Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kiwi Brevet Day 4 - Springfield to Hanmer

Ollie secures a dry bag to his Freeload somewhere on the Wharfedale
Photo: Graham Allen

Rising groggily from our bunks Andy and I proceeded to destroy excessive helpings of continental breakfast. Pushing the boundaries of value to well beyond the $10 asking price, we surmised that Smiley’s would be less generous with such an open offer to hungry bikers in future.

This morning Andy seemed to be plagued by old man-itis, losing his glasses then drink bottle before misplacing the lockup keys. A bit behind schedule, we backtracked to the turnoff and headed for Sheffield, the morning mist shrouding the firm gravel road.

By the time we’d turned off to the Wharfedale the mist had lifted and we were treated to a clear late summer’s day. Approaching the beech clad hills that play home to the Wharfedale, Andy commented that we we’re pretty fortunate to be riding our bikes in favour of the usual drudgery of work. I concurred and had to admit it was the first time I’d thought about it, so immersed in the Brevet experience as I was.

The previous day an issue had arisen with the hitherto perfectly performing Rohloff drivetrain. I’d chosen to run it with a magic ratio rather than a tensioner, meaning that as the chain wore, the tension would drop to the point where the chain would visibly slacken. Starting with a new chain, the 750km we’d done had started to take its toll, and the chain would jump off if the right configuration of bump prevailed.
Having been victim to this phenomenon in my early ghetto singlespeed days, I quickly adopted a familiar technique. By applying brakes and pedalling constantly downhill I could keep tension in the chain and prevent it from jumping off the sprockets. Effectively riding a fixie made the usually effortless flow of the Wharfedale a good deal more challenging. Fortunately Andy had his death-machine to handle so there was no pressure to pin. The issue caused usual instinctual riding responses to be replaced with logical assessments of root dimensions, off-camberness and risk of derailment. With a careful line choice I made it to the hut without dropping the chain more than half a dozen times.
The Ventana in full saggy chained glory
Photo: Graham Allen

We stopped for a snack and Andy took the opportunity to reshoe the cantilever ‘brakes’ of his steed. We also met Graham who had sneaked away from work to take some action shots  to feed back to interweb, whetting their ravenous information appetite. I proceeded to have a rambling conversation about chamois cream, old man-itis and bird calls before it was off down the river to Lees Valley.

Andy reshoes his shake-machine
Photo: Graham Allen

This section of 4wd track appeared to bring Andy’s body a new world of hurt. Where the Stan’s tires on my 29er absorbed the bumpy surface, his skinny crossers transmitted every jolt to his arms, rendering progress at anything faster than a crawl a painful experience. A forced break for Andy to recombobulate as we joined Lee’s valley gave me a good chance to consider tactics. As cruel as it was I began to entertain the thought of leaving the visibly suffering Andy to go it alone. Thankfully he recovered quickly and would prove to be a useful companion through the McDonald Downs section that he’d raced on previously.

Passing through an endless, barren backdrop of rivers, farm roads and gradual climbs, we hooked a left at the Brothers, past a giant cow and onto a gigantic descent to the gravel road out. Fueled by a growing hunger and the knowledge that some pub meal goodness lay in store at Hurunui we rolled out to the highway, stopping only to refill dwindling water supplies at a farmer’s residence.

The meal at Hurunui didn’t disappoint, and with a feeling of bloat that we were quickly becoming familiar with we rode on to Hanmer, daring not to stop in Culverden after bad experiences there previously. I tried in vain to replicate yesterday’s caffeinated euphoria with a Red Bull, but the absent buzz left me wondering if I’d stuck a bung batch, or perhaps it was the lack of tailwind.

Cresting one of the last pinches into Hanmer, Andy cried out in pain, mumbling some obscenities and pointing to his ankle. He’d twisted it at Big River and had been nursing it thus far in silent agony. The pace dropped markedly as we cruised the final kilometres in pained silence.

