Thursday, September 11, 2014

Return to Mount Climie

Jonny in the early 90's
Return to Mount Climie - With pix by Ricoh Riott.

A couple of weeks back I was looking through some old piccies from back in the day. I found a goodie of local rider Jonny Waghorn descending Mt Climie on his state of the art (at the time) Yeti so I scanned it and posted it on Facebook. A a bit of banter ensued and a few weeks later Kim Hurst announced a project she had been mulling over for a while, a fundraiser to help get her favorite wrench and world renown botty grinder (Ricky Slack-boy Pincott) overseas for some hi-end wrench-action at the World 24 Hour Solo MTB champs. The plan was to create a grass-roots homage to the original Mt Climie Hill Climb/Downhill event that used to precede the Karapoti. There have been some pretty famous riders take part in these events including David Weins and Dave Cullinan from team Diamondback. The Climie uphill/downhill combo was also used to great effect in the two-day Tour De Tunnel stage race that the Kennett bros introduced in the early 90's. The 610 metre climb is a beauty but you are very lucky if the weather at the top is good.

Lower Climie
Some people really got into the spirit of it dragging out their old retro bikes and trying to relive the day. Jonny was on his still original Yeti with admittedly a bit less travel than he had back in the early 90's, and Simon Kennett had also recently just come across a new (old) bike which was the same as the one he campaigned the nationals on in the infancy of the New Zealand MTB scene.

Simon and Jonny discussing gear selection
The Downhill guys were also out in force obviously although I didn't know many of their names. Upper Hutt local Ed Banks was there. Ed is always up Climie, anytime there is a chance of snow he's up there like a rat up a drain-pipe.

The last time Jonny would look over his shoulder and see Rob's "race face".

Its worth the trip to the top for the scenery.
You could ride each event separately or together with lowest combined time winning the Mountain Ninja Class.

Ed togs up in pants that have been banned in many countries.
Steve Bale was taking it pretty seriously forgoing handle bar grips for skate-board deck tape. It must have been fun descending on his 8kg rigid bike with those. Hopefully he had some well padded gloves.

Steve Bale

Lee Campbell
One of the most exciting rides I saw was from Lee Campbell on his Specialized Fat-bike. He had been terrorising the Cyclocross fields for the previous few weeks on this machine and despite having no suspension as such I think there were only about 3 riders in the "Mountain Ninja" Class that descended faster than him. He went past me in a blur like an out of control Monster Truck on nitrous. When asked if he had any "moments" he said, "about four".

A rider getting some air shortly after the start.

Ricky Slackboy Pincot himself won the Downhill proper with his home made rear disc wheel and we were all treated to some exemplary home-brewed beer from Ricky's Mud Cycles cohort, and home-made baking back at base-camp.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Hauraki Rail Trail

This is not a tale of epic endurance and sleep deprivation, far from it. Its a story about 6 over 50s casual (very) riders doing the Hauraki Rail Trail.

We had a lovely holiday earlier this year with our friends Janet and Colin who now reside in Tasmania. They are great travellers and are always looking for a reason to come back to NZ. Janet is from the Arnst family down south which has a great cycling legacy associated with it. Janet and Colin have recently acquired electric bikes which has enabled them to cover parts of Tassie with less effort than would normally be required. Our plan was to spend some time with them chilling out at Hahei near Whitianga, and get started on the  Hauraki Rail Trail and meet up with Janet's sister and brother in law part way through.

Hot-water beach.

Hahei beach
We had almost a week together resting up at Hahei sampling some fine Wellington Craft Beers which I brought, and Colin obviously didn't have access to in Hobart. In fact there wasn't much sign of Craft Beer anywhere we went up there, so be warned! Hahei was lovely and a very nice warm change for us as Wellington was already starting to get colder. The accommodation was well appointed but each day we got a new surprise at the cockroach's new hiding places. They kept us on her toes. They like the warm. There were critters everywhere actually. Big black crickets in the grass, massive tiger slugs and on different days there were quail or pheasant walking just outside our bach.

New Chums beach near Whangapoa
In typical Coromandel style, the day we tried to leave for the start of our Hauraki Rail trail experience it bucketed down, trapping us in Tairua. No worries. There was still  plenty of accommodation and the road was cleared early the next morning.

The next day we tootled in to Thames and collected Colin and Janet's bikes from the Rail Trail HQ and we were away. We left the car there as I was intending to ride back to get it after we got to Paeroa, our day one destination. The trail was fast and well manicured. It skirted the edge of Thames for a while and then on to Kopu, Matatoki and past Puriri, where I once lived, (our house was gone) and on through Hikutia and on to Paeroa. The trail, to me, pretty much resembled a very well maintained cattle-race with views best described as "rural New Zealand", not really anything like you would see on the Otago Rail trail. Lots of green grass and the hills of the Coromandel just to the left.

Janet Kay and Colin somewhere between Thames and Paeroa.

 The people that "organise" the Rail Trail have done a great job at promoting it, and getting locals to open up their homes as Bed and Breakfasts and making visitors feel welcome. We stayed with a semi-retired couple of a similar age to ourselves. Apparently there just wasn't a lot of accommodation in Paeroa as it was, so it has been great for stimulating the local economy. Paeroa, apart from the large concrete Lemon and Paeroa bottle is mainly known for its Horse Racing and Motorcycle street racing event.

