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Jeff’s Bike – Jeff’s Bike Blog: Le Petit Brevet

Le Petit Brevet is one of those rides that both entices and scares at the same time. I’m not getting any younger so when Scott Emmens announced he was going to organise it this year after a 3 year gap since the last one, I thought I better hop on board. The thing that you struggle with from looking at the stats, is how you can get so many vertical metres into that many kilometres. Well, all I can say is, you do.  There are only about 50 kilometres of flat in the whole ride. Typical Dirt Brevet type rules apply and you have to finish inside 36 hours.

24,888 freedom feet of climbing. If you don’t enjoy climbing, it’s probably not for you.

I was lucky to have my buddy Ian and his family host me, and quite close to the course, in Mt Pleasant. After unpacking my bike I noticed I could no longer get big/big in my gears and my rear disc was rubbing. Something must have shifted in the travel process.  I decided to adjust the limit screw and reset the rear caliper. I tootled off up the hill to make sure everything was meshing, it was. Up ahead I saw a couple of MTBers so I caught up to them to say hello. The older of the two checked out my bike and asked if I was doing the LPB, as his workmate was organising it. When I asked what his name was, and he said “Guy”. The penny dropped. I don’t think we’d met since the 2010 Kiwi Brevet when our crew came across Groundeffect’s Guy Wyn-Williams and Laurence Mote heading into Darfield, or thereabouts. They had the “local knowledge” so we were happy to get on board with their suggestion of a pretty comfy spot sleeping on the porch at the Oxford Pony Club Domain. The funny part was when they got a small head start on us in the morning and we watched them cycle down the road and take a wrong turn in front of us! I don’t think we saw them again. Small world anyway!

22 nervous riders, wondering what they just signed up for.

I digress. The next morning Ian and Lucy kindly dropped me off at Hansen Park where around 22 riders nervously waited for the start. Someone named “Tad” hadn’t turned up, but he was on the list, so we waited a bit longer and eventually left without him. There was the usual array of completely different bikes, all of which would be perfect for the job at one stage or another during the ride. I was seriously doubtful of the kit that some people were carrying. They either had their mum waiting ahead fluffing the cushions for them in Akaroa, or they were planning on having balmy weather for the whole ride. As usual I was packing my fears, with a puffer jacket, buff, beanie, rain pants  bivvy sack and quite a few other things I considered bare essentials in case I had to sleep on the roadside.

The initial pace was a bit hot I have to say, and eventually I found out it was crusty Andy the Badger Beale who was the culprit. I struggled a bit on my rigid drop barred bike as we entered Kennedy’s Bush, but the single track there was the only single-track I did at pace anyway.  I ended up riding with fellow Wellingtonian Dr Nick Kennedy. Nick is pretty fit so I asked him lots of leading questions about his medical specialty to make it harder for him to pedal and talk at the same time. Nick countered by asking me at what point old people noticed a measurable decline in their performance – he was about to find out. Nick had spent a bit of time in Christchurch so he had a bit of local knowledge and was nailing the sealed descents we rode early on. We stopped at the first cafe we saw and Nick quickly downed a pie and a coffee. I hadn’t developed a desire to eat at this point so I stowed a couple of pies in my back pack.

Nick Kennedy. On a sensible bike. Cannondale hard Tail.

We carried on at a pretty good pace and got through a fair bit of climbing. The climbing was pretty constant. There were two main types of climbs. Steep, and bloody steep. After a while I pretty much stopped even using my big ring, just to save the hassle of changing gears. My little gear of 24 on the front was not that much smaller than the big gear of some of the 1x set-ups out there anyway.

Eventually we got back onto some gravel, some really steep gravel, I suspect it was Pettigrews road. We had been riding very solidly for about 70 kms at this point. I was using my new Compass Antelope Hill 2 inch slicks, and even on this crazy steep stuff there were no problems with traction. We did see Andy Beale up ahead, pushing his bike up the road. Probably a victim of his early pace and his big front ring. After about 5 minutes it turned out that riding was marginally quicker than walking, and we caught him. He was in good spirits and was fun to ride and walk with for a bit. He was on a hard-tail like Nick so as soon as we hit the off-road leading into the Double Fenceline track I told them to go on,  as I seemed to be in energy deficit and I needed to get one of those pies circulating through my system.

Taking a breather before the Double Fenceline Track.

My first pie still had little attraction for me but I forced most of it down and left the rest for the birds. It was good to take my first “breather” in about 4 hours, and after that I concentrated on taking a few photos. There was a small problem. The higher I got, the better the views were expected to be, but the tops were often enclosed in cloud. On the other hand, if it had been full sun the whole time it would have been even more brutal.

Stiles were the reason I didn’t put all my gear in a frame-bag.

The Double Fenceline track wasn’t particularly enjoyable for me, and my bike seemed to be getting heavier with each stile. I was surprised to see people out riding this trail for fun. The going was very slow, but after a very long time (2.5 hours) I was temporarily down on the flat again making a 2km return diversion to the Little River gas station to stock up on fresh Pies and Lolly-water. On the return I had my head down and after climbing 2 kms up SH75 I realised I had missed the turn off to Puaha Road. DOH !

Another pie stop after a foolish distraction on the smooth tarseal. What was I thinking? I need more kms?

I stopped a little way down Puaha road for a break and to get some food in before the next major ascent started. A lot of the climbs so far seemed to be around 6 to 11 %, and I think there was only one of the 10 major ones that was under 400 metres (1400 feet). Little Akaloa was beautiful, with amazing views all the way around to Okains bay.

Heading up along towards the Double Fenceline track. I think…. Looking out over Duvachelle Bay.

As I was just about to get stuck into “Big Hill” coming out of Okains bay, I met up with another rider, Andrew Laurie. Of course, I didn’t know it was Big Hill, and Andrew was surprised to see me, not knowing that he had passed me when I’d taken my 4km diversion up SH75. Andrew and I enjoyed riding together for a good while, but his head was a lot stronger than mine and I had to drop off the back when I ran out of concrete pills on a particular climb. Andrew seemed to know quite a few of the climbs which was helpful.

I knew I was getting close to Akaroa, but I couldn’t believe how long this 65 kms from Little River was taking. I’d left Little river at 2pm, so it looked like it was going to take me at least 6 hours to get to Akaroa. In my head I had broken the distance to Akaroa up into 2 segments, the start to Little River, about 100 kms, and Little River to Akaroa, another 65 odd. I was hanging out for the smooth tarmac descent down into Akaroa when I checked my GPS to see that I was hanging a left instead….

I got seriously flummoxed at this point. I was making hard work of the directions on the cue sheet, and how they related to where I was going. I back tracked a few metres and eventually worked out that I shouldn’t have crossed the style. I had just jumped onto the correct trail when I was surprised by a rider coming up behind me. It turns out he had missed the start by an hour, starting at 8am. He wasn’t carrying much gear, in fact, he wasn’t even using gears. It was Tad. Some how I put two and two together and worked out that he was the guy we were waiting for at the start, and he was the World Singlespeed champion! Cripes, riding that course on a single speed sounded like the definition of insanity. He admitted to doing a bit of walking. He was on a very cool purple rigid Surly Karate Monkey. I was trying to pick his accent thinking that maybe he was Irish, but it transpired that he was originally Czech but has been in NZ for some years. There must be something about Czechs as there was another on the ride, Martin, currently living in Nelson. At the beginning of the ride we laughed about how difficult it was for Martin to get a visa while a Czech drug dealer currently in jail had no problem getting his okayed!

