2017 Kiwi Brevette - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Thankfully, the Kiwi Brevette is a thing - it's about half the distance, but a completely different course from what I've ridden previously, bar a couple of shared sections (The Wairau, and Queen Charlotte Drive, both of which are lovely in their own right). The 2017 edition was a clockwise loop from Blenheim, including the Wairau Valley, Tasman cycleways, Tennyson Inlet, and back around Port Underwood to Benheim. Well, that was the plan, at least...
My KB started in Picton - I'd ferried over from Wellington on Friday, after finishing work for the week, and made my accommodation at around 11:30. The short trip from Picton to Blenheim was over pretty quickly, albeit with a bit of trepidation - my rear tyre started spurting jizz up the inside of my left leg shortly after leaving Picton, meaning I had a leak of some sort. It seemed OK, after a bit of cursing and inspection, so I left it. It caused me no further trouble for the next 36 hours/500km.
|A prologue, of sorts|
I've always found the start of these type of events weird - all sorts of people, congregating excitedly in a strange place (yes, Blenheim is indeed strange for most people). I hung out, chatting to a few old mates - I spied Jeff Lyall, sifting around, although he wasn't riding this edition. I caught up with Scott and Jo, who so kindly organised this KB, along with the previous one in 2015.
The GoodSoon after I'd returned from a handy cafe with my breakfast, 10 o'clock was struck, and we were off! It was a slow, deliberate ride for me, to start at least. I sat near the rear of the field, hanging out with other brevet riders. I laughed out loud at the obvious 'attacks' being thrown down nearer the front, as gaps started to open up through the group - in these events, nerves and excitement seem to get the better of most, causing little brain explosions.
Eventually, after some navigation, I rolled through, and rode at my own pace for a while. I was able to enjoy the surroundings, including the first sign of summer so far - the cacophony of Cicadas in the trees between the road and the Wairau River.
Somewhere along the Wairau Valley, a group of 6 or 7 caught up, and I was happy to rotate, and cruise along with them. As soon as we hit the gravel, the group slowed, and I slid back off the front, alone again, making time into the nagging Southerly headwind.
|Moody skies and a bit of drizzle on the horizon|
Half an hour later, as we continued towards the crossing of the Goulter River, I spotted a trio on Cyclocross bikes - they'd obviously made a pretty quick start, and after a bit of chatting and leapfrogging, I found they had planned to ride fast and short, staying at Top House that night.
|The view downstream immediately after crossing the Goulter River|
|The Goulter River, upstream|
We'd had a Southerly all morning, which is a headwind as you climb the valley - the elevation gain, along with the aforementioned headwind, was certainly making proceedings drag on a bit longer than I'd anticipated!
The last time I'd ridden along here was during the 2015 Kiwi Brevet - the course was the same, until we reached the Rainbow Valley turn off. In 2015, the area was still being actively logged, so we had nice bridges over the three or four creeks to cross along this section of the trail. In 2017, the area looks to be rather disused, with lots of trees fallen over the access road, and each of the bridges seemingly dismantled - the structure for each appears to have been lifted clear of the respective creeks/rivers, and placed carefully a few dozen metres away. Presumably this is for such a time that logging operations recommence in the area?
|Bridge remnants visible to the right, over the stream|
After emerging from the relative tranquillity of the gravel logging road at The Wash, we had a short stint on the main highway up past the Rainbow Valley turn off. I'd been going for 5 hours to cover the first 90km, which had been slower than I'd expected. Once past the Rainbow turn off, we'd almost immediately hook a right onto a nice gravel road, to pass Top House - an old hotel, and the scene of a double murder suicide in the late 19th century! I too, had murder on my mind - I smashed over a fruit juice, and a ginger beer, then murdered a Sprite, and took a can of Coke hostage in my pack for later.
|Lunch, liquid stylez|
From here, it was all downhill - literally. The right turn I'd made from the Wairau Valley into Tophouse Road not only coincided with my entrance into the Tasman District from Marlborough, but it also meant my annoying headwind was now a nice tailwind! On top of that, I was about 670m above where I'd started my day, and had all of that to burn off over the next couple of hours.
|Tophouse is at the bottom left of the red line, my route for day 1|
I've ridden most of the section from Tophouse to Wakefield previously, during the 2012 Kiwi Brevet, so know the road pretty well. This course had a few nice deviations, where cycle trails have popped up in the five years between trips. The Tasman District has done a wonderful job of creating a great trail network, which is not only scenic and enjoyable to ride, but also gets bikes off the narrow, windy highway through the area. Part of the cycle trail now passes through the historic Spooner Tunnel - the longest disused tunnel in New Zealand, at 1,352 metres, and part of a never-completed railway line linking Nelson with the West Coast.
