Thursday, February 09, 2012

Great Southern Brevet; Epic to the power of hardcore

Ollie in full tailwind assisted flight
Photo Dave King
Day 0.5 Tekapo to somewhere past Little Omarama Saddle

After an awesome low-key briefing which belied the truly epic nature of what lay in store, organiser Dave King escorted us on our merry way. I had an almost immediate fail with the pockets on my homemade front bag disgorging their contents at the first whiff of a bump. Only 500m in I had to turn round and retrieve my phone, cues and money. Fortunately the next couple of kilometres were a sealed road and after a bit of TT action I caught the lead bunch.
What was to follow was probably the single roughest piece of road I’ve encountered. Following a baby-head boulder strewn track for some 30km, my gear took a beating  and by the time I’d reached Haldon Arm my rear bag was dangling by a thread, just kept in check by a McGuyveresque concoction of duct tape and zip ties.
This first day was especially frustrating as surges of effort to catch a flying Ian were hamstrung by bag related calamites, and this was to take its toll by the end of the day. Stopping in Omarama for an epicly sized cheeseburger, I set about buying and installing some hose clamps in a desperate attempt to secure my gear. Missing the Ian and Mark express, I instead jumped on the Craig and Geoff bus and we headed out of town with sun setting. ‘Little’ Omarama saddle was a huge 1200m climb, and my stubborn resolve to ride it all netted nothing more than some painful cramps on the descent. While they would probably have been hilarious for a third party to witness, the body clenching spasms rendered me stationary and helpless while dismounting to cross a river, and I was left with no option but to pitch my tent right there beside the river and shelter from the approaching storm.
Day 1.5 Somewhere past Little Omarama Saddle to Wanaka
Stoked to have survived the night warm, dry and in the company of a rather large weta (perhaps he was just really close to my face) I ate my breakfast of cold chips and resolidified citrus slice with resolve, packing my gear for the long day ahead.
Donning my full rain gear including jacket, Ground Effect Helter Skelters, and booties for the light rain, I had to stop only 30 minutes in to remove it all after the skies cleared to reveal snow clad hills. Craig and Geoff appeared to have bivyed in a derelict hut just prior to the water race, so would only be a couple of hours ahead, and I set to following the delightfully winding Mt Ida water race, then the road to Falls Dam, stopping only to repair a puncture from the rocky surface.
A series of road stretches and I was on the Rail trail to Oturehua, the soul crushingly straight route enlivened only by a couple of tunnels which tested one’s ability to ride with eyes closed. An excellent pie and juice in Oturehua and I was off again, pushed along to the base of Thomsons track by a handy zephyr at my tail. Aerobars started to prove their worth here, and dropping my elbows to the pads and reaching hands forward to the extensions gave a fantastic sensation of speed, as if I was piloting a jet fighter blasting to the sun at the speed of light.

