20 April 2011

KiwiBrevet 2010 – a tourer’s perspective

This is a guest post by Willi Borst.

Day 1.   Saturday 6 February 2010.   Blenheim to Havelock.

Simon’s 10am briefing held at the Cinema was frightening.  I was petrified and it must have showed as Duncan gave me the biggest most reassuring bear hug ever.  This helped, and with considerable less panic I looked around the crowd a second time.  Everyone looked incredibly young and fit.  The bike set-ups were varied, ranging from slimline marathon runner models to the more heavily laden rugby forward type.  It dawned on me that there were two types of participants in this inaugural event: the “racers” and the “tourers”.  I was firmly in the “tourer” camp.

We were allocated our Spot Trackers and warned of the dire consequences of setting off the epirb function unless near death.  In lieu of an entry fee we were asked to make a donation to the Kiwi Recovery project.  In his capacity as New Zealand’s original mountain bike guru and organiser of this pedalling adventure, Simon was given an appreciative round of applause.  

Regrouping at Seymour Square for a midday start gave me one last chance to wonder why the hell I’d signed up for this.  We must have been a strange sight negotiating the random Blenheim cycleways north of the town.  A peleton of 64 with assortments of bikes, bags, gear, clothing and expressions.  The rolling start rolled as far as the diversion from where we started cranking our own paces.  This made for a fairly furious blat along the 3 km coastal section. I had actually suggested that part of the course to Simon, not realising that most riders would opt to ride on the grassy edges rather than the sandy vehicle track.  This was unfortunate for many as the grassy edges hid small growths of matagouri which are famous for their nasty spikes.  Along the hilly road to Whites Bay I must have passed about half a dozen people fixing punctures – all muttering something about “matagouri” under their breaths....

It got hot.  Stinking hot.  Got hotter the further we travelled along that Port Underwood Road.  The steepness of the hills were challenge enough but the corrugated, gravelly, dusty road surface added a whole other dimension.  At about 4pm and half way up Whatamango Hill both inner thigh muscles decided to cramp.  This had never happened to me before and it wasn’t good.  Only just managed to step, rather than fall off the bike and from here on there was no choice but to walk/push the rest of the hill.  Didn’t know it then; but it would be the first of many MANY walks/pushes with my bike over the course of the brevet.

Thankfully the thighs coped ok with the downhill but by about Karaka Point the dizziness set in.  Knowing sustenance was needed (and craving tomato juice) it was head down and grim determination to the Waikawa Road dairy.  Only had to stop to puke once.  The litre of tomato juice didn’t help though, and found myself entertaining the crowds by puking that up at the top of the Wedge.  Was really starting to wobble when all of a sudden the word “electrolyte” popped into my head.  Duly stopped to mix up and drink a litre of the disgusting stuff before carrying on at my opposite-to-breakneck pace.

Finally realising I was suffering from heat stroke I decided to aim for Havelock rather than a camp at the bottom of the Maungatapu for the night.  Had learned the hard way that hydration and food considerations had to be a top priority rather then incidental to this bike ride. Tina caught me up at the bottom of the Mahakipawa hill and we pedalled to Havelock together.  She had also suffered with the heat but was still gunning for Pelorus.

Partner David was waiting in Havelock but in the spirit of the event and under the rule of “no help from friends or family”, I insisted on staggering around leading the way to find (and pay for) a decent feed.  Steak and Chips at the hotel had never tasted so good, and five cups of tea later I started to feel normal again.  Stayed the night in the motorcamp/rugby field.  David in our tent and me in my bivvy bag next to the tent.  Lovely night actually; lots of stars and a light breeze.

Day 2.    Sunday 7 February.    Havelock to St Arnaud.

Considering it felt like I’d had a sleepless night, the 6am cruise to Pelorus was good.   Was wondering how many riders had spent the night camped there but guessed that they would all at some stage of the day be passing me.  The first cyclists I met that day were non brevet-ers heading up the Pelorus Road for a day trip circuit of the Maungatapu and Whangamoas.  Usually I’m more than happy  to listen to fellow cyclists tell me their tales of how far they’d come, how far they were planning to go, how far they’d cycled the last few weekends etc etc.... but wasn’t in the mood for that.  I rudely interrupted the chatter with “well – I’m doing the Kiwibrevet and this is the second day and I’ve got at least seven more 12 hours day ahead of me”  before stomping my pedals with extra purpose and pulling away from them.   

