Friday, February 24, 2012

GSB Day 6

There was a chance I could get to Tekapo today but it would need a big day to get there so I set off at 5.00am - my earliest start of all. Watching the sun rise over the Maniototo was magic as I headed towards Naseby. I felt it was going to be a special day but little did I know how special and what dramas were lying in wait for me up the road.

The morning was one of the most pleasurable rides that I can remember doing for a long time. A lovely early dawn ride along the Naseby forest water race was followed by a beautiful tail wind cruise up towards Danseys pass. The surrounding hills in the low glancing light were pure Grahame Sydney. I passed a random sign on the road and stopped for a photo that I thought my Black Sheep bike friends in Colorado might like.

I had passed through Naseby very early before anything was open so I hoped the Danseys Pass pub was open for breakfast. I rolled in and although it looked lifeless from the outside it was open and I ordered the biggest breakfast on the menu. It was great - full of fat and cholesterol - just what I needed. It would get my vote as the best meal and place on the brevet. Fueled up and refreshed I headed out and started the long winding climb to the top of Danseys pass.

It was perfect with the ideal gradient for my singlespeed gearing, a strong tail wind gently pushing me up and the now standard spectacular views all around. I felt I could have climbed like this forever but the top eventually came and a superb downhill brought me into the valley below. Another steeper climb followed which forced me to walk at one point and then an effortless tail wind descent carried me all the way to the main road and Duntroon where I stopped for a big pub burger. What a way to start the day - mountain biking ecstasy.

I looked out the pub window and realized that my good friend the tail wind was going to become his evil head wind twin brother for the stretch to Kurow. I watched with sinking spirits the trees whipping round and leaning heavily over from the winds ominous force. I crawled along the road to Kurow, hunkering down over the bars, keeping my elbows tucked in to keep my frontal area as small as possible. The wind was deafening as it whistled past my ears.

Further up the road I saw a car parked on the side of the road and as I got closer Alexandra local Gary McKenzie stepped out. He had started the brevet before pulling out at Omakau. We had a chat and he told me bad weather was forecast to be on its way but he was not sure when it would arrive. As I pedaled off I wasn't too worried - the wind was unpleasant but tolerable as it was not cold. I felt like I was on the home stretch and there was no evidence of bad weather on the horizons.

After drinking litres of chocolate milk at Kurow I headed up the Hakataramea valley for Tekapo. It was still a head wind but not quite as strong as before due to the shelter of the hills either side of the valley. It was a long drag up starting with a tarseal section that went on and on before turning into a gravel road. The landscape around got less cultivated and I could see the head of the valley in the far distance. Onwards I rode as always.

I stopped to fill up my water bottles from the river and got back on my bike. The wind was picking up again as it started funneling down the narrowing valley. I came around a small bluff and was virtually stopped in my tracks by the blast of the wind. Dust and grit were being thrown in my face. I contemplated having to walk this flat stretch of road due to the winds strength. Head down I battled forward, sunglasses on to keep the grit out of my eyes, pedaling along but barely getting above 5km/hour. How would I get to Tekapo about 60 km away at a reasonable time at this speed?

As the road steepened and the valley constricted I kept hoping I would get shelter from the hills around but it was the opposite. Hakataramea saddle was a gap in the mountain range and just caused the wind to accelerate through it rather than slow down. It was getting ridiculous - I was having to walk a lot on even gentle slopes and if I got slightly off line and sideways to the wind I was blown off into the ditch on the side of the road. I thought the wind on top of the Nevis climb was strong but this was in another league. I battled on and found myself shouting pointless expletives at it (it made me feel better though).

Progress was excruciatingly slow but eventually after a number of false tops the true top came in view. If anything the wind now got even stronger. I struggled to stand and often ended up staggering backwards a few steps. There was a gate at the top which I found difficult to open. I tried to heave my bike over but it became a kite each time I lifted it off the ground threatening to fly me back to Kurow. Somehow after many attempts I managed to manhandle it over and I surveyed the scene ahead.

