Monday, May 24, 2010

Day Four

Getting up well before 5am we cooked our breakfast and got ready. Darren and I were on the road by 5.45am. It was still lightly raining and dark but it was good to start the day with someone else. We both walked up the Otira viaduct (I had no choice) as dawn came. Peering over the edge to the swirling waters a very long way below in the early morning half light and mist was one of the truly magical moments of the whole Brevet. I was enoying it all hugely again. Rolling into Arthurs pass at 7am we just missed Tim and Thomas at the shelter. I took of my raincoat expecting the east coast of my home to be typically warm and dry. Darren headed off – it would be the last I would see of him till the end. Realising my mistake as I rode out of Arthurs I stopped to put my coat back on. It was still very cold. Simon and John rocked past having just left their Arthurs pass digs. Once again I watched them disappear into the distance. A bit further up Chris rode past. I told him Simon and John were not far ahead and he zoomed of like a man on a mission.

I settled into a comfortable rhythm knowing it was a long way till the next stop in Springfield. I expected to do this section on my own so was surprised to catch John at the top of the Grassmere straight. He told me it was not turning out to be much of a downhill from Arthurs. I had to gently break it to him that Porters pass is actually higher than Arthurs so technically it was actually an uphill. He drifted of the front and I settled into my own rhythm again. Time passed and the weather improved enough for me to finally take of my coat. As Porters pass finally came close I caught John again and we crested the top together. He big ringed it down the other side leaving me to spin my silly low gear. It was alright though, the event was long and difficult and we all accepted that we needed to ride it at our own pace.

At Springfield John was sitting at a cafe by himself. Where were the others? I joined him and ordered a very yummy pasta. I could see John looking longingly at it. He texted the others only to find that they were at another cafe in town. Simon, Thomas, Tim and Chris rolled up to join us and we got ready for the next big section. The original goal of Hanmer for the night now looked out of reach so Simon rang to book a motel in Culverdon. We had to be there by 11pm or they would shut. It was just after midday now so it seemed possible...maybe? We set off on a gravel road detour but before long Simon turned around – he had left his camelback in the cafe. I saw John waiting further up the road and told him what he already knew. They both caught me at Sheffield and like deja vue I watched them disappear into the distance again. I didnt realise it at the time but this was the last I would see of them all. The last 400 or so km I would ride on my own (with the sole exception of one 10km stretch). It would seem in retrospect to be a slow and inexorible passage into my own heart of darkness. But this was in the future, for now I was heading for the Wharfedale, an enjoyable and fun singletrack I thought I knew reasonably well coming from Christchurch.

Overconfidence or tiredness saw me make my first really dumb mistake. I rode past one of the turnoffs going into the Wharfedale. As I rode on and on the wrong way a little voice in my head started getting more and more insistent – you are going the wrong way! Hauling out my maps and GPS I thought I didnt need made me even more confused as to where I was. The panic at losing so much valuable time made it difficult to think clearly. I finally worked out what I had done wrong. I was a long way from where I should be. I backtracked very angry with myself. My cellphone in the bottom of my pack started going off. I realised how many people were watching me go wrong in the virtual world. Sorry to all those that texted and rang but there was no way I was stopping to answer. I was a man on a mission hammering along trying to make up for my stupid mistake. I powered up the climbs that led to the Wharfedale at a speed that was not really sensible but I was mad and determined to limit the damage.

I rode far more of the Wharfedale than I had in practice with a loaded bike. I was taking risks in my effort to make up lost time. I thought I had probably lost about 45 minutes so making up that sort of time was really a lost cause. Getting to Culverdon with the others was now only a remote possibility. I zoomed past the hut barely looking at it and emerged out onto one of the bumpiest sections of the track. It was a relief to my well shaken body to finally reach the smooth gravel of Lees valley. Very long straight sections of road stretched of into the distance. I squinted my eyes to see if I could see any cycling specks in the distance but no. I was on my own. I relaxed back into a steady rhythm. I had done this bit in training a month or so ago so I knew to expect a long rather boring gravel ride and so it was. The last thing you do before turning off into the private McDonald Downs land is climb Lees pass. The sun was getting low in the sky as I slowly climbed. Peering back down the vast valley from where I had just come I thought I saw some cyclists moving in the far distance. I looked again but couldnt pick them out any more. Was I starting to hallucinate? Certainly the solitude, intensity of the event, lack of proper sleep and strange atmosphere of it all was starting to affect my state of mind. I had to stay focused!

I had done many of the McDonald Downs mountain bike races in the past so I should of known what to expect. However I was hoping we were going to somehow bypass all the hard terrain and simply head downhill to Hurunui. Well no I was about to be reaquainted with the mega sized country that is McDonald Downs. After the turn off from the Lees valley road it was straight into a big climb that was too steep for me to ride By the time I had pushed to the top it was getting dark. Putting on my rather pathetic light I rode on and on through big valleys, up unridable climbs, down epic downhills. Hours passed. I kept thinking I recognised some areas but it all seemed the same in the dark. Finally I came out by a shearing shed I remembered as the prize giving spot at the races. I looked up at the homestead on the hillside as I passed and saw a solitary figure silhouetted in the window watching me pass. I realised there was a good chance they had followed my progress through their land on the website. The GPS tracker in my backpack was a great antidote to the loneliness I was really starting to feel now.

Further along the road I had had enough. I found a comfortable spot in some soft grass and drifted of to sleep under one of the most amazing starry skys I had ever seen. I was in a state of blissed out but totally exhausted comfort.

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