Stocking up at the local market (which offered extortionary prices); we gathered provisions for the final day. Andy took on some neurofen and made some pleading calls to the physiotherapists in his phone’s memory. I ferreted out a chain to replace my sagging one from the friendly folks at Krank and we rolled out the Forest Camp to get an early nights sleep. Any anxieties over the penultimate day were smothered by the pillow of fatigue. We would have to wait till then to see how the final blast to Blenheim would pan out.

Food consumed
2 x Bowls of museli
4 x slices of toast with peanut butter
2 x bananas
1 x apple
1 x chicken bacon burger
1 x Rabbit pie
1 x bowl of chips
1 x Ginger beer
1 x Red Bull
4 x One Square Meals
1 x Can Watties Chunky Pasta and Salami soup
1 x Can creamed rice
1 x 1L Orange juice

Monday, March 29, 2010

Kiwi Brevet Day 3 – Reefton to Springfield

Ollie leading Andy through the back blocks of Brunner
Photo: Dave North
The third day began in the best possible way. A seven course degustation of baked treats from the Reefton Bakery, which conveniently opened its doors just as we were setting off for the famed Big River trail. By this stage of the ride my appetite had become ferocious, and to keep on top of the constant thirst for calories I’d adopt a big breakfast, big lunch big tea strategy.

This strategy created difficulties for one’s body as it decided which of two options to apply effort to; either the spin of legs and intake of breath, or the digestion of lunch. Despite initial sensations of bloat, it proved a good way to ingest the necessary fuel without the need for constant stops and heavy loads.

With a strong sensation that digestion would take precedence this morning we pushed out into the mist, the mysterious Andy joining our merry troupe.

The Big River trail ended up being the most technical section of the Brevet, but forgivingly began with a gradually steepening climb. Before long the trail become paved with the legacy of either nature or the gold prospectors of old The track was littered with a growing number of loose cobbles and tannin stained puddles as dark as the caves that lay to the side of the cutting. It was after a particularly sloppy example of the latter that I came across Michi. He was chatting away on his cell phone to a friend following our progress on the internet, checking he was still on course as he was convinced he’d taken a wrong turn.

Having ridden the trail previously I assured him we were on course, and we got to talking about the strange sequence of events that had brought us together again on an old miners trail in West Coast tiger country. Filling me in on the low down, Michi was jabbering away in a fashion that could only be bought on by an almost 20hr day of solitary riding. His MP3 player had made poor company and we proceeded to make up for a day’s conversation in the space of twenty minutes.

Turns out he had pushed on through the night, arriving in Reefton after midnight and setting up camp in a roadside bush before proceeding to get rained on. He also missed out on the previously mentioned bakery feast, or indeed any form of breakfast so in the interests of keeping his audibly gurgling stomach from turning green with envy I didn’t elaborate on what a treat it had been.

At this point we had pushed ahead of Lisa, Mark and Tony, with Andy a minute or two back and struggling on the technical climb on his cyclocross shake-machine.

Stopping for a comfort break at the Hut, I left Michi to a scenic breakfast and pushed ahead.

We were very fortunate that the trail was dry as several sections would have become knee deep peat swamps at the first sign of the West Coast’s biggest import. The mixture of roots, boardwalks and benched singletrack was a treat to ride on my 29er. With pressure dropped in the tires and plenty of range form the Rohloff I could climb and descend most of the track, not with ease but relatively smoothly given the 10kg of gear on my Freeload and the big days of riding in my legs. Doing it hard was Andy, whose shake-machine had become a death-machine on the root sections, and a number of times I stopped for a peaceful snack stop so we could re-group. Dropping out at Waitua some 4 hours after setting off for a grim 9km/h average, we knew we had a big day ahead if we were to make the 260km to Sheffield.

Another beautifully crafted gravel road led us down to the highway, and it was here that a crucial break formed with Mark losing touch with Andy through a fast section. I managed to stay in touch and as we shredded down the valley we passed a shotgun toting local who waved his arm in a cheery good morning. Were it not for his crooked smile we might well have ridden away a lot faster to the rising soundtrack of deliverance banjos.