It was an apocalyptic scene. The MacKenzie basin lay ahead, far below or at least I assume it did because all I could see was one huge dust cloud barreling towards me. Very dark menacing clouds were ominously massing ahead and above. The world was a howling deluge of smudged dirty browns, greys and blacks drained of all other color. This was turning into an interesting end to the brevet. I still had about 45 km to go, mostly downhill. Easy normally but hugely daunting in present circumstances.

I headed down having to pedal hard to keep up my slow forward progress, frequently finding myself blown of onto the side of the road. It was getting late and dark. I had put on my jacket with puffy vest under as it was also getting very cold. I had even put on my long rain pants to protect my legs from the sand blasting.

Then the conditions got worse. First hail then the rain and sleet hammered into me carried by the freight train wind. I had to keep pedaling hard to keep warm. Darkness descended onto this lonely scene from hell. I wondered if Barryn and co. were somewhere behind me and hoped they would be alright. I turned into the Haldon Arm road only to unexpectedly find out it was tarseal which was some relief. There was still a long way to go though.

I had two AA battery powered LED front lights - one on my helmet and one on my bars. The bar light was the first to dim and go out - either the batteries had given up or water had gotten into it. My helmet light was still going but giving out a worryingly meagre amount of light. Slowly into the atrocious weather I continued. These were easily the worst conditions I had ever ridden a bike in and to think that just this morning was some of the best.

Finally I made Dog Kennel corner and the main road. I stopped amongst some trees to put on my arm warmers and balaclava. I now had all my gear on. I quickly realized stopping was not a good idea as my body temperature plummeted - I had to keep moving. As I rolled out my head light gave out. The wet wild world around was now all black but my eyes could just make out the white line on the side of the road and I followed it faithfully.

This next last section was a blur and thinking back now it had an air of extreme strangeness and disconnection from reality. I started seeing lights on the side of the road and at one point a huge bizarre organic form from a Max Ernst frottage painting appeared brightly lit on the side of the road. I wasn't stopping to check out what it was though.

The occasional truck went past noisy with lights ablaze. Blinded I had to stop to let my eyes readjust to the dark before setting of again. During one of these brief pauses I put my still working puny red tail light onto my front fork - it didn't help much.

A car slowly came up behind me and cruised at my pathetically slow speed a few meters back. I was being stalked out here in the middle of nowhere! I thought of the film 'Duel' and remembered my 'Deliverance' delusion in the Molesworth during the Kiwi Brevet. I tried to pretend he wasn't there and pedaled on soaked to the skin by now. He then rolled up next to me and the passenger window came down. I looked in - it was Dave King! He asked if I was alright and proceeded to tell me he had spoken to someone further back that had seen me go past. He said they couldn't believe anyone was out on a bike in these terrible conditions - too right!!

There appeared to be plenty of room in his warm dry vehicle for a wet cold cyclist and his bike. He said Tekapo was about 10km away and asked if I was OK to finish it properly...temptation! I bravely said I was fine and watched him drive off into the distance.

I lost all sense of time and distance. I couldn't turn on my GPS as the screen would blind me leaving me unable to see the Ariadne's thread of the highways white line. It was a real surprise then when I finally saw the lights of Tekapo emerge out of the darkness and a huge relief to finally roll up to the church at 11.30pm in the pouring rain. Dave was there as well as Mark Rayward and his partner. It was so nice to be greeted by them all at this late hour. Dave took a photo of me and I headed to my car.

It took forever to get changed and packed as my fingers were frozen. I drove back to the church to see Barryn and Trevor turn up well after midnight. They must of had it bad as well. Being together it would have helped to share the misery though I thought. I got out of my car to greet them and was shocked by how freezing it was - a quick handshake and congratulations and I retreated back to the warmth of the car - had I really biked in that?

I had nowhere to stay so drove home to Christchurch, heater full bore, stopping once to have a nap in the car on the side of the road. I got home at 5.00am and slept most of the day.

Dave posted some photos of Hakataramea pass the morning after - Otago in January??

On this last day I had managed to ride for nearly 19 hours through the best and worst possible conditions I had ever experienced. It was the longest I had ever ridden a bike in one go. I later heard Dave had had to rescue the Aussie Arran Pearson at 3.30am on the slopes of Hakataramea pass after getting caught out in the worst of the snow storm and activating his emergency help button on his spot tracker. Somehow this final day was a dramatic but appropriate end to a nearly indescribable brevet experience.