Soon after this Nathan caught up to me, staying just long enough to take the best line on a tricky corner leaving me to fend with the tight corrugated dusty line.  Embarrassingly I crashed.  Nathan gallantly called out a quick “are you ok” before pedalling on.  He must have been thinking along the lines of “what the heck does that old girl think she’s doing tackling this event – can’t even stay on her bike on the gravel road”!!!

The Maungatapu Hill is an old friend and I was looking forward to the climb.  What I hadn’t  accounted for was the extra weight which meant I was off the bike more than on the bike for most of the track above Murderers Rock.  Didn’t worry me though as I’d figured out that at my pace, walk/pushing the steep hills wasn’t actually much slower then biking – so what the heck!  On an even brighter note, I soon discovered that the extra weight was a bonus on the downhill; the stability and comfort of my fully suspended MTB meant I stayed rolling and upright all the way to Nelson.

Having never been a fan of McDonalds I was surprised to find myself salivating at the counter of the Nelson outlet ordering a selection of burgers and chips.  That was the first round of endless burgers and chips that were scoffed wherever they could be found.  I was trying to drink more fluids as well after the scare of Day 1.      

I didn’t think too much about how to negotiate the Nelson cycleways as we had lived in this town for ten years.  Found the start of it ok and then the weirdest thing happened; a cyclist caught up to me.  Again a non-brevet cyclist which was disappointing but he seemed keen to chat and said that I looked “interesting”.  I suppose I did really.  Cruising along the city streets on a slow-as MTB laden with gear but not as much gear as a regular cycle tourist.   Turns out “Harry” was a retired Dutchman on tour in NZ for a few weeks and he had hired a bike for the day.  The weird thing was that he lives in a village in Holland next to the village where my extended family lives and he knew all my rellies!!  

So then I managed to get not only myself, but also Harry, lost in the maze of cycleways between Stoke and Richmond.  At one stage we were stuck in an island in the middle of the motorway trying to figure out whether to go left or right.  Harry didn’t stick with me for too much longer after this.  I eventually found Hill Street where for a while the route finding became easier again - although did miss the “barriers” the first time round and ended up in a very flash front yard high up a hill asking a couple of kids if they’d heard of the “Hill Street track”.

I thought it would a bit rude to ask the bartender at the Brightwater Tavern to fill my water bottles without purchasing something so a quick ginger beer was guzzled before tackling the Wairoa Gorge Road in the midday sun.  Chris G arrived just as I was leaving and received the same un-amused stares from the pub regulars.  That piece of road would have been my least favourite of the whole trip.  It was full of boy and girl racers who insisted on driving past at ridiculous speeds and as close as possible.  Not to mention this annoying thing they do with their car engines which makes a hissing noise as they whizz by.  Was glad to get to Wakefield in one piece and had a lovely rest in the shade at Faulkner Reserve although was surprised that Chris hadn’t caught up.

By car I must have travelled the road between Wakefield and St Arnaud a hundred times but it wasn’t until the brevet that I realised how many hills there were.  The bits between the hills were also uphill so all in all a bit of a slog.  By Kikiwa I needed a break and found a manicured piece of road frontage which I promptly fell asleep on.  Bliss.  Woke up twenty minutes later much refreshed for the final stint to the village.

Could have bivvied out that night but decided to hell with that and by 8.30 had booked myself a bed at the backpackers and a mega platter of food at the pub.  Having become a bit tired of my own company I was pleased to find some fellow brevet-ers enjoying a meal in the same establishment.  I happily joined them, although they might not have been as happy about that as me as they left fairly quickly and once again I was on my own.  Oh well, this did mean a good seven hour sleep to look forward to and what a great sleep it was.

Day 3.   Monday 8 February 2010.   St Arnaud to Reefton.

