Wednesday, February 17, 2010

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...



  1. Wow... its just like being there John. Well done. Jeff

  2. ...and that's a whole other story! :D

    Whew, you're done. Amazing and astounding are the first two adjectives I grabbed out of the air to describe how I feel about your incredible adventure. An adventure like this is bound to have highs and lows and I hope the overall experience leaves you remembering the former the most. I am proud of you and even prouder to have been a small part of your journey. Well done bro.

  3. I'll go with epic and inspirational as my two adjectives. I've really enjoyed following the whole thing from the other side of the world. What an achievement!!

  4. Damn, what an experience! I had thought I could keep myself away from it, but your writing definitely makes me think I should line up as well!!