An extended road section took us past some scenic bush and scenic dairy farms, and as the clouds closed in I donned my roadie hat to keep road filth at bay.

Swooping past Blackball we made our way onto the lake Brunner Road and towards Bell Hill, stopping only to consult a map for directions before spotting a tell tale sign on a railroad sign.

Andy shows his po-po-poker face.
Photo: Dave North

Andy and I worked really well through this section, the cloud and rain turning presumably spectacular scenery into a fairly dull ride. Spotting our first weka skulking across the carriageway was a surprise, but by the time we saw our tenth the novelty had worn thin and we were left questioning why all the weka were crossing the road; presumably to get to the other side.

Roadie cap in place and shredding the descent to Brunner
Photo: Dave North

Around Bell Hill we were accosted by a crazy waving man who was a passenger in a Land Rover. Stopping ahead to take some snaps we kept riding, unsure whether this man was a rabid fan or just plain rabid. Turns out he was a mate of Caleb Smith’s who the latter had recruited to whet the interweb’s growing appetite for real time action shots of the Brevet. With rain and muck starting to lower morale, we finally rejoined the sealed Brunner road and before long the sun came out, its warming rays propelling us to the Jackson’s store where we refuelled before our next challenge of the day; Arthur’s pass.

The profile looked grim, with an 800m climb up the valley in less than 10km, but with a roaring tail wind we scooted up the valley past Otira daring to look round the valleys ahead to get a glimpse of the grind that lay in store. Crossing some loose road works and the road started to pinch. While I’ve travelled this section numerous times in a car, being on a bike gave it a new thrill and as I peered over the Armco barrier to the rocky gully below I gained a sense for just how precariously the road clung to the rocks. Locking in the easiest ratio on the Rohloff I settled into a rhythm and ground my way up to the Pass. As a civil engineer I took the time to note some of the engineering details on the marvel that is the Otira viaduct, with massive channels and slot drains to keep the road driveable in the worst of West coast downpours.

With great satisfaction we crested the pass, switching gammily to the other end of our gears for the thrilling descent to Arthurs Pass township. Andy and I were positively ripping here, perhaps due to the endorphins from knocking off the massive climb, but more likely due to the full speed knees-out turns the twisty road required. Shooting into the town I was buzzing. As a person who doesn’t make coffee consumption a regular habit, caffeine laden Coke is a rare treat. Downing one of these before hitting the road and it hit me, a wave of sugary ecstasy. With a roaring tailwind out our backs we pushed 50km/h for a good 45 minutes. After this the rush felt as though it propelled us up and over the rolling climbs past Cragieburn, Cave Stream and Castle Hill. Only a bike rider can know the true joy of a tailwind, and in this supremely scenic setting with sun setting and sky clear I was in heaven. Hand’s down my most enjoyable moment thus far.

As darkness began to fall, the buzz began to fade and it was with relief as we rounded the lake Lindon corner for the short dash up the back of Porter’s Pass. Donning lights, jackets and leg warmers for the descent we rolled the easy kilometres to Springfield which was to be our stop for the night. Fortune and friendly proprietors were again on our side, and Smiley’s Backpackers duly obliged with a comfy bunk, a hot shower and even a spot of cake for desert. Previous days had taught me your best option was to prepare for the next day in the downtime before hitting the pillows, so grime crusted shorts, socks and shirt were washed, and other gear stashed to allow a for a lightweight run on the final two days. Another 300km day and while fatigue was starting to set in I was amping for the next days adventure.