One of my favourite features of the long, cool tunnel was the use of reflectors to line the sides of the gravel surface - with the light on my helmet, the tunnel was illuminated like a runway at night.
By the time I was at the tunnel, almost 150km and 8.5 hours into the day, the relatively cool, dry air was welcome respite from the heat of the day. I really enjoyed following this trail towards Nelson - it's a fascinating area, and getting through on a bike is perfect - time to stop and nosey around, but fast enough to get from point to point for more noseying!
Soon after leaving the old rail trail, I reached Wakefield, marking the 175km mark for the Brevette course. I arrived at about 7:15pm, and spent around 40 minutes stopped - I got a couple of burgers and chups for dinner (repeating the mistake I'd made in Kurow only a week or so earlier!), along with a few 'bits' from the 4 Square next door, to see me through the next 15 hours or so.
I sat at a picnic table near the main shops, and fielded questions about my bike from a reasonably annoying child, who was seemingly intent on disturbing anyone who happened to visit his town.
Before leaving, I stashed one of the burgers in my bag for breakfast.
With my new coat of bloat, I gingerly made my way out of town, up the gradual climb of Pigeon Valley rd. This was one of the highlights of the course for me - it began as a false flat, with a nice tarmac surface, and eventually became a gentle gradient on this beautiful, smooth hard packed dirt. It was around dusk now, and the beautiful sunset prompted me once more, to make contact with Jay back home, to let her know what I was up to.
|Sharp Road - close, but no cigar|
On reaching the top, a little over 270m above Wakefield, I fired my light up, and headed down the other side, into the small settlement of Dovedale, where we'd tackle another little gravel climb (150m) to arrive in the Motueka River Valley for the drag down towards Tasman Bay. The riding from this point was relatively fast - covering about 25km in the hour to reach the outskirts of Motueka at about 11pm.
After a quick phone call home, I decided to carry on - I wasn't ready to stop just yet, and the heavy dew in the valley I was in wouldn't make for a warm night's sleep. I thought I'd continue until I found a good bivy spot, nearer the sea to keep warmer. I knew there was a bit of a lump between me and Kaiteriteri, but that seemed like the most reasonable place to stop for the day.
My final 15km for the day took 90 minutes - back to jogging pace! The call home, a bit of dithering, plus slow progress over the surprisingly savage climb to Marahau took a bit of a toll, and I arrived in Kaiteriteri at about 15 hours after leaving Blenheim, almost 17 after leaving Picton, around 300km ago.
Arriving in Kaiteriteri, I quickly identified a good spot to stay for the night - as you arrive into the bay, there is a beautiful beach to the left, a bunch of shops/cafes/pubs to the right, then a large recreation complex beyond that - a boat ramp, play ground, public toilets, carpark, and covered cooking area - Bingo! The cooking area had a large concrete floor, which had been in the sun all day, so was still warm at 01:00 on my arrival. It was covered, so I wouldn't get dew on my bag, and was near the sea, so should stay relatively warm - score.
I unpacked my gear, which is now a familiar process - my bivy bag and sleeping bag are rolled up together anyway, so it's just a matter of inflating my pillow, organising chargers etc, and getting changed into some warm, dry gear to sleep in. I was on my back by 01:15, dozing off, when I heard the first disturbance.
The BadOne problem with a resort-town, at about 01:00 on a Saturday during a holiday weekend, is the folks pouring out of the pubs after last drinks. Normally not a major issue, however when there is a playground with a (mighty fun sounding) flying fox, it is an issue. Particularly when I'm sleeping only a few metres away, through a cinder block wall.
The yobbos were pretty good people, from what I heard - they have the usual first-world struggles, including relationship woes, work gripes, and getting wasted on a regular basis (one of them had a "mean hook-up for weed, bro." Presumably they were from Motueka). Those conversations folks have about life, and what it all means when they're boozed, you know... Anyway, that went on for a good 40 minutes, before I started drifting off again. It was almost 02:00 now.
Nek minit - I hear a strange rustling sort of noise, very close to me - like a rat inside a plastic bag, or something. I immediately sat up, to see a young man taking a piss against the rubbish bin inside the cooking area I temporarily called home.
"Oi!" I yells.
"ARGGHHHH!" he retorts, pissing on himself in the process.
"There's a public toilet ten metres that way you FUCKING SAVAGE" I kindly informed him.
He left, and reported the homeless man to his friends. The sounded like they took pity on me, and decided to move their party elsewhere, which on balance was very considerate of them. I probably got to sleep properly at about 02:30, and had a fitful night on the cooling concrete slab beneath me.
The UglyOn account of my 01:00 arrival, and the mandatory 6 hour stopped period of the Kiwi Brevet and Brevette, I set my alarm for 06:00, to allow an hour to get my shit together - packing gear, getting dressed, feeding my mouth-hole, and the inevitable faffing that seems to follow me around.
