|Ollie at the finish in Blenheim. Stoked to have made it through the Port Underwood 'Road of Doom'|
Photo Dominic Blissett
Always at the forefront of the gear-weenies mind, a summary of the Brevet would be remiss without a recap of the gear that worked.
After the multi-faceted cluster muck that were my bags in the Great Southern Brevet, the Revelate Viscacha seat bag was a revelation. Lightweight but with plenty of volume for my camping gear I could shred gnarly sections of trail without a worry that my gear would be ejected skyward. As a rule, I am staunchly dismissive of the offensive naffness of saddle bags, and while some may cry hypocrisy at my high praise, the Viscacha may be the very seat hugging appendage that I’ll make an exception for. Evolved through careful layers of iterative design, the combination of materials makes them a winner for lightweight touring.
Up front, a further collabo with Cactus yielded an evolved front pocket design with openings secured with bungy cords in the style of a climbing chalk bag. Ultra secure and with capacity to expand beyond the bounds of the pocket, I never lost anything nor was I left wanting for more accessible space. Heidi and I hastily assembled this custom bag in the week prior from a lighter weight PVC in stealth/bogan black.
That my Ventana El Commandante was so awesome was not really a surprise. After some destruction of Nelson’s technical trails over summer and a smooth run in the Great Southern Brevet, the combination of rigid forks and belt transmission seemed to be the ticket for the long relatively un-technical trails that fill the bulk of the Brevet’s chubby body.
When it got gnarly such as through the Wharfedale or Big River, the rigid forks demanded a level of full body input that makes for a delightful contrast with the finger numbing norm of Brevet riding. With smooth (and sometime cautious) line choice, very little is lost to a bike running suspension.
The child of obsessive German precision and with no reported failures at the hands of bearded ultra-tourers named Hans, the Rohloff is a masterpiece of bicycle engineering. All gears are captured in large hub shell which yields a super low maintenance transmission. 14 gears give more than enough range and efficiency on par with a derailleur system (depending on gear selection). When coupled with a Carbon Drive belt which the Ventana frame allows me to run, I’d no need to stop for cleaning and lubing the chain, and with a life of about 4000km it should be just about perfect for my assault on the Tour Divide.
With their funky ‘chamois on the outside’ stylez, the Ground Effect Exocets that cradled my botty to the finish are a fine example of NZ made gear at the forefront of the performance stakes. They are the best shorts I’ve ever used and it was always a joy to put them on, although less so when soggy after failing to dry off three solid days of accumulated butt sweat overnight at St Arnaud.
Helter Skelter three-quarter rain pants made an appearance during rainy bouts, and kept lower half dry and happy, while a merino Risteretto vest was staple morning attire, easy to whip off at lunchtime when temperatures climbed. On top a road rage provided ample pocket room for stocking up on snacks, while still being cool in the hot spots on course, notably Murchison late on day three where my Garmin reported 30 degrees.
A Mont Bell Thermawrap UL synthetic jacket was the warm hug that signalled the end of a long day and the start of the next. I’d pull on this wee number when sweat chills started to set in, and at 250g and the size of a baseball it took up next to no room in my bag.
Balmoral reserve was a buzzing family campground with an early morning visit from a V8 driving bogan the only downer on a sweet and sheltered camping spot.
The Blackball Hilton gave hospitality that was beyond the call of duty, even throwing together a meal on my late 10:30PM arrival. Would have loved to indulge in the cooked breakfast but my 5AM departure meant otherwise.
St Arnaud. Arriving at 10:30PM after a 20km headwind slog, the sheltered shores of Lake Rotoiti made for a premium camping spot. Pitching my tent at night wasn’t conducive to a sound structure, and my flaccid efforts at inflating the sleeping mat left it more deflated than not. Still an excellent nights sleep.
My Z-Packs Hexamid Cuben Fibre Solo tent, Western Mountaineering Highlight sleeping bag and Exped Synlight Mat made for a 1350g sleeping kit which saw me through some stormy nights in a dry, warm and comfortable bliss.
Reminded of my own insignificance.
