Monday 12 March 2012

The Kiwi Hunt 2012 Ride Report

We found the kiwi! He had flown from Wellington and was the last to check in at 6:45 for a 7am start! Craig was the only kiwi seen on the ride.

Start of the Kiwi Hunt
 I did hear another one mind. That was whilst riding between Greymouth and Otira. Hearing the distinctive call early that morning made me smile. I had just entered 'determined' mode. This last day was going to be the hardest, with a lot of unknowns. I had been 'treading water' up to now, managing to stay in time limit but failing to gain the expected time buffer. This was unsettling me. I figured I was going to have to do more. Right! No more photographs, ultra efficient breaks and harder riding. I was not budging on my 1 hour planned sleep in Greymouth, although Paul did try!

This thought of working harder solidified whilst climbing up to Otira. As I was going parallel along the railway, I was recalling the couple of times I have taken the TranzAlpine train. I would have admired the scenery and wondered what it would have been like to cycle the route. Here I am now! Might as well make the most if it!  And I was. The cycling was going well. The weather was great and we had the Otira hotel coming up as break stop. I was happy.  I bounced into the hotel. I spotted the drop bags which cheered me up even more. Then the guy behind the counter (was that Bill?) looked at me as if he knew me well and said: 'You're late!'.

I was late, it's true. Duncan had kindly booked a room for me to use for a couple of 'early' hours. But it was already 10:30. We laughed in mutual recognition of the situation and got down to the business of breakfast. Yum yum!

I don't regret not taking any more photos.  It was on one of those TranzAlpine journeys that the person sitting opposite me said: 'Only in New Zealand is reality more beautiful than photographs'. A retrospective thank you to her.

Lake Hawea
Now for the Otira gorge.... It really is no good asking locals what the climbing will be like. Kiwi Craig's answer was :'Oh, it's beautiful. Beautiful scenery on both sides, national park territory.' I had asked a couple of 'friends' also, earlier in the week. They pounced on my mistake of calling everything 'hills'. One of them blew up like a red balloon trying not to burst out laughing whilst the other was trying not to fall off her chair. The one on the chair composed herself and calmly said: 'Nah, you don't need to worry about the hills, Els..... The mountains on the other hand....' The balloon exploded and there was a thud on the floor (a little exaggerated, forgive me). Thankfully my girlfriend, Sarah, had given me the best clue when she was questioning why people go on about Arthur's Pass when it's the Otira gorge that will be the tough bit.  How right she was! I was walking at that stage. And I don't now if it's because earthquakes are a big topic or if I was hallucinating, but on turning into that last bend, that most steepest of bends, I found myself looking at the ground and my feet, because I was sure I was sliding backwards. A little bit further, still walking, a double truck had ground to a halt. Silence ... A whole stream of cars and trucks gradually reverse ... Then the double truck tries again and makes 'the grade' this time.

I continued towards Arthur's Pass. Lovely waterfalls everywhere. I was on a high again. There was only Porters Pass to go and I was still in time. But this is where it turned nasty. Why didn't my girlfriend warn me about Porters Pass? She explained afterwards, what did you expect, it's the alps! Climb after climb after climb, and the headwind took hold. My morale was going, I was struggling. Duncan was on the road a couple of times. He knew.  He knew what was happening and turned up at the right time. Water, energy, food, a little pep talk. He helped me to focus just on getting to the next control, to do what I normally do.  A huge motivator was the knowledge of yacf and twitter followers. I felt responsible, I couldn't let anybody down.

The day before, I also had an act of human kindness happening to me, that would have got the PBP rider 2071 crying for sure (watch the video from 25:56 to 27:  PBP Video).  A colleague's in-laws, never met them, were going to put a caravan on the route, for me to pop in and take a rest. I called it the Wafelbakker van. 'It's not going to be visible from the road', Zoe wrote, 'you'll need to turn into the side road before you see it'. I turned into the side road, and, and, and ... There it is!! I was doing a triple backflip with reverse pirouette, and as I was building momentum for the final dismount, fireworks were going off all around me. It's the Wafelbakker van! There was a note on the open door 'Welcome Els'.

The Wafelbakker van!
Inside were all the luxuries and thoughtful touches you could wish for: makeshift shower equipment, toothpaste and brush, fruit, bed, of course, and on the bed was a small parcel addressed to me. It was a card signed by work colleagues, wishing me well. How amazing! I opted for sleep rather than read all the message, but I got the gist: there were many many people behind me, willing me on. On leaving the van, I noticed the number plate: DAY 4. As if it was a message, this was going to pull me through day 4.  The Wafelbakker's are the very first PBP style, Kiwi Hunt road side supporters and deserve a medal!  Thank you so much!

