish, Pete drove us back to his place.  We left the bikes on the back of his ute, and staggered inside.  I undressed and put my skins on, happy to not delay sleep any further by showering, and glad not to get into bed with filthy legs directly against the sheet.  The bed in Steph and Pete's guest room was more comfortable than most the first night I slept in it.  This night it was like lying on the most glorious surface you could ever imagine...  I fell quickly to sleep, no doubt anticipating the pile of dishes I'd create at a cafe in town the next day...


    Monday, February 15, 2010

    Kiwi Brevet - Day 4

    From memory the cell phone started bleating at 6am, and it was time to get up and at 'em once again.  I'd hauled a few supplies up from the store at Ikamatua all those hours pedalling away, as well as the cold pie from the pub at Jacksons, so started the day with a bit of food at least.  Simon and I rolled down School Terrace at about 7am, and I promptly turned west.  Whether I still had in mind that I was meant to return the key to the office (I'd left it in the room), or because I'd been heading that way when I turned into the street after my overshoot, I don't know.  In any case, Simon spared me an extra few minutes riding by hollering at me.

    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...

    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    Kiwi Brevet - Day 3

    Before hitting the sack in our luxurious room in Springs Junction, Simon and I had agreed we both deserved a sleep in.  As a result, alarms went off at 6:30 in lieu of a 7am departure.  One of the advantages of travelling light is that there's very little to pack, and by now, the dressing systems were in place.  Never pleasant to put on damp shorts and socks, once on, they provide good incentives to get moving.

    I kitted up with a sense of trepidation this morning.  A small bump on my right sit-bone on night one had changed dramatically somewhere during day 2, and the small shaving mirror revealed a raw patch of skin about 2cm across - not unlike the result of tearing a blister off.  I'd showered each night, and though I was wearing the same pair of shorts each day, I was giving the chamois a good rinse each night.  I was also applying liberal quantities of some Sweet Cheeks Butt Butter which I'd been given by Simon and Sarah for Christmas.  This barrier cream has all sorts of goodies in it which take care of the skin as well as act as a traditional chamois cream, so by and large, my skin was in good nick...  Except for this rather large raw patch...  Lashing of cream on each sit bone, and a little more around the place, and I was as good to go as I was going to get.

    We made our way to the office almost exactly on 7am, only to find Andrew McLellan waiting outside, eating from a bag of chippies.  He reported that the proprietor was off collecting the mail, so Simon - notoriously a slow starter - asked if I'd mind sorting out the bill, and he'd get a head start.  No worries...

    The payment process seemed to take an eternity, partly due to the strange behaviour of the EFT-POS system, and it's reliance on the motel's in-house system.  I was getting pretty annoyed and was about to suggest he just process the payment, and sort out his paperwork once I was safely underway, but the third attempt worked, and with that I was off.

    The road over to Reefton tipped up almost straight away, providing an immediate response from my legs.  At the same time, light rain started to fall.  Initially I stopped and put my Ground Effect Flash Gordon on, sans sleeves, but by the top, the rain had picked up, and the temperature had dropped, and on went the sleeves.

    The climb to Rahu Saddle was very pretty, but it was weird to be on the road with traffic whizzing past after so long off the beaten track.  The descent on the West Coast side was very fast in places, and suited me well.  Once down in the valley though, my lack of a good aero position, and the minimal breakfast I'd had before leaving the motel started to take their toll.  Even my iced (instant) coffee prepared the night before didn't seem to perk me up much.  Just as I had had enough of trying to keep pace with Simon, who'd summitted Rahu Saddle before me, but who I'd caught up to on the descent, we entered the outskirts of Reefton.  Minutes later I was in the queue at a likely looking cafe on the left.

    While I was deciding what to eat, I saw the largest coffee ever being delivered to another customer.  I quickly scanned the blackboard menu to see a 4-shot latte on the list for a paltry $6.  On the one hand it seemed like a great idea, but I was not confident I'd hold it down and restricted myself to a mince and cheese pie, muffin, and a large (but not enormous) latte.  These all slipped down nicely, and I started to feel a little more human.  Andrew, Simon and I ate together, and chatted to a couple of cycle tourists who were also enjoying their meals.  I grabbed a BLT sandwich for lunch, and headed outside to make the call-in.  As I did so, a woman cruised up the street with an enormous touring load - front and rear Ortleib panniers fully loaded - twice as much as Andrew, Simon and I had combined was my remark to the message service.

