13 February 2012

Darren Tatom's Le Voyage d'un Sot

Le voyage d'un sot (journey of a fool)

What have I forgotten? Standing in Seymour Square looking at my meagerequipment, I had a feeling I was  under-prepared for the unsupported 1100km ride we were about to embark upon. My skinny 35mm tyres looked woefully inadequate for the task as I compared my gear to others who were riding.

The mood was expectant; even anxious. Nervous laughter erupted occasionally from the 50 or so riders present as they compared war stories and equipment purchases. 9am rolled closer and after a group photo we were off! I followed the leaders up Taylor Pass road, Simon accompanied us to the top, he looked rather disparagingly at my setup, but I guess he knew from the last Brevet that I would slog it out somehow to the end. He commented that the 6 hour stop time each day was probably not suited to me due to my chronic insomnia. I replied that it was probably for  the best and would save me riding 20 hours per day.

My strategy was simple..just spend more time on the bike than the others. My strength had never been speed and I was always best to set my own pace and settle into a meditative rhythm. I had no speedo or GPS I felt best just listening to my body and going inside my own head. I had completed the last Brevet in 4 days 9 hours or so and the goal was to get under that..even approach the 4 day minimum. Everyone had their own goals for the journey..this was mine!

No sooner had I reassured myself of the goal I was banging out a strong pace with Geof and one of the single speed riders. As the day heated up I started feeling pretty rotten and withing 2 hours I was starting to cramp up and feel nauseous. I found it hard to breathe..was I drinking enough? Was I carrying an illness? As the journey up the Awatere continued riders kept passing. I was too wrapped up in pain and discomfort to be humiliated. I made it to the Molesworth station where quite a few riders were resting..they looked happy and fresh. I filled up with water and chugged on. Appalling cramps plagued me for a total of 10 hours. At one stage the pain was so bad I bit down and pulled a muscle in my jaw. This would be a reminder of my foolishness for not riding within my capabilities. If I didn't get myself sorted, my plan was sunk!

I followed Scott into Hanmer and treated myself to pasta and beer. Other riders who had come in earlier were eating takeaways and looking relaxed..i just needed rest. I bivvied at a campground, at least I was resting but no sleep was to be had. I set off just after 6am feeling rather better than yesterday. I met up

with Peter in Culverden and he caught me up and had a chat in lees Valley. He was the last rider I was to speak with for the next 3 days.

The Wharfedale track was surprisingly easy even with the skinny tyres. I was then set for the road section where these tyres would come into their own. While downing pies at the Sheffield pub locals informed me that porter's Pass was closed due to an accident, and anyway it was inadvisable to go to the high country..after all people had been skiing there only a couple of days ago. I knew I needed more K’s to keep on target and I knew quite a few would be leaving the climbing until tomorrow and staying at Springfield. I headed up towards the Pass. Great volumes of traffic were heading for Christchurch..It looked like the pass was open! I called ahead and booked the backpackers at Flock Hill. As I topped the last rise before the Cragieburn cut, a car passed me, pulled into a lay-by and switched its lights off. 'here we go' I thought..there was no-one around this could be trouble! As I neared the car there was an enormous din of metal on metal and shouts of 'allez allez'. Some friends had been staying at Castle Hill and were watching my progress online. Hugs all round and a quick chat were a real boost. I headed down to the digs for the night.

I was settling into a rhythm now, I felt I was in my power band, the pedals rotating effortlessly. I was undoubtedly moving slower than many, but I was able to sustain 16-18 hours in a day with few stops. Text messages from friends around Stillwater revealed that Thomas had missed the turnoff at Jackson's, which only left Ollie in front of me! Of course he was a long way ahead. I figured he would probably hit Blenheim at well under the 4 days. There were also 2 riders 20k or so behind, Lance whom I did not know and Geof who I had ridden with yesterday morning. I recalled that Geof had done well in the great Southern Brevet a couple of weeks before. If I could stay ahead of these guys as long as possible I might still be on track for the planned finish time..things were looking up!

After a miserable slog through the Waiuta and Big River tracks I hit Reefton as dark was descending. I asked at the motor lodge, but their kitchen was closed. The other bar patrons sniggered at my muddied and pathetic appearance. The barmaid could sell me some chips and a beer, or perhaps I could try down the road. Nothing was open! I pulled into a cheap motel and downed a meal of canned spam, cheese and bread. At least I was keeping ahead of my pursuers. I had no concern about whether I beat anyone to the finish line, but keeping this spot would keep my motivation high.

I set off for Springs Junction at 4am. As light filtered through the trees a gorgeous dawn chorus erupted. A jovial owner at the cafe sat with me and chatted away while I munched through a hearty cooked breakfast. The rest of the day passed in a pleasurable way, legs churning away, head somewhere else, thoroughly immersed in the satisfying rhythm and green world around me. The fearful grind up the Porika was followed by a strong headwind into St Arnaud. I was barely making headway even down hill!

I had lost my cue sheet somewhere on the Maruia Saddle. I was able to text home and Cath sent me the directions to Nelson. I guess I had blown the 'no outside assistance' rule, but there really was no alternative at this stage. In my own mind if didn’t feel like a significant transgression. In hindsight I should have saved the directions on the phone anyway. It had been a long day and I was shagged! The other two were still behind and I pulled the plug at Brightwater, knowing they would probably pass by in an hour or so and stay somewhere in town.

I set off again in the early hours of the morning, it took a surprisingly long time to get through Nelson on the cycleway..thank goodness I knew the way. Heading up the Maungatapu I took a wrong turn at the reservoir and wasted at least a half hour finding the route. About ½ way up the climb I heard a noise behind..they had caught me! I was really glad to see them, I'm not sure how they felt about me. I wondered what it had been like for them grinding away behind for the last few days. I hoped that their passing by would not put a hole in my motivation. I pulled into Pelorus Bridge cafe and they were breakfasting! We pulled out together and headed for Picton. I was aware they had probably formed a bond over the last days, but working together we fell into that easy cooperative camaraderie so common among experienced cyclists. Geof reminded me on several occasions that the barmaid at Reefton had taken a shine to them..opening the kitchen and sorting them out a bed for the night. She asked if they were with 'that other guy'... 'no' was their reply. They had dined on grilled chicken, fish, chips and salad they told me with great pleasure. I guess I had that coming!

The long grind from Picton to Blenheim began an we were setting quite strong pace. Would I be able to keep up? By Robin Hood bay I was really hammered and started to slow. Whether the other guys were slowing on my behalf or they were equally shagged I didn't ask. The mood lightened and the chat flowed easily once we hit Rarangi. We pulled into Seymour Square to applause and good wishes from a small

group of wellwishers. I was a couple of hours under my previous time! Much joy! I had much to thank Lance and Geof for..and they had been good companions in that last day. I crawled off and treated myself to a good nights accommodation, my butt sore as hell, my legs wobbly and my bald head resplendent with a stripey sunburn 'helmet head'

Post script: Skinny tyres

I used a Shwalbe Smart Sam on the front and Sammy Slick on the back, both 35mm cyclocross tyres. There is no doubt they are fast on the tarmac and not too bad on hard packed dirt roads. With a good technique they are reasonable on hard packed single-track and in mud they slice through rather than floating about like wider tyres. On the downside they are hopeless in the loose and miserably uncomfortable. It helped with the bike having front suspension and a carbon frame. Would I use them again?..definitely not! Should I have listened to everyone's advice..but of course! But after all this was 'le voyage d'un sot!'