Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hand numbness while bikepacking 101

Some thoughts on hand numbness from bikepacking long distances.
Its taken me a while, but I think I am getting a better understanding of the causes of the numbness/palsy/neuropathy that I picked up during my Tour Aotearoa in February. I'm not over it fully yet, but at least I can turn the key to start the car, pick up a handful of nuts from a bag, operate a zip, and finally, tie my own shoe laces. Its been 5 months so far. In the beginning my right (front braking) hand felt like it was in a pitchers mitt. It felt numb, and sensitive at the same time. My fingers felt like fried sausages trying to burst out of their skins. It was the top two fingers closest to the thumb, and the thumb itself. Classic carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, from median nerve compression.  The other really common version of this that many riders will have experienced is the ulnar nerve compression which affects the other two fingers, well actually the lower one and a half fingers. One of the professionals I spoke to said the nerves travel a long way along your body and like a garden hose, they can be constricted at many places on their paths, necks, elbows, palms, but the hands tends to be where you feel it.

 Some people get muscle wastage as well. I was lucky not to get this and I still had a good range of movement and only about a 30-40% loss of strength, so there wasn't really any therapy advised to help in this area. My GP said up front the options were rest, drugs or an operation to relieve pressure. I opted for rest, which wasn't that hard, given I was tired, and it was very uncomfortable to ride. After a while, a month or two, I got very frustrated, and wondered if it would ever come right. The waiting was worse than the affliction itself, but it was helpful to evaluate the importance of cycling with respect to the "big picture".

This is a personal critique of my own set-up, but it might be relevant to you. It's not what to do AFTER you have "achieved numbness", its what you might do to STOP it occurring in the first instance.

Just remember, there are people who might say that riding a bike for 18 hours a day for 11 days, is not a particularly intelligent thing to do. They might be right, but it is possible to do it with minimal trauma to the hands, as my riding buddies and many others did, to a large extent.

Hand numbness is not uncommon in long distance bike riding, the problem is, with so many variables involved, you cant really effectively test your set-up, because it can take 4 days of riding 18 hours a day, before you even know if your set-up is going to work for you. Even 4 days may not be enough in an event that takes 10, or 16.  I had done 4 bikepacking events of distances over 1000kms and never experienced any hand numbness issues, but my set-up for the 3000kms of the Tour Aotearoa Dirt Brevet was not so forgiving. My issues surfaced on day 5 after a rough 20 minute white knuckled descent.

After 4 months of retrospection I have have come up with the following factors which could have lead to the hand issues some of us experienced.

1. Get a proper bike fit from a professional. If you know of a legitimate fitter with bikepacking experience then feel free to share them in the comments at the bottom of this post. Word of mouth would be the best criteria in choosing someone I would think. But someone whose experience is mostly in fitting roadies or triathletes for their bread and butter is unlikely to have the best background.

2. Multiple hand positions. I used to think this was the only thing that needed addressing, but I was proven wrong in the Tour Aotearoa. It's no use having lots of different positions if your overall position is not optimal, but it could help delay the inevitable and get you through a shorter event without issues.

3. Gloves. Wear padded gloves if you like, but if your position is rubbish, its probably not going to make that much difference in the end. I lost my gloves on day 1 of a 5 day event once and never missed them, I was on a fully though. A riding partner wore no gloves at all and he was on a rigid drop-barred CXer. Our riding positions must have been good enough for 5 days riding with no ill effects. Edit. Some gloves can make your hands more numb, beware!

4. Suspension. Bikepackers can get a bit obsessed about saving 800 grams by riding a rigid front fork. Ask yourself if it's worth it. Plenty of people move very quickly even on a full suspension bike. Maybe as we age its a good option to consider a hard-tail or a fully instead of a rigid? 51 year old Brian Alder just came 5th in the Tour Divide and admitted that front suspension of some kind could be a big help.

5. Weight bearing balance. This is the seat-to-hands weight-bearing aspect. In the Tour Aotearoa, my butt was completely mint. I didn't think this level of comfort was achievable when riding 18 hours a day for over 11 days. This was the first time I had ever experienced ZERO butt-trauma, but also the first time I had hand numbness. I suspect my fore/aft balance was way wrong. Is there a way of measuring this? I don't honestly know. Scales under the wheels? If your bars are set up too low, or too forward, the weight will transfer from your butt, to your hands/arms and over-load them over time.

Head angle looks too extreme while riding on the drops. My back is too flat to enable a more upright head angle without cricking my neck. Photo Matt Dewes.
6. Bar height. I had been riding on Salsa Woodchipper drop-bars for several years, and never had any problems. I also had aero-bars, so I thought I had plenty of different hand positions. Even more hand positions than my previous flats/bar-ends/aero-bars combo. I am never more comfortable than when I am on my Karate Monkey, on the Woodchippers, or on the aero bars, I could fall asleep in this position I feel so relaxed. Where did I go wrong?

All the cool kids say, when riding off-road on dirt specific drop bars, you should "ride on the drops/hooks" not the hoods. It makes good sense, you have more control, more braking leverage in your hands in this position, more pedalling power for short pitches, and the curve of the bars keeps your hands locked in when the terrain gets squirrely. This was how I rode mostly, when on the trails.

BUT, what if your bars are too low or too forward? When I was braking on the drops I believe my bars were possibly a bit too low, and had to angle my head up in order to see ahead. I spent at least 20 minutes like this on day 5 of the Tour Aotearoa on a particularly rough descent and I suspect this is where I came undone. 20 minutes with your hands clamped tight and your head at a crazy angle is a pretty bad nerve stretch in hindsight. Some people DO have a tendency to set up their drop bars too low, more like they would on a road bike.

There is also a thing called lumbrical incursion where during flexion of the hand the muscles are forced into the carpal tunnel causing nerve damage. My theory is that median nerve damage, caused by the above, is just as likely (maybe more likely) to happen while resting or hard-braking on the hoods, or drops, as it is from resting your hands on the tops of yours bars. The lower your bar is, the more pressure on the hands, and the less on your butt.

While my bars could have been a bit higher I think I would have benefited a lot more from a much shorter stem with more rise.
 7. Cock-pit length. I suspect this was the biggest error I made with my set-up. Make sure the length of your cockpit (top-tube/stem combo) is suitable for you. You don't want to be too stretched out. If you are stretched out you will be canting your head up on a funny angle again which can cause nerve compression in your neck. About a week before the Tour Aotearoa I rode my buddies bike. Both of us on 29er steel MTBs with Woodchippers. His stem had to be at least 3-4 cm shorter than mine, and we both have similar length torsos. His bike felt completely different, his more typically MTB, mine more like a Cyclo Cross rig. A bunch of nerves called the brachial plexus come out of your spinal cord, down your neck and into your arms. These nerves can be affected detrimentally by over-stretching and wearing heavy packs. I wore a very light back-pack every day, so that is another thing to think about. It's feasible that with my upper buddy extended beyond a natural range that the back-pack could have had an effect, over time, despite the fact that it had very little in it. I was aware of muscle soreness on the undersides of my upper arms at one stage so this may also point to being over-extended with my cock-pit length as well.

The other side to this argument is, that if your cock-pit is too short, you may not be able brake or ride on the drops anyway as it will be too cramped, unless your bar is set up a lot higher. I guess you have to make up your mind at the start. Are you going to ride and brake on the drops, or are you going to do what many people do, on AND off road, and just ride on the tops of the bars or hoods. It would be wise to base this decision at least in part on the level of technical riding you are expecting in the event.

Check out these links on dirt-drop-bar set-up if that's what you use: Guitar Ted's link , Matt ChesterJason Boucher and Shiggy.

8. Head position. As above. If your bars are so low that you have to angle your head up, then you are asking for trouble. There is some good stuff on "Points of contact" here from John Hughs, and a link to Steve Hoggs stuff where he says that if your neck is angled at more than 85-90% of its range then you are in dangerous territory, and he is not even fitting people generally for all day riding.

It looks like the angle of my arms is too flat, and I have my head angled down, probably for comfort. (front rider). Geoff (in the red) is also on the aeros but his head is in a more natural position. Photo Matt Dewes.
9. Peaks? I wear a peak, as I have prescription glasses, it protects me from the sun, rain and dirt. I couldn't understand why more people didn't wear peaks, but  if your peak is too  low, you will once again have to cant your head up on angle to see ahead. Having your head at an awkward angle will compress the nerves in your neck. Adjust your peak to make sure it doesn't interrupt your vision when you are getting in to your most aero mode. My peak is adjustable on the fly, but I don't think I even thought it was an issue. I did not feel any discomfort in my neck.

It looks to me like my peak is obscuring my view and probably causing me to angle my head back more. Photo Matt Dewes.
10. Be conservative. What works for you in a 4 day event may not work in a 16 day event. Aero is good, but not at the expensive of nerve damage. Aero does not equal low, aero equals smaller frontal area (mostly).

11. There is no one best handlebar. To my way of thinking these things are very personal, a lot like saddles. The best handlebar is the one that allows small hand movements that can change the fore/aft pressure on your hands and butt. You should have a set-up which allows these micro adjustments as you ride. This is why I like drop bars. But if I am going to continue to ride on drop-bars, and brake and ride on the drops, I will look at a higher position for the bar compared to what I currently have. Google "LD" stems, that is the style of stem you are getting close to for really comfortable drops-based braking for extending periods.

See Shiggys weight distribution change with
each differing position on his drop bars.

If I change my style to just braking from the hoods, stem/bar height is not an issue. Many of my buddies brake this way, but they are better riders than I and they have more confidence bombing descents with their hands resting on the hoods. Mini-cross levers were Josh Katos solution for confident braking on the top of the bar.

