In a world increasingly preoccupied with throwaway materialistic things; where people are constantly busy earning money to pay for those things, or so their children can have those things;
This is the story of my dreams of travelling the world by bicycle. Because it's there. And because I dont want to die without experiencing the truly important things in life .

A sense of wonder and a sense of adventure.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Randonneuring Starts & Daylight Savings Ends.

Daylight Saving Ends.
The clocks have been turned back and the evenings are darkening early. And due to a day of rain today, the first for a couple of weeks , I am writing my blog. A couple of weeks ago I sorted my aluminium mudguards as I described to you in painstaking detail. Painful was right you might say, so be it. For us full time cyclists as we go into winter, having a good set of guards is important , even in Nelson NZ.
Last week I also finally received the quick release saddle bag support that I had ordered. Adi had one of these on her bike and I was keen to get one to compliment one of my Brooks saddles that does not have bag loops. It is disappointing that the company making them has saved money by now manufacturing the rails out off aluminium instead of stainless steel. So if you want to carry a really heavy overnight bag the whole thing needs extra bracing from the frame. This doesn't bother me greatly because I have one of the original s/s ones for overnight rides but is an example of excellent product from Carradice being wrecked by cost cutting. I suppose at the end of the day at least they provide a bag support for their range of saddle bags unlike Brooks who produce the Saddles and the bags but nothing to connect the two together in a usable fashion. Clearly the Brooks guys don't actually cycle with fully loaded Saddle bags attached to their saddles. They wont want to hear this but like many customers I'm sure, having searched for a bag support for my 'Glenbrook' bag I have not only discovered the Carradice Bagman support but also the full range of Carradice bags. ( Which look pretty good).

The Off.
My bag support turned up in the mail just in time for my first official randonneuring event. This was a 200km circuit around our Tasman area. Adi had agreed to put it on for the Kiwi Randonneuring Club. Since she already had completed a 200km event I had to get the time off work to do it, otherwise she would have had two completed rides and I'd have none! Also with local randonneuring enthusiasts being limited at the moment to 2 it was also very likely that if I didn't enter  Adi would be doing it on her own. As it turned out I was a might surprised when the club president, Craig, advised that he would be doing it. This was fortuitous I thought because he could answer a few questions I had about qualifying for the Paris-Brest-Paris event next year.

Adi , Craig and I.
There Seems to be Plenty of Time in Hand on a 200km Ride.

All in all there were four of us doing the ride and I made the correct call in taking the time off work to support Adi as we had a social group of three throughout the 200kms and Gethyn, our roadie, up ahead going for time honours. The weather was spot on with plenty of autumn sun and no wind to speak of. Normally this time of the year I would be winding down for winter with no plans to ride more than one 100km ride during the week and maybe 100kms of commuting, but one thing leads to another and it appears that the club has a 600km event on the programme next month with nobody keen to host it. I have to say that i have never ridden further than 450kms in one go before and only in the summer months. My first thought when an email came through asking for someone to host this event  was, why would anyone want to ride that distance towards the West Coast at that time of year! I also thought a moment later that there would be no way I'd be mug enough to do it, especially since even if I survived, it was too early for it to count towards a Paris-Brest- Paris qualifier. That was before Craig told me that if I did host it, and survive it, that it would enable me to pre enter the PBP.
To be able to pre enter PBP would be very appealing.(I'd still have to do all the qualifiers next summer). To complete a 600km ride going into winter would be a personal achievement that would leave me with warm fuzzy's. I have friends that will say that riding from Nelson to Greymouth is no problem, a piece of cake. These people all too often seem to forget that you actually have to ride back again afterwards. They also often forget that you have to carry your own gear. things like warm clothes, lights, food etc. They seem to somehow factor out sleeping time and dinner stops. And most importantly they are almost exclusively people who have never actually completed anything like it themselves.
Luckily I have never given those sort of people much credence. They are the same people who say they have cycled across some country or continent but when you question them further you find out that they were on a package trip that had  so many vehicle pickups that they should have been given a concession card. The same people who will happily tell you that they competed in the da de da long distance event but forgot to mention that they were part of a 2 , 3 or 4 person team! I'm sure people like that are not only to be found in  cycling circles. The same types have probably climbed Everest with guides pushing them along from behind, placing their feet in pre cut holes and Sherpa's carrying all their gear.

Mercian Ready for a 600km Attempt.
I digress. I have a week to decide on whether to give the 600km Greymouth  Return a go,  am under no illusions that I will probably be on my own, and that until I get near the end, that it will be shite.
I'll need to buy some new thermal tights and put some skinny tyres on my bike. I must be getting my head around it because I have already ordered the tyres (Schwalbe 1.35's) so they should be here in a few days.
Randonneuring aside, I gathered some loose change together the other day and bought a pair of vintage Campag Hubs on line that some Muppet had unbuilt from the wheel while still  leaving the cluster and freewheel on. It's great that there are people out there like that, they're a hoot. It took me a couple of hours in the bike shed but I  finally had the offending freewheel off (in many pieces), revealing a lovely pair of spare hubs to be had for the price of a Big Mac and fries. I think I might just have enough Campag hubs to last me a lifetime now. The thing is though,  you can never have enough spares. That fact compounded by the knowledge that there are so many Muppet's out there with vintage Campag to get rid of leads me on.
With that thought in mind, if there is any one reading this who has got one of those 'horribly' heavy , old Campag cranksets with the now geriatric square drive, you know you deserve a carbon fibre one and I'll do you a favour by taking it off your hands.
My skinny tyres have arrived and I took them for a test ride yesterday to not only feel the speed but also to re check the calibration of my cycle computer. Craig from Kiwi Randonneurs has got back to me with the A OK to organise the 600km event.

I will check the weather forecast, book my motel at the halfway point , and then set off next week.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Autumn Amble.

The anticipated cyclone turned out to be a fizzer. Just as well because I was committed to cycling to Christchurch (450kms) over the following two days. I was rostered at the cycle shop on the day that cyclone what's its name, rolled through town. Cycling in the rain to work and back I saw not another cyclist. Most kiwi cyclists have yet to discover the joys of commuting by bicycle and still more have yet to realise that bikes can be fitted with mudguards and are not water soluble. More realistically though they probably have some notion of it, but prefer not to dwell on it because the rain gives them yet another excuse to use their car during the week, and keep their cycle for the Sunday sunshine ride or Saturday race around the block.
The bike shop was quiet with the punters not wanting to brave the weather. This gave me time to once again ponder the delights of the Mercian hanging in the workshop. My battle scarred mudguards I decided would at some stage have to be replaced. I'd procured these German Esge guards many years before while working part-time at another bike shop. They'd been thrown in a cupboard by a mechanic with little need for long guards on his down hill mtb and as the major clientele of this shop were mtbers of one form or another, there the guards stayed. Waiting for someone who used his or her bike in all weathers to retrieve them. Waiting for someone who appreciated the need to keep clean and dry throughout the winter while riding their bike everyday. Waiting for 'Niel the Wheel' to grab them before they were crushed by some heavy handed armour clad down hill rider with hairy legs and baggy pants.