Food consumed
1 x Steak and cheese pie
2 x Ham filled rolls
1 x Savoury scone
1 x Blueberry muffin
2 x Fruit smoothie drinks
2 x Spicy salami sticks
6 x One Square Meals
1 x Bowl of chips
2 x Whitebait fritters
1 x Bacon and Egg sandwich
1 x 600ml Coke (OMG!)
6 x drink bottles of water
1 x Packet jelly snakes
1 x Slice of birthday cake

Monday, March 08, 2010

Ventana Mum conquers Karapoti Classic

  Sue shows some post 'Poti stoke
Photo Robin Whalley

Sue and her El Saltamontes loved the mud feast that was this years Karapoti. Her Salty as always performing in an exemplary manner  that epitomises the superlative quality of the Ventana mountain bike name. She smashed through mud lakes, rivers, knee deep mud holes and up slippery Sue sized ruts and rocky climbs to achieve 3rd place in her group in an aweosme time of 4:30!! 

 Sue crossing the finish line
Photo Robin Whalley

Lesser beasts both machine and human crumpled in awe , many suffering from the dreaded chain suck. Sue steamed past them, powering over the finish line with energy left to order food from her loyal supporter Robin. Sue has already marked her calendar to repeat the delicious torture next year.

Before shot: note lack of mud
Photo Robin Whalley

Friday, March 05, 2010

Kiwi Brevet Day 2 - Hope to Reefton

The day dawned somewhat hazily, with legs numb and brain dull, a strong urge to eat seeing me consume a large portion of bacon and egg pie slathered in beans with a side of orange juice. Stomach rumbling I saddled up, and joined by Michi who also reported a troubled sleep.
Through the morning dew we set off, several km down the road my fuzzy brain clicked and the realisation dawned that I had left my drink bottles at our accommodation. Stubbornness again reigned and it took till Wakefield before I stopped to refill the spares from my dry bag and remove arm and legwarmers at the settlement’s world famous automated toilet.
Ollie and Mark ignired numerous police requests to slow down
Photo Rob Hambrook

This left me off the back of a bunch and it wasn’t till the end of the smooth gravel roads of 88 valley that I rejoined a group consisting of early rising adventure racers Tony, Lisa and Mark. Hooking left an up the valley to the Reay Saddle, we set a great pace cresting the pinch then powering the descent. Pace gradually slowed as we pedalled the false flat leading to the fearsome Kerr’s hill, Mark and I drifting off the front and reaching the top and slicing down the curvy descent. The turn off to St Arnaud was a welcome break from the climbing, and the 5km descent to the St Arnaud Mobil left us buzzing leading into our mid morning lunch break. 
The long slog to St Arnaud was rewarded with pastry goodness
Photo Rob Hambrook

Mark and Lisa rip into a hearty mid morning lunch
Photo Rob Hambrook
Ollie's Ventana rests while the pilot refuels at St Arnaud
Photo Rob Hambrook

Indulging in a feast of pastry and cake as well as a new set of lithium batteries for my spot tracker. Lisa and Tony rejoined us and we coasted down to the Gowan Valley turnoff. After fighting gravity all morning it was nice to have it on our side. To our left we passed a gathering of glider enthusiasts who were using wind and winch to battle this most elemental of attractions in a different way.

Next in store was the Porika track to Lake Rotorua. Pre race banter was the extent of my knowledge of this track, and all reports were that it was nuggety and steep, a true test of loaded riding skill. Beginning with a wide 4wd track it climbed, undertyre surface morphing from rocks to beech as the canopy closed in. Towards the top with a final effort we crested, passing some gold workings and beginning the rapidly deteriorating descent to the Lake. Mark and I had again pulled clear at this point, and rounding one corner the most amazing of watery views came to pass in full high definition (real life) colour. The beech clad banks of the lake lapped into the deep blue water far below us. Breathtaking as it was it served as an unwelcome distraction given the sketchy rock slabs that I was wrestling to keep my bike in control on. Rounding a few corner I narrowly missing becoming a hood ornament of a keen 4wder who appeared to have overestimated his skill (or underestimated the roughness of the trail). We dropped into the lake where I finally had the chance to indulge in a dip. Limbs refreshed and snacks polished off, it was back in the saddle before the ferocious sandflys had a chance to extract their lactic acid laced pay-dirt.

