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.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Pre Xmas Stress; Not.

My tickets to Europe have arrived. So that's it I'm going. I don't leave until August next year so have plenty of time to think about it and to finish qualifying for the PBP cycle event.

I have done the 400km pre qualifier and the 200km and 300km qualifier. But still need the 400 and 600km under my belt. The reality of the situation is that I live for cycle touring and whether or not I get into the PBP has no influence on whether I go to Europe. My tickets in effect can't be cancelled anyway. 

As I look at the ticket dates I can see that I will be kicking around in or about Paris for three or four days waiting for the event to start. That's time that I could be cycling towards Northern Norway if I wasn't entered. But the PBP only happens every 4 years so want to make the effort to be part of it.

I'm still very conscious of cycling within the Arctic Circle in autumn so want to get started North as soon as possible. 

Last week I tried to organise a long distance ride of 300 km but ended up as a no show! It was just as well that nobody else bothered to turn up either or things could have been embarrassing. I dragged my arse out of bed in the end and rode my 250km loop telling myself that all was well and that I had better turn up for the 400km ride that I've put on the program next month. I not only need that ride for a qualifier but I'm also pretty sure that some other Audaxers will also turn up for it.

The Christmas frenzy is slowly winding up out there. I can hear the busy little bees zooming up and down along the road beyond our gate. Trying to find another gift to stuff in little Sarah's bulging sack and of course other things that they won't wait for the day for. Of course out on the roads the usual dim wit truck drivers and everyday autonom's continue to practice there selfish driving habits but with the added excuse that they are busy and stressed at this time of year so any smaller road user in their way just shouldn't exist.

My thoughts on that are that it's time for petrol and vehicle registration to go up again as there is clearly to many of them now on the road getting in the cyclist's way. Inconceivable as  it may seem, the price of petrol has just dropped again for the summer season! Encouraging more fat and lazy teenagers to get behind the wheel.

I bought my Xmas present a month ago and have hid it from myself in the garage. Obviously I know what it is and had to have a peek just to make sure that it was all there when it turned up ,but other than that I am prepared to wait for the day before playing with it.

That act of self denial apparently puts me in the more intelligent than average category. Sorry kids, those that can't wait and already have their Xmas gifts are now described in studies as the more mentally challenged in our society. You will grow up to be truckies and pram pushers.

My left crank broke off the other day while out on a recovery ride. It's not every day that a crank breaks and a first time for me. Once I'd picked myself up off the road and  checked that my top tube was unscathed from the whack that my balls gave it I had time to think about the excitement of this rare event happening to me. Almost S exciting as when my front forks broke a few years back. The end result from both these incidents was the same however.... A long walk home. I have to be honest about this and admit that eventually a motorist did stop and offer me a lift the rest of the way home. But it was unsolicited by myself. I wasn't too proud to refuse though. 

When I got home and the reality had finally set in that my 30yr old Campag cranks where toast I was much saddened and apprehensive about how to juggle finances in such away as to afford another set. Vintage Campag on EBay is an exorbitant price. I thought I'd try a long shot and put the word out locally first. 

Jim, a local cyclocross man had not one but a pair of cranksets that he agreed to sell for a fare price. A meeting was arranged and the deal done. In less than three days the Mercian was fully operational again and I have a spare crankset and a still undamaged right Hand crank.

And just to show that life doesn't totally revolve around cycling and travel I have included a photo of the new mini feijoa orchard I hope will be on line in the next year or two.

. A sure sign of Xmas in our parts is the flowering of these little devils. And the fruit is available from the gate everywhere in late Autumn. Once the grapes are finished and that's left around here are kiwi fruit and feijoas. I need to have a bit of that action.

Summers here and the darkest lens are now required in the riding glasses. In case you're wondering, no all these lens didn't come with the glasses. But old lens are often easy to adjust with a file to fit other frames. Variety is the spice of life.

Monday, 27 October 2014

To the Arctic.

Home life is never dull for 'Niel the Wheel'. Having returned home after completing my PBP pre qualifier my Adi informed me that she was going to do the Trans American Cycle Race ( called the TransAm for short) and then fly to Europe to follow me in the PBP before then doing a European cycle tour with me. 

Now like most people I dream from time to time that I can fly or save the world using my super powers, but most of the time, while my eyes are open, I would say that I'm a realist. As a realist I quickly saw this as a desperate attempt to be involved in everything cycling for 2015 with absolutely no way of financially achieving any of it.

