Saturday, 10 March 2012

Kiwi Brevet: Day 6: Nelson to Blenheim

The final day! The final early rise, leg astride the bike, into the wild for the last time. It’s funny leaving civilisation behind, not quite knowing when you’ll return. NZ can seem pretty vast sometimes, not taking long to escape the confines of the city, something I’ve always enjoyed, and something I struggled with when I moved to Europe. Anyway, the first bit up the Matai Valley was enjoyable enough; a bit of a detour past the storm damaged road was a welcome break from the miles of tarseal we had yesterday. And then it hit. Up. Initially it was just possible to ride, however the morning legs and mind soon decided walking was the sensible option. A quick altitude check confirmed we were making good progress toward the 700m summit. And then we went down. And down. My descended about as fast as my bike and me. The push from there to the summit was tough. Stephen had much better pushing legs and I was very envious of his lighter setup at this point. It was a head down, feet splayed for traction, constantly switching positions, sometimes employing the push-brake-walk-repeat technique. I’ve never pushed my bike this long, let alone one that’s loaded, with water I was probably pushing 21kg today.

I can’t remember how long it took, but it was certainly a grade harder than the pervious day’s push up the Porika Track. The sight of sun and a sign at the top was cause for a loud “yeah”. Stephen was already chilling and having a feed, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to bask in the sun and glory of another mammoth victory. One thing was certain, we had some serious descending to do. Obviously it wouldn’t all be downhill, but I was confident in a lot of pedal free miles, but most significantly, walk free. I actually enjoy pedalling uphill. Loose gravel - foot-out-flat-out (I wish!) - descending was again on the menu, no moments, thankfully meeting some loaded touring bikes on an open section. Q: “How far is it to the top” A: “A looooong way”.

Back on the tarseal it was business as usual, spinning. We weren’t in a hurry today though. Some mildly interesting road riding later we reached Havelock, a place I’ve passed a few times before and a good prospect for food and drink. An order of pie, cake and coffee quickly followed. It was another perfect day, possibly too perfect for riding though; it was early and the need for sunscreen was intensely obvious. Refueled and restocked, we headed off in search of the Queen Charlotte Drive, a road I’ve driven a few times, but nothing can compare to riding a road like this by bike. The azure saturated seascapes interspersed with twists and turns were superb. Not even the rental cars taking shortcuts across our path could alter the feeling of elation.

Stephen and David's bikes relax on Queen Charlotte Drive

Queen Charlotte Drive, a stunning final day around the Marlborough Sounds

After many miles of heaven, we descended into Picton, another opportunity to test my various cornering techniques. “Knee in” or “knee out”? I’ve come to the conclusion that the bike feels more stable with “knee in”. I’m still experimenting, so I’ll elaborate at a later date. Picton was our final pitstop, grabbing a final Powerade to stave off the effects of the midday sun. We chatted and rolled on at a gentle pace, enjoying the oft talked about Port Underwood Road. By most accounts, this was a real brute. I now remember Nathan painting a picture of pure evil, civil engineers ignoring the contours of the land and subsequently carving roads straight over sea piercing ridges. Over the course of the week, the painting faded, and I was actually looking forward to this final series of climbs. Clearly Stephen was still in awe of the potential pain ahead as he dismounted at the bottom of the first climb. Wise was he. I carried on, and after long time of continuous battling (I forget how long), I reached a corner, leading to more climbing. My competitive fibres began to awaken, should I continue alone? I decided to keep riding my pace and not push too hard and I guessed I would see Stephen on the flat final miles to Blenheim. Wild thoughts of diverging blue dots ran through my head. This could be interesting viewing. I guess Stephen was thinking something similar and didn’t want to finish on the wrong side of this duel. I passed a tourist at a solid clip, and toyed with the idea of telling him to not divulge any information about my whereabouts. Yes, the UCI should ban race radios. And then without warning, a stealth counter attack. A sustained one too, he continued up the hill at a rate I had no hope of matching. I continued to follow him at a 50m deficit, so at least the gap wasn’t widening. And then he let up. Phew, I wasn’t looking forward to bearing the rewards of a failed attack; an attack that wasn’t an attack if you follow. We chatted and then stopped to have a snack. Stephen had cooked himself and was out of water. Being the camel that I am, I had a spare bottle, gratefully accepted. I was about to top up my camelbak with another spare I had, when a woefully mistimed return bottle knocked my lidless bottle over. NOOOOOOO! I was a bit gutted, but I had enough to get me to Blenheim on reduced intake. It’s something to laugh about in hindsight that’s for sure. Anyway, this regroup was the signing of a truce, and we cruised the rest of the hills, thoroughly enjoying the tricky winding gravel and later molten fresh tarseal. There really was no telling when to expect grip. It was pretty gusty up the top too, another variable that has more effect on a bike loaded with wind-catching bags.