Dispatching the gradual gravel climb of the Braeburn track, we were treated to the most amazing flowing descent to the highway below. In terms of the riding in the Brevet, fantastic stretches of gravel road like this one were a highlight. Punctuated smooth fords and beautifully cambered corners, the weight of our bikes, bodies and gear propelled us at a thrilling speed onto the highway to Murchison.

More pastry consumption ensued, before we were off for Maruia saddle, determined to make our target for the day of Reefton.
Going into the Brevet a big concern of mine was my ability to maintain motivation for the big days of riding. Being part of this solid quartet made the miles melt away and even though conversation was limited (tapering off to muttered phrases by the end of the day), the presence of fellow riders was deeply motivating, meeting the instinctual need that social animals such as humans require. This need is especially true when fatigued after a hard day of riding.

An added bonus of group riding was the shared resources, with chain lube, toilet paper, pumps and jelly snakes freely exchanged. One item less shared was Antichafe, where adherence to the ‘no double dipping rule’ was strict, except where you were particularly well acquainted with your companion, as in Tony and Lisa’s case.

A flowing climb to Maruia saddle ensued, with no less than seven fords before the conveniently signposted summit, and another golden gravel descent back to the highway.
Back on the road we made for Springs, grovelling into a block headwind and working well to share the load. A brief stop at the Mariua Store revealed some useful snippets on the hitherto unseen Andy Reid. The store’s proprietor spilt the beans that a similarly filthy cyclist had stopped for a sit down meal only an hour earlier. Filling bottles with sugary drinks we were off in hot pursit.

Several kilometres on we spied Thomas, sitting on a grassy verge and looking worse for wear. Prior to the race he had told us of his emergency peanut butter taped to his top tube, which would only be consumed if his race as ‘over’. Beside him the tub lay empty, with only a crust of nuts around his lips belying its fate. Despite our offer of a tow to Reefton he remained, and we left him to refuel from a combination of snacks that he’d pulled from his dry bag in ravenous hunger. Later conversations would reveal he’d attempted to ride this first portion of the course non-stop but the exertion had clearly got the better of him and he’d switched to cruise mode after this epic bonk.

Through Springs and we ignored the greasy treats on offer, the reputation of the local tearooms more than enough to urge us onwards to Reefton. Still light at this point, we relished the smooth asphalt climb, before cursing at the numerous false tops. When the summit finally came, it was a good’un, and for the next twenty kilometers we wouldn’t drop below 40 km and hour. In one section while I was leading we hit a swarm of the gigantic bugs that seem to chase townies away from the coast. Diminishing light meant glasses were not an option so with the spluttering of swallowed bug and blinking that can only come from high velocity insect impact, we finally rolled into the town named for its Reefs.

Darkness had settled and with very little convincing Lisa secured us a hearty feast, a room at a backpackers and even a hot shower. This was the best example of hospitality I’d experienced and would love to visit the couple who opened their doors to our quartet of smelly bikers and thank them for their kindness.
290km done, stomach full and tucked into a queen-size bed for a deep sleep. Fatigue was starting to win the battle over anxiety, or perhaps I was just having too good a time to worry.

Food consumed
1/4 of a full sized bacon and egg pie (+ sauce)
1 can of beans
2 x cups of orange juice
4 x one square meals
2 x St Arnaud steak and cheese pies (yum)
1 x Slab of carrot cake (yum)
1 x Irvines mince and cheese pie (nasty)
6 x drink bottles of water
1 x Coke (600ml bottle)
1 x Fish and chip feast

Kiwi Brevet Day 1 –Blenheim to Hope, Nelson

Riders ready themselves for the start of the 2010 Kiwi Brevet
Photo Caleb Smith Spoke

The butterflies of anxiety were in full flutter in the days proceeding the 2010 Kiwi Brevet. The event would push the boundaries of riding for all of the 70 participants, and only a handful would know how their bodies how would respond to the strains that 1100km on the bike brings.
When the day of the event dawned, so did a realisation that we were locked in. All we could do was our best. Anxious thoughts eased, and as we lined up at the start in Seymour square, buoyed by the collective energy of a group adventure we had no choice but to be ready.