I couldn't quite get my head around it all at once, having completed the 400 km 

event and then scootered back from Picton,I was a might groggy up top. 

I could see that Adi needed a goal, something achievable so I strongly suggested that she pick either Europe or the US and go for it. A wonderful fun filled cycle tour with me or a frantic slog across the US with only her bicycle for company. Of course she chose America. I should have guessed that shantytown America would top Paris every time.

So be it. I'm  proud of her for wanting to go out on her own . She always has been more competitive than I am and the thought of a racing / touring mix proved too strong for her. I'm excited for her and will follow her from the comfort of our lounge. It also means that I can look after the house and our 3 boys while she's gone. 

But most of all it means that I can plan my own cycle tour immediately after the PBP that has all the things I like in it. Namely hills , tunnels, and tough and slightly isolated terrain. Now Adi has told me that I am not allowed to further my adventures in Eastern Europe and Asia without her because we both want to do that. And I'm not suppose to go anywhere she hasn't been and wants to go because I'm already a bit ahead on countries due to my Sth American adventures. So things were looking like the med and South until I hatched a plan to go somewhere that I knew Adi would never want to tackle. 

A  place full of huge bridges, long tunnels, mountains, biting insects, rain, more rain and long slogs between towns. O and maybe a bit of snow in the late summer. Sounds good you reckon? Not to Adi. And that's why she has given me the green light to cycle from Paris to Honingsvag and back. 

Honingsvag is at the end of the world and a prettier place would be hard to find. It is situated north of the arctic circle and will mark my turn around point. Assuming I survive my pedal to Honingsvag I will then turn my wheels south through Finland and Sweden back to where my balls can thaw out in Denmark. The only thorn in my tyre over all this is the annoying fact that the PBP event doesn't start until the 16 August  and so I can't start my passage north until after this. ETA at the top of the world will therefore be in Autumn. 

If there is anyone reading my blog (such as this person) who lives in Hammerfest could you please tell me the likelihood of me completing this little jaunt north of you, and returning with all of my fingers and toes un-frosted . I can probably afford to loose a toe or two in each foot. My cycle shoes will then fit better. But I'd rather not loose too many fingers. Google tells me that you lucky chooks in Hammerfest are today enjoying a balmy autumn day of 3C falling to 1C tonight. My drink bottles won't freeze then. 

Adi is a dear, she is so keen to send me off to the arctic next year that she has already completed my itinerary and signed herself up for the TransAm.

Thermals , that's what I'm going to need. Lots of thermals. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Eat Me Out Of House And Home.

I  spend all my time dreaming about cycle rides and pretty girls. 

While I ponder gear ratios and spoke patterns those hard shelled little bastards are eating my house. Season by season they munch away trying to drill out my weatherboards like a 1970's break lever. I know they feel they are doing the right thing, rimu weatherboards are over engineered for their intended use. But as with brake levers I now prefer the smooth unadulterated look. Those little cannibals can piss off ,before my hair is blowing in the breeze while I sit on the couch.

But how to get rid of the little sods? How many holes in a weatherboard constitutes a replacement? One? Ten ? Building supplies staff weren't entirely sure on this one so I came back with mixed opinions and a saddlebag full of preservative and insecticide. I'm resigned to buying new boards where I see a grouping of holes (something resembling a borer village) but I can't see the point in replacing a whole board for your solo dweller. And I have done my homework. I have it on good knowledge that the little humpbacks can hide in there for up to 3 years so if I slosh enough deadly poison on those boards I take off , paint them all over and store them in the bike shed after 3 years cooling off they should be good to use again? Slosh , paint and squirt , that'll do it.

It's simple really, I just have to treat and replace boards quicker than the little dears can eat them. Should be easy.

My smart phone tells me I'm going to have a wet 400 km ride on Saturday. It seems very convinced that I will be a wet puppy. But I won't have a wet arse because if the heavens darken tomorrow I'm putting my mudguards on. Function over fancy any day .

My First Proper Audax Event.

The day is drawing closer when I will attempt my first 400 km event with the audax club. Last week my Adi and I had arranged to do a local 335 km circuit as training for our respective attempts at the 400 km event. We chose different days so that we could each ride it in our own way and also should either of us crash and burn then the other was at home to feed the fur babies and initiate any rescue mission required.