I had a cold burger, procured about 12 hours earlier in Wakefield, and something else - maybe a muesli bar or something - before saddling up for the day just before 07:00. The sun was rising across Tasman Bay, and hitting the golden sand, making for a picturesque start to my day.
Aside from the scenery over the next few hours, this was as good as it would get - and it would get much, much worse.
As soon as I started riding, I felt familiar fatigue - although a little stronger than usual, particularly after only one day on the bike. I put this down to the 3.5 hours of disturbed sleep I managed, I suppose. I can function well on say 5 hours sleep, but much less and I am like anyone else!
My legs were taking a while to warm up on the crisp morning, but no doubt helped by the few skids I managed to rip through the Easy Rider trail we traversed on our exit of Kaiteriteri. I'd like to visit again sometime, without the luggage and fatigue, and with more time and company.
By the time I reached the road around towards Riwaka, the day was already heating up - I can't remember ever seeing rain in Nelson, in spite of multiple trips since about 2012, and distinctly remember the searing heat the sun seems to possess in the area.
A few zigs and zags, and I was back on gravel roads, heading for the Mapua Ferry. There was an option to bypass this section of the course should the timetable not suit, but I was keen to sample this section of the course as I hadn't been here before. The course took in some beautiful vistas on the way to the ferry, and conveniently passed a nice cafe.
|The Motueka foreshore|
|Well deserved, and much needed!|
|Looking towards Mapua|
|Looking across towards Nelson|
On reaching Mapua, I had time to use their facilities for some administration (ie. poos), before laxing out on the wharf in the sun, awaiting the boat to assist us on our 100m voyage over to Rabbit Island (named Rabbit Island because locals and visitors alike travel there to make rapid, repeated love).
|Looking across to Rabbit Island|
There were all sorts waiting for the ferry - families, oldies, kids, and me. Regardless, it is a no doubt a very well used service! I reached Mapua at 09:40, awaiting a 10:00 ferry.
|Punters, punters, everywhere!|
Once off the boat, I struggled to make my way through folks on their recreational bikes, who were themselves struggling to remain upright through the most benign sections of trail. Thankfully, natural attrition took care of most traffic, allowing me to make better time towards Nelson via the relatively simple trail network I was now following.
I had a couple of navigation blunders, resulting in a couple of small backtracks and Google Maps checks, but once I reached Richmond knew the way into Nelson, from both the 2012 Kiwi Brevet (in this direction) and the 2014 Kiwi Brevet (in the other direction), during which I'd positively sped through Nelson, barely taking a photo on the way through.
|Tahunanui, tantalisingly close to the Spring and Fern|
I reached the big Countdown at almost exactly midday, and set about restocking and feeding my face once more. On shuffling my gear around before leaving, a doddery old prick walked into me, before giving me a hefty dose of the stink-eye while he sat a dozen metres away. I met his gaze for a moment, before deciding his glazed eyes indicated he probably didn't even remember lurching into me moments earlier. It must be a wondrous time to be around for a codger, seeing society progress from the norms of the 1950s (oppression, prohibition, boat shoes and walk socks) to today (smart phones, social media, SPD pedals, and #fulldeepcustom)
I left the mumbling misfit, and navigated my way through the city of Nelson, stopping only briefly at a bike rental place, who kindly loaned me some chain lube, as I had run dry during the stream crossings the previous day.
On leaving Nelson, shit got real, and got real pretty quickly for me.
I crawled up The Brook, and over the saddle to the Maitai Valley - it was hot, hovering at 28 degrees as I climbed in the sun. On making my way up the Maitai Valley, I was overcome by an urge to sleep. I pulled over, reminiscent of the time I'd done the same just a couple of weeks earlier, during the Great Southern Brevet. I jettisoned my pack, and helmet, before lying down in the long grass beside the road - under a tree, this time - and tried to get some sleep. After some time, I realised I was now going nowhere fast, so continued to ride.
I struggled to navigate my way through the Maitai Dam area - I've been through here numerous times, without issue, but today, I couldn't make heads nor tails of the cues, or rely on my (normally accurate) memory. Eventually, after some retracing and deliberation, I was on the right track, and made my way atop the Dam, to take the new (to me) road up over the mountain range towards Whangamoa.
The climbing wasn't too brutal in itself, but combined with the heat of the day, plus my fatigue, it felt terribly arduous. According to my GPS, it is only a couple of 250m climbs through here - something I'd normally not give a second thought to - but I took over 3.5 hours to cover the 30km between Nelson and where we joined the highway over to Rai Valley.
