A High Wait:Ride Ratio - Kiwi Brevet 2014

The 2014 edition of the Kiwi Brevet seems like a good enough excuse to break out into the world of blogging again I suppose...

Before I get into this I should fill y'all in - I've been waiting for the 2014 KB since about three days after completing the 2012 edition. Having read John's blog of the original Kiwi Brevet in 2010, I'd been really keen to see how the route felt in the original anti-clockwise direction (the 2012 route I completed was run clockwise). Also, with a natural inclination towards the endurance side of things, events like the Kiwi Brevet are about as far up my alley as you're likely to get without dinner and a movie.

One thing John touched on back in 2010 was the idea of riding the KB course quickly - minimal stopping time, no long lunch breaks, and not particularly social. I absolutely love a tough challenge, so this idea stuck in my head...

My planning was reasonably comprehensive, and I began acquiring equipment for the ride in about February 2013, seeking lightweight, quality equipment to see me through - some of the fun of these events is the months of preparation and experimentation with gear. Although a nasty rib and shoulder injury in October 2013 saw me off the bikes for six weeks, I made a decent recovery and worked out an itinerary to see me complete the loop in about three and a quarter days - as follows...

Day 1: Blenheim to St Arnaud

My brevet got off to a stressful start - sitting on the runway at Wellington airport (inside a plane, of course), I saw my bike box sitting alone on the luggage trolley on the tarmac.

Moments later, the pilot moseyed up to me. "Excuse me sir, your luggage won't fit on this plane. It will be sent along on the next flight."

"No."

After an exchange with the pilot, a check-in employee and a manager, I was eventually sitting on the next flight to Blenheim, only an hour behind schedule - a trend I would continue for the duration of the event.

After missing the event briefing, I managed to bump into lots of friendly faces - Dean, Paul, Craig, Charlotte and Scott among others. I was amused at Thomas' solar panels adorning the rear of his backpack, and sat around waiting for proceedings to commence at midday

The weave through the cycle paths and river tracks was a nice cruisy way to start my ride to St Arnaud - it provided an opportunity to chat to a few folks and share some laughs on the way towards Rarangi. About ten kilometres in, I was becoming a little antsy - I had 250km to ride in the next twelve hours, and was keen to get on with it. A quick chat to Simon Kennett, and I rolled up to the front of the peloton - signalling to Thomas Lindup I was cracking on. Within a minute, there were five or six of us, cruising along at about 38kmh towards Port Underwood Road - this is more like it!

At the first intersection after splitting away, I noticed my riding buddies working up a bit of a sweat - it was a fairly muggy old afternoon, after all. Moments later, I rolled through in the knowledge I may not see anyone else for a while.

I saw a couple of folks out on Port Underwood Road, who looked to be out spectating - "Have a great adventure" said one, which was lovely. The four climbs before Picton melted away, and I sent my first text a few minutes after 3:00, before continuing along The Grove, through Havelock and Canvastown to the Pelorous Bridge. I was getting used to the idea I'd be in for a reasonably lonely few days. At this point, we were pointed back onto the gravel and eventually a rough 4wd track; the Maungatapu. The little skinny tyres I'd elected to run for this event weren't great on this section - it's tough on a proper mountain bike with suspension and grunty tyres, let alone something more akin to a road bike...

I made the Nelson call in at 7:46, after procuring my dinner for the evening - two very manky pies from the Mobil on Collingwood St.

I followed the bike paths through to the Coastal route to Richmond, enjoying the sun setting over towards the Kahurangi National Park.

Jesus Rays: Nelson

On arriving in Richmond, I popped into a service station for some dessert, and decided to turn off my Spot tracker for a few hours. My rationale was as follows:

The Kiwi Brevet is not a race. As such, I wasn't interested in competing with anybody, or adjusting my itinerary in reaction to another person - I expected the same courtesy from fellow riders (which is a little naive...). There is no competition, no race, and no bullshit - just me, my bike, and some miles to cover.

Essentially, going off the radar for a short while on the first evening afforded me the opportunity to get into the groove of things at my own pace, isolate myself, and completely nullify any competitive urges I (or others) might feel. On the topic of going off the grid, my cellphone also began displaying a "Not connected to network" message from this point too - meaning I had no way of making the suggested call-ins from predetermined towns enroute. But I digress...

