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

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