Sifters story - Charlottes story - John Morris's story - The aussie's story - Mr Cleetus's story
As we took the train into Wellington we were surrounded by people dressed up in various fancy-dress costumes as they made their way into the Rugby Sevens. We never got a second glance as they probably just thought we were going as cycle tourists.
We boarded the Blue Bridge Ferry with a mixture of excitement and trepidation and we sailed south for the first ever Kiwi Brevet. We met more intrepid adventurers on the ferry and before long we were all talking about kit selection. Have you got a this? How much does your that weigh?
We came from many backgrounds, but one thing most of of us had in common. We had never heard of a "Brevet" until the organiser Simon Kennett mooted the idea part way through 2009. Many of us had watched Simon's epic voyage as he did the Great Divide race two years previous and were awed by the effort. Simon's plan was to do a similar event in NZ. Roughly 50% on road, 50% off road. The rules were pretty simple.
1. No support
2. 4 hours sleep a night
3. You had 8 days to crank out 1100kms.
Other than that, you carried a spot-tracker and were on your own. Who would have thought that 65 people would front up on the start line in Blenheim to start the crazy loop.
The variety of bikes was impressive. 26ers, 29ers, 96ers, cross bikes, rigid and sprung at one or both ends. Even a pugsly and a fixer.
Day 1 was tough. With a 12pm start, the sun shone like only it can in Marlborough and many people cracked wide open by the time they had reached the top of the Port Underwood section of the leg. A series of at least 4 brutal climbs on gravel with fine fine silt, and descents in hot oven-fan-bake like conditions. My riding buddy Matt was wilting in the sun, as well as having to deal with a Matagouri thorn in his tubeless tire, and had to stop three times to add more air. At the first stop in the coastal port of Picton the Supermarkets and gas stations were hit hard as coke water and muesli bars were stocked up. This was just the entree. The Queen Charlotte Sounds drive was next, and although it very scenic and relatively flat, you knew that once you had got through that segment the brutal Maungatapu Climb awaited before the descent into Nelson. If you were on your game, you might be in Nelson by 12pm, but for most, it was a case of bivvying up on the hill, or staying in a camping ground in Pelorus. We were riding with some guys who were also affected badly by the heat so decided to sleep at Murderers rock where we heard there was water and a flat spot to bivvy. Murderers rock was the scene of a planned robbery and murder of 5 people back in the gold mining days. The wash in the stream that night was the most refreshing wash I have ever had, and I have never seen so many stars in the sky so clearly.
The next day dawned with a couple of very sick riders suffering the effects from the previous days heat. Matt was struggling with nausea and couldn't eat, and Mike was just fried after the first half day in the sun. After a long brunch in Nelson we got back on the road and headed north to St Arnaud. By the time we got there we knew we had to make some hard decisions. We decided to split up into two teams with the tired guys staying on and trying to recover their strength, while the rest of us would push on and see how far we could get. It was the right idea.
Jonty Nick and myself took off about 4.30pm after a feed of fish and chips and countless chocolate milks and we headed for the Porika Track. It was a beautiful climb through Beech forests, but it did seem to go on for a long time. Starting the day with half of the Maungatupu to finish at 7am was starting to take its toll. The descent was very rough, and would have been a tricky walk for most people. I elected to walk and had to watch in amazement as Jonty rode the lot on his Cross bike. I had to keep reminding myself that he was once the NZ downhill champ!
After the Porika came the Braeburn track, which was wide open downhill gravel... in the dark. Awesome. Jonty and Nick had lightweight DiNotte lights, but my helmet mounted Ayups were just the business. We rolled into Murchison and managed to find a Backpackers at about 9.30pm.
We left Murch at about 8am the next day, brought some home made pies and hit the road for the Maruia saddle. A beautiful Beech forest with gradual four wheel drive tracks. Along the way we were joined by a curious baby deer who ran out from a farm's front gate! There was no dropping her. We nailed it down a hill at 50kmh and she hung on. I back tracked for a couple of kilometres and eventually found the owner of the friendly fawn.
After an extended lunch stop at the Maruia cafe, it was a bit more tarmac and onto the mining town of Reefton. We passed the young aussie guys at Maruia and caught up with Scott and Ian who had stopped at Reefton to fix Scot's bike. Scot had been hit by a car outside of Murch and needed a new hanger. We fueled up and headed off on our next leg which was hopefully Big River, Waiuta and Blackball.
