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


  1. Great! Looking forward to the next installments.

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