But now having served me well and having been repaired countless times I was thinking that I'd like to replace them with a set of alloy guards. The problem with them stemmed from their plastic nature and their lack of resistance to heavy handed baggage handlers while being flown from one country to the next. I have them set up so they can be removed relatively quickly but they still take some knocks. Over the years I suppose plastics harden and the UV sun in New Zealand is not kind.
So a new set of hard wearing alloy guards was next on my wish list. I search the normal stockists for such a thing and come up empty handed. ( No surprises there.) I turn my sights to the more boutique suppliers making practical gear for real cyclists but find that the gear is firstly ugly, secondly expensive, and finally made in Asia.
So once again I turn to my favourite supplier (EBay). I find English Bluemels alloy mudguards, NOS. They will fit the 26" wheels of my bike, they look awesome and they are new from the 1980's. Thank you EBay. But the price! $$$$$$$$$$
I don't care about the price though because nothing for a bicycle can ever cost as much as a car or kid. The next day I went down to my bike workshop to check out a pair of similar guards that I had stored there from a 27"/ 700C touring bike. Yes I decided , I wanted those in the 26" size for the Mercian. Can you believe that upon trying these 700C muddies on the bike for looks, I came to the conclusion that they would fit the Mercian perfectly saving me the $$$$$$ for the ones on EBay!
Life's a joy isn't it.
Don't be Fooled by the Scenery, the Sand flies around here Take No Prisoners.

I'm forgetting the topic for this blog however. By the next day the rain and wind was gone and I was off on my 200km ride to Reefton. I was still suspicious of the weather so left my old long guards on. Anticipating a tail wind from the x cyclone saw me very despondent when the first 100kms turned out to be a head wind. I was having a slow death until I forced myself to stop at Owen River Hotel for two ice creams and a huge Coca Cola. The wind finally died before I did and later having had more lollie water and some solid food I finally hit my form cruising into Reefton in the rain but with good spirits. I'd booked a cabin at the camp ground for the pricely sum of $25. It's great to see that some places still aren't trying to extract a King's ransom for everything. You do have to go out of your way to find them though.
Keeping an Eye on my Bike & Chubby Cheeked Truckers in the Background.

The next morning I started my 250km ride to Christchurch in persistent West Coast drizzle. I felt good though and at the 40km mark I stopped for breakfast and while I ate it the sun came out. Twas great to be out eating my high calorie junk food while watching Truckee's playing with their trailer units, all the time tucking shirts in to try and keep their bum cracks from showing. I can't really report much about the following 150kms of central South Island cycling except to say that the scenery was pleasant and the weather agreeable. I've cycled this route so often now that it has become quite predictable. Lunch at the 200km mark involved scoffing down more energy drink and a pie. I knew that time would be tight so I got going without delay. Although I carry lights I wanted to be all done and dusted by 8.30pm when the sun set. Traffic volumes increased as I neared Christchurch and with it a disproportional number of retards in bigger displacement Fords and Holdens. (Cars that I believe will soon be consigned to the scrap heap in Aussie where they are still manufactured, but not for very much longer).

I was in my cabin by dark and with a full tummy, having feasted on fish & chips 10kms up the road.
The next day I met up with Adi, and while she cycled back home to Nelson, I packed the Mercian into the rental car that she had arrived in and drove home.
East Coast.

And the net end result of this 450kms over 2days ... A gain in weight due to too much junk food and a decision to just give up on my evening sit-ups. Evening sit-ups that I had been doing since coming back from cycling across Canada last year.
What's the point? Next spring I start training for Paris - Brest- Paris. In fact if winter gets too boring  Adi and I may have to jet off somewhere cheap and get some early miles in.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Autumn is Here.

Autumn Cycling Blues.
In an Attempt to Enjoy my Commute on the Cycleways more, I have added a Horn. I can now Scare Pedestrian's Better.
Autumn is here and we have a big fat anticyclone covering New Zealand. Calm settled weather with no rain to speak of. Great cycling weather you might think. And of course you would be correct. The temps although not hot, are pleasant and there is no wind to speak of. But as for sun, there's not a lot of that with the Tasman Province covered by cloud. Anti cyclonic gloom they call it. It fits my mood. I'm uninspired. I know that winter is around the corner and having reached  a good level of fitness, and having held it long enough to complete some worthwhile summer rides I wonder now if I should bother trying to sustain it into the winter. Maybe I'll just sit on the couch with a coffee and a bit of chocolate each day until I revert to 'Niel the Wheel Plus'. That's the winter version of me that can happily ride 100kms but not a lot more because he's carrying  five extra kilos and there's really not sufficient daylight for more kilometres anyway.
My objectives for the summer have been met. I have trained myself to ride 200km plus day rides without any problems and have familiarised myself with what it will be like next spring when I start trying to qualify for the Paris - Brest - Paris.
I have a few niggles though. One of these is the fact that my Adi is on the Kiwi Randonneur club list as having ridden an official 200km event and I have not yet ridden any official event. I am a member with no brownie points. I am one of those poor buggers who join things but have not contributed to the faith. I could blame the fact that I work in the weekends or the lack of available funds to travel to the events ( which are scattered around New Zealand) but the truth is that I have not made the effort to attend a meet and Adi has.
Another thing that prevents me from couching out until next spring is Adi's desire to host a randoneurring event around Nelson. I suggested a few weeks ago that we use my favourite 200km plus circuit. Good she said, but we will need to ride it again to get all the distances for the  Q sheet. I was now a little concerned that I might not be able to complete it. But good old Adi got me up early, fed me bacon and eggs and shoved me out the door almost on time. She then hopped on her bike and we were away. Four hours later when I was finally getting in the swing of things Adi then told me that this circuit was way to hard (masochistic hills, and a patch of gravel) and that she was going to change the course. "No way I retorted,   this is my favourite course and I've warmed into it now".
We agreed to part company. She headed off with the pen and paper to take notes on her new improved course and I continued on the 'Niel the Wheel' extravaganza. And since I was out and the weather at the time was good I threw a few extra bits in making up a 260km loop and not getting home until dark. The result of the whole thing though is that we are hosting for the randonnering club Adi's 200km ride next month and I need to be fit enough to complete it. If I don't do it she will then have two official club rides under her belt and I will be a sorry arse with none!
I suppose I could say at the moment that even though summer is winding down and I'm lacking a bit of get up and go, Adi is all the motivation I need.
Her final plan this month is to ride 450kms home from her Knee specialist appointment in Christchurch. She plans to spend 3 days doing this next week. But in order for the whole thing to work she needs someone to drive the rental car home from Christchurch. I suggested that I could keep the home fires burning while she sorts all this out and cycles home. She suggested that I could cycle down to Christchurch and drive the rental home. The thought of this actually appeals to me. I could cycle down in two days. Two 200km + days sounds pretty good to me now. But that is only because right now I am on the couch. Next week I will be getting up at 7am to start cycling South.
Of course I 've said I'll do it. By this time next week I will have completed my first day and I really hope its not raining. It wont be nice riding South in the rain. A quick check of the long range weather forecast seems to indicate that the tail end of a cyclone is on the way. I have to do it though because the rental car, and cabin for my overnighter have been booked.
What Fun. A Bike Work-stand Like the Pros.

