Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kiwi Brevet - February 2010

Kiwi Brevet – February 2010

My Brevet preparations started on 15 January when a few things fell into place freeing up the opportunity to complete the Brevet. A quick email to Simon confirmed it was still possible to enter and so the preparation began. This was an event I would do by myself as due to work constraints it wasn’t possible for Tim to join me.

My bike choice was limited to the only bike I currently own, a Yeti ASR full suspension bike. Prior to the event this wouldn’t have been my first choice but looking back it was a great choice. I used Stans The Raven Tyres – 2.2 on front and 2.0 on the back

I kitted this out with a Topeak rear rack that worked exceptionally well with a 10 litre dry bag strapped on top. On the front I fitted some borrowed aerobars and a 7 litre dry bag. In total fully loaded with water the weight was 18kg and so not the lightest set up ever!

With 10 days to go I commuted to work fully loaded and discovered some issues with load tying on and also how hard it is to ride with extra weight.

With a week to go I decided a test camp would be a good idea. So, at 6pm on a Saturday night Tim and I headed around the Pencarrow Road over the hill and to the Catchpool Valley for the night. It was a good thing we did as I learnt my shelter was bad in wind, about sandflies, and more about tying my load on. At 11.30pm in the middle of a southerly storm we decided to head home. This is where I realised keeping going in bad weather is sometimes better. The highlight of the trip was dodging drunken ACDC fans in inner Wainui and heading down the Pt Howard walking track in the dark.

Before I knew it, it was Friday night and I was relaxing in Blenheim. The feeling was different as the Brevet wasn’t really a race so the anxiety level wasn’t really there, more a feeling of anticipation and wonder.

After some navigational issues I found the cinema and the venue for the briefing, managed two flat whites and a couple of sandwiches and before I knew it was midday and we were off. I think starting at midday with a hill near the end of the day was inspired. It had the effect of splitting the field, those who crossed the Maunatopo Track and those that didn’t.

My day could have started really badly…. according to John and Bill the Stans that was shooting out of my rear tyre after 5 minutes was reaching heights above my head. With in 30 seconds the hole was sealed and I was away again.

I was very very careful on the beach front section as there was Matagouri everywhere. I was astounded by the number of punctures I saw – losing in the end. The road to Picton was hot and very dusty and the scenery suberb. It is definitely a ride Tim and I will do soon. It was so hot I drank 2 ½ litres before Picton .. In Picton I refuelled with 2 bottles of Powerade, some Coke Zero, lollies and a cookie. I was surprised to see the Revolution guys and Mike from Bike Hutt. After Queen Charlotte Dr came Havelock and another stop again I was surprised to see Barryn and Trevor. A quick visit to the Four Square a tin of pineapple more Powerade and some fruit and I was off to Pelorus Bridge. I was still in two minds as to whether I would stay at Pelorus Bridge to cross over to Nelson.

I reached Pelorus Bridge at about 7pm and so there was no choice but to keep going and so off up the Maungatapu Track I went. I had half an idea to camp at Murders Flat but just kept going. Once it got dark the going got pretty tough and I had to walk. I was pleased to reach the top and please to see the Australians, Ed, Joel and Phil coming up behind me. We all descended together and so not requiring any navigation in the dark from me. I would like to see the track in the daylight – I just pointed and went, it seemed pretty rough and I only crashed once.

Just as we reached the dam we ran into Ian Gordon who had had an awful day 3 punctures and a broken light. Ed lead Ian out and then poor Ian got puncture number 4. I leant Ian a tube. We managed to fit a 26” 2.1 tyre into his 700c wheel and I believe he finished the Brevet still using this tube! What was meant to be a very temporary fix that lasted 1000km.

The guys went into Nelson and I stuck with my plan to stay at Maitai Valley Camp Ground. I think I arrived about 11.15pm. I set up camp and went for a shower only to find I needed $2 coins for the shower of which I had none. So, it was a cold shower for me. I never really warmed up and shivered under my shelter. There were dogs at the campground that barked all night – who takes a dog camping that barks?