The climb up to St Arnaud was lovely in the cool evening air, which got cooler as I climbed. First, I crested Reay Saddle, then Kerr Hill Saddle, before tackling the final drag up past Tophouse to St Arnaud. I arrived at about 11:30, and promptly got myself (and my riding gear) through the shower. My alarm was set for 5:30 for a 6:00 departure. Per the KB guidelines, I could have left at 5:30am (satisfying the mandatory 6 hour rest block), but I wasn't stressed about making it to Lake Brunner over on the West Coast the following evening.

Day 2: St Arnaud to Moana

The morning of the second day dawned fine and still - and cold! It was on with all the riding gear I had - my shorts and undershirt, merino long-sleeved top, knee warmers, overtrou, gloves, beanie and jacket. While not the sort of gear I'd normally expect to wear in February, I was starting at 700m above sea level and heading down a false flat before taking the turn off to the Porika track.

I reached the bottom of the Porika climb as the sun rose, and a quick wardrobe shuffle saw my heading for the summit.

Sunrise on the Porika Track


The descent was pretty good on the 'cross bike - one section I found very tricky, but managed to negotiate it successfully - although I had to stop for a photo at one point, as I took in a view I'd completely missed on my climb up this side two years earlier

Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes

The climb up the back of the Braeburn track was over quickly, and before I knew it I was rolling towards Murchison, keen for some breakfast. The little bakery won out over the tastier (but no doubt more time-consuming) cafe around the corner. I had a bit of a gasbag to a pom on a heavily laden old mountain bike - our conversation met a timely end when he began talking about the English Premier League...

Before long, I made the left turn up Fairfax Street and continued up and over Maruia Saddle. By the time I'd reached the state highway again the day was hotting up nicely. I dropped into the cafe at Maruia for some fluids, and carried on to Springs Junction in the late morning heat - Mr Garmin recorded 31 degrees somewhere between Maruia and Reefton, and it certainly felt like it. Even the locals were complaining.

I was looking forward to the next section - I thought I was about an hour ahead of my projected schedule at this point, and remember the long, steady climb up from Reefton to Rahu saddle from 2012. Unfortunately, a combination of the heat and a headwind meant this section through to Reefton was slower going than I'd expected. I took a bit of rest in Reefton, and refuelled for the jaunt through to Lake Brunner, knowing I'd likely miss the shop at Ikamatua a few hours down the road.

Big River was reasonably unremarkable for me - a couple of rough bits required some walking, but generally the terrain was manageable on the skinny tyred shake machine. The Waiuta was a hoot - the first forty minutes or so were fantastic - I was riding well, and thoroughly enjoying the trail. Once the track started to sidle the hill, I began looking for the stile marking the end of the track - in doing so, losing concentration a few times, making small errors. In the end, the Waiuta took about an hour and twenty minutes - a bit longer than I'd expected.

The lovely climb up to Big River

The real reason I was rushing to get through this section was because I knew I might be able to make my accommodation at Lake Brunner in time to give my lovely wife Keryn a call - as I'd had no cell reception since the previous evening, I hadn't been able to touch base at all.

Looking towards Greymouth at Waiuta

The descent off the Waiuta was one of the highlights of the Brevet course for me - fast, open, flowy road, with a lovely hard-packed clay surface. I remembered the cute little Blackwater School along the road out to the highway, and enjoyed another beautiful sunset on the West Coast as I made my way to Ikamatua.

I had a stink sea breeze blowing up the Grey River when I turned off at Ikamatua towards Blackball and Dobson. This section was lovely and quiet, and I didn't hit it too hard - I'd given away the idea of calling home, so sunk into the aero bars and tried to conserve energy. I had some close calls along here with the wildlife - I assume the sound of the bike was startling the rabbits and hares lining the roadside, and they would often scramble out directly in front of me. This made using the aero bars a bit of a risk - if I hit one of the little buggers while in the bars, I was going to eat shit, no doubt. I opted against using the aeros until I seemed out of danger. I turned my light on when I reached the bridge over the Grey River near Stillwater, and cruised the next hour or so to Moana, on the northern edge of Lake Brunner. My accommodation was slightly off course, which left me a couple of kilometres to backtrack in the morning.

I was frustrated to have taken until 10:30 to reach the hotel (which is stupid - I was frustrated all had gone according to plan for the 270km of riding for the day...). On arrival, I went past reception to see if there were any lights on. As I approached the office, all was dark, so I began to turn around to my right, and head towards my cabin. Just as I was turning, my front wheel hit a patch of deep gravel. In slow motion, my right foot wouldn't unclip, and I fell over. I lay there for a few moments, loaded bike on top of me, in the dark night - my light was pointing up into the sky, and things were temporarily very dark out there! Shortly after falling, I laughed - I wasn't going to let a little retardation get in the way of a good time (in both senses).