Card from colleagues.
When I saw Duncan for the second time providing road side support, he pointed up 'that's is it, that is the top'. He had to repeat it, because I couldn't believe it. All the previous climbs tagged as 'could be the last one' hadn't been. I did a weak high five with Duncan. All the way downhill now.  That's it, I was going to make it after all, save a serious mechanical or getting lost in a bad way, which I'm perfectly capable of. But it was downhill in lovely countryside. I got to Oxford in time. It was looking good, no need to rush. Even time for a 10 min kip.

As it was getting dark though, everything was catching up with me. As if I had let my guard down, I was slacking in speed and concentration. I was on this long, long dead straight road, a never ending straight road, with oncoming fast traffic, headlights not being dipped. My environment became a world of hallucinations and, a first, I was hearing voices. My gps switched off and I had no more spare batteries. My front light stopped working, so I clipped on my backup light. Then that stopped working, so I fixed up my dynamo light. I now wonder if I was imagining all this. Still, I felt lost. I called Duncan for orientation. His calm voice gave me confidence: all the way to the end, then a right, then Shirley Road. I did all that and started to recognise parts of Christchurch. Just needed to get to the Gloucester, Worcester, Hereford Rd area. I went up and down these roads, but just couldn't find Duncan's house. I couldn't call him again! Sarah would be waiting for me, I had given her an ETA from Oxford. I called her, she gave me instructions, but I still couldn't get out of this loop. She then came to find me.  'Stay put" she had said. Apparently I carried on. And when she told me to do a right, I did a left. But, she found me, and led me to Duncan's house. I had been so close!!

I phoned Duncan, because no one was at home, he was probably looking for me! 'Just post the brevet card in the letterbox'. Right, the letterbox. It was a huge letterbox, I was inspecting it. It was bigger than a huge bird box, a letterbox for a giant's house. That little brevet card would get lost in there. If I posted it and while it was floating down to the bottom in slow motion, there could be a chance that a gust of wind catches it, turns it at right angles and the card slots in a gap at the bottom through to the underworld of Christchurch. 'Hurry up!' called Sarah. 'Yes, I'm doing it! Just have a last look, it's the right letter box, no? And could somebody get in from the back ... Then I heard the door of the car being opened in a manner that meant: ' If you don't post that stupid card right now, I'll tear it up. I popped it in and exclaimed : 'I did it'! And that was a reflection on posting the card, not on officially completing the ride.

I can't wait to receive that card back, it has the signature of one of the Audax UK greats, Julian Dyson! I loved Julian's company. Such a jovial guy, a true audaxer. Never complaining, but dealing with the situation. For example, on leaving Omarama, he said he got cold in the tent so decided he might as well get back on the bike. That is after 360km, in the middle of the night, you have to realise.

Unfortunately he abandoned the ride as his averages were getting too low. This wasn't a problem to him, instead he helped out Duncan in providing support. He didn't need his assos cream anymore so gave it to me. I had huge problems with saddle sores. They got worse as I changed into fresh shorts, which is meant to be a good practice. At the Otira hotel, I retrieved my Rapha shorts again. Damage was done though. Those last 60km from Oxford seemed like twice the distance probably because I was riding whilst standing up most of the time.  Once home, I walked up and down the stairs like a penguin would.

I'm thankful to Paul and Duncan as they helped to change my gear cable which was fraying (shame on me, hadn't spotted that!), discovered after the gear changing got worse and worse. Paul I and linked up often, but we didn't quite have the same rhythm. Apart from lovely Craig, the others were way ahead of us. They're the type of riders who enjoy 7 hrs sleep per night and make it up the Otira gorge without sweat. Just a stroll in the national park probably. And here was a top tip from Julian which I'll add to my list. For a 'body reboot' you need two rem cycles, which take 45 mins each. So it is a good rule of thumb that if you can't afford much time off the bike, make it at least 1.5 hrs at the time. Thank you Julian!

A highlight for me was all of the west coast, absolutely love it. I like the wilderness, the lush tropical forest so close by. Then you come to the glaciers. We were lucky to get glorious sunshine.  Mind you, my bottom lip got badly burnt.  The next day I looked like miss botox extraordinaire. The night stop at Lake Paringa, was wonderful also. We had a fully equipped youth hostel type place to ourselves (I believe another last minute act of kindness). I took a shower and changed into fresh clean clothing. Bruce was there, Bruce was the straight talking support van man.