What a relaxing way to start the day.  Cruising by 6am on a downhill section of road without a vehicle in sight. Chris C soon caught me and we biked together to the start of the Porika Track.  From here Chris was making quicker ground than me which was a bit embarrassing seeing as I was the one on an MTB.  It must have been an hour or so to the top but the time passed quickly in the perfect atmosphere of the beech forest.  At the top were Chris C and Chris G and after a bit of a chat and a snack it was the Yeeeehhhhaaaarrr of the descent.  Once again my gear laden MTB served me well on the downhill and it was a bit like flying.  Chris G was ahead and I was impressed at the punishment he was putting his hardtail through.  Till “bang”, something popped..... the bolt on one side of his rear pannier had sheared right through.  There was a fair bit of muttering but the only offer of help I could give was my zip ties.  Chris said no worries, he had some of his own and he’d sort it, so I carried on down to the lake.

Once there I thought I’d treat my trusty bike to a bit of a clean and chain lube.  Well that was a mistake; within 3 minutes of stopping the sandflies had covered every square millimetre of exposed skin and I was wasting precious energy performing a continuous slap and stomp dance.  Scuttling at pace up the Braeburn track was the best way to escape the demons and what a relief it was to glide down the other side.  It must have started drizzling at some stage as the jacket came out for the first time but didn’t stay on for long.  A spaced-out looking chap biked past me just as we rolled into Tutaki.  I remember thinking he was a bit rude as didn’t even say hi (by now I was starting to get a bit paranoid) but found out later he had really suffered with heatstroke on Day 1 and was consequently having a bit of a struggle.  

Bill (of the distinctive moustache fame) zoomed past me not long after Tutaki as did Dave, Gordie, Dirk and Chris C.  I found them all later at the Rivers Cafe in Murch where we probably stayed too long and I certainly drank too many cups of tea.  Mondo was also there and I heard that Tina was in a cafe around the corner.  Mondo must have been having a bad day as I had expected him to be way ahead of me at that stage.
The next part of the ride was one of my favourite sections.  The Matakitaki valley is gorgeous and the Maruia Saddle road superb.  I would recommend this section to anyone looking for a non-technical scenic daytrip.  All you need to do is find someone willing to drop you off in Murchison and pick you up at Burnbrae about five hours later....

Anyway, back on the main highway and enjoying the tarseal I was disappointed to see the “closed” sign out by the Maruia Cafe.  Bugger.  Next food stop would have to be Springs Junction and hopefully I’d make it there before everything closed.  Than just as I was crossing the main road to get on to the Westbank Road, Tina and Dirk caught up to me.  Unlike me, they had arrived at the Maruia Cafe in time to savour the delicious (apparently) muffins and coffees on offer there.  Was great to be cycling with others for a while and we kept up a nice roll to the Junction.  Once there we found Bill, Dave and Gordie scoffing weird evening meal stuff like scrambled eggs and spaghetti on toast.  Maybe they were having an early breakfast?!  Being a traditionalist I settled for burger and chips.  Being a student, Tina sat outside and ate her salami sandwiches!

We had all decided to carry on to Reefton for the night.  Tina and I booked a cabin at the Reefton motorcamp as it had started raining again and the thought of a wet night in bivvy bags was not appealing.  I was the last to leave and still hadn’t finished my chips.  It was then that I came up with my brightest ideas of the week – to put my carton of chips in my front pannier bottle holder so I could keep eating while riding.  Unfortunately the mighty uphill grunt to the Rahu Saddle required all my attention so the chips were wet and cold by the time I got to them again.  Still ate them of course as no food could be wasted.

About 10 k’s out of Reefton James, Mike and Matt cruised past and I managed to pick up the pace and hang on for about 5 k’s before watching them disappear into the distance.  Arriving at the motorcamp at half nine I stumbled gratefully into a nice warm shower before falling with great relief into a real bed again.

Day  4.   Tuesday 9 February 2010.  Reefton to Jacksons.

Tina and I had a gameplan for this day.  She had had a text from partner Tim who had been through the Big River Waiuta circuit the day before and it had taken him seven hours.  We reckoned that if it had taken him that long, it would take us at least nine hours.  He had also suggested that the track be tackled in pairs or in a group due to the multiple tricky sections.  This was all a bit daunting and sounded not at all like the Kennett description of the track which was something like “sections of sweet single track with the odd bit of bike carry needed”.