Again, my evening routine consisted of showering in my riding kit and putting it out to dry, scoffing some food, and hitting the hay. As with Saturday night, my alarm was set for 5:30. I was feeling fine - a bit tired, but generally pretty good, and still enjoying being out on my bike in this wonderful country of ours.

Day 3: Moana to Culverden


My third day of riding dawned after I'd begun, if that makes sense. I left shortly before six, backtracking to Blair Road, to make the turn onto Bell Hill Kotuku Road to make my way around the back of Brunner. The weather was a little bit shit - cold and drizzly. At least it wasn't windy! I made good time to Jacksons, and enjoyed the cruise up the valley to Otira. My cues had some elevations on them, including Otira and Arthurs Pass, which was a nice way to keep me focussed on impending climbs and descents, and plan my pace accordingly.

Shortly after Otira, the smell changed - it went from the distinctive sweet "native bush" smell of Beech and Manuka, to something a little less sweet, and more synthetic - brake pads. Sure enough, I was approaching the foot of the climb up to Arthurs Pass, with oncoming vehicles emitting the smell of burning brakes.

The climb itself was lovely - but steep. It was great to have the time to look at the surroundings, and take in just how rugged that landscape really is!

I popped my jacket on for the descent into Arthurs Pass, and moments later had the best moment of my Brevet - coasting through sweeping bends, I left the cloud behind at the pass, and emerged into the most stunning, clear day on the interior of the Southern Alps as the morning sun filtered through the massive Beech trees lining the road. The combination of endorphins, the weather and my impending call to Keryn from a payphone was enough to make me well up - one of those moments that makes a bit of a mission all worth it.

My best pie was procured at Arthurs Pass village - the Lamb and Kumara. Highly recommended, although possibly a bit "out of the way".

Interior of the Southern Alps, somewhere

I took off from Arthurs, knowing I still had a couple of hundred kilometres to ride to get to Culverden for the evening. The pace through to Flock Hill was good, and apart from the drag from there up to Porter's Pass, this section was most enjoyable. The descent from 940m back down to the Canterbury plains was over far too quickly, and I cruised into Springfield after making a dogleg through Annavale and Pococks Rd.

The service station catered to my fluid requirements, with what was becoming my "standard" shopping - a 1.5l water, 2x 750ml waters, a Fresh Up of some description, a wee bottle of Coke (for later) and a Ginger Beer for now. After refilling bottles and stashing the rest, I moseyed over to the payphone - my cellphone was still out of action, and Keryn was out of range when I'd called from Arthurs Pass a few hours earlier. With limited funds on my phone card (old school eh?) I called John - it was great to speak with someone familiar, and I asked if he could call ahead to Culverden on my behalf, to advise them I might be slightly later than their 11pm closing time. I'd read about Simon and John cutting it fine in 2010 for the 11pm curfew, and sensed I was in for a similar time this afternoon.

After leaving the phone booth, I headed into a cafe for some real food. I didn't want to wait long, so ordered some of the lovely looking bacon and egg pie from the cabinet. As it happened, this took about fifteen minutes to arrive at my table, which was slightly frustrating - no big deal in the scheme of things, but time lost was impossible to get back, regardless of considerable effort on my part.

After rejoining the course, I spent some time riding alongside the road - the fresh gravel was shit to ride with my skinny little tyres, but the verge was lovely and smooth under a few inches of freshly mown grass. I turned off at Sheffield, and made my way across the Waimakariri River, bound for the Warfedale track. I had my only real navigation fail at this point - my cue notes say "...L Harmans Gorge Rd, L Woodstock Rd..." ("L" being "Left"). Trouble was, there was no Woodstock Road signposted anywhere along this stretch. I made it to the View Hill Domain, which looked familiar - but I couldn't confidently say why! I carried on towards Oxford, before realising I was definitely off course. I backtracked back to the Waimakariri, just in case I'd missed something obvious. I followed my cues (again), with no better luck. A bit of consultation of my Garmin told me the domain at View Hill was indeed where I needed to turn - I'd travelled 9km in the hour for this section (but actually ridden more like 25km) due to the navigation issue.

I enjoyed the Warfedale track - my setup is light, making for easy carrying and portaging where required (which is often). The climb up to the track was nice, although the afternoon sun ensured helmet juice production was in full swing. It took bang on two hours from the Wharfedale carpark to Wharfedale Hut, and a further hour to get out along the Townsend track.