One of the many bays we passed on the Port Underwood Rd. As you can see, we were quite high

The last 10km was a bit boring, but gave some time to reflect on what had been an enjoyable experience. I managed to lose the route as we neared our destination, but just after 5pm we rolled into the bike shop to pick up our gear. I headed to Seymour Square for a final Spot signal upload. Done. Dusted. I’d no idea what to expect heading into this.

Home free baby. The view from the last descent on Port Underwood Rd

Back in Blenheim after a 5.5 day detour. It was worth it. Dust was a compulsory extra

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Kiwi Brevet: Day 5: Murchison to Nelson

This was the earliest start I can remember, up at 0530 and the plan was to hit the road at 0630. Breakfast was a feast of Baked Beans with submarines (sausages), and a tin of creamed rice. I once again left the others to finish preparing and slowly crept down the main street and toward the hills. This was the first morning I’d class as being cold, donning the arm and leg warmers for the first time. The day was clear and the sun was going to be roasting by the time we hit midday, so I was glad to get most of the climbing done early. We regrouped at the foot of a solid climb at the start of the Braeburn Track. As we progressed, I felt pretty good, and managed to ride with Stephen at first, then somehow caught Dave. As I spotted the crest, I let off all my steam and sprinted to the top, as much as a surprise to me as my companions. The descent down to Lake Rotoroa was another sweet gravel slider, with some stunning morning lake views. I was in good spirits, soon to be dampened by the sight of gradient of the Porika Track. Dave proceeded to spin up it, the only course of action for the singlespeeders to walk. And what a walk that would be. The surface was loose and steep, ofter requiring line corrections. As a person who rides with one gear offroad fulltime, this is the kind of slope that seems impossible. I don’t remember riding anything like this in my previous life as a gearie, but it may just be possible. This was the first time I wish I’d had gears. This and all the flat stuff I’ve conveniently forgotten and recovered from.

Just over 40 minutes later, we ended our push, delighting in the news that Dave had just ridden all the way to the top, our educated guess being that he was the only one to have done so (corrections welcomed). A refuel later and we were descending, the details escape me, but I think it was fun, the push up the other side dominating my memories. Back out on the open road, we were treated to a serving of false flat that didn’t register as such, but made me question my condition. Being passed by a motorbike in the opposite direction with the throttle wide open didn’t help matters. After some more die straight road, a kink for a bridge, then another die straight road, we finally hit some curves. Somewhere before those curves, I dropped back and caught some fresh head space. The “St Arnaud” sign was cruelly placed at the town boundary; did they think this place would grow? A few kilometres later, I reached the service station, again greeted by D&S. A pie (sorry to all those how missed out, but the OAP tourist before me took 2!), a mega slice of carrot cake, some bumper bars, a few cookie times, and a ginger beer made for a great refuel stop. I sat on the grass and ingested my loot. Dave returned from the café across the road with his signature quad-shot short black (espresso). We discussed the route to Nelson, the hard part behind us. It was downhill from here to Nelson, loosing 600m of altitude on the way. Cool. Let me give you one piece of advice. If anyone says “It’ all downhill from here”, they’re wrong. I know Dave regards 100m vertical ascents as insignificant, and while road climbs are relatively easy on a singlespeed, they do inflict mental anguish upon arriving at their feet. In this a lesson, don’t think about hills, just ride whatever falls before your wheels. On this stretch, Dave disappeared over the horizon – or was that one of those hills – leaving Stephen and I to cruise toward Nelson. At some point, on a scorched piece of bitumen, Stephen’s tyre had another meltdown. This was not good news. I’m not sure on how many times we tried to repair it, but eventually the patches were finished, and there was no discernable cause to the randomly appearing holes. A few people stopped to say hello, and eventually Peter caught us again. He kindly offered to lend a 26” tube, maybe kiddy wheels would be his salvation after all. After a mammoth struggle with a seemingly invincible tyre lever, four hands, and a lot of swearing, the bead finally popped on. I quickly texted around to ask everyone to cross their appendages, and Stephen began to pump. Mercifully the tube held air, and it seemed like we would be able to ride again, having spent about 1 ½ hours trying to do so. No matter, we were rolling again, the legs taking some time to adjust to their new role, we made decent progress. Tyre pressure was carefully monitored, stopping a few times to do the squeeze test, but eventually it was left to do its thing. The Eighty Eight Rd was a beast, more hills and supremely hot conditions. At Wakefield, we picked Peter up again, enjoying his company on the ride through the suburbs of Nelson, negotiating the maze of cycle paths. The ride in seemed to take an age, however the ride around the seafront was splendid, with the cliffs still baring the scars inflicted by the recent storm. Our mission was now to get to a bike shop before closing and shoe Stephen’s bike with new rubber. The door was locked, but we managed to look desperate enough for someone to assist us. They were awesome. Within 20 minutes, Stephen had a new tubeless tyre and a renewed sense of security. Result.

