Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Post Script

Would I do it again?

  • Probably, but the laden bikes took some of the joy out of the (uphill) single track sections. Perhaps next time I will have a super light dual suspension 29'er!?

Would I change anything?

  • Yes - I would have more hand position options - aero bars or bar ends. My one lasting injury is tingling in my palms and two little fingers on both hands, a lack of finger dexterity and weakness in the thumb. Basically damage to the ulna nerve - hopefully it disappears soon.
  • It would be nice to travel lighter, but I enjoyed being free to sleep where I ended up at nightfall and I was far more comfortable than those in bivy bags when it rained. Also as a meteorologist of 35 years I have to say we enjoyed a remarkably good run  of weather for the trip - so although I may not have used every item I took I would always have to take them - just in case.
Would I try and do it faster?
  • Probably not. I could only do this by biking longer hours and this would certainly take away from the overall enjoyment. I really enjoyed the longer stops at Arthur's Pass and Murchison.
Best bits:
  • Catching up with and sharing 5 days with Tor, plus interludes with Owen and Mick.
  • Tail wind and clear blues skies through the Alps.
  • Great dinner at Murchison
  • The ride through the back of lake Brunner to Stillwater and Queen Charlotte drive
  • A night in Big River Hut
  • Being able to eat as many pies as I could and still lose weight!
  • Texts from friends following my progress
Not so good:
  • Bonking on Upcot saddle.
  • Grovelling up the Porika and Maungatapu.
  • Sandflies at the start of the Wharfedale.
  • Poorly explained entrance to McDonald's farm.
Overall it was a great adventure and has rekindled my enthusiasm for biking overnight into the back country of NZ - thanks Simon and all those who helped put it together.

Day 7 - Pelorous Bridge to Blenheim

Kenepuru Sound
View from Queen Charlotte Drive
Lunch on Port Underwood road
View to Southern Ocean
Tor, Julie, Thomas and me
back in Truckers corner
I slept pretty well until I needed a pee about 4am and noted Tor tossing about a bit as I returned to my tent. At 4.30 Tor asked if I minded getting under way as he wasn't sleeping well at all and was keen to get to the end and get a ferry home that day and back to his family. I felt much the same so after a makeshift breakfast and packing up in the drizzle we were underway just before 5.30am. It seemed no time before we were in Havelock - about 6.30 - and there was a cafe open for a breakfast of pastries and coffee. No sign of Julie and Thomas or Owen and Mick - guessed they hadn't made the Pelorous bridge overnight. I have biked the Grape Ride, an annual bike race from Renwick to Blenheim to Havelock and back to Renwick (about 100km) 5 times and always done the Queen Charlotte drive from Picton to Havelock and under race conditions, so it was a pleasant change to do the ride early in the morning in the opposite direction with time to admire the views of the surrounding hills over the serene and misty waters of Kenepuru sound. The climbs seemed no problem and the road which seems very windy in a car is brilliant on a bike. We were in Picton soon after 8.30 am and dropped our sleeping gear at the Ferry terminal (confident we would not need it again that day!). Lunch was purchased at a nearby cafe and we set off on the final leg to Blenheim via Waikawa and the Port Underwood road. We soon found out why it had taken Oliver Whalley 4hrs - the road has no flat stretches. It consists of about 7 climbs in and out of each bay, the first being 500 m vertical and the other 6 ranging between 200 and 400 m, each time retuning all the way to sea level. I estimated we climbed between 2000 and 2500 m over the 40 km. A brief stop for lunch with a misty view out over the Southern Ocean and we were soon back on the Rarangi flats pushing for home. We arrived at the square in Blenheim about 2.30, roughly 6 days and 6 hours after starting, pleased to be finished, to be met by Jeff Lyall. He congratulated us and filled us in on how others had gone. My son Alex had got in about the same time the day before and was already on a ferry back to Wellington. I had hoped he would be waiting with a beer for me! We managed to get a shuttle back to Picton in time to catch the 7 pm Bluebridge and shared Truckers corner again with Julie and Thomas who came in an hour or so after us.