Gorillas in the mist

The Purple Peak Stock Track trail down into Akaroa wasn’t exactly flowy and I was starting to despair of getting into town before the shops closed. I got in at just after 8pm I think and was lucky to find a fish and chip shop that while it was officially closed, took pity on me and took my 37$ for a scoop of chips and fish,  2x Powerade, 2x juice and a couple of water bottles.

Andrew Laurie. Great company.

I was so intent on getting food that I hadn’t really thought much about the option of staying the night in Akaroa. It made a lot of sense, but I hadn’t booked anything, and I had come with the intention of riding through, even though I knew that I was very under trained for that kind of an effort. I figured that if I wanted to I could have got accommodation, or if I blew up spectacularly in the last leg I could jump in my bivvy sack in a hedge somewhere.

The last “leg” was around 100 kms and I would be doing it in the dark. From memory it had 2 large hills in it. I figured that if I took enough food and rested up if I needed to, I could get through, and there was the promise of… joy of joy, some flat riding before the hills. So I turned on my head-light and rolled out of Akaroa at about 9pm and bang, straight into some more hills….  I saw a sign on the side of the road that said “Camping Ground”… I weakened for a moment….. no turning back now.

I lapped up the flat stuff when I eventually got to it (after the first major hill) and I’m pretty sure I even had a tail wind. Before long I was climbing again and seeing up close what a massive problem we have with Possums. I must have seen at least 50 on the trails. The problem with riding in the dark is that there is not much to see. I was starting to get bored and it was messing with my motivation. There was still a lot of climbing happening. Funnily, for someone who loves climbing, I had for the first time in my life discovered there was such a thing as too much climbing. I remembered my phone, I was Stravaing the ride so I had brought two sets of 2×18650 DIY power-banks for it. For the first time ever I was using the phone in airplane mode and was amazed at how little battery it was using. I turned on my Podcast app, if I jammed the phone in the top pocket of my pack’s strap I could hear it loud and clear, and it was less intrusive than headhones. For the rest of the ride I treated myself to stories on such diverse subjects as Lab-grown meat, Fake illegally imported aphrodisiacs, to a critique of Madonna’s album “Like a Prayer”.

Christchurch looms.

It was getting cold so I started wearing my buff, and even put my emergency shower cap on, as well as my rain jacket, for the cold descents. The lights of Christchurch came into view, and then the day started to break. I’ve only even ridden into the morning once before, and it is quite a buzz. The only problem I had with navigation the whole time was getting back to Ian’s house at the end, using Google maps. Scotts LPB GPX file was perfect. So good in fact, that most of the time I am ashamed to admit that I just followed the line and didn’t need to use the cue sheets at all.

I had no idea who else had ridden through the night like I had, only 3 other nutters as it transpired, and unlike me, they hadn’t mucked around.

First in was Josh Aldridge in a mind blowing time of 14 hours and 56 minutes, he had finished by 10 pm ! That is insane. Next was another Nelsonian, the Czech Martin Strelka finishing at 11:40 pm. His ride was very impressive, on a very nice looking Salsa Cut-throat. Then there was Andy Beale at 1:44 am. I’m not sure what I was doing in the 3 hours between Andy and my time, I guess just riding very slowly ! The other 15 riders that followed the exact course finished the next day.

Plastic fantastic with bald tires, Compass Antelope Hills.

I’ve done a few interesting one-day rides over the years, but none as hard as this one. If you love the hills, are up for a challenge and want to take in some amazing views, then Le Petit Brevet just might be for you. Scott did a great job organising this for us, thanks again Scott!


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Jeff’s Bike – Jeff’s Bike Blog: Tour Aotearoa 2016

Aotearoa New Zealand. A 3000km
unsupported bikepacking adventure.

I think we are lucky in New Zealand, on several fronts. We have a relatively small country with constantly changing scenery and terrain that can both challenge and
inspire. We also have people wanting to share it with the masses. The
Tour Aotearoa was a vehicle for the organiser Jonathan Kennett to
introduce a new cycle path from the northern most tip of the country to the
bottom. By no means did we take the shortest route, but we did take in
some amazing trails and scenery. We have a style of bikepacking in NZ that
allows participation by people who might be put off by the caffeine
fueled all-nighters that are the norm in some other events. A mandatory 6
hour stand-down for every 24 hours makes the events safer and more
achievable for many. The event was capped at 300 riders. In the end around 230 started and around 18 pulled out. That’s not a bad completion rate.

Drafting is legal in most NZ dirt brevets, but you do have to deal
with the personalities of your fellow riders if you chose to ride as a
group for the duration. Someone commented that if we were spending 100%
of the day with our spouses, it would likely result in a divorce after a
few days of  limited sleep.

In our case, on the first day a self-selecting team was born,
comprised of Geof Blance, the Tour Divide 4th place finisher from 2014,
Matt Dewes a graphic designer with an eye for a great shot, and Steve
Scott, the hard man roadie with 5 Tours of Southland under his belt.
Geof and I were the only ones with previous bikepacking experience. Matt
had spent time as an under 23 XC racer in Switzerland so we knew he had
a big motor. To date I still haven’t seen his conversation threshold
breached. He was young and fit and would dance up the hill and take
snaps as we rode past, sharing them on social media when cellular
coverage allowed.We have Matt to thank for most of these images. If you have  ever watched the Tour of Southland you know what kind of an animal Steve must be. It must be the hardest race in the southern hemisphere with hills and the kind of weather that makes you put an extra duvet on your bed.

Day 1. Cape Reinga to Waimamaku. 206kms.
Strava Cape Reinga to Kohukohu,
Strava to Cape Reinga Waimamaku,
Day 1
was always going to hurt. New Zealand is a very hilly country. I knew from
experience that average speeds for the fast guys in dirt Brevets in this country are
around 14kmh. We had to average over 20kmh to make the last 8pm Ferry to Rawene. Unfortunately mother nature had other plans in the form of a
head wind on the beautiful “90 mile beach”. Bikepackers learning to
ride in echelons was a comical thing, and I was struggling with cramp
for some reason.

I ended up stopping to clean my chain at the end of the 88km beach segment before carrying on, in hindsight a bad move. We had a
whole lot of climbing to do after the beach, before reaching the Ferry and we killed
ourselves to get there. It would have been nicer to save that extra 10 minutes of energy. We time trialled our brains out to arrive at
8.02 pm. Luckily the ferry hadn’t quite pulled out. Phew. It was like an 8
hour stage race. Not bikepacking as we know it. The beach was really
something and one day I’d love to go back and enjoy it with less
pressure. There was a funky little whole-food shop there at Rawene and we spent plenty of time stocking up on pies and stuff for the next day. Most of the other riders hit the road straight away, but a few decided to stay at Rawene, including Darren Burns, who had already broken his saddle, not sure how, maybe a violent “buttock clench” after seeing people rub wheels and go down right in front of him on 90 mile beach ! There were a few moments out there for sure. Someone tried to lecture Steve on how to lap out in an echelon which was a bit of a laugh considering his “roadie” background.