I just had to. I was alone and bored of the false flat blacktop. Just outside St Arnaud, formerly home to a good pie, sorry to all those that missed out!

The start of the puncture fixing marathon :(

As we cruised through town, searching for food, we spotted a Pizzeria, asked for directions to a supermarket, found it, stocked up on food, then returned to pick up a pizza each. We sat on the school grounds of Nelson Central School, and ate pizza and drank beer. I guess it was about 7pm when Nathan and Thomas rolled up. They’d filled up on pizza and were heading for the Maungatapu Track. At this point I was keen to join them, but for a few reasons I didn’t. The decision to stay in Nelson was the most difficult I made during the brevet. Most people had continued into the setting sun, attacking the slopes of the Maungatapu. Of course, I had no idea what lay ahead, but I felt I could carry on, and stop when I was ready. I guess the delays of the day, the warm summer evening and the competitive spirit – one I’d been conscious to ignore until now – were all adding to the desire to ride further. I was pretty close to saying goodbye to Stephen at the gates to the Matai Motor Camp, but I guess the camaraderie we’d had during the past 5 days was what won me over. It was too late in the ride to start treating it as a race anyhow, so I may as well enjoy the rest of it. Time to kick back.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Kiwi Brevet: Day 4: Blackball to Murchison

Up at 0630, quickly dressed, then downstairs for a great continental breakfast, there were already a small group enjoying something to eat. I guess we hit the road around 0730, and on the way to Ikamatua, stopped to pay our respects at the Pike River memorial, a real thought provoking moment. The ride into Ikamatua was cruisy, arriving at the dairy to stock up on supplies and chat briefly to Thomas and Peter. We were soon on our way to the start of the long gravel climb to Waiuta. The approach was beautiful, riding winding narrow sealed roads, passing the quaint remote village of Blackwater. I really enjoyed the ascent to the Waiuta hut, a suitable gradient, good surface, and my legs were happy to keep churning. The Waiuta Hut marked the end of the easy riding, with the beginning of the Big River track. This was a very challenging track to ride on a singlespeed, at least the first half with muddy mulch sapping the power being laid down. There were some good rooty sections challenging my riding. The descending in the middle of the track was fun, but I was soon pushing up the steeper second climb. The final descent was super awesome, more flow, less soggy, and a MTBers delight. I rolled out at the Big River hut, greeted by Dave, having made much better progress than Stephen and I. After a short refuel, we continued the ride towards Reefton. I was surprised by more climbing, but I was eventually rewarded with some crazy bumpy 4x4 track downhill. I somehow kept the bike under control, but it was a real battle. I left D&S to fix another puncture, and set a good pace, but it was ultimately too much, puncturing my front tyre on something sharp. The sealant wouldn't seal the 5mm cut - did sealant ever live up to the promises of "sealing large holes"? - so I put in a tube, and just as I was finishing pumping, D&S rolled up. I was a bit bummed as the rough section was just finishing, ah well.