Being forever the gentleman I let Adi have first crack at it. She started with gusto at 4.30 am and had completed the hilly first third of it by morning tea time. I read on face book of her adventures while on the couch with my coffee and chocolate. By afternoon tea time she was still on track having fended off attacking magpies and battling a strong headwind. I sipped my coffee all the time wishing I was there. She was so lucky to be out there doing it! Here I was stuck on the couch reading all about it on social media like some sorry person. By dinner time and with the sun going down Niel the Wheel had just returned from the fish & chip shop to read that Adi had suffered mechanicals in the dark and had called it quits at the 235 km mark. She was apparently sprawled on the plush duvet of a Havelock motel awaiting the owner to deliver bubble and sweak. It now being late and with Adi arriving in a somewhat bedraggled state the owners did all they could to revive her. Next day she arrived home having completed the final 100  km of the journey. Looking a might glazed in the eyes but with a smile on her face she seemed to have not suffered in any other way. But looks can be deceptive , she had returned a changed woman. She was now in no doubt about the Paris Brest Paris. She said "you can stick getting up early and riding through the night, I'm not having a bar of it!"

The next day 'Niel the Wheel' was up ,not so early ,for his attempt at the 335 km around the block. Things went crocked right from the started when my preferred cycling app switched off 30 kms into the course rendering my later posting of it pointless. You can't brag about stuff like this if you don't have the stats to back it up. In the dark upon leaving I had also forgotten to start my cycle computer. This was a small thing discovered when I passed under a flickering street light. I'm not a morning person and little things like this can annoy me. As the sun came up I warmed to the ride and come morning tea I was ready for the magpie infested Wairau Valley. 

Bandits at 3 O' clock high! Bandit at 6 O' clock coming low and hard! The little shits had me on the edge of my seat for 90 kms. The finally came with one of the feathered cretins forcing me off the road and into a drainage ditch with his persistence .  Clearly he was enjoying every minute off it. I dragged my Mercian back to the road and cycled off into what was now a solid headwind being further attacked until he spied a novice tandem couple coming the other way and clearly felt he could inflict more damage hassling them. Leaving me in peace to tackle the headwind to my late lunch stop. Electronic data transfer once again let me down here and for the rest of the afternoon when I tried to post my experiences on face book. Poo Bum, 2/3 of the ride was done and I had failed to tell the world about it. 

While eating a plate of greasy fish & chips I consoled myself with the fact that bike and body were ambling along happily even if the wi if side was shit. While stuffing down my final greasy chips with the help of a double vanilla milkshake I made one final attempt to post something on the net and voila I was back in business. The final 4 1/2 hours of the ride was completed in darkness. I'd recently bought a Cateye 1200 front light though and the beam was so impressive that apart from almost throwing up at the top of a steep climb ,when my milkshake began to mix with the coke at the other end of my stomach , I thoroughly enjoyed the dark hours.

I dragged my now tired arse across the home doorstep we'll before midnight and having completed the 335 kms.

So I sit here now awaiting the actual event in 3 days. My marching orders have arrived via the randonneuring club and Adi has once again reasserted that she won't be doing it. The field looks like numbering less than 10 and the weather at best indication gives light rain. 

I've done my homework for this one, the cabins booked and my mudguards will be on standby.

Bring it on.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Foot Fungus

Im addicted now to my smart phone and it's Adi's birthday tomorrow so she's going to get one whether she likes it or not.

Talking of my Adi, she has been training consistently since spring arrived and can now handle a 250km ride. Paris - Brest- Paris pre qualification is just around the corner and I have jumped in and agreed to host a number of qualifiers in the Tasman area. 

My New Long Distance Mascot as Found.

I've put together a couple of rides that I think I could well regret . Rides that I could well find myself as the only entrant. The important thing though is that they will be qualifiers for PBP and I won't have to fork out dosh to travel out of town to qualify.

Happy to be Loved Again.&

In a months time Adi and I will enter a 400km event to pre qualify. She is naturally worried about how this will pan out for her and is going to take advantage of as much time as is allowed. 

I have the option of riding it with her or going at my own pace. I'm torn between being with her to provide support in the event that she may have a mechanical problem or to leave her to it. I'm erring on the side of just doing my own thing as that is the way we will be riding the PBP.