So after a visit to the best bakery on the Coast to stock up on sandwiches and slices for the day we were on the road to Big River by just after 6am.  It was great to have someone to chat to for a change and the track was perfect for our MTB’s with just the right amount of gradient and challenge for an interesting ride.  At some stage Nathan caught up and decided to travel with us through the Waiuta. It was on this track that I had my only mechanical problem of the entire brevet – a sloppy gear change resulting in the chain falling past the granny gear into that tight spot between the cluster and the crank.  After a fair amount of tugging had to turn my bike upside down and give the chain a hell of a pull before finally dislodging it.  Was fully expecting for it to break and was thinking how glad I was that I’d had several chain-breaking-and-fixing lessons in the week before the ride.  Was even gladder that I didn’t in the end have to put those lessons to the test.

Lunch at the Big River hut was very pleasant.  Tried not to get too jealous of the chicken chowmein meal that Nathan dug out from somewhere in his backpack.  We read in the hut book that Mondo had been through during the night and must have bivied on the track ahead somewhere.  

Starting out again on the Waiuta side of the track wasn’t too bad for the first twenty minutes.  There was even a nice piece of boardwalk to lull us into a false sense of security.  Things got steadily trickier from there.  We kept getting on the bikes only to have to get off again around the next corner for yet another obstacle.  The scenery was amazing though so couldn’t really get upset about anything.  The other benefit of all this walk/pushing was that it was giving my butt a break from the bikeseat.  I’d realised that morning that my rear was getting a bit tender and was really starting to appreciate the Butt Butter I’d purchased from Jenny in Wanaka.

A couple of hours along the track and we came across Marquita, Rob, Shelley and Ross who were eating muesli bars and looking just a tad flustered.  We then moved along the track as one large group as found it was easier to cope with the drop-offs and slippery logs as a team.  Five or more of us would spread out on the nasty section of track and pass the bikes along the line.  Hats off to all those brevet-ers who went through that section on their own!   At some stage during the afternoon the crack team of Bill, Dave and Gordie went through.  They passed us like a steam train and that was the last I was to see of them for the week.

Finally after about 8 hours we were through.  It hadn’t taken as long as we thought so spirits were high and we could hear the fried food at the Ikamatua pub calling.  Flying the downhill we just about  collided with a police car heading in the opposite direction.  It was the friendly photographer policeguy bloke!  Apparently Rob had taken photos of brevet-ers on to road to St Arnaud on Day 2. (although not of me, and I don’t blame him for that)  Apparently Chris G had set off his epirb and Search and Rescue were trying to make a decision about whether to send a helicopter out to look him.  We hadn’t seen Chris that day but hoped he’d had set the epirb off accidentally rather than because he was stranded down one of those cliff edges with a broken limb.

By 3 pm I was ordering an all-day-breakfast at the Ikamatua pub.  Those greasy sausages have never tasted so good.  A couple of trips to the shop to stock up on supplies and by 4ish we were underway again.  About 2kms down the road I realised I’d left my eftpos card at the pub.  Good grief what a stupid thing to do.  Not only did I have to backtrack, I lost Tina and Nathan so then had to battle the headwind to Blackball all on my own.  On the bright side (there’s always a bright side...) this did mean I could spend an hour catching up with my friend Anne and her family who had driven over from Greymouth to cheer me on along that long westbank road.

By 7pm I was in Stillwater and still had the trek along the northeast of Lake Brunner to ride if I wanted to get to Jacksons for the night.  The only fellow brevet-ers I saw were James, Matt and Mike who once again zoomed past me like I was pedalling on the spot.  Ok, I did stop to chat to a woman walking her beautiful blue heeler dog as they are my favourite dog and I just had to give it a pat.  It was a strange piece of countryside due to the huge areas of land that are being converted to dairy farms.  The climb up Bell Hill was surprisingly pleasant but it was getting dark by the time I cruised past Lady Lake.  I seriously considered bivvying there for the night but it was all a bit spooky with those tall trees and shadows on the water.

Being a calm and balmy evening it was easy to settle into a nice cycling rhythm.  Only hazards were the milk tankers which were like speeding spacecraft.  You could see a bunch of lights in the distance and hear a rumbling coming towards you, and then WHOOSH, it goes past.  I was starting to think that maybe they couldn’t actually see my front light as they seemed perfectly comfortable travelling at pace in the middle of the road.  About ten k’s to go and there was a milking shed the size of a mega Mitre 10 in full action with hundreds of cows being milked at ten pm.  Amazing!