After some more downhill, we arrived in Reefton and enjoyed our first encounter with an open supermarket, a Four Square. I bought a pie, some sweets, a few bumper bars, two bananas, and a cookie time. The weather was truly superb, but it was likely to cause some pain out on the open road. Mercifully the climb out of Reefton heading toward Springs Junction was largely sheltered by the lush west coast forest canopy. I was also not ready for the climb up to Rahu Saddle, but the way down was pretty good. The piece between Reefton and Springs Junction was pretty tough, the legs and motivation lacking. Seeing D&S again at the service station was a welcome surprise. A water top up and some eats, and we headed off down the flat road toward Murchison. On a side road, we did encounter some more hills, coming down one, my unsecured feedbag hit its resonant frequency and ejected a bumper bar. Some more flat riding followed, Stephens tyre gave up again, I carried on (sorry Dave), and headed for the last difficulty of the day. Maruia Saddle Road turned out to be my favourite climb of the brevet, setting a good pace up the sweet gravel surface, buoyed no doubt by the "3km to summit" sign. The way down was a real joy, twilight encroaching, the sandy surface a welcome change from the gravel. Some more rolling climbs and another 20km of gravel, I arrived in Murchison. I quickly located the Kiwi Motor Camp, booked a room, and welcomed Dave and Stephen. They had some interesting discussions with the owner, for some reason wanting to double charge for a room. After a clean and some casual clothes, we wandered into town, it was good to stretch the legs away from the bike. Once again, Peter was spotted, eating at the only open restaurant. Double orders were made, and we feasted on some great food, although the steak was sold out.

All up, this was an enjoyable day, not too much flat stuff, some enjoyable single track, and some great climbs. We were also never short on resupply options, a nice change from the first few days.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Kiwi Brevet: Day 3: Springfield to Blackball

In an effort to finish this write up, I will attempt to truncate the waffle and include the highlights of each day as well as the low-lights of course.

The day started with an amazing cooked breakfast, the size of which I have rarely encountered. This was thanks to Peter who'd been here during the previous brevet and was subjected to the same treatment. The people at the Springfield Hotel would have to be the standout locals for me, opening the kitchen the previous night, and offering to cook breakfast in the morning. It was a late start this morning, riding out into drizzly rain onto flat tar-seal, I left the others behind as I knew they'd catch me on the road. After a bit of boring seal, the undulations began, soon delivering me at the foot of the Porters Pass. I had no idea how long the climb was, not helped by the poor visibility. It did allow me to focus on the milestones we could see, the next corner at best, and while it was a grind, I quite enjoyed it. Near the top I spotted Nathan resting by the way side, so I stopped for a chat. This killed the leg motivation, and the final meters were despatched by foot. The summit of the pass was a welcome transition to some fine weather and a straight line descent to the valley floor. The views along the follow stretch were pretty nice, I love the mountains and seeing them from two wheels was a real treat. At some point I commented on Nathan's gore-tex pants, and how he must be pretty warm. The though hadn't crossed his mind, but he soon concluded it was indeed cooking hot and stopped to remove them. As they say, it's not all about the legs you have, underhand tactics play a role ;) . The sight of Lake Pearson was special, nestled in the alps. The start of Stephen's tyre troubles began just before Arthurs Pass, initially the latex sealed the hole, but there was a nasty looking bump on the carcass of the tyre, Dave speculated something had cut some of the threads, causing the bulge. Air was added and fingers crossed. Arthurs Pass village provided great food in the form of pies and coffee, plus the regulation cookie time biscuits and bumper bars, thinking back, this was my first exposure to those, a real ace in the hole for a long distance biker. The Keas provided entertainment and frustration as we focussed on keeping them away from the bikes. They are supposed to be clever, but why they insist on eating rubber is a question better left to Stephen Fry.

After a short climb out of Arthurs Pass village to the summit, we took some photos of the stunning Otira gorge with the masterpiece of engineering - a downhill viaduct with a bend in it - designed for riding down at speeds worthy of a good set of brake rotors. We challenged our brakes down this descent, Stephen cooking his silly rotors, almost requiring some foot to tyre action. Dave and I pulled up at the following lookout, Stephen struggling to make the turn. Try as I did, I couldn't get my 180mm Avid BB7 brakes to fade, rather comforting on some unfamiliar terrain. At the bottom of this pass, Stephen's tyre again went flaccid, this time requiring the remedial action of an inner tube and a tyre boot. This held up well, not requiring any more attention for the rest of the day. We pitted at Jacksons and sculled an L&P, applied another layer of sunscreen. I forgot to mention, but on the way through Molesworth, I neglected to put sunscreen on my lower legs, resulting in some solid burn to my right calf, and a perma-sock-line.

