|Grand depart, (Nathan Fa'avae bottom left)|
On the big day my family dropped me off at 10am for the briefing at the Cinema, then went to visit friends. On returning to Seymour Square 2 hours later for the grand depart, seeing all the bikes lying around my 5 year old boy piped up "Daddy did you win?!"
I laughed out loud and it helped de-stress the occasion nicely, 'er, no son it hasn't actually started yet!'.
A bewildering array of machinery and riders filled the square, I managed a brief catch up with a few familiar faces and was impressed to see a strong female contingent.
I was riding in a team of two a mate Muzz from Christchurch, a 4 time coast to coaster and faster than me, thankfully he never complained once about my pace (my roles were organiser / equipment consultant / mechanic he kindly reminded me), so I had the perfect 'super domestic' / lead out man and we quickly adopted pseudonyms of George (Hincapie) and Lance, I didn't feel very Lance like but at least I had aero bars for the TT look!
We were also using the opportunity to do some fundraising for the Champion Centre, an early intervention centre both of our daughters had attended in Christchurch. We had both had features in The Press and Nelson Leader respectively, and had levered off the magnitude of the event to raise $6000 by the start.
Event details http://kiwibrevet.blogspot.co.nz/
|Seymour Square, carbo loading|
|The route, Blenheim to Blenheim anti clockwise|
Day 1 - Blenheim to Pelorus, 12pm to 9pm (9 hours)
The grand depart was a special and proud moment, following years of planning to get to this point. After rolling through the city centre pathways the ride bizarrely started to feel like a mini road race, with many wanting the advantage of the peleton for both wind shelter and stress free navigation as the route darted it's way through paths and farming tracks out of Blenheim, I ended up doing 'bridging TT's' after the pack was split up after various bottle necks, felt a bit silly on such a long event!
Once we hit Rarangi and Whites Bay we settled in at my (back of pack) pace for a few hours of climbing to Picton. On arrival the second thing to make me laugh out loud that day was the sight of all the rubbish bins overflowing with Powerade bottles, the Brevet was already making it's mark!
Next stop was for dinner in Havelock, where Muzz tried on his celebrity status by showing her page 14 of The Press, however she needed a careful look from the side profile before she was convinced that it was indeed the same man!
They were colourful characters and we ended up taking them to our pre-selected field for the first bivvy night. I was sleeping light with just a ground sheet, thermarest and sleeping bag, initial envy of their tent and thick sleeping mattresses soon disappeared as their farting and snoring commenced and I was pleased to be by myself under the stars.
I went to sleep on a high with the buzz of the event, and the fortune that a back injury that had plagued me on all my recent training rides had miraculously disappeared for the big event.
Day 2 - Pelorus to St Arnaud, 6:30am to 6:30pm (12 hours)
The day started with a bit of cat and mouse as the early risers caught the sleeper in'ers that had made it part way up the Manguatapu the night before. It's not a race, we remind ourselves, but places were again traded on the descent as the more downhill oriented riders had a blast down the steep loose descent.
|Pinch flat on Manguatapu descent|
The days highlight for me was rendezvousing with my family in Nelson who had cycled in to meet me for a super-sized brunch.
It was difficult to say goodbye to them and my home town but then it was time to head off through a section of the Great taste trail, which was actually flooded due to the Spring tide, to Richmond, and a quick hello to Muzz's sister and family (some of our most ardent supporters). Then an afternoon turned into a sweat shop on the rolling course to St Arnaud. After hours of climbing we finally flew down the last decent into St Arnaud, but euphoria was quickly wiped away with pain as I got a bee sting through my shorts, which was to still bother me days later on a 'rub' line.
We caught up with a bunch of riders enjoying the wares from the fish and chip shop and dairy, but sandflies and sleep requirements soon broke up the party.
Day 3 - St Arnaud to Springs Junction, 8am to 8:45pm (12.75 hours)
|Things are different out West|
We engaged in all sorts of conversation 'threads' to help pass the time, such as our life history, travelling yarns, what sports should be banned from the Olympics etc.
This day started through through the Porika and Braeburn tracks.
