Friday, May 21, 2010

Day One

The morning of the 6th Feburary dawned. I drove to the outskirts to drop of my car at a preordained spot passing John Randal, Simon Kennett and a few others powering along on their fully loaded Brevet bikes in the other direction – this was getting exciting. Briefing was inside a local cinema. All 65 entrants lined their bikes along the front by the screen while we sat in the seats staring at them and listening to Simons briefing. I scanned all the bikes. The variety was huge – rigid 29ers, crossbikes, tourers, hardtails, FS bikes even a Surley Pugsley. Some had standard derailleurs and some had internal hub gears but......but no other singlespeeds! I was the only one. Did they all know something I didnt – had I made a terrible error of judgement? Also my gear, which I had thought was quite minimal, looked positively bloated next to some. The ones who had opted for no sleeping gear like John Randal and Simon Kennett seemed to be carrying very little on their already ultralight carbon rigid forked machines. There was nothing for it though – what I had was what I was taking and what was going to happen was going to happen. I was relaxed. No turning back now.

We all assembled in Seymour square awaiting the noon start. It was another chance to chat and check out the bikes and gear. Thomas Lindup had some strange looking object taped to his frame. Darren went and spoke to him coming back to tell me it was a jar of peanut butter for emergencies. If it had gone you knew he had hit trouble.

We all lined up in the sun, the town clock struck 12 and we were off. The start was neutral with us all rolling along as a group. And what a strange looking group – not the tight aesthetically coordinated colourful roadie pelotons or the baggie clothed nonchalantly casual mountain bike groups or even the overlaiden panniers everywhere tourers but a collage of them all and more babbling along, excited like kids on the first day of a school camp. The neutral start and easy going mood abruptly finished as we hit the coastline and ploughed headlong into sand, stones and matagouri. This was suddenly hard work. Those on fat tyres were making the easiest going of it (relatively) while the skinny tyred brigade started slipping back as they struggled to keep momentum sinking into the soft surface. Luckily I had gone the fat tyred way with 2.25mm UST tubeless Schwalbe knobblies so I found myself easing past quite a few of my fellow breveters. I rode with Simon for a while. He told me of how he had ridden with some singlespeeders in the Great Divide race and how they had done well. I felt a bit better about my choice. He had been partly influential in my choice writing on Vorb how he hoped some singlespeeders would enter.
Looming up ahead though lay the first real test for my single geared outfit – the Port Underwood road. The contour map indicated over 1500metres of climbing before Picton. A number of people I had spoken to talked about this section in hushed tones as if the pain it had inflicted was a memory they would rather repress. Just before the climb began we finally popped out of the sandtrap onto a flat tarseal road. Most of the brevet seemed to zip past me with blurs of smiling faces and cheery words as the mountain wall got nearer. Alright for them I thought with their silly low granny gears. Darren pulled up next to me for a brief chat. He had been slowed in the sand with his skinny tyres but looked ready to hammer now. We wished each other well and he rapidly disappeared into the distance. I fully expected this would be the last I would see of him on the Brevet.

Different ways to approach the Brevet.

Darren and I had taken what seemed like diametrically different approaches to the Brevet. He was obviously going for speed while I was going for comfort (relatively). He had a skinny tyred drop handled racing/touring bike with aerobars and minimal gear. Proudly he had told me his sleeping arrangements consisted of no more than a lightweight bivvy bag and a tiny piece of sleepmat foam for his shoulders. Being a bit of an insomniac he only expected to snatch a few quick hours sleep very occasionally by crawling into his bivvy bag in his clothes. If the weather was bad he was just going to keep riding. This was way too hardcore for me. Unlike Darren I had zero expectations of doing this thing fast. Hell I had choosen a singlespeed! I had big volume tyres to take the edge of bumpy stuff but I knew they were going to slow me on the 50% of tarseal the course had. I had way more weight in terms of gear than him and I knew Darren was generally faster than me on a bike anyway. I was going to be happy to do it within the 8 day cutoff rather than treat it like a race. Darren had told me he reckoned a singlespeed would add at least a day extra time ( I thought it could be even more). I had given him a lift up to Blenheim but we had not even mentioned a lift back – we both knew without actually saying it that he would be days ahead of me at the end. I was therefore quite relaxed as I watched his green top disappear up the road.

Then the climb began. More riders sped past me and I began to wonder how close to last I was. As I rode along for the whole Brevet there were a few things I tried to keep repeating in my head as a mantra. Keep eating, keep drinking and pace yourself. Dont get sucked into going too fast trying to keep up with others and dont think of it as a race! There were many times in the coming days where I ignored this sage advice but that is for later. So up the Port Underwood hills I rode repeating this mantra in my head in what was now killer 30 degree plus temperatures weaving from side to side in search of shade.

