Jeff's Bike and random bike related stuff from NZ

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.



Unknown said...

Fantastic account, thanks!

Unknown said...

Great write up - thank you! Great fun to read an account from someone at the pointy end. I was one of those riders at the not so pointy end who preferred to ride during the day (although started most mornings in the dark (just)). I agree totally with your sentiments that this is a beautiful country - every one of us was on their own journey and that's what makes it so much fun!

sifter said...

Jeff - thanks for taking the time to describe your fantastic journey. Well done, on this and that!

hanabee said...

Great ride - cheers for the detailed write up Jeff. Good to hear what was going on at the front end... Hard to believe some people rode the whole way without stopping for beer :)

Unknown said...

What a brilliant piece of writting! Great read and a bloody good ride, well done

Unknown said...

Top stuff - another fascinating and evocative brevet blog, greatly enjoyed. Good work!

Unknown said...

Fantastic Jeff. You have made some wonderful memories....... thanks for sharing them with us.

Unknown said...

A great read, It seems like you had a lot of interaction with people. I felt rather alone a lot of the time. It must have been a great trip rider with others. I still have that numbness sort of feeling in my right pinky.

Chester said...

As always an entertaining and informative read, Jeff. Well done on a great effort. I hope all the sore bits are improving. Very cool how it's now possible to traverse large parts of the country on cycle-navigable trails in addition to the normal back roads linked up on necessary bits of highway. Huge props to Jonathan for making the most of these and choosing such a magic and diverse route. Will be interesting to see what changes are made for the next one - and there has to be a next one! I think even I could be tempted...

Oli said...

Absolutely great stuff, Jeff! Thanks for the write-up that fleshes out Matt's awesome photos that helped keep me avidly hooked to your progress. Hope the recovery is swift and full.

Unknown said...

Well done you did awesome, and here modestly under-state the achievement. It was very cool to follow your progress, and this is a very cool write-up, it really brings it all alive and, better, you make it sound very fun and achievable.

Unknown said...

Lovely write up Jeff. I followed the progress of the riders online from Melbourne where I'm based. I'm originally from Auckland and my mother is from Nelson. She had provided some merino jerseys to one of the Nelson riders who took part.
Your write up provides plenty of inspiration and 2018 is marked in for me to do.

MvN said...

Lovely writing Jeff - I say this as a journalist. Entertaining and hugely inspiring. I'm the blue-dot junkie who took the pic on Mt Eden.

El jefe said...

Thanks for lovely comments folks! Its good to know someone is reading this stuff !

Unknown said...

Read it again. Great write up. 9% easier 1x set up this time....still only at 36T ring so big tailwinds will leave me OTB. Bar ends AND 2 cm higher front end.....sleeping pad and a pillow.....Gunning for the same tempo as 2016 - but not to be on my heals. If I get the AM Earnslaw - I'm going all the way. #secondsub12day. "Lord Wellington" will be my SPOT tracker. Plan to arrive in Welly late in the eve - come out for a quick catchup!




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