GSB17 - Day 3 - Cromwell to Middlemarch

The Great Southern Brevet 2017 - Day 3

Statz Czech:

Distance: 195.3km
Metres climbed: 3,835
Ride time: 12:43
Elapsed time:15:37
Skids ripped: Half a packet of wet wipes worth

Day three started late, for Cliff and me - we'd basically hot boxed the hotel room, a result of the disturbed bowels brought about by the irregular dietary requirements brevet riding brings, with infrequent, but massive meals. After faffing about in the motel, packing gear and making phones calls to respective SOs, we rolled out at about 09:00 - a seriously late start!

Prior to our departure, Bryan popped by to let us know he was pulling the pin, as were the others we'd been riding with - the previous days' conditions hadn't been easy, and aside from a small window of fine weather over the next 24 hours, gale Northerlies were forecast, which is a block headwind for the drag from the bottom of the Old Dunstan Track to Tekapo (around 300km). Cliff and I were keen to break the back of the remaining distance, of almost 500km. If we had a good day today, we'd finish with one final effort the following day.

It's always interested me, the way the mind works - as soon as I switch to this mindset of working backwards from the finishing point, it's all very simple and easy. In this case, I hadn't even left the hotel, and I was thinking about the next day, and the prospect of getting back to Tekapo!

Before we left, a message arrived from Dave King - Matty had pushed up and over the massive climb and into the Nevis Valley the night before, so was a good few hours ahead of us. On reaching the Nevis River, he was confronted by a massive amount of water - there was no way anyone would be getting up that valley today, so the call was made to cut that section of the course, and to divert us to Alexandra via some gravel back roads. To me, this was a great decision, and illustrated the importance of having options with the route - the nature of the original course mean we had several ways to shorten or bypass sections, while still allowing the chance to get some really awesome riding in. This isn't always possible, so kudos to Dave for this aspect.

Moi, courtesy of Clifford, Duke of Wellington III

Not long after leaving Cromwell, I piped up and told Cliff I was feeling pretty second-hand - my nose was running, my throat sore, I had a headache, and was generally pretty lethargic. I mentioned if I was still feeling like this in a few hours, I'd pull the pin, and cruise back to Tekapo on the highways. Not an easy call to make, but I've learned it's better to call this sort of thing out and not have to act on it, than to leave it until you have no options.

The route change was really nice - by no means easy, either! We took some gravel backroads up into the hills above Bannockburn, which eventually turned into well maintained 4WD tracks, leading over a couple of ridges towards Clyde. The going was pretty slow - we had left late, and reached Alexandra almost 4 hours after leaving Cromwell, covering only 50km in that time.

Looking towards Alex, from up above Clyde
Cliff and I quickly shaved 400m off our elevation, and met up with Bryan, and also Geof and co for a meal in Alex - it was great to see some familiar faces, and have a quick break from a day which didn't start out too well for me. Once fuelled up, we were on our way again, albeit an hour later - by this stage, we'd covered 50km in 5 hours, courtesy of our extended (and very social) downtime.

After a quick stop at the 4 Square, we were straight onto the Otago Rail Trail once more - this time, heading out of Alex, towards Omakau (where we'd had breakfast the day before). After a few kms, we made a right-turn off the old rail trail, and headed up towards the first section of the Old Dunstan Trail, along Crawford Hills Road. For the first (and last) time in a while, we had a nice little breeze at our backs, helping progress.

Crawford Hills Road, featuring hills

Moar Crawford Hills Road, looking back towards Alex

While the heat was getting up, the climbs melted away pretty easily - as did my composition, to put it politely. Cliff and I stopped for water at the top of the first gentle 400m climb, and I was already feeling pretty funky. We carried on down, along Crawford Hills Road, nearing Old Dunstan Road, when I was required to make the first of many roadside pit stops. I'll spare the detail, but will say the travel packs of wet wipes I'd brought along with me were a godsend!

Descending, towards the Old Dunstan Road

I'd waved Cliff on (for obvious reasons), so had a little bit of catching up to do. I did just that, on the lower reaches of the first big climb - the gradual 650m ascent up past the Poolburn Reservoir.

The man, the myth, the munter

Once passing the little huts perched on the side of the reservoir (at about 1,100 metres above sea level!), there was a little undulating, before the descent began.

Poolburn Reservoir

It was great fun, shaving off about 600 of those hard earned metres we'd just gained in altitude over 10km.