It was my birthday a month ago and I decided to indulge myself with a cycle related gift. Just to be different you understand, I got myself something that would be useful to Adi as well. I ordered a cycle workshop stand from the bike shop. And since this gift to myself cost more than the gift I got Adi for her birthday I promised her I would get cracking on all the little jobs her bike needed and I had put off. (But only once the stand arrived).
Well, it took so long for this stand to arrive that I risked having my birthday with no new cycle gear!!!
Adi, bless her heart, realising that disaster was about to strike and not being able at short notice to procure me a pair of crochet cycle gloves, that she knew I needed, managed to get me a crackingly good long distance bike book.
Two weeks after my birthday the stand finally arrived. I'm not mad because I got two presents.
Today we mortgaged the house and got a load of wood in for the winter (A figure of speech to indicate how much it costs to stay warm in New Zealand). I stacked and Adi was a complete tosser all day. I have learnt over the years that when stacking firewood you have to allow sufficient air to pass around the pieces in order for them to dry out. To that end Adi and anyone with a German or Swiss passport is refused permission to stack in our woodshed. Wood must be stacked in a slapdash manner to ensure good drying. Winter hasn't even started yet and Adi is already getting itchy feet. So I'm not sure how much of the firewood we'll get through.

 Three days ago my wife was mulling over another 'Around the World Cycle' attempt. Yesterday she admitted that this would not only cost too much but it would involve too much hassle housing the cats and other home logistics.
That reality is that we have been cycling around the world since 1988 when we first straddled our bikes and headed for Tasmania. But I think Adi will have to head out somewhere before the end of winter. She cant help herself and I'm certainly not going to say no to a mini winter tour in Aussie or Malaysia. Adi hasn't cycled across Aussie so I think she wants to sort that. I'm certainly not going to cycle across the Nullabor again so it will have to be top to bottom or maybe bottom to top?
The neighbours are harvesting the grapes. So there must be a cyclone coming. Nice grapes they are too. Much too tasty for wine. They do leave a sticky residue on the inside of your saddle bag though. I've learnt not to stuff too many in at any one time.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Kiwi Brevet 2014 Continues.

Day 3.
Springs Junction to Otira.      220 kms
I pack up my tent quickly where I pitched it the night before, conscious of the fact that not only am I close to the road but that there is a tourist lodge nearby and I’m sure that that class of people won’t want a grubby cycle traveller camped on their front door step. No other cyclists have passed while I perform this and in no time I’m on my bike and have covered the 4kms to Springs Junction where I stop for an energy drink and other small morsels that I now can’t recall. I’m impatient to get to Reef ton a further 40kms on and over the Rahu Saddle. I need to get there by 9am in order to be on Schedule for today’s ride. At this stage I don’t know where I will end up but in training for the event I left Reef ton at 9am in order to get through the Big River Track and Waiuta Track. So that’s what I want to replicate today. The ride over the Saddle is easy and I role into Reef ton bang on time to find Vaughn just about to leave. He apparently got there last night but must have had a late start.
I grabbed a breakfast of filled rolls, the usual coke and a rather nice custard pie. I pondered on whether to take food with me on this leg through the bush but decided against, packing only a couple of packets of sweeties. I was confident that I could get through the track and out to Ikamatea by early afternoon. When I practised this section I had pouring rain but today the weather was lovely raising my spirits. So without further delays I was off after Vaughn out of town and up into the old Gold Miner’s trails. So far my bike had run beautifully but I was noticing that with the dust my gear changing was stiffer than normal. I worried that I could break a gear cable and toyed with the idea of buying a new cable at the bike shop in Reef ton before I left. But in the end Reef ton residents are obviously not early risers because by 9.30am when I left the bike shop was still not open. I decided to take the chance.