    After a quick stop at the local supermarket for some bars, bananas and drink, and a quick detour back to the cafe, and then further back to the public loo for a pit stop, and it was time to ride Big River.

    The turnoff was not quite what I remembered from the mapping I'd done, and I think Andrew had the same misconception that I did.  We stayed on the highway a little longer before making a left turn up Soldiers Road.  The note I'd typed on my cell phone read "Big river rd signposted 100m after alborn car park.  4wd to big river.  Track into Waiuta".   That didn't give much insight into what was to come, and I hoped it would be as obvious as what I'd obviously thought from the Kennett Bros' write-up.

    After a long climb up the gravel road, we passed a campervan parked off to the left, and then a sign to Big River.  There was also a red Powerade bottle lying on the side of the track, which I picked up.  30m up the track, Simon had stopped and was applying suncream.  His bike was leaning against a sign, partially obscuring it.  I asked "which way", hinting that I couldn't see the directions on the sign.  He laughed, and pointed me up the wrong way.

    The Big River track was mostly ridable, with some nice sections of riding through native bush.  Simon caught me in a pretty spot and suggested a photo, and after I'd retrieved my phone from him, he disappeared up the track.  I wouldn't see him again for quite a while.

    The last bit of climbing before making it out to Big River itself was littered with fist-sized rocks, and I had little choice but to walk my bike through here.  This was the first sustained section I should have been able to ride, but couldn't, and so I was a little disappointed with myself.  Nonetheless, progress was good, and walking was a nice opportunity to ease the pressure on my butt and hands, and give slightly different muscles a chance to take over.

    Big River was a fascinating place, with all sorts of infrastructure from an earlier time.  There were large rusting steel tanks which were used to retain some chemical or other, and there were signs of an old pipeline on a the cliff beyond the river.  I was astonished to see the state of the building nearby.  Someone had mentioned that Big River Hut would be a reasonable overnight stop for the front runners who'd have easily reached Reefton the night before and might have chosen to push on for another few hours before stopping.

    Closer inspection indicated the building was in no state to house anyone, and seconds later I noticed a modern hut sitting on a ledge elevated 20m or so above the valley floor.  I pushed my bike up the track towards the hut, to find Simon sitting with Chris Tennent-Brown.

    I grabbed some lunch, while they gave me a bit of an update.  It turned out Tim had only just left minutes before, but they were virtually tripping over themselves to tell me Chris' story of the last night.  He'd arranged to sleep on our floor, except we'd seen no sign of him since Blenheim (in fact, I'd not met him at all until now).  It turns out he'd arrived at our motel around the time we must have pulled our bikes inside.  They'd probably sat outside for a good 30 minutes while we showered etc, so it was pretty unlucky on his part (or maybe it was good luck).  There had been a bike parked outside room 2 (we were in room 3), so he'd knocked on the door.  The woman who answered hadn't seen us, but when the no doubt knackered Chris had explained his predicament she'd offered him one of her spare beds!  We must have missed each other by minutes, but at least he'd got a good comfortable sleep, and a great story to boot!  As for the morning, he must have left within minutes of us getting outside, depriving us of a good laugh at his fortunes for another half a day!  Chris left a few minutes later, figuring we'd catch him quickly since he was on a cyclocross bike.  We were on the move soon after.

    I don't recall riding much of the Big River-Waiuta Track.  There were bits and pieces that were ridable, but the uphills were largely walked, and there were many little waterways to cross which required the bike to be lifted first down into the creek-bed and then up out the other side.  I pitied some of the riders with heavier loads, and hypothesized that some would have to unload their bikes to portage them across the more difficult sections.