I rode back to pick up the car while the others relaxed and thought about where we were going to have tea.

The next day in Paeroa we met Janet's Sister and brother in law, Jennie and Rob  and we hit the trail to Waihi via the Karangahake Gorge. Our accommodation in Waihi was a very recently built home that we had all to ourselves for the night. As per agreement, our gear had been dropped off by the shuttle so all we had to do was ride there.

Waikino on route to Waihi

The famous five.

Ooh! A rainbow at the trail's end at Waihi.

Martha Mine in down town Waihi !
The next morning Colin and I jumped on our bikes and did a lap of the Martha mine which is pretty damn impressive. It was of particular interest to Colin who when we worked together years earlier, had done some work in the area. The last time I was in Waihi was for the Waihi to Waihi time trial and I had no idea the giant hole in the ground was even there. We did our loop and and hit the gravel back to a point on the Rail trail where we were to meet the others who had taken the "train-option". Its not sure which is faster, bike or train. Probably the bike I suspect. The train goes from Waihi to Awakino.

The Cornish pumphouse.
 We regrouped and continued on the trail until we got to the Karanghake Gorge again where we did the "Windows walk" through the old Talisman and Crown mining operations. It was well worth a look and even a typical Coromandel apocalyptic down-pour didn't dampen our spirits too much. There is a lot of info on the Karangahake Gorge here.

It rained a lot, for a very short time

Doing the "Windows" walk. It was a high-light for me.

We grabbed some lunched and headed off to our next destination which was Te Aroha, basically just hang a left when you get back to Paeroa !

Some random cycle tourists on cross bikes

A lone wheel barrow full of free feijoas in the middle of the trail from Waihi to Paeroa

Heading into the Karangahake Gorge

The Victoria battery
 It got a little bit wet at times and there was some pretty serious flooding left over from the previous day's downpour. One last stop for scones and tea on route and we rolled into Te Aroha and found our cute little "Miners cottage" which had underfloor heating in the bathroom. A great way to dry out our wet gear. Janet's bro-in-law, Rob, and I got shuttled back to Paeroa and we brought the cars back.

Ye Olde Gold Miners Lodge

It was a fun trip and and would score highly for those who live towards the sedentary end of the "Couch Potato" scale. The hire bikes used were reliable, if a tad heavy. Not that there were any hills. It's a much more achievable ride than the Otago Rail trail for the less athletic adventurer. The organisation of the shuttles and accommodation via the Rail Trail people was faultless.

If you were in a hurry (and a bit fit) you could no doubt do the whole thing in one day but it would probably be best to do that kind of thing mid-week. On the weekend when we were on the return leg from Waihi to Paeroa the trail was very popular with lots of young kids out amongst it. There were also alot of middle-aged people out there like ourselves. Janet's brother in-law was hammering away on the last day trying really hard to catch up to some people out in front of him. When he finally caught them he realised they were 60-70 year old ladies!  We got chatting to them as we waited for a shuttle at the train station and it turned out that I had ridden the first Kiwi Brevet with one of the lady's sons, Nick. It's a small world. Lets hope we are still getting out in it like these ladies were, at the same age.

Thames to Paeroa = 33km
Paeroa to Waihi = 25km
Paeroa to Te Aroha = 21km

Map borrowed from here.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Kiwi Brevet kit evaluation 2014

Here is some gear geekage and ramblings from my 2014 Kiwi Brevet, recorded in no particular order. A few people have asked for a list of kit, but lists are pretty boring so here are some of my views on different bits.

Ayup with the large battery
I used the older Ayup lights with the weaker bulbs and run them with the multi-strength battery (on low) to draw even less power. If Ayup made a light with a single bulb I would probably use that instead. For the 4 and a half days of this years Kiwi Brevet I used only 1 and a half of the smaller Ayup batteries, although I also had another of the larger batteries spare. This was riding to the letter of the law and having 6 hours a day resting. Lighting demands for Bikepacking are not great, because generally you are not going that fast. If you had to have only one light, as I did, its best mounted on your head as it can be a big help when setting up and breaking camp in the dark, as it often is, when you are riding 18 hours a day : ) In a world where the electrical items you buy can often end up as landfill within months, the Ayups are the most resilient piece of electrical kit I have ever owned. The lamp and large battery above was purchased in 2008.

Garmin Etrex 20
My Garmin Etrex 20 was great and with judicious usage I only went through 1 set of batteries which died in the last few kms of the last day. The Etrex 20 was recommended to me by Geoff Blanc after the 2nd Kiwi Brevet because:
1 - It has the longest burn time of any modern GPS, (25 hrs).
2 - The batteries are replaceable, (I used 2 x lithium AA's, the same as my camera took). It is not the most intuitive GPS at first, and it does not have all the flash online connectivity of the later models, but it does the basics well. The best comparison would be like comparing your old Nokia bar cell phone to a modern smart phone. You know which one is going to have the better battery life and be the most robust.

Spot trackers
The spot tracker I had used the AAA lithiums and for me lasted the whole 4.5 days. I had another set spare.