The Big River trail was un-eventful. My thoughts as I cycled through turned to how dusty and sticky that I felt after yesterday’s ride and a night in the tent. I tried to give myself a bit of a clean-up in the Big River but short of stripping completely and dunking myself in the river it was a waste of time. The Waiuta trail (next on the agenda) was pretty much a walk festival with my bike and its slick tyres. However I was pleased to see that rangers had cleared up a number of fallen trees that I had encounter when I was last through so progress was better than expected.  Thinking that by now Vaughn must be well ahead I got quite a surprise to find him coming up behind me and lamenting that he had taken a wrong turn and had cycled 10kms off course. I let him go ahead and continued my walk out of the track. The almost deserted gold mining town of Waiuta is at the end of the track and from here a gravel road heads downhill through native bush and out to the main road and town of Ikamatua.  I loved this section and the Mercian sailed over the gravel with no problems. My spirits were high because I knew that now I had just the odd gravel road on the west coast to negotiate and then the main sealed road over the Southern Alps (Arthurs Pass) to Sheffield on the Canterbury Plains. Years ago I used to race this leg in the annual Grey mouth to Christchurch bike race and later I used to ride it as a training ride with Nelson cycle buddies. It’s a road I really enjoy in any conditions. When I was a kid of 13yrs my mates and I used to tour through Arthurs Pass during the school holidays.
At this stage of the event Vaughn never ceased to surprise me. I arrived at the Ikamatua store to find Vaughn still there having lunch and getting his stuff together. He left and I go in for multiple ice-creams, drink and filled rolls for later. Andrew Scott and another couple of cyclists arrived as I  was about to depart. They asked me how far I was headed. I looked at my h/bar clock to discover that it was only about 2.30pm. It was going to be a strong headwind to Blackball but I figured after that, as we turned east towards the pass, we would be getting a good tail wind. I told them I had no idea, but inwardly I felt so good that I figured that I could get to Arthurs Pass township if I had the inclination to ride the steep pass in the dark. This was a reoccurring feeling for me throughout the brevet. A feeling of only being limited by the amount of daylight hours and whether I could be bothered to pitch the tent in the dark. Putting up with freedom camping each night. My desire to get clean had not gone away. I thought later as I cycled along that if I rode strongly I might make Otira and the pub before it closed. I could then have a meal and a hot shower. I’d stay the night and do the leg to Sheffield the next day.
Well, darkness fell and I was still riding towards Otira at 10pm. Previously I had completed the gravel sections of the course around Bell Hill. This had slowed me down and although scenic I just wanted my shower. After riding for 12hours I was in no mood to be harassed by what appeared to be a particulary viscous sheep dog (big too) while climbing the gravel road towards the scenic reserve. When that dog snarled and headed straight at me what he hadn’t counted on was the fact that just a couple of years earlier I had been riding through Bolivia where stray dogs really are hungry and usually attack in packs. So I didn’t flinch at his head on attack nor did I change direction. His head hit the back wheel with some force, enough to knock me slightly sideways. But that was the end of it, I carried on as if nothing had happened and he went off with a sore snout. I later found that a sizeable chunk of my rear sidewall had been taken out by one of his fangs.
At 10.30pm I arrived at Otira to find that the pub was closed and even more annoying was the sight of 3 brevet bikes parked inside. Happy brevet people having showers and going to bed on silk pillows. I decided then and there that I would have my shower in the morning and a full cooked breakfast. So I pitched my tent in the paddock next to the pub and went to sleep munching on the dinner I’d bought in Ikamatua, Adi’s sausages that she’d given me for the road and lots of sweets.
Riding up to Arthurs Pass was not now an option as I saw no easy way to score a shower up there in the morning.
Day 4.
Otira to Lees Valley.    135kms
I woke up at 7am and packed my tent away. The Otira pub was open and just as I was contemplating my shower and English cooked breakfast Vaughn turned up. Once again Vaughn had taken a wrong turn and ended up backtracking to get back in the game. Vaughn seemed to be making a habit of early starts (4am) and then losing his way later in the day. So while I negotiated a hot shower with the publican and put my order in for a full on breakfast, Vaughn was grabbing fast food for the ride up Arthurs Pass. (Or maybe a push as he was using a single speed).
The shower was like heaven, ample hot water and big cuddly towels to dry myself off on. But what of the three cyclists that I realised were staying when I arrived last night? There now seemed to be no sign of them save from a few puddles on the bathroom floor. When I had finally shampooed and rinsed enough and had retired to the pub kitchen I asked the publican what time they had left.
“4am”he replied. They left at 4am!!! Honestly, what normal cyclists would leave at that time in the morning? Finally it dawned on me that the people around me seemed to honestly be treating this as a race and not a social ride. Well I was happy to do the odd long day but there was no way I’d be getting that keen. I did make a mental note though to ride a bit more seriously when I was on the bike and not amble so much.
While I was eating breckie Andrew Scott and another couple of pedlars turned up, threw some food down and were gone up the Pass. I asked the publican for a coffee refill and decided that I would not stop now until Sheffield on the other side of the Southern Alps. I easily had fuel for the 100kms through, and the weather was sunny with a good tail wind. Then I was on my bike riding up the pass with a good tail wind making the steeper sections easily tolerable. As I rocketed into Arthurs Pass township I suddenly realised that I was required to phone in for the organisers here. So I changed plans and stopped long enough to due this duty, grab some water and observe all the others having breakfast and in the case of one, loose his entire twin pack of sandwiches to a kea. I’ve never seen a pack of sandwiches disappear so quickly into the surrounding bush. Vaughn gave chase but came back empty handed.
The 100 odd kilometres across the Southern Alps went so quickly that I really can’t say too much about it. The bike sang alone with the tail wind. The altitude kept the temperature at bay and I saw nobody except the one brevet rider I past near Flock Hill. Springfield was my next stop for lunch and to resupply for the extended period to come without any services. I packed sandwiches for tomorrow’s breakfast, two big bits of bacon and egg pie for dinner and some cans of fruit for dessert. Then it was back up into the backcountry to the Whafedale Track and Lees Valley. I’d not been along the Whafedale track for a number of years and I had never used the Lees valley route. This is an old early settler’s route North towards Hurunui. According to the blurb all manner of self-propelled vehicles have traversed the Whafedale Track so I was pretty happy when I finally made the track head and was advised by the sign that walkers could get through in 4 hours. I got there at about 3pm so felt so comfortable time wise that I relaxed by using the long-drop toilet. A long-drop toilet with a spectacular view of the Canterbury plains stretched out below.
The ride to the summit of the Whafedale was pretty good and as expected. The rest of the track was horrendous. I don’t know whether all the slips were a result of the Canterbury earthquake or from erosion but big bits of the track were missing and regular bike hauling was required. At times I barely had the strength to drag my bike up the banks or over the obstacles. At times I was truly scared that I would lose my Mercian over the side while perched on a 5 inch piece of track while rounding a bluff.
Arthurs Pass TownShip.

It was after losing the Mercian down a steep bank that I realised that half of my dinner was missing from the rear bag. One big piece of bacon and egg pie had jumped ship and was now destined to be weka food. I walked back along the track looking for it but to no avail. Finally the track hut arrived and I signed the register before making the last effort out to the 4 wheel drive road on the other side. By this time I had used the full 4 hours and some and it was getting towards dusk. I would have liked to get to Lees Valley but didn’t fancy putting the tent up again in the dark while being attacked by sand-flies. So I pitched at the track head and quickly got inside to have what was left of my dinner and an early night.
Sometime later I was rudely awakened by Andrew Scott and friends banging about outside shouting “Hello Niel the Wheel, is there a mechanic in the house?”
“Piss off and come back during normal business hours” was my reply. To which they did and I last heard them stomping off down the river bed in the dark after refilling their drink bottles.
They had the last laugh though because I found out later that one of the guys had found my bacon and egg pie and he told me that it was very nice.
Day 5.
Lees Valley to Rainbow Road.       150kms
This leg of the brevet was for me the least inspiring and the most tedious. After packing the tent away the day got off to a bad start when I found that the 4 wheel drive track out to Lees Valley was virtually un follow able as it cut in and out of the river and I ended up following stock trails until finally finding a farm trail that led out to the gravel road leading up the Lees Valley. I heard later that some of the guys trying to follow this trail in the dark got lost. Others were lucky enough to have someone with them that had done the brevet before and knew what to expect. I wondered how Vaughn would go on this section when he came across it.
Stock herding was in process along the Lees Valley when I got there so all traces of cycle tracks had been obliterated by the many hoof prints. As well as making the trail harder to follow it gave me now no evidence as to who was up ahead on bikes and how close they might be. Adding to my lack of drive in this section was weather that could be best described as grey and drizzly. Just to round off my discontent was the innumerable number of farm gates that needed opening and closing. Up and down over one eroded farm hill after another. When what seemed like an eternity I finally popped out onto the gravel roads of the Hurunui hinterland only to lose my way slightly and go too far south to Wakari.
This wasn’t all bad though because by now the wind had changed to a cold southerly and once again would be at my back as I headed north towards Hamner Springs and the rain had not come to anything. I eagerly scoffed pies and apple turnovers in Wakari. Lunch never tasted so good having not had breakfast. I opted on eating all of the food I had left for dinner the night before after losing my pie on the trail. Breakfast consisted of just sweeties. (Not such a bad life, but not sustainable).
Sealed road and a tail wind once again beckoned and I arrived in Hamner Springs in good time and catching up with all the guys who went past me the night before as I camped on the Whafedale. It was here that I made one of the few tactical errors of my brevet. I decided to have a sit down meal at a restaurant and then ride up over Jacks Pass and camp in the Rainbow. The sit down meal was not a mistake, but leaving Hamner Springs that night was. Before the meal the guys riding on restocked at the supermarket where Andrew Scott tried to get me to go 1/3’s on a 3 pack of warm socks.
“What are you thinking about Andrew? I don’t need socks at this stage. I’ll be finished tomorrow evening”.
I then had a nice chat to Ian Depoff during my meal and then headed up Jacks Pass in the now rain bordering on sleet. Andrew and co. had gone on ahead but I soon caught them at the top of the pass putting on every bit of warm clothing that they had. I went past after a brief conversation about what the heck  we were doing and should we go back. I had a full stomach and a tent so there was no way I was going back. And they too chose to carry on. I suppose when you have cycled over the Andes in snow storms, crashing in Lama huts you get a different view on what constitutes hardship. But it was cold, and in terms of the event it would become clear that camping up there was in no way a good strategy.