90 Mile beach into a head-wind. Photo by Matt Dewes.

The night was still young so we carried on for another 25 odd kms to Waimamaku where Geof spied a good spot behind a local hall for us to bivvy in. No need for tents yet as it was very warm. There was a tap on the side of a building which was good for those of us who were washing and alternating their shorts daily.

We just made the first ferry at 8.02 pm. Photo Matt Dewes.

As we were preparing to leave the next morning at 5am we saw a few people roll past in the dark, moving onto the first photo point of Tane Mahuta, the giant Kauri Tree in the Waipoua forest. The problem with only stopping for 6 hours a day is that you miss about 5 hours of scenery due to darkness.

Day 2. Waimamaku to Hunua. 138 + 116 = 253kms not including  the boat trip.

we thought day one was hard, we were in for another shock. We still had
to average around 20kmh to get to the next (Poutu) Ferry by 12pm. I think a
lot of people thought the TA was going to be a fast “roadie” affair with
lots of sealed roads. They were wrong. As soon as the first hills
abated we were into a series of relentless steep gravel climbs that just
kept on coming.

By the time we got to the “ferry” 7 hours later we were
cooked. We were also 12 minutes late. But the boat was still there. The
next one was at 6pm that day, so we had to catch this first one.
Imagine riding into the red for 7 hours, then clambering up a loosely
mounted modified aluminum ladder attached to a tiny boat rocking
around on a high tide with a 22 kg bike on your shoulder. It was funny
and grim at the same time. As usual, somehow Matt managed to photograph
it for posterity. I guess there were about 20 of us who made this first

Sad story of the day went to Kevin Moginie. He must be incredibley strong, as he had the aerodynamics of a Mack truck as he motored along on his full suspension Santa Cruz. He caught us earlier in the day, then I think we recaught him at Dargaville.  I saw him taking a turn on the front at some stage and then he just disappeared. I guess we assumed he had a mechanical. Apparently he wasn’t that far behind, and he missed the boat! Not to be deterred I think he may have caught up and passed us again by Mangakino on day 3.

Now the pressure was off, or so we thought. No more ferries to
catch, for a while anyway. Event organiser Jonathan Kennett had decided
that if we wanted to, we could utilise the 3 hour boat trip as part of
our 6 hour continuous downtime block. We took Geofs advice as a seasoned
campaigner and decided not to use the boat time as part of our 6 hour rest. A few of them did, Ollie, Seb, Anja, Matt, Cliff. They rolled
down the road to the closest cafe and took the extra 3 hours napping

Boarding the Ferry, what an experience. Photo Matt Dewes.

Before very long we were getting close to Auckland,
already we were missing the friendly locals from the far north and the
lush green country side. Now it was fast commuter traffic then the urban cycle-ways of Auckland. We saw some sights, including a commuter, completely on the rivet with a full-face DH helmet on. We couldn’t wait to get out of there and
back into the boonies. We climbed up Mt Eden to be greeted by a couple
of “blue-dot junkies” who had been following us the whole time. What a
buzz, We were actually leading the event as the other “Ferry sleepers” hadn’t caught up
yet. We shortly hooked up with Nick and Ben who knew their way around Auckland and navigated us to a McDonalds where something gave me the worst case of acid-reflux I have ever had.

Were winning! (But its not a race). Photo by blue-dot junkie ; )

We headed off to find somewhere to stay. Geof was keen on
accommodation but we saw nothing on route and before long we were into the
Hunua Ranges which is still kind of on the outskirts of Auckland.
Finding a place on the road side out of view of local farmers was a
challenge. Eventually after descending down through the Hunua Ranges Geof
spied a good spot amongst some trees that turned out to be mint. Another
night out with no tent and no problems.

Day 3. Hunua to Mangakino 244kms.
Somewhere after the sun rose, heading to Kopu.
It was another 5am start from memory. As we rolled away the duo of Nick and his buddy
Ben caught us as we glass-cranked along, as Matt had gone back to retrieve the
sunnies he dropped at the camp site. Ben was “off the grid” riding with
his buddy, not carrying a tracker, but he could sure pump out the watts.

We rolled through the very tame Hauraki Rail Trail, then
onto Matamata. This was a massive section for the aero bars and the
going was fast. Steve was mashing on the front so hard that we had to tell him to ramp it back a bit.

Maybe it was “milking time” or something, but I was surprised at how few cows I saw! It was quite a while before we saw some closer to the Paeroa end of the trail.

We eventually joined up with the extensive Waikato Trail
network where we were happy to meet Stephen “Stealth” Butterworth who
had been following our progress.

Hauraki Rail Trail

 The effort people made to try and say
hello was really appreciated. We eventually came across a large dam at
the head of Lake Waipapa and were met by a bunch of well wishers who I
assumed were all Matt’s family, but it turned out that the guy offering
to clean and oil drive-trains was a blue-dot watcher and blog-follower.
What a surprise. It really felt to me like we were in the middle of nowhere. I decided that when I was finished the TA, I was going to go over the entire course to see where the hell I had been, because I hadn’t really done any research on the course as such.

The next piece of trail was really good, unfortunately
it was very dark, and technical enough that the slow speeds we were
doing were not enough for 3 out of 4 of us to generate good light via
our dynamo lights, so it was on with the spare helmet lights. At one point it seemed like we had ridden the same piece of trail more than once, and every now and then there would be a granny gear climb to take back all the elevation we had just lost. I thought about Cliff Clermont and his 1×11 drive train and wondered if he was still enjoying it. I couldn’t believe how much time I spent in my lowest front sprocket and was very happy to have a triple, as were Geof and Steve.

Geof, Stephen, Jeff, Steve.

eventually made it to the foreshore of Lake Maraetai at Mangakino where we were
surprised to find an American woman who had been doing parts of the
course independently of our organised effort. A toilet block with
running water was an added bonus to this site. This was the first night
we used our tents.

Day 4. Mangakino to Owhango 180kms.
next day was to turn out to be a bit of a tough one. We got into some
pretty uninspiring 4wd track for a while and Geof was having some
“sleepy moments” but it didn’t seem to slow him down at all. We hooked
into the Pureora Forest Timber Trail after a while and it really was
quite beautiful.

Steve rides one of the massive swing bridges on the Pureora Timber Trail. Photo Matt Dewes

 We learned that Matt had incredibly, in our view, taken his fiancee
(not really a cyclist)  through the Timber Trail one day, the poor
thing. We all decided she was a keeper. It was 85 kms of relentless
singletrack with track markers every 1km. Some people liked the markers,
most didn’t. Matt was riding a Cannondale Cyclo Cross bike, but to see
him ride you would think he was on a fully. It must be great to have
those kind of skills.

Skills will only get you so far ; )

Fate caught up with him and a sidewall cut in his
tubeless tire meant a boot and tube had to be used… once he could find
the gash…. Geof used this occasion to catch 40 winks and during this
interlude a small troop of riders caught us and rolled through, Rob
Davidson, Dave Cooper, Linda Wensley and her husband Craig.  It really
felt as if we had been on the Timber Trail all day. A full suspension
bike or even a hardtail would have been great, but we were stuck with
our over loaded rigids, on what would have
been a really fun trail in normal circumstances.

Matt in Pureora Timber Trail.