I was up at 6am and ready to go before 7am and headed into Nelson where I refuelled on Coffee and McDonalds and headed to Richmond and the Wairoa Valley. The Wairoa Valley felt like an unnecessary diversion from the path to Murchison - as pretty as it was.

At Wakefield I refuelled again and ran into John Morris and the Ian and Scotty. We all headed towards Top House together but soon split up with me rounding up the rear. By the time I got to St Arnaud I had passed John and caught Ian and Scotty. It was hot so at St Arnaud I had my first very tasty beer of the trip.

Ian Scotty and I rode to Murchison together. I was pleased to have some company. The scenery was great and the Porika Track into Rotoroa fun. We finally got to Murchison about 7pm and I decided to stay in a hotel and had a fantastic sleep! I joined Ian and Scotty for dinner and was in bed by 9.30pm. Ian and Scotty were unsure if the 200 plus km to Blackball the next day, I decided to stick to my plan and not let them put me off.

I was out the door by 6am and travelling up the Matariki Valley to the Maruia Saddle. This was an great ride with a nice gradient through beech forest. Next stop after 30km of road was Reids café at Maruia, more coffee and a bagel and a chat to Laurence and Guy and I was off just behind them. The ride to Springs Junction was unexpectedly good and the climb to Rahu saddle was made worthwhile by the 20km of descent into Reefton.

Reaching Reefton at lunchtime I was optimistic of reaching Blackball. I ran into Trevor and Barryn as well as Bob and Chris, again I was very surprised with who I was riding near and my spirits were lifted by encouraging texts from Tim and Lisa!

Laurence invited me to join them on the climb to Big River. Again it was great to have some company and navigation help. Laurence and Guy are super passionate about all things mountain biking and were neat to get to know. It took about 3 hours to get to Big River where the last part of the climb was difficult and rocky requiring some walking. I started to notice that I was having trouble shifting with my right hand. Laurence informed me that the decent to Waiuta was awesome and “benched just Rotorua” and so I was expecting a quick 12km descent on cool singletrack. Unfortunately their last trip was 15 years ago and the track was rooty, with many difficult stream crossings. At one stage I feel down a bank and another time I dropped my bike between some huge logs. Of course I had a grizzle too but when there is no one to listen it is not worth the energy

I emerged at Waiuta at 7.40pm with 40km still to roll to Blackball. I rang the Blackball Hilton said I would be about 2 hours. They were awesome and even made me a sandwich for dinner. I arrived about 9.45pm to be greeted by Barryn, Trevor, Chris and Bob and a cold beer.

I then joined Trevor and Barryn for 2 pints and in that time Jeff, Jonty and Nick arrived. It was neat to have a good chat after a long day. Scotty and Ian ended up arriving at 1.45am!

Sitting on the bar stool I realised that my butt was getting pretty sore even though I had adopted the 2 pairs of short strategy that day. I also noted that my feet were pretty sore and my big shoes seemed small.

The following morning I had an enforced sleep in (6.30am) as breakfast was at 7am and I couldn’t afford to miss it. Then it was off over the Alps to Canterbury. The days route took me over some hills behind lake Brunner (though I never actually saw the lake itself) and past some other lakes. The scenery was nice but at some points the road have a couple of centre metres of sand on it that made the going tough. It was also raining lightly. I emerged onto SH73 and cruised up the road to Jacksons to be greated by Trevor and Barryn. Then Jeff, Jonty and Nick arrived. I tucked into a morning tea of a pie, coke zero and a coffee and before long was on my way again. It was great to get another cheery text from Lisa as well as one from Jude.