I’m glad I had pushed on to Jacksons as there was a whole crew of riders staying at the flash new motorcamp there.  I arrived after 10.30 but the last to arrive that night was Pat and first thing he said was “did anyone else see that milking shed?”  Everyone else had pitched their tents and bivvy bags in the appropriate places on the flats above the building but I quickly eyed up one of the couches in the lounge and “bagsed” it as MY spot for the night.  

Day 5.   Wednesday 10 February 2010.   Jacksons to Springfield.   

By this stage of the ride my butt was giving me some serious grief.  Marquita had actually caught me the night before trying to ‘inspect the damage’ using the mirrors in the ladies shower room.  Luckily it was a fellow brevet rider who found me in that position and not some un-knowing tourist who would have wondered what the heck I was doing!   Was also generally feeling a bit low on energy which I think was due mainly to dinner the night before consisting of couscous emergency rations rather than burger and chips.   So I decided to be the last to leave.  This happened to be at about 7am after a leisurely breakfast of more emergency rations - two meagre servings of instant porridge.

Another gorgeous day and what a privilege it was to be biking over that incredible road.  Bright red rata flowers everywhere.  First stop Otira for my first decent meal of the day: chocolate cake and a flat white.  Talk about contentment.  Nearly as content as the dog keeping guard at the cafe door.

From about there the biking pretty much stopped and the opportunities to rest my backside by walk/pushing up the steeper sections were taken with glee.  Didn’t seem to take long to get to the top and tried to make the most of the glide into Arthurs Pass village.   Another feed and on the road again.  Was still feeling a bit lethargic but this suited the day as it meant more time for soaking up the scenery.  

Still in this relaxed frame of mind by mid afternoon it was a bit of a shock to realise that the weather was starting to close in.  By the time I reached the top of Porters Pass it was a freezing southerly and I had to stop to put on all the layers I had.  Which wasn’t many.  By the time I’d made it to the bottom of the Pass my teeth were chattering and limbs were shaking uncontrollably.  Luckily a bit of hard effort along the flat warmed things up a bit although the ride to Springfield seemed to take forever. I was on a mission to find a nice hot shower and warm bed for the night.  The vague plan of heading up to the Wharfedale that night was now out of the question.

I was standing dripping water all over the floor of the first motel I could find when Rob burst through the door and said that he’d been out there looking for me!  Wow I thought, that’s amazing; this guy is basically a complete stranger but was worried enough about me to first phone someone to find out where my transponder said I was, and then bike out in the pouring rain to look for me.  Turns out that he had hitchhiked (with bike) from Flock Hill after having had to pull the pin on the brevet due to a back injury.  Marquita (his partner) had carried on cycling and had suffered in the cold southerly which had raised their concerns about me as they knew I was biking by myself.

We decided that Marquita and I would travel together the next day through the Wharfedale, and beyond if it worked out that way.  We also arranged to meet up with Chris C at 4.30am who had also decided to bunk up in Springfield for the night due to the cold and rain.  Many others had opted to go through and we found out the next day that there were 12 in the hut that night, the last one arriving just after midnight.  

So another blissful night was had between real sheets on a real bed and with a real pillow.    

Day 6.   Thursday 11 February 2010.   Springfield to Hurunui.

A light drizzle in the early morning was a vast improvement on the weather of the day before so we were happy.  I was feeling energetic again and looking forward to the single track that we had heard was awesome.  The track didn’t disappoint, it was excellent.  A bit wet which made the wooden water races a bit of a challenge, but the gradient was forgiving and the sections of ride-able were thankfully longer then the sections of un-ride-able.  Worst feature of the track were the half dozen or so warratahs of which the top 200 mm or so were exposed, and posed, to catch any unwary rider.  Had my worst crash of the brevet on this section but luckily it wasn’t a warratah encounter.  Just a simple switchback that would have been simple had I not had all that luggage attached to the bike.  Should have got off the bike but didn’t, so found myself hitting the ground, sliding and then acting as shock absorber for the bike when that finally landed on top of me.  Annoyingly I had sore right ribs after that for the rest of the brevet.