A simple one bought from Cash converters running on AA lithiums, same as the GPS.

Samsung Galaxy S2 with a spare $35 chinese battery bank, good for maybe 1.5 charges. Probably for weight and bulk reasons a couple of spare phone batteries would be another option. The phone was really there for social media purposes, email-to-blog/FaceBook/Twitter and got very little usage.

As you can see there are a lot of batteries in there, and batteries are heavy. If you were not interested in recording your trip you could save a fair bit of weight. Maps are also heavy and take up a lot of room as well, so if you have faith in electronics then you can save on some bulk. I think Thomas Lindup went fully electronic with an Iphone with solar powered battery-pack, as did Simon Morton, and a few others experimented with solar charging with differing degrees of success.

The bulk of it
Look at a loaded bike, visually at least half of the luggage you are looking at is your sleeping kit.

Sleeping bag, bivvy sack and bedroll on the front. The rest on the back.

Tent/bivvy sack, sleeping bag/liner and sleeping roll/mat. Its a lot of bulk and usually takes up one whole end of your bike. If you are confident in your pre-booked accommodation and your ability to get there  (be wary of accommodation anxiety - stress caused by trying to meet a predestined location at a certain time)  you can drop all this kit. That is not something I would do or recommend, but for a seasoned campaigner in a hurry, or a novice on a cruisey schedule it is definitely an option. Part of the allure of Bikepacking for me is the idea of being self sufficient, but that's just my take. If you are not as fit, then credit-card touring is a great way to get started. Even if you are traveling light you should still have an emergency blanket, rain coat and a puffer jacket in my view.

I have a bit of a phobia about getting saddle soils (a boil) so I always take spare shorts, and a top, and antiseptic soap, and wash the used clothes each evening alternating with fresh ones. Some people don't bother, but many of them have their own special "procedure" to insure that nothing untoward happens in the nether regions. Apparently there has been a lot written about this area but I haven't come across it yet, if I find anything I will link to it. Veteran Endurance record holder Jay Petervary did the Tour Divide on the one pair of shorts..... I also met several people doing the Kiwi Brevet who did not even use any chamois cream !

The famous Brooks B-17 .
Is it all it's made out to be?
How much you enjoy your bike packing experience can often come down to how well your butt reacts. It's pretty hard to train for the kind of a work-out its going to get, because issues don't really start until after a couple of days. Unless you are doing two-day training rides you are not really going to know what to expect. One thing that seems to be consistent, 95% of the people using the Brooks saddles seem to have minimal problems, if any. Either that or they don't want to admit that the expensive heavy saddle they bought is a dud!  It appears the most popular Brooks saddle is the B-17. The weight of these saddles is what puts most people off them, and not surprisingly, at around 500 grams that's about double the weight of most saddles. But put another way, its only about the weight of a small water bottle. And if it means you don't get a sore bum then I'm pretty sure at day 3 you'd be happy to have one.

Brooks saddle owners do tend to rave about them a bit and Brooks try sell the whole Olde Worlde british culture of the bicycle thing. It's a bit like having pet Seamonkeys. You have to feed them the special Brooks proofide and put on the special seat cover in the rain etc. I'm not sure how many people actually do this  : )  Everyone has a favourite saddle but in my experience so far, after 3 days most bums are mincemeat. I will be trying a Brooks next time. I recently brought a Brooks Swift, and after the breaking in period, going back to my original brevet saddle, a Specialized Toupe, I couldnt believe how terrible the Toupe felt, and that was my second favourite seat to my Fizik Gobi !

Rigid vs hardtail vs fully. I have have tried both extremes, twice in the Kiwi Brevet I have used a 26inch full suspension bike, (Santa Cruz Superlight) and this last time I used a rigid drop-barred 29er (Surly Karate Monkey). No matter what you use, at some stage, someone else will always be on a better option. They all have their pros and cons. As I get older I am thinking the plushness of a fully has its advantages, and next time I will be on a fully 29er, although a hardtail 29er would probably be just about as good.

The hard-core bikepackers tend to favour fully rigid 29er bikes because they are lighter, and potentially simpler, but New Zealand has some terrain that is a lot more fun on a suspended bike, and I personally have never felt that having a heavier bike slowed me down in any way. I think there has to be a pretty big weight differential between two bikes in order for it to make a difference. While there are some steep pinches in the Kiwi Brevet, its not like you are grovelling uphill for 3 hours at a time in your granny gear. One way of limiting weight is to not carry so much water. This is the exact opposite of what I do. I will have 3 or 4 bottles and they will be full most of the time. Not that intelligent, but safe. This contrasts with my Kiwi Brevet riding partner Brian who would take minimal water on, because he was confident in his ability to pick safe streams to drink out of, and would even go as far as to not full his bottles up at the bottom of a climb if he knew there was a stream on the other side. Knowledge is power : )

See below some bike weights from Team Voodoo Lounge. All of these guys had done at least one Kiwi Brevet before except Calum, and Simon, and Simon doesn't muck about and did hours of gear testing, research and tire squeezing.

18 kgs. Thomas, rigid, carbon
20 kgs. Andy, hardtail alloy
21 kgs. Jeff, rigid, steel, drop-barred
22 kgs, Calum, hardtail, alloy
22 kgs, Simon, hardtail, alloy
27 kgs, Tor, rigid alloy.