As I climbed towards Arthurs Pass I decided I was carrying far to much gear and my pack seemed heavy and my butt and feet really sore. So, just before Otira I tied my pack to my handle bars and with some relief carried on. The climb up Arthurs Pass was relentless, about ¾ of the way up Jonty cruised past like the hill was a small, easy incline. The scenery was neat and the traffic very civilised. Finally at the top I cruised into Arthurs Pass for lunch. I copied Jeff, Jonty and Nick who were drinking milkshakes had some sandwiches and then rang Tim. Tim had been doing some calculations based on other peoples Spot Trackers and was able to tell me how long it would take me to get to Castle Hill and the to Springfield this was super useful. I also booked some accommodation at Springfield.

The journey through the Canterbury high country was just awesome. It was a hark back to memories from my Coast to Coast Days and the time through to Mt White Bridge just flew. The country really is “big” and the road incredibly quiet. You can understand the why the NZ roading spend in the South Island is limited as there are just no people.

By this time I had my pack on my back again and my feet were very sore and the sun was out. I stopped and took my socks off and this seemed to help for a while. I even rode for a little with my feet on top of my shoes! As it cooled down my feet felt better and if I didn’t move too much my butt was ok but I was finding myself standing more and more especially on the climbs.

Finally I reached Porters Pass and after what was actually a shortish climb was flying down the other side where I hit my top speed for the Brevet of 74.8km/h. I arrived in Springfield around 7pm and rushed into the service station to stock up on food for the next day as well as getting 2 litres of chocolate milk that I promptly sculled a litre of.

I joined Chris, Bob, Barryn, Tervor, Jonty, Nick, Laurence and Guy at the Yellow Café. They were discussing the merits of heading up the road a little towards the Wharfedale Track. I was tempted to join them but was in two minds. Eventually I decided to grab some fish and chips (and a beer while I waited) and stick with my original plan of staying in Springfield. I ended up not eating much of my dinner – not to self drinking a pint of beer and 1 litre of chocolate milk limits the amount of other stuff you can fit in your tummy!

I managed to wash everything and get it dry and be in bed my 9.30pm except it was difficult to sleep and my knees where twitchy and aching.

I ate some cold fish and chips for breakfast and was on my way towards Wharfedale at 5.30am. It was a nice morning with a little drizzle and the ride to Sheffield was great. There is something neat about being up early and riding in the dark. I found the boys camped at a domain near the start of the road to the Wharfedale and was pleased to see they were just getting up and so I wasn’t far behind at all. After which I promptly missed the turn off to Wharfedale and rode about an extra 7kms.

I am sure the Wharfedale track is nice, it just wasn’t nice for me. My front fork decided it didn’t want to work anymore, of course this was just when I really needed it. My butt was also increasingly sore and the way I was sitting on the seat made my knees sore. I would really like to go back and ride this again some day to give it justice. At the end of the track I crossed the Townshend River and into Lees Valley. I then had to negotiate the biggest flock of sheep I have ever seen. I already knew sheep were dumb but these guys were something else, jumping over each other to getting away from my noisy hub (or maybe I smelled).

Well in Lees Valley I demonstrated my inability to read maps and was looking for the “brothers” in the wrong place – more time wasted. It was great to be able to ride through someone’s farm and very generous of them to allow us through. I then understood the scale of operation required to farm in sheep and cattle in the South Island. The area was vast and much of it empty. I also imagine many of the passes would be covered in snow for at least some of the winter.
After emerging form the farm at McDonald downs it seemed like a very long way to SH 7. It seemed that Simon had sent us through every single gravel road he could find. At this point my phone came back to life and I found my spot wasn’t tracking (thanks Jude) so I fixed that issue and ran into Jeff, Jonty and Nick at Hurunui Pub. I then realised with 50km to Hanmer (37km according to the publican and he was wrong) I wasn’t going to get to Hanmer early enough to re supply.

I had wedges and beer at the pub, chatted to the publican and considered my next move. By this time it was 6.30pmish. The publican was nice enough to make me some lunch for the next day and I bought 5 Cookie Times from him and so then felt I had enough food for the long haul to Blenheim the next day.