Somewhere along the ridge, I spotted a wee ford crossing the track, and decided to have a lie down in the cool mountain water - I removed my pack, and emptied my pockets, before lying on my back in the refreshing water. I also downed a couple of bottles of the fresh water, while I was at it.
|I may appear spaced out, but that's only because I was spaced out|
Within 10 minutes, I was feeling noticeably better - my temperature was down, I was (obviously) better hydrated, and I no longer felt drowsy. I got my shit back together, and made my way along the gravel forestry road, eventually popping out on SH6, about 20km from Rai Valley.
Unfortunately, the good progress was short-lived. No sooner had I rejoined the highway, and steamed down the gradient off the hill, I was feeling drowsy once more. I pulled over at a rest area, and didn't even bother taking my pack or helmet off, before laying on my side under a tree.
|I may've had heat stroke, but retained a good eye for a photo|
I repeated this once more, before eventually arriving at Rai Valley. This was a point in the course where a little loop started, taking us over some hilly terrain, around Okiwi Bay, Elaine Bay, Penzance Bay, and Harvey Bay (each bay with a corresponding climb and descent to the subsequent bay), before the haul up Opouri Saddle and arrival back to Rai Valley.
I'd estimated this loop would take about 6 hours, without taking fatigue into account. With the way I was feeling, there was no way I could have safely and confidently taken on this loop. I didn't want to stay another night outside, as I really needed a decent sleep, so I made the decision to withdraw from the event and cruise back to a hotel in Picton. It had taken me about 11 hours to cover only 125km, which is a pitiful day out in the scheme of things (the previous day I'd covered 200km, largely uphill into a headwind in the same period, and was still feeling good - quite a contrast!)
I stopped for about 40 minutes at the shop in Rai Valley, not feeling hungry, but knowing I needed to take fuel on, just to make plan B work. I started with a couple of Frujus, before eventually settling on a sandwich of some sort, along with some jet planes. I figured I'd get dinner in Havelock, then cruise into Picton from there.
As soon as I left Rai Valley, I felt better - probably a combination of the rest, the refueling, and the decision not to continue with a monster day. My original plan would see me cover a little over 320km this day, to finish the course in 1 day and 16 hours. I covered the full 2014 Kiwi Brevet course in 3 days 7 hours, so figured I'd be able to halve that for the Brevette course!
I steamed through Pelorous, and made good time through Canvastown, before arriving at a closed Havelock - the only place open was the pub, on this Sunday evening just after 7pm! Fuck! I did some Googling, and arrived at the conclusion the 4 Square in Picton would be shutting at 9pm - I had 1 hour 45 to cover the hilly 33km to make it in time. Ordinarily, this would pose no concern for me, but given recent events, I was unsure I'd make it... in which instance, I would be relying on the BP station in Picton for my nutritional requirements!
|Looking back down over Havelock|
I dared not stop for many photos along the stunning Queen Charlotte Drive, should I jeopardise my chances of making my deadline - I took one shot leaving Havelock, then was head down, bum up for the next hour and twenty. I made Picton in plenty of time, as it happened, holding a good pace over the rollers between Linkwater and Picton, making me wonder whether I'd been in such bad shape earlier in the afternoon, after all.
Dinner was a bizarre combination of a Greek Deli Mix (Olives, Feta and sun dried Tomatoes), sweet and sour chicken, salt and vinegar chips, and a couple of cans of VB!
I covered just under 500km in the 37 hours between leaving Picton and arriving back, of the 630 originally intended, to see me complete the course.
|Travelling light, as usual|
After taking a bit of time to ponder in my little hotel unit, I felt a strange combination of disappointment and satisfaction. I was disappointed because I had failed to achieve what I'd set out to do - I don't believe anyone has ridden any of the Brevette courses in less than 3 days, let alone 2. I also felt satisfied, as I'd given it a pretty good nudge, and next time will have a much better shot at it - I'll make sure I get a better/longer sleep, and that I stay better hydrated throughout any hot days.
I'd been nursing Achilles Tendinitis from the GSB, too, which didn't help much - although the strapping tape left pretty funky tan lines up my left calf!
This pretty much rounded up my summer for 2017 - I got in a bunch of good riding, which was no mean feat given a busy time at home and at work. It was great to see some semblance of fitness return after some good rides, and to be able to build on that reasonably easily as the days grew longer.
The riding I did was on my Niner ROS9 - which is really aimed for towards 'trail' riding, with burly forks and wheels, big brakes, and a pretty hefty frame. The one thing it offered over any other bike I had at the time was comfort - cushy tyres, and a slightly shorter top tube meant I didn't feel like I'd been through a tumble drier, which is more than I can say about previous brevet bikes I've used!
My gear was great, too - I use a little Macpac sleeping bag (the Escapade 150, I don't think they make it any more, which is a shame), an Outdoor Research Helium bivy bag (400g or so, and did a great job when called on), which combined with some thermal tights, a wee puffer jacket, and a merino top, kept me relatively cosy at all times.
Until nek time...