After the the 2015 Kiwi brevet, Joe Jagusch suffered from debilitating Carpal tunnel Syndrome for a year. This is the set-up he used in the Tour Aotearoa to combat his earlier problems. Scores high on the "LD scale" but it worked for him.

12. Aero bars. I think aero bars are great, but as mentioned above, don't get sucked into an uber-low position. They are there to relax onto, and increase your aero-ness a bit, but don't set them so far forward that you over extend your arms and end up tilting your head back in order to see ahead.

A lot of people are using the fred-bar styled arrangements that give the aeros extra height and clean up the "handle-bar-real-estate" area.

People who throw on a set of aero bars at the last minute are asking for trouble because generally.
1. They wont have had time to adapt to them.
2. They will probably use them a lot more than they thought they would, making any problems worse than they thought possible.
3. My gut feeling is, the longer the event, the more likely it is that you are going to use your aero bars.

13. (A late addition). Bar tape. If you have big enough hands, think about double wrapping your tape or using appropriately placed gel inserts.  Some people swear by double wrapping.

14. (A later addition). Core strength! A strong core will help you in many areas, but it will help support your upper body weight and keep some of it off your arms.

15. (A later later addition). Finger exercises to relieve numbness on the bike as practiced by Cliffy in this years Kiwi Brevet.

These are just the things that I have observed that I believe effected me. There are quite a few factors in there to be considered. In isolation you might get away with a couple of problems, but the longer you are out there, the more chance they have to come into play. This ramble is very "drop-bar-centric" given that that was my experience, but I believe most of the things I have looked at are universal. I used Salsa Woodchippers, but there are many other drop bars out there. Read the comments on Guitar Teds link to see what other drop-bar users use.

Maybe a check-list could be something like this:

1. Choose your bar/s.
2. Decide how you will use it
3. Determine the optimal cock-pit length
4. Determine the optimal stem/bar height
5. Make sure there are varied positions available possibly with bar extensions and or aero bar add-on options.
6. Try to get the fore-aft butt-to-hands balance right.
7. Check that with the above all done, your head angle is comfortable over time.
8. If in doubt, err on the side of comfort over speed.
9. Maybe look for a proper bike fit first, if there is someone close. It might give you a better starting point?

It might feel nerdy, but get someone to take some side on shots of you in varying positions with you bike on a stationary trainer with the front wheel level to the back. I don't know the exact angle your upper arms should be at. Its likely to differ a bit, depending on how low the bars are, and whether or not you are using a fred bar mount or risers of some kind on your aero-bars, if you are using aeros.

Its now 6 months since I started the 2016 Tour Aotearoa. My hands are at 97.5% I reckon. Time heals. It was the best event I've ever done. I look around at some other events that have been and gone in that time, and others that are just about to start, and I realise how lucky we are in NZ to do such a diverse ride. Would I change anything?
Sure, I'd put on a shorter stem !  

The 2nd Tour Aotearoa starts Feb 2018.

You can read about my other ailments and prevention here : )

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Some slick and fat tires for fun and performance

The bike that inspired
my interest in fat slicks
I was intrigued by "Mr Danger Pant's" fat tired Firefly when I first saw it 5 years ago on MTBreview forum. It had some very interesting kit on it including WTB dirt drop-bars.  I always thought it would be cool to build something like this. Its a 26 incher with Schwable Super Motos.

More recently the guys at Firefly built an All-road/rando styled bike that they thought might appeal to hard-core-randonneur Jan Heine. They got mostly high praise from Jan who tested it while touring in Mexico. Its a beautiful bike, and has motivated me to convert my old titanium Litespeed 26er into a light-weight drop-barred do everything bike.

Slick and fat
While you have always been able to get big heavy fat slick tires for 26ers you can now get some more light weight ones, and also 27.5 (650b) slick tires in wider widths are  starting to appear. The Compass Rat Trap Pass 26 inch tire is listed at 2.3 inches and 418 grams in its lightest format. I will try these on my repurposed Litespeed Ocoee and see how they roll. I am not keen to try the lightest tires on our crappy roads but will settle for the 454 gram version.

See below a list of the tires I dredged up for a potential tourer or commuter. Some are heavy, some are light, some are fast and supple. Most of the 27.5 ones are not that wide but I am sure there are more coming. Some tires I haven't listed here are the Stans tires but they are verging into semi slicks and there are a whole lot more tires in that field. You might even class some of these tires below as semi-slicks. This site is pretty interesting if you believe in rolling resistance values as measured in the lab. They rate the Schwable Big one as the fastest MTB tire they have ever tested.

07/05/2018 - Some updates !

26 inch
Schwalbe Kojak: 2 inches wide.
Schwable Marathon Supreme: 2 inches wide.
Panaracer RibMo 2 inches wide.
Michelin Country Rock: Only 1.7 inch
Tioga Power Block: 2.1 inch
WTB Thick Slick 2.0 inch
Kenda Big City Slick 1.95 inches 

27.5 / 650B
WTB Byway: 47 mm
Panaracer Pari-Moto 47mm
Panaracer Gravel King 47 mm
Donnelly Strada 50 mm
Schwalbe Super Moto

29 inch / 700
The rumoured 55mm Antelope Hill from Compass. (TBA)
WTB Slick 2.2 inch
Schwalbe Super Moto 2.35 inch

... previously
The Fire Fly all-road rando

29 inch
Schwalbe Big Apple 2.15 - 2.35
Scwhalbe Big One 2.35
Maxxis Grifter 2 - 2.5
Maxxis Hookworm 2.5

27.5 inch /650B
Compass Switchback hill 48mm
WTB Horizon plus 47mm
Maxxis re-fuse 2.0
Scwhable Big One 2.35

26 inch
Maxxis Hookworm 2.5
Maxxis DTH 2.15 + 2.3
Compass Rat-trap-pass 2.3 (52-54 mm)
Schwalbe Big Apple 2.15 - 2.35

A few fatter slicker tires.

First draft for the new "format". Tires and fork on the way.

Update: So far, so good. One ride in. Very fast, and beautiful on gravel at 30psi. Not sure whether to go with a period steel Spinner fork, or go with a disc or vees on an alloy Mosso.

Dropped the granny, and swapped out the 42 for a 46. with an 11-34 on the back. It should cope with most things. I have heard that a deore front deralier can work with 3 speed road shifters, this medium old XTR one is certainly not coping with it. I dont really want to go bar end.
Back with the 96 SID on.

Ok, now working in all three cogs with a new "Shimano Deore M591 10-speed Front Road Derailleur", whatever that means..... Heaps of clicks in the 3 speed shifters for trimming. Spinner fork on front, still need more steerer. So much fun to ride.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Bam-Boozled by the Lauf

About the time that the Tour Aotearoa finished I started noticing the Lauf fork making a few more appearences in "Social Media Land". A local rider Gary Moller took one to the Masters MTB world champs a few years back, but a misunderstanding about the course meant it wasn't the best solution for him on the day. The guy that did the fastest ride in the 2016 Tour Aotearoa used one, Jacob Roberts, and there were at least 2 others on the course as well.

Someone popped up in my Instagram feed one day, having just done a respectable time at the Karapoti Classic with one.  He did a 2:52, he was also on a Boo Bamboo bicycle, and single speed to boot. He was obviously pretty fit. Only the hard-core go under 3 hours on a single speed at the Poti ! Long story short, Vijay, being the good brand ambassador that he was, offered it up any time I wanted to take it for a spin.

Time passed, the numbness in my hands from the TA was starting to subside and Vijay was heading back to University in Baltimore where he had come from, for his study swap at Massey Uni in Wellington. I needed to hurry if I was going to try it out. I picked it up on a thursday night but only managed to get the one 2 hour ride in on it in the weekend.

The first thing that I noticed was the gearing, it was quite low, Todman street in Brooklyn posed no problems, and I did the Transient Serendipity trails on it before heading out to Revolution Cycles where Owen was working saturdays. He'd mentioned that he had done some work on the bike for Vijay so it was a good chance to hear his views on it as well.

It's hard to get a really good impression of a bike in 2 hours, with its funky handlebars, which I did like, and while the reversed (American styles) brakes did work better for my numb right hand I obviously wasn't going to go crazy on it. I came back and rode along Highbury Fling and did some out and back on the Car-parts trail. One thing I noticed straight away was the pedal clearance. I should have been getting pedal strikes but I wasn't. A quick measure back home showed me 315mm of bottom bracket clearance which was a lot more than any of my other bikes. Vijay pointed out that it had an eccentric BB and that while it was only at "4 oclock" it could have been part of the reason. It didn't make the bike feel ungainly but then it didn't make me feel like hammering like a nutter either.

I guess I was looking at it as a potential bike-packing rig. I have no idea how well these tubes all hang together with a load on after 1000 plus kms but the finish looked damn good to me, and the feel was very nice. Currently weighing in at around 71 kgs, I couldn't make it noticeably flex. The feeling was more akin to a carbon bike than anything, but not a stiff one, a compliant one. As much as you can tell these things. Anyway, I liked the feel of it compared to something like my Carbon Giant XTC hard-tail.

Its pretty hard to describe the fork. To me the closest thing it resembled was a rigid fork. It went where I pointed it, and didn't have that vague feeling that I often get with suspension forks of going generally in the direction they are pointed. I actually like this feeling. Its a lot like riding your Cross bike off road and enjoying the precise nature of the steering.