We were heading into gnarly country now, and had no idea of how long it was going to take to get through, but we were prepared to sleep out, or sleep in a hut if that was as far as we got. Big River was great, but Waiuta was a real effort. An eerily beautiful place, the tracks were narrow and surrounded by sphagnum moss, with fallen logs, rocky outcrops and streams breaking up any kind of flow to the trail. The final descent was special, but more because we were finally getting out of it than for any other reason. We emerged at the old mining ghost town of Waiuta, clipped on our lights and with a tailwind and slight downhill we nailed it to the Ikamatua pub. A pie, a beer and a raspberry and coke later and we were back on the road at 9.40pm and trying to make the Blackball Hilton Pub by 11pm.
It was hilly, it was wet and it was dark. But we made it by 11pm. Our friends from Wellington, Trevor and Barryn were sitting there sipping on some local ale as we stumbled through the door. What an epic day. It would have been rude not to join them.
The next day we headed off on what was to be the biggest segment involving tarmac, although the first part was strictly gravel. For some reason the roadside was full of Weka who were scurrying about and foraging at the road edge. We made it to Jacksons and then the brutal 13% climb of the Otira gorge viaduct. Another stop at Arthurs Pass where I accidentally discovered that sun-block was acceptable chamois cream, and it was back on the road with a nice tail wind to Springfield.
The food at the Springfield Cafe was excellent, and somewhere along the way we picked up Laurence and Guy from Ground Effect, and decided to move on a bit more so we could get an earlier start onto the Wharfdale track. We camped at the View hill domain that night somewhere near Oxford.
The next morning was a bit damp, but not too bad. The Wharfdale was great. Technically challenging, but still mostly rideable. I did go over the bars at one stage with a move that was pretty spectacular from where Jonty was looking. We stopped at the hut and Jonty whipped out his espresso maker! Luxury. He carried it on his handlebar bag the whole way, such was his fear of coffee withdrawal. We had only just started to leave when Charlotte turned up. She had been making a habit of catching us on our leisurely stops. She was riding by herself, unlike most of the other women in the event who seemed to have the support of spouses or boyfriends.
We cranked on into the Lee Valley. This section was epic. It just went on for ever. Initially wide open flat farm roads that eventually turned into nasty little climbs that kept repeating themselves. When we finally got off the gravel at Hurunui we were mentally pretty fried, and depending on who we talked to, we had either 37 or 57kms to go to get to Hanmer Springs. I made the mistake of having a cold drink instead of a hot drink which cooled down my core a bit too much.
Nick had been having problems with his knee for a few days and had pretty much made the decision to pull the pin, as it was so sore and he reckoned he was making no power. He couldn't see himself getting through the Molesworth the next day, which was hopefully to be our final stage. Next thing we knew Nick had attacked off the front. With only a few kms left to Hanmer he was testing his knee to failure.... and found that it felt better when he went harder!!!
It started to rain a bit and by the time we rolled into Hanmer at around 9pm we were pretty toasted. I jammed my fish and chips up my jacket as I needed the warmth. Nick got onto Google at our salubrious accommodation and found instructions for an ITB stretch, and we got out a big stash of nurofen to help with his knee.
We threw all the smelly clothes in the washer and decided to make an early start the next morning. We did. At 7.15am we were grinding our way up Jollies pass. What a grunt. It felt like it must have been close to an hours climbing on the gravel in a very low gear. We caught Charlotte who had started at 6am, then we caught up to Trevor and Barryn who were looking a bit tired . On the Ward pass we hauled in Chris and Brenda. We thought that might have been it, but Jonty was like a heat seeking missile. We seem to be going downhill with a tail wind, and while cresting a rise we spotted David King. He took one look over his shoulder and nailed it so fast down the gravel hill that we had to do 75kmh to keep him in sight! We caught him on the next climb and kept on rolling. It was a long day and I could see the guys jealously eyeing my full suspension set-up as they were getting pummelled on their rigid steads on the nasty Molesworth corrugations.
"Big Country" is the term just about everyone used to describe the terrain on the ride through the Molesworth, and we were a joyous group when we finally saw the sign at Taylors Pass saying only 26kms to Blenheim.
We finished that day's 205km stretch in a bit under 11 hours and we wondered what we could have done on other days if we had spent less time eating and talking and more time riding. It didn't matter. We had a lot of fun. We were still completely coherent and enjoying the feeling of achievement at having finished the first ever Kiwi Brevet. Thank you Simon Kennett. It was a blast.
Here is Matt (Mr Cleetus's) story:
- I finished!