After I left Hurunui the rain started. I stopped at Culverden and bought some lollie cake and coke and was on my way towards Hanmer. It seemed to take forever to get there (uphill for 50km) and as I turned my lights on I realised I had ridden every daylight hour that day.

I reached Hanmer about 9pm in a rain storm. I had a look at the YHA hostel and thought a motel would be nice and the one over the road had a vacancy. It wasn’t cheap but it was warm and the lady made me some breakfast that I ate most of for dinner.

I went to bed about 10.30pm and was restless with sore knees and no more Nurofen. I had a fitful sleep and when the alarm went at 5.50pm I dragged myself out of bed knowing I wouldn’t have to do it again.

Just before I left Hanmer (thankfully it had stopped raining) I got a text from Lisa saying “go for it.” – thanks Lisa. I made it halfway up Jollies Pass before my butt settled in and the rain started. It is a big climb up to the Molesworth Road and at the top Jeff, Jonty and Nick caught me again (familiar story). I enjoyed the ride through to Acheron House and the landscape is certainly big and totally awesome. I cruised through the road but began to suffer on the 50km plus of corrugations with no front suspension. I was at the stage where I couldn’t even shift using my right hand and so quick gear shifting wasn’t happening. Lucky there was no more single track. I made the mistake of thinking that once I had passed Molesworth I was nearly there. Of course in the context of the event I was but in the context of the day I was less than halfway!

The Molesworth high country was my favourite section and I can’t wait to get there again. The mountains are fantastic!

The weather was great until I reached the Awatere Valley. It was one extreme to the other. I went from my favourite scenery in the whole trip and sunny weather to freezing rain and my most hated part of the whole trip where I didn’t see another person for about 6 hours. I was wondering if I was the only person left in the world.

I got pretty cold pretty quickly and should have stopped to put dry clothes on before I did. I was looking for some shelter but there just wasn’t any. Eventually I stopped under some trees and put on everything dry I had (beanie, long sleeved icebreaker, yesterdays shirt I had managed to dry and my Ground Effect jacket). Lucky for me there was still a whole lot of hills to go and this saved me as I warmed up on the climbs.

Finally I reached Taylors Pass Rd. I swear the Awatere Valley is the longest valley ever and was pleased to finally be out. Taylors Pass Rd was an easy climb and then there was a 20km descent to the end. Of course there was a sting in the tail with some riverside navigation into Blenheim required. Finally I reached Blenheim just after 10pm after 5 Days and 10 hours. I was pretty pleased with my effort.

I tried a few places for accommodation and had no luck and so I negotiated a price with a taxi driver and headed to Picton and jumped on the 2am Bluebridge. While I was waiting at the ferry office I made friends with some truck drivers who ensured I got a good price for the sailing as well as a cabin and some breakfast – all for $55

After nearly a weeks reflection I can say the Kiwi Brevet is one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. I found the last two days tough (weather, sore butt, and right hand and knees) but all in all really enjoyed the experience. I never felt alone and I always felt safe (except in the Blenheim forest at the end). It wasn’t until I started that I realised that most other people were riding in groups where as I probably rode 80% on my own. I can’t help but imagine how much faster or further I could have gone each day if Tim and I had been riding together.

Now, what’s next?


  1. Amazing stuff, Charlotte. Well done.

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  3. Charlotte - what an incredible story! As I've said, I thought about your nightmare start (without knowing how easily you'd got your tyre sorted) and wondered how I'd have coped with it. I reckon you (and all of the Brevet finishers) should be pretty damn proud. BTW - something I saw which really made the Brevet worthwhile for me, was "Charlotte Ireland and Jeff Lyall are now friends", and knowing that was in more than just the Facebook-friend-sense. Nothing quite like the bond built over sharing 200km days together! Respect :)

  4. A fantastic read Charlotte! :) Would love to check out the riding at that end of the country one day (maybe not all of them at once though!). Well done!