Last week , after two weeks of Spring sunshine ,New Zealand reverted to Winter rain and snow and I did virtually no cycling. I spent the week helping Adi get addicted to her new smart phone and roaming around the house identifying more areas of wood worm attack. By the end of the week I had ripped out a small section of rotten timber and repainted another. A mere drop in the ocean but enough to make me feel better.

House maintenance didn't satisfy my cycling head however so not being able to get out on my bike I set about tuning the engine. I cut down on my chocolate intake, increased my coffee consumption and reinstated my sit up routine. And after four years of treatment I am proud to announce that my foot fungus is finally in remission. I started treatment with creams when cycling the US in 2010 because unlike in NZ I didn't need to mortgage the house to afford the anti fungal creams. Toe by toe I have been driving the invader back. It's been a tough battle but with only two toes left infected , I will win the battle and banish that evil forever. 

My feet are a little wide for my Sidi cycle shoes so I think this aggravates the problem. I should get my left little toe removed because after a few years it damages the fabric in my shoe. I think little toes are a complete waste of space anyway when it comes to cycling. Babies should have a couple of their toes removed from each foot when their born so that later when they grow there's more room for the other toes and no chance of chaffing on long rides while out on the bike. Much the same way as my wisdom teeth were removed so that my jaw was not so crammed with teeth that I couldn't do up my helmet strap. Some things I've found happen naturally when you cycle a lot. My hairs rubbed off the top of my head from wearing my helmet too much and my nose has got bigger allowing me to cut through those head winds more efficiently. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

I'm Smart Phone Able.

Dear Blog,
 I know it has been a while since I have last written but the truth of it is that not much has happened in the life of 'Niel the Wheel'. I'm not saying that I am dissatisfied with my lot.  It has been winter and too cold in the morning to get up early and too dark in the evening to get out on the bike.  What is that you say? What about that time in between these times? That time between 10am and 5pm. Well , I'm pleased to say that I have cycled consistently throughout the winter in this period, usually going out for two or three 100km rides each week. The other days  spent not on the bike have been spent on the couch. I could give you plenty of excuses as to why I have not painted weatherboards, insulated walls and re piled but the bottom line is that I do maintenance on a 'must be done or it will fall down' basis.

Sweeping the Chimney.

I am prompted to write now though because I need the world to know that I may not be powering ahead at the moment but I feel that spring is nigh upon us here and that soon I'll be getting out on adventure rides again. Over the winter due principally to a total lack of dollars , Adi and I have stayed at home , preferring to save any spare money for a decent trip next July/August. I have occupied my time by working in the bike shop over the weekends and doing mundane chores about the house during the week. The sort of chores that get you nowhere. Chores like mopping , hoovering and cleaning the bathroom. Treading water type of things. Certainly not useful chores like insulating the under floor cavities. Just the other day I found myself scrubbing out the inside of the refrigerator, nuking the oven with alkaline sprays and sterilising the rubbish bins. For weeks now I'd been thinking that my Adi had been dropping farts in the kitchen while preparing dinner while all along it was the refrigerator smelling!
  In my last blog I stated that we would participate in the TransAmerican bike race. We have changed our minds. Adi thought that we were losing our focus of cycling around the world in favour of doing events in countries that we had cycled before. I cant argue with that. When we cycled across the US in 2010 I thought it unlikely that we would ever go back and here I was  last year cycling in the US again and then planning an event there again for next year. So we have come to a compromise , for 2015 we will do the Paris-Brest - Paris (subject to qualifying) but only after we have cycled there from Tiblisi in Georgia. That way we do another section of touring and I get to do a randonneuring event at the end.

Spring is Close But......
When Your Feet are Wet & Cold Nick the Locals Newspaper Covers.

We both have every intention of qualifying for PBP but time will tell if we have what it takes. Last week Adi set herself the target of cycling 500kms in the week. I knew that I was good enough for a 300km week as I usually achieve this with a couple 100km day rides and a 100kms of urban riding so told her that I would tag along. The weather wasn't the best but we did manage to both pull it off. I have to say though that my day off the bike sweeping the chimney, and doing the other forever mundane chores felt like a good break off the Mercian.

The week prior to this my new low rider rack arrived from Tubus and I spent a day in the workshop fitting it. This rack replaces my last one which broke on me in Nova Scotia last year. It was a crappy aluminium one made by Blackburn. The new one is stainless steel so I'm hoping to get more than the customary 10 000kms that alloy racks give me. Once I was happy with the way it fitted on the Mercian I then took it off ready for future adventures. My rear rack also broke on me last year coming out of the Canadian Rockies but unfortunately the bike shop up there was a bit limited on quality rear racks so I had to buy another crappy aluminium rack. This rack got me across Canada and may get me  from Tiblisi to Paris but I will get a Tubus stainless steel rear rack when I can next afford it.