    During one of the crossings I caught up to Tim, with his rear panniers, and heard that he'd not only lost an hour or so by taking the scenic route up to the Reefton lookout, but had also had his rack implode and had had to do trailside repairs with a zip tie.  I later read in his account of the Brevet that he'd also been stung by a bee during this episode.  I stayed behind him for a few obstacles, but eventually my lighter set-up allowed me to get past.

    The last bit of track into Waiuta was actually very nice, and mostly ridable.  I had a classic mountainbiking spill - stall on a narrow bit of track, end up overbalancing towards the outside of the track, clip out to find nothing but air beneath your foot, quickly sort out a likely landing spot, and jump for your life!  Luckily the bike and I both landed unscathed, and after getting us both back on track we were underway again.  Simon was waiting at a style which surely indicated the end of the track was near.

    Sure enough, we soon dropped down onto a 4WD track, and then rolled down to a T-intersection. My scant notes said nothing about this, and while a left turn seemed pretty obvious, I doubled back to a map board we'd only just passed. This seemed to indicate a right turn, but I neglected to correctly locate myself on the map.  After a short ride up the right, we went back to the map and clarified that the exit onto the 4WD track was the right turn, and the map board was at the second intersection, with a left turn in order.  A few minutes later we were passing through a seemingly tiny settlement with a name (Waiuta) which does little to indicate how remote and how tiny it is.  Beyond this was a 4WD descent to SH7 and hopefully a late lunch at Ikamatua.

    The descent was disrupted somewhat by a SUV cruising down the road.  To that point, I'd been enjoying riding hard, and so when the driver apparently slowed and yielded to the left I little, I made a lunge for the right.  Luckily years of cycle commuting on the narrow, hilly streets of Wellington have given me pretty good instincts around moving vehicles, and I aborted the passing manoeuver once I sensed the car cutting in towards me.   While I'm sure at least the rear passenger had seen me, the driver seemed to prefer having both Simon and I hot on his tail than easing briefly to let us past.  As the road straightened up he got away from us and stopped 300m up the road for a photo.  I contemplated stopping for a quick chat, but thought better of it, and made my way past with out acknowledging them in any way.

    The next distraction was a cyclist 150m up the road.  After a quick discussion, Simon and I decided it was probably Thomas - our first sighting of him since just before Picton 48 hours or so earlier.  We knew he'd almost got to St Arnaud on the first "day" something close to 400km, so it was no surprise that he'd made slightly slower progress in the next days.  He perked up a bit when he saw us, and we cruised together into Ikamatua.

    As we pulled up to the supermarket there, Jasper was just heading off, and I got stuck into some shopping.  I think I made 3 or 4 separate purchases here, as my body kept asking for more.  In addition to scoffing some sandwiches and baked goods, and sculling the odd drink, I also grabbed some tuna and crackers, and a tin of penne and meatballs for dinner and/or breakfast, as well as the standard One Square Meals, and other high-energy bars.   While we were waiting for some manpower to arrive, I borrowed a phone book from the shop and rang the Jacksons pub, to discover that their kitchen would be closing at 8pm, giving us about four hours to get there. 

    The next section to Stillwater and around the north side of Lake Brunner through to Jacksons, Otira and up to Arthurs Pass was long, but relatively simple relative to the mission that was Big River and Waiuta.  By the time we set off, there were five of us:  Simon, Thomas, Chris, Tim and myself.  We made good progress along Atarau Rd towards Blackball, with our 5-man paceline.  For some reason I always seem to struggle in this format, and was happy when it fell apart as we neared the bridge back across the Grey River.

    I was expecting a left at SH7, but made the correct right along with all the others. We soon turned up Arnold Valley Rd, and back onto the gravel.  I was starting to wane at this point, but the 8pm deadline was looking pretty unlikely.  Missing it would be pretty unpleasant, with no hope of food until Springfield back on the eastern side of the alps, at least not without jeopardising the schedule through to Hanmer Springs the next day.  We passed dear Jasper on his singlespeed, amazed at how long he'd stayed away, and the group seemed pretty happy to let Simon and Chris forge ahead to Jacksons, and order on behalf of the group.  While I wasn't feeling flash, I somehow felt uncomfortable with this plan, and sat on their wheels for a while, unable to rotate, but hoping to find some energy in time.  I opened a pack of Gu-Chomps recommended to me by Peter Burke, and popped one of those down, and soon after drifted off the back.