Just before the hut we ran (biked) into a trusty DOC worker who said that he and his offsider had spent the night with 12 brevet riders in the wharfedale hut.  He seemed quite amused by it all and went on to tell us that DOC had plans to keep upgrading the track for mountain biking.  Wish I’d remembered to mention those warratahs...

Once out in the open the landscape changed dramatically.   Big valley ahead.   Once again felt lucky to be there as its a part of the country that only a few of us get to experience like that.  The private road past the “brothers” is in my top three favourite sections of the brevet.  The road itself was in such good condition and the climbs and descents perfectly matched.  Was cycling heaven and I can see why the farmer has had problems keeping bikers out.  Huge thanks to the farmers involved (whoever they may be?) and to Simon for making this part of the ride possible.

About halfway along the private road Chris punctured and he told us to keep going.  He had been very patient with us.  His cyclocross bike compared to our MTB’s meant he could move along the open roads considerably faster than us.  He had only been a smidgen slower than us on the single track which was impressive considering he had never ever done any mountain biking.  Once he caught us after fixing the puncture he decided to push on ahead.  We thought we probably wouldn’t see him again as there were lots of roads and no more single track between there and Blenheim.

Those long gravel roads between MacDonald Road and the main highway all seemed to go on forever.  “Masons Flat” turned out to be the intersections of five gravel roads and not the cafe I was foolishly hoping for.

Finally fell into the Hurunui Hotel at about 7pm.  Our plan was to eat a hearty meal there and then bike on to Culverden for the night.  The Publican had already sent the cook home so had to rustle up our burgers and chips himself.  While we were eating Pat arrived, and then Claude, which meant that there were a couple more meals to prepare.  At some stage Marquita and I had decided to stay there the night.  I think it was at the stage that we looked outside and saw it was pouring with rain.  So yup, another night in a real bed.  I’m obviously getting a bit soft in my middle age as I don’t remember ever getting so emotional about pillows before.

Day 7.   Friday 12 February 2010.   Hurunui to Upcot.

The wonderful Hurunui Hotel publican had left our breakfast out for us after we told him our plans to get up at 5am.  By 6am Marquita and I were on the road and munching more food in Culverden not long after that.  From there we could feel the gradual climb all the way to Hanmer.  At about 15 k’s out of Hanmer we spotted a roadie on the other side of the road and as he came closer I saw it was my brother-in-law Lindsay!  He’s a top bloke and the family lives in Hanmer and they had been watching my progress on the website.  Was great to catch up as it took my focus off the road and the pain that I was now definitely starting to feel in my backside, right rib cage, left wrist and neck.  Once in Hanmer Lindsay went back to work and we bought supplies for the last day of the ride.  

Our timing meant that we couldn’t avoid having to tackle Jollies Pass in the heat of the day.  We were prepared for the worst though it didn’t seem to take too long.  The fact that we walked most of it undoubtedly helped.  I’d resorted to taking ibuprofen for my sore wrist and was waiting for the drugs to kick in.

A rest at Acheron meant it was hard to get going again and at that stage we were still hoping to make it to the Hodder for the night.  Marquita had never been through the Molesworth before so like all first-timers was blown away by the scale of the place.  I was just amazed at how many more hills there are when travelling by bike compared to when travelling by car.  The road was a bit of a nightmare in places with endless corrugations and a layer of stones on the surface but I kept thinking how much harder it would have been for all those hardtail riders.  The relentless climb up Ward Pass was made even more enthralling by the empty hay truck whose trailer nearly wiped us off the road.  We had stopped and were waiting in the grass well off the side of the road but the trailer kept skidding sideways and ended up only missing Marquita’s back wheel by a few centimetres.  The poor driver!  He was going as slow as he could but there was only so much weight his brakes could hold on that gradient.

Caught up with Ranger Rob just before Molesworth and asked him to try to tune into a weather forecast on his vehicle radio.  Unsuccessful though that was he reckoned the weather wouldn’t be that bad.  I was surprisingly re-assured by Rob’s prediction and all of a sudden the need to get to the Hodder that night seemed less important.

