So, I've been home for more than two weeks now and still have no feeling in the little fingers of both hands as well as pins and needles in my feet but can honestly say that the Great Southern Brevet
rates as (so far) my best ever experience on a bicycle…
For the uninitiated, brevet riding is about completing a set course within a given timeframe – there was no entry fee and no prizes for placing (although there _was_ a leaderboard…) just 1100 km (of which less than 200km was tar) and a maximum of 8 days to complete it. How far do you have to ride in a day? Up to you. When / where do you stop? Up to you? How much gear do you carry? Up to you.
With this style of riding / racing you have to be pretty self-sufficient so you need to carry enough gear with you for how you plan to approach the event. Although the route took you into some pretty rugged and remote wilderness, the course was designed so that you would generally pass by somewhere to resupply every 100km or so… however there's resupply and then there's resupply as I was about to find out!
My plan was to ride from just before dawn through to when I lost the light most days. This meant I was planning on having at least a few nights of sleeping out on course (rather than being constrained by aiming for the various hotels / pubs in the towns we'd pass through). A more comprehensive packing list is at my personal blog page
but essentially I was erring on the 'light' side – less than 4 ½ kg of gear (excluding food and water) for the 6 days it took me to complete the course.
So how was it and why do I rate the experience so highly? Well, once I got over treating it like an XC stage race and settled down it just became an exercise in the single-minded goal of making progress. It didn't matter how fast you were going or what was going on, so long as you were moving forward along the course. After a day or so you really start to find a rhythm of riding, eating stopping for food and supplies before jumping back on the bike to move again.
The scenery of the part of the South Island we were riding through was amazing – for those that have seen the Lord of the Rings movies, most of the open plains sections were shot around parts of the course we were riding. Its pretty impressive to find that even after your 5th 15hr+ day on the bike there was still things around the bend that would make you just stop the bike to drink it in.
Finally, the race really required you to have a good problem solving mentality in order to get through with a sense of humour still intact. Some of the dramas I encountered were:
Putting a 1 ½ inch slash in my front tyre less than 5 hours into the event;
- Puncturing my first spare tube early the next morning (second day);
- Falling chest deep into a mountain stream (at about 1200m) while attempting to negotiate a crossing in the dark while it was hailing;
- Puncturing my second spare tube in afternoon of the second day; (I had a patch kit)
- Slashing the other tyre on an innocuous section of flat gravel trail! (luckily the 3 cups or so of Stan's managed to _mostly_ seal that one);
- Spending the night in a sheep paddock and waking to ice on the inside of my bivy and then having to ride for the better part of 90 minutes with no water as my camelback and bottles were frozen solid;
- Both knees packing it in after stupidly deciding to put in a 'big one' (250km) to make up for time lost in a town waiting for a bike shop to open to replace tyres and tubes; (managed to score prescription anti-inflammatories from another racer)
- Suicidal NZ wildlife (both Rabbits and Sheep!);
- Small town convenience stores that had been picked clean by buys ahead of me;
- Being offered a bed for the night by an overly obliging (very drunk) local – made the decision to keep going even though it was 11pm pretty easy! And my personal highlight…
- Activating my emergency beacon after I got caught in an unseasonable snowstorm less than 60km from the finish (got 4 inches of snow at 400m!) although I was returned to where I left the course and hence was still awarded a finishing time.
- All up I completed the 1100km in 6 days, 1 hour – an average of about 180km a day and I typically spent about 15 hours a day on the bike. A more detailed day-by-day account and some pics are on my blog
at for those that want more details.
For those that are keen, the Kiwi Brevet (based around Wellington) starts in a week or so… I won't be lining up for this one (maybe next year!) but if you want to get a real sense of just what you can achieve and racing a 24 solo just isn't enough then perhaps brevet riding could be for you!
I think my next race is lining up with some guys I work with at the Mont 24 – somehow 24 racing just doesn't seem as daunting anymore!