These weights are "dry" for bikes, minus the full water-bottles and and back-packs people might have been wearing, but with all bags attached. From memory all the bikes were 29ers. Compare these weights to Dave Sharpe's disc equipped Carbon Cyclo-cross Hakkalugi which weighed in at 12.4 kgs. It takes a very motivated person to want to ride hours of gnarly single-track on 33 millimetre tyres though. The plus side is when you hit the gravel or tar-seal its game-on!

Salsa Woodchipper, trimmed .
I think Tor and Simon were running Jones H-bar styled set-ups while everyone else was on more standard flat-bars, except for my Salsa Woodchipper drop-bar. If you were to ride 1000kms in 4-5 days with just a set of flat bars, then there is no doubt you would do some damage, at least temporarily, to your hands in the way of numbness. A sensible bare minimum is a flat bar with bar-ends, but a very good addition is an aero bar which can also be used to tie a front bag onto. Basically you just need a couple of different positions to rest your hands. A drop-bar or a Jones H-bar offers many positions and the Jones bar has plenty of mount points for electronic gizmos and bags. On a drop-bar you will have to run road-style brake/shifters while on a Jones you can run standard MTB stuff. There are a lot more variations in handlebars out there today than there were a couple of years ago. For drop-bar usuage SRAM is actually the best in my view, as all their road kit has the same cable pull as their MTB stuff. Shimano on the other hand seems to have gone out of their way to make stuff incompatible between road and off-road on their later stuff.

Tyres are a very personal thing and can be the cause of much frustration.I saw several people who suffered catastrophic tire delaminations. This shouldn't happen, but if it is ever going to happen, it will happen on the Kiwi Brevet where you are exposed to all kinds of wildly varying terrain. Be wary that some tyres are not supposed to be used with tubeless sealant in them. I was very very happy with my Stans Ravens which are a very light tire that roll amazingly fast. To look at them offers no clue as to their speed and grip. I wouldn't choose a tire based on weight, but rolling resistance can be a big thing. My only gripe was that I spent so much time making my non-tubeless rims, tubeless-ready, and to then suffer a sidewall pin-prick puncture in the North Bank rock garden. Remember that tubeless tires only really self-seal on punctures that happen on the "bottom" of the tire, not the sidewall.

One set-up that really impressed me was that of Peter Maindonald who ran UST rims with burly UST tires that he could air up with a hand-pump. No risks there. Obviously you always take a couple of spare tubes and a pump that wont unwind your tubeless valve-cores when you undo it. Either that or you make sure the cores are done up tight. Some people will take one full size tube and one a 26er which are a lot smaller and lighter but will fit in an emergency. I always take two tire boots made from old road tires and usually end up giving one to someone else.

Peter Maindonalds rig. Well-specced and it felt very balanced and light.

The unforeseen
I had a few issues, some of which were possibly my own fault. I used a set of pedals that were not really up to the task, and when one of them imploded while riding up the steepest sealed section of the course I was very lucky to salvage my ride due to the kindness of a local at Arthurs Pass. Had I been riding shimano SPDs I could have just plonked on one of his, but I wasn't. I was on Crank Bros Candys so I was more than happy to throw a flat pedal with toe-clips on my left side and get moving again. The next day in the technical single track of the Wharfdale I was unlucky to flick up a branch which snagged in my drive-train and mangled my rear derailler. Fortunately my Karate Monkey had horizontal drop-outs, so I was able to single-speed the frame and do the next day and a half in one gear at a time. If I was on my Santa Cruz Superlight, I would have just torn off my hanger, which is a sacrifical point on those frames, which would have saved my derailleur. I always travel with a spare hanger. You'd be silly not to if you have the option. The adaptability of the Karate Monkey definitely saved my butt for sure. There are emergency derailler hangers that can also be packed.

For the first time ever in the Kiwi Brevet I got really bad Achilles pain. I still dont know why. I was probably fitter than I had been before but there were too many variables. An extra 70kms riding a day. Different pedals, a different bike, different shoes, different bars. It started on day two so it wasn't the toe-clip or the single-speeding to blame. It took me 3 months to recover fully, doing stretches twice a day, so you don't want to go there.

Old tried and true stuff
The bullet-proof  Freeload rack. Unbreakable. The 3/4s Thermarest sleeping mat was rock solid, although I lusted after Steves one, which looked like this. It was insanely light and looked as comfy as hell. Brian pointed out that his cheap foam bedroll was a lot lighter than mine, but it also stuck out in the air a fair bit creating a bit of drag in my view.  My simple bivvy sack did its job but we were lucky to have good weather.

See below Simon's tent which folded down to nothing and did not stick out in the wind too much when packed on his bike.

Simon does a tent test pre-brevet. Tor and Thomas give advice. It looks a lot more luxurious than my bivvy sack : )
Til next time!

If you want to know more about the event that inspired the Kiwi Brevet, (the Tour Divide), then follow the trackers here as it the main event is happening right now. 27/06/2014. There are currently a couple of Kiwis in the top 10. The gossip can be found on the forum here.