We certainly needed to eat and the campsite at Molesworth was the perfect place for a picnic.  Pat and Claude had caught up to us by this stage so the four of us sat around for a while enjoying our individual variations of dinner.  Me (couscous and biersticks), Marquita (2 minute tomato pasta dish), Pat (nuts and seeds) and Claude (half a 2 litre bottle of Coke).

There was a couple camping next to where we were eating and they must have felt sorry for us as they gave us all a muesli bar on departure.  Did we look THAT hungry??

Onward and upward.  It was getting dark by now but the relief of biking in cooler temperatures totally made up for the lack of peripheral vision.  I think I drank about 5 litres of fluid that day and stopped to pee only once.  The few hazards were all wildlife related, ranging from the birds which insisted on flying in the spot zone to ferrets crossing the road.  Pat and Claude had biked ahead and we wouldn’t see Claude again till Seymour Square the next day.  He could roll quickly over the terrain on those 29 inch wheels!  At some stage we passed John Morris who was abiding by his policy of only biking from dawn till dusk.  He said he had a great campsite and we were welcome to share it but we were keen to get to at least the top of the Upcot Saddle.  On we pedalled but at the top decided to call it quits for the night.  This decision was helped by the fact that Pat was setting up camp and it looked a good one with a stream in the background and some flat land for relative sleeping comfort.

By about 11.30 we were happily if not particularly comfortably tucked in for the few hours sleep we would have till our last early morning start.  

Day 8.   Saturday 13 February 2010.   Upcot to Blenheim.

Up and gone by 6.30 we had waited until daylight to descend the Upcot.  Was a great feeling to be on the homeward stretch but part of me didn’t really want the adventure to end.  We stopped at the Hodder to chat to a group of trampers getting ready for the 70 plus river crossings en route to Mt Tapuaenuku.  They didn’t seem worried about the weather although by now we could see dark clouds forming behind us.

There was one more big hill to climb and as good luck would have it, just at the bottom of the hill we were stopped in our tracks behind an enormous flock of merinos.  No way were we going to get past them so it was out with the last of the muesli bars to chew on while ambling along at sheep’s pace.  I was impressed with the shepherd.  He was a young bloke and had total command of his crew of half a dozen dogs.  Being a vet, Marquita could interpret the dog behaviours and it was an interesting experience.  The pup called “King” was overly keen and kept getting into trouble while the old huntaway only expended energy when commanded.  It didn’t take Pat and John long to catch us and they were also happy with the excuse for a stroll.  The flock disappeared into a paddock only half way up the hill so with some reluctance it was back on the bikes for the final grind.  The wind had picked up and there were some persistent side gusts to deal with.  

Finally on the flats and I suddenly started to feel the efforts of the week and started to fade.  I told Marquita to go on without me which she was reluctant to do but the worsening weather must have helped her make up her mind and away she went.  It had been great having such good company for a couple of days.

Just before the Taylor Pass turn-off Steve and Frank appeared on their bikes!  David was there as well although not on his bike due to his dodgy knee.  Having company over the Taylor Pass was a real treat.  The pain was suddenly forgotten.  Telling lots of brevet stories gave me the buzz of energy needed to get to town.  There was another workmate at the top of the Pass taking photos and cheering me on – thanks Kevin!  Blenheim had pulled out the stops for the brevet.  Most riders wouldn’t have realised, but in the week we were away not only did Marlborough Roads replace the grotty ford halfway down Taylor Pass Road with a flash concrete one, our council Reserves people also made sure that the surface of the rivertrack was upgraded.  Its now soooo much smoother!  By the time we rolled into Seymour Square I felt like royalty.  Lots of friends, family and fellow council workers there and of course a few of the other riders who had arrived in the past hour.  I couldn’t help thinking how much harder the arrival in Blenheim must have been for all the out-of-towners.  I guess though that being able to stop, hop off the bike, and know that you didn’t need to get on it again for a while would have been reward enough.

In summary it was a huge week and a great adventure.  Met lots of excellent people and travelled through spectacular pieces of countryside.  There was the mental as well as the physical challenge but most of all the KiwiBrevet reminded me of just how much you can fit into a day if you really want to.  

Thanks!

Willi Borst

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