 We emerged from
the forest to another group of well wishers from Matt’s whanau. He
really had the North Island covered. Wellington rider Nils caught and passed us as we
chatted to them, he seemed to be on a mission. Later on we called into the
McDonalds at Taumaranui and while we replenished our supplies Geof
mentioned that there was an open home within riding distance. I rang the
number and suddenly realised that I knew the host. It was sorted.
Before long we were being treated to such luxuries as electric lighting,
a washing machine, a dryer and some amazing soup that our host Paul
Chaplow had put on for us. I think Geof knew Paul from his adventure
racing days and he looked after us like family, it was a complete blast.
We were overcome with the luxury of it all.

Day 5. Owhango to Wanganui 190km. Including boat trip.
hit the road with a cheery goodbye from Paul who had graciously gotten up
to supervise our departure. Our initial goal was getting to the Bridge to
Nowhere, and joy, another boat to meet. The good oil was that you got yourself to
the Blue Duck Cafe and booked a Jet-boat from there, meeting them 4
hours later at the trail end. The familiar theme of racing the boat had
returned….. The initial trail was narrow and a bit slippery,
considering it was the height of summer. I managed to twist my chain
dealing with chain-suck so was forced to shorten my chain, very quickly.
It was a shame that we were once again suffering from “boat-anxiety” as
the scenery was quite beautiful and a bit more time to take snaps would
have been great.

This was the height of summer and the trail was still slippery. Photo by Matt Dewes.

 The trail widened and we were greeted with a very long,
maybe 20 minute descent? I was not enjoying it too much on my rigid
drop-barred bike, and by the time I got to the bottom, despite several
rests for arm pump, I had two numb braking fingers that still haven’t
come back to life, yet…

Another swing bridge. Photo Matt Dewes.

 We got to the trail end with 20 mins to
spare but still had to wait for a few more tourists to pad out our boat.
The trip down the river was great but I have to say I spent most of it

About to catch a jet boat. Photo Matt Dewes.

As we got off the boat we were hit
with blinding heat and the urge to find as much food and drink as we
could. A small cafe in a local Lodge was just what we needed.

THE Bridge to Nowhere. Photo Matt Dewes.

 We caught
up to Greg Galway who I think had passed us in the night, sleeping
rough, as he did, every night of the Tour. I guess he had missed the first two boats, but had managed to make up some good time on the faster sections. He seemed keen to ride with
us but some of us were struggling a bit on the rollers out of Pipiriki
so Greg eventually rode off to do his own thing.

There were the odd compulsory dismounts. Photo by Matt Dewes.

the time we got to Wanganui we were feeling like some accommodation
again. Paul Chaplow’s open house had spoiled us. We had a beer, which
went to our heads immediately, and I booked a room in a very swish joint
100 metres from the supermarket. 

105 years of crustiness. Photo by Matt Dewes.

Day 6. Wanganui to Masterton 310kms

we hit Wanganui relatively early we had to leave early so at 4am we
headed for the 1st photo-point of the day. Obviously it wasn’t open so we took our photo and moved onto some nice deserted b-roads. I was feeling good, and probably
trying to keep warm as much as anything, but I got the feeling that the
rest of the guys were not as frisky as I was. As we hit Hunterville
Matt’s parents turned up to wish us well. God knows what time they left
Taupo to get to Hunterville in time to meet us. As we were just about to leave Steve recaught
us and we were off on what must have been the biggest stretches of
gravel we were to encounter.

Even the gravel had gravel on it. It was the day of gravel. Photo by Matt Dewes.

 We practically traversed across half the width of
the North Island at this point, before we started to head downwards again, and
there was plenty of elevation in there too. Apiti, Ashhurst and finally
Palmerston North where we stocked up at a gas station and booked a
ferry crossing to take us from the North to South Islands. Not knowing
how long it was going to take us to get there meant we had to give
ourselves a bit of breathing room if we were going to avoid another case
of “boat-anxiety”.

There was morning gravel and evening gravel. It was also our longest day. Photo by Matt Dewes

 We exited Palmie and met a really
cool supporter on the trail with her young toddler, handing out
ice-blocks and bananas. We would have loved to chat more but we had to
keep rolling. The next piece of gravel linking us to Pahiatua was a real
blast and then I think we scored some tail-wind for the segment into
Eketahuna. We caught up with Nils again there and he still seemed to be
on a mission, dropping us when ever he felt like it. I texted Jonty from Revolution Cycles, who built Nils’s very flash bike, and asked him what his background was. Jonty said, “He has never done an organised bike event before”…..

There was a ton more gravel grinding to do before we
eventually grovelled into Masterton, the bogan capital of New Zealand.
Matt had booked us a very nice room but before we could get there we had
to put up with 4 drive by attacks by the local bogans who would throw
milkshakes or slushies at us as we rode. This was the only kind of
encounter we had come across like this and it took the gloss off what
was our biggest day at 310kms.

Day 7. Masterton to Pelorus 144 + 54= 198kms not counting the ferry
was the day we were to meet the Cook Strait ferry in Wellington to take us to the
South Island so we got our lapping out sorted pretty well on a piece of
road I had raced the masters time trial nationals on a few times.
Unfortunately as we straightened up for the run over the Rimutaka
Incline, in true Wellington style the wind came up. It stopped us in our
tracks, and blew us off our bikes, but luckily, as locals, Matt and I
were able to reassure the others that it was only temporary, at some
point it would be behind us, mostly. We were very lucky to have at least
3 sets of buddies ride out to meet us and escort us into Wellington via
the local river trail network and we spent time in the Ferry terminal
with family, and friends. Most of the riders we had come across in the
previous days were on another ferry that was leaving 2 hours earlier but
we chose to chill and do the family thing rather than hop boats.

Rimutaka Incline. A very short walk. Photo by Matt Dewes.

had decided he was going to sleep on the ferry and use it as part of
his 6 hour sleep as some of the others had done earlier. The rest of us decided
not to, and after a beautiful evening riding through the Queen Charlotte
Sounds road, Geof, Matt and I camped at Pelorus.

It was a magical night as we left the Ferry and rode the Queen Charlotte Drive heading to Pelorus. Photo Matt Dewes.

Day 8. Pelorus to Maruia 248 kms
Maungatapu was probably the most sustained off road climb of the TA, and
after about 20kms of introductory gravel we worked our way into it, all of us trying to clean the gnarly bits but all eventually succumbing. Matt
despite limited gearing probably did the best. His 34/40 front/rear
ratio was pretty damn good for someone with his young legs, but the loose rocky surface was the undoing. Of course he
cleaned the gnarliest part of the descent into the Maitai Valley. I
walked it.

As we came into Nelson I was greeted by my
cousin Paul who was whooping and hollering with excitement and we rode
with him to a cafe where we got a coffee fix and a few more sweet treats
before we took off. Craig and Linda were there too, with Craig about
too go to a GP to have his nether regions checked out. As we were just
about to leave my Aunt turned up which was also a highlight. She
had been watching the dots and was really getting into it.

Climbing the Maungatapu early in the day. Photo by Matt Dewes.

headed out of town on the local trails and when we got to Richmond were
joined by my buddies Susie and Gazz who were keen to accompany us on
the trail which took in one of their favorite training loops. It was
great to have fresh company. They were fresh off the Pioneer MTB stage race and were probably keen to see what these smelly cycle-fred tourists were all about.

Somewhere on some Gravel… Photo by Matt Dewes.