- After day two, I got stronger & felt better each day throughout the event
- I had some very good times and enjoyed some new people
- I learned my friend is a very good friend
- I saw some stunningly beautiful country
- I was able to smash it at times and had some sublime moments on the bike
- I did nothing but ride my bike for 6 days – how could anything be more positive?
- I did not hurt myself badly
- I still like my bike and wish to continue riding it
- My bike and its various parts did not brake
- I lost quite a few kgs. :)
- I saved money because I did not need to buy much food
- I vomited while riding the bike throughout the first day
- I felt like vomiting on the bike for the next one-and-a-half days after that
- I hardly ate, no matter how much I forced it, and did not feel like eating until late on day 5 (but, man, was I hungry then).
- I was not able to ride the whole thing with my friend as planned – he was forced to drop me late on day two.
- I had bad back pain most of the way
- I was significantly slower than planned and made my friend slower than he planned
- My sleeping pad was quietly at home on the living room floor
- I have some cycling clothing I may wish to never wear again
Day 1: The start time was Noon and it was stinking hot, somewhere over 30 degrees. That may not sound like much, but believe me: it is! It made for a very tough start. After a bit of argy-bargy in several kms of thorny-puncture-causing-double track sand, we arrived at the start of the hills. These were a series of 7 or 8 climbs with gains of up to 400m on dirt roads that were often in tire-deep loose dirt, which made for slow going. It was absolutely beautiful dropping down into countless picturesque little bays. The early thorn encounters caused me to stop and pump up my rear tubeless which was slowly leaking, but thank goodness for tubeless and it finally held. Yay! No real puncture. It was roasting. I was being slowly roasted. All things were not well.
After three hours it became clear that I was not handling the heat well and I was suffering big time and my back was killing me. My pace remained ok and El Jefe and I were still riding well, but serious nausea was setting in and my energy levels were dropping. We stopped at the first town we hit at 4 hours and refueled. Ice cold coke and a wee bit of a break for me. We had a few hours of climby roads to do and then one of the big-nasty climbs for the event: the Mangutapu. Once we were riding again the nausea was quickly back and soon I was vomiting as I was pedalling. Now, this is not a new experience for me, but it is not one I had hoped to repeat again – especially not on day one of a 1200km event. My lower back, where I had been recently having the problems, was also in pretty bad pain at times. We eventually hit the next town which was our dinner source and I managed 1/2L choco soymilk and forced as much of a can of baked beans down as possible and was still in hopes of making it over the Mangutapu that night. Dusk was settling in as we hit the 12km gravel road climb which leads to the Mangutapu; I decided I had to head up, but my guts continued to deteriorate. When we hit the base oh the 'tapu I decide it was not a smart idea to go up (with all the memories of hours of IVs stuck in my arm in past experiences), but no luck, the only water source was 600m above us. So up up and away we went in the dark with El Jefe telling stories of Murderers Rock, our eventual camping place, the entire way. We finally hit the stream and oh my was it awesome to stop riding the bike!! Four others joined us here and after refilling we headed up and finally hit Murderers Rock at a bit past 10pm. I was bugga'd and doing my best not to think about the kms ahead, but also feeling very badly for causing El Jefe to go so slowly. I dumped my bags on the ground and really could do nothing but laugh when I discovered I had my bivi bag and my sleeping bag, but my sleeping pad was nowhere to be found. Naturally, I blamed my daughter. I managed a few hours of sleep that night, but between my cramping hamstrings, feet and quads and the rocks under my veganised posterior, I would not call it a fantastic sleep; however I was happy and warm and optimistic for the days to come, even though we were, on day one and completely thanks to me, behind schedule.
Day 2: This route was supposed to be one of the tougher ones with a lot of climbing, but a lot of that was on roads – good for me!! I woke up nauseous and finished off my soya, but had little else. We finished the climb – a lovely climb – and headed down the backside, which was good fun. Along the way we passed a few others with mechanicals and headed into Nelson to get some breakfast. I managed to get down a coffee, a bagel and some avocado, but felt awful. Throughout the morning the heat poured on and my energy levels were up and down, and the nausea was always there, sometimes quite horribly, but our pace was still on track. In the later afternoon there was a longish climb on the road, but one that I would have loved if fresh and on a road bike. In this case I groveled, I really groveled and I had do some serious convincing of myself not to walk. By this point we were riding as a group of six; three were up the road ahead of me and two behind. After the descent it was clear I needed a stop, so I had a wee 20 minute break by the side of the road and I was not passed by a single car or cyclist! Once I was riding again it was clear to me I was done for the day and at 5.30 I caught up to the three ahead of me in St. Arnaud and told then I was done. Completely cooked. I don't actually have much memory of the rest of the night as I was a complete mess and in a pretty bad state and had just had about enough of the nausea after fighting it for more than 24 hours. The good news (for me) was the two behind me eventually caught up and also were not in a state to go on. So El Jefe left me to ride on with the other two who were also feeling spunky and I would stay behind with the other two grovellers and we would grovel on together. Grovelling good times to come. I stayed in a bed for the night, but spent it cramping. I managed a very good sleep despite this.