I carried on until dark and then pitched the tent in the shelter of a stock shed. Andrew and co. arrived a bit later on and decided that on account of there being way too much cow shit about that they would camp 10kms up the road at an abandoned hut.
Andrew, I should have bought the socks! It was a cold night in the tent with just a summer sleeping bag and no lama skins to keep me warm.
Day 6.
Rainbow Road to Blenheim.          200km.
One consolation, and there always is one, is that there were no sand flies for the first time in ages. I was packed up and away by 8am. Once again I had to catch the early starters, who had started before dawn in Hamner Springs and were now cruising past my tent. In this case I felt that they had made the correct decision enjoying a bed and hot shower instead of a frigid night and a dung mattress in the tent.
I took no prisoners on my last day and rode by at least six breveters, bouncing from one bounder to the next on the Mercian as they spun their insanely low gears and enjoyed the opulence of their full suspension. Riding on my own for the full brevet had made me somewhat selfish and focused on just getting to the finish line now.  I was bunny hoping a group of 4 for a while as they overtook me on the looser sections and I hammered past on the hills. Then one of the 4 blew his rear tyre and I left them to it knowing that they had ample resources and if the shoe was on the other foot I would be fending for myself.
I shot out of the Rainbow Road expecting a tail wind down the Wairau Valley to Blenheim only to find out at the intersection that the cold wind was not a Southerly but a Northeaster and in my face for the last 100kms. I opted not to restock with food in St Arnaud but just to go with what I had and do the rest on an empty stomach.
The gravel road on the North bank of the Wairau was best forgotten with fist size shingle that I almost couldn’t ride through with my slick tyres and one section called circuit road that I’m sure was put in just too personally piss me off. Going up into the hills at gradients I couldn’t ride with my touring gears, just to come back down again to re-join the valley road a bit further along!
My annoyance and reluctance to do this circuit was mainly brought about by the disintegration of my cycle shoes. The right sole of my Sidi MTB shoes had virtually parted company from  the upper shoe due to previous wet river crossings and the large amount of trail walking I had previously done. I was concerned at this late stage in the event that without a right shoe I might not be able to finish the event. I had tried to use a toe strap to keep it all together with very limited success. What I needed was duct tape. But in the forest finding some might prove problematic.
The forestry signs indicated 4kms to go of this horrendous gravel and then sealed road until the end in Blenheim, although be it with a strong headwind. At this stage a group of 4 breveters caught me up and over took me without much to say as I swum around in the gravel.  If the lack of friendly banter was not bad enough, on passing the back markers kept looking around to see if they had dropped me.
Well it may have appeared rude on my part but on the next gravel hill, and unfortunately for them there were hills, I banged the Mercian in a big gear and wheel spinned past them, rode the last section of gravel in a very sketchy manner and then on hitting the seal put the hammer down and didn’t look up until I had reached Renwick shouting at regular intervals along the way….”Take that”.
In fact I rode that last section so quickly that I past yet more breveters who had stopped in Renwick for something to eat. It was dusk and I wanted to finish in Blenheim with enough time to get a motel and dinner so I hammered on.
And for anyone who cares I finished at 9.15pm and in about 15 or 16th place.
But what was more important to me was that I not only managed to get a nice motel with all the extras but had time to get to Pac & Save before it closed. Back at the motel I spent the night eating bad for me food and having hot showers. I managed in 4 hours to use every coffee sachet provided and watch a couple of movies on Sky.
Finally Finished.

Would I do it again?  
Certainly, apart from minor nerve damage in my right hand I was unscathed.
How would I do it differently?
I would recognise it as a race from the start and would pre book accommodation along the way now I know where I can easily get to. That would enable me to go without a tent and bed roll. I think doing it that way I could not only knock off a bit of time but I’d be cleaner, better fed and have an even lighter bike to pull through the track sections.
Would I change my bike?
Don’t be silly. It was perfect.

Thanks to the Kennet brothers and their friends for organising, what I regard as an awesome event.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Kiwi Brevet 2014

Getting to the Event.
The Vespa is acting strangely, Adi advised as she came back on it from a trip to Wakefield. That’s all I needed as later that day I had planned to load it up with my supplies for the Kiwi Brevet, strap my Mercian to the back and then drive the 100kms to the event start in Blenheim. I’d even gone to the bother of arranging a safe place to keep it for the week that I would be cycling the event. Problems with the Vespa now were problems I could do without. The Vespa is normally very reliable, but Adi reported that it was acting erratically under braking. I figured it could be shock absorber problems, a front wheel bearing or the tyre pressure at fault. Tyre pressure I could sort out as I gave the scooter its pre- drive clean and check, anything else more serious discovered and it would mean using Moto 1 (our other Vespa). Adi and I both own a Vespa 200cc and both have the capability to transport a bicycle on the back. We jokingly call them Moto 1 and Moto2 after the Tour de France’s camera men’s bikes. Moto 2 was currently warranted and registered (rare for us) but Moto 1 wasn’t. So I really wanted to use my bike. But if all else failed I had provided each Vespa with an easy off number plate, which carried the warrant and reg, so that they could in a minute be swapped between the two scooters.

In the end this wasn’t necessary as tyre pressure, or lack of it was found to be the cause. So Moto 2 was cleaned, checked, and the bicycle fitted ready for the drive to Blenheim and the race start. The Brevet started the next day at 12 noon but I had decided to go the day before so there were no stressful hiccups and then camp the night in Springs Creek.  Jo from Avanti Plus in Richmond had kindly vollunteed her sisters place as a drop off point for Moto 2. Once everything was loaded aboard, the ride there was un eventful with the Vespa not missing a beat and consuming the mind blowing amount of$ 6 petrol over the duration.
The Mercian was unloaded and kitted up for the Brevet event the following day. The Vespa was parked and covered to protect it from the harsh Blenheim sun and ‘Niel the Wheel’ was then off to the Spring Creek camp ground.
Mr Camp Ground manager accepted us in and the tent was pitched. Its hungry work driving a Vespa with all that stress and negative energy being generated by lazy truck drivers and SUV’ers trying constantly to get past what they perceive is an inferior vehicle, even though the said vehicle is cruising at the legal speed limit and has 3 x the class that their Hyundai has. One half a scoop of chips, two battered sausages and a potato Pattie that I couldn’t eat solved the hunger problem. All washed down with a litre of yellow fizzy drink. The yellow fizzy being a case of thinking ahead for Niel, as he realised for the next week he would be drinking plenty of Coca Cola, so he should in this case try to drink something different. The Potato Pattie problem was simply a miss understanding between the shop owner and the customer who thought a potato flip was the same thing as a potato Pattie. (Silly of me!).
All in all I thought, Day 0 had gone perfectly to plan. Perfectly to plan with the exception of two minor instances. The first issue that continues to bug me whenever I am in a communal toilet / shower complex like the one used at the Spring Creek motor camp is; why when I am in the shower having a wonderful time lathering myself and checking whether my legs once again need a shave, someone has to come in, and after having some smoke induced coughing fit and spitting episode (common also in 3rd world countries and France) then sits down on the toilet and produce the slinkiest drop you can imagine. Not only is ‘Niel the Wheel’ trapped in the shower trying to hold his breath but the hot shower is creating a draught , drawing in all that foul air and funnelling it past his noise and out of the top of the shower!.
The second minor problem encounted at this time off the day was my apparent lack of foresight when it came to packing my tooth brush. Bugger.
Fate was on my side here though as upon exiting the shower, what was sitting next to the wash hand basin but a near new tooth brush!
I leave you to decide whether I used it. I was in pristine condition with no deformation of bristles. Placed as if a gift next to the basin.