I managed to finish in 8th in five and a half days which I was very happy with. I have now completed all three brevets - Kiwi, Petit and Great Southern (along with Ollie Whalley and Geof Blance I think?). They are all amazing and unique experiences. The Great Southern brevet though was the hardest (partly due to the weather), most spectacular and most intense experience I have ever had on a bike.

Thanks go to Dave King for his awesome organization which he seemed to have done on his own. And thanks to my beautiful Black Sheep singlespeed that got me through it all without problems or punctures - no epilogue this time. I'll be back!

GSB Day 5

I headed off at 5.30am into unexpected cool mist and drizzle. This was supposed to be summer! A quick rail trail burst turned into a pleasant ride and climb through the Crawford Hills until I got to the Old Dunstan road. The mist had really settled in now and I couldn't see very far. It turned the ride into a dreamy glide through a strange and lonely world. I saw no one else with only two fresh tire tracks in the gravel as company (I guessed it was Tristan and Anja not too far ahead). It was a surreal landscape full of misshapen limestone figures appearing and disappearing into the fog.

A brightly colored shape appeared unexpectedly in the middle of the road ahead. Closing in I realized it was a multicolored cyclists jacket and vest which I was sure was Anjas. I put them in my pack and continued on. Eventually the Poolburn lake appeared out of the gloom and as I rode around the lake edge I saw someone fishing in the distance - the first human being I had seen in hours. I rode on with only the odd bedraggled sheep as company. It was a bizarre looking landscape made all the more so with the low cloud all round.

I had been steadily climbing for a while and finally the road started heading predominantly down. I dipped below the cloud to be greeted by a breathtaking sight of a large cultivated plain far below the edge of the rocky, spiky monolithic range I had been traversing. It all had an air of fantastic unreality helped by the fact that I had been totally alone all morning.

I pedaled on - gravel roads, undulations and now the odd vehicle passing by became my world. I missed the next turnoff but quickly realized I was no longer on the GPS blue line. I backtracked and discovered that we were supposed to turn off the main road and head up the Dunstan trail that I could see steeply climbing into the far high distance into the Rock and Pillar range.

Another long walk up followed - at least I was used to it by now. An hour or so up I turned round to take in the stunning view. Way, way down at the bottom of the climb I could just make out some moving figures heading up - I assumed it must have been Barryn and co.

The Dunstan Trail undulated along the top of the Rock and Pillar range for a long time. Eventually I reached the Great Moss Swamp which was really a large lake. With cloud shrouding the far edge it looked like an endless inland sea - totally unexpected up here in this barren high mountain range. I had not stopped at all since 5.30am and decided a break was in order and I had a late lunch of OSM bars and a well squashed banana at the lake edge. Just as I was about to set off Paul, Mark, Barryn and Trevor turned up - company at last! They decided to stop as well while I was itching to go.

Not much further on I stopped to chat to two foreign cyclists unexpectedly pedaling along in this desolate place. They were on old cheap rigid Healing bikes with monstrously huge backpacks. They seemed happy and told me in broken English that they were heading to a village that they couldn't pronounce. I tried to tell them there were no 'villages' anywhere near but they just smiled. I wished them well and headed off on the very long downhill back towards civilization.

It seemed to take ages to descend all the way to the main road. I finally got there and turned onto the tarseal and headed towards Middlemarch. The four others caught me and we got into group time trial mode as someone thought the shop closed at 5.00pm and it was touch and go that we would make it in time. Our peloton started splitting up with everyone pedaling as fast as they could. I dropped off the back first followed by the others one by one until Barryn was left powering off the front alone. He pulled up to the shop bang on 5.00pm, jumped off wallet in hand to find out it actually closed at 10.00pm - oh well.

At the local cafe Dave King was waiting for us - I gave him Anjas jacket to pass on. The cafe owner knew all about the GSB. We collapsed into red bean bags, stuffed our faces, talked rubbish while the cafe owner oggled our bikes and checked the blue dot progress on the cafe computer for future customers. It was hard to escape the soft embrace of the red bean bags but it was too early to stop for the night.

