|Surly Karate Monkey|
The Kiwi Brevet is an 1100 km cross country event designed to give people an experience similar to what its creator Simon Kennett had when he first did the Tour Divide. This years was the third, and possibly last unless someone else steps forward to organise it. There is also talk of a length of New Zealand (LONZ) Brevet in 2016 if there is interest.
In the past years I have ridden with a group of friends and had an amazing time. Laughs aplenty and time to take heaps of photos and even do a bit of blogging on the run. This time I was keen to go a bit faster, and if necessary ride by myself. I found this idea a bit scary but you don’t know if you don’t try. The other main difference this time was that I was riding my drop-barred 29 inch Surly Karate Monkey, instead of my 26 inch Santa Cruz Superlight full suspension bike of the two previous Brevets. How would it stack up? Rollability of the larger wheels vs the comfort of full suspension.
|Team Voodoo Lounge, Calum, Tor, Simon, Thomas, Andy, Jeff|
On the way over from Wellington on the Blue Bridge ferry Michael Norris and Kirby Knowles introduced themselves to me. They’d over come from New Castle in Australia and were on fullies with some pretty flash but light-weight kit. I warned them about day one and what the KiwiBrovet guys from 2010 said about the Port Underwood climbs. They were not scared as they had done plenty of big hills in Oz, and Kirby was a highly ranked 24 hour racer back in Oz. We ended up having them around for Pizza and beers at the Voodoo Lounge on the friday night. We had a full house with Andy King, Tor Meulengracht-Madsen, Calum Chamberlain, Thomas Lindup and Simon Morton. We’d opted for a big cooked brekkie that morning and everyone pitched in, with Simon making an amazing coffee brew with his “coffee in a billy” style skills.
|Heading to Port Underwood, day 1. Calum, Andy, Jeff – Photo from Bike-Fit Marlborough|
Day 1. Blenheim to Wakefield Domain
I was outside Bikefit Marlborough picking up some last minute things when I noticed a small note my daughter had hidden on my kit. It was a lovely way to start the day. After the usual photo ops we were led out on the way to Port Underwood. I watched Dave Sharpe make his move and opted to hang back and catch his followers later when they blew up! Ha ha. I don’t think many riders there knew what Dave was capable of. I hit the bottom of the hill and poured on the gas. I was riding with Simon Kennett, Steve Halligan and David Drake until Davids tire went bang in a most spectacular fashion. I carried on and diced with Steve for some time until I got away on the last tarseal decent, 4 very steep hills later. I was cruising through Waikawa Bay when I saw the Red and Black livery of the Revolution Cycles crew. It could only be Thomas…. I gassed it up and screamed STRAVA!!!! into his ear as I blew past. When I finally stopped laughing we continued riding to Picton where we did a very quick stop and picked up some extra water and drink. Apparently international adventure racer Nathan Faave cruised by while we were restocking.
|Thomas and photo-ops at foot of Mangatapu|
Thomas and I worked together through the Queen Charlotte Sound and Havelock where we passed Cliff Clermont replenishing supplies at the foursquare. We got to Pelorus and stocked up some more just in case. The Mangatapu was in great condition and we reached the 750 metre summit at around 7.30 pm I think, with Cliff catching us on the way. He was climbing really well but we nearly recaught him near the summit.
Thomas and I were both on rigid bikes so the very rough decent into the Maitai Valley before Nelson was less fun that it might have been. As we carried our bikes over the final gate we were joined by David Drake, Steve Halligan and Brian Alder. Brian said he knew where we could get good Kebabs if we wanted to follow him. Great idea. We put our heads down and I had a bit of a crash where I wiped out on the gravelly centre line of the road and went into the bank. No major problems, but my first crash of many.
While eating my Kebab I could see that Brian had similar plans to what I had. Press on a bit further and get a bit of a jump on the rest who were likely to be staying in accommodation offered by locals who were doing the Brevet but wanting to stay in their own houses. I was thinking of Golden Downs, as apparently was Nathan Faave, but we opted for the relatively known luxury of Wakefield Domain where we bivvied out and had a good nights sleep with a toilet and water tap nearby. Somehow we had cranked out 199kms since lunchtime in Blenheim.
