Thursday, November 24, 2011

Craig gets some singletrack stoke

In this local ruler and recent Timaru 12hr solo champion's own words...
Ventana’s… they are so much fun I can hardly control myself!

Mountain Pedaler out...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Le Petite Brevet 2011 – Sunshine, tailwainds and a thermonuclear steak and cheese

The inaugural 2010 edition of the Petite Brevet was a tortuous experience, so it was with trepidation that I signed up for Tim’s second edition.  Circumnavigating Bank’s peninsula in a rough figure of eight, this year’s  anti-clockwise direction was the reverse of the previous year, and did without the apparently beautiful stretch across the Lake Ellesmere spit.  I’d had the misfortune of traversing this endless sand trap alone at 2AM in the morning in the depths of a southerly, so safe to say it wouldn’t be too missed.
The key difference this year was the weather, with the aforementioned southerly making for a miserable affair last year. For this year’s edition rain threatened to dampen spirits early on, but what eventuated was a spectacularly sunny day that really made a great showcase of the fantastic route that Tim had chosen.
As with all Brevet’s the start is a highlight with anxious newbies mixing with the Brevet gnarled vets, comparisons of bike and tire choice being the default conversation.  Sifter and Megan had come down from Wellington as part of their preparations for the Cape Epic, while Judd form Back of the Pack Racing had made the trip from the US of A, putting aside last minute doubts raised by my report of last years’ experience and jumping on the plane across the pacific.
Gear wise I’d gone for lightweight speed,  a decision driven by the positive weather outlook. Packed into a Cactus zero were a rain jacket, polypro, 3 litres of water, and baker’s dozen of Em’s power cookie bars. This final addition was to be a marked improvement on last year’s nutrition which consisted of lockjaw inducing OSM bars. Em’s cookies made me want to delve into my pockets and wolf them down, an ideal attitude for extended endeavours of endurance like the Brevet.
Before we knew it we were off, and with my ambitious goal of making the Diamond Harbour ferry’s final 11PM crossing for the return to the city any thoughts of pacing or sociable riding quickly evaporated. With 250km of roads and trails, and a robust 7000m of climbing in store, only time would tell whether this goal was realistic.
Straight away adventure racer Ian and I opened a gap, buzzing along the traverse singletrack and onto Summit road past the Sign of the Kiwi. Descending Gebbies Pass we were struck by a block headwind, but fortunately the next section along the rail trail had just enough of a skew to the southerly to give a welcome boost from our tails. The only obstacles on this arrow straight route were the skittery sheep and their ample droppings, the latter leaving Ian distraught at the poo splattered state of his new 29er, barely a week old.
Turning off from the trail through Birdling’s Flat we heeded Charles’ warnings about outlet crossing, and were glad not to be traversing the moonscape at night. The thick pebbly surface hid the only crossing which lay right up against the lake, and with a quick change of direction we were on course and climbing Bossu Road.  Grim memories were rekindled despite the healthy tailwind, and as the driving rain worsened I hoped for my chamois’ sake that it’d clear before too long.
Steaming down the fantastic sealed Kinloch Road descent I made a mental note to come ride the road again, its sinuous curves would surely be heaven on a road bike. Spitting us out at Little River we ducked into the store’s café, pushing to the front of queue to get the greasy fix our chilled limbs craved. I’ve always been greeted by delicious food aromas at this Café, and this time was no different. The threat of an 800m climb on an undigested sausage roll didn’t deter me and I wolfed down the gourmet pastry, promptly pointing my bike skywards towards the mist shrouded Double Fenceline route.
It turns out Ian had spent some time in Little River growing up,  whiling away holidays at his relative’s  farm. While he didn’t say it, I’d no doubts that he was familiar with the spirit crushing steepness of the Western Valley Road climb, shaped as he’d taken an interest in mountainbiking.  A farming contact had informed him that a culvert would be running clear, and as he stopped to fill his bottles I kept climbing, eager to start the Double Fenceline trail.
While I hadn’t pre rode this part of the course, which as for last year was probably the navigational crux of the route, I backed myself at a few key junctions and made it through geographically informed. Just as I dropped on to Pettigrews Road the mist cleared to reveal a stunningly sunny day, with views either side of the peninsula that really did bring on a smile.
Rejoining the tarseal, the route followed Summit Road to Okains Bay which was punctuated by the leg sapping pinches that give the peninsula its fearsome reputation (particularly amongst roadies tall geared roadies). Dropping down to the ocean was a welcome relief, and before two shakes of a lambs tail I was parked up at the Akaroa 4-square, impatiently standing in the queue in my sweaty lycra, Coke and thermonuclear Irvines Steak and Cheese in hand.
At this point I chose to wait for Ian, certain that his company on the remainder of the route would keep craziness at bay. As we saddled up and weaved through the crowds of sauntering Christmas shoppers, the Purple Peak Road quickly signalled its intentions, pitching to 25% early on, then relaxing into slightly less unrelenting grade that quashed any thought of shifting from granny.
My steed for this Brevet was a newly kitted out El Commandante complete with carbon Niner rigid fork, Rohloff and Gate Carbon Drive. Tire choice was a fast and sketchy WTB Vulpine that proved to be a perfect for the par cours. Throughout the ride the bike didn’t miss a beat, the content hum of the ‘hoff complemented the buzz of the belt, and never needed lubing despite puddles, dung and  dust. The only point where I felt out of my comfort zone was on the more corrugated descents, particularly into Pigeon Bay. When the road steepened and under hard braking I found myself wrestling with the road for control. Some more riding on wash boarded roads and perhaps a spot of rock climbing will be in order to build gun strength in the lead up to my bigger goal events, particularly the Tour Divide.
The descent into Le Bons bay that followed was thrilling, and set the tone for the rest of the ride, at least the parts with a downhill gradient.  Wide, open and steep with whoop inducing corners that seemed to go on and on. The descents spat you at a sea level with a grin as the only evidence of the rush.
On the climb out of Le Bon’s I began to count down the eight remaining hills to the finish, a natural tactic I seem to adopt when managing an enormous task such as the one I was presented with. The funny thing was, after this first climb my mind wandered and I threw this approach out the window. It seems the thrill of conquering bay after bay was more than enough to keep my legs and brain ticking over. Okains, Stoney, Chorlton, Little Akaroa and Pidgeon Bay all passed by, each with its own quaint charms that left me eager to return and enjoy the ambience under less hasty circumstances.
By the time I descended to Port Levy it was 7:30PM. My goal of making the 11PM ferry was smashed and now I sought only to make the 8PM sailing. Nature decided to back me with a belting tailwind, propelling me up the climb at a spritely 12km/h. Cresting the saddle with 10 min to go, I dived into the descent throwing caution to the wind, hardly a friendly gesture given the wind’s recent generosity. Despite my efforts it wasn’t to be, and as I reached Diamond Harbour at 8:08PM, I knew I’d have just a bit more riding in store.
The final 30km passed in blissful solitude. With quiet roads and the sun setting, and just enough energy left to knock out the final climb up from Governors Bay to the Sign of the Kiwi.
Along Summit Road then descending Rapaki to complete the route, I stopped the clock at Hansen park at 9:47 PM, exhausted but elated.  Still no dancing girls but this year was different. With sun and favourable winds replacing the dreadful southerly of 2010, I rolled home content with the knowledge that experiences such as this are what makes life rich and fulfilling.
Mountain Pedaler out...