As usual I was first on my bike and headed off on the rail trail towards Ranfurly 60 kilometers away. This section of the trail had some long rather boring sections that stretched off in dead straight lines to the horizon. Hours of riding went by. The other four had long since passed me as I watched the sun go down. It was totally dark by the time I pulled into Ranfurly. The town looked closed but the Hotel still had someone behind the counter luckily. They had no space but rung the backpackers next door who kindly opened the place just for me. I got to sleep around 11.00pm - 16 hours of riding - it had been a big but another totally amazing day on the bike.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

GSB Day 4

I was out the door at 6.00am - my latest start of the Brevet. Tristan and Anja were already gone and I headed off on my own. I was apprehensive - the one thing I did know about the course was that today was the big one with the longest climb of them all followed by the highest most exposed section we would ride - hard to fathom after the experiences of the last few days. Riding to Waikaia I missed a turn off It was a few frustrating kilometers on before I realized and turned back. As I hooked back onto the right road I saw Barryn, Trevor, Mark and Paul just ahead. They had stayed at the Lumsden motels. We all rode onto Waikaia for a big fuel up of pies, chocolate milk and caffein as preparation for what Dave King had called the 'Queen stage'. We pulled away with full stomachs to briefly stop at the beautiful Piano Flat picnic stop for a water top up.

I set of first again and had a great ride along an undulating rough gravel road through native bush - it was mountain biking heaven. The other four caught me at Christies hut and we got ready for the mega climb ahead up to the top of the Old Man range. It was steep - real steep. I was the first to walk quickly followed by Paul and Mark. Trevor rode far more than I thought possible but eventually succumbed to walking as well. I was amazed to see Barryn still riding though seemingly effortlessly cranking up the impossible grades into the distance. It was sunny and hot. Sweat was pouring of us all and I wondered if I had enough water. Looking up we saw that Barryn was finally walking as well - he was human after all! Up and up. I stopped to get something from my camelback and Paul trudged past. Setting off again I was horrified to see I was now faced with a long uphill grovel behind Pauls bare buttocks. Taking his shorts off to air his nether regions may have been great for him but not so for the rest of us.

I needn't of worried about water - snow melt (yes snow) was starting to run down the track. It was plentiful, cold, very refreshing and a real relief considering how much liquid we were sweating away in the heat of the day. The climb was long but somehow less daunting when done with others. Eventually the gradient eased and we saw Barryn ahead in the distance with someone else - who was it? Closing in I was surprised to see Dave King way up here. He had ridden in from a side track to catch up with us. We had a rest, chatting and admiring the endless, breathtaking view from our perch in the heavens.

We continued on still climbing through massive bogs until Dave left us at a hut heading of down to Alexandra on an alternative side route. A sign pointed downhill where Dave had disappeared saying Alex was 27km away. The way we were going though continued uphill with Alex at least 50km away....hmmmm.

The climbing now led into proper snow drifts which slowed our progress to a crawl. There was no way we would get to Alex by nightfall at this speed. It was hard to know how long the snowdrift would go on for as it disappeared over the ridge above. Sinking up to your knees into the deep snow and dragging your bike through became very tiring. I thought about the easy 27km downhill to Alex behind me...temptation!

Thankfully over the ridge the snow stopped and we could see in the distance that the drifts were only intermittent. We could ride again. The country was utterly spectacular and desolate with bizarre rock pillar formations and views that stretched beyond multiple ranges to snow capped mountains in the clear blue beyond. It was entrancing. What a place to ride a bike!

We eventually made it to the Obelisk - the high point of the whole brevet at 1700 meters - and stopped for a snack.

We could see Alex a long, long, long way below. The downhill seemed to take forever and was much too bumpy for my rigid bike. My hands and wrists suffered badly and it was a relief to get to the bottom for a feed of fresh plums.

On the last stretch into Alex I ended up riding and chatting with a roadie who had been following our progress on the website. Distracted I missed the turnoff to the river trail but hooked onto it a little further on. Catching up to the other four we rolled into Alex around 7.30pm and headed to the campground for the night. It had been another very hard but utterly superb day. I slept well.