Day 1.   Event Day.
Blenheim to Brightwater      200kms
A 12 noon start seemed really my cup of tea as it meant that I didn’t need to get up early and could start the event as I intended to finish it, in a relaxed and orderly fashion. A pie and Coke from the corner store and a short ride to the briefing, where I signed something to the effect that if I was never seen again then it was nobody’s fault but my own and that they could then inherit my Mercian and cotton cycle cap collection.
A pre-lunch picnic with Ian (the only other Mercian owner Brave enough to take this event on), and a chat to Alex and Diane (my consultant in all things travel, and who also knows how to handle herself on a bike), helped to calm the nerves. ‘Niel the Wheels’ nerves were nerves of steel up until this point. Even after Ian put away the picnic basket and excited fellow racers / eventers had deemed the Mercian’s fit to race the nerves were still un flappable. That is until Nathan Faevae started discussing race tactics. What were my race tactics? Race until I dropped? Start out fast?
Well shit no. I didn’t have any tactics. In fact I wasn’t even thinking of this as a race. But now I realised that deep down, although not out in the open, most eventers were in fact closet competitors. I did however know that my body and bike were good for the distance and I was pretty sure that the Brevet couldn’t throw anything more at us that we hadn’t encounted before during cycle tours or training rides.
12 noon was struck and I pointed M.U.M (Mercian Urban Machine) east and followed the peloton out of Blenheim and towards the Port Underwood road. The Port Underwood Road I had vague memories of after a day trip along it with Adi about 4 years ago. I remember an extremely hilly gravel road with hot long dusty sections and then a monster hill at the end as you approached Picton. Four years ago Adi hit the wall and then told me to go on ahead and get the car. This scenic adventure had been enough for both of us. After hammering to Picton and getting the car as is so often the way, Adi  after shedding herself of me and then sending me off on what I perceived as a mersey mission roles into the destination only 15 to 20mins behind.( I fall for it every time.)
Blenhiem Start.

So on this current ride I was expecting a similar cycle of hills and heat. In reality because I was surrounded by so many other eventers I hardly noticed it. My outstanding memory is of how well my Mercian handled the gravel (as I had fitted 26 x 1.75 slick Swalbe Touring Tyres), and of people telling me to change down and not smash such large gears. The Mercian’s gearing system is not of this century but stems from the 1950’s so quite honestly it’s easier not to change unless you really have too. And when you do eventually need first gear it will consist of only a 32 x 28 as Campagnolo won’t make anything lower than that, so no reason to get excited there. The Mercian and I were toughing it out and the only bother was the ample dust. Dust that coated everything thickly and further prevented me from gaining ac cess to my 32 tooth small chainwheel ring. While grunting up yet another climb in my 42 x 28, I heard what appeared to sound like a horse and trap clicking, creaking and heavily breathing up behind me. “Hello Niel” Nathan said as he cruised by. “Dean tells me this noise will go away after a few hundred kilometres”.
I didn’t have the heart to tell Nathan that in my ernst opinion something on that bike was quickly consigning itself to the rubbish bin. And that proved to be the case after 300kms when Nathan had to detour to Greymouth for a whole host of new bits to keep him on the road. (He still managed to finish 2nd overall though). Dean was of course accurate in his assumption that the noise would go away at a later stage once the freewheel had self-destructed. (Note to Mercian engineers; Niel’s $15 cluster and freewheel worked faultlessly the whole trip.)
I felt so good in Picton that I stopped only briefly for ice-cream and coke. I felt so good in Havelock that I stopped only to have a pee and remove myself from the group that I had been riding in. I have to say at this point that I was coming to terms with the strengths and weaknesses of my rigid touring bike and tyres (essentially what we used to call a roadster), and I had made the assumption that on a sealed road I was quicker than most of the others who were riding suspended mountain bikes. On the gravel I was a little loose in my style due to the slicks but just as fast over all especially on the climbs and of course on the single track and rough stuff I was way slower, a regular dogs dinner. So on account of this I knew I would be riding on my own in the rough sections and felt that there was no way I was going to help the group along on the seal or gravel just to be ditched later on.
I’d decided to ride alone at my own speed and converse only when I encounter people at food stops along the way. Converse I did at Pelorus Bridge where at 6pm a big group of us had dinner. For me dinner was meat quiche, ice-cream and coke. In the reverse order because otherwise my ice-cream would melt while waiting for the quiche. I got adventurous here by opting for vanilla coke (my favourite).
I left toot sweet after dinner not waiting for after dinner mints or final coffees as I knew the next section over the dreaded Maungatapu trail would punish my bike and have me descending into Nelson in the dark. This back way now closed to everything except opossums  and mtbers lived up to expectations with me having to push my bike some distance up to the summit ( which I gained at night fall) and all the way down the other side in the pitch dark. Highlights for this section were the occasional eventer with mtb and decent lights showing me really how it’s done and the sight of banks of glow worms. It really was a lovely night made better when I finally saw the orange lights of the Maitai dam to my left.  The dam caretaker’s house with lights blazing also raised my spirits but not as much as the gate across the road signalling the end of the track and the return to civilisation. That gate with its lovely wooden hue lit up in my lights. A gate I Knew well, resplendent with ‘Closed to all Vehicles ‘written in bold print on the sign securely attached.
Contestants still passed me as I made my way out towards Nelson on the gravel Maitai road but I wasn’t concerned as I knew that most would be stopping in Nelson for the night and I had plans to sleep in my own bed in Brightwater, a further 25kms on. I arrived in Nelson at 10.30pm and was home in Brightwater by 11.30pm with just enough time to have a hot shower and eat the dinner that Adi had pre prepared. A kiss on the cheek and ‘Niel the Wheel’ was tucked into bed by 12 midnight and bang on schedule.
Day 2.
Brightwater to Springs Junction     200kms
Shit! The mantle clock is chiming 7am and I’ve got to be away by 8am sharp. I’m up and dressed before I realise that the clock is chiming 7am when it is only 6am. And in true’ Niel the Wheel’ fashion I don’t take advantage of the extra hour, I just go back to bed.
(Getting out of bed on day two was the part of the event that I felt would be hardest for me personally and I actually did it twice.)
Up again at 7am and my Adi has not only made me bacon and eggs for breakfast but has also fried up 6 sausages for me to take along for the ride. Cold sausages are the bees Knees for eating on the go and they seem to keep ok as well even in a hot sweaty back pocket. Just dust the fluff off and eat. The meat eater’s banana. It was a sunny ride up to the Lake with a light tail wind. This is a ride that I have done so many times and in such extreme conditions at times (gale force headwinds in spring and sleet in the winter) that I found it pleasant during the Brevet. I saw no one else on the ride up but found the usuals drinking coffee and eating pies outside the St Arnaud shop when I arrived. Andrew Scott had the bandaged wounds from a spill on the Maungatapu the night before, a sight that surprised me as I expressly advised him to take it carefully down there when I last saw him at the top.
Just when I thought the morning couldn’t get any better Brenda Clapp (Bob) offered me a free coffee that Chris had got her and that she didn’t want. I’ve learnt over the years not to get fussy with coffee. If it’s free and it’s got caffeine in it I’ll take it any way. And at that point I didn’t think I’d get another during the event because I refuse to pay the highway robbery price that people are expected to pay in NZ for a caffeine fix. Unlike yesterday none of the others seemed that urgent in getting off so once I’d eaten my pie, drunk my Coke, and finished Bob’s coffee, I was off alone. The way I like it.
You Can't Beat the Scenery in Back-Country New Zealand.