We dragged ourselves away from the shade and made the long ride to Maruia, where a special thankyou has to go out to Karen, spot tracking fan, who not only opened the shop for us after hours, but refused to take any money for the end of the day food leftovers.
The final leg took us to just passed Springs Junction we found a unique bivvy location, an abandoned conveyor belt in an old scrap yard, which formed a perfect hammock! Dinner was not a highlight though, just a 200ml tube of condensed milk, since I had reached OSM saturation. The sandflies were ferocious but they disappeared in the night, and we went to sleep under a beautiful starry night. Not even my partners gentle snoring reverberating through the rubber conveyor belt could keep me awake for long.
Day 4 - Springs Junction to Blackball, 6:45am to 8pm (13.25 hours)
Day 4 started with a 12 pack of ginger kisses for breakfast, then a quick escape from the sandflies into a wet ride over to Reefton. There we had one of our trademark 'long stops', a brevet 'best' of 2.5 hours this time. This did include sorting some urgent medical issues including Muzzas sore wrist after a crash, and a solution to sore nipples for myself.
For the benefit of non-cyclists, we use 'chamois cream' around the groin area to prevent rub and soreness, it can be also used on other sensitive areas like sore nipples caused by hours of shirt rubbing. It must have looked quite a site to any onlookers as Muzz and I stopped at the edge of town and simultaneously applied cream to groin and nipples respectively!
The skies cleared after our long stop and we commenced one of the longest and toughest days of the event, including the Big River and Waiutu tracks. These started off benignly enough, with some long rideable climbing sections. At the start of the Waiutu track we bumped into a very friendly DOC worker who informed us there was about 4km of unrideable track then 6km of rideable downhill. Our spirits lifted when we were able to ride most of the 'unrideable' section, the smiles soon faded when the 'rideable' sections had much of the track washed out and it ended up being hours of hike-a-bike and rock climbing. This was exhausting with fully laden bikes.
Being out of Waitutu was big relief, and the end of the day took us through Ikamatua, the Pike River mine, then finally to Blackball and the Blackball Hilton, where the hotel owner was a blue spot junkie (avidly following riders on the tracking website). He provided a welcoming committee knowing our exact needs in advance (shower, big food, beer, and a bed, in that order). The waitress looked surprised as we ordered two large meals each and promptly wiped the plates clean.
By now the field was spreading out, but two riders we kept bumping into were solo riders, Dean Cameron and Andy Gilbert, the latter quickly earned a nickname of 'grumpy' after some terse communication on day two. However, it turned out Andy was a really nice guy, and a Brevet vet having previously done it on a tandem, this time riding a Surly fat tyred bike, he was one of the few riders doing some optional 'long cuts' to the main course, and so he had much Brevet kudos.
Day 5 - Blackball to Flock Hill, 7am to 7pm (12 hours)
The day started with another gravel road tour past lake Brunner, then the joy of some sealed roads, heading for some big climbing over to Arthurs Pass. The first stop was in the run down little town of Otira, for some nutrition. This is where we helped witness some great brevet camaraderie when a lost jandel was finally reunited with it's owner after being carried for 2 days by Dean.
|Dean (on left) returning jandal|
We pushed on to Arthurs pass town, and increased the pie count tally. Strategic resupplying included freeze dried meals which fortuitously would become emergency rations a day and a half later.
It was during heavy climbing on this day that I had my first exhaustion induced hallucinations, in my trance like state my riding mate Muzza 'turned' into an old friend from the UK! Thankfully he reverted back to his true self once the climbing relented and oxygen levels returned to normal.
There was a psychological boost to be had heading back over the other side of the Alps, and it felt like we were entering the home straight, albeit a very long home straight which was to take us 4 more days.
Things turned wet after Arthurs pass and with heavy legs initial plans of making over the Alps were had to be changed when we ran out of daylight hours, thankfully the Flockhill lodge was open and came before nightfall, and we had anther reunion with Dean and Andy.
I was literally on my last legs as I rolled in and as we entered the reception collapsed to the floor. Some tourists took interest in our story (and condition) and shouted us some free beers for our efforts!
