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.

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.


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