Day 3: I had gone to bed with the hopes of the nausea being gone when I awoke and I had manged to get some quantities of water and electrolytes down, so there was hope. However there was no luck and I felt awful in the morning. With that, and with no dinner the night before and without being able to get breakfast down I was not optimistic for the days to come and for the first time it occurred to me I might not be able to finish. WHAT?!?!? This thing should be easy!! WTF!?!? DNF!!!!??? No f'ing way. So I did what I had to: I forced those thoughts out of my mind and got on the bike and rode. We were blessed with an awesome first 30mins of easy downhill to start, but it did not help, I still felt like a pile of poo. I did not want to feel like a big pile of poo. Finally the fun was over and we started the rocky climbs again and one would not say I was overjoyed at the thought of it, but I very much impressed myself with my ability to just get on with it and remove any negativity out of my head. After some very long climbs we hit some stunning views over Lake Rotoiti and that was awesome. That was a reason I was there. After a nasty nasty fun descent, which most had to walk and another climb we hit the descent on the Braeburn Track – this was it for me, the change point where I started to have fun, the nausea started to recede and optimism returned. This road was a blast!! I had been drinking some apple juice and it, coupled with the cooler temperatures seemed to be settling my stomach. Some time in the early afternoon we hit Murchison for lunch and I managed to get down the first real calories in 2.5 days: baby apple puree and it was lovely. Throughout the afternoon, despite the slightly rising temps I felt better and stronger. Even enough to smash it up some longer climbs and ride off on my own at times. It also finally occurred to me to get the camera out.
At 7.30 we hit Springs Junction, we were out of food and the shop and hotel were closed. It was 40km to Reefton with one pass to on the route. We decided to go for it and I felt the best I had and really had to hold back going up the climb. The last 30kms into Reefton were almost entirely downhill. Awesome! I was rocking now and dreaming of the days to come. We arrived in Reefton at 9.30. In time to get accommodation at the pub hotel, but too late to get any dinner. But we had enough of a food to snack and would be able to get a good breakfast in the morning.
Day 4: I cannot think of many places worse than the West Coast of NZ for vegan food except maybe Kansas, but they were great at this place and gave me what must have been 3kgs of baked beans and 4 slices of toast. I had no appetite so I ate what I could, which was maybe ¼ of this and we headed off to the most technical stretch of the entire Brevet: Big River and Waiuta. The night before we had been warned it was more difficult and slower than expected but we were ready. It was awesome. Some climbing on tough rocky trails, entrenched narrow single track, pushing bikes up stream beds, beautiful scenery and endless lifting and carrying of bikes through steep ravines. Doing this alone would have been a major pain – probably requiring unloading of the bike at times. It was a pretty special segment and took us six hours to get through. I had another puncture and this time the tubeless took four pumpings to heal. All was good. After a couple of more hours of flattish roads and gravel we decided to push on to Jackson's to get us close to the Arthur's pass climb in the morning. Unfortunately none of our maps gave us any clue how far it was; it could be 2 hours or 6. Anyway, I felt awesome and this rocked. I pushed the pace hard to get there as early as possible and kept riding away from my group. It was all smooth gravel and tar sealed roads and I was really enjoying myself – I was coming alive again riding in the dark. At 10pm we showed up at a little campground in Jackson's just as the shop was closing. I managed to get a wee bit of pasta down but again had no appetite and started to feel the nausea again. So I went to bed and maybe managed 3hrs of sleep in a fitful night. The next morning we wanted an early start to be closer to a large group we had caught this day.