We eventually went our
separate ways near Dovedale and took in a whole bunch more gravel on the
way to Tapawera. On one of the big gravel descents I got a sharp pain
in my left quad which was to effect me badly for the rest of the tour. I
managed to keep pedaling, and it seemed to be alright upon waking most
mornings, but then get worse during the day. We picked up Steve again
at Tapawera and he was regretting his night without sleep, after
combining his ferry into his 6 hour sleep block, but at least he caught up
with his kids in Nelson. We pressed on through Lake Rotoroa and the Braeburn and did a
raid on the dairy at Murchison and after a beer and burgers at the
Commercial Hotel we rode on, eventually finding a camping spot somewhere
in the Maruia. Once again, another beautiful spot we missed because it
was dark. Luckily I had been through there 3 times before in the Kiwi
Brevet, twice in the day time.

Day 9. Maruia to Kumara 217 kms
morning on day 9 was uneventful as we climbed up out of Springs
Junction for some time, before getting a nice gentle downhill and
possibly some tail wind into Reefton. It was time to refuel and head
into the technically demanding Big River and Waiuta tracks. Not specific
man made tracks for biking, these were left over from the gold mining
days and were in places actually river bed. I called into the bike/sports shop there and chatted to the friendly lady, mentioning that my grandfather used to run the butcher shop in Waiuta before the gold dried up and it became a ghost town. She said that this very building we were standing in was one of the last to be removed from Waiuta and may well have been his. 

Geof picks his line in Big River…. Photo Matt Dewes.

My left leg was not happy. Every time I hit a bump it
would shock my left quad and I would bleat like a baby. I’d been through
these trails 3 times before in the Kiwi Brevet, but knowing what was
coming up didn’t make it any easier, even though I knew the tracks were
in as good a shape as they had ever been. There had only been about 10 people ahead of us, not enough to impact the track surface.

Big River. Photo by Matt Dewes.

It was hard work. I couldn’t
wait to get out. Maybe there is a difference between doing this trail
with 2 days in your legs compared to 9. Maybe I was just soft. Matt was
loving it on his cyclo cross bike and taking some lovely shots. I felt
like a real whinger, at least I had fatter tires than Matt, I should
harden up. The wet rooty bits were not to be underestimated. As usual
Geof was very stoic but somewhere along the way we had lost Steve again. Matt said that this was his favourite section.

Big River. Photo Matt Dewes.

We finally got out and our first stop was the
Ikamatua store before heading to Greymouth. After we had refueled I
realised that I had lost my spare dry-bag somewhere in the Waiuta. I was
gutted. It had my beanie, arm warmers and leg-warmers, and my buff.
They say in bikepacking you pack your fears. My fears are, 1, bonking,
2, getting a saddle sore, 3, getting too cold. If I don’t get my beanie
and buff on as soon as I stop I can revert to a shivering mess in

Matt in the Waiuta.

We were just about to leave Ikky when Steve turns up, my green
dry-bag hanging off his bars. What a dude! Steve refueled, we pulled out but unfortunately he went off
the back on the first climb we did after crossing the River and I didn’t
notice. I felt terrible. He’d just saved my arse. We even stopped at the Pike River monument thing but still no Steve in the distance. But what do you know, we got to Greymouth, and
were just about to leave the Subway and Steve turned up! He was like
the Terminator. We did a quick shop and I managed to dial up some
accommodation in Kumara township, smack in the middle of the West Coast
Wilderness trail. Score, the proprietor also owned the shop! Pies,
lollies, all the good things. It was win-win and the team was back
together again!

Day 10. Kumara to Pine Cove Motel 275kms.
the week an old friend from Christchurch, Ian, had been texting me,
saying he wanted to catch up and ride with us for a bit. Ian was a very
accomplished XC racer in his day, but I had no idea how fit he was
currently. Long story short, when we left Kumara at 5am the next
morning, Ian, his wife Lucy and Daughter Katie (in her pyjamas) were
there. Wow, what a send-off. Ian was on his old Raceline with v-brakes
and a household torch strapped to his handlebars! Geof had his MC-hammer
pants on this morning and the pace was on from the start. The West
Coast Wilderness Trail is a fun, fast and achievable trail for most
people. Unfortunately we had to do a detour and missed one of the best
parts of trail as we rode into Cowboy Paradise, a western themed Lodge
overlooking the beautiful Arahura Valley. The proprietor came out to
chat and mentioned that he barely got a sideways glance when the front
runners came through.

Lake Kaniere

We carried on to the back of Lake Kanieri and took
in the new trails alongside the water race that led us into Hokitika.
Somewhere out of Hoki Ian got shelled, then lost! He didn’t have a GPS,
but he did have a cell phone and a wife. We rolled into Hoki, spied
Geof at a cafe, ordered a coffee and pie and sat down. Geof announced
that he was off. Ok. He might see us later. We waited for our coffees
and pondered our next move. 

The rest of us
left and got into a good groove, losing Steve on an undulation somewhere
along the way again, Matt picking up his 2nd puncture. After riding through two herds of cattle we eventually picked up
Geof at the Hari Hari cafe about 75kms later.

A River somewhere between Hari Hari and Haast.

West Coast of the South Island has a scenery unique to itself, with
wide flowing rivers and strange tree forms.
There are two Glaciers that come right down to sea level. The Franz and
the Fox glaciers. They are unsurprisingly connected by some fairly
challenging hills, although they were on sealed road. Matt and I were
both struggling with left leg issues. Me with my dodgy left quad, Matt
with a tender knee. He’d had a minor Achilles problem earlier and asked
what he should do. I jokingly replied, didn’t you read my blog post on Achilles issues? He hadn’t, so, figuring that his cleat bolts were
probably burred to the point of difficult extraction we dropped his seat
post by about 5mm. The relief was instantaneous.

A hill somewhere between Franz and Fox. Matt discovering his seat height is not optimal. Amazing what 10 days of over-use syndrome will tell you about your set-up.

had rung my Osteo from Franz and left a message on his phone, asking
what I could do about the continued numbness in my right hand. He rang
back as we  were navigating the little trail out of Fox and gave me
some exercises. Unfortunately they didn’t help.

dropped down into the granny gears for the big climbs between Franz and
Fox and I told Geof we would have to catch him later as we were both
broken arses. Geof promptly dropped off the back himself. He had his own
problems. We were a sad lot, but regrouped at the top and rolled into
Fox. Geof and Matt researched some accommodation down the road and made a
phone call. We seemed to be on a mission to get there and ripped along
at a pretty good pace, wondering when the hell we were going to find it.
Each new corner revealed nothing and we pressed on. Then in the middle
of nowhere, a little group of motels sprung up, 35 kms outside of Fox.
The Pine Grove Motels were one of those oases in the middle of
nowhere. Very basic, but more than enough for a bunch of wasted smelly
cyclists. AND they had food. We washed all our clothes again as well.
Pure luxury.

Day 11. Pine Cove Motel to Arrowtown. 291kms
was the usual 5am start and we rode on, eagerly awaiting the sunrise.
Matt reckoned he saw a light up ahead. I thought he was hallucinating,
but he was right. We were catching someone. Who could it be. Anyone
ahead of us had a fairly good gap by now. Knock me down with a feather,
it was Steve, the terminator. He had passed us in the night and bivvyed
out in a shelter in the Copeland Pass. It was great to catch up again.
Geof had another sleepy moment but we got through it and motored on to

Terminator Steve Scott looms out of the mist. Photo by Matt Dewes.