Pausing for food, and to admire the view back up the Maniototo Valley

I paused at one point, nearing a water crossing - I'd managed to keep my nice new merino socks dry since yesterday, and wasn't keen on continuing with wet feet. I casually removed each shoe, and threw it across the water to dry land (thankfully), before removing my socks, stashing them in a pocket, and carrying my bike over. It probably took 5 or 6 minutes to do, but I was thankful to have nice cool feet, and dry socks and shoes once I was moving again! As seemed to be the trend, I was now behind, playing catch up with my riding buddy.

How to keep your socks and shoes dry, lesson 1

Once off the first section of the Dunstan, we met our old mate, Block Headwind. That motherfucker was there, and he was doing anything possible to slow progress - successfully, I might add. The 10km along Patearoa - Paerau Road took almost exactly an hour, which is slower than my mediocre jogging pace.

Looking back from whence we'd come

Cliff and I had a weeeiiiiird experience, as we were maybe 15 minutes from the turn off at Styx: the first motor vehicle we'd seen in a fair while came towards us, along the unmarked gravel road.

The driver slowed, and lowered his window.

"The water's gotten up a bit since when I last spoke to you. If you head around to the back of the shed, you'll get around the worst of it".

We thanked the driver for the heads-up, and carried on. It was obvious we were both entertaining some form of self-doubt for the next few minutes - neither of us said a word, possibly wondering maybe I'm finally going mental, like they always said I would.

A while down the road, validation was sought - "Did you hear that dude? Sounds like he recognises us, have you seen that car before?" We were stumped, eventually deciding he must've seen Rob, an hour or so ahead of us on the road, and somehow thought a) he was headed somewhere he wasn't, and b) 1 rider somehow had become 2. Either way, it provided a welcome distraction from the incessant headwind.

Vista to the North, above Styx

Once we reached the left turn at Styx (which, every time I mention reminds me of my homeboy Carl), we were faced with a reasonably stiff ascent from 550m above the sea, to around 1,050m. Thankfully, the views improved as we climbed, going from Amazing, to Off The Hook in the space of an hour or so - happily, our cresting the ascent coincided with the sun setting in the distance, far beyond the Loganburn Reservoir immediately in front of us.

Higher still, above Styx

The surface was awesome along the majority of the Dunstan trail

The famous Great Moss Swamp, off to the right of shot

We could see the road snaking it's way along the ridge, undulating in a generally downward manner, into the great brown yonder. Considering we'd left Alexandra at about 2pm, and started this leg at 8pm, the long daylight hours were most welcome - we didn't need to fire our lights up until after 10pm!

Silhouettes of the rocks the area is famous for - the Rock and Pillar Range

Cliff's botty

We'd been out of cell reception since we left Alex, too, and I was keen to touch base with Jay, back at home. The amazing sky, and sense of insignificance brought on by the amazing environment I was moving through made me want to hear her voice more than ever, so it was with glee I heard a notification ping off when we eventually got some reception. I told Cliff this was the longest she and I had spent apart since moving in together a couple of years ago - probably explaining my urge to touch base.

Once I was moving again, I thoroughly enjoyed the long descent, which came to an abrupt halt on reaching Rocklands Road - instead of heading directly for the highway, we made a left, along some farm roads. There was a reasonably savage 150m climb, which in the dark of night, was much more appealing to walk than to attempt to ride. We'd been going about 14 hours now, too, so we'd been softened by the day before us.

Shortly after cresting this one, we had some easy riding to meet the highway (thankfully!)

STOP! Back on the tarmac, for a while at least

Once on tarmac, there was only a little navigation remaining for the next few hours of riding - once in Middlemarch, we would take the Otago Rail Trail again, heading for Ranfurly, some 60km away. Cliff and I discussed the schedule, and where to stop for the night. One option was to push on, and camp along the trail in an old shed somewhere, leaving only an hour or so to Ranfurly for breakfast in the morning, and to make our final day a sure thing. The other option, was to stay in Middlemarch, making our final day more of a stretch, and leaving us some riding to do before breakfast - about 3 hours away.

We discussed the merits of each as we rolled towards Middlemarch - I was still feeling pretty drained from my bad start to the day, along with my unsettled stomach, so was keenest to stay put for the night - besides, it was midnight, and we'd covered almost 200 hilly kilometres after a late start.

After a little faffing, we found our way into an abandoned railway shed, with only an old New Zealand Railways diesel loco for company. The wooden floor was a few feet off the ground, and without much breeze around, we stayed pretty warm - it was frosty outside by now.

Thomasz the Tanked Engine

As I drifted off to sleep, I kept my ear out for the sound of any rats or mice on the timber floor, which lasted all of 30 seconds before I was out cold, alarm set for 04:00.

Our final day was to be a 22-hour epic, through extreme conditions, and I'd need all the sleep I could possibly muster over the next few hours.


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