'Niel the Wheel' entered the computer age in 2011 when he purchased his first laptop and started this blog. He quickly realised (since his mind is like a sponge) that the laptop was too big to easily fit on his bicycle and that he would shortly be going  cycling across South America and would need something more convenient to tap out script on and check on what his Adi was up to back in NZ. So after much discussion on the merits of an I Pad I bought myself an HP notebook. I couldn't afford an I Pad and in those days I didn't realise how bad those Israelis were, so there you go. So please don't blame me for helping to fund a terrorist state. The notebook continues to serve me well however and until recently I was happy to carry it in a pannier during overseas tours. But earlier this year I completed my first Brevet type event where travelling with minimal gear is the key to doing the big kilometres each day. I'd still like to communicate with the world however and increasingly you need to use the Internet to sort accommodation each day. To this end Adi and I decided that we needed to move to smart phones for our next overseas trip. It was then quickly agreed that because I was a lay about with nothing to do but cycle each day, and because Adi actually brings in more income and does occasional extra shifts , that she would get an i phone on her birthday next month, and I would have to wait until next year. Once again her logic was sound and I convinced myself that I didn't need anything more than my notebook anyway.

Now I'm Smart Phone Capable on my Rides.

That was until my bosses at AvantiPlus Bike Shop decided to give all their staff I phones! My Dad always used to tell me that 'everything comes to those that wait Niel'  and by joves he was right. So thanks to Jo and Mike I have moved into the smart phone generation and cant believe how fast I can now access my blog and face book. Not to mention all those cycling aps that are no doubt out there waiting for me to discover. I don't have that many face book friends (due to my hate of all car drivers, truck drivers, children and pit bulls) but that number is bound to reduce even further when I figure out how to work these aps and post numerous rides on line complete with pictures of the Mercian and I. So there is no excuse now. You should be hearing a lot more from me.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Shortest Day 2014.

The weather has  been pretty good the last couple of weeks as we approach the shortest day. But I wasn't born yesterday and realise that the worst weather is undoutably still to come. This time last year I was readying myself for my cycle ride across Canada. This year  financial restraints ( being tight due to spending too much on eBay and in Canada last year), has led to the regrettable decision to suspend all plans of cycling overseas this year. In some ways its lucky that we put the brakes on this year as, if we had gone away, I could well have wasted money cycling in Aussie instead of saving the money for something a bit more challenging. The down side is that it is hard to motivate myself to go out and do the decent miles required on my bike to burn off the chocolate consumed each day. I'm still however managing to do over 200kms on my bike each week which I'm happy with. It will get me through until September when I will ramp it up so that I can attempt some Randonneuring rides.

Winter aye, its tough. I wake up in the morning like a 'Kate Middleton' , to someone opening my curtains and asking me if I would like a coffee. Then its onto the couch to check out the latest philosophising on Face book. The regulars are on there posting snippets concerning things that others are doing that they applaud yet fail to attempt themselves. I grab my coffee and have too much chocolate with it while I contemplate what to do with the day. This usually amounts to housework,  garden work, or cycling. What else is there? I think if it wasn't for work at the bike shop twice a week I wouldn't have any other social interaction.
A lack of social interaction has its advantages. High among these is an ability to generally get through winter without catching those nasty flu-ey things passed on by kids and their caregivers. 'Touch wood' I haven't been taken down yet this winter. Getting bored at home has also enabled me to think more carefully about the Paris-Brest-Paris cycle event next year. This was my goal until I clicked onto the site in order  to catch up with what the Adventure Cycling community were up to. I knew that it was about to start but it hadn't sparked my interest to any extent, since the first half of the course followed a route through the Rockies that Adi and I had completed in 2010. I normally don't see the point in re covering old ground when there's so much more of the Earth to cycle. I haven't however cycled east of Denver and following the first week of the race got me interested in competing myself next year. Convincing Adi was easy. I simply showed her the TransAmerican site and suggested that she could be the first Vet 3 woman to complete it. Whereas I have no real competitive head and am happy just to challenge myself, Adi likes a bit of glory. Within a week all thoughts of the PBP were gone for her and she was working out how she would pack her bike for the TransAm and what sort of tent she would need.
And just to make the decision even harder for me the Transcontinental Race will be on in 2015 as well. The Transcontinental runs from London to Istanbul. The starts once the TransAm has finished and conceivably a contestant could do both one after the other. Adi feels this is a possibility, but I think that airline tickets could well bankrupt us.
Adi ran over a domestic pig on her way home from work in the dark last week. Apparently it was sitting on the road and she failed to see it in the beam of her light. The impact caused no damage to Adi's bike but resulted in her needing a bit of emergency medical care on her elbow. She couldn't ride her bike for a week but suggested that I get the tandem out so that she could still exercise.