Apparently the forks come in two spring  "strengths" and I don't know which this one was, presumably the stiffer of the too, as the less stiff one has a weight limit of 70 kgs. When you are out of the saddle, as you often are in a single speed, there was not the mushiness that you would expect  from an unlocked suspension fork. I couldn't really tell how much of the 60mm of travel that it was using. The small bump compliance didn't seem that great to me, and I asked myself, what would I want for Bikepacking, given the "non-big-hit" nature of it. I decided that some kind of relief in the 2 to 3/5ths travel area might be ideal, or at least doable. I am sure the low impact stuff takes its toll over time, but anything that responsive is likely going to be a bit annoying. This I guess is why a lot of bikepackers go rigid. No big hits, and a small weight saving.

A typical rigid carbon fork comes in at around 500-800 grams, so the Lauf, at 990 grams is a reasonable compromise for a bit of comfort. A new Rock Shock SID suspension fork weighs in at 1366 grams, but you have a reasonably complicated device there, so if you are one to get paranoid about that kind of thing then the Lauf might appeal. The old wheel between the knee test didn't show the Lauf fork to be any different than my usual suspension fork in sideways flexing.

I am not known for my technical skills so this fork, given its limitations was a fun ride, especially for a rider who spends most of his time on a rigid-forked steel Karate Monkey. I think it shows real potential as a bikepacking fork. And given that bikepackers are the last people to worry about looks, the funky looking design may not be a problem at all : )

Thanks Vijay.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Brian Alder's Tour Divide 2016 debriefing

A few weeks back I talked to Brian Alder about his prep for the 2016 Tour Divide. He is back now so I asked him a few more questions. 

Well Brian. 16 days and 10 hours 36 mins, 5th place? That's a pretty sharp time for the Tour Divide route. Were the conditions mostly good for the duration?

Yes, we had fair run of conditions but not quite as good as 2015 apparently. We had a dump of rain a few hours after the start out of Banff which seems almost tradition. Cold sleety stuff that ended Seb Dunne's ride. I was riding with Rob Brown and got really cold so we called into Bolton Creek store to warm up and add layers which saved us. Many who didn't stop really suffered. On the whole we had a reasonable run, with no snow to deal with, some rain producing mud and a share of head winds. Mike Hall appeared to get through before the rain, I got caught out south of Polaris, through to Macks Inn around Red Rock Pass and on Brazos Ridge in  New Mexico. It appears later riders really got nailed by mud around Polaris, Brazos and through the Gila. The mud is unlike anything I've experienced before. One minute you're riding a perfectly good dirt road then next there's 5kgs of mud stuck to your bike and you can't even walk. Even walking beside the road is often just as bad. Generally it only lasts for a few hundred metres so if you just get past it often you can start riding again. Temperature-wise I was really lucky as we hit a cool spell through New Mexico, though that came with risks of thunderstorms and rain.

Was it as harder than you expected or about what you were expecting?

Definitely harder. Although the climbs aren't overly steep they are long and often the surfaces both up and down are fairly rough, so you end up working for your height. There's also very little truly flat terrain, there's a lot of rollers so it feels like you're constantly climbing, often even when you're on a descent. Mostly though I was surprised at how rough the riding was and apart from the paved sections and some beautiful smooth sections in Colorado, it was pretty lumpy. If I was to do it again I'd consider a suspension fork or a Lauf. 

What part did you struggle with more than any other?

I struggled through the middle of the Great Basin into Wamsutter. I was riding with Stefan Maertens and we were a bit late out of Atlantic City and got caught by the heat and headwinds. By the time I reached the truck stop on the interstate after 10 hours I was empty. We had caught Sofiane Sehili that morning and Sof tempted me with the oasis that is Brush Mountain Lodge 140 kms away, so we soft peddled across the desert and up to the lodge to arrive after midnight to a cheering crowd. Billy Rice and Juliana Buhring were there having bailed from the RAAM, so having celebs cheering you on in the middle of the night was very cool. Making Brush Mountain was a major turning point for me and although I struggled physically a couple more times (over Brazos in the mud and in the heat through the Gila), mentally it was never really an issue after the Great Basin. 

Did you have an actual goal time that you were shooting for?

I'd done a bit of digging and from what I could tell the fastest over 50 time was 18 days 8 hours, so I thought that was a realistic goal. Rob Davidson's time from 2015 of 18d 2h was also in my sights. I figured if I had a clean run 17.5 days was possible but I never considered going under 17 days, so to finish under 16.5 days was a huge surprise and something I'm really happy with. My main goal was to give it everything and have no regrets and I did that. 

How did your gearing stack up? We know people can ride it in 1x, single speed or 3x. Were there times when you could have pushed a taller gear?

My 2x10, 38/24 x 11-36 on 27.5 wheels was great. I never really wanted anything else at either end. If I'd had some big tail winds in the Basin or New Mexico I would have been under-geared, but it never happened. Interestingly I was riding at various times with guys running single speeds, 1 x, and 2 x drive trains. They clearly all have their pros and cons. I was super impressed by Kevin Jacobsen and the terrain and climbs he could manage on a singlespeed.

Did you have any interesting wild-life encounters?

The wild life is a real highlight. There are deer and antelope everywhere, every day. In fact on a shake down ride a few days before the start with Rob and Seb I nearly took out a big horn sheep. I think it would have been terminal as I was doing 50 kph at the time. Rob and I chased a couple of grizzly cubs up Red Meadow Pass on Day 2 which was quite exciting, I saw a few moose at close range, saw a black bear in New Mexico and plenty of other animals and some really cool birds. 

Who did you spend the most time riding with on the TD?

I started with Rob Brown, but he got bitten by a dog on Day 2 and succumbed to a fever a few days later. The next day I caught up with Kevin Jacobsen and rode near him for a day or so and then later caught Stefan then Sofiane in Wyoming. The four of us kept crossing over the rest of the ride until Kevin and Sof got away in New Mexico. I caught Gareth Pelas as his neck was giving him trouble and Andrew Kublanski when he got stuck in the mud on Brazos. A derailleur melt down forced Andrew out. The attrition rate was pretty high so I really tried to be consistent and not blow out which really paid dividends in terms of placing.

How did the accommodation pan out. What percentage of the time were you camping outdoors?

I camped out early on and as time went on I stayed in more accommodation, so around 50/50 overall. Partly that was just circumstances and partly I felt I wasn't getting the quality of sleep I needed, and I slept better indoors. I seemed to need time to unwind before sleeping and I found that harder camping. Also as a rookie I spent quite a bit of time looking at maps and route info trying to make a plan for the next day - targets, resupply, food and water needs and I generally did that before sleeping. All the guys around me had good route knowledge either from racing or touring the route which paid dividends for them at various times. 

Did your camping gear do the job adequately ?

Totally, I had a bivvy bag, sleeping mat and bag and synthetic puffer jacket. It was pretty cold at night through Montana and I had a wet night near Lakeview where I managed to get some shelter and stay dry. After that bivvies were warm and comfy. I sent my mat, some clothes and spare maps home from Silverthorne to make more room for food through the southern portion. 

How did your luggage system hold up?

It was great, no issues and worked as I'd hoped. As mentioned I sent some gear home around half way as I wanted the extra capacity for some of the long sections between resupply in southern Colorado and New Mexico, and that worked well.  

Any mechanicals or preventative maintenance  that you did on-route?

After the Day 1 mud my rear shifter was a bit out and I stuck with it until Steamboat where I had a new cable fitted. I got a new chain after 800 miles in Butte, Montana, another new chain in Steamboat, new shifter cable, new brake pads and one of my aero bars retaped. The guys at Orange Peel serviced my bike on just over an hour while I went shopping and had a huge meal. Fantastic service but not cheap! 

Were there any challenges in the food department?

Yeah, food is challenging. I realised after a couple of days that I wasn't eating enough, so I made an effort to have a sit down meal every day or at least a few big take out burritos. I struggled to find the food I wanted in gas stations at times and grocery stores take too long to shop. I mostly ate energy bars, jerky or salami, mini cheese packets, salted peanuts and frozen burritos on the road. Subway, pizza and sandwiches for stops. I think I had five proper restaurant style meals which were awesome and really gave me a huge lift. 

Did you have any health issues? Numbness, "butt trauma" ?

I stayed on top of most things really well. I had a twinge on my Achilles on Day 3 so dropped my saddle a few mm and it went away. Minimal hand numbness which I put down to very cushy bar set up/ high volume tyres and consciously getting on the aero bars whenever I could. My feet are ok, a bit numb but weren't painful during the ride. I wore a size up in shoes, had them loose most of the time and dunked my feet in creeks and lakes if I got the chance. My butt lasted a week and after that it was bloody sore but manageable. In the morning it could take 15 mins before I could get comfy on the saddle again. I was pretty diligent with my nightly hygiene routine so it never got out of hand. Later in Colorado I developed a cough which started to keep me awake at night and by the end slowed me down a bit, as I just couldn't get good sleep. It was one of the reasons I stayed more in accomodation later in the ride as I felt I was on the edge of going under the last few days. I subsequently discovered it was likely a low-level allergic reaction to dust and pollen, and a few days on antihistamine after the race I finally got on top of it. 

Are there any particular parts of the course that just blew you away, for what ever reason?

I loved the huge open  spaces like the Great Basin, South Park and the New Mexico desert. Conditions could be harsh and unpredictable but the I found the light and landscape stunning. Riding in those places at sunrise and sunset was very special, as were the thunderstorms that inevitably occurred. Riding through South Park from Hartsel to Salida on sunset being chased by thunderstorms was a little too exciting. I also had a magic morning over Union Pass in Wyoming, with amazing views into the Wind River Range. I thought the whole route was scenically outstanding and found the landscapes very motivating. The route is quite varied and it was probably only central Colorado and the more populated areas that were a bit of a drag. 

Were you surprised to see some  of the favourites drop out early on?