    As usual, as soon as I was able to get into my own rhythm, I started to feel more comfortable.  And then, the scientists' good hard work paid off as my Gu-Chomp hit my system.  I started pushing larger gears, and the gap to Simon and Chris started to shrink.  I made the catch on a descent, and rolled past them imitating a train driver sounding a steam-horn:  "TOOT TOOT".  They jumped on board, and for a short while we were three again.  My GPS got powered up at the end of Blair Rd, and we made the left turn into Kotuku Bell Hill Rd.  As the road tipped up, my accelerants continued to give me the edge and I drew away from them. 

    I stayed away until about 7:30, at which point I was within 10km of Jackson's pub.  It was good to know at least one of us would make it on time.  When I looked around, Simon and Chris were in sight, and soon it was the three of us cruising alongside Lake Poerua.  Simon stopped for a leak, and Chris and I finished the ride to the pub together.

    First order of business was to grab a menu!  Actually, the first step was to work out what to do for the others.  Once I'd told the very helpful barman that there were another four or five famished cyclists back down the road, he agreed to keep the kitchen open for them.  My job done, I promptly ordered a glass of coke, a basket of garlic bread, and a plate of bangers and mash.  Chris ordered some seafood chowder, and Simon some soup.  (Soup?!  Man, he really does run on the sniff of an oily rag!!)  Tim appeared too, and Darren (though I can't quite remember where he came from - he might have been behind our group of five?).  Thomas also arrived, ordering a couple of pies, which cutely arrived on separate plates with separate cutlery - he demolished them both.  It was a nervous wait for Jasper, but the barman was true to his word, and he ate as well as any of us.  Before setting off, I ordered a pie to takeaway for breakfast.  If I'd thought a little more about it, I wouldn't have had to wait for 10 minutes for it, but I got it in the end, piping hot, and stuck it in my back pocket.

    Lights on, I headed alone up the road towards Arthurs Pass.  Just before Otira I caught up to Thomas and Tim, with Simon and Chris up the road somewhere.  There was a gravel section due to some roadworks which was very soft in places, and felt like a bit of a rip off given the challenges of the Brevet course.  It was supposed to be sealed there, dammit!

    My first ascent up the Otira Highway was done in the pitch black, and with a misty rain, so I didn't really get to enjoy any of the stunning vistas it no doubt offers.  This is one of the sections which I really must get back to someday.  The climb was fairly arduous, and we all made full use of our gears - 27 for Tim and I, and 14 (with no overlaps) for Thomas with his Rohloff geared hub.  At the top it was cold, so parkas etc all got zipped up for the quick descent into Arthurs Pass.  Tim and Thomas headed through town towards a camping spot, while I pulled into the YHA to hook up with Simon and Chris.

    It took me a good 20 minutes to find them - the last thing I wanted after arrived at 11pm.  After a walking trip through the hostel, an unanswered knock on a door with the key sitting in it (I wasn't game enough to try the door), a ride east of town as far as the police station down at Mt Bealey Rd, and an aborted climb up Gentian Lane and Brake Hill, I finally took the correct turnoff up School Terrace.  I hate stylised maps at the best of times, and the one I was following was really trying my patience.  In hindsight it's pretty obvious, but the "largest and most expensive public toilets in the world" and the School Tce shown off to the side of the street (I was looking for a school, but didn't see one) were all red herrings.

    Eventually I spotted Simon's bike out on the street.  Luckily the envelope I'd been carrying with the key in it failed just as I pulled into the driveway, and not while I was hurtling around the town trying to find the cottage, so it was no drama to retrieve the key off the ground and make my way inside.  After a hot shower, and some food, and a bit of a debrief after a long, tough day, it was into bed.  I sure felt like 5 hours was not going to be enough.  At least I'd eaten well, and my bike was rocking along nicely.

    Please excuse the blurry image of Simon chowing down on some food.  It just seems to reflect nicely the way I too would have been feeling...