Thankfully the kitchen stayed open for us and the Brevet riders were rewarded with a super sized fish and chips serving. The final highlight of the night was a surprise visit from Muzz's family up from Christchurch. They also brought some nice treat offerings but we had to decline unfortunately to stay within the Brevet 'no outside support' rule.
Day 6 - Flock Hill to Lees Valley, 7am to 8:30pm (13.5 hours)
This day started with some gentle but slow climbing, anticipating a big climb over Porters pass, however, we arrived at the top sooner than expected, and were soon treated to a jubilant descent down the long steep Porters Pass, one of the highlights of the Brevet.
At the bottom the pedals seemed to spin easily and the km’s clicked over nicely until we got to Springfield, where we both ordered a full breakfast but I got one up on Muzz with an extra pie on the side.
I had been lead navigator through my home territory at the start of the event, now it was Muzz's turn on his home turf. As a coast to coast racer he had been pointing out various key sections of the course such as transition points as we had crossed over from the West Coast, this continued on the east side of the Alps, but it was just after we crossed the Waimakariri river we made a silly navigational mistake due (both our faults, I had the cue sheets!), missing a turn off.
Our 'spot tracking' fan club must have been yelling at their computers as they watched us sail past the turnoff! We had done about 8km before we realised, it was a psychological blow to have to back track but Brevet rules don't allow us to 'triangulate' back to the course, we had to return back the way we had came to rejoin the course.
This had one unexpected benefit though, Muzz's entourage had planned another secret visit, at the start of the Wharfdale and had we not lost the time they would have missed us.
It was with much anticipation that we started the Wharfdale track, surprisingly neither of us had ridden it, while having spent many years in Christchurch. It was also known for being one of only two technically demanding sections of the Brevet course.
For me personally some of the rideable sections were highlights of the Brevet, but tree fall and track washouts started to dominate the ride and hours of bike carrying took the gloss of the experience. Our average speeds were taking a major tumble, I also got a puncture, and while I was running tubeless with a tyre sealant, couldn't get it to seal, so had to revert to sticking a tube in, costing more time.
|Track washout, it was to get a lot harder than this but the camera didn't come out again...|
To add to the challenge I had started to get pain in my right knee, and both achilles, forcing me to start walking some of the sections I would normally ride.
We finally emerged at a river crossing, and thought we were nearly done, but were thrown a curved ball navigation wise, with an unintuitive double river crossing. After much head scratching and exploring we figured it out, but the rest of the ride out was also pretty vague, with no real track just following the river bed.
As we finally exited into the Lees valley darkness wasn't far away, and again we had to shorten our expected destination for the day. A shearing shed that had looked like a good place to fill up with water, soon started to look appealing as a bivvy spot.
We knocked on all the farm buildings for permission, but they were all deserted. Exhaustion got the better of us and we bedded down in the Shearing shed, a bit smelly and dirty, but luxury compared to bivvying out on the grass with the sandflies.
We got even luckier when we found we could boil water there, cook up our freeze dried meals we had been carrying as emergency rations, and even have a cup of tea. It was the best beef stroganoff I had ever tasted!
Day 7 - Lees Valley to Hanmer, 6:45am to 8pm (13.25 hours)
Falling short on distance the previous day lead to our first proper rationing of our trip, so it was a couple of museli bars for breakfast, an OSM being surprisingly palatable when there was no other choice! I had been riding ‘clean’ until now, but mealtimes now included a side order of pain killers, I’m sure Lance would have approved!
We managed to get off at a reasonable time, and hit gravel roads to Lees Pass, here we needed to sharpen our navigation skills as we were looking for an easy to miss turnoff (we missed it) for one of two private land sections of the course. Thankfully a bit of paranoia had us stopping to check the cue sheets and map before too long, and we decided to backtrack, sure enough we then found the turnoff, a lucky escape.
We later found that Dean was slightly ahead of us until that point, but overshot the turn and ended up riding for hours trying to find his way out. After a while a rescue team was organised (by brevet and ex-brevet riders) and he was recovered. A great result to have him out safely but an unfortunate end for a nice guy (who always made time to stop and help others), until then it looked like he had all but got the event in the bag. It highlighted the benefit of carrying tracking devices, it sounds like there were many glued to their screens during the rescue, with the rescuers also having tracking devices.