GSB Day 3

Paul never made it to Wanaka texting me late at night that he was camping on the banks of the Clutha which sounded very idyllic I thought. Baked beans on toast for breakfast tasted exquisite and before I knew it we were on the road outside the motel at 5.30am. Quickly joined by Ollie, Nathan, Rob, Tristan and Anja we headed up together towards Cardrona in the growing dawn light. Nathan and I were dropped on the first rise as the rest of them powered of into the distance. Further on Nathan stopped for some reason while I continued on. It would be the last I would see of him.

Turning off the main road it wasn't long before I was doing the familiar thing of pushing my bike up towards a distant saddle. I didn't mind though as the higher I got the more spectacular the views were (especially back towards Wanaka), the weather was pleasant and I was feeling good. As I rolled over the top I started descending into one of the most worrying sections of the trip - the Roaring Meg valley of Matagouri and Spanyiard death. In the morning Anja had said we will get punctures here with a definitive finality. I had never had a puncture in a brevet yet and certainly didn't want one now.

I caught Rob by the hut as he had had chain issues. We rode together carefully around the spanyiards until the riding turned into walking which then turned into a struggle along a steep hillside. It was hard work dragging a loaded bike through this amongst the Matagouri bushes and rocks. I pitied the breveteers behind me with panniers - they were not going to like this!

Being on a single speed means I often rode alone as my speed is different to geared riders so it was great to do this section with Rob. Travelling with someone else means time goes quickly and before I knew it we were through Roaring Meg with no punctures thankfully and speeding down an excellent gravel descent to the Kawerau gorge. It was mostly downhill to Cromwell and as it flattened out I left Rob to text his wife expecting him to catch me further on - I never saw him again.

I rolled into Cromwell and had an early lunch, stocking up for what I knew would be a hard section ahead. A workmate had driven this next part over the Nevis range and looked shocked when I told him I would go up there on a bike (let alone a singlespeed). He said the climb was huge and very steep. Well I had done plenty of massive climbs already - it was just one more...wasn't it?

It started pleasantly enough with a ride around the lake edge before passing through Bannockburn. Further up the route turned off the tarsal and immediately started climbing. A head wind was picking up and progressively got stronger the higher I got. I rode some of the early part before succumbing to the slope and falling back on my familiar pushing 'low gear'. iPod time with Jesse Mae Hemphill and Junior Kimborough helped pass the time. The climb went on and on and on and the surroundings expanded to distant horizons.

The head wind was getting so strong it became a worry. I was getting sand blasted from the grit being blown straight into my face. It was also getting colder and forward progress was slow and tiring. I had little idea what was ahead except that it was a long long way to relative civilization in Garsten along what I imagined was a high, desolate, exposed route. The wind became demoralizing. I was starting to doubt I would get anywhere near Garsten tonight.

Brevets are full of big ups and downs especially when you are on your own. This climb was one of the big downs - doubts preyed, flourished and grew in my mind. It took close to two hours to get to the top but it didn't bring the normal relief and elation. I squinted into the ludicrous wind and saw black clouds and rain obscuring the far distance. A sign on the top claimed this was New Zealands highest public road at 1300 meters (no surprise there). It was followed by signs warning of impending danger, the possibility of extreme weather and death (at least thats how my current state of mind read it).

I paused a bit further down the other side of the saddle peering into the approaching storm wondering what to do. A 4WD came up towards me with two people inside. I stopped them to ask what the weather was like further up. Terrible they exclaimed. When I mentioned I was heading for Garsten they looked incredulous and strongly advised against me going on. I asked if there were any huts or shelters along the way. One of them said they only knew of a woodshed but wouldn't recommend sleeping there because of the fleas. They drove off towards Cromwell a tail wind downhill into the sun away. Horizontal rain started to hit my face.

I turned my bike around and pedaled back towards Cromwell - I had given up - it was all too hard. I rode on resigned to not finishing properly formulating excuses in my head to justify my failure to myself and the eventual scrutiny of others. I got to the top before the big descent back to Cromwell truly began. This was stupid - pull yourself together!! I turned around again to face the impending storm and once more pedaled off towards Garsten (the third time I would ride this section) - talk about pathetic and indecisive!