Totally. Josh Kato was very unlucky to get run off the road, but clearly a bunch of others went too hard and blew up. There was a big bunch that rode hard to make Butts Cabin the first day and only half of them survived, so I was really pleased Rob and I backed off the first day after the bad weather. I got a huge shock when I arrived into Helena to bump into Kevin Jacobsen to find I was in the top 10 and running at 16 day pace. I made a big effort for the next 4-5 days to get to Brush Mountain Lodge and stay in touch with the second bunch. It was interesting that Mike Hall put a day on us in the first 5 days and then only another day in the next 10, give or take. He really goes out hard and a number of guys got caught out by that. 

Kiwis seem to do quite well at the Tour Divide. The older riders seem to punch above their weight even more so. Does it come down to NZ being such a small place, you meet Simon Kennett, Oli Whalley or Geoff Blanc, and say, they are only human, I reckon I could have a crack at this? Is it a matter of, if you are going to go all that way, you are going to see it through to the better end?

Once you are in Banff you realise that most riders have very little bikepack "racing" experience. Sofiane was immensely strong and talented but spent the first week doing some pretty crazy things, as did a few others. He was lucky to survive and did an amazing job to finish in 16 days even with his huge experience touring. Racing is a very different thing to touring. We are very fortunate in NZ to have events like the Kiwi and Great Southern Brevets, the Tour Aotearoa and the weekend riders that Shailer Hart organises. Having that experience is a huge factor I believe. As much as I'm not really a fan of the mandatory 4-6 hour stops we have, they do teach you some good lessons and I think keep riders from hurting themselves too much. A 90% finish rate in the TA is testament to that and I'm more supportive of that now. 

Has your appetite returned to normal yet or do you still have that subconcious "scanning for food" thing happening?

My appetite settled down after a few days. My cravings have been for fresh food and good coffee. The coffee one has been hard to rectify in the US.... On the recovery front, it's been a week since I got off the bike and I'm very tired. There's a fair bit of sleeping to do to catch up I reckon. I start a cycle tour in Kyrgyzstan next week so I'm trying to get on top of that with plenty of naps. 

Now you've ticked off the big one, is there anything else you have lined up in the bucket-list?

The Tour Divide is the BIG one in every sense, so it's very cool to have done it. There are so many more bikepack events appearing that I'm sure I'll have some in the pipeline soon. I think next on the horizon is the 2018 TA as I missed this year. Until then I'm thinking I'll be riding my full suspension bike a bit more and getting more involved in the enduro scene, which is heap of fun.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Brian's Tour Divide Q & A

 Brian Alder is off to do the Tour Divide in a few days so I thought I would nerd-out and ask him about his set-up.


Brian, you have a reputation as a bit of a details man. If you broke your prep down into training, bike/kit selection and planning, how big of a part is the planning?

For me route planning has been a large part, especially as the start approaches. I like to know what I’m getting into and try to form a picture in my mind of what is coming up. I don’t have huge lists of resupply locations or accommodation options. I’ve concentrated more on what are seen as difficult sections of the route, what is the nature of the riding and what are the resupply options in the remote places.

Are you are big believer in the knowledge is power maxim?

Yes, for sure. But that’s just because it suits me and puts my mind at ease. I think it’s completely valid to go for a “take it as it comes approach” if that what suits your style. I think it is important to feel comfortable and try to reduce the areas of worry for you personally. Something that has been stressed to me from those who have gone before is to have an open mind and an open approach because the reality won’t match your plan. I’m doing my best to stay loose. 

I know you've been in touch with 2014 Tour Divide 4th place getter and fellow crusty Geof Blance. Is it helpful to swap notes with someone else who has been there and done that, but is also 50+ ?

Well Geof has just clicked over 50, but yes chatting to others has been huge, mostly to check whether you’re on track with your thinking. I’ve chatted with Nathan Mawkes, Rob Davidson, Chris Bennett, Seb Dunne and Ollie Whalley. Ollie just asked me lots of questions that I seemed to have answers to, which was reassuring. I’m not sure that age is a major factor in the Tour Divide, maybe at the elite end but for a mid-pack racer I think age is just a useful excuse to lie in a bit longer. Riding your own ride seems to be another common theme.

Having ridden with both Geof and yourself I notice you both have very different styles. Geof likes to go hard but also stop for a beer if he gets a chance. Will you be doing that or going for a more steady state kind of approach?

My experience riding the NZ bikepacking events is that if you want to go fast the more time you spend on your bike the better. I’ve also discovered that riding my own pace rather than pacing off others is most efficient for me, so I’m in the steady state camp probably. My goal is usually to ride 16 hours a day, so 5am until 11pm with a few stops in the day. In saying that there are times when it’s worth making a big effort. In this years’ GSB Rob, Russell & I were riding the Clutha Gold trail to Lawrence. After a big feed at Roxburgh we set off at high speed, I suggested to the guys we knock it back 10%, as it wouldn’t make much difference time-wise – it’s fast riding no matter how effort you put in. We saved some energy (mental & physical) for the big grunt out of Lawrence that night, which we smoked. In the TD riding at night sounds like it might be the go as the temperature goes up, so I’ll see how that goes.

I see you are running a 27.5 wheeled Santa Cruz Highball with a rigid fork. Most people are running 29 inch wheels these days, but you've been a 27.5 stalwart from day 1. What is your thinking with the goldilocks wheels? Better strength and lower rotating mass all round or is there more to it?

I invested in some sweet Ibis 741 rims for my full suspension SC 5010 a year or so back, so they’re the best wheels I have, so that drove my decision. 29er would be faster no doubt, but I do love the wide rims and the comfy ride they give. Most of my bike selection decisions have been based on comfort, so wide rims and big volume tyres is a big part of that. Again, comfort equals more time on the bike in my mind.

Was there a time when you considered taking the full suspension bike for the Tour Divide?

No, I think total weight is big deal on the TD and I’ve tried to build comfort in where I can. In saying that I don’t think bike selection plays a huge role and I think that history would back that up.  The Highball takes a 27.2 seat post and I got my hands on a Syntace post that has quite a bit of flex and dampening which seems to make a significant difference.  I rode the Santa Cruz Highball in this years’ Great Southern Brevet with a suspension fork and loved it. It handled the rough descents easily and climbed efficiently, so I was totally sold.

What is the thinking behind your tire choice and sizing?

I’m running Vittoria Mezcals 27.5 x 2.25 based on Andrew Scott’s experience with Saguros on the TA. I considered Maxxis Treadlite but they are too narrow as I wanted to run something that would work with my wide rims so I needed big volume. I considered Ikon 2.2’s but the Mezcals set up really big and have a very nice roll to them. Super happy with my choice. Again, I don’t think it’s huge factor, there’s a few other tyres like Conti Race Kings that I would happily use. 

The Highball is a lovely bike, and it still has a traditional screw-in bottom bracket. Is that a plus for you?

Yes for sure. Threaded bottom brackets have a great track record, plus I can work on it myself and most bike shops will have parts. The Highball also has nice relaxed angles, so is pretty stable, especially with a load on and is noticeably compliant under load. The skinny seat post adds to that too. The Highball is relatively short in the top tube which suits my long leg/ short torso body.

What have you gone for with your group set, 2 or 3 rings? What speed and ratios?

Marshal Bird wrote some great stuff on his blog pre and post last years TD. One was called “Don’t bring a knife to a Gunfight”. He rode a 1x drivetrain and it nearly killed him, saying he never had the gear range he needed. He argued that unless you’re really strong, more gears are better. I’ve ridden 1x for a few years now and in 3 NZ brevets and I totally got what he was saying. I rode a 2 x 10 in the GSB this year and it was a joy. I have 38-24 drivetrain and standard 11-36 cassette. I’ve thought about 40-26 rings but have erred on the conservative side.

What are your views on lighting. I'm not seeing a dynamo hub so I guess you are keeping things simple and going with AA's? What light are you intending to use.

Again having the wheelset already drove some of thinking here, but also dynamo hubs still have reliability issues as do the connections etc. Geof ran a battery-based system (as did Josh Kato) and convinced me it was logistically easy to do, and being slightly technophobe I took the bait. I’m running a standard headtorch with AAA batteries and an Exposure Joytsick which I’ll charge off a powerbank. Lots of spare AA’s for the Etrex 30. I used this system on the GSB and after 4 days still had plenty of power left. I reckon I’m carrying a weeks worth of power supply, so a few motel nights along the way and some gas station battery shopping should keep me charged up. 

When I rode with you in the Kiwi Brevet you were toting a Revelate Terrapin. You have an Apidura rear bag now. Is there a story behind that or did you just wear the old bag out?
I destroyed the Terrapin hauling too much weight in it while working for DOC, commuting up and down the Old Ghost Rd. The holster/ drybag system is great, especially in NZ with the rain we have. I chose a more standard seat bag as I wanted something that was easy to access during the day as I’ll have my spare clothes in it. I found that with the Terrapin I’d put off getting stuff out as it was a bit of a hassle to open and close. On the last day of the Kiwi Brevet I rode with you in 2012, we were descending off Island Pass on a cold morning. I froze my butt off because I didn’t want to stop to get more clothes out as it would take (what I thought was) too long. My current bag set up is a lot about having ready access to my gear at short notice.

You seem to have settled on one of the Specialized Power saddles. Has this been a revelation for you, or just another saddle that works better than the last? Did you use it when you did the last Great Southern Brevet?

I been through a progression of Specialized saddles, each better than the last. Their loan system has been a big part of that. I used it on the GSB and it was good, but still had issues and there’s lots of pushing in the GSB so it’s not a true test. I like the look of the Brooks Cambian saddles but haven’t committed and put the time in. I wish I had Geof Blances butt which fits a Brooks saddle….