It's Bruce!
I had been concerned about this being a pointless ride - which is more than a randonee reference.  Why spend 100s of pounds on a flight, to do a ride, half of which will be in the dark and half of which you'll forget because of the state you're in! Why do this in a country which I believe is best seen on foot? But I didn't come to see the country, I came to do the first ever 1200 randonnee in NZ. And if you're going to do a 1200, NZ is not a bad place to do it in!  Sarah's dad helped me out with the question why we do these things: 'Because it is worthwhile doing while you can', he said.

Pictures are on the slideshow till the next ride or here: Photos
Mark's stunning photos are here
Duncan, the organiser's photos are here

Craig's ride report: Hallucinations in Haast

Other thoughts:
  • We had paparazzo!  A photographer/documenter, Julian made acquaintances with, turned up at the start.
  • Before sending us off, Duncan said that the weather would be 'OK'.  Several laughed.  Duncan then corrected himself: 'Mostly'.  Several laughed again.
  • Indeed, we were very, very lucky. This would be a very hard ride in bad weather. The terrible headwind on the last day, Duncan said, wasn't  so terrible for the locals
  • Didn't need Marcus' water purifying tablets.  But I did see Craig get water from a river -  so it is done.
  • Hope my experience can be a yardstick.  I'm not fast and I'm not a good climber.  I've struggled on two of the three Bryan Chapmans I've done.  So if you can do BCM on little time off the bike, you can do the Kiwi Hunt.  However a Kiwi Hunt with BCM weather, and I very much doubt I would have made it in time.
  • Long long stretches, to Omarama, to Wanaka, to Lake Paringa, to Greymouth, to Christchurch.  Don't think it was a coincidence that all these were in the dark.
  • Legs stiffening up on descents, the whole descent became a dread of the 'kick in again' time.
  • Two kilometres of 16% apparently.
  • Vital statistic: 9 riders
  • Craig finished 19 minutes out of time, but earlier in the month had completed a mountain bike 1000 brevet.
  • Aaron of Chain Reaction Cycles in Fendalton helped me with a few things.  He knew about PBP, through working for Michelin.
  • Riders can sign each other's brevet card - sometimes nobody else about!
  • Big thank you to Duncan for organising
  • Big thank you to all supporters/followers and the Wafelbakkers!
  • Big thank you to the Weston family for exceptional hosting and putting up with my pre- and post-ride fettling on bike and mind.


Anonymous said...

Bengske, je blog leest als een roman: we konden niet stoppen met lezen: zo spannend, beschrijvend,en af en toe humoristisch.
Het is een schitterend heroïsch verhaal met als hoofdpersonnage BENGSKE.
En zeggen dat het geen fictie maar zuivere realiteit is.
BRAVO BRAVO BRAVO met je prestatie en je verslag!
Meim en Peip xxx xxx

Anonymous said...

Hallo Els,
amai, echt indrukwekkend!
je verbrandde lippen wegen niet op tegen zoveel schoonheid en wilskracht hé:)
dikke proficiat hoor!
gwen, peter en lex

Chillmoister said...

thanks for the great write-up Els ....I got nervous jsut reading about getting lost in near the end! Congratulations once again are now officially the Queen Bee of Audax UK :-)

Mark said...

Bravo, Els! And congratulations. That was a tough ride.

As for making it up the pass without a sweat, I don't know about that. But you are right about the "stroll" - I got a good walk in on Arthur's (and again on the unheralded Flock Hill).

See you down the road.


Kris said...

I am speechless, this time no words found..I red the report with loud voice and bursted out into tears... if this was about saving the world, you would have saved it and 25 feb would be a national day of rememberence since 2012.

Alberto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alberto said...

Congratulations on this big achievement. Really enjoyed the write-up and the photos. Only wish I could do one of these epic rides one day!

Swarm_Catcher said...

Thanks Alberto. I've read your blog, sounds like you're on your way towards an 'epic' ride with FNRttC and audax on your riding CV. Why don't you aim for LEL 2013.

Unknown said...

Well done Els - what an amazing achievement, and a truly inspiring read. Most people can only ever dream about the rides that you've done, such a great accomplishment!

philip magnus said...

Hi Els
What a gracious account of your efforts. it may be a cliche, but chapeau!


MANDY said...

Wow, The amazing Els! Tears!!! Where did they come from? Overwhelmed with inspiration, your great ability to push yourself through such incredible adventures, to write about it all with such modesty. If ever I feel that 'can't do it' mentality creeping in, about anything, all I have to do is read your blog, Thank you xxxx Mandy xxx