Pies; official fuel of the GSB
Photo Dave King
Any such sensations of speed were quickly quashed by the grind over to Tarras. Some 22 gates made proceedings tiresome, and while I initially threw my bike over them with vim and vigour, by the final set I was reduced to opening and closing them, awkwardly manoeuvring my laden bike through the opening in between.
Riding alone with only my wandering thoughts for company, I took solace in the screaming tailwind that was building behind, and joining the road for Wanaka it would have taken a disaster for my spirits to be damped. As if to test my resolve, such a disaster happened, and on reaching for a snack while pondering the range of treats I’d purchase in Wanaka, I realised that I’d lost my money, cards and course cues out of my jersey pocket. Whether through misfortune or sheer muppetry, I’d last seen them on the climb over Thomsons when I was checking how many more metres of the climb remained. Continuing without money to purchase food would be stupid and I rolled into Wanaka fairly dejected, the delightful Clutha and outlet singletracks failing to lift my spirits.
A call to Heidi to let her know what had happened helped form a few ideas, and I was soon sheepishly knocking at the door of Mike Sidey who just so happened to reside in the resort town. While I’m not sure if my actions were consistent with the self-supported ethic of the Brevet, Mike’s generous offer of funds and a place to stay were duly accepted, and the shower and omelette were a great bookend to a taxing day.
To be honest I was on the verge of pulling the pin, but this support gave me the resolve to HTFU and come back fighting, partly motivated by the fact that I knew I’d never live down a DNF in the presence of such a perennial finisher as Mike.
Day 2.5 Wanaka to Waikaia
Bright and early I met fellow Breveteers Tristan, Anja, Rob and Jasper and we formed a peloton and set a cracking pace for the bottom of the Roaring Meg. Stoked to have good company after a long day alone, I set off for Tuohys Saddle, walking a bit more than I had during reconnaissance last year.
It was a bumpy but enjoyable fun descent with very cautious lines around the Spaniard clumps which feature an alarming ability to deflate any tires passing within their spiky force field. A section of bike carry and a high speed access road descent past the dam, and I was out onto the Kawarau George Road, on the aerobars again and storming into Cromwell.
A danish and pizza bun from New World were washed down with a litre of juice, and some more great river singletrack took me out to Bannockburn to begin the epic 1400m climb into the Nevis.
Plugging away at the climb I checked off elevation in 50 metre increments, and before long I was over the top, shredding down into a misty valley. Relatively smooth roads meant my bags stayed intact and I began to plug away at the road south.
Old mounds of mining soil bordered the road, and toward the end I had the company of flock of sheep whose pesky hooves were chewing up the wet surface. Several times I witnessed the Einstein amongst the flock break out off the road, and I pondered how similar human behaviour can be till a select individual tries something new, which in turn everyone else follows. We are by nature social animals and I was all too aware of this even after a short period alone on this lonely road.
Back on the tarseal and heading towards the bustling metropolis of Lumsden, aerobars assisted my steaming ride, not dropping under 30km/h till I reached the town.
Passing up the number of pubs and cafes on offer, I was hoping that Lumsden was cultured enough to have a café open. It didn’t disappoint and a steak sandwich, mango lassi and slice filled the void left by 10 hours of riding.
By sunset I had made Waikaia some 50km away, even pushing on to the serene Piano flat campground where I set up my tent ready for an early assault on the Old Man Range.

Day 3.5 - Waikaia to a hayshed outside Middlemarch
Dawn was clear beside the river with a claggy humidity captured by the thick beach forest that lined to undulating road leading to the climb. I’d readied myself for an aerial assault by the resident sandfly population, but no such barrage eventuated and I packed up my tent with skin and blood intact.
Climbing into the mist, the exertion of the steep climb provided good company, and as I clawed my way up the hill I could see fresh tracks of pushing riders ahead, their pins succumbing to the grade. Breaking out above the cloud, the day was clear and beautiful while the trail below flattened off to reveal a ridgeline route that appeared to have been chewed up by diesel-fuelled rubber-booted off-road monsters. The destruction these dim witted drivers wreaked on the trail was profound. In some places 15 metres wide stretches of deep ruts, filled with muddy water with nowhere to drain. I picked my way carefully around the worst spots, thankful for the tire tracks of the crew ahead as a guide as to where (or where not) to ride.
As the climb continued, I glimpsed the first patches of snow which looked to be a couple of days old. Rocky waterfalls which drained the snow melt made for a great technical challenge, while I was thankful for the fresh melted snow to fill my bottles where it cascaded off a ledge.
With snow drifts up to knee deep, I post holed through the slush taking detours around the worst sections, and where the grade was sufficiently downhill to build up momentum I called on memories of snow riding in Patagonia and sledged the descents. The snow trudges of the Tour Divide are renowned for their length and brutality so I smiled at the thought that this effort was only a taster of the epic hiking in store in five months.
Temperature was starting to rise, and hopes were buoyed on the sight of a fresh tire track, knob prints still defined by a globule of water. Traversing the ridge they became clearer and clearer until finally I could see way off in the distance the figures of three riders.
Pursuing the trio in earnest, I caught them just at the radio tower before the huge descent, and their surprise to see me was nothing compared with my elation at having a group to ride with.
The descent fitted my mood well with the banked corners and rocky surface fuelling my stoke, the promise of a meal in Alexandra which was twinkling far below my due reward.
Some roadside plums at the base of the hill proved to be the entrée for a Subway feast. Double meat meatball was the order of the day with endless fountain L&P to wash it down, and while I waited for the others I repaired a broken spoke which had given up on the brake heavy descent from the Obelisk.
Geoff’s fan club had come out to support the local hero, and as we stocked up at an omnipresent 4-square on the way out of town we revelled in the support of these avid Brevet fans.
Riding out of town on the rail trail, we branched off for the Dunstan Trail, a fantastic rolling road with stops at the Poolburn Dam for a refreshing swim in the baking afternoon heat.
After such an exciting morning the day seemed to drain on, with mind fading to a haziness that was personified by the deathly mist that descended into the evening.
The fast and bumpy descents dealt more blows to my rear bag, and in a last ditch attempt to keep things in tact I plied the rails with my last length of duct tape.
Despite my efforts to stock up on food I was running low after a very long day, and I was relieved when our group decided to put in for the night at a hay barn at the bottom of the descent. Dinner consisted of a small tin of tuna with crackers that proved to be some of the most satisfying meals in recent memory. There is nothing like a Brevet to make you appreciate the simple pleasures and this thought stayed with me as I drifted off to sleep.
Day 4.5 Middlemarch to Tekapo