 It's looking like its going to be a very competitive year with Josh Kato, Liam Crowley and Mike Hall rumoured to be lining up. Its hard to imagine it getting any closer than the 20 minutes that covered the top 3 in 2015, but here's hoping.

Yes, the front end will be very competitive. Add in Seb Dunne from Canberra, Tom Roundtree who won last years Highland Trail Race, Chris Pleisko who is out to break his own singlespeed record and the usual dark horses and the front end will be fast. I’ll say goodbye to Seb in Banff as I don’t expect to see him again after that!

Brian is proof that age is not a barrier to Bikepacking in New Zealand at least, with top 3 finishes in both of his recent attempts at the Kiwi Brevet and again in the last 2 Great Southern Brevets he did. Good luck on the big daddy of them all, the Tour Divide. I think we can say that that last one IS a race!

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Nil's bike - Tour Aotearoa 2016

 Like me, Nils van der Heide lives in Wellington, and yet I only met him once before the 2016 Tour Aotearoa. His bike was a bit different to most, and he had obviously spent a lot of time getting Jonty at Revolution Bicycles to build it up. It was a very sound machine. Nils shares some pix and a bit of background to it.



The day I heard about the Tour Aotearoa over a year ago I thought: “this is me”. An amazing opportunity to explore New Zealand, and what a great way to do it by bike. I had been looking at the Kiwi Brevet for a couple of years now but time wise could never commit to any of them. This would be my first adventure of this kind.

I soon worked out that cycling 3000km on my full suspension Yeti would be a long way. A bit silly really as 3000km is a long way regardless. However this is where the idea started to build my own bike from scratch. A unique chance to build a "go anywhere, do almost anything” kind of bike that would not be fast and work well. Furthermore I wanted it to be  aesthetically pleasing as I work as a designer.

After doing some research online I soon worked out that a bike suitable for the Great Divide Ride would most likely be suitable for the Tour Aotearoa (TA). This is where inspiration for certain ideas started. Since I am extremely pleased with the geometry of my full-suspension Yeti SB95 I decided to turn Yeti's rigid carbon ARC frame into my starting point. The next question was front suspension or not. I decided to go rigid as it is lighter, there are fewer parts that can break (= less maintenance), and would cater well for 80% of the terrain.

The next thing to decide on was the cockpit. I had been intrigued by the Salsa Woodchipper bars for some time now and thought they would be the way to go for my bike. I liked the idea of dirt drops but it turned into a big time consuming effort to find brake levers and shifters that would work with the Shimano XT Dyna-sys derailleurs for my 2x10 setup. I ended up with a set of Gevenalle GX shifters. They are probably one of the most notable parts on my bike. They’re like a funky old set of thumb shifters mounted onto Tektro brake levers. The shifters take a bit to get used to but they work flawless. Another advantage is that you can run them indexed as well as friction. Furthermore I used a Fred Bar to mount my aero bars onto. I read good things about them as they put you a bit more upright while riding in the aero bars. This proved very useful on 10+ hour days in the saddle.

It was amazing to see the bike come together and it’s even more fun to ride. A big shout out goes to Jonty from Revolution Cycles, Oli at Roadworks, Zeph at Cognitive Cycle Works and Kashi at Yeti NZ for all their help. The bike really inspires me to ride just about anywhere. Drop bars and fat tyres go a long way, they are an awesome combo. I did end up swapping the Woodchipper bars for the Cowchipper. The biggest difference is that the Cowchipper allows me to ride off road tracks in my drops. My hands are too small for the Woodchipper and were sliding down going over rough terrain.

To date I have done about 5000km’s on my “one of a kind” Yeti, including the Tour Aotearoa. It has proven to be a great brevet bike for this type of terrain. I would love to take it over to the States one day and ride the Great Divide Ride on it too. Here’s to adventure…!

FRAME: 2015 Yeti ARC Carbon - size medium
FORK: Enve Mountain Fork 29" – tapered steerer, 15 mm through
• PAINTWORK: Custom painted in Yeti turquoise by Guy 
HEADSET: Chris King
HANDLEBAR: Salsa Cowchipper – 44cm wide model
BAR TAPE: Specialized Roubaix Tape plus Bar Phat gel pads
STEM: Thomson Elite x4 stem – 0 degree rise, 70mm extension
BRAKE LEVERS plus SHIFT LEVERS: Gevenalle GX – Compatible with Shimano Dyna-Sys Deraileurs
BRAKES: Avid BB-7 front and rear with sintered pads
BRAKE ROTORS: Shimano XT 160mm front and rear
AERO BARS: Profile Design T3+ Carbon
AERO BAR ACCESSORY: Fred Bar by Siren Bicycles and homemade gps and bike light mount
CABLE ACCESSORY: Jagwire compact adjusters
FRONT DERAILLEUR: Shimano XT direct mount 2×10
REAR DERAILLEUR: Shimano XT – medium cage
CRANKSET: Shimano XT 2x10
BOTTOM BRACKET: Enduro XD15 threaded
CHAINRINGS: Shimano XT 28t - 38t
CASSETTE: Shimano XT – 11- 36
CHAIN: Shimano XT SilTech 10 spd 
PEDALS: Shimano XTR Trail
SADDLE: Specialized Phenom Expert
HUBS: DT Swiss 240’s – front 15x100 & rear 12x142 6 bolt 
RIMS: Light bicycle 29” carbon rims – 30 mm wide and tubeless ready
SPOKES: DT competition
SEALANT: Stans- about 100ml per tire
TIRES:  Schwalbe Thunder Burt SnakeSkin 29×2.1 
WATER BOTTLE MOUNTTrevor’s unique double cage mount
WATER CAGES: Specialized side mount

Tour Aotearoa, a 3000km dirt brevet from Cape Reinga to Bluff

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Tour Aotearoa 2016 - bikepacking the length of New Zealand

Aotearoa New Zealand. A 3000km
unsupported bikepacking adventure.
I think we are lucky in New Zealand, on several fronts. We have a relatively small country with constantly changing scenery and terrain that can both challenge and inspire. We also have people wanting to share it with the masses. The Tour Aotearoa was a vehicle for the organiser Jonathan Kennett to introduce a new cycle path from the northern most tip of the country to the bottom. By no means did we take the shortest route, but we did take in some amazing trails and scenery. We have a style of bikepacking in NZ that allows participation by people who might be put off by the caffeine fueled all-nighters that are the norm in some other events. A mandatory 6 hour stand-down for every 24 hours makes the events safer and more achievable for many. The event was capped at 300 riders. In the end around 230 started and around 18 pulled out. That's not a bad completion rate.

Drafting is legal in most NZ dirt brevets, but you do have to deal with the personalities of your fellow riders if you chose to ride as a group for the duration. Someone commented that if we were spending 100% of the day with our spouses, it would likely result in a divorce after a few days of  limited sleep.

In our case, on the first day a self-selecting team was born, comprised of Geof Blance, the Tour Divide 4th place finisher from 2014, Matt Dewes a graphic designer with an eye for a great shot, and Steve Scott, the hard man roadie with 5 Tours of Southland under his belt. Geof and I were the only ones with previous bikepacking experience. Matt had spent time as an under 23 XC racer in Switzerland so we knew he had a big motor. To date I still haven't seen his conversation threshold breached. He was young and fit and would dance up the hill and take snaps as we rode past, sharing them on social media when cellular coverage allowed.We have Matt to thank for most of these images. If you have  ever watched the Tour of Southland you know what kind of an animal Steve must be. It must be the hardest race in the southern hemisphere with hills and the kind of weather that makes you put an extra duvet on your bed.

Day 1. Cape Reinga to Waimamaku. 206kms.
Strava Cape Reinga to Kohukohu,
Strava to Cape Reinga Waimamaku,
Day 1 was always going to hurt. New Zealand is a very hilly country. I knew from experience that average speeds for the fast guys in dirt Brevets in this country are around 14kmh. We had to average over 20kmh to make the last 8pm Ferry to Rawene. Unfortunately mother nature had other plans in the form of a head wind on the beautiful "90 mile beach". Bikepackers learning to ride in echelons was a comical thing, and I was struggling with cramp for some reason.

I ended up stopping to clean my chain at the end of the 88km beach segment before carrying on, in hindsight a bad move. We had a whole lot of climbing to do after the beach, before reaching the Ferry and we killed ourselves to get there. It would have been nicer to save that extra 10 minutes of energy. We time trialled our brains out to arrive at 8.02 pm. Luckily the ferry hadn't quite pulled out. Phew. It was like an 8 hour stage race. Not bikepacking as we know it. The beach was really something and one day I'd love to go back and enjoy it with less pressure. There was a funky little whole-food shop there at Rawene and we spent plenty of time stocking up on pies and stuff for the next day. Most of the other riders hit the road straight away, but a few decided to stay at Rawene, including Darren Burns, who had already broken his saddle, not sure how, maybe a violent "buttock clench" after seeing people rub wheels and go down right in front of him on 90 mile beach ! There were a few moments out there for sure. Someone tried to lecture Steve on how to lap out in an echelon which was a bit of a laugh considering his "roadie" background.

90 Mile beach into a head-wind. Photo by Matt Dewes.
The night was still young so we carried on for another 25 odd kms to Waimamaku where Geof spied a good spot behind a local hall for us to bivvy in. No need for tents yet as it was very warm. There was a tap on the side of a building which was good for those of us who were washing and alternating their shorts daily.

We just made the first ferry at 8.02 pm. Photo Matt Dewes.
As we were preparing to leave the next morning at 5am we saw a few people roll past in the dark, moving onto the first photo point of Tane Mahuta, the giant Kauri Tree in the Waipoua forest. The problem with only stopping for 6 hours a day is that you miss about 5 hours of scenery due to darkness.