 As we rolled in to the cafe there who did we see? The affable
American Cliff Clermont. He was about to leave, but always a sucker for
company we talked him into another round of coffees and we all left
together. Cliff and I had ridden most of the 2014 Kiwi Brevet together
and Geof had ridden with him in that years Great Southern Brevet as
well. Cliff had started out with the initial leaders, so we were keen to
catch up on all the gossip but it would have to wait until we were on the

Another River somewhere around Haast. Photo by Matt Dewes.

For some reason we were lapping it out very fast again. Cliff,
always the negotiator suggested we dial it back a tad if we were going
to have any chance to catch up on the news. There were some good steep
pinches through the Haast pass so now I had to battle the gradient with a
numb right hand that I could only use the bottom two fingers on for
braking and a left leg that was only really at 50% power.

leg was really annoying. I looked down at it, then across to my
top-tube mounted water bottle. Had the water-bottle cage shifted? I had
mounted it using the “insulation tape hack”, as I had done to the down
tube and front fork cages…. I suddenly had an epiphany. When I would
come to a stop, but sit astride my bike I was putting pressure on the
top mounted cage and bottle, and had imperceptibly been moving it
sideways over the previous 10 days, and I was also unconsciously moving
my left leg further to the left to avoid brushing against it! I was
riding bow-legged !  This was the cause of my pain. I stopped
immediately and kicked the cage off with enormous satisfaction. I still
had two more bottle cages and a camelbak so it wasn’t the end of the
world. I felt better already, but the damage had been done. 2 weeks
later its still not 100%.

We stopped at Makarora Cafe
for a lunch break and I waited for Matt who had a last minute thing to
sort. Geof’s MC Hammer pants were on again so it was quite a while
before we caught him and Cliffy again. There were more hills on the
approach to Hawea and we stopped for some photos at the “neck” of the two
big lakes, Wanaka and Hawea.

Photo-op at “The Neck”

We were straight into a trail at Hawea which from memory we
followed all the way into Wanaka. The pace was still on but it was good
to be on some dirt again. The previous two days had been 90% seal where
we were doing battle with tourists in camper vans, who I have to say
were pretty well behaved. This part of the South Island is pretty much
fully booked out for accommodation from November to March.

grabbed a burger and beers at a cafe in Wanaka, Geof and Matt called in
to Rick Woodwards bike shop, Outside Sports, Geof for a gear tweak, Matt for a new
nipple… for his camelbak, it had fallen off on the outskirts of Fox.

is bliss, at least temporarily. After the obligatory shots outside
the Cardrona pub we had to do the Crown Range. I had never ridden up it
before, and I did it in my middle ring as I figured that if I changed
down and dropped the chain onto frame again, as I had been doing, I
would probably just end up walking it. We had done close to 250kms already that
day, and there was more to come. At the top we rugged up again
for the descent down the other side onto the cycle trails that would
take us into Arrowtown. Another pub stop there and then we went and set
up camp at the local camping ground.

Attacking the Crown Range at night fall. Photo Matt Dewes.
Day 12. Arrowtown to Bluff 290kms, including boat.
got a sleep in on this day, til 6am. We had to catch a 10 am sailing of
the Earnslaw steamer to ferry us across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak
and Mount Nicholas. Geof’s local knowledge meant that we had time in
hand to crank out 40kms of local trail and still have time for a leisurely cafe breakfast while we waited. A buddy from Wellington’s nephew was following the ride and joined in with us on his jump-bike as we wound our way into Queenstown. Greg Galway was
also there waiting for the same boat. I was impressed with Greg’s ride.
He’d spent most of the time by himself and bivvyed out every night. Not
only was Greg there, but Steve had done another superhuman effort to catch up as well, camping at the foot of the Crown Range and hitting it early that morning.

My buddy Ed Banks is a school teacher in Wellington and he chatted me one day to say that he had shown his class at school the tracking page and they were hooked, so he had it up on the big screen all day. He chatted me again while we were at Queenstown waiting for the Earnslaw and he asked me if I would mind it if the kids could ask me a couple of questions. Next minute the phone rang and we had a bit of a chat and then answered some questions for the kids. It was a very cool moment for me actually.

Geof wheels his bike onto the Earnslaw. Photo by Matt Dewes.

A couple of times during the Tour Aotearoa Matt had joked, “I’m gonna grow some balls and do a
break-away today and drop you guys”. It was a bit of an in joke. The
thing was, we knew he could, at any time, if he wished. But on this day I
was feeling good. It was still early in the day, my legs hadn’t started
to pack it in yet. It was around 11am when we got off the boat at Walter Peak, only 250kms to the
finish and my cousin Sam had told me there should be a tail wind. It was
time to put on the MC hammer pants…

Fresh legs after a coffee and pie on the Earnslaw Steamer having just crossed Lake Wakatipu. Photo Matt Dewes.

I went to the
front and picked up the pace a bit. It felt good, we already had tail
wind so I kept winding it up until we hit the first climb and just kept
going. Part way up the hill Matt shot by. I thought, oh, he’s going to
the top to take some more photos of us! What he’d actually done was
grown those balls. He wasn’t at the top waiting….

had got to the top with me, but his 1×11 just wasn’t up to it. I shifted it into the 44 and got down on the aero bars. I looked
back and Cliff was slumped across the bars. I was on my own. The tailwind
was amazing, smashing it across the tops at 48kmh on the aero-bars in
my 44-11. This was me having fun. Gravel, tail wind, aero-bars and 250 odd kms to go, I was truly in my happy place. From this point on it was just hammer. I wasn’t
stopping for anything. There was miles of gravel past the Mavora lakes
turn off and on towards Mossburn where my Southland cousins all come

I talked to a grader driver working on the road and he said he saw
another cyclist 15 minutes ago, going like the clappers. That would be Matt.
The new Mossburn cycle trail was a bit of fun but I just rode straight
past the township planning to pick up some food later. I had
plenty. I was really enjoying riding by myself at my own pace. I guessed Matt was doing the same. I stopped once at the top of a climb for a snack and once again
to put on some chamois cream as I approached Winton.

I looked over my shoulder. What was that? A
rider off in the distance behind me? Surely not. I renewed my efforts,
but within a few minutes a rider pulled up beside me. Greg Galway ! He
was on a cyclo cross bike like Matt, and this was a good day to be on

Actually, we were all three of us on drop bars, and had all paid
attention to aerodynamics with our bike set-ups. Greg and I rode into Winton
together and did a quick raid on a shop and were out of there in no time. I never ate half a fried chicken so quickly. Greg
was a great navigator and he rode up the road about 100 metres ahead of
me the whole way until we got to Bluff where it started to rain lightly
as we got closer. There was someone standing in the middle of the road
with his hand out for a high 5. It was Matt, he’d been there for an hour
already and had booked the last two beds in Bluff ! He was nice enough
to ring Geof and let him know, so they (Geof, Cliff, and eventually Steve!)  pulled the pin at Winton, had 5 pints at the pub, and
finished the ride into Bluff the next morning.

With the big tail wind, Matt had averaged 30kmh from when we got off the Earnslaw to Bluff, including Mt Nicholas. 251kms according to my computer.