I'd stopped at the stream just before Wharfedale Hut, which was great - cool, fresh, free water! I filled both of my bottles on the bike, along with the pump bottle in my rear pocket, and the pump bottle lashed to my seat bag - three litres of the good stuff, along with my stashed bottle of coke would see me through to my destination for the evening.

The drag along Lees Valley was a bit average - the gravel was deep enough to slow progress, and I had the lightest of tail winds - just enough to reduce the airflow I was enjoying as reward for my forward progress, making for some reasonably high temperatures. I was pleased to see the passes looming - first Okuku Pass, followed shortly after by Lees Pass. At the bottom of Lees Pass, I made the left turn at "The Brothers", and set about making my way through MacDonald Downs.

Lees Pass, looking back down the valley

It was eight thirty when I started this section, and my goal was to get through the twenty kilometres or so in an hour - I was happy navigating on the gravel roads in the dark, but wanted to be off the private land section before night fell. It dawned on me I would be finished the Kiwi Brevet by this time tomorrow, as I surveyed the countryside and savoured it.



Here I am, savouring it:

Me: Savoury

As it happened, MacDonald Downs was my favourite section of the Kiwi Brevet course - lovely climbs, followed by fast, flowy descents, in an amazing setting somewhere in North Canterbury. The temperature was easing at this point too, as the sun dipped below the horizon somewhere near where I'd began my day over on the West Coast. I hit the gravel road out of MacDonald Downs right on nine thirty, which was satisfying. I knew from this point I would be in Culverdon some time around eleven, give or take quarter of an hour or so.

The gravel backroads between MacDonald Downs and Hurunui were fantastic - I'm sure a lot of this section was slightly downhill, as I was able to sit at 40kmh got the majority of the ride through to the highway. Soon enough, I was rolling along the endless straight stretch or road to Culverdon. I remember recounting the distance of this straight to my riding buddies in 2012, but couldn't for the life of me remember what it was this time around.

I reached Culverdon a few minutes after eleven, and found my host for the night waiting for me. The next ten minutes were a bit of a blur - all I remember is talking, talking, talking. At one point I paused, and apologised to the poor bugger - I told him he was the first "live" person I'd spoken to since Saturday (it was now 11:15pm Monday), and that was the reason for my non-stop jibber jabber. I bought a packet of chips and a bush stubbie (quart bottle) of Monteiths for supper, figuring I'd probably earned it by now.

My evening routine was followed as usual, although this time I tried my hand at multi-tasking, to save time - I managed to get myself and gear cleaned while drinking my bottle of beer in the shower.

In bed before midnight, with the alarm set for 5:00.

Day 4: Culverden to Blenheim

My final day was a tough one - I only had about 280km to go now, and knew a few sections of the route from previous rides - the stretch between Culverdon and Hanmer from 2012, the Wairau from a 400km ride I did with John and Simon, and the North Bank Road/Blenheim section from various Wakamarina missions over the past few years. All I had to do was join the dots...

I was on the road by 5:30, with all of my gear on - it was freezing! The morning light was gorgeous as the sun began to rise behind me. I'd noticed both of my achilles were getting tight on the previous day, and today they were a little worse. As I warmed up my body complained less though, so it wasn't all bad. My arse was still dandy, as were my hands and shoulders. Apart from my achilles, my neck was getting a bit sore - quite possibly from spending a bit of time in the aero bars over the previous couple of days. But, uncomfortable as I may have been, I was still loving being out on the bike.

Approaching Hanmer Springs

I reached Hanmer shortly after 7:15, and made a beeline for the bakery to grab some breakfast, morning tea, and lunch for the drag back to Blenheim. My favourite breakfast food was a couple of pies - they were warm, and full of fat and carbohydrate - not the sort of thing I'd normally smash over with such impunity, but when riding one's bicycle through the countryside, one may take the odd liberty when it comes to nutrition.

After a quick change of clothes, I was off up Jacks Pass - a lovely climb in the cool morning air. This lovely climb led to the shittest part of the course, for me at least. I had a tough time with the corrugations in the road surface in the Rainbow Station - even on a mountain bike with big soft tyres they wouldn't be much fun, but with the little 32c 'cross tyres I was cursing the situation. I stopped to let air out, to the point I was bottoming the rim out on any of the larger hits, and this provided some relief from the constant rattling. From memory the corrugations lasted for around twenty five kilometres, before improving from "terrible" to simply "uurrgghh". Still, the scenery was fantastic, and massive - I remember rounding a bend in the valley a one point, and seeing the road snaking its way up the valley some distance in front of me, and eventually disappearing over Island Saddle at about 1,300m above sea level.