So thanks to Simon for organising the adventure and thanks to all my cycling companions Peter McKenzie on the Molesworth, Owen and Mick, Julie and Thomas and finally Tor - enjoyed your company and it was great to catch up with you after many years.

Day 6 - Murchison to Pelorous Bridge

Edge of Lake Rotoroa 
Owen sucking in at top of Porika

Amusing messages
at top of Maungatapu

Tor photographing me
at top of Maungatapu
Even the boys were up early for a big push today. The owner had left out fruit, yoghurt and muesli for us and we were all off by 6am. Some cool riding together followed in the mist around to lake Rotoroa. Aparently my reading glasses popped out of my rear pocket bouncing over one of the fords, but Owen noticed and kept them to surprise me with later! Then the big push (grovel!) up the Porika and an exciting descent down the other side. We caught up with Julie and Thomas then as they had pushed on in the dark the previous evening. Along the big straights in St Arnaud Owen set a cracking pace of 28 to 30 km/hr and the rest of us held on as best we could. More pies and cokes for lunch and Owen produced my glasses as I was looking for them to read the maps for the afternoon run into Nelson - much to everyone else's amusement! I think my reputation for absentmindedness is now firmly established! The others were faffing about a bit so Tor and I departed first and made good time through the forestry area through to Wakefield. We didn't see Owen and Mick again as by this time Owen had three broken rear spokes and stopped in Richmond for repairs. Thanks for the company boys - I really enjoyed your laid back style and youthful exuberance. The cycleway into Nelson should have been a pleasant experience but a nasty cool headwind and some fairly intolerant drivers took the gloss off it. Stopped for a Gourmet Felafel (for a bit of a change of diet) at a place by the same name in Nelson City at 5 pm. My brother Bill (who lives just off Brook St) popped by to say hello and wish us well and and an old workmate Howard and his partner Lindsay (who had been following our progress on the web) were waiting to do the same at the Maitai road turnoff. Great to have your encouragement guys. Tor and I set off up the Maitai at 5.30 pm hoping to make the Pelorous Bridge camp ground by nightfall. The ride up the Maitai was pleasant enough and the detour to avoid the closed bridge on the Dun Mountain also fine. Here we met a very helpful local rider (probably in his 70's) who confirmed the route back onto the Maungatapu. With our heavily laden bikes I have to say this was again a bit of a grovel. Tor and I were both starting to get a bit "over it" by the time we reached the summit at 8.30. The amusing messages on the wire across the track cheered us up as did the beautiful and fast ride down the other side in the dusk. At one point in the space of 5 minutes I was joined briefly on the track by first a wild pig, then a wild cat and finally a wild deer - I don't think I was hallucinating! It took no time at all to reach the gravel road at the bottom, but we then needed lights for the next hours riding - the only time on the whole trip I rode after dark. I had assumed that the road would be easy to follow, but we had a decision to make at a bridge at one point. It was the first time I had seen Tor a bit agitated and we had the compass out a couple of times before convincing ourselves that there was really only one way to go. It was with some relief that we popped out on the Nelson Blenheim highway at Pelorous Bridge just before 10 and into the campground. It wasn't clear how to pay after hours to stay there given that we wanted to make a very early morning start next morning. But we had barely stepped off our bikes before we were being accused by a rather grumpy camp manager of trying to avoid paying! $10 each calmed him down and we set up camp well away from others so as not to disturb them with our early start. There are some beautiful old trees in this area and it would have been nice to see them in daylight. It then started to rain - which was OK for me in my tent but Tor (all 6' 5" of him in a bivy bag) was restless.