Day 2. Wakefield to Big River hut Waiuta
I think we rolled out at 5.30. And we quickly got into the groove. We started pretty hard actually, and Thomas, who had not had a good nights sleep in his bivvy sack, (no sleeping bag) and is not a morning person by any measure soon got dropped on a roller. I felt a pang of sadness as I looked behind to see him disappear into the background, a lot like Sandra Bullock looking at George Clooney disappear in Gravity ; ) We got to St Arnaud and were just about to leave when David Drake and Russell Shanks turned up. Russell quickly fueled up and joined us while David went looking for a coffee. Russell (from Pleasant point Timaru) was a tank on the flat and we all traded turns until we hit the Porika track which was a really good gnarly climb. I am pretty sure Steve cleaned the entire climb while I struggled a bit with the last couple of hundred metres. My descending sucked as my rigid bike tended to bounce off the trail which was particularly rough this time on the run down to the Braeburn track. In the previous Brevet, running in the opposite direction, Dave Sharpe had all but cleaned this side of the Porika with only one dab.
By the time I got off the fast and fun Braeburn Track the others were gone so I switched on my GPS and followed the coloured line. I was riding by myself and loving it. It was very hot and I was keen to get back to the group so as soon as I got to Murch I grabbed some food, downed a 600ml bottle of iced coffee milk and took off again. I rounded the corner and heard the others yell out at me from a nearby cafe. They were having a sit-down lunch. I tried to join in but I suddenly felt very queasy as the milk sat heavy in my stomach.
|Brian Alder, Cliff Clermont, Steve Halligan|
Nothing much happened as we rolled out through the Matukituki, on through the Maruia and Rahu saddles and descended into a head wind into Reefton. Compare this to previous times where we were chased by a baby deer, and were treated to Jonty demonstrating how to clean his teeth while riding while the others sparked up their cleats on the descents! Maybe we were too old and boring? The average age for the 4 of us was 45 after all! We had a good stop at Reefton for fish and chips before we went into the Waiuta with the aim of reaching the Big River Hut. I admit to sucking quite badly on the final push into the hut. I was really missing the added traction control you tend to get with a fully and I was completely bushed when we snuck in at around 11pm. 270+ kms that day. A pretty tough day with a fair bit of climbing I reckon.
Day 3. Waiuta to View Hill Domain
|Steve, Cliff and Brian at Ikamatua|
We had a late start and snuck out at 6am because as Brian said, it would be difficult to see well in the bush. I rode for about 4 metres before doing a classic endo down the bank which started the day with a laugh. It was a shame to be riding the Waiuta so early in the day with poor visibility, its just so beautiful in there, but the track was in great condition, especially compared to the first Kiwi Brevet in 2010 where it was many people’s worst nightmare. We got through the Waiuta ghost town with no major dramas and the guys seemed impressed that my grandfather was the butcher there and my mother went to school there. Just how old was I? Before long were were at the Ikamatua pub stocking up and checking in on our phones. It appeared that overnight Thomas had caught and passed us as we lay sleeping, and Nathan Faave had blown his rear hub and had detoured to Greymouth to get it fixed. We didn’t know if he was ahead of or behind us. We were doing the gravel section between Stillwater and Jacksons and trying to guess who was responsible for the crazy tire tracks that were meandering all over the road. We found out eventually when we spied what appeared to be a bunch of old clothes on the side of the road. It was Thomas, sleeping on the roadside. He’d missed the Big River Hut where we were staying, tried to sleep in the bush which was too cold for his kit, and wrecked his tire bead. He was whacked. We tried to convince him to back track to Greymouth to get a new tire but he elected not to, wrapping his tire and rim in insulation tape and soldiering on. He eventually got as far as The Wharfdale before his wheel eventually broke.