At Bluff, with Greg. 11 days, 8 hours and 35
minutes at an average of 265kms a day.

I was strangely
unemotional as I finished the ride. I guess it was no surprise, it was
all I expected, and more. I had prepared well for it, I still had a
few issues, but they weren’t insurmountable. I had my cousin coming to pick me up, so I hung out in the foyer of Matt’s hotel, watching the pattern in the carpet pulsate… Who knows how much longer we could have gone for, or how much faster we could have done it, but right now I needed food and rest.

There are many ways to do a
dirt brevet like the Tour Aotearoa. There are no wrong or right ways,
just different ways. Some people did it with negligible training. Some people never stopped for a beer! Some
people wanted to take all 30 days and only travel during daylight hours,
and you cant blame them. It’s a beautiful country. I think that was the
one thing in common that we all took away from the Tour Aotearoa. We
are very lucky to live in such a beautiful place, lets keep it that way.

Riding through the Waiuta with Geof, where my mother actually went to school, now a ghost town. Even though I struggled through here, this is my favourite photo, by Matt Dewes.

Thanks to Matt Dewes for his amazing photos, also the Strava files of both the North and South Islands. Thanks also to my amazing cousin Sam Kopae and her husband Wally who looked after me and the two Matts in their “bikers haven” in Invercargill. Thanks to Jonathan Kennett for organising this thing, and thanks to  our spouses for letting us have the most fun you can have on two wheels in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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Brevet Jeff's Bike karate monkey Te Tawhio o Whanganui

Jeff’s Bike – Jeff’s Bike Blog: Te Tawhio o Whanganui

Te Tawhio o Whanganui, (a loop of the
Whanganui) was the brainchild of John “Sifter” Randall. It’s a
very different beast from the only other “Dirt-Brevet” type
activities I have been involved in, in that everyone has to stay at
the same town each night, but the route they take is up to them. The
starting and finishing point was in Whanganui and the towns in
question were Eltham, Ohura and Raetihi.

Motua gardens, Whanganui – 02/02/2013 Te Tawhio O Whanganui.

What made these stop-overs so special
were the great places we were able to stay in, and they seemed to get
better as the trip wore on. The main difference in this event was
that you were encouraged to take any route you wanted, there was no
right or wrong way, and no incentive to get there first. This should
have knocked any competitive urges for a six, but as is always the
case, when you get a bunch of people together on bikes, it’s not long
before they will start pushing each other. The multiple choice option
for routes also meant that depending on which route you took, you
might use a completely different bike to another rider. There were
many different bike formats involved including cyclo-cross and road.
Myself, I opted for a bit of a change this time, forgoing my 26inch
fully I went with my drop-barred Karate Monkey with the Freeload rack
on the back. Not having to carry a bivvy sack, sleeping bag or
sleeping mat meant that I had I could stow all my kit into the one
drybag fastened on my rear rack.

Bill’s well thought out set-up at Motua Gardens. Photo by Bill Brierly.

I admit to having limited knowledge of
the areas we were going into, but with the new xmas present from my
wife – a Garmin Etrex 20 GPS, I was hoping I could wing it and at
least hook in with some other riders. Sifter and Bill
(not-Gareth-at-all) Brierly had put some routes online so it was
actually possible to just follow the dotted line if you were happy
enough doing that.

My first GPS mishap happened as we
tried to navigate our way out of Whanganui, me being a complete
newbie, I had it on the wrong setting and the whole group of us
missed the first turn! Novices. We were so full of excitement from
our pre-event korero and couldn’t wait to get started.

We settled down into a nice rhythm in
the midday sun and headed as far off the main road as we could. There
weren’t too many course options for us on that first day, but as we hit our
first patch of gravel that amazing feeling hit us. We instantly felt sorry for anyone not out there at that moment in time, feeling the crunch of gravel beneath their wheels. Bikes, gravel, scenery, friends – we were just getting started. There was a cool moist breeze coming
off the coast at times, but by the time we got to Patea we were happy
to stop for some serious refueling in the shade. It was also a chance to check in
with some riders I hadn’t seen since the previous years Kiwi Brevet,
Stephen “Stealth” Butterworth, with two more Cambridge based
riders in tow,  Matt and Michael, and Peter Maindonald who had shown me how to build
some DIY fork mounted water bottle holders. On the approach to Patea
I had noticed Sifter gesticulating as we passed a small graveyard,
apparently the resting place of the famous Maori entertainer Prince
Tui Teka. Poi E was the ear-worm of the day for those that realised
the significance.

Getting close to Eltham, Mt Taranaki in the distance.
By the time we got to the days
destination, the Presbyterian camp in Eltham we were really looking
forward to freshening up, not so Sifter and Dave Sharp, they wanted
to do another 50kms and 900 metres of climbing up to Dawson Falls on
the flanks of Mount Taranaki. Myself, I was content with my 120kms, a
refreshing swim in the waterhole next to our lodgings and a very
large Pizza from Daveys Patch Pizza emporium. Next time I will get the medium!

Outside the Pizza shop, Ash and Pilsener were traveling mostly on the road but in no way were they afraid of the gravel.

Eltham to Ohura, 151.5kms, 3121 metres climbing.

Stealth’s Cotic SSer. Photo by Bill Brierly.

If the Patea Maori
Club’s Poi E was the theme for day 1, then “Was not Was’s” “Hi dad, I’m in Jail!” was the theme for day 2. The idea of
staying in the “Ohura State Prison” fascinated me, but we had
about 150kms to go first, but which way ? I could see the Sharpe
Sifter express entourage might be going at a pace a bit faster than I
would enjoy so I rolled out of town with a group that for most of the
time consisted of Matt Peploe, Stealth, Michael Hoogeveen (all from
Cambridge) and Peter Maindonald, Richard Davies, and Nathan Mawkes
who was bristling with info from his recent Tour Divide excursion.
These guys had a good idea of where they were going, and Nathan was
kitted up with some state of the art gear recently road tested.
Checking out peoples kit is always interesting, and while gears
themselves are advisable, they are not compulsory. Stealth was riding
his new rig, a Cotic single speed, but funnily enough, he was the
only one of us to suffer from gear failure with his crank loosening
off a couple of times early on day two. He chose his ratio well,
either that or he made it look very easy, not once did he need to
dismount over the four days. The only concession we made to him was
to keep our top speed limited to 42kmh, at this point his legs would
turn to butter and he would lose contact. The rest of the time he was
usually at the front.

Heading in to the Bridge to Somewhere

The route we took was via Toko and
Strathmore to the Bridge to Somewhere and hooking back up into the
Forgotten Highway. It was the first time I’d done this kind of riding
on dual purpose tracks. Hunters or four wheel drivers had inflicted
their own kind of impacts on the tracks which tended to interrupt
the flow a bit. It wasn’t the kind of trail I’d been spoilt with from
my South Island exploits, but it was different. We rode through a
fair number of tunnels but were ready for a hearty meal by the time
we emerged onto the Forgotten Highway at the Whangamomona pub. The
pub was under siege by 4 different groups of two wheelers at the same
time. A group of Harley riders, a group Japanese bike riders, a bunch
of roadies who had just finished a race there, and us. A steady
stream of Tawhio riders trickled in, from their different directions.
We’d been warned about the woman running the pub’s school-mamm
demeanour before we got there, and she was true to form.