It was a decent descent down to the Nevis valley floor and about two thirds of the way down I got a real fright when a mountain biker caught me from behind. It was Trevor Woodward with Barryn not far behind both sounding very chipper and positive. They probably didn't realize what a relief it was for me to have company at this time. Riding alone can conjour up dark demons. I felt reinvigorated and the three of us powered off into the rain and dark clouds ahead all happy again.

Barryn and Trevor would stop for a snack and I would head of first being slower on my singlespeed. They would catch me further on, we would ride together for a while before they drifted off the front until this sequence was repeated all over again the next time they stopped for photos or food. It was great and even though the head wind was strong and the rain intermittent having company brightened my mood. The experience was also enhanced by the powerful, sublime quality of the scenery all round with its edges blurring into the far mist and wet cloud.

Eventually we started climbing at the far end of the valley and I watched Barryn and Trevor in their bright fluoro jackets disappear into the cloud ahead while I got off and walked. It had been a long day and I was hanging out for a huge meal at the Garsten pub.

Towards the top the cloud below cleared and I looked down into the next valley and highway far, far below. The ensuing downhill was one of the best of the brevet - fast sweeping corners, not too bumpy for my rigid bike with spectacular views. I was now so happy I had not given up. Sadly the downhill came to an end and I stopped for a photo.

I headed off to the pub. Rolling up to the door I read the sign - Closed on Mondays (yes it was of course Monday) - unbelievable! It was just after 7.00pm and I had left Cromwell at 11.30am - I needed food, beer and a cosy warm pub interior. There was nothing for it but to keep going.

The next part Dave had noted as the one boring part of the GSB. It was essentially a connecting road between the Nevis range and the Old Man range. Flat, long, tarseal roads are not much fun on a 45 gear inch singlespeed but I just spun on. I passed through Athol but everything was closed so on I went. After over two hours of lonely tedium I rode into Lumsden as the light started to dim. It all looked closed and deserted and then I heard someone call out my name....huh? I couldn't see anyone. I heard my name called out again and this time I looked up to see Tristan waving from the first floor window of the Lumsden pub shouting out that they had rooms available.

It looked closed from the outside but walking in I found a very friendly host welcoming me in. I ordered a meal, settled into an upstairs room, chatted with Tristan (who had turned up 2 hours earlier with Anja), had a shower, checked the progress of other breveteers on my iPhone, had a few beers and chatted with the locals. What a great end to a dramatic 16 hour day in the saddle! It was experiences like this that make brevets unique and memorable.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

GSB Day 2

I woke up and watched Arran heading off up the hill to Omarama saddle just before 5.00am. OK time to get up. Mixing my complan for breakfast and packing everything meant I was away by 5.30am. Not paying any attention to the elevation graphs meant I had no idea how long this climb was going to be. Too steep to ride I trudged up, false top following false top. Man this climb was long topping out eventually over 1200 meters up. The weather was deteriorating and it got colder the higher I climbed. After an eternity I made the saddle and got on my bike. As I set off I realized the weather had really packed in, the temperature had plummeted and then it started to hail! The downhill I was looking forward to as a payoff for the uphill effort was a misery. Freezing hail stung my face and legs, the steep rocky downhill became greasy and treacherous and my hands were so cold they struggled to haul on the brakes. Mercifully the gradient eventually eased and riding became easier. Further down patches of blue sky started to appear and I begun to feel warmer and happier.

The GPX file on my GPS displayed the correct route as a blue line to follow. I had hardly bothered looking at it as the track seemed obvious down the valley. It was therefore a big surprise when I noticed the blue line come in from the side on my screen. I had inadvertently ridden a track parallel to where I was supposed to be. I had missed the Ida water race - bugger! I wasn't sure if the way I had gone was any shorter or quicker (the endless gates didn't make it seem a quick way) but it was very annoying. I vowed to closely follow the GPS blue line from now on.

A great meander along the Falls Dam lake edge followed and around a corner I almost bumped into another mountain biker heading up the valley to cheer on some fellow breveteers behind me. He told me Ollie Whalley was only 5 minutes ahead of me - that was a surprise! I powered off encouraged that I was doing well.