If you are interested in doing the full length of New Zealand equivalent to the Tour Divide in 2016, then go here

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kiwi Brevet 2014 long player

Surly Karate Monkey
The Kiwi Brevet is an 1100 km cross country event designed to give people an experience similar to what its creator Simon Kennett had when he first did the Tour Divide. This years was the third, and possibly last unless someone else steps forward to organise it. There is also talk of a length of New Zealand (LONZ) Brevet in 2016 if there is interest.

In the past years I have ridden with a group of friends and had an amazing time. Laughs aplenty and time to take heaps of photos and even do a bit of blogging on the run. This time I was keen to go a bit faster, and if necessary ride by myself. I found this idea a bit scary but you don't know if you don't try. The other main difference this time was that I was riding my drop-barred 29 inch Surly Karate Monkey, instead of my 26 inch Santa Cruz Superlight full suspension bike of the two previous Brevets. How would it stack up? Rollability of the larger wheels vs the comfort of full suspension.

Team Voodoo Lounge, Calum, Tor, Simon, Thomas, Andy, Jeff

On the way over from Wellington on the Blue Bridge ferry Michael Norris and Kirby Knowles introduced themselves to me. They'd over come from New Castle in Australia and were on fullies with some pretty flash but light-weight kit. I warned them about day one and what the KiwiBrovet guys from 2010 said about the Port Underwood climbs. They were not scared as they had done plenty of big hills in Oz, and Kirby was a highly ranked 24 hour racer back in Oz. We ended up having them around for Pizza and beers at the Voodoo Lounge on the friday night. We had a full house with Andy King, Tor Meulengracht-Madsen, Calum Chamberlain, Thomas Lindup and Simon Morton. We'd opted for a big cooked brekkie that morning and everyone pitched in, with Simon making an amazing coffee brew with his "coffee in a billy" style skills.

Heading to Port Underwood, day 1. Calum, Andy, Jeff - Photo from Bike-Fit Marlborough

Day 1. Blenheim to Wakefield Domain
I was outside Bikefit Marlborough picking up some last minute things when I noticed a small note my daughter had hidden on my kit. It was a lovely way to start the day. After the usual photo ops we were led out on the way to Port Underwood. I watched Dave Sharpe make his move and opted to hang back and catch his followers later when they blew up! Ha ha. I don't think many riders there knew what Dave was capable of. I hit the bottom of the hill and poured on the gas. I was riding with Simon Kennett, Steve Halligan and David Drake until Davids tire went bang in a most spectacular fashion. I carried on and diced with Steve for some time until I got away on the last tarseal decent, 4 very steep hills later. I was cruising through Waikawa Bay when I saw the Red and Black livery of the Revolution Cycles crew. It could only be Thomas.... I gassed it up and screamed STRAVA!!!! into his ear as I blew past. When I finally stopped laughing we continued riding to Picton where we did a very quick stop and picked up some extra water and drink. Apparently international adventure racer Nathan Faave cruised by while we were restocking.

Thomas and photo-ops at foot of Mangatapu
Thomas and I worked together through the Queen Charlotte Sound and Havelock where we passed Cliff Clermont replenishing supplies at the foursquare. We got to Pelorus and stocked up some more just in case. The Mangatapu was in great condition and we reached the 750 metre summit at around 7.30 pm I think, with Cliff catching us on the way. He was climbing really well but we nearly recaught him near the summit.

Thomas and I were both on rigid bikes so the very rough decent into the Maitai Valley before Nelson was less fun that it might have been. As we carried our bikes over the final gate we were joined by David Drake, Steve Halligan and Brian Alder. Brian said he knew where we could get good Kebabs if we wanted to follow him. Great idea. We put our heads down and I had a bit of a crash where I wiped out on the gravelly centre line of the road and went into the bank. No major problems, but my first crash of many.

While eating my Kebab I could see that Brian had similar plans to what I had. Press on a bit further and get a bit of a jump on the rest who were likely to be staying in accommodation offered by locals who were doing the Brevet but wanting to stay in their own houses. I was thinking of Golden Downs, as apparently was Nathan Faave, but we opted for the relatively known luxury of Wakefield Domain where we bivvied out and had a good nights sleep with a toilet and water tap nearby. Somehow we had cranked out 199kms since lunchtime in Blenheim.

Day 2. Wakefield to Big River hut Waiuta
I think we rolled out at 5.30. And we quickly got into the groove. We started pretty hard actually,  and Thomas, who had not had a good nights sleep in his bivvy sack, (no sleeping bag) and is not a morning  person by any measure soon got dropped on a roller. I felt a pang of sadness as I looked behind to see him disappear into the background, a lot like Sandra Bullock looking at George Clooney disappear in Gravity ; ) We got to St Arnaud and were just about to leave when David Drake and Russell Shanks turned up. Russell quickly fueled up and joined us while David went looking for a coffee. Russell (from Pleasant point Timaru) was a tank on the flat and we all traded turns until we hit the Porika track which was a really good gnarly climb. I am pretty sure Steve cleaned the entire climb while I struggled a bit with the last couple of hundred metres. My descending sucked as my rigid bike tended to bounce off the trail which was particularly rough this time on the run down to the Braeburn track. In the previous Brevet, running in the opposite direction, Dave Sharpe had all but cleaned this side of the Porika with only one dab.