    Even though it would be a disappointingly short sleep, at least I managed to fall asleep quickly - I sure felt like 5 hours was going to be marginal enough, and it would have been a shame to spend any of that time counting sheep...

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Kiwi Brevet - Day 2

    Sunday morning came pretty quickly, with the alarm going off at 5am. There was no sign of any action from Simon, so it wasn't until 5:30 that I scraped myself out of bed.  After a quick bite to eat, it was time to pack up and go. Being the first morning, it was a little difficult to know quite what to do and in what order, but despite that, this was our quickest departure.  

    The roll down Maitai Valley didn't take too long, and soon we were making our first call in, from the steps by the cathedral.  After a convoluted series of turns, we were heading west towards the old rail trail and bound for Richmond.  The cycle path was easy riding, although some sections were difficult to pick up.  At one stage I'm sure I put us wrong as we crossed a couple of roads and used an underpass only to bring us back to almost where we started from.  

    We reached the roundabout at Champion Road just after 7am, and just after the bakery there had opened.  Breakfast time!  I packed away some food inside, and some in my pockets, and refilled my drink bottles.  Then we set off up Champion Road before making the turn into Hill Street. Sadly, it lived up to its name, with a couple of short but steep climbs in it.  We headed back towards the main road to cross a river, and then immediately turned left to do a loop through Wairoa Gorge.  

    Soon after the turnoff we caught Chris and Bob.  They'd stayed at their place in Richmond, and had woken to find about a dozen other riders there!  It was cool to hear about what some of the others were up to.  Shortly after we left them, we caught up to Tim Mulliner.  I'd given him his SPOT the day before, and while the name seemed familiar then, it wasn't until later in the day that I'd remembered why I knew his name - I'd read his book!  Back in 2001 Tim had started a 24,115km ride from Europe back to New Zealand, described in Long Ride for a Pie.  We got to chatting, and enjoyed knocking out the miles side by side.

    At a rather sketchy turn onto Pig Valley Rd, we soon passed a small car sitting in the stream-bed.  It looked in good shape, was upright, and there was no sign of any inhabitants.  It also had a fluoro sticker on its roof.  We joked about it saying "you have parked your car in an inappropriate place.  If you do not remove it within 24 hours it will be towed at your expense..."

    Just down the road we rejoined the highway, but not before I pulled in for another fuel stop.  By the time I was eating, there was quite a group there:  Simon, Laurence and Guy of Ground Effect fame, and also Jasper on his singlespeed, and Darren on his skinny-tyred touring bike.  We were joined by the local constabulary, who we informed about the car in the ditch!

    After a few minutes it was time to get rolling again - my legs had only just warmed up, and I didn't want to go through the slow process of getting them warm again.  I saw Tim on and off on the ride up to St Arnaud.  The day was sunny, but thankfully not as hot as Day 1.  I'd ridden down from St Arnaud, although not through Eighty Eight Valley Road with my bro a couple of years before, and enjoyed my fond memories of that trip.  As always, doing something in the opposite direction doesn't always coincide with recollections, and there were a few hills present where they shouldn't have been, and one or two missing!  By the time I reached St Arnaud, I was ready for lunch.  I ordered a good looking bit of pizza and some coffee, and tucked a bit of brownie in my pocket for later.  There was plenty of water on offer, and it was nice to sit with a growing group under the shade of an umbrella. 

    By the time I was ready to set off, Simon, Darren and Jasper had arrived, as well as Andrew.  It was nice to see him for the first time since early in the morning.  He hadn't looked particularly well the night before, but he was clearly managing to knock out the miles!

    The turnoff towards the Porika Track took much longer than I had expected.  I was running off my memory to this point, having spent some time copying the google map version of the course to mapmyride before uploading it to my now marginalised GPS unit.  The stretch from St Arnaud to the turnoff was very simple, and so I'd obviously had a massive scale when plotting it.  I'm sure it was only a few inches on the screen!  

    Tim and I ended up riding together again, and it took us a long long time to catch Jasper on his singlespeed.  

