GSB17 - Day 1 - Central Otago Summer

As usual, my prep for the Great Southern Brevet started waaay before I flew into Timaru - with good reason. This one was all new for me - I'd driven some of the route (Tekapo, Omarama, Cromwell, Arrowtown, Wanaka) in the camper back in December, however the tarmac stuff wasn't what I was interested in. I scoured Strava, Google Maps, previous GSB write-ups and whatever else I could to get more information around the course, and what to expect.

It quickly became apparent I wasn't going to be looking for a normal lightweight setup - previously I've booked accommodation at pubs or hotels on the route, but with the remoteness of the route, this wasn't really a possibility. Besides, I was keen to just ride my bike, and pull the pin when I got where I was going and bed down for the night - I did this two of the three nights out on the course.

Lake Tekapo, the evening before the day after

About 35(?) of us met up on the Saturday morning in Tekapo, loitering around various cafes, stocking up on last minute supplies and trying to move around to stay warm - this may have been the height of summer, however it was probably about 6 degrees at the start of the ride...

Not my usual summer riding attire...

The Great Southern Brevet 2017 - Day 1

Statz Czech:

Distance: 201.3km
Metres climbed: 2,612
Ride time: 11:07
Elapsed time:12:30
Skids ripped: A solid 20

Once we got going, it was nice to ease into a decent pace on the tarmac, before hitting the old river bed for the next couple of hours. Prior to the event, I was deliberating whether a Cyclocross bike would suit the parcours - this section would have been tough going, along with a few others, but generally it would have been sweet. Anywho, along we steamed, bouncing from rock to rock - 'we' being Cliff and me, later joined by Matty G. Progress was decent through the Black Forest Station, and over the rollers to Lake Benmore, before we dropped down to Otematata for a restock. We didn't see Matty again after this - after we pulled off, he snuck through and just kept on keeping on.

Cruising across the Benmore Dam

I was already feeling relatively second hand, only a few hours into the ride. At this point, Cliff and I had been joined by Bryan, and during the drag up the valley towards the cycle trail, I drifted off the back, and dealt with the now drizzly day on my own for a while. As soon as we joined the cycle trail, my pace picked up, and I caught Bryan and Cliff as we entered Omarama. I wanted to grab some fuel, as did the others - we met another couple of guys here, who we'd spend a bit more time with over the coming 24 hours. After a brief stop, we continued, heading for Little Omarama Saddle - a little bit of Kiwi humour in that name, as it's actually about 1,000m above Omarama. With some relatively cruisy false flat to deal with for a while, we soon made the turn off the gravel road, and immediately headed skyward - walking for the next hour or so, with only a few small rideable sections for our addled bodies.

Steep? Yeah, I guess so

The view back to the North was amazing, with the approaching weather bomb quite apparent, as the grey wall slowly chased us down. The drizzle we had in Omarama was now squally showers.

Looking down the valley, towards Omarama and the impending front

At the top, it was time for jackets, gloves, beanies, overtrou, and anything else I could find - it was cold up here! My Garmin reports about 6 degrees as we climbed, cooling to a solid 0 at the saddle, increasing to 4 over the remainder of the day's riding.

The descent was great fun, partly due to the fact I was on a proper MTB, allowing me to carry a bit of speed and rip some mean skids and pop off the large waterbars along the way.

Looking South, down Manuherikia Westbranch

On reaching the valley floor, the next while consisted of riding a km or two, before stopping to move through a farm gate. I can't remember how many there were - maybe about 10 - but it was certainly the staccato stuff I knew made for slow going. A left here, a right there, and we were up on top of a washed out old bridge. I remember a photo the event organiser had shot from the other side, showing the extent of the damage... sure enough, a couple of minutes and some choice words later, we were fording the shin-deep river. I'm not a massive fan of being cold, even less cold and wet - but when there's no other way across, it's not really much of a consideration! The Squally showers from the saddle were now more persistent - but not heavy.

Cliff dunks his cookies

Aside from the neat little fishing huts alongside The Falls, the remainder of the riding was relatively unremarkable - after a bit of sticky mud, we popped out onto a highway SH-85, to be precise. A zig, a zag, and few stretches of gravel later, we we nearing Oturehua.

A short time later, we encountered the bright lights of Oturehua! More accurately, the bright light of Oturehua - there appeared to be only one street light there. With plans to bed down for the night in this wee town, our group set about finding somewhere to bivy, out of the weather. Around 5 minutes after arriving, one of the gang spotted a large corrugated iron shed off the side of the Otago Rail Trail - it turned out to be a fertiliser storage shed, probably 20 metres by 8 metres or so, and perfectly dry! Within 10 minutes of arriving here, the rain intensified. You know when the rain is so heavy and intense, you think to yourself "Wow, there's no way this can get any worse"? Yeah, I think I said that to myself about 4 times, before declaring out loud this was now officially Biblical Rain.

Even in the deluge, our shed remained dry - although as you might imagine, the tin roof and tin sides made for a very noisy night's sleep with the rain pelting down. As we'd arrived at about 22:00, a couple of the crew were keen to satisfy the mandatory 6 hour rest period before moving on - meaning a 04:00 departure! I wasn't privy to this plan, and - had I been - I would have said adieu then and there, and opted for another couple of hours sleep!


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