I hated the idea of getting our 1980's Geoffrey Butler tandem out because quite frankly it's a death trap. The brakes are shocking and the riding positions for both captain and stoker leave a lot to be desired. But I do like a challenge in the bike shed and I do like retro gear, so 3 days later I emerged with a tandem of renewed possibilities. After a 10km test ride I was sufficiently impressed that I spent another day in the shed and came up with a tandem that not only offers captain and stoker room to move and a somewhat aerodynamic position but will also stop when all 4 brakes are applied. And most importantly for me while using all 1970's and 80's parts. The character of the bike of course being paramount over safety at all times.

After a 60km test ride and much arguing over this and that we concluded that the bike was much improved and held some possibilities, but that tandem riding still sucked. In fact Adi says that it is not peace, harmony and all goodwill at all for us.
I think that Adi just needs to understand that the Captain is the CAPTAIN.
It was still a good way to spend Anti Procreation Day  but like the khombi, we'll put it back in the bike shed and see if it ever comes out again.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Winter Fiddling.

It tis the season for staring at my bike and pondering upon what improvements can be made. Winter is a time of frustration when morning temperatures are too low for comfortable cycling. I try not to get out of bed until the sun is up and the frost has melted. The inside house temperature has still not reached 10C but if I'm lucky the cats have left me a space in the sun on the veranda and I can warm myself there for a minute. Time  sufficient enough  to contemplate cooking myself some porridge back in the house.With my  porridge consumed. and back on the veranda with my coffee and cycle mag. I'm once again thinking about cycling adventure. The thought hasn't escaped me though that although it's a balmy 16C in the sun on the deck. as soon as I step into the shade I'm back down to 4C.
I know that below 10C I would need to don full gloves, booties and my winter training jacket if I wanted to venture out for a circuit on the bike, so I do the next best thing and get the Mercian out onto the deck next to me and ponder on improvements while things continue to warm in the garden.
Nearly the Shortest Day.

It's pretty hard to make improvements to a bike that you have owned for years and have cycled all over the place on. A new piece of equipment may present at the bike shop or on-line, but to fit it I would be forced to remove something else which has served me well and has sentimental value. My friends in the cycling world don't generally understand this as they seldom have their bikes for more than a year before the next new model has been purchased. Or they're the sort that really don't give a toss about what they ride so battle on unknowingly until their bike is either stolen or disintegrates, non the wiser as to whats available out there.
On this particular morning though I was excited because I had decided a week ago to finally remove my XTR v brakes and install the Campag cyclocross canti brakes that I'd bought myself for Xmas a couple of years ago. I was sad because the v brakes had taken me faithfully across many continents and down some wicked descents in the Andes and Rockies, but had started grabbing a bit, which unfortunately for them, was enough reason for me to persevere with my plan of a full Campag hybrid bicycle.
The new Campag brakes came with some flat bar brake levers, but I didn't like them much. Low and behold, what did I spy on eBay ? Only a pair of retro Campag mtb brake levers from the 90's. They were being sold in Poland. Now Poland to me, having never been there rests alongside Romania or the Ukraine .To my mind being one of those countries where you buy $200 dollar brake levers and never see your money again. The sort of place where you go on line to find a girlfriend and she asks for a few thousand dollars so she can buy you some inter flora flowers, and then you never see her again.
My Adi wasn't home at the time, the images of the levers looked stunning with beautiful curves and the Campag logo standing out in its brilliance, so there you go. I hit the 'buy now' button, the money was gone and I was left with a warm , nervous feeling, and trying to work out how I was going to explain this little deal later to my sweetheart.
The next day at the bike shop I confided in Jacob as to what I'd been up too.  To his credit he didn't  judge me, and even felt that I might see my brake levers turn up. Younger and more trusting than I am obviously. When I finally managed to break the news to Adi she not only thought that I had lost $200 bucks, but that we would probably be fleeced of thousands more from our account. The poor dear, she doesn't deserve the additional stress of living with a Campag addict. The next day she was off to Christchurch for a bit of key hole surgery on her problem knee.