The strangest occurrence in my 1100km jaunt was on the Porika climbing out of Lake Rotorua. While the pop philosophical cliché of ‘if a tree falls in the woods’ is bandied about like halleluliahs at an evangalestic revival, I had a strange encounter with this very scenario. I was witness to the eerie and almighty crash of a falling beech tree while riding the upper stretches of the track. I find it mind bendingly
With sun setting over a moody West Coast sky, the stretch from Rotomanu to Stillwater was destined to be one of the awe inducing sections that will come to be a lasting memory of the Brevet.
Fiery orange sky illuminated the ceramically smooth road, with a mellow undulating gradient that carried you to Stillwater as if on a cloud. While the road was gravel, it was aggregated with a kind of blissful pixie dust that anchored loose particles and filled all the tiny crevices with smooth and fast joy. The coming together of the sunset, fantastic road and the elation of a long day on the road with destination near in sight made this my riding highlight.
While the stretch through Big River was a joy, and one I’m vowing to return to for the annual race there, it left my face and body layered with a putty of beech and mud that meant my attempts for service at the bakery would be met with a hearty West Coast ‘piss off’.
Realising this, I set about cleaning my arms, legs and face in the dingy public toilets down the road, scuttling into the corner and averting my gaze when members of the public entered the block to dispose of ones and twos. When their judgemental glares couldn’t be avoided, I saw in their eyes pity, disgust and revulsion. Clearly I was the first dirt bag biker they’d seen grabbing a sink shower at a public latrine, and with the string of breveteers at my tail perhaps not the last to cause their offense.
Always a highlight of any Brevet, the gustatory delights on the Kiwi didn’t disappoint, with the exception of an awful watery raspberry thickshake at Murchison.
The norm would be top stop at shops and bakeries on route, stocking up pockets with enough for dinner and breakfast on the road. Typically I’d spend $40 at each stop, with at least two each day.
Rolls and sandwhiches were the best in Arthurs Pass, where I regrettably left behind a half eaten slice of moist carrot cake, my eyes clearly bigger than my stomach at this late stage of the day.
Winner on the pie front was Sheffield where no less than 4 were consumed, followed closely by Reefton where wild pork and vension were a tasty reward for my slog through Big River. Up-and-go with its meal in a box goodness and bananas were standard breakfast fare.
|Ollie sporting his thousand yard pie eating stare. Note extreme hydration.|
Photo Richard Craig.
My one deviation from the relatively wholesome norm was a breakfast feast at Nelson McDonalds. In the 30minutes I was there I pretty much clocked their breakfast. An NYC Benedict bagel, Hunger Buster meal, Kiwi Big Breakfast and Hot cakes. All washed down with a tall cup of the most sickly sweet orange juice imaginable. At only $25, the sheer value was amazing and the hyperprocessed mush made for easy chewing and swallowing. A grind up the Maungatapu soon after almost saw the breakfast bonanza revisited, but some steady pacing saw my stomach contents kept in check.
While it was the first Brevet where I had made a conscious decision to ride on my own, I was treated to some great company from Brevet followers along the road. Jane and Dom opened their home for a pre-race kip and post race eating binge. Slim, Michelle and Jasper joined me in Sheffield for a pie and a much needed update on fellow breveteers, some of which who were having navigational issues. The Blights of Hokitika (Helen and Peter) popped up at an alarming frequency, parking their van prior to Arthurs Pass, and then again on the final day in Wakefield when they were loaded up and heading off for their family holiday. Mum joined me for some breakfast in McDonalds in Nelson and again at the Blenheim finish. Mike and Andrew also gave me some great support on the spin up the Maitai, the latter fearlessly pursuing me in his ute till the trail became undrivable.
To come off the Great Southern Brevet with a week and a bit rest, I was stoked at how my body reacted during the Brevet. Rather than the slump I had feared, I bounced, smashing at longer days in the saddle and meeting ambitious distance goals without too much effort. My training which consisted of high intensity bike intervals along with core sessions, running and rock climbing seemed to be ideal for this type of extended jaunt. While I feel a bit deflated on the back of the Brevet double, having lost a good amount of muscle strength, I’m confident I can rebuild stronger than ever all ready to tackle the biggest ride of my life; the Tour Divide.