Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Kiwi Brevet - Day 5 Hanmer to Blenheim

Ollie cresting Taylor's Pass on the run into Blenheim

Andy and I woke, according to plan, at 4am. The desire to get out of the cramped cabin and stuck into our final dash for home overpowered any weariness associated with the early hour. Breakfast consisted of a selection of canned goods procured from the general store the previous day. Strangely my appetite had disappeared and despite knowing that I’d need every calorie I could take on, I only managed half a can of creamed rice. By now our roll out process had become second nature, only this time I stashed a good portion of my gear in a roadside bush for a lightweight run to the finish.

Our sole illumination came from a dim led torch, so really it was no surprise when we missed the turnoff at the bottom of Jollie’s pass road, a blunder that could have proved catastrophic. Andy took some convincing, but we backtracked and began the climb at a quickening pace.

Steep as it was, Andy appeared to give no consideration to his dodgy ankle, instead stomping up the hill and disappearing out of site. In the early morning haze I began to doubt my quiet confidence. Was Andy’s ankle injury indeed an elaborate rouse?

Mid way through one of the steeper sections he came back into view, and was off his bike giving his ankle a rest. Relieved and amazed that he could smash it in the face of obvious agony, he relayed that he’d simply opted for the faster of two options; pushing it to the point where his legs hurt more rather than creeping up the hill like a grandma. My respect for Andy grew like the gradually lightening sky.

Rounding the top of Jollies we let rip with some unnecessary expletives, elated to have crested the first obstacle of the day. This elation gave way to bravado on the downhill run to the Molesworth Valley, a risky prospect given the high speed and minimal visibility. Rounding one of the final sweeping corners I drifted wide and into the face deep gravel. Any chance of wrestling back control was now lost, and with a rumble of gravel as the ravens ran out of tread the bike tipped onto its side and slid to a halt. Losing some hip and elbow skin in the process, I was furious that I’d let myself get so carried away. Andy offered a sage comment “Wo man, think you need to chill out”. To which I replied, “Yes I think I’ll chill out”. Checking for serious injuries I remounted and gingerly pedalled the remaining downhill. Arm warmers seemed to have saved me from more serious elbow lacerations, but my hip had been pretty roughed up. It is a testament to the durability of the Rohloff that it still worked flawlessly and all that was required was a readjustment to my dry bag load on the Freeload rack.

From this point on I experienced what can only be described as the cleansing sensation of pain. Whether it was the adrenaline coursing through my system or simply the cold air on open wounds, the injury helped me put aside the deep seated fatigue of the previous four days and focus on the singular goal of getting to Blenheim. While I’m as guilty as most for mocking emo’s and their penchant for self harm, this experience brought a new understanding. It was as if my gravel rash allowed me to push harder with a sense of urgency that would otherwise have alluded me. A very surreal experience and not something I’d try again on purpose.

With this new found vim, it wasn’t long before Andy had drifted off my wheel, and with the grey horizion taking on a golden tinge, I set off for the final 160 km as if it were a time trial that my life depended on.

Prior to the race start Simon had informed us that we weren’t officially allowed to use the Molesworth road between 7am and 7pm, and as I jumped the gate opposite the rangers hut at Acheron at about 5:30am, I didn’t hang around to test DOC’s resolve.

As the pain of my injuries dulled, feelings of clarity were replaced with paranoia. For a long stretch I swore I could spot the tire tracks of someone heading north as I was. A phone call to friends on the web last night revealed that uber-racer Mark had not made it Hanmer as we had, but had he called on his sleep depriving super-powers to push on through the whole night? Only way to know for sure would be to smash it to Blenheim and find out the result.

With a slight tailwind at my back the miles drifted away, helped by familiarity with the terrain (albeit in the opposite direction) as a veteran of 3 Molesworth muster races. Road conditions were excellent until the 7 km stretch of Isoloation flat where loose gravel and soil littered the surface. There was no sign of a compacted wheeltrack to seek rolling refuge in, but fortunately the big wheels kicked ass over this rough stuff, holding momentum and carrying me over the bridge to Ward’s Pass, the second major climb of the day.

Grinding up the steep climb and shredding down the other side, I treated myself to a stop to refill bottles at the homestead campsite. Here a ranger reported that I was the only rider he’d seen that day, and this put my paranoia regarding Mark’s phantom tracks at bay, at least for a while.

From this point I’d enjoyed cool conditions with a pleasant tail wind, but clouds had started to lower and rain fell giving a solemn tone to this stretch of the Awatere Valley.

Back in an unknown landscape, I used the profile velcroed to my bars for motivation. Knowing that there were only five hills left made it that much easier to get up them, and as I counted down the rises, and the kilometeres in between I knew every pedal stroke would bring me one step closer to the finish.

In one particularly headwind plagued stretch of road my attempts to shift the Rohloff into an easier gear met with resistance, the combination of icy rain drenched gloves and worn grip shift reducing the transmission to one gear. Realising that the predicament was doing little for my motivation, let alone my poor legs, I stopped and retrieved a rag from my dry bag. With this wrapped around the grip I could get enough traction to shift, and I stashed the rag in my jersey pocket in readiness for the next hill.

Another hill passed, and was followed by a fantastic downhill stretch where I topped 80km/h. Another hill and I was back on sealed road, with signs of midday civilisation appearing at the roadside. Being immersed in the selfish pursuit of riding one’s bike as I was, it was interesting to gaze upon the vineyard workers go about their pruning, and this served as a gentle reminder of the working reality that would soon return.

Strangely the final climb to Taylors Pass left me more elated than the finish line itself, and as I put in a final few pedal strokes, the sight of Jane then Dom and their ambitious road painting left me humbled in a way that I’ve never felt before. As I saw it, riding the Brevet was a selfish and basic pursuit, but to stand in the cold waiting for a friend to ride past at midday on a Tuesday took a step up in terms of commitment. I was humbled to have friends who would do this and only hope that I can do the same for them if the opportunity arises.

Bouyed by the company of friends the final kilometres melted away, with only a dash of careful route choice required to navigate the riverside cycleway. Crossing the finish line was an anticlimactic, and after a brief interview with the Marlborough Express my attention turned to food, warm clothes, food, and tending to my wounds.

Ollie just after arrival at Seymour Square

Andy rolled in several hours later, his quote in the Express saying it all “I didn’t think it’d be that tough. I won’t be doing it again”. He’d done it tough and had been an excellent travelling companion.

Michi and Ollie at the finish. Stoked!

Showered and fed, we left about midnight to support Michi on his run to the finish. He was pretty out of it, having survived the day on only a roll and chocolate bar bought that morning in Hanmer (and consumed within the first hour), he looked to be suffering. Providing a drive-by supply of cake and some assistance with directions (to correct the route he’d almost taken back up the valley), he eventually made it across the line. The Brevet was over, and would prove to be an amazing experience that would be difficult to match.

Post event depression after such an exhilarating adventure is inevitable, and following some wise advice I set about planning the next epic adventre. Plans are now in place for a mountain bike tour of the Annapurna Trail in Nepal. Building on our Brevet experiences, Michi and I are hoping to complete the high altitude circuit in less than two weeks, and have made a pact to maintain a less furious pace (if we can!)


sifter said...

Fantastic stuff Ollie! Well worth waiting for :) Well done

Unknown said...

Nice last day report Ollie :)

Very inspiring stuff.

Tinkerbell said...

Great reading Ollie! Thanks for all the installments. You rock.