To keep myself busy while she was gone and to put on a positive front, I decided to do some of my own key hole surgery on the Mercian in anticipation of my levers arriving from Poland. With a total disregard to my $2500 hand built frame I drilled a neat hole through the upper seat tube so that the rear canti's could work without the need for an additional brake bridge. Now I would never try this on a carbon fibre frame but I've been around long enough to know that you can easily get away with it on a steel frame. In fact about 20years ago I drilled a hole in a steel Guiericotti frame to install a chain hanger and that frame is still going strongly. Much to the horror of a couple of bike mechanics where I used to work , I once drilled a hole through the middle of an alloy stem to avoid the use of a cant brake bridge on that bike as well. That stem is still going well and no matter how I tried to explain that that was the way it was done in the late 70's, my mechanic mates still looked un-impressed.
 Back in the 70's we drilled everything!
Correction. You never drilled anything with Zeus written on it. That gear couldn't even handle the companies own drilling. The Chinese only made bikes for playing on , (some things haven't changed) so you wouldn't try to lighten that stuff.

Adi arrived back from hospital a few days later, a box of bubblys being a cured woman, and just in time to see my parcel from Poland land in the letter box. The postie couldn't believe the number of stamps that it had on it , Adi couldn't believe that it had arrived at all and I couldn't believe the weight of it. I thought picking it up that it couldn't be just a pair of brake levers, they must have forgotten to take the rest of the bike off them! My next thought while ripping open the packet was that they'd sent me sCampag  motorbike levers. Solid enough to use on my Vespa if they didn't work with the Mercian.
I made all the right noises about Adi's knee op and then I was done in the bike shed for the next two hours installing my beauties. it was dark when I returned to the house  with my bike all smiles, to be informed by Adi that they where the ugliest brake levers she had ever seen. Two days later at the bike shop Mitchell my workmate for the day concurred with Adi. Stating that he had never seen such horrid levers. What would they know? Mitchell's only been around since the 80's. Mitchell though being forever helpful took a picture of them and placed it on Facebook so that others could tell me how much they appreciated the flowing lines and many features that my levers possessed.
By 11am the world usually seems a warm enough place for me to get on my bike and do 100kms. But by 4pm things are cooling off and I'm glad to be home as temps once again fall towards glove and bootie levels. This will be our lot until September and spring daylight hours and temps will allow for longer rides. We have decided not to go away overseas this winter and save our dollars for qualifying for the Paris-Brest- Paris event next year and a two month cycle tour of Scandinavia prior to that. People tell us how expensive Scandinavia is. And it probably is to most , but not anyone used to living in good old NZ. I don't think we will notice much difference in the price of things when we finally get there.
And to those who think i just eat , sleep and bike ....
I do gardening too.
This time of year it seems everywhere I ride people have got feijoas for sale at the gate for $3 a bag. We at 'Potter's-End' have got a miserable feijoa tree that never delivers any fruit what so ever. And since I have loved feijoas since my student days and am too tight to buy others fruit , I have done a bit of clearing and am in the process of planting 8 of my own trees. And they had better be better than our last tree (which I got free from the neighbouring orchard). Three chestnut trees have been removed to make space and have been thrown on the winter bonfire.

If there's one thing us rural NZers like doing on a clear, sunny winter day its having a big fire. Then once its going you can throw everything on! Clippings, logs, pallets, plastic furniture past its use by date, in fact our neighbour got so excited she threw part of her caravan on.
Enough catching up on my blog, its time to jump on the bike and cycle to Richmond for some chocolate and licorice. My chocolate consumption has exceeded my weekly allowance recently so at times I need a mercy dash to restock supplies. My problem being where to steal the money from. I'm forbidden to use the plastic cards at the moment so I'll have to rummage around in the house for some loose change.
I settle on a small pile of dosh with 'hair' written on it. Adi's hair looks great so I'm sure she wont need this and I can't see any money earmarked for 'Niel the Wheel's Incidentals'.
Before I go , have a chuckle at this;
They are blaming the abysmal Queen's Birthday road toll here on foreigner's! New Zealand the land of the most courteist and safe drivers in the world....year right.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

I'll Call That A Fail.