By the time I got off the fast and fun Braeburn Track the others were gone so I switched on my GPS and followed the coloured line. I was riding by myself and loving it. It was very hot and I was keen to get back to the group so as soon as I got to Murch I grabbed some food, downed a 600ml bottle of iced coffee milk and took off again. I rounded the corner and heard the others yell out at me from a nearby cafe. They were having a sit-down lunch. I tried to join in but I suddenly felt very queasy as the milk sat heavy in my stomach.

Brian Alder, Cliff Clermont, Steve Halligan
Nothing much happened as we rolled out through the Matukituki, on through the Maruia and Rahu saddles and descended into a head wind into Reefton. Compare this to previous times where we were chased by a baby deer, and were treated to Jonty demonstrating how to clean his teeth while riding while the others sparked up their cleats on the descents! Maybe we were too old and boring? The average age for the 4 of us was 45 after all! We had a good stop at Reefton for fish and chips before we went into the Waiuta with the aim of reaching the Big River Hut. I admit to sucking quite badly on the final push into the hut. I was really missing the added traction control you tend to get with a fully and I was completely bushed when we snuck in at around 11pm. 270+ kms that day. A pretty tough day with a fair bit of climbing I reckon.

Day 3. Waiuta to View Hill Domain
Steve, Cliff and Brian at Ikamatua
We had a late start and snuck out at 6am because as Brian said, it would be difficult to see well in the bush. I rode for about 4 metres before doing a classic endo down the bank which started the day with a laugh. It was a shame to be riding the Waiuta so early in the day with poor visibility, its just so beautiful in there,  but the track was in great condition, especially compared to the first Kiwi Brevet in 2010 where it was many people's worst nightmare. We got through the Waiuta ghost town with no major dramas and the guys seemed impressed that my grandfather was the butcher there and my mother went to school there. Just how old was I? Before long were were at the Ikamatua pub stocking up and checking in on our phones. It appeared that overnight Thomas had caught and passed us as we lay sleeping, and Nathan Faave had blown his rear hub and had detoured to Greymouth to get it fixed. We didn't know if he was ahead of or behind us. We were doing the gravel section between Stillwater and Jacksons and trying to guess who was responsible for the crazy tire tracks that were meandering all over the road. We found out eventually when we spied what appeared to be a bunch of old clothes on the side of the road. It was Thomas, sleeping on the roadside. He'd missed the Big River Hut where we were staying, tried to sleep in the bush which was too cold for his kit, and wrecked his tire bead. He was whacked. We tried to convince him to back track to Greymouth to get a new tire but he elected not to, wrapping his tire and rim in insulation tape and soldiering on. He eventually got as far as The Wharfdale before his wheel eventually broke.

Thomas wakes after a nap on roadside.
There were dramas aplenty in store for me as we were riding up the Viaduct in the Otira Gorge. It was a stinking hot day, but we had a cool tail wind, so not all was bad, until my left pedal sheared off. At first I thought I had unclipped but Steve pointed out that my pedal had broken off and lay centimetres from the edge of the drop-off. I slid it back on and pedalled while forcing my leg in so that it wouldn't fall off again. Obviously not a sustainable option. We pulled in at Arthurs pass. I was quite calm considering that my Brevet was about to come to an end. I guess I didn't have excess energy to waste on being angry. Probably the same feeling you get when you look out the window and you notice the engine just fell off the aeroplane you are flying in. I went up to the manager, Debbie and inquired about buses, and if she knew of any locals with bike nous or spares. She mentioned a local guy Ian who was out on a hike, but she would text him for me. I sat about, thinking that it was probably not going to amount to anything so concentrated on the idea of a hot shower and a comfy bed, and maybe cheering on some other riders until the bus came the next day.

An ex-pedal. Better to fail riding up than down.
In the mean time Nathan Faave had turned up, and he stocked up with fizz and icecream and all the other good stuff. That meant that up until then there was only Dave Sharpe ahead of us. Dave was in a class of his own and travelling light and fast. He was miles away and we had never thought for a second that we could match him. My team, Brian, Steve and Cliff said their goodbyes and I chatted to Nathan as he refuelled. I asked him about the feasibility of riding on a flat pedal, should I find one, and he said that in adventure racing they always take a spare pair of flat pedals for exactly that scenario.

After a while Ian turned up. He was the guy that Debbie had mentioned and he said he had a few bikes and he might be able to help. He asked if he had time for a coffee. I said we had all the time in the world as right now my ride was over. A short while later we were in his crib where he showed me a selection of three bikes which I could borrow the pedals off ! What a guy. I opted for the one with platforms and toe-clips and before long I was out of there. I was super motivated. It was great to have a second chance, and with a good tail wind I was smashing it. I'd done enough time trialling to know that one person can be almost as fast as a team of inexperienced ones and I had hopes of taking some time out of my buddies up the road. I actually met Nathan Faave at one point, stopped on the side of the road. It turns out he'd had a swim and was yapping to Coast to Coast legend, Richard Ussher who had been travelling the other way in a car.