|Thomas wakes after a nap on roadside.|
There were dramas aplenty in store for me as we were riding up the Viaduct in the Otira Gorge. It was a stinking hot day, but we had a cool tail wind, so not all was bad, until my left pedal sheared off. At first I thought I had unclipped but Steve pointed out that my pedal had broken off and lay centimetres from the edge of the drop-off. I slid it back on and pedalled while forcing my leg in so that it wouldn’t fall off again. Obviously not a sustainable option. We pulled in at Arthurs pass. I was quite calm considering that my Brevet was about to come to an end. I guess I didn’t have excess energy to waste on being angry. Probably the same feeling you get when you look out the window and you notice the engine just fell off the aeroplane you are flying in. I went up to the manager, Debbie and inquired about buses, and if she knew of any locals with bike nous or spares. She mentioned a local guy Ian who was out on a hike, but she would text him for me. I sat about, thinking that it was probably not going to amount to anything so concentrated on the idea of a hot shower and a comfy bed, and maybe cheering on some other riders until the bus came the next day.
|An ex-pedal. Better to fail riding up than down.|
In the mean time Nathan Faave had turned up, and he stocked up with fizz and icecream and all the other good stuff. That meant that up until then there was only Dave Sharpe ahead of us. Dave was in a class of his own and travelling light and fast. He was miles away and we had never thought for a second that we could match him. My team, Brian, Steve and Cliff said their goodbyes and I chatted to Nathan as he refuelled. I asked him about the feasibility of riding on a flat pedal, should I find one, and he said that in adventure racing they always take a spare pair of flat pedals for exactly that scenario.
After a while Ian turned up. He was the guy that Debbie had mentioned and he said he had a few bikes and he might be able to help. He asked if he had time for a coffee. I said we had all the time in the world as right now my ride was over. A short while later we were in his crib where he showed me a selection of three bikes which I could borrow the pedals off ! What a guy. I opted for the one with platforms and toe-clips and before long I was out of there. I was super motivated. It was great to have a second chance, and with a good tail wind I was smashing it. I’d done enough time trialling to know that one person can be almost as fast as a team of inexperienced ones and I had hopes of taking some time out of my buddies up the road. I actually met Nathan Faave at one point, stopped on the side of the road. It turns out he’d had a swim and was yapping to Coast to Coast legend, Richard Ussher who had been travelling the other way in a car.
I got to the Sheffield Pub around 9pm to find that the guys had only been there about 10 minutes. They got a bit of a shock when I walked in the door. After a burger and fries and jug of raspberry and coke we gently tootled off to our designated bivvy spot, the View Hill domain that we used in the very first Kiwi Brevet with Laurence and Guy from Ground effect.
Day 4. View Hill domain to Fowlers Pass hut
The View Hill domain was a great bivvy spot and really warm. The concrete toilet block had heated up like a giant heat sink, and the Wharfdale track was in good condition, apart from some wind-throw at the far end of it. As usual Brian and Steve pulled away from me in the technical stuff, making the most of their fullies on a great track. We had left Cliff at the Sheffield Pub the previous night for a more civilized experience. Unbeknown to any of us, Thomas had nearly caught up yet again and found the “Hedgerow Hilton” shelter belt outside the pub and was bedded down in there for a while during the night. That explained the cryptic “I found it” text that turned up on my phone.
|Single Speed mode|
More drama came about about for me halfway through the Wharfdale, the tell tale graunch of a trail-side stick being flicked up into my drive chain. I stopped pedalling straight away but the damage was done, my rear derailleur was now looking very sad, and there was a large section of twisted chain. There was only one sensible option. Single-speed it. I cut out a section of chain with my chain tool and rejoined it with my power-clip. The Surly Karate Monkey’s horizontal drop-outs meant that it was pretty easy to take up any chain slack and I was also running slow-release bolt on skewers which meant I could nip them up pretty tight. I was good to go in about 15 – 20 minutes I guess, and was impressed to see that Brian and Steve had come out looking for me, no doubt worried that I was over the bank, having seen me crash a couple of times already in their presence. I suggested that at this time we should cease being a team as I couldn’t see myself keeping up with them with just the one gear.