A couple of the guys caught me in the very rough Porika Track further on but I was pretty much in a world of my own surrounded by lovely scenery on a hot sunny day. The Braeburn Trail followed and I was careful this time not to get my feet wet in the fords as it’s not good for my shoes. I had previously trained through here and had attacked the fords with such gusto that I had soaked everything. Unfortunately on that occasion the weather was cold and I had arrived in Murchison with ice blocks for feet. That was not to be the case on this day of extreme temps and a dry headwind. Upon arriving at the public toilets on the outskirts of Murchison I proceeded to drink so much tap water that I got on my bike feeling like a good vomit. Ten minutes later I was outside my dinner stop on main street Murchison feeling like death and in no condition to scoff my intended fish and chips. I lay on a public bench with my head spinning while tourists dragged their fat arses out of camper vans and SUV’s and staring at me as if I was an alien.
I wasted an hour there while my tap water decided whether it would go down or come up. It finally went down and I felt good enough to have 2 cans of fruit, 2 little punnets of ice cream, and of course my fish and chips. While eating this I watched while fellow brevet riders checked into motels and camp grounds. Did I want to check in here? You bet I did. But I knew that I could ride further and now that I had food in my stomach I once again felt that the only thing limiting me was the amount of daylight left. I watched as Vaughn rode past, finished my last batch of chips, and then headed out of town and over the Maruia Saddle in the evening light. Another lovely evening with darkness upon me just as I hit the sealed road on the other side. 
And since I now couldn’t see to find a tent site, I decided to ride all the way to Springs Junction and a freedom site that I remembered from previous trips in this area. Night riding in this section, although easy with a light tail wind, was problematic due to the large number off winged insects. My clear glasses were a bit smudgy but I couldn’t take them off due to the numerous sand flies and moths being attracted by my lights.
The myth that sand flies go to bed after dark is just that in this part of the country, a myth. I arrived at my camp site at 11pm and was bitten alive as I tried to put the tent up in the dark.
Finally I was in the tent and relaxing by 11.30pm. And at this point I would like to say that it is nice to have some followers. But what are you thinking, texting and leaving messages on my phone to ring you back for a chat!! People that I rarely talk to from one year to the next now pick a time when I am in the middle of an endurance event to discuss ……..goodness knows what.
I’ve got to be up in 5 ½ hours, I don’t have time to talk about politics!! We could talk about the weather I suppose. That would be useful information for someone not Wi-Fi connected and who will be freedom camping for the next 4 days. My one form of communication i.e. my old cell phone, is switched off during the day to conserve battery life and I switch it on at night in the tent to receive any urgent messages from Adi. No urgent messages, just people wanting to know where I am. “I am on a bike race. And I don’t have a personal tracker because they cost $80 and I’m too tight to pay that. And finally it’s not supposed to be a race anyway”.
At this stage in the event I am now coming to the realisation that I am deluding myself on that last point. As no one in their right mind rides until 11pm unless they are competing, and as I was to find out later, people are getting up at 4am to get on the road early. I don’t think 4am exists, I’ve never seen it!
 I’m sorry I didn’t ring back but it was past my bed time and my Mum once told me that it is rude to ring after ten anyway.

Day 3.
Springs Junction to Otira.   200kms.
Coming shortly , Adi’s putting dinner out.

Monday, 20 January 2014

My Own Brevette.

The day of my final brevet training ride dawns and it’s blowing a gale. Clearly this wouldn’t be a problem if it was looking like a tail wind. But alas the gum trees at our home are bent over the other way and the thought of riding 200kms into that sort of a headwind causes me to despair. These feelings of anguish are quickly alleviated by cursing the weather Gods and turning over in bed while burying my head in my soft pillow.
The relief is short lived however as the mental torture of knowing that you are using the gale as an easy excuse for not starting the final training days of the Kiwi Brevet 2014 sink in. But really I continued to ask myself throughout the day, would a normal person let a little wind stop them, would they? The wind just continued to grow throughout the day to the point that my softy roadie friends were using it as an excuse to not do the Tuesday evening World Champs. By that stage though I had decided that I couldn’t face another day of guilt. I would leave on my mission tomorrow regardless of the wind. The mission was to ride 200kms to Reefton the first day camping the evening there. Day 2 would see me doing the mountain bike trail between Reefton and Big River and then on to Waiutu. Then riding back to Reefton and on to Springs Junction. The final day would be another 200km circuit home.  I reckoned that if I felt perka after this then I’d be ready for the actual Brevet in 14 days’ time.
Wednesday dawned and the wind was against me but light. I dragged myself out of bed knowing that although I didn’t want to go there was no way I could live with myself if I piked. The problem of course arises when you set yourself these challenges. As is always the case, you set these challenges when you are either zooming along on your bike feeling like a million dollars or you are sitting on the sofa with a coffee thinking about what one could do on a lovely summers day. The reality off getting up on a not so great morning and doing said challenge  is often a different thing entirely.
Anyway I was off on day one half an hour early and in sunny weather I fort a light wind all the way there. I arrived pretty much bang on time although the last 50kms saw me hit the wall a bit due to the last food premises on route having gone out of business the month before. A friend later saw me cycling while he was driving back home in his car. “You looked like you were making hard work of it Niel”.
“It’s called pacing myself for continuous effort while carrying a load!”
Roadie’s aye.
Having the Bike was a bit of a Waste at this Point.