I got to the Sheffield Pub around 9pm to find that the guys had only been there about 10 minutes. They got a bit of a shock when I walked in the door. After a burger and fries and jug of raspberry and coke we gently tootled off to our designated bivvy spot, the View Hill domain that we used in the very first Kiwi Brevet with Laurence and Guy from Ground effect.

Day 4. View Hill domain to Fowlers Pass hut
The View Hill domain was a great bivvy spot and really warm. The concrete toilet block had heated up like a giant heat sink, and the Wharfdale track was in good condition, apart from some wind-throw at the far end of it. As usual Brian and Steve pulled away from me in the technical stuff, making the most of their fullies on a great track. We had left Cliff at the Sheffield Pub the previous night for a more civilized experience. Unbeknown to any of us, Thomas had nearly caught up yet again and found the "Hedgerow Hilton" shelter belt outside the pub and was bedded down in there for a while during the night. That explained the cryptic "I found it" text that turned up on  my phone.

Single Speed mode
More drama came about about for me halfway through the Wharfdale, the tell tale graunch of a trail-side stick being flicked up into my drive chain. I stopped pedalling straight away but the damage was done, my rear derailleur was now looking very sad, and there was a large section of twisted chain. There was only one sensible option. Single-speed it. I cut out a section of chain with my chain tool and rejoined it with my power-clip. The Surly Karate Monkey's horizontal drop-outs meant that it was pretty easy to take up any chain slack and I was also running slow-release bolt on skewers which meant I could nip them up pretty tight.  I was good to go in about 15 - 20 minutes I guess, and was impressed to see that Brian and Steve had come out looking for me, no doubt worried that I was over the bank, having seen me crash a couple of times already in their presence. I suggested that at this time we should cease being a team as I couldn't see myself keeping up with them with just the one gear.

The rest of the Wharfdale was pretty slow with the fallen trees and the first part through the Lee Valley was very comfortable on my new gearing which was about a 36-23. It wasn't hard to keep in touch with the others and on the way out of the Lee and through McDonald Downs I tried to attack the hills in true single-speed style but didn't think that long term it was a good option. I still had a long way to go so ended up briskly walking the steepest climbs rather than break myself, or pull my wheel, or both. As always the long grovelly flat gravel sections that eventually hook you into Hurunui were mentally really hard. It was as hot as hades and I ended up getting water from a farm house to get me through. The others had been gone for quite a while as there was no way I could stay in touch on the fast downhills exiting McDonald downs.

Steve Halligan, on a hill, somewhere near you.
For the final run into Hurunui I had a massive tail-wind so stopped to re-jig my chain-line for some more top-end speed. It helped but I was still spinning like a nutter. My power link was too tight to undo to take out the one more link I needed to get my smallest gear. A stop for more food at Culverden and the final run into Hanmer was underway. You could have knocked me down with a feather when Cliff turned up behind me. He had had a cruisy nights sleep at the Sheffield pub, probably about an hour away from where we bivvied and blasted through the Wharfdale in an amazing time. He'd also picked up some "trail magic" from a farmers wife who recounted the story of another Brevet rider she'd helped out in 2010. It was James Dick who had torn off his derailleur in the Wharfdale! Cliff and I traded pathetic turns as we grovelled along with Hanmer as our next destination. That road from Culverden to Hanmer I hate with a passion. As in 2010, none of the locals actually knew how far it was to Hanmer. 20 mins in a car was about the best you could get out of them.

What, me, scared of dehydration?
Arrival at Hanmer was a relief. I think it was about 8.30 pm and I must have been in a confused state. I saw lots of riders walking around, all cleaned up talking about big meals they had just had, or were about to have. They all seemed in good spirits and I couldn't understand why. I had thought that they were pulling the pin, but they were just finished for the day! I was keen to go on as there was heaps more riding left in the day once I had a feed of chips and restocked. It turned out that Brian and Steve hadn't actually been there that long and purely by chance I ran into them again as we started on the steep Jacks Pass climb. Reunited. One thing I will say about Brian. He had done his home work. There were about 3 huts that he and (local) Steve knew about in the next 20 or so kms after the top of the pass. He had reccied the Maruia Saddle in his wife's VW Polo and he also knew a lot about photography. There was an amazing sunset above Hanmer as we spun up Jacks Pass and I suggested we stop to take a photo. "Nah, the best time to take a photo is about 6 minutes before it looks good to the naked eye" said Brian. I asked him to keep an eye out for any further opportunities that he might observe later on ; )  I changed my chain from the 24-34 back to the 36-23, slicing the end of my finger in the cluster as I did so,  and that's the gear it stayed in for the rest of the Brevet. The undulations were nasty but it was worth it to get half of them out of the way that night. The Fowler's Pass hut, as rudimentary as it was, was a welcome stop, some time before 11pm.

Day 5. Fowlers Pass hut to Blenheim
Rainbow Valley
There was more of the nasty corrugations when we left at around 5 am the next morning but eventually they ceased and the Rainbow Valley was at its finest. A truly beautiful spot, but best done on a fresh butt. I had to walk Island Pass but it wasn't that much slower than riding.

I eventually lost the other guys when I pulled my rear wheel on a small riser, and it was all downhill at speed after that, so I didn't really expect to see them again with my limited gearing.  I got myself a bit confused as I neared the end of the Rainbow where the trail split into gravel and tarseal, and knowing the Kennett-bros predilection for gravel I started down the gravel choice, then changed, then went back... then re-read the instructions and went back to my normal route. Twit.