Photo-ops on the Bridge to Somewhere, Matt, Peter and Michael
Matt, Peter and Stealth.

 We refulled and ventured out again into
the blazing sun. More tunnels, more gravel and eventually a fair bit
of undulating tarseal. Still a relatively short day by Kiwi Brevet
standards, at 150kms we were ready to welcome our new digs! I can
only hope that if I ever have to go to “The Big house” its as
good as this. As soon as we stepped inside the Ohura State Prison
Grounds, our host Trudy was offering us numerous glasses of ice cold
water. Water never tasted so good. She set up accounts for us to
charge up any purchases, ice creams, drinks etc. We were given a tour
and a bit of history of the place which was apparently a prison for
low risk white collar criminals in its hey-day. Nice for some.

Another tunnel

We sat down in the large dining room to
incredibly wholesome meals and marvelled at the various kitch art
works on the walls, in particular the Four Horsemen of the
Apocalypse. The staff worked like demons to get us all fed and it
looked like the whole family was involved.

Day 3, Ohura to Raetihi, 172.7 kms, 3266 metres climbing.

We thought we had cheated mother nature
with 2 days of scorching weather, but as predicted (a week earlier)
on the third day it started to rain. I was sitting at breakfast
nattering away to Simon Kennet when I looked around and noticed we
were the only two people left in the dining room. Cripes, time to hit
the road. I rudely terminated the conversation and headed off, eventually
catching up to Mathew Peploe on his Alfine equipped Yeti Big Top and
Karin on her Cyclo cross bike. We rode in a pace line trying not to
eat each others rooster-tail of water. Something was leaking into my
eyes causing me intense pain, I can only assume it was years of
toxins being washed out of my helmet by the deluge. We got to
Taumaranui having ridden on the seal the whole time and called in at
the Supermarket for supplies. We were wet, but not too cold, until I
went inside to make a purchase. The air conditioning was on and I
nearly had hypothermia by the time I got through the checkout.

Karin on her CX bike at the top of a rise

We picked up Michael Hoogeveen and
Nathan and a few others at Taumaranui and after a stop at National
Park for the worlds largest sausage roll and a coffee I shipped out
with Matt and Michael who had a plan to do a ride called Fishers
track before heading on to Raetehi. Matt had a crude map and I had the
GPS, what could possibly go wrong ? Well, a lack of signage for a
start, we found a sign which proudly proclaimed “you are here”
and we were, so why question it. Suffice to say that for the next
hour it was the only sign we saw, and while we found some magnificent
views and a wicked climb that the Alfine’s gearing was struggling with, we eventually realised we were in the wrong place. Michael
talked with a local farmer who pointed out where we went wrong and we
eventually found the real Fishers track, although we still saw no
signs proclaiming it as such. The track itself was quite nice with
some lush native bush better than anything I saw on the Forgotten

This was not Fishers track, but it was a great climb with awesome views from the top.

We emerged at National Park again in
time for a serious downpour. It was time to bring out the lights, as
although it was only about 6pm, visibility was bad. I had my first
ever “Coffee in a can” from a vending machine in the gas station
there. Now I know what it must have been like as Tyler Hamilton felt
a fresh blood bag infusing into his veins!

Peter Maindonald’s rig. Photo by Bill Brierly.

I texted Sifter from the gas station to
tell him to save us some tea and we hit the seal again. We had a
massive tailwind and we soon found out that the Alfine on Matt’s bike
maxxed out at 48 kmh! My 26/36 chain ring combo on the front with a
11-36 on the rear was handling all extremes so far. Michael’s
Specialized sported a 42 on the front so he had plenty of gears,
although on the few occasions he got into the little ring, it chain
sucked badly. Strava tells us we did the 34kms in 59 mins.

We rolled into
Raetihi to the Snowy Waters Lodge with 173 kms on the clock. We were served an amazing roast meal, with
pudding, with an open fridge stacked with beers for our purchase. The
hosts were once again incredibly friendly and they gave us a little
talk about the work they were doing and their views on conservation
and how it related to farming which they were also doing. The
accommodation was top notch with comfy bunk beds and the hosts kindly
ran all our clothes through the washing machine that night and the
drier the next morning. Watching people trying to locate their
matching pairs of Ground Effect socks the next morning was pretty

Raetihi to Wanganui, 103 kms, 1720 metres climbing.

Matt’s Alfine Yeti Big-Top minus gear.

The inclement weather was still about,
but not quite as bad as it was the previous day. There was only
really the one route to get to Whanganui, via Pipiriki. A few riders
had to decided to do the jetboat ride from the Bridge to Nowhere, but
the crappy weather and a dirty river put paid to that idea
unfortunately. Some of the riders who were coming back north, after
reaching the days goal of Whanganui decided to travel light, and pick
up their gear on the way back through. It meant they could go a bit
faster a bit easier. I’d never been down this road to Wanganui via
Pipiriki and it was a very pleasant ride. Unfortunately it was just a
bit wet for us to want to dilly dally about, which was a shame given
the history of the area. Jerusalem looked very interesting, so I made
a promise to myself to go back one day. Matt, Michael, Stealth and
myself eventually caught up to Pat Hogan who we rode with for a
while, eventually stopping for a pause at a Cafe in the middle of
nowhere. Pat put down his bag of nuts to take some photos of tame pigs that had come out for a look. Too slow! Nuts and plastic bag
were quickly devoured in a few seconds as Pat lined up the shot.

We’d picked up Geoff Tilbrook somewhere
along the way and he was riding very well considering he had a broken
finger and his Dr had told him not to do the event at all. There was
one last hill that seemed to be called Gentle Annie, aren’t they all.
It loomed up at us laying down a challenge. This is your last chance.
Stealth took off like a scalded cat on his singlespeed and spanked us
to the top. I am sure that one was double points!

Karate Monkey atop the Gentle Annie climb.

It wasn’t far too Whanganui now so we all formed a pace line, and careful not to exceed the Stealth
limit of 42kmh we whacked it in the big ring until we got there. I’m
not sure what the hurry was, but that’s what happened. Geoff and I
hijacked the handicapped peoples toilet to get changed and I was very
glad to have some dry clothes to change into. With a very nice meal
and a couple of coffees under my belt courtesy of the Big Orange
Cafe I walked down the road and blew 1.99$ on a fresh pair of dry
socks from Postie Plus. I was in heaven.

About an hour later my buddy Dirk
turned up and we rode back to the car collection point and loaded up
the MX5 for the trip back. All up we covered around 550 kms in two
whole and two half days of riding. Not enough to inflict any serious
butt-trauma, despite two dampish days.

I had a great 4 days, met some lovely new people and got a better appreciation of life in some of  the more depressed rural areas of New Zealand. We don’t realise how lucky we have it hidden away here in the capital  – all the more reason visit the provinces and stimulate their economy. I estimate I had been on less than 15% of the roads we travelled so that was a major bonus.

Te Tawhio o Whanganui loosely
translated means “A loop of the Whanganui”. Sifter has promised
to move the loop further north for the next time, so it will be a
completely different loop.

If you are new to Brevet/Bike Packing
this might be the ideal event to cut your teeth on.

Strava stuff

 Day 4

Check out Te Tawhio o Whanganui open Facebook photo album pages, some great shots by Stealth and Pat, among others and some good bike set-up shots from Bill. 

Yes officer, we do have a number plate…..

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