The terrain was now remote cattle country, it felt very isolated and miles from anywhere. After some more nervous navigation decisions the route linked into the Macdonald downs, the navigation got easier, and we were finally on the road to Culverdon. We were both now amped up with the prospects of Culverdon, civilisation, and refuelling. Muzz put the hammer down and it was all I could do to hang onto his wheel.
We rolled into town, grabbed a pie at the Tearoom Cafe, then headed straight across the road to the Red Post Cafe, ordered and consumed for more food, Muzz sat back in a comfy chair and 0.8 seconds later was asleep!
The waitresses took interest in our story (and our wretched looking condition?) and kindly made a $20 donation to our cause. We had been receiving fundraising updates by text, which had been buoying us along, and we now looked like hitting our $10,000 target.
The feel good feeling soon stopped for me however as I tried to re-mount my bike, after the stop my bad knee was just too painful to swing over the bike, one bystander found it particularly amusing after a dozen failed attempts, before my tired brain finally twigged that I could mount my bike from the other side without bending the bad leg.
I was now engaging in a psychological battle, I could feel my injuries getting worse under the strain, but at least this section was a straightforward sealed road to Hanmer, so I convinced my reluctant body to get going one more time. We now shared turns out the front, rotating every 1km, another tactic to pass the time, and give Muzz some respite after his solo effort to Culverden.
The weather then turned wet, but that gave us an opportunity for a new game, since neither of us had mudguards the challenge was for the leader to find the biggest puddle, trick the 'follower' to ride over it and give them a nice big splash of water in the face, it amused us anyway in our apathetical state!
While our bodies were weary, a sense of achievement was building as we neared Hanmer, surely we had this one in the bag now? We found a backpackers but by now I couldn't walk properly, so thankfully Muzz went out and got some takeaways for us. My heart sank when we were told our room was up a flight of stairs, the (otherwise very nice) owner taking great amusement in my attempt to hobble up the stairs.
Day 8 - Hanmer to St Arnaud, 8:45am to 8pm (11.25 hours)
An early start seemed like a good idea, the 5:30am alarm wouldn’t have impressed our dormitory mate, and due to circumstances beyond our control we couldn’t leave until 3 hours later anyway.
On waking the body again said no, with little improvement in the knee and achilles overnight. We were dragging ourselves though the morning routine when we remembered we had completely run out of sun screen, desperation to get started lead us to begging people off the street to buy some, and we even tried our luck with the guy at the bakery, but his Indian skin it was unlikely to have needed any and he wasn't sure if we were making a joke of him! At that point we decided to give up and wait for the supermarket to open.
Turning the pedals over after inactivity now resulted in extreme pain in my troubled knee (including tennis style groans poor Muzz had to endure), after turning over a few times however it loosened up and was merely ‘painful’. As soon as I had to put any real pressure on the pedals however (e.g. going up hill) both achilles felt like they were on fire, and I had to resort to dismounting and hobbling along beside my bike.
The days route was essentially the Rainbow Rage race course in reverse. It started with a big climb up Jacks pass, hobbling, but fast hobbling is not much slower than slow pedalling anyway, and at least it gives the bum a rest.
The Rainbow valley had a variety of landscapes, through Clarence valley, Tophouse, Fowlers hut, and Island saddle. We had a profile map of the route, allowing us to tick of our progress, which was good for the mind. Along the way we stumbled across a tramper who was marching through the valley in the midday heat, he said he was heading for Arnaud, Muzz informed him that it would be a 100km day and he got a bit of a shock. Luckily we saw him later hitching a ride, which may have saved a trip by the rescue helicopter!
It was an undulating route, with the now routine mixture of walking up hills then riding, however, despite an increasing amount of rest stops things reached a new low for me when it got too painful on the achilles to clip in to my pedals after remounting, and I had to resort to riding with my feet loose on the pedals.
At least the later stages of the route provided some big descents, and pleasant scenery near the river which lifted our spirits. Eventually we reached sealed roads, which was normally a good thing, but it started undulating again, the pain got too much, and I got dropped off the back and had a few quiet tears by myself.