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Escaping zombies in Fiordland

Ollie low on the Borland Saddle climb
All photos Dominic Blissett

With good friend Ross set to enter a lifetime of martial bliss with the lovely Anna, his mates saw fit to celebrate the end of the bachelor lifestyle with a stag party located in a secret Fiordland location. Codenamed Operation McSidey, our transportation down to the drop zone took the form of Dom's Toyota Granvia, which was loaded with gear lunchtime Thursday for the long haul south.

Throughout the weekend Dom displayed excellent endurance driving, steering the bulky van all the way south. Stopping only for feast of pizza at Dunedin's Ra bar, we were audibly assaulted with the rants of a crazy old timer. The 10 hour journey had the potential for high levels of boredom and were it not for the fantastically gripping stories of flesh-eating zombies being blasted out of the stereo we may have turned into the very zombies the tale described.

Ross was already a fan of the riveting audio play We're alive, and by the end of the journey the van was deeply engrossed in the tale and eagerly awaiting the next chapter. So enthralling was the tale that it is  serious contender for space on my Ipod, with the story providing entertainment for some of the long, lonely journeys that lay ahead.

Crashing at the McCulloch's place, we rolled out mid morning, stocking with food and ammunition for the raucous weekend that lay ahead. While the exact details of the weekends events are classified, the zombie story was rather prophetic and by the end of the two days, the level of carnage would blow that of a big-budget explosion addled movie out of the sky.

One part of the weekend I can comment on was a fantastic riding excursion that Dom and I took to the crest of the Borland Saddle. Feeling the itch after so long in a car and then a day of sitting around, the ride was heaven and we had the good fortune of being in this notoriously damp, moose-hiding terrain on perhaps one of the only dry days in a year.

While the sign claimed closure due to snow (small matter for our pedalling steeds), the road up was in great condition, baby bottom smooth and with a relaxed grade that never steepened as it snaked its way up to the 1000m saddle.

Dom had recently taken possession of an SLR camera and I offered to play model, hardly a chore when surrounded the spectacular vistas prominent in this remote part of our country.
Both aboard singlespeeds, the seemingly endless descent saw ridiculous displays of spin-and-tuck which are well known to one geared purists.

Spin, tuck and repeat
We were content to roll back to the lodge up till the point when we spied some gnarly beech singletrack at a fork in the road. It had been some time since my wheels had touched the beech strewn hero dirt, too long in fact, and the gnarly trail we were treated to added an entirely new dimension to the ride.

Delightfully prominent roots broke up the smooth trail, with steep steps and switchbacks proving a stomach clenching challenge with seats up and travel low. At one point the trail sidled past a curious limestone outcrop, and we threaded handlebars between trees and the wall before stopping to investigate the strange feature.

While the trail was bone dry, the bush surrounding it was lush and radiant, with fern clogged gulleys and root littered flats adding spice to the lower parts of the trail. Finishing up with a roll down the river, both Dom and I were suitably stoked, and returned to the lodge beaming with the satisfaction that can only come from premium singletrack.

In our absence the camp had been infiltrated by a posse of human sized gorillas, and the hilarity that ensued as they tormented the inebriated stag left me cautious if I were ever to have my own stag party.

Back in the van and heading north, with the dulcet tones of the zombie apocalypse lulling us into a bacon induced kip, I reflected on the tight bonds that had been formed between Ross and his mates. Surely this reason alone is a good enough to justify this sometimes destructive ceremony, and this was certainly the case for this Fiordland adventure.

That Dom and I had happened upon such a sparkling gem of singletrack was icing on the cake, and the whole Fiordland adventure made for a fantastic long-weekend escape.