With the gong of the clock it began, a colourful procession of loaded bikes; a veritable pick’n mix of riders, bikes and gear.  Weaving through midday traffic were crossbikes, 29ers, mountain bikes of the full and hardtail variety and even a solo nutter on a singlespeed.

On the approach to Rarangi several riders made their intentions to smash it clear, pushing ahead through a sapping sandy section then onto the road to Port Underwood.
One rider received early validation of their bike choice, with Jakub’s 4” tired Surly Pugsley floating over the sandy surface leaving skinnier treaded brethren in his wake.
Hitting the first climb, temperatures soared and helmets began to juice. I developed an affinity as I crawled past a sticken Pajero, its radiator succumbing to the deadly mix of heat and exertion, its steam vanishing into the tarsealed haze.
Ollie and Michi sweatily summit a hill into White's Bay
Photo Tama Easton

Seal gave way to silty dust, in places tyre deep and as the grades pinched upwards a conscious effort was made to ease, if by finding the spots of shade lining the road or slipping into an easier gear on the Rohloff. Fortunately the steepish climbs gave way to flowing descents, and as the roads slithered down to bay after bay, the temptation to stop for a swim was strong.
Before long we had ascended the final climb and were shredding the tarmac into Picton. At this stage the group at the front had swelled, with Sifter, Thomas, Simon and Michi forming a jovial group with only the hard charging Andy Reid off the front.

Rolling through Queen Charlotte drive the group thinned before I found myself alone, sneaking past Andy who had stopped at the Linkwater Caltex to drain fluids (as if the sun’s efforts hadn’t done enough). Using the full aero tuck and his awesome roadie powers, Andy bridged back and we rode the scenic swoops to Havelock as if in a two man TT, albeit with less skinsuit and sperm helmet than normal. Stopping to refill bottles from the rust tainted waters of the Havelock Shell, a friend’s assertion that giardia took a week to reach full explosive flight echoed in my mind.

Onwards to Pelorus bridge with the memories of rock jumping into the river below. Hard left and onwards to the Maungatapu, a road I had become accustomed to during my days as a junior racer.  Back in the day a good time for the course to Nelson was 2 hours, but loaded to the gunnels and with 140km already in the legs, this would have been pretty ambitious.

With Andy’s choice to run a cyclocross bike came the arduous demands of supremely tall gearing, and as he stomped his 39-26 up the climb to the saddle I was content to let him go, comfortably within the Rohloff’s easy gear range. As the climb got steeper Andy came into view, resorting to pushing on the loose surface. In keeping with the stubbornness that seems to be a family trait, I chose to keep riding, and crept past him to the saddle, earning the call “You’re mad” as I left Andy to his slower but arguably smarter push.

Straight down the other side with sunlight beginning to wane, the decent was a blast. Stopping once to air up a tire and retie an escaping dry bag to my Freeload, I proceeded to drift my way to the bottom, wary that the off camber and rut infested descent had claimed a friends collarbone in the not to recent past.
Ollie climbs the Maungatapu
Photo Caleb Smith Spoke

Safely down and in one piece it was down the Maitai valley to Nelson. The route here was well designed, with calorie rich options of McD’s, Pizzahut, Dominoes and even a pub lining the route. These would serve as savoury temptations for those behind me to replenish lost energy with food of the most greasy and delicious variety. Onwards to Richmond and Hope for a troubled sleep. All had gone to plan but the 190km today was only a fraction of what was to come.

Food consumed
4 x one square meals
1 x Em’s power cookie bar
6 x drink bottles of water
1 x Dom’s fruitcake
1/4 of a full sized bacon and egg pie (+ sauce)