The rest of the Wharfdale was pretty slow with the fallen trees and the first part through the Lee Valley was very comfortable on my new gearing which was about a 36-23. It wasn’t hard to keep in touch with the others and on the way out of the Lee and through McDonald Downs I tried to attack the hills in true single-speed style but didn’t think that long term it was a good option. I still had a long way to go so ended up briskly walking the steepest climbs rather than break myself, or pull my wheel, or both. As always the long grovelly flat gravel sections that eventually hook you into Hurunui were mentally really hard. It was as hot as hades and I ended up getting water from a farm house to get me through. The others had been gone for quite a while as there was no way I could stay in touch on the fast downhills exiting McDonald downs.
|Steve Halligan, on a hill, somewhere near you.|
For the final run into Hurunui I had a massive tail-wind so stopped to re-jig my chain-line for some more top-end speed. It helped but I was still spinning like a nutter. My power link was too tight to undo to take out the one more link I needed to get my smallest gear. A stop for more food at Culverden and the final run into Hanmer was underway. You could have knocked me down with a feather when Cliff turned up behind me. He had had a cruisy nights sleep at the Sheffield pub, probably about an hour away from where we bivvied and blasted through the Wharfdale in an amazing time. He’d also picked up some “trail magic” from a farmers wife who recounted the story of another Brevet rider she’d helped out in 2010. It was James Dick who had torn off his derailleur in the Wharfdale! Cliff and I traded pathetic turns as we grovelled along with Hanmer as our next destination. That road from Culverden to Hanmer I hate with a passion. As in 2010, none of the locals actually knew how far it was to Hanmer. 20 mins in a car was about the best you could get out of them.
|What, me, scared of dehydration?|
Arrival at Hanmer was a relief. I think it was about 8.30 pm and I must have been in a confused state. I saw lots of riders walking around, all cleaned up talking about big meals they had just had, or were about to have. They all seemed in good spirits and I couldn’t understand why. I had thought that they were pulling the pin, but they were just finished for the day! I was keen to go on as there was heaps more riding left in the day once I had a feed of chips and restocked. It turned out that Brian and Steve hadn’t actually been there that long and purely by chance I ran into them again as we started on the steep Jacks Pass climb. Reunited. One thing I will say about Brian. He had done his home work. There were about 3 huts that he and (local) Steve knew about in the next 20 or so kms after the top of the pass. He had reccied the Maruia Saddle in his wife’s VW Polo and he also knew a lot about photography. There was an amazing sunset above Hanmer as we spun up Jacks Pass and I suggested we stop to take a photo. “Nah, the best time to take a photo is about 6 minutes before it looks good to the naked eye” said Brian. I asked him to keep an eye out for any further opportunities that he might observe later on ; ) I changed my chain from the 24-34 back to the 36-23, slicing the end of my finger in the cluster as I did so, and that’s the gear it stayed in for the rest of the Brevet. The undulations were nasty but it was worth it to get half of them out of the way that night. The Fowler’s Pass hut, as rudimentary as it was, was a welcome stop, some time before 11pm.
Day 5. Fowlers Pass hut to Blenheim
There was more of the nasty corrugations when we left at around 5 am the next morning but eventually they ceased and the Rainbow Valley was at its finest. A truly beautiful spot, but best done on a fresh butt. I had to walk Island Pass but it wasn’t that much slower than riding.
I eventually lost the other guys when I pulled my rear wheel on a small riser, and it was all downhill at speed after that, so I didn’t really expect to see them again with my limited gearing. I got myself a bit confused as I neared the end of the Rainbow where
the trail split into gravel and tarseal, and knowing the Kennett-bros
predilection for gravel I started down the gravel choice, then changed,
then went back… then re-read the instructions and went back to my
normal route. Twit.
The manic spinning, then standing up, in an inappropriate gear was having a bad effect on my right achilles. The North Bank section was particularly brutal. I’m not sure what I was expecting, the older trails were good enough, it was just this newly laid base course gravel, for logging trucks that was real nasty. Big fist-sized goolies that really hammered you, and without the scenic aspect to distract you from the pain! I walked most of the Northbank climbs as my gear was just too tall. I thought about changing it, but foolishly believed respite was soon to come! I passed aussie Troy Szczurkowski who had changed over to the Brevette option, through the Northbank as he recovered from a double puncture. I soon had one myself that was to prove quite critical. The sealant failed to seal the tiny cut in the sidewall so I put in a tube.