Dave and David watching Stephen fix another puncture on SH73 after descending from Arthurs Pass :(

The rest of the day was spent cruising along deserted back country polished metal roads bearing no resemblance to the unpleasant corrugations of the previous day. Dave was obviously bored of riding with singlespeeders managing no more than 25km/h, so he put his head down and disappeared into the distance. It was fun trying to figure out how many people were ahead of us by counting the tyre tracks in some of the dustier pieces. There were some more grunty climbs, but on the whole it was an easy ride, the last 10km in the twilight of the day. Seeing the Blackball turn off was a real motivator, Stephen taking the cue to attack and I dutifully attacked back, resulting in two minor explosions soon after. We rolled past some interesting homes, one particularly red neck with a Confederate flag, cars in various states of disrepair, and guys sporting mullets. The hotel Formerly The Blackball Hilton welcomed us with a pint of Miners Dark, a superb filet steak, with an accompaniment of sausage and chips. I initially enjoyed the company of Dave, Stephen, Nathan and Thomas, the group continued to expand, Peter soon arriving, followed some time later by the Revolution boys. It was an enjoyable evening, although I unfortunately missed the pajama party. I ducked into my bed early and had a great sleep. This place is a very worthwhile visit if you're heading up the coast, especially if you add in a bunch of decidedly eccentric people into the mix. There was the chef, the local (totally inebriated), the publicans, and the bikers.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Kiwi Brevet: Day 2: Hanmer Springs to Springfield

6am the alarm clock woke me from my restful state, not sure if the legs were so keen, but I was quickly gathering my gear and packing it into all the right places. Arriving in the kitchen, I found Stephen and Dave already eating breakfast, Stephen kind enough to offer me some kind of cereal melange consisting of corn flakes, milk powder, and some other special ingredients. I made good use of the complimentary milk and fruit, but didn't feel hungry enough to really take in enough calories. I was quickly finished and completed my packing allowing me some time to watch the other two take their time preparing. The morning air was crisp, but I felt comfortable wearing my shorts, shirt and fluro vest. It was an overcast morning, but the likelihood of rain seemed small. At about 7am, we rolled down the main street of Hanmer Springs, leaving too early to thank the hostel patron for his kindness, and also too early for any cafe or shop visit. The first gentle descent was brisk and chilly, but it soon flattened out and the spinning resumed. I was very aware that my food supply was short, so I was keen to stock up in Culverden. In Hanmer, I'd not planned ahead and I was left with a 2 Torq energy bars, 2 Torq gels, and 2 OSM bars, not enough for a 12 hour day.

At some point, just outside Hanmer, my chopper flag parted from my bike, the plastic coupling had snapped. Goodbye to the "nice touch". I still had the fluro vest to keep me visible on this grey day. Our progress was too quick, or shops don't open early enough, arriving in Culverden before any services had opened, fingers were firmly crossed for something in Hurunui, the last town before Sheffield on the other side of the Wharfdale Track. The stretch from Culverden to Hurunui had a lot of very straight road, including the longest straight piece of highway in NZ, 13.7km of it. There were plenty of other flat boring bits, riding with company helped to pass the time. Less than an hour after leaving Culverden we arrived in Hurunui and almost rode straight past it, Dave suggesting there might be more of it further on. I didn't want to take any chances and pulled in to the pub garden. It didn't look promising, but I soon spotted the cookie time jar, quickly reducing its contents by 4, adding a packet of chips and peanuts to the mix. The chips were devoured, and the cookies stored. Peter rolled in shortly after we arrived, also keen to restock. We rolled out leaving him behind, but it wasn't long before we saw him chasing us. We eased up, and welcomed him to our riding group. It was good to have another rider to chat with, and the ensuing loose gravel roads were some of the most difficult to ride well, the optimal line constantly changing from left to right to centre and back again. Occasionally we'd regroup at an intersection, directions double checked before proceeding down another Canterbury back road. After all too much straight and flat gravel riding, the hills started to form, Dave and Stephen easing on further up the road, leaving Peter and I a few minutes back. We caught them again at the turn off to McDonald Downs Station, seeing a number of tyre tracks in different directions. I decided to power up my GPS for the first time indicating the turn off was correct. Dave and Stephen rolled off while I refilled my camelbak, munched back a biscuit and prepared to leave. I'd decided I would ride a pace I was comfortable with, being only day two, and happy to set my sights on Springfield. I had been told the navigation through this section could be tricky, but I was prepared to follow my nose, and occasionally my GPS. Peter told me to go on, he was in a bit of a lull and keen for a rest, so off I went. I was also prepared for a lot of climbs, something I'd not gathered from taking the birds eye view of the track. The going was good, the gravel roads were in good condition, and there were no unusual turns to take. On one of the bigger climbs, I spotted a rider grinding the granny gear. It was Darren, riding his skinny tyred GT. I talked to him briefly, walking some of the climb myself, and discussed the pace of the other riders. I said I was happy to ride alone, but enjoyed the company of others, but once the gradient flattened out again, we parted ways, my singlespeed requiring a bit more pace. Not long after, as I was cresting one of the climbs, I spotted Dave and Stephen. Stephen was having some cleat issues, so I rejoined them for the rest of the station crossing, including one final climb over the Lees Pass. The views from here were vast, out over the Lees Valley below, somewhere we'd spend a fair amount of time after descending. The descent was another beauty, with fast flowing bends and good visibility.