Day 2. Waimamaku to Hunua. 138 + 116 = 253kms not including  the boat trip.
If we thought day one was hard, we were in for another shock. We still had to average around 20kmh to get to the next (Poutu) Ferry by 12pm. I think a lot of people thought the TA was going to be a fast "roadie" affair with lots of sealed roads. They were wrong. As soon as the first hills abated we were into a series of relentless steep gravel climbs that just kept on coming.

By the time we got to the "ferry" 7 hours later we were cooked. We were also 12 minutes late. But the boat was still there. The next one was at 6pm that day, so we had to catch this first one. Imagine riding into the red for 7 hours, then clambering up a loosely mounted modified aluminum ladder attached to a tiny boat rocking around on a high tide with a 22 kg bike on your shoulder. It was funny and grim at the same time. As usual, somehow Matt managed to photograph it for posterity. I guess there were about 20 of us who made this first cut.

Sad story of the day went to Kevin Moginie. He must be incredibley strong, as he had the aerodynamics of a Mack truck as he motored along on his full suspension Santa Cruz. He caught us earlier in the day, then I think we recaught him at Dargaville.  I saw him taking a turn on the front at some stage and then he just disappeared. I guess we assumed he had a mechanical. Apparently he wasn't that far behind, and he missed the boat! Not to be deterred I think he may have caught up and passed us again by Mangakino on day 3.

Now the pressure was off, or so we thought. No more ferries to catch, for a while anyway. Event organiser Jonathan Kennett had decided that if we wanted to, we could utilise the 3 hour boat trip as part of our 6 hour continuous downtime block. We took Geofs advice as a seasoned campaigner and decided not to use the boat time as part of our 6 hour rest. A few of them did, Ollie, Seb, Anja, Matt, Cliff. They rolled down the road to the closest cafe and took the extra 3 hours napping there.

Boarding the Ferry, what an experience. Photo Matt Dewes.
Before very long we were getting close to Auckland, already we were missing the friendly locals from the far north and the lush green country side. Now it was fast commuter traffic then the urban cycle-ways of Auckland. We saw some sights, including a commuter, completely on the rivet with a full-face DH helmet on. We couldn't wait to get out of there and back into the boonies. We climbed up Mt Eden to be greeted by a couple of "blue-dot junkies" who had been following us the whole time. What a buzz, We were actually leading the event as the other "Ferry sleepers" hadn't caught up yet. We shortly hooked up with Nick and Ben who knew their way around Auckland and navigated us to a McDonalds where something gave me the worst case of acid-reflux I have ever had.

Were winning! (But its not a race). Photo by blue-dot junkie ; )
We headed off to find somewhere to stay. Geof was keen on accommodation but we saw nothing on route and before long we were into the Hunua Ranges which is still kind of on the outskirts of Auckland. Finding a place on the road side out of view of local farmers was a challenge. Eventually after descending down through the Hunua Ranges Geof spied a good spot amongst some trees that turned out to be mint. Another night out with no tent and no problems.

Day 3. Hunua to Mangakino 244kms.
Somewhere after the sun rose, heading to Kopu.
It was another 5am start from memory. As we rolled away the duo of Nick and his buddy Ben caught us as we glass-cranked along, as Matt had gone back to retrieve the sunnies he dropped at the camp site. Ben was "off the grid" riding with his buddy, not carrying a tracker, but he could sure pump out the watts.

We rolled through the very tame Hauraki Rail Trail, then onto Matamata. This was a massive section for the aero bars and the going was fast. Steve was mashing on the front so hard that we had to tell him to ramp it back a bit.

Maybe it was "milking time" or something, but I was surprised at how few cows I saw! It was quite a while before we saw some closer to the Paeroa end of the trail.

We eventually joined up with the extensive Waikato Trail network where we were happy to meet Stephen "Stealth" Butterworth who had been following our progress.

Hauraki Rail Trail
 The effort people made to try and say hello was really appreciated. We eventually came across a large dam at the head of Lake Waipapa and were met by a bunch of well wishers who I assumed were all Matt's family, but it turned out that the guy offering to clean and oil drive-trains was a blue-dot watcher and blog-follower. What a surprise. It really felt to me like we were in the middle of nowhere. I decided that when I was finished the TA, I was going to go over the entire course to see where the hell I had been, because I hadn't really done any research on the course as such.

The next piece of trail was really good, unfortunately it was very dark, and technical enough that the slow speeds we were doing were not enough for 3 out of 4 of us to generate good light via our dynamo lights, so it was on with the spare helmet lights. At one point it seemed like we had ridden the same piece of trail more than once, and every now and then there would be a granny gear climb to take back all the elevation we had just lost. I thought about Cliff Clermont and his 1x11 drive train and wondered if he was still enjoying it. I couldn't believe how much time I spent in my lowest front sprocket and was very happy to have a triple, as were Geof and Steve.

Geof, Stephen, Jeff, Steve.
 We eventually made it to the foreshore of Lake Maraetai at Mangakino where we were surprised to find an American woman who had been doing parts of the course independently of our organised effort. A toilet block with running water was an added bonus to this site. This was the first night we used our tents.

Day 4. Mangakino to Owhango 180kms.
The next day was to turn out to be a bit of a tough one. We got into some pretty uninspiring 4wd track for a while and Geof was having some "sleepy moments" but it didn't seem to slow him down at all. We hooked into the Pureora Forest Timber Trail after a while and it really was quite beautiful.

Steve rides one of the massive swing bridges on the Pureora Timber Trail. Photo Matt Dewes
 We learned that Matt had incredibly, in our view, taken his fiancee (not really a cyclist)  through the Timber Trail one day, the poor thing. We all decided she was a keeper. It was 85 kms of relentless singletrack with track markers every 1km. Some people liked the markers, most didn't. Matt was riding a Cannondale Cyclo Cross bike, but to see him ride you would think he was on a fully. It must be great to have those kind of skills.

Skills will only get you so far ; )
Fate caught up with him and a sidewall cut in his tubeless tire meant a boot and tube had to be used... once he could find the gash.... Geof used this occasion to catch 40 winks and during this interlude a small troop of riders caught us and rolled through, Rob Davidson, Dave Cooper, Linda Wensley and her husband Craig.  It really felt as if we had been on the Timber Trail all day. A full suspension bike or even a hardtail would have been great, but we were stuck with our over loaded rigids, on what would have been a really fun trail in normal circumstances.

Matt in Pureora Timber Trail.
 We emerged from the forest to another group of well wishers from Matt's whanau. He really had the North Island covered. Wellington rider Nils caught and passed us as we chatted to them, he seemed to be on a mission. Later on we called into the McDonalds at Taumaranui and while we replenished our supplies Geof mentioned that there was an open home within riding distance. I rang the number and suddenly realised that I knew the host. It was sorted. Before long we were being treated to such luxuries as electric lighting, a washing machine, a dryer and some amazing soup that our host Paul Chaplow had put on for us. I think Geof knew Paul from his adventure racing days and he looked after us like family, it was a complete blast. We were overcome with the luxury of it all.

Day 5. Owhango to Wanganui 190km. Including boat trip.
We hit the road with a cheery goodbye from Paul who had graciously gotten up to supervise our departure. Our initial goal was getting to the Bridge to Nowhere, and joy, another boat to meet. The good oil was that you got yourself to the Blue Duck Cafe and booked a Jet-boat from there, meeting them 4 hours later at the trail end. The familiar theme of racing the boat had returned..... The initial trail was narrow and a bit slippery, considering it was the height of summer. I managed to twist my chain dealing with chain-suck so was forced to shorten my chain, very quickly. It was a shame that we were once again suffering from "boat-anxiety" as the scenery was quite beautiful and a bit more time to take snaps would have been great.

This was the height of summer and the trail was still slippery. Photo by Matt Dewes.
 The trail widened and we were greeted with a very long, maybe 20 minute descent? I was not enjoying it too much on my rigid drop-barred bike, and by the time I got to the bottom, despite several rests for arm pump, I had two numb braking fingers that still haven't come back to life, yet...

Another swing bridge. Photo Matt Dewes.
 We got to the trail end with 20 mins to spare but still had to wait for a few more tourists to pad out our boat. The trip down the river was great but I have to say I spent most of it asleep. 

About to catch a jet boat. Photo Matt Dewes.

As we got off the boat we were hit with blinding heat and the urge to find as much food and drink as we could. A small cafe in a local Lodge was just what we needed.

THE Bridge to Nowhere. Photo Matt Dewes.
 We caught up to Greg Galway who I think had passed us in the night, sleeping rough, as he did, every night of the Tour. I guess he had missed the first two boats, but had managed to make up some good time on the faster sections. He seemed keen to ride with us but some of us were struggling a bit on the rollers out of Pipiriki so Greg eventually rode off to do his own thing.

There were the odd compulsory dismounts. Photo by Matt Dewes.
By the time we got to Wanganui we were feeling like some accommodation again. Paul Chaplow's open house had spoiled us. We had a beer, which went to our heads immediately, and I booked a room in a very swish joint 100 metres from the supermarket. 

105 years of crustiness. Photo by Matt Dewes.

Day 6. Wanganui to Masterton 310kms
Because we hit Wanganui relatively early we had to leave early so at 4am we headed for the 1st photo-point of the day. Obviously it wasn't open so we took our photo and moved onto some nice deserted b-roads. I was feeling good, and probably trying to keep warm as much as anything, but I got the feeling that the rest of the guys were not as frisky as I was. As we hit Hunterville Matt's parents turned up to wish us well. God knows what time they left Taupo to get to Hunterville in time to meet us. As we were just about to leave Steve recaught us and we were off on what must have been the biggest stretches of gravel we were to encounter.