I made it to Oturehua and had a great bacon and egg pie in the local pub before heading up the rail trail to Omakau. The wind had picked up and I found myself battling into a very strong head wind. Some of the riding was through very picturesque tunnels and over dramatic viaducts which was a welcome distraction to the wind. I stopped in Omakau for lunch and was surprised to find Dave King inside the cafe working away on his laptop. An enjoyable burger and chat was relaxing. Dave told me I was 6th and that Ollie was about 15 minutes ahead. I was motivated now, wolfing down the food and heading off quickly with the realization that turning towards Thompsons gorge road would finally mean a good tail wind.

It was an effortless tail wind rush to the base of the hills. Dave had told me it was a big climb that started off steep. And so it was with me getting off to walk as soon as the gradient pointed up. A mountain biker passed me coming in the other direction. He told me with almost discernible glee that I had a looong push ahead of me.......hmmmmm thanks for that. I got my iPod out and listened to Delany Davidson sing of lost love and misery as I plodded up. Eventually it leveled off enough to ride and I enjoyed the undulating tail wind jaunt through the hills with the only annoyance being the endless gates.

Finally popping out over the last rise I was greeted by a spectacular view out over the plains towards Wanaka and the mountains beyond. Wow! it was very high up here and it all looked a long long way down. Around a corner I stopped to have a brief chat to a mountain biker brevet fan who was unexpectedly sitting on the side of the track to cheer us on. He told me a Jasper van der Lingen was in 6th place. He seemed surprised when I told him he was me especially after noticing I was on a singlespeed. I knew from past experience though that a singlespeed is not that much of an impediment and is arguably an advantage on brevets (less to go wrong) besides that they are just huge fun!

It was a superb and very long downhill followed by a tail wind scorcher all the way to Wanaka via the enjoyable if long Clutha river trail and Wanaka outlet track. I pulled into Wanaka a little after 7pm only to bump into Ollie. He looked as surprised to see me as I was to see him. He was a bit down having lost his money and credit cards on the track somewhere further back. He had managed to borrow some money from some Wanaka friends and was back in business though.

It seemed a little early to stop but Dave had advised against doing the next section - Roaring Meg - in the dark so I decided to relax and stay in Wanaka for the night. Accommodation was hard to find and I finally settled on an available 2 bedroom Motel room - expensive but it would do. I texted Paul that if he made it to Wanaka that night I had a motel room for him. I caught up with Barryn, Trevor, Tristan, Anja, Mark Wallace and Paul Chaplow as they rolled in. Anja and Tristan didn't have a place to stay so the three of us squeezed into my Motel room unsure if Paul would get there and make it extra cosy.

It had been an eventful day from the cold hail in the morning to the warm tail winds in the afternoon. I was really starting to enjoy this brevet and the big challenges were still to come - yee haa!!

Monday, February 20, 2012

GSB Day 1

All 39 brave breveteers congregated outside the Tekapo community hall for the briefing from Dave. Paul started to get a little anxious when he realized he was the only one with skinny tires. Plenty of CX and skinny tired bikes had completed the Kiwi Brevet but the GSB was different - for a start the KB has around 400km of tarseal for its 1100km length while the GSB has less than 150km for about the same overall distance (by my rough calculation). I noticed I was the only singlespeeder again. I had been very nervous about being the only one in the 2010 Kiwi Brevet but I was totally relaxed with my choice now.

Just after 11.00am we rolled out of Tekapo from the Church of the Good Sheppard onto a nice fast flat tarsal canal road. Immediately a big group got into peloton mode and powered off the front with me watching them disappear helplessly as I furiously spun my very low 34-22 gear. We turned off this smooth effortless road and abruptly everything changed. We rode the next few hours on the old Tekapo riverbed (masquerading as a track). It was the bumpiest flat track I have probably ever ridden. You had to take it at speed to get through the endless river boulders without stalling. The pounding was relentless. I passed many breveteers stopped on the side of the track resecuring their loads. Paul was one of these. I passed saying 'see you soon' as I expected him to catch me further up the road when things improved. I never saw him again.