Day 5 - Big River Hut to Murchison

Possible Shelter?
Maruia Saddle

Tor and Owen feast at Murchison

Yum says Mick!
Tor and I seemed better adapted to starting early than Mick and Owen so we were off before 7 on the track past old gold mining works to Merrijigs followed by the fast 4WD track down to Reefton. A hearty big breakfast and a bit of shopping - me to replace a swiss army knife I thought I had left at Sheffield (It turned out to be the old man effect again as I found it in my bag when I got back to Wellington!). Owen and Mick and Julie and Thomas arrived as we were about to set off. As we left I couldn't find my sunglasses - I was really developing a reputation for absentmindedness! A gentle climb up to Rahu saddle in the cool morning air was followed by a rapid descent to Springs Junction and Owen and Mick caught us again there as we had a second breakfast/early lunch. Tor and I pushed on towards Maruia and the Maruia saddle road. Mick and Owen joined us again here. Half way to the saddle a ute pulled up beside us (we were all wondering what we had done) when a voice called out is one of you guys Mike and proceded to hand me my lost glasses. We were all amazed, I couldn't believe my luck. It transpired that Julie had heard about me loosing my classes and had found a pair on the track down from Big river to Reefton and put two and two together so when a guy in Reefton in a ute indicated he was heading in our direction she gave him a good description of us and our route and asked him to give them to us. Thanks Julie and the kind ute driver whoever he was. The four of us (Tor, Owen, Mick and I) cycled on together through west coast bush then farmland in the heat all the way to Murchison. Tor punctured about 4 km short at about 7 pm, but we had decided to have another shorter day but comfortable night ready for a big push the next day. We organised accommodation at the local backpacker and food for the next day and I went back to see what was holding Tor up. It transpired that his zip tie method of attaching tubes had actually cut through his spares so he had had to do a full repair! By the time we got back Owen and Mick had chatted to the backpacker owner and organised a gourmet meal of lasagna and one of the best salads I have had (see photos) and hoped we didn't think it presumptuous of them. Boys that was one of the best evenings on the trip - chugging a corona, delicious food and chatting to the owner about our exploits -  I will remember it fondly for a long time. More washing and organising of bikes for a quick get away in the morning and another good sleep in a soft bed.

Day 4 - Arthurs Pass to Big River Hut

I'm going to Jackson ...! 
In the chair at the Hilton

Historic School near Waiuta

Waiuta remains

Tor at Big River Hut

Resisting an OSM in Big River Hut
Massive bowl of muesli for breakfast and off by seven. Clothing not completely dry but at least clean. Clear skies still holding so after gentle climb to Arthur's Pass, Tor and I raced down Otira Gorge unfortunately getting held up by the truck that just passed us climbing the pass. However this meant we had time to admire the impressive viaduct and other engineering feats on the way down. Seemed very little time before we were at the historic Jacksons Pub, but no sign of life at 8 am so we carried on towards Inchbonnie. The cool back roads of compacted earth and typical West Coast bush through to Stillwater provided some of the most pleasant riding of the Brevet. Unfortunately Stillwater cafe was shut on Tuesdays! so it was off to Blackball for a healthy steak pie and coke. As we finished young Owen and Mick turned up. They had stayed at the Bealey the previous night. We were unsure as to whether we could get through Big River to Reefton that night (given the horific stories about this stage from the 2010 Brevet) so were prepared to camp out if necessary. On the back road to Ikamatua we met up with Julie and Thomas so ended shopping at the store and eating iceblocks together to cool down a bit before setting off for the old gold mining town of Waiuta. We kept a steady pace arriving about 5pm so decided it was worth pushing on. The gradient up to big river hut was mostly ridable but the ground was very soft and spongy. It was very easy to follow the route as the track was quite badly cut up by the previous riders and since we could only manage 3-4 km/hr we mostly walked. 3 hours later we arrived at Big River Hut and decided it looked like a great place for an overnight. Mick and Owen turned up just as it was getting dark so we had a large bunk each for the night. We didn't see Julie and Thomas so presumed they had camped out. Another good nights sleep on a thick mattress.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Day 3 - Wharfedale to Arthurs Pass