It was getting late now, and we reached the state highway intersection, and an option: right for Blenheim and the finish line (approx 5 hours), or left and detour to St Arnaud for civilisation. We had no real choice, and on the final run in to St Arnaud amazingly caught and overtook some other cyclists, 3 young French guys on Mountain bikes. One had a broken chain and was being towed by his friend, explaining their slow pace! They had bought new bikes in Wellington and were only just starting their a tour of the South Island before their unfortunate bad luck.
Our blessings were answered on arrival at the St Arnaud dairy and they were still open at 8am (half an hour past their closing time).
We refuelled as usual, and prepared for the next day, in my condition I truly felt I could not carry on another day, even though tantalisingly close to the finishing line. However, experience taught me to make those sort of decisions the next day.
What did lift my spirits was phoning home and hearing that my 3 kids (9, 7, 5 yrs) were all bivvying out on the deck in support of me, one of the highlights of my Brevet training had been doing some test bivvies with them. However I didn't have the heart to tell them I was actually under a solid roof that night!
Day 9 - St Arnaud to Blenheim, 6am to 10:25am (4.5 hours)
We had got word that the second private land section, the North bank, which bypassed the main highway to Blenheim, had caused hardship for riders that had already gone through it, and so the event organisers had demoted it to be an optional side trip. We didn’t have to think twice in our condition to take the easier option.
During the night I had awoken with an idea - if I could single leg pedal that would allow me to limp on and get a bit closer to Blenheim, without using the bad knee, so I planned to remove the pedal in the morning to make pedalling easier. Practically that may have meant killing was was left of my left achilles pretty quickly, and progress would have been excruciatingly slow (from experience having done single leg drills in the past). But the remaining 120km was now on sealed road and pretty much flat, so it offered at least a spark of hope.
The alarm went off early, an early start required given the anticipated low average speed, and requirment to get to Blenheim before the noon cutoff. Getting out of my sleeping bag and off the ground was a task in itself, but I then entered a zombie like state, didn’t bother with the pedal removal, and hit the road at 6am before I had time to wake up properly. For the first time I split from Muzz and took a ½ hour head start.
I coasted for a while before summoning up the courage to get my bad knee over it’s first pedal stroke, but howled in agony when I did it (sorry neighbours). It took longer than usual to get the knee to loosen up, and I again broke down in tears. But then at about 10km I got a bee sting on my eye, which snapped me out of my misery. It hurt, but in my apathetical state didn’t bother me too much, and I welcomed the distraction from my other hurting parts.
For the first time in many days we started to feel we had this one in the bag, and I was prepared to ride myself to destruction to finish the job. I was driven as much by fear of leaving unfinished business as anything!
We were now back in my home territory and two car fulls of my family came out to rendezvous with us, giving us an emotional lift.
We had planned to roll in at 11:59am - if we weren’t going to be first to finish we wanted to ensure we were the last! But it was 10:25am when we rolled into Semour square, with unbelievable relief and satisfaction, a month after we had started (well if felt like that!). We reunited with our families and sat down to start the recovery process.
It takes a while to come back down to earth after the highs and lows of an event like this. Once we had washed off 9 days worth of dirt and sweat our family welcomed us back with open arms. However, Muzz’s daughter, Lydia, explicitly told him he was not allowed to go riding with Martin again, and has been reminding him on a daily basis!
Mental damage: Muzz has been suffering’ recurring dreams about riding on gravel roads. Hopefully this will pass with time.
Physical damage:Muzz: Major rub issues with the seam line on shorts. Sore wrist for a few days after a fall. Quadriceps soreness. Achilles soreness. Ten days after the finish crashed down with a cold, fatigue, with time off work.
Martin: Ended up in a knee brace and crutches for a week, with quadriceps tendonitis in the knee and achilles tendonitis on both sides, Dr said due to 'excessive overuse'. Two weeks on, and I’m improving, but still hurts to walk more than 2 or 3 mins or bike more than 5 min, so a long way to recover but at least it’s on the mend, and good enough to start catching up on a backlog of household tasks!