Strangely enough as time went on my slow uphill crawl had me passing riders that had zipped by earlier. On one slope I pass Phil and Ann both riding FS bikes with freeload racks front and back with white dry bags on them. We exchange pleasantries as I passed – I would see them many more times in the coming days. For much of the Port Underwood road I was riding close to the 3 Revolution cycle boys – Jonty, Nick and Matt as well as Jeff Lyall and the three Aussies Phil, Ed and Joel. Up and down into cute picturesque bays we rode, I would pass them while they stopped to take photos then not long after they would wind there way past me again. The last climb before dropping down into Waikawa bay was the longest. I had to resort to walking towards the top and had a brief chat with Jeff Lyall who was riding a Santa Cruz Superlight remarkably similar to the one lying forlorn in my garage at home. Finally dropping down to Picton I stopped at the first shop I found to refuel. Not long after I was joined by the 3 Aussies, Phil and Ann and a few others. Refueled I headed off again passing the Revolution cycle boys and Jeff relaxing in a cafe futher up the road. I waved as I passed not knowing it would be the last time I would see them.

Social Side of the Brevet

There are many things about the Kiwibrevet that made it a truly great event but one of the best was meeting and enjoying the company of like minded people. The Brevet was approached in many different ways either as a group or pair glued together for the whole time or alone like Charlotte Ireland and myself. Each had their own stories and experiences but we all crossed, intertwined and shared in many ways. Some I only saw once, others I crossed paths with many times but it was never predictable. When you rode away from someone or they rode away from you there was always a sense you may not see them again. The whole social side of it was one of the Brevets great joys.

A pleasant undulating road followed which turned into some long flat drags as I headed towards Havelock on my own. I had looked behind me at the end of one of these long straights and not seen anyone so it was a real surprise to be caught not long after by three riders I had not seen up till now – Barryn Westfield, Trevor Woodward and one other. They were moving quicker than me but I decided to spin as fast as I could to keep up. We rolled into Havelock just as Phil and Ann were leaving. I left them all to continue on while I went in search of a cafe. Relaxing and refueling with chocolate milk, pies and coffee I was joined by Laurence Mote, Guy Wynn Williams and Nathan Mawkes. Although I was enjoying the company I was keen to keep moving. I left them to it and headed off.

At Pelorus Bridge I joined up with the three Aussies and the Polish rider Jan who were already there and we all rode up the gravel road towards the duanting Maungatapu climb. When they stopped to help Jan with a puncture I left then to it fully expecting them all to catch me on the climb ahead. Rounding a corner there it was, the 700 plus metre Maungatapu climb, probably the longest single sustained climb of the whole Brevet. It started of steep and loose. I was on the verge of what I could ride and almost got of and walked many times. On and on it went. I caught Charlotte Ireland about a third of the way up and we rode together a while. Further up we both caught Phil and Ann. I was down to walking now and it was starting to get dark. Around another corner we caught someone else who had been fixing some bike issues. Finally the top came. It was pitch black now. With my two Fenix lights on full turbo mode I left Phil and Ann and the others behind at the top. The descent was long, loose and steep but I could just ride it all OK. Eventually it leveled out somewhat and the riding got a little less technical. On a wide flat corner I passed a fellow Breveter who had setup his tent and was cooking some nice smelling thing on his portable stove. I wondered if I should have also packed a tent and cooker, it certainly looked immensely appealing at this late hour. Accommodation options started preying on my mind – hopefully something would be open in Nelson at this late hour.

Further down the road I saw a red tail light ahead. Slowly I caught up. Hold on... that figure looked familiar....was it.... yes it was! I pulled up next to Darren totally surprised to see him again. We talked. I had caught him because he had had to walk all the way down the Maungatapu because of his skinny tyred bike. Maybe my fat tyred MTB was not such a bad idea after all. We rode together and were caught by two others – Barryn and Trevor – how had they got behind me? The last part of the Maitai valley is a gentle tarseal downhill – a singlespeeders nightmare (especially with a silly low 32-19 gear). The four of us powered down this section at well over 30km/hr with me desparately spinning like a hampster on speed at the back drafting millimetres from tyre in front. I did not want to be dropped.

In Nelson after waiting forever in a queue in a severly understaffed McDonalds we got pies from the after hours service station across the road. Phil and Ann joined us and told us they were of to their prebooked motel. I started to realise how disorganised my accommodation arrangements were. Chris Burr and Brenda Clapp had offered their house in Richmond to all Breverters as a place to stay but I had not really listened as I doubted I would get anywhere near Nelson on Day one. Luckily Barryn had been listening and had noted the address. The four of us – Barryn Trevor, Darren and me – followed the bike paths to Richmond rocking up to Chris and Brendas place just after midnight. Brenda and Chris were already there and told us we were the first to arrive – another surprise. What a way to finish the first day, a hot shower, comfortable house and great company. Over the night others turned up – Guy and Laurence, the three Aussies, Jan and a few others. It had been a truly great start to the Brevet – better than I could have imagined.

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