I rode with many people during this section as we were still reasonably bunched up including Nick Kelly, Petit Brevet vet Graeme Noble and Kiwi Brevet vets Barryn Westfield and Trevor Woodward. I would see these last two many more times in the coming days.

All suffering comes to an end - and so it was when we eventually reached the Haldon Arm camp to be greeted with smooth gravel roads at last. My hands, wrists and bum had taken a real pummeling on my rigid bike and were quite sore - a real worry only a few hours in. The smooth gravel road turned into a gentle climb up a valley that progressively became less gentle until I was off my bike walking for the first of many hike-a-bikes to come. Once again I rode with many people including kiwi brevet vet Nathan Mawkes, Anja McDonald and Tristan Rawlence. The scenery was spectacular (a common theme throughout the GSB) and riding across the Benmore Dam was special.

I made it to the Otematata store 5 minutes before closing time to be greeted by a big crowd of breveteers all fueling up for what was looking like a very strong head wind grovel to Omarama 25 km away. We formed a peloton which I immediately dropped off unable to keep up. I passed Arran Pearson - the lone Aussie entrant - on the side of the road trying to stretch out severe leg cramps. This was turning into a tough first day. It was a long hard demoralizing slog into the howling headwind before I could finally sit down with relief for fish and chips at the Omarama pub.

There was still a few hours of daylight left and after an internal debate about whether I should stay in the relative comfort of the Omarama campground cabins with showers and real beds I decided to man up and bivy out at the base of the Omarama saddle 20 km away. It was a nice late evening ride in with Arran to be greeted at our camp area by Tristan and Anja setting up their tent - what luxury! Arran and I crawled into our bivy bags and a warm but restless night ensued watching clouds skud across the awesome starry sky above.

Riding the inaugural Great Southern Brevet on a rigid singlespeed


When the Great Southern Brevet was announced I was immediately interested. I had become a bit of a brevet veteran addicted to the physical and mental challenges they posed. Since my initiation with the 2010 Kiwi Brevet I had started two Petit Brevets on Banks Peninsula. I pulled out of the 2010 edition after almost 10 hours - exhausted, cold and frustrated at myself for taking a wrong turn in the mist on the double fence line track. Looking back this DNF did annoy me. When riding into a growing storm and things are not going well the doubts start to prey on your mind. What if this southerly gets even worse? Do I have enough warm clothes? I had to hike-a-bike that last small rise and there is still over 4000 meters of climbing left, a warm pub with hot food and beer is just an easy downhill away behind me, its getting dark - are my lights sufficient? why am I dong this? what is the point? what is the meaning of life?.......

I entered the petit brevet again in 2011 this time with fellow mad singlespeeder, black sheep rider and back of the pack racing team leader Judd Rohwer from New Mexico America. This time I did finish - dead last just under the 36 hour cutoff having hike-a-biked most of the 7500 meters of vertical ascent with Judd. Ably cheered on by the crew chief Dan van Asch it was a wholely different and enjoyable experience though. I had my brevet mojo back.

The Great Southern Brevet (GSB) was to happen in late January. I only committed to it at the last minute unsure if I could afford to take the time of work. My training was therefore a little half hearted with lots of 1-2 hour rides rather than the longer rides that would have been more sensible. Oh well - hopefully the body would remember what to do.

Dave King - the organizer extraordinaire of the GSB - had joked in an email to us about checking whether our neighbour was also doing it. Well actually my neighbour - Paul Conner - was doing it! This would be his first brevet and he had decided to use a 29er GT hard tail with skinny tires. Hmmmmm ...not sure the tires were a good idea but he was set on it. We drove together to Tekapo on the Friday night and stayed in an old bach Paul had organized. We compared setups - Paul had it well sorted (except for the tires) using a freeload rack. I was going rackless very like my proven Kiwi Brevet setup. The big difference from 2010 was that I had upgraded my Cotic Simple with my pride and joy - a Black Sheep custom titanium 29er rigid single speed.
For navigation I had uploaded the GPX file Dave had provided on the website onto my GPS. I had not really closely looked at the route though and not looked at all at the elevation profiles. Hey I had done the Petit Brevet so I knew climbs (or rather hike-a-bikes) were doable one way or another. In the coming week I would discover that I didn't really know what true mega climbs were though.