Sticking my head out of the tent on day 2 and the weather was not looking too flash. Gone was the sun and wind. This had been replaced by a muggy, calm grey day. I grabbed a few filled rolls from the corner shop and headed into the hills with all my gear. The first 3 hours were spent riding along a rough 4 wheeled drive road as the weather deteriorated to heavy rain and increasing mist, as my Mercian and I climbed further into the hills. This was terrain that I had never been in before and I was relieved that not only could I ride it but also that it was easily navigated. I wish I could have said the same for the next 3 ½ hours that were spent hauling my bike along a tramping track that was so slippery I could hardly stand up on it in the wet weather and this combined with the fallen trees, awash river beds, slick tyres and camping gear on the bike made for virtually 100% walking. I like to always look on the bright side though and in this case ( since there was definitely nothing bright about the weather) this being the fact that the trail was pretty easy to follow and that the bike was holding together nicely , up until the point where the rear bag support parted company from the bike proper. A good excuse for a late lunch and a bit of Kiwi fix it saw things back to normal.
Then after what seemed like a full days biking or in the case of roadies, a Grand Sportive, I was out of the bush and onto a forestry road that would lead me out and back to civilisation. The problem here though was that the track came out at a T intersection that was not on my map. One way clearly lead out and back to a shower and evening meal while the other led most definitely up onto a rain lashed range , down into the next valley and then nowhere.  Ah you ask, how could I know where the wrong path led?
Well I’ll tell you.
I could only know because that is the way I went. Up onto the range to what was an abandoned mine and then down the other side to a stack of beehives only then to be confronted with a dead end.  I had to at this point tell myself that this is why I was reconnoitring the course ahead of time. 
Waiutu was as Un- pleasant as it Looks.

It was still raining when I arrived back in Reefton looking so filthy that I had second thoughts about how to present myself to the campground reception for check-in. The day’s course required me to go on another 60kms and then freedom camp but sanity prevailed as freedom camping while this filthy is just stupid. I made a mental note at this point to take full length mudguards during the actual event if the weather looks shite. A clean bike is a happy bike and clean camping gear works better in my book. I would also have to say that South Island grit is particularly abrasive on bike parts and bum cheeks. No amount of chamois crème will help if you have a teaspoon of quartz dust missed up with it. Full mudguards if the weather looks bad.
After 70kms of cycling and another 20kms of hauling I was back in my tent listening to the rain drumming  on the nylon.
Day 3 caught me sticking my head once again out of the tent and being welcomed by a sunny day with what looked like a light tail wind for my 200km ride home. I started off quietly optimistic about the wind, pedalling along with the constant grumble of an under oiled, overly gritty transmission and the occasional complaint from my front wheel bearings.
(Second mental note; new transmission for the event and grease and replace bearings. Take oil.)
The tail wind increased in strength throughout the day to the point where not only did I get home well ahead of schedule but while doing so the constant presence of lazy mindless motorists failed to raise my hackles to any degree until near the end of the day when some silly biddy asked me if I needed a lift because of the wind.
Day 3 was a Gift.

I tried to explain to her that a potential problem with the wind is really dependant upon which way you are cycling at the time and in this case it was behind me. But really at the end of the day you are really wasting your time trying to explain these things to motorists as they are a breed apart and will never understand. You are best to keep the conversations short so that they can speed on their way to their next fast food outlet appointment leaving you in peace.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2014 ; New Year's Resolution, More of the Same.

It’s New Year’s Day and my thoughts again have turned to the Kiwi Brevet event in two months’ time. On checking the official site I notice that there are getting on for 100 entrants now. I think therefore that it might be time for me to enter. The cost of entry appears to be nothing.
 On closer examination it seems that I have to make a charitable donation to some cause or other. Luckily for us non giving people, they have made it easy by reducing the choices to just a few organisations. I don’t see the ‘Stop Humans Breeding like Rabbits Foundation ‘on the list or for that matter one of my favourites ‘The Society for the Decriminalisation of Child Discipline’. It’s not all bad though as the charities available are cycling orientated. The rescue helicopter option may even come in handy one day if I fall off my bike somewhere remote.
Looks can be Deceiving. Early Stage of the Porika Track.
 I have made ‘forced’ donations to that one in the past and continue to support them thanks to my long involvement with Westpac Bank. The Westpac helicopter continues to rescue foreigners who set off into the mountains and then get hypothermia and decide they’ve now had enough ,or pluck fisherman from the sea who after a beer or two and a quick ciggy then fall into the surf while not wearing their life-jacket. And when my investments once again come up for renewal and I look at the pathetic interest rate that I am to receive for the next 12months, I can at least feel warm and fuzzy in the knowledge that I am doing my bit to rescue un fortunates.
My last Kiwi Brevet practise just before Xmas went well and taught me a thing or two. After loading up my bike and heading out to do the Porika Track and associated gravel back country cycling I returned home the next day with at least three lessons learned. And in fact that 300km Porika /Braeburn and home circuit was so hard that I’m not going to mention what I learnt because fellow Brevet people may be reading this and hoping to learn stuff the easy way. The easy way being not going arse over kite down the Porika (because it’s so steep and chewed out), or getting virtually no sleep at the half way point because the ground was so hard and cold without a bed roll.
Shepherd's Hut.
I can share other useful points though like the fact that the fish and chips at Murchison are disgusting.  ‘Niel the wheel’s tip in Murch is to not spend more than $10 on fish and chips because they are so yuk that you won’t be able to eat any more than that. Financially buoyant   people will be able to stop at the restaurant but if you do that you may be riding into the wee small hours making up all that lost time, and who’s to say that some tosser won’t nick your bike when you’re in there wine -ing and dining your sorry arse.
Not giving any clues away, but the Porika is so rough that I will now triple wrap my tent due to the constant vibrations wearing through any coverings not made from bullet resistant weave. I took minimal gear with me on the trip but with the exception of needing a sleeping mat have decided in the interests of getting back to Blenheim in time( to get back to work at the bike shop) and with a smile still on my face, I’ll dump some other things that I thought were necessities.
I will now not take my portable barometer and weather station. Gone from the list is my brass compass.  There won’t be room for such luxuries as my combination ‘Browning’ stainless steel knife fork spoon (with integrated can opener).
Realistically now I can’t see myself having time sweet talk any locals, so will take no casual / party clothes. This will be strictly business. If it doesn’t involve me moving forward on my bike then it will not be on the radar.
I need one more overnight training ride to fine tune the bike and gear. More importantly I need to suss out the off road stuff around Reefton. Big River is an area I have never been and mentally I need to know that it’s passable on the Mercian. Even if I have to push or pull the bike through what I believe is the toughest part of the event, I’ll feel better when I’ve done it once. So in a couple of weeks I’ll ride on the road to Reefton 180kms, then the next day do the Big River and back to Murchison ~130km before on the 3rd day riding the long way home (another 180kms).
If I’ve got the energy after that I’ll do a day ride over the Mangataupu as like the other off road sections I fear that the Mercian and I may be doing it tough.
The Braeburn . Wet Feet and ................
...... Mosquitos
The photos attached have reminded me of what I learnt on the Braeburn trail. Firstly you realise how lucky you are to still be alive and operational after crossing the Porika Track. But other than that you learn not to ford the splashes at such a pace that you soak everything on the bike including yourself. This is because you will most certainly not have fully dried out by Murchison and will be frozen while you eat your greasy flavourless fish and chips. You’ve got to grin and bear it though. While you stuff it down you’ll be thinking, tasteless as this fast food is, it’s good for me. Full of salt and carbos and washed down with a litre of coke for electrolyte replacement.
Just what the doctor ordered.