Lees Valley Rd, long, flat, lonely, beautiful

Wonky helmet, I was blissfully unaware!

The following 28km were scenic but again flat and a not so much fun for me. I like a bit of undulation, challenge followed by reward. As a skinny legged rider, I loath the flat stuff, but somehow enjoy it more when there's a head wind. I guess the fact that I am going slowly on unchallenging flat roads, is a bit disheartening, although gravel isn't the easiest to maintain speed across. I stopped to take a two photos, highlighting for the first time that I'd been riding with my helmet tilted to one side. I've just switched to using a Giro Atmos after breaking my Bell Sweep R in a fall. I should have tried before I bought it, because the fit isn't quite right, and to make matters worse, I can't mount my head light centrally, leading to leftward tilt. For some reason I neglected to take my light off at this stage, so I enjoyed a lopsided helmet for a few more days. I was now navigating on cue cards and using my trip computer. Somehow the two didn't match up, either my trip distance was off, or the cue card was wrong, coupled with my lack of topo maps and also being too conservative with my GPS battery, I cruised past the turn off to the Wharfdale Track. While the sign isn't the most obvious, nor does it mention the Wharfdale Track, I should have been paying more attention. I proceeded to climb out of the Lees Valley, spotting Dave further up the climb, reducing my concern about a potential missed turn. As the 28km mark indicated in the cue sheets passed, I was eagerly awaiting the turn off, but it never came. I stopped a pair of tourists in a car and noted the track must be back in the direction I'd come from. At this point I should have U-turned, but I decided I should try and catch the others and decide which way to go, detour or retrace. I'd consulted my GPS, and was certain it was further back. As I reached the bottom of the flowing and long descent, I spotted Dave and Stephen across the bridge. "I think we missed the turn" was the unanimous verdict. Nothing for it but to retrace our tracks and find the missed turn. Up we go. It was a brutal reminder to double check directions and also have multiple reference points. With the aid of my GPS and maybe a topo map, I wouldn't have missed the turn.

After reaching the beginning of the Townsend Tracks/Wharfdale Track, we stopped for a refuel, finishing last nights chips, and quietly cursing our mistake. We were certain to have lost positions owing to the 1hr+ side trip. The ride to the start of the track was a bumpy old river bed 4x4 track, making progress painfully slow and a bit painful. A few river crossings later, we finally reached the start of the track, only to be greeted by some more crossings. There were plenty of signs showing the way as well as giving distances and times. The track itself was more of a hiking path, interspersed with creek crossings, bike carries, smooth singletrack, rooty climbs, drainage ditches, mud puddles, rocky climbs. Progress was slow, but we eventually reached the top, greeted by a change in weather. It was really amazing to have transitioned from the dry desolate valley floor to a lush beech forest. The clouds started to penetrate the forest canopy on the south side of the hill, and the drizzle soon followed. The way down was brilliant, maneuvering between the trees, avoiding the ruts, all great fun on a loaded bike, and I felt like I was back in Stanmer Park (Brighton UK). At last we were out in the open, met by Peter having a break at the gate, and descended the access road, stopping to open gates every few hundred meters. Once down on the plains, we were greeted by more flat roads, crossing the impressive Waimakariri Gorge, and, having been dropped again, was surprised by D&S aprroaching from behind. Sightseeing or something. I didn't bother trying to hold a wheel, and they again disappeared up the road, stopping intermittently to check directions, no doubt. After texting in, we spotted the vaunted pie shop in Sheffield, threw up our arms in despair at it being closed and on the other side of the railway, and hit the last 10km of gravel nastiness to Springfield. I'd run out of food and energy an hour earlier, so it was a pretty dark part of the day for me, but slowly the road crept by. By now it was getting dusky, I had my lights on, more for safety than seeing the road. The final turn toward Springfield was very well received, all I wanted was a big feed, and a bed to sleep in. The weather was still a bit miserable, so it would be foolish to camp out. I followed my nose and found the Springfield Hotel on the main road, enquired about a cabin, and was happy to share one with D&S. Mercifully the publican offered to cook up a feast of fish and chips, and there were plenty of goodies to stock up on for the following day. Lollies, cookies, peanuts, plus an extra serving of chips, much to the surprise of the bar lady.