Day 5: We were straight up Arthur's Pass in the morning after another very small breakfast. This is a steep climb on the road – up to 13% I think! It was tough, but there was a cafe at the top and a planned break. We had caught up to some others and there was about 10 other breveters at the cafe. Again I had no appetite but got some toast and a soy latte down. The next 55km was all up and down staying between 700m and 100m and I had a blast. I was enjoying riding hard and putting some hard efforts in during this bit. I was out of the not-a-race at this point and I had no desire to go it alone, so I just enjoyed it. At 4pm we hit Sheffield and had our first and only tactical error: we had to get food for the next ~24 hours and the only shop in town as a (meat) pie shop with very little on offer. Anything else would have been a 20km diversion. Fortunately for me, we were not the only ones to make the error and my veganness was becoming known. An incredibly kind couple (Fat Dogs!) offered me their yummy oily peanuts and I managed to get so good grainy bread and apple juice. Those peanuts were the best food I had since the start and I managed to get a few calories and some fat and protein in and I had enough to survive through to the next afternoon. At this point it was cool and raining which was great for me. Next up was muddy technical single track and I enjoyed riding through it. Just at dusk we arrived at the backcountry hut. Some DoC workers were there and they were initially not very happy to see us but they eventually warmed to the idea and seemed to enjoy telling us their stories. Eventually 12 riders showed up at that hut and with the rain outside everybody crammed in the hut. It was STINKIN' HOT inside!! Again I managed a few hours of sleep.
Day 6: This day promised a wee bit of single track and endless climbing on farm tracks and gravel roads, much of it was through private land which we had special permission to go through. It was very beautiful and I was really enjoying it. Unfortunately in the mid-afternoon one of the two riding with me had a major mechanical and managed to rip his rear derailleur off. Not good at all. It seemed very odd, but we had to leave him to walk and hope that he would find the mythical farmer's wife. I continued to feel good and was pushing the pace. The only real issues were a constant pain from my lower back and just general fatigue. At 3.30ish we arrived and the Hurinui Hotel and I was STARVING!! What an excellent feeling to have after not wanting any food for days on end. I had the best tomato and onion sandwich I have ever had with a big jug of coke and was raring to go. For the next 50km I smashed it sitting at 35kph for some long stretches (hey, thats fast on heavy loaded bikes on tired legs!!) and did my best to make the Adventure Racers cry, I think I heard some sobs from Bill (after he attacked, of course). At 5.30pm we arrive in Hanmer Springs. After Hanmer is a steep 400m-ish climb and some more rolling climbing to the start of the Molesworth road. Nobody is allowed on the Molesworth except between 7am and 7pm so we decided to get a meal in Hanmer (friggin' fantastic Thai Fried Rice), load up with a bunch of extra food and to have a leisurely climb up to the start of the road so we could be ready to go at 7am. We had managed to catch quite a few who had been ahead of us the previous days – some who had been hugely ahead. We were starting to feel some competitive urges. The climb up was hard work, but we really enjoyed knowing we could only go so far and we made the most of it. We made it to the camp at 8.30, set up the bivis, washed my shorts in the stream and went climbed in the sack just as three others arrived.
Final Day. We left at 7.09, just a few minutes after 2 who had left Hanmer at 5am. This raised a bit of competitiveness in us and we chased them down over the next hour. The Molesworth road is a special one in very amazing and hard to describe enormous, desolate and barren country, surround by 12,000ft mountains. Unfortunately the roads are really rocky and slow; this was clearly a stretch were rigid bikes were a disadvantage. Anyway, it was beautiful and we made the most of it. We quickly realised there was no point in trying to race it but made sure we did enough to stay ahead of the others. Again, it was a day with endless climbing and no flat stretches for hours on end, but it was pretty special riding and we saw almost nobody for 200km. Awesome. Also, there were no water or food supplies, other than streams with water that must be treated. Again it was incredibly hot, but I managed to hold it together and keep my head in a good place despite this being the worst day yet for my lower back. We found a plum tree with beautiful red & yellow plums that were one of the highlights of the trip and we ate a lot!! Finally we hit the last pass with 26km to go which was directly into a roaring headwind. Frustrating, but what could we do... After our first navigational error with 9km to go we finally made it onto the bike path and we hit Seymoure Square Blenheim at about 7pm. El Jefe and a few others were there waiting for us and it was fantastic to be done and I felt very good!
Finish time: 6 days 7 hours.
Epilogue. Brevet is maybe not the right title for this race, but I am not sure what is: adventure race? Some did it on very little sleep (maybe too little based on the rules...), but most had a bit more. It was not “supposed” to be a race and it was kind of treated that way, but nobody wanted to be beaten either. It was over very difficult and slow tracks, paths, roads and terrain so all average speeds were pretty slow, but that is what is all about. It cannot be compared to a brevet such as PBP, it's an event of its own. An awesome event. Come do it. Just don't vomit on your bike. ...oh and James did actually find the mythical farmers wife, got a ride to get his bike fixed and finished not too long after us!