The manic spinning, then standing up, in an inappropriate gear was having a bad effect on my right achilles. The North Bank section was particularly brutal. I'm not sure what I was expecting, the older trails were good enough, it was just this newly laid base course gravel, for logging trucks that was real nasty. Big fist-sized goolies that really hammered you, and without the scenic aspect to distract you from the pain! I walked most of the Northbank climbs as my gear was just too tall. I thought about changing it, but foolishly believed respite was soon to come! I passed aussie Troy Szczurkowski who had changed over to the Brevette option, through the Northbank as he recovered from a double puncture. I soon had one myself that was to prove quite critical. The sealant failed to seal the tiny cut in the sidewall so I put in a tube.

Somewhere in the Rainbow

Some time later Troy caught and passed me back and I felt terrible. I was pedalling hard but going no-where into a head wind along the now more exposed North Bank. I stopped to look down at my drive chain. I think that when I reset it after my puncture it must have jumped up into a larger cog on the back. There was so much tension on the chain It wouldn't go backwards and I couldn't even move it forward by hand. I had been pedalling in squares and it felt like something was going to snap.What a twit. I reset the tension and it was like I was on turbo! I had been down abut 40% in power for the last 2 hours not knowing why. The things you do when your are tired.

Steve Halligan - Rainbow

After a quick stop in Renwick for an icecream and drink it was head down for the final stretch home. That last 10kms from Renwick into Blenheim seemed like the longest 10kms I had ever travelled. The remnants of my team had only been aat the finish for an hour or therabouts, so they must have been as blown as I was. It was great to be met by my family and have my first wash in 4 days and sleep in a real bed at the Voodoo Lounge.

The Kiwi Brevet is a hard thing to quantify. Each of us it had done it differently. Dave Sharpe had a demanding plan that he had to adhere to to make the finish. He travelled fast and light with pre-booked accommodation  and averaged over 340kms a day. You have to have faith in yourself to ride like that. Nathan Faave had the confidence to go long and hard into the night and sleep where-ever he landed when the big hand hit twelve. 6 hours a night compulsory sleep is like a school camp for an Adventure racer like Nathan. Brian, Steve, myself and for a large part of it, Cliff rode as a team, not by design, but because we met up at the gate at the end of the Mangatapu and were able to ride at a pace that we could all deal with for 18 hours a day. Other riders take great pains to ride alone as they don't want to benefit from the efforts of others. That's their choice too. Brian and Cliff had both just come off the Great Southern Brevet. I am not sure how you recover from that. I am not sure how I would recover from one Brevet, let alone two. Nathan Faave covered 276kms a day, we covered around 264kms. In the past when I have travelled with my Revolution/Voodoo Lounge buddies, rising late, taking lots of photos and riding side by side, talking the whole time, we have covered around 200kms a day. I can tell you it was a lot more fun, but this time it was about going for longer, not necessarily harder, just longer. For the record that cut about a day off. 4 days, 6 hours 19 mins, compared to, about 5 and a half days both previous times.

A Karate Monkey looking for TLC !

Brian was on a Scott 650B fully with aeros and Conti tires, Steve was on Specialised 29er fully with fast rolling Scwhable Mondials, Cliff was on a Cannondale Scalpel and I was on my rigid drop-barred Surly Karate Monkey with Stans Ravens. I have used Ravens in all three of my Kiwi Brevets and this was the first time I have punctured.They are a great tire but they are very light. I have never been a big fan of tubeless tires and when you spend all that time setting them up properly and you get a tiny side-wall tear that wont self-seal then you wonder why you bother.

There were at least 4 of us present who have done all three Kiwi Bevets. Pat Hogan, myself, Nathan Mawkes and Peter Maindonald. You can learn a lot from guys like Simon Kennett, Nathan and Peter who have now all done the Tour divide. I was impressed with Peters set-up which seemed very comprehensive but also very light. He runs UST rims with heavier UST tires, without sealant. They air-up with a mini-pump and look fast and robust. There were a few cases of tires delaminating on the ride - not what you want, and there is a good chance that tubeless sealant is the cause. Some tires dont play well with sealant.

For me the jury is still out on rigid 29er vs 26er fully. My butt came through in about the same state as it did on my fully in previous Brevets, not pretty. I do know I had 4 crashes in this Brevet compared to 1 in the last 2 combined, maybe it was fatigue? I am keen to try a Brooks saddle though. I didnt see anyone with a Brooks owning up to bad "butt-trauma".

So thats about it for another Kiwi Brevet. I think the take home message is, "its what you make it". If you are keen on the idea of the "LONZ" length of New Zealand Brevet then you should definitely get in touch with the Kennett bros and express your interest. Thanks again Simon for bringing this concept to New Zealand.

Pengu says, see you next time!

Post script. Kirby and Michael from New Castle pulled out when Michaels back flared up. They detoured to Greymouth I think and went touring in a rental car. In typical Aussie style they "did" half of the South Island in about a day. I hope you come back another time guys and do it a bit slower. It was nice to meet you : )