Studying direction after taking a 1hr+ detour up a hill. Lesson learned

Chips? It's always a good time to eat chips

After downing the fish & chips, an L&P, we were able to put on a load of laundry, much needed after two long days of riding. The showers were another luxury, something I'd prepared to go without, well, not really prepared, but I was willing to go without, as many other riders did :S . Sleep came on quickly after diving into bed around 10pm.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Kiwi Brevet: Day 1: Blenheim to Hanmer Springs

Ready to go, chilling out at Seymour Square, the cafe across the road ideally situated

Clean and ready for the challenge

As I mentioned, the "Grand Depart" was from Seymour Square. Lining up next to Lance, looking a bit too stylish for a bike ride wearing his aviator sunglasses, and Pat on my other flank. After a photo session of the like-minded individuals, we rolled out for the neutralised start. I chatted to a few other riders, not too sure who now, I remember talking to Peter though, a guy I'd see again on a daily basis for the following 6 days. Riding along one section of gravel path, I had my head down, following the wheel in front of me, when all of a sudden I was faced with an older gentleman flailing his arms in bewilderment, landing a solid fist on my right arm, quite a surprise. Game on!

At some point, after about 30 minutes of riding, the large group splintered. I wasn't really paying attention, but further up the road I spotted a few guys hammering off down the flat blacktop. I decided to retain my pace, probably also a little higher than it should have been for my gearing, one which I would come to know intimately over the following days. My choice of gearing (34x19) gave me 52 gear inches, requiring 120rpm to push the 30km/h the guys around me were setting. I decided this would be my limit and slowly let the others ease away. There were some nice undulating hills before finally hitting the gravel road, and beginning the ascent of Taylor Pass Rd. I was feeling quite comfortable and settled into my climbing rhythm, talking briefly to Nathan and Peter, before shifting up the road to catch Matt on his Gryphon. For some reason the sight of two Gryphons with matching riders was not enough for a photo despite our pleas for a "team photo". The descent that followed was a great opportunity to gauge the handling of my setup. It seemed balanced, despite having two bottles caged on the fork. I got a taste of things to come with a flat blacktop cruise along the Awatere Valley, expending too many spins catching the Revolution guys, Jeff joking that they should attack just as I caught them. Eventually I dropped off the back again, enjoying my own company with some music tidbits crossing my mind. There was a singlespeed pitch perfect climb to test my legs, slowly reeling in all the riders in sight. Drinking and eating were constantly on the mind, with plenty of both occurring. I have never had a problem keeping food down, and the prospect of a hot and long day ahead made this all the more important. I had overlooked my electrolyte provisions, so could only hope the food I was getting down had enough to compensate for the increased requirements.

The biggest climb of the day for me was the Upcot Saddle. A mentally destroying straight ramp greeted us, giving my legs enough time to glean the challenge ahead and warn the brain against any heroics. Needless to say this ascent was dispatched by foot, once again being passed by most of the Revolution posse. After a long push, I finally crested, to be greeted by lunching riders, including everyone who'd just passed me, as well as Stephen. After slathering on more sunscreen, eating some more One Square Meal (OSM) bars, I decided to roll on down the other side. Best not to forget the camelbak then. I'd figured out a good system for replenishing my camelbak, emptying the bottles on my fork into the bladder. I find that I drink more water due largely to the ease of consumption. Pulling a bottle from the fork would be tricky and pretty hazardous on gravel roads with unknowns around every corner. Stephen soon joined me on this next stretch, and the ride to the Molesworth southern gate flew by, no real highlights on this stretch spring to mind.

The stop at Molesworth was a great opportunity to catch some respite from the blazing sun, replenish our water supplies, and have some more to eat. The DOC officer we met there assured us the tap supply was good to drink, and that a stream further down the road was also free of nasties. Not being a local, I decided to take no chances, and dosed each 750ml with a aquatab to be sure. These are supposed to kill 99% of all waterborne parasites and viruses in 30 minutes, although my dosage was less than the recommended 1 per 500ml. We were soon on our way again, heading into the station at 1530, joined this time by Geof. This again highlighted the difference between the geared and singlespeed style of riding. Stephen and I would pull away on most of the climbs, only to be hauled in on the flats, the speed differential thankfully reducing on the corrugations that were becoming more common inside the station boundaries. Occasionally we'd get dusted by a fast moving 4x4, this was clearly not a place to relax and take liberties in the corners. I enjoyed riding with others, distracting me from the long straight roads ahead, the scorching heat, and what lay ahead.