|Somewhere in the Rainbow|
Some time later Troy caught and passed me back and I felt terrible. I was pedalling hard but going no-where into a head wind along the now more exposed North Bank. I stopped to look down at my drive chain. I think that when I reset it after my puncture it must have jumped up into a larger cog on the back. There was so much tension on the chain It wouldn’t go backwards and I couldn’t even move it forward by hand. I had been pedalling in squares and it felt like something was going to snap.What a twit. I reset the tension and it was like I was on turbo! I had been down abut 40% in power for the last 2 hours not knowing why. The things you do when your are tired.
|Steve Halligan – Rainbow|
After a quick stop in Renwick for an icecream and drink it was head down for the final stretch home. That last 10kms from Renwick into Blenheim seemed like the longest 10kms I had ever travelled. The remnants of my team had only been aat the finish for an hour or therabouts, so they must have been as blown as I was. It was great to be met by my family and have my first wash in 4 days and sleep in a real bed at the Voodoo Lounge.
The Kiwi Brevet is a hard thing to quantify. Each of us it had done it differently. Dave Sharpe had a demanding plan that he had to adhere to to make the finish. He travelled fast and light with pre-booked accommodation and averaged over 340kms a day. You have to have faith in yourself to ride like that. Nathan Faave had the confidence to go long and hard into the night and sleep where-ever he landed when the big hand hit twelve. 6 hours a night compulsory sleep is like a school camp for an Adventure racer like Nathan. Brian, Steve, myself and for a large part of it, Cliff rode as a team, not by design, but because we met up at the gate at the end of the Mangatapu and were able to ride at a pace that we could all deal with for 18 hours a day. Other riders take great pains to ride alone as they don’t want to benefit from the efforts of others. That’s their choice too. Brian and Cliff had both just come off the Great Southern Brevet. I am not sure how you recover from that. I am not sure how I would recover from one Brevet, let alone two. Nathan Faave covered 276kms a day, we covered around 264kms. In the past when I have travelled with my Revolution/Voodoo Lounge buddies, rising late, taking lots of photos and riding side by side, talking the whole time, we have covered around 200kms a day. I can tell you it was a lot more fun, but this time it was about going for longer, not necessarily harder, just longer. For the record that cut about a day off. 4 days, 6 hours 19 mins, compared to, about 5 and a half days both previous times.
|A Karate Monkey looking for TLC !|
Brian was on a Scott 650B fully with aeros and Conti tires, Steve was on Specialised 29er fully with fast rolling Scwhable Mondials, Cliff was on a Cannondale Scalpel and I was on my rigid drop-barred Surly Karate Monkey with Stans Ravens. I have used Ravens in all three of my Kiwi Brevets and this was the first time I have punctured.They are a great tire but they are very light. I have never been a big fan of tubeless tires and when you spend all that time setting them up properly and you get a tiny side-wall tear that wont self-seal then you wonder why you bother.
There were at least 4 of us present who have done all three Kiwi Bevets. Pat Hogan, myself, Nathan Mawkes and Peter Maindonald. You can learn a lot from guys like Simon Kennett, Nathan and Peter who have now all done the Tour divide. I was impressed with Peters set-up which seemed very comprehensive but also very light. He runs UST rims with heavier UST tires, without sealant. They air-up with a mini-pump and look fast and robust. There were a few cases of tires delaminating on the ride – not what you want, and there is a good chance that tubeless sealant is the cause. Some tires dont play well with sealant.
For me the jury is still out on rigid 29er vs 26er fully. My butt came through in about the same state as it did on my fully in previous Brevets, not pretty. I do know I had 4 crashes in this Brevet compared to 1 in the last 2 combined, maybe it was fatigue? I am keen to try a Brooks saddle though. I didnt see anyone with a Brooks owning up to bad “butt-trauma”.
So thats about it for another Kiwi Brevet. I think the take home message is, “its what you make it”. If you are keen on the idea of the “LONZ” length of New Zealand Brevet then you should definitely get in touch with the Kennett bros and express your interest. Thanks again Simon for bringing this concept to New Zealand.
|Pengu says, see you next time!|
Post script. Kirby and Michael from New Castle pulled out when Michaels back flared up. They detoured to Greymouth I think and went touring in a rental car. In typical Aussie style they “did” half of the South Island in about a day. I hope you come back another time guys and do it a bit slower. It was nice to meet you : )