During the event I also experienced tingling / loss of feeling of fingers for periods of time, seemed to go away in later days, going down onto the aero bars where possible helped here. Saddle soreness, goes without saying, likewise, going down on aero bars helped move the pressure points.
I managed to actually put on about 1kg during the event, against all the odds. Eating until I felt nauseous at every opportunity probably helped here!
We counted ourselves lucky with the weather, while we did get rained on 3 times it never got too bad and we never had a wet bivvy which was very lucky.
Do you pull out when injuries start to affect you? A hard call to make when you are in pain on day 6, with 3 days still to go, do you push on risking serious injury, or pull out risking huge disappointment. I’m happy with my decision, even though I might be out of action for the rest of the season.
We were under trained going into the event, and the first half of the event challenged with tiredness and exhaustion. Then body seemed to adapt, and final days were about pain management, not surprisingly it got less enjoyable as it went on.
Not carrying a backpack was a GOOD decision, made possible by my Psych top tube bag, shame they don’t make them any more.
Likewise aerobars were invaluable on the road (on an upright trail bike), and to attach things to.
And the bike, barring a minor mechanical, performed well, wouldn’t do it without a rear suspension lockout (a modification I made), and was great to be able to turn the suspension on for the challenging stuff.
Gear lowlites: I had wet bivvy anxiety, and would have preferred to have been better prepared for that eventuality. Also, would have liked more capacity for ‘soft food’ e.g. carrying bakery goodies.
Would I do it again? Short answer = no.
After the Petite Brevet 3 years ago I said I would never do anything like that again, but added a couple of exceptions and found myself rocking up at the start line of the Kiwi Brevet.
I say never again, but with a couple of possible exceptions! These being a course that had a good proportion of rideable singletrack i.e. fun mountain biking, and one which allowed ramping up the daily distances during the event itself, e.g. 6, 8, 10, 12 hours, thereby reducing training commitment and injury risk.
Hopefully no one will come up with an event satisfying the above and so I can quietly leave my revelate bags gathering dust in the garage :)
Would I recommend it to anyone else? YES! And make sure you take a tracker so I can watch you :)
Amazing sense of achievement
Having a team mate to share the the highs and lows with
Brevet riders' colourful diversity and camaraderie
Rideable sections of Waiutu and Wharfdale tracks
Epic descents: numerous
Bivvies in unusual places: on a conveyor belt and in a shearing shed
Fundraising for a cause close to our hearts
The support of family, friends, and followers
Knee and achilles injuries
Unrideable sections of Waiutu and Wharfdale tracks
Bee strings twice in St Arnaud
Navigational issues / getting lost
OSM bar saturation
Catching sight of myself in a mirror looking 10 years older due to exhaustion
Our Typical Brevet Day
5:30am Up, eat, get dressed into damp riding clothes, clean and lube bike chain, fill up with water, buy food (if in town), personal hygiene, check cue sheet and map, pack.
8:00pm Finish ride, buy food (if in town), eat, eat some more, wash riding clothes
17,000 metres vertical ascent
7 days and 22.5 hours elapsed time (1.5 hours inside cutoff time).
Finishing place: 29 out of 63 (34 did not finish)
99 hours riding (12.5 per day average. If the average rider rides 4 hours per week, we accumulated 6 months of riding in 8 days)
1 flat each (one on tubeless)
2 bee/wasp stings
4 crashes between us
Laden bike weight: 27kg (14kg bike, 7kg gear, 6kg food and drink for 1.5 days)
Number of wet feet after water crossings: lost count
Gained 1kg weight (took eating very seriously!)
3 nights bivvying: in a field, on a disused conveyor belt, and in a shearing shed
$11500 raised for charity
$500 food bill (each).
A big thanks to my long suffering wife and family, although they enjoyed the excitement during the event, it was a big family sacrifice both physically while training, and during many months of planning.
The donations rolled in while we were away riding, and continued afterwards, at the time of writing we are nudging $11,500. We are overwhelmed by the support, thankyou to all who contributed!
A final thankyou to Simon Kennet and the organisers, I love / hate you, can’t quite decide which!