Molesworth south boundary

The imposing nature of my surroundings were initially quite impressive, but after numerous hours of the same scenery, the impact was dulled. Our sole goal was to make it to the northern boundary of the station before the 1900 closing. Having left at 1530, we were certain this would be possible, but arriving at 1830, it seemed it would have been difficult to do this at a relaxed pace, or leaving much later. Making the gate was a great relief, but our minds were now focussed on reaching Hanmer Springs as soon as possible. Some more climbing followed, with an unhelpful headwind slowing progress. Each climb we hit I asked if it was Jollies Pass, the final climb for the day, the answer was invariably "no". Upon seeing the sign for Jollies Pass, I was a pretty happy rider, the gradient looking more than manageable, and knowing that we had almost completed the first marathon day. Half way up the pass, we were sadly greeted by Thomas who'd badly damaged his tyre with a large gash to the sidewall of his arguably unsuitable Schwalbe Marathon Cross. Stephen and I waited with him while he booted his tyre and reinflated, then we rolled on quickly reaching the top of the pass. The descent was steep and rough, requiring handfuls of brake lever to retard progress. Reaching the bottom was as relieving as reaching the top of a big climb. Definitely shaken. The final few kilometers into Hanmer were a nice cruise, although we were not sure exactly of the route we were supposed to take, it turned out to be the correct one. We eventually located the backpackers, Dave welcoming us, having arrived some time before. I tried to find a bed for the night, but was reminded that it was Waitangi weekend, and everything in town was fully booked. I was offered a spot on the lawn to bivi, so I unpacked my kit, took a refreshing shower, and hung my riding clothes up to air. Dave, Stephen and I headed for town, and after scoping a couple of options, being mucked about by one of the candidates, and buying a couple of supplies, we settled for a fish and chips feast from the sole remaining open food outlet. I adorned my chips with extra salt, and quickly reduced the package to an oily wrapper. We welcomed a number of other riders to town, rolling up as it was getting dark, and then proceeded to take our beds for the night. The ground was pretty hard, and at about 11pm, as everyone was shouting their way to town, the backpacker staff member, a dutch guy I'd talked to earlier, raised me from my broken sleep, offering me a proper bed. I happily accepted, knowing the 11pm crowd would return drunken and louder a few hours later.

Kiwi Brevet: Day 2: Hanmer Springs to Springfield

Kiwi Brevet: Day 3: Springfield to Blackball

Kiwi Brevet: Day 4: Blackball to Murchison

Kiwi Brevet: Day 5: Murchison to Nelson

Kiwi Brevet: Day 6: Nelson to Blenheim

Kiwi Brevet: pre-ride

After finalising my preparations in Queenstown, packing, repacking, buying last minute essentials including food, water purification tablets, suncream, it was time to leave the shores of Lake Wakatipu for the vineyards of Blenheim. My journey from Queenstown to Blenheim consisted of two legs, first to Christchurch, and after a short stopover, on to Blenheim. My planning could have been better, arriving at dusk on a cloudy day, with a 6km ride into town along a busy highway. The flight from Christchurch was in the smallest plane in the Air NZ fleet, a Beech 1900D, having a 2x10 seating configuration. Quite how my bike was squeezed into the hold, I don't know.

On arrival in Blenheim, I unpacked, rebuilt my bike, and was soon spinning my way to the town centre. I made it to Kohanui Backpackers to find a number of fellow breveteers (nice word that). We chatted and discussed the early morning start at Top Town Cinemas for the briefing. I was relieved to have arrived at the start at last, after weeks of preparation, not enough riding, but ultimately I had arrived and no more planning was possible, the only course of action to ride, eat, and sleep. Actually, I would be surprised by the fullness of the experience that was before me.

Morning arrived all too quickly, after a ragged sleep on a saggy spring bed, it was time to roll. Around 8am I was sat in the cinema with a bunch of like-minded individuals, not at the beginning of some race, rather awaiting the start of a big ride, taken at one's own pace, or, for the weak of mind, at the pace of faster riders. After a short lesson in Spot tracker operation, some words of encouragement and warning, we rolled off towards the ride departure point of Seymour Square.