Klondyke Corner
Big skies over central divide
Awoke to find everything quite wet from overnight rain. Also discovered that I had lost some strength and dexterity in my thumb and little fingers - too much banging of the heel of my hand and not enough different positions to hold the handlebars. Combined with the vicious sandflies it took me forever to get everything packed up and tied on my bike. Fortunately no-one was watching but it must have looked quite comical to see me doing 5 to 6 slaps to the face, legs and neck between tying each piece on the bike. However if I thought I was a slow starter Owen and Mick were even slower as I caught them up soon after the Wharfedale Hut. We continued slowly up to the saddle - riding considerably less than I had done a year earlier with an unladen bike. Things improved considerably down the other side and we were soon on the roads towards Sheffield and a famous pie. Discovered the reason why my chain had been jumping around was two bent teeth on my front middle ring. Using a pair of pliers to bend the teeth straight - I broke them off! However this seemed to do the trick. Also discovered a broken spoke but this was quickly buddied with another with a bit of electrical tape and all was running well again. While I was doing all these repairs Tor Madsen arrived having done a big push to the Lees Valley all the way from the other side of the Molesworth the day before then taking advantage of his 6' 5" frame to run through the gnarlier parts of the Wharfedale. We set off together hoping to make Arthurs Pass by dark. Taking advantage of a tail wind, rejuvenated by the clear blue skies and real food diet I powered (for me) up Porters Pass at over 7 km/hr in less that 25 minutes and raced through Broken River, Craigieburn, Castle Hill, Flock Hill admiring the expansive views of the surrounding hills. Heading down Flock Hill at about 70 km/hr I felt a sharp pain on my throat and realised I had trapped a wasp in the V of my top. Releasing one hand carefully I flicked it out - too late to avoid a sting, but fortunately I don't seem to be allergic to them. Reaching Arthurs Pass at 7.30 I had booked a room in what used to be Oscar Coberger's place and was dining at a nearby cafe when Tor arrived. We ended sharing a room and reminiscing about times 20 to 30 years earlier when our families had known each other quite well in Wilton in Wellington and filling in the intervening years. A shower and chance to wash clothes was taken instead of continuing to bike on.Also chance to visit Brevet site on internet - pleased to see my son Alex was still with the revolution team approaching Blackball. A great sleep in a soft comfortable bed followed - something you seem to appreciate more with age.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Day 2 - Acheron to start of Wharfedale

Hurunui Cafe
Bike at The Brothers
Tent at start of Wharfdale
Up at 6am, resisted another one square meal and took till 6.50 to get everything packed before heading round to Jollies pass and a fast descent to reach Hanmer just after 8am. Noticed a few bikes at the bakery and found Alex, Jonty, Andy King and Jeff Lyall just finishing breakfast. They headed off (never to be seen again by me) as I settled down to a solid breakfast of Muesli, pastries and coffee. Then off (one hour after the others) for Hurunui. Here I made my second mistake - perhaps it can be blamed on age and forgetfulness - 5km down the road, halfway to the bridge, I realised I didn't have my daypack with my water bladder and bike tools so I turned around (now uphill and into the wind) back to the bakery where much to my relief my gear was still sitting on the seat. Only half and hour wasted but made me realise how easy it is to loose focus. Chocolate milk at Culverden and then timed my approach to Hurunui to have a solid lunch of pie and salad and cake plus some spare savoury scones for later (No more OSMs!). Topped up on water for the next big push through Macdonalds farm and the Lees valley to the Wharfedale Hut (so I hoped). Heading down the gravel roads inland from Hurunui I encountered young Owen and Mick finishing up lunch on the side of the road - so we carried on together towards the farm. On a steep descent just before the turnoff Owen broke a spoke. Thinking they would catch me up quickly I carried on to Clarke Hall road as indicated by the topo map and instructions. Eventually after some discussion with the local farmer I was convinced both the map and cue sheet were wrong and cursing Simon I headed back uphill and eventually found the farm entrance. Over an hour lost here for me but someone with a GPS had arrived just after the youngsters and I separated and they realised the map error and were now an hour ahead. Back on my own I worked my way through to The Brothers and on to the Lees Valley gradually regaining my composure with the opening and closing of each gate. In the dusk I almost missed the turning to the access track to the Wharfedale so decided to camp at the last gate - not realising straight away how viscious the sandflies were at this point. Spent a peaceful night in thick drizzle but my tent kept the rain and insects out. Another 170 odd km completed - reasonable progess for me.