The weather was not looking good for my 600km ride to Greymouth and back. But for some reason I wasn't getting overly concerned about it. I had booked the cabin in Greymouth and I suppose I was committed, so when my alarm went off at 5am and I dragged myself out of bed I simply went through the motion's. Half asleep I put my porridge on, had a shave, and packed my pre fried sausages. With the porridge shovelled in and an instant coffee slurped I was ready to manoeuvre the bike outside and get going. I couldn't hear any rain on the roof and I couldn't see anything through the darkness but I knew that rain was coming down due to the gurgling sound from the gutter downpipes.
Sure enough there was a heavy and persistent drizzle falling from the heavens, so wet in fact that I paused to put a cover over my leather saddle. A drenched Brooks saddle is a ruined saddle. I was off at 6am into the warm, dark tropical wetness. I don't mind riding in the rain but I do have a problem stopping in it. I really don't like stopping for anything when its wet. I find that when I stop I just start getting cold. I rode until daybreak at 7am and the rain just got heavier. Or perhaps it was just that I could now see it persisting down. I certainly couldn't complain about the wind, as there wasn't any. Because it was about 17C I was wearing my light rain jacket not wanting to overheat by wearing the heavier jacket that I had packed in case the temp dropped. The down side of the light jacket was that by 8am I was soaking wet and although warm enough on the ups I was getting pretty chilled whenever the road headed downwards.

Three hours South of Nelson,  I was having doubts as to whether the whole thing was going to pan out the way I had hoped. I just couldn't get the thought of stopping later that evening for dinner , and being wet and cold while I ate it, out of my head. I knew that after finishing the meal I would still have 80kms to cover in the dark and rain before reaching the half way point. I had then planned to have a sleep in the booked cabin and start back at first light. As I rode on the more I thought about the whole thing the more I decided that under these horrendous conditions I was unlikely to finish it within the time limit.
I stopped in the middle of nowhere, in  the fog and gloom, and started cycling in circles trying to decide whether to go on or turn back. After two complete circles I was on my way back telling myself that I was not going to beat myself up about it too much.  After all the weather was truly crap and everyone knows in my region that if its raining in Nelson you are not likely to ride out of it by heading West. I was for a while concerned as I rode back home that the weather may clear as I approached Nelson again but that was allayed as I descended the last hill towards the coast and found that if anything, the rain was falling with more vigour than when I left 5hours earlier.
I pushed my soaking bike back into the house, stripped off my sodden clothes, and jumped into the shower still pleased with my decision. Unbeknown to me, while I was soaping the road grime away Henry was eating my fried sausages.

What has been very satisfying is that for the next four days it has rained every day, flooding the local roads and creating havoc on the West Coast. During that time I have been on the couch with a book and a coffee telling Adi how lucky I was not to have carried on further. Four days of self righteously telling myself that this is no weather to cycle in was enough even for me. So with a bit of a prod from the better half on the fifth day of rain Adi and I where out on our bikes again.
The weather was still tropical and our 100km circuit contained a couple of options. There was a stay above the ground water option that Adi choose, or an option along the West bank of the Motueka River where the road and river became one at a number of different points. The later option was one that I wanted to complete not because I thought at that stage that it would  be more fun, but because a car driver coming the other way told me not to go on because the road was impassable. Well that was like a red rag to a bull. No car driver tells me that a road is impassable. What would they know? It's an effort for most of them to lift their bum out at the petrol station to re-fuel themselves and their vehicle. So into the flood water I plunged on the Mercian after first putting him into low gear. She was pretty deep and if I hadn't have been having so much fun I may have concerned myself with how much damage I was doing to the equipment.

Jolly Good Fun.

Today in the sun  while admiring my bike while it stood on the deck I notice that there is still water draining from the interstitial rim space. I have also today, had to strip down the headset and repack it with grease. Other than that though all else seems OK, even though it was up to its brake callipers at times.
I still have no firm plans on how much long distance cycling I'll be doing this winter. But come August / September I will need to regain the fitness  lost over winter and start training for Paris-Brest- Paris qualifying. I have thrown my 'cut down on sugar' diet out of the window and have now regained all the weight that I lost while cycling across Canada last year.

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.