    The Porika Track was a good solid climb which I was very happy to ride all of.  I probably should have walked some sections, but with every little technical steep section I made it through, my desire to stay on the bike grew.  The climb took a long time, and it was hot, so I had removed my cap and zipped down my shirt.  After a bit of faffing around at the top, including passing a sign permitting Gold Fossicking (with the appropriate sized pick and pan).  The descent was gnarly, and I thought rougher than the Maungatapu.  One section was so steep I was considered walking, and when I saw the view off to the left of the track was sold!

    After briefly admiring Lake Rotoroa in all its glory, I continued my rough descent.  By the bottom my brakes were squealing wildly, and my rear brake lever was almost at the handlebar.  As I rode on, trying to keep off the brakes as much as possible, I started running through options for replacing the brake pads.  

    I'd expected to go straight into Murchison, but had completely forgotten about the Braeburn Track.  No matter - I was soon reminded, and got into the business of getting to the top of it.  Once there, I was greeted by the most amazing section of gravel road I have ever ridden.  Imagine a smooth and perfectly cambered road winding downhill through native bush.  It seemed that every time I was nearing a corner and beginning to consider braking, the sight line would open up and I'd realise that I could carry my speed through the turn.  The gradient was perfect - steep enough to enjoy a great downhill, but not so steep that it became overwhelming at all.

    At the bottom, I turned onto yet another gravel road.  After a while I was picked up by Tim, and once again we rode together.  I was pleased to discover that my brake had come back to life.  Presumably things had got a bit hot in there, but now all was well!

    Before long we were in Murchison.  We parked up by the Four Square just as a couple were leaving - Anne and Phil (although I "remembered" Anne as Tina, much to everyone's confusion...).  Simon arrived soon after, and we made our way to a diner, saving the cafe around the corner for dessert.

    Simon ordered first, choosing scrambled eggs and spaghetti on toast.  Eggs on toast were on the menu at $8, as was spaghetti or baked beans on toast, also at $8.  The waitress ummed and ahhed and then decided the combo would be $10 (for Simon).  Tim ordered next, and I followed him, choosing beans and eggs on toast.  The waitress must not have liked the look of me, or had taken pity on Simon's emaciated form, for my meal was $14.  I was too shocked, and far too polite to say anything, to her at least.  I brought it up many times to Simon over the next few days!

    After polishing the plates of food off, and when Tim had finally received his iced chocolate (Simon and I had both had chocolate milk from the fridge much to Tim's disgust), we retired to the somewhat more upmarket cafe around the corner.  I got a head start as Simon still had some grocery shopping to do, and tucked into a coffee, and a bit of slice.  Darren was in there resting up, as were Chris and Bob, and we were soon joined by Andrew.  

    Eventually it was time to head off again.  We were straight into a gravel road section, and Tim, Simon and I got a bit of a pace line going.  Towards the end of it Simon commented about my surging.  Without a speedo, it's incredibly hard to tell what speed you're doing, especially when you go from being sheltered behind a rider to out in front.  You end up pedalling harder, and it's really hard to judge how fast you're going.  I think we were basically knocking out 30km/h consistently with my turns being a few clicks faster.  It's amazing what a good feed'll do for the legs!

    The route got a little fiddly as we crossed over a bridge and then looped back to find the bottom of the Maruia Saddle climb.  This was another beautiful climb, and we knocked it out in fairly short order.

    I must have been pretty tired at the top, because I have absolutely no recollection of the descent.  It did end in a bit of open paddock though, before spitting us out onto SH65.  It was getting dark by now, and when we finally reached the turnoff to West Bank Rd, Tim announced he was calling it a night, and pulled off to set up camp.  Simon and I proceeded along the gravel road, eventually stopping to set up lights, and enjoying a couple of short walks up some of the steeper pinches.   

    We made it into Springs Junction just after 10pm, after setting off just after 6am in the morning!  We had a bite to eat (that we'd carried from Murchison), and I made myself some instant coffee to put in the fridge for the morning.  Rushing to get out the door and hot drinks simply don't mix.  

    After a nice hot shower, and little bit of short rinsing, it was time for bed, and another well deserved, though short, sleep!