Even the gravel had gravel on it. It was the day of gravel. Photo by Matt Dewes.
 We practically traversed across half the width of the North Island at this point, before we started to head downwards again, and there was plenty of elevation in there too. Apiti, Ashhurst and finally Palmerston North where we stocked up at a gas station and booked a ferry crossing to take us from the North to South Islands. Not knowing how long it was going to take us to get there meant we had to give ourselves a bit of breathing room if we were going to avoid another case of "boat-anxiety".

There was morning gravel and evening gravel. It was also our longest day. Photo by Matt Dewes
 We exited Palmie and met a really cool supporter on the trail with her young toddler, handing out ice-blocks and bananas. We would have loved to chat more but we had to keep rolling. The next piece of gravel linking us to Pahiatua was a real blast and then I think we scored some tail-wind for the segment into Eketahuna. We caught up with Nils again there and he still seemed to be on a mission, dropping us when ever he felt like it. I texted Jonty from Revolution Cycles, who built Nils's very flash bike, and asked him what his background was. Jonty said, "He has never done an organised bike event before".....

There was a ton more gravel grinding to do before we eventually grovelled into Masterton, the bogan capital of New Zealand. Matt had booked us a very nice room but before we could get there we had to put up with 4 drive by attacks by the local bogans who would throw milkshakes or slushies at us as we rode. This was the only kind of encounter we had come across like this and it took the gloss off what was our biggest day at 310kms.

Day 7. Masterton to Pelorus 144 + 54= 198kms not counting the ferry
This was the day we were to meet the Cook Strait ferry in Wellington to take us to the South Island so we got our lapping out sorted pretty well on a piece of road I had raced the masters time trial nationals on a few times. Unfortunately as we straightened up for the run over the Rimutaka Incline, in true Wellington style the wind came up. It stopped us in our tracks, and blew us off our bikes, but luckily, as locals, Matt and I were able to reassure the others that it was only temporary, at some point it would be behind us, mostly. We were very lucky to have at least 3 sets of buddies ride out to meet us and escort us into Wellington via the local river trail network and we spent time in the Ferry terminal with family, and friends. Most of the riders we had come across in the previous days were on another ferry that was leaving 2 hours earlier but we chose to chill and do the family thing rather than hop boats.

Rimutaka Incline. A very short walk. Photo by Matt Dewes.
Steve had decided he was going to sleep on the ferry and use it as part of his 6 hour sleep as some of the others had done earlier. The rest of us decided not to, and after a beautiful evening riding through the Queen Charlotte Sounds road, Geof, Matt and I camped at Pelorus.
It was a magical night as we left the Ferry and rode the Queen Charlotte Drive heading to Pelorus. Photo Matt Dewes.

Day 8. Pelorus to Maruia 248 kms
The Maungatapu was probably the most sustained off road climb of the TA, and after about 20kms of introductory gravel we worked our way into it, all of us trying to clean the gnarly bits but all eventually succumbing. Matt despite limited gearing probably did the best. His 34/40 front/rear ratio was pretty damn good for someone with his young legs, but the loose rocky surface was the undoing. Of course he cleaned the gnarliest part of the descent into the Maitai Valley. I walked it.

As we came into Nelson I was greeted by my cousin Paul who was whooping and hollering with excitement and we rode with him to a cafe where we got a coffee fix and a few more sweet treats before we took off. Craig and Linda were there too, with Craig about too go to a GP to have his nether regions checked out. As we were just about to leave my Aunt turned up which was also a highlight. She had been watching the dots and was really getting into it.

Climbing the Maungatapu early in the day. Photo by Matt Dewes.
We headed out of town on the local trails and when we got to Richmond were joined by my buddies Susie and Gazz who were keen to accompany us on the trail which took in one of their favorite training loops. It was great to have fresh company. They were fresh off the Pioneer MTB stage race and were probably keen to see what these smelly cycle-fred tourists were all about.

Somewhere on some Gravel... Photo by Matt Dewes.
We eventually went our separate ways near Dovedale and took in a whole bunch more gravel on the way to Tapawera. On one of the big gravel descents I got a sharp pain in my left quad which was to effect me badly for the rest of the tour. I managed to keep pedaling, and it seemed to be alright upon waking most mornings, but then get worse during the day. We picked up Steve again at Tapawera and he was regretting his night without sleep, after combining his ferry into his 6 hour sleep block, but at least he caught up with his kids in Nelson. We pressed on through Lake Rotoroa and the Braeburn and did a raid on the dairy at Murchison and after a beer and burgers at the Commercial Hotel we rode on, eventually finding a camping spot somewhere in the Maruia. Once again, another beautiful spot we missed because it was dark. Luckily I had been through there 3 times before in the Kiwi Brevet, twice in the day time.

Day 9. Maruia to Kumara 217 kms
The morning on day 9 was uneventful as we climbed up out of Springs Junction for some time, before getting a nice gentle downhill and possibly some tail wind into Reefton. It was time to refuel and head into the technically demanding Big River and Waiuta tracks. Not specific man made tracks for biking, these were left over from the gold mining days and were in places actually river bed. I called into the bike/sports shop there and chatted to the friendly lady, mentioning that my grandfather used to run the butcher shop in Waiuta before the gold dried up and it became a ghost town. She said that this very building we were standing in was one of the last to be removed from Waiuta and may well have been his. 

Geof picks his line in Big River.... Photo Matt Dewes.
My left leg was not happy. Every time I hit a bump it would shock my left quad and I would bleat like a baby. I'd been through these trails 3 times before in the Kiwi Brevet, but knowing what was coming up didn't make it any easier, even though I knew the tracks were in as good a shape as they had ever been. There had only been about 10 people ahead of us, not enough to impact the track surface.

Big River. Photo by Matt Dewes.
It was hard work. I couldn't wait to get out. Maybe there is a difference between doing this trail with 2 days in your legs compared to 9. Maybe I was just soft. Matt was loving it on his cyclo cross bike and taking some lovely shots. I felt like a real whinger, at least I had fatter tires than Matt, I should harden up. The wet rooty bits were not to be underestimated. As usual Geof was very stoic but somewhere along the way we had lost Steve again. Matt said that this was his favourite section.

Big River. Photo Matt Dewes.
We finally got out and our first stop was the Ikamatua store before heading to Greymouth. After we had refueled I realised that I had lost my spare dry-bag somewhere in the Waiuta. I was gutted. It had my beanie, arm warmers and leg-warmers, and my buff. They say in bikepacking you pack your fears. My fears are, 1, bonking, 2, getting a saddle sore, 3, getting too cold. If I don't get my beanie and buff on as soon as I stop I can revert to a shivering mess in seconds.

Matt in the Waiuta.
We were just about to leave Ikky when Steve turns up, my green dry-bag hanging off his bars. What a dude! Steve refueled, we pulled out but unfortunately he went off the back on the first climb we did after crossing the River and I didn't notice. I felt terrible. He'd just saved my arse. We even stopped at the Pike River monument thing but still no Steve in the distance. But what do you know, we got to Greymouth, and were just about to leave the Subway and Steve turned up! He was like the Terminator. We did a quick shop and I managed to dial up some accommodation in Kumara township, smack in the middle of the West Coast Wilderness trail. Score, the proprietor also owned the shop! Pies, lollies, all the good things. It was win-win and the team was back together again!

Day 10. Kumara to Pine Cove Motel 275kms.
During the week an old friend from Christchurch, Ian, had been texting me, saying he wanted to catch up and ride with us for a bit. Ian was a very accomplished XC racer in his day, but I had no idea how fit he was currently. Long story short, when we left Kumara at 5am the next morning, Ian, his wife Lucy and Daughter Katie (in her pyjamas) were there. Wow, what a send-off. Ian was on his old Raceline with v-brakes and a household torch strapped to his handlebars! Geof had his MC-hammer pants on this morning and the pace was on from the start. The West Coast Wilderness Trail is a fun, fast and achievable trail for most people. Unfortunately we had to do a detour and missed one of the best parts of trail as we rode into Cowboy Paradise, a western themed Lodge overlooking the beautiful Arahura Valley. The proprietor came out to chat and mentioned that he barely got a sideways glance when the front runners came through.

Lake Kaniere
We carried on to the back of Lake Kanieri and took in the new trails alongside the water race that led us into Hokitika. Somewhere out of Hoki Ian got shelled, then lost! He didn't have a GPS, but he did have a cell phone and a wife. We rolled into Hoki, spied Geof at a cafe, ordered a coffee and pie and sat down. Geof announced that he was off. Ok. He might see us later. We waited for our coffees and pondered our next move. 

The rest of us left and got into a good groove, losing Steve on an undulation somewhere along the way again, Matt picking up his 2nd puncture. After riding through two herds of cattle we eventually picked up Geof at the Hari Hari cafe about 75kms later.

A River somewhere between Hari Hari and Haast.
The West Coast of the South Island has a scenery unique to itself, with wide flowing rivers and strange tree forms. There are two Glaciers that come right down to sea level. The Franz and the Fox glaciers. They are unsurprisingly connected by some fairly challenging hills, although they were on sealed road. Matt and I were both struggling with left leg issues. Me with my dodgy left quad, Matt with a tender knee. He'd had a minor Achilles problem earlier and asked what he should do. I jokingly replied, didn't you read my blog post on Achilles issues? He hadn't, so, figuring that his cleat bolts were probably burred to the point of difficult extraction we dropped his seat post by about 5mm. The relief was instantaneous.

A hill somewhere between Franz and Fox. Matt discovering his seat height is not optimal. Amazing what 10 days of over-use syndrome will tell you about your set-up.
I had rung my Osteo from Franz and left a message on his phone, asking what I could do about the continued numbness in my right hand. He rang back as we  were navigating the little trail out of Fox and gave me some exercises. Unfortunately they didn't help.