It was lovely to bump into a few Brevette riders through this section, who had done very nicely to be on the home stretch of their seven hundred kilometre adventure. One was Karl, who I had a quick chat to, before cruising onwards. He took a photo of me right at the top of Island Saddle - I like to call it "The Walk of Shame".

I walked most of the 1,100km to avoid wearing out bike parts

I saw a lovely alpine stream not long before the climb up to Island Saddle, and stopped to refill my bottles in anticipation of a long, dry run through to the highway in the Wairau Valley. After Island Saddle, the Rainbow was a much nicer place - slightly rougher, but not nearly as corrugated, and mainly down hill.

I handed over a fiver at the little shed on the Northern boundary of the station, and was told to wait there while the guy got me some change - after all, he only asked for a gold coin donation. I told him to keep the change, and put it towards a grader. Seriously.

Not long after getting back onto the tarmac of the Rainbow Skifield Road, I had a startling moment or two - in the heat of the afternoon I'd unzipped my riding top, and was cruising along down in the aero bars when a bee flew straight down my top. It stung me on my neck on the way in, and continued to struggle around inside my top. I managed to grab the bee while riding, then came to a stop and evacuate the (now rather squashed) bee from my attire. I was thankful it hadn't found its way down my bib shorts...

A funny thought entered my head as I made my way towards the highway just out of St Arnaud - I hadn't yet been riding three days, and I was nearly back where the loop started.

After a bit of lunch I got stuck into the highway section down to The Wash bridge, where we were to negotiate some forestry roads. The light tailwind, the gradual descent and my recent lunch saw me sitting just under fifty for long stretches of highway - it felt awesome to be riding hard.

Now, I didn't think much of the finale. In fact, I hated it, and still do. The forestry roads were fine - quite nice in parts actually. The main access road though, was another story - freshly laid rocks lined the road for kilometres on end. Now, when I say "rocks", I'm not taking the piss - fist sized rocks littered about the road, presumably there to deal with the heavy logging trucks. Probably fine for a ten tonne truck with big 11R radial tyres that weigh about as much as I do, but not so great for little 32c tyres. This section only served to prolong the final stretch, which in the scheme of things was no big deal.

I'd hoped to finish in under 3.25 days (3 days 6 hours), but this section put paid to that idea. After crossing the Goulter River, the road showed no sign of improving. To make matters worse, there were markers at each kilometre - as each of them passed and the condition of the road showed no signs of improvement, I got a little less happy about life.

Thankfully, after a few very rough kilometres, the road became a little smoother (like a freshly laid gravel road - relatively good in comparison) and progress became a little easier. Still more kilometres further on, the road finally became tarmac for the last time. I knew this section reasonably well, and I started to look for familiar landmarks. After a while, I saw the turnoff to Bartlett Creek Road (Fabians Valley Road), and knew I was less than an hour from Seymour Square in Blenheim.

The breeze was fairly strong by this point, but it wasn't enough to curb my enthusiasm. Once I made the right turn for the short blast to Renwick, I had the best tailwind of the entire Kiwi Brevet and set a good pace through Renwick and out the other side for the short blast to Blenheim.

At this point I was still completely in the dark with regard to the progress of other participants, and was often looking back down the road - whether it was in search of company, or something else, I have no idea, but it seemed strange given the circumstances. I had a good opportunity to collect my thoughts as I rolled through the suburbs on the outskirts of Blenheim, and decided I was generally satisfied with how the Kiwi Brevet had gone for me. I made a few more turns, and crossed the Taylor River, before cresting the riverbank and heading for the square.

It was fantastic to see my lovely wife waiting for me at Seymour Square, especially as she was carrying two litres of chocolate milk :-)

I completed the 1,130km Kiwi Brevet course in three days, six hours and fifty-something minutes.

Comments

  1. That's an incredible feat, Dave. Outstanding and epic work.

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  2. You sir!, are the exactly right amount of batshit insane. Legend!!
    I look forward to sitting in front of a computer incessantly hitting refresh, watching you carve your way across the landscape in future events

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  3. Fantastic riding Dave. Amazing that the same event and course turns up so many different experiences.

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  4. Awesome ride and report Dave! Looking forward to watching your Spot shred up the TD!

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  5. Wonderful, Dave. What a fine ride (and write). You were an absolute pleasure to "watch" - the comments above are all spot on. My hat's off to you.

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  7. Fantastic to read your write up Dave,Thanks for sharing your adventure.

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  8. Awesome write up and more impressive ride. You are an inspiration dude. Please do the TD.

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