Breakfast of an Up-and-go and we were up and off, easing into the ride to Middlemarch where a second cooked breakfast awaited. After such meagre pickings yesterday evening it was no surprise that I racked up a $45 food bill at the rail trail cafe. The quantity was so good that I was left thankful that the trail ahead was of the flat grade typical. The worst thing would have been to have that delicious breakfast repeat on me on some gut busting hill climb.
Back on the bikes and we smashed out the 60km to Ranfurly, mindful that a big day today would see the Brevet done and dusted. My riding companions were less determined than I on this front and weren’t willing to commit to the lofty 300km goal. For now they made excellent companions as we discussed all manner of things which were at the front of our wandering minds.
A salad heavy wrap in Ranfurly made for a delicious morning tea, while the back roads to Naseby with a cheeky bit of water race singletrack were a great prelude to another 4-square lunch stop.
Danseys Pass loomed ahead and as we rolled into it I was eager to get to the gentler climbs that lay on the other side. A picturesque setting with great views and a warm day made the riding fantastic, so it was only natural that I tried to push the limits of a weary body. After cresting the pass and inhaling the expansive views of the Waitaki, we raced down the other side, our group regathering at the head of a mob of sheep. Mark commented I was on a mission, and on reflection I was, so when the group dawdled prior to the next climb I made a decision to go hell for leather and push solo for the finish some 150km away. Low on the aerobars and with a downhill grade to Duntroon and Kurow I made great progress, focussed on the long road ahead.
Stopping only to text in, fill my bottles and retrieve my last remaining power cookie bar from my bag, I was off on the sealed road to the Hakataramea, a steady wind at my back pushing me up the gradual climb. For only the second time on the Brevet I called on my Ipod to keep boredom at bay, the riveting tales of apocalypse survival from ‘We’re Alive’ keeping me motivated to the very top of the Haka’ Pass. With sun starting to wane I was treated to the most amazing view of the Mackenzie, Mt Cook illuminated with golden plains as far as the eyes could see. Donning most of my warm gear for the descent in the shade, I was thankful for doing this at such a friendly weather conditions with a tailwind blasting me down the coarse gravel road. A 90 degree turn promptly quashed this stoke as a 60km/h flyer was reduced to a 3km/h grovel. Again I was thankful I only had this for a short stretch, and some less lucky with their timing would have to battle the wind for the whole 100km from Kurow, surely something I wouldn’t wish upon the worst bicycle thief.

Rolling into Tekapo with the sun properly set, I was greeted by the cow bells of Swiss patriots Walt and Zita, their gracious hospitality at the Chalet prior to the ride was repeated with a hearty steak and roast vegetables, and after the rush of finishing quickly faded and fatigue set in, a warm, soft and comforting bed.

Ollie at the finish and straight on the text machine
Photo Denise Blance
The Great Southern Brevet experience was easily one of the toughest of my short ultra-endurance riding career. I had seriously underestimated it and had made some mistakes along the way, some of which were exacerbated by a spot of bad luck. I took pride in the way I’d overcome this adversity and had some fantastic experiences along the way, whether it was the great company of Geoff, Mark and Craig or the breath-taking vistas highlighted by the descent from the Old Main Range into the meatball serving oasis of Alexandra.
Above all else Brevets are a fantastic opportunity for the bike obsessed to explore unseen parts of our beautiful country. Dave King’s epic Great Southern Brevet did this and more, serving as a spark for further adventures exploring the wonderously expansive and varied landscapes of Central Otago.


sifter said...

Nice one Ollie. Sounds like an amazing adventure, with a few twists and turns to keep you guessing. Good to have gear issues here at home than on the Tour Divide too.

Unknown said...

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