We dropped down into the granny gears for the big climbs between Franz and Fox and I told Geof we would have to catch him later as we were both broken arses. Geof promptly dropped off the back himself. He had his own problems. We were a sad lot, but regrouped at the top and rolled into Fox. Geof and Matt researched some accommodation down the road and made a phone call. We seemed to be on a mission to get there and ripped along at a pretty good pace, wondering when the hell we were going to find it. Each new corner revealed nothing and we pressed on. Then in the middle of nowhere, a little group of motels sprung up, 35 kms outside of Fox. The Pine Grove Motels were one of those oases in the middle of nowhere. Very basic, but more than enough for a bunch of wasted smelly cyclists. AND they had food. We washed all our clothes again as well. Pure luxury.

Day 11. Pine Cove Motel to Arrowtown. 291kms
It was the usual 5am start and we rode on, eagerly awaiting the sunrise. Matt reckoned he saw a light up ahead. I thought he was hallucinating, but he was right. We were catching someone. Who could it be. Anyone ahead of us had a fairly good gap by now. Knock me down with a feather, it was Steve, the terminator. He had passed us in the night and bivvyed out in a shelter in the Copeland Pass. It was great to catch up again. Geof had another sleepy moment but we got through it and motored on to Haast.

Terminator Steve Scott looms out of the mist. Photo by Matt Dewes.
 As we rolled in to the cafe there who did we see? The affable American Cliff Clermont. He was about to leave, but always a sucker for company we talked him into another round of coffees and we all left together. Cliff and I had ridden most of the 2014 Kiwi Brevet together and Geof had ridden with him in that years Great Southern Brevet as well. Cliff had started out with the initial leaders, so we were keen to catch up on all the gossip but it would have to wait until we were on the road.

Another River somewhere around Haast. Photo by Matt Dewes.
For some reason we were lapping it out very fast again. Cliff, always the negotiator suggested we dial it back a tad if we were going to have any chance to catch up on the news. There were some good steep pinches through the Haast pass so now I had to battle the gradient with a numb right hand that I could only use the bottom two fingers on for braking and a left leg that was only really at 50% power.

The leg was really annoying. I looked down at it, then across to my top-tube mounted water bottle. Had the water-bottle cage shifted? I had mounted it using the "insulation tape hack", as I had done to the down tube and front fork cages.... I suddenly had an epiphany. When I would come to a stop, but sit astride my bike I was putting pressure on the top mounted cage and bottle, and had imperceptibly been moving it sideways over the previous 10 days, and I was also unconsciously moving my left leg further to the left to avoid brushing against it! I was riding bow-legged !  This was the cause of my pain. I stopped immediately and kicked the cage off with enormous satisfaction. I still had two more bottle cages and a camelbak so it wasn't the end of the world. I felt better already, but the damage had been done. 2 weeks later its still not 100%.

We stopped at Makarora Cafe for a lunch break and I waited for Matt who had a last minute thing to sort. Geof's MC Hammer pants were on again so it was quite a while before we caught him and Cliffy again. There were more hills on the approach to Hawea and we stopped for some photos at the "neck" of the two big lakes, Wanaka and Hawea.

Photo-op at "The Neck"
We were straight into a trail at Hawea which from memory we followed all the way into Wanaka. The pace was still on but it was good to be on some dirt again. The previous two days had been 90% seal where we were doing battle with tourists in camper vans, who I have to say were pretty well behaved. This part of the South Island is pretty much fully booked out for accommodation from November to March.

We grabbed a burger and beers at a cafe in Wanaka, Geof and Matt called in to Rick Woodwards bike shop, Outside Sports, Geof for a gear tweak, Matt for a new nipple... for his camelbak, it had fallen off on the outskirts of Fox.

Ignorance is bliss, at least temporarily. After the obligatory shots outside the Cardrona pub we had to do the Crown Range. I had never ridden up it before, and I did it in my middle ring as I figured that if I changed down and dropped the chain onto frame again, as I had been doing, I would probably just end up walking it. We had done close to 250kms already that day, and there was more to come. At the top we rugged up again for the descent down the other side onto the cycle trails that would take us into Arrowtown. Another pub stop there and then we went and set up camp at the local camping ground.

Attacking the Crown Range at night fall. Photo Matt Dewes.

Day 12. Arrowtown to Bluff 290kms, including boat.
We got a sleep in on this day, til 6am. We had to catch a 10 am sailing of the Earnslaw steamer to ferry us across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak and Mount Nicholas. Geof's local knowledge meant that we had time in hand to crank out 40kms of local trail and still have time for a leisurely cafe breakfast while we waited. A buddy from Wellington's nephew was following the ride and joined in with us on his jump-bike as we wound our way into Queenstown. Greg Galway was also there waiting for the same boat. I was impressed with Greg's ride. He'd spent most of the time by himself and bivvyed out every night. Not only was Greg there, but Steve had done another superhuman effort to catch up as well, camping at the foot of the Crown Range and hitting it early that morning.

My buddy Ed Banks is a school teacher in Wellington and he chatted me one day to say that he had shown his class at school the tracking page and they were hooked, so he had it up on the big screen all day. He chatted me again while we were at Queenstown waiting for the Earnslaw and he asked me if I would mind it if the kids could ask me a couple of questions. Next minute the phone rang and we had a bit of a chat and then answered some questions for the kids. It was a very cool moment for me actually.

Geof wheels his bike onto the Earnslaw. Photo by Matt Dewes.
A couple of times during the Tour Aotearoa Matt had joked, "I'm gonna grow some balls and do a break-away today and drop you guys". It was a bit of an in joke. The thing was, we knew he could, at any time, if he wished. But on this day I was feeling good. It was still early in the day, my legs hadn't started to pack it in yet. It was around 11am when we got off the boat at Walter Peak, only 250kms to the finish and my cousin Sam had told me there should be a tail wind. It was time to put on the MC hammer pants...

Fresh legs after a coffee and pie on the Earnslaw Steamer having just crossed Lake Wakatipu. Photo Matt Dewes.
I went to the front and picked up the pace a bit. It felt good, we already had tail wind so I kept winding it up until we hit the first climb and just kept going. Part way up the hill Matt shot by. I thought, oh, he's going to the top to take some more photos of us! What he'd actually done was grown those balls. He wasn't at the top waiting....

Cliff had got to the top with me, but his 1x11 just wasn't up to it. I shifted it into the 44 and got down on the aero bars. I looked back and Cliff was slumped across the bars. I was on my own. The tailwind was amazing, smashing it across the tops at 48kmh on the aero-bars in my 44-11. This was me having fun. Gravel, tail wind, aero-bars and 250 odd kms to go, I was truly in my happy place. From this point on it was just hammer. I wasn't stopping for anything. There was miles of gravel past the Mavora lakes turn off and on towards Mossburn where my Southland cousins all come from.

I talked to a grader driver working on the road and he said he saw another cyclist 15 minutes ago, going like the clappers. That would be Matt. The new Mossburn cycle trail was a bit of fun but I just rode straight past the township planning to pick up some food later. I had plenty. I was really enjoying riding by myself at my own pace. I guessed Matt was doing the same. I stopped once at the top of a climb for a snack and once again to put on some chamois cream as I approached Winton.

I looked over my shoulder. What was that? A rider off in the distance behind me? Surely not. I renewed my efforts, but within a few minutes a rider pulled up beside me. Greg Galway ! He was on a cyclo cross bike like Matt, and this was a good day to be on one.

Actually, we were all three of us on drop bars, and had all paid attention to aerodynamics with our bike set-ups. Greg and I rode into Winton together and did a quick raid on a shop and were out of there in no time. I never ate half a fried chicken so quickly. Greg was a great navigator and he rode up the road about 100 metres ahead of me the whole way until we got to Bluff where it started to rain lightly as we got closer. There was someone standing in the middle of the road with his hand out for a high 5. It was Matt, he'd been there for an hour already and had booked the last two beds in Bluff ! He was nice enough to ring Geof and let him know, so they (Geof, Cliff, and eventually Steve!)  pulled the pin at Winton, had 5 pints at the pub, and finished the ride into Bluff the next morning.

With the big tail wind, Matt had averaged 30kmh from when we got off the Earnslaw to Bluff, including Mt Nicholas. 251kms according to my computer.

At Bluff, with Greg. 11 days, 8 hours and 35
minutes at an average of 265kms a day.

I was strangely unemotional as I finished the ride. I guess it was no surprise, it was all I expected, and more. I had prepared well for it, I still had a few issues, but they weren't insurmountable. I had my cousin coming to pick me up, so I hung out in the foyer of Matt's hotel, watching the pattern in the carpet pulsate... Who knows how much longer we could have gone for, or how much faster we could have done it, but right now I needed food and rest.

There are many ways to do a dirt brevet like the Tour Aotearoa. There are no wrong or right ways, just different ways. Some people did it with negligible training. Some people never stopped for a beer! Some people wanted to take all 30 days and only travel during daylight hours, and you cant blame them. It's a beautiful country. I think that was the one thing in common that we all took away from the Tour Aotearoa. We are very lucky to live in such a beautiful place, lets keep it that way.

Riding through the Waiuta with Geof, where my mother actually went to school, now a ghost town. Even though I struggled through here, this is my favourite photo, by Matt Dewes.

Thanks to Matt Dewes for his amazing photos, also the Strava files of both the North and South Islands. Thanks also to my amazing cousin Sam Kopae and her husband Wally who looked after me and the two Matts in their "bikers haven" in Invercargill. Thanks to Jonathan Kennett for organising this thing, and thanks to  our spouses for letting us have the most fun you can have on two wheels in Aotearoa New Zealand.