Saturday, March 19, 2016

Tour Aotearoa 2016

It's about the journey, not the destination.

This was something I pondered long and hard over the 3000 km Tour Aotearoa course

While if you were to choose a destination to travel to, Bluff would not be high on my list but it was certainly a place I was looking forward to reaching. 

Like wise the journey was something that was amazing but there were times that I certainly would have been happy for it to be over right then and there. 

So what was it, the journey or destination? 
To be honest I am not sure I have figured that out yet. 

Standing at the start line I felt over weight and under trained. My training had gone as well as it could have. However, renovating a kitchen, preparing our house for sale and moving to Wanaka 10 days before the start had put a dampener on getting in some longer sessions, but it was to late now, lets get these wheels rolling.

Day 1: 
It was great to finally be rolling away from Cape Reinga. I had already suffered my first hick-up 10 minutes before the start after finding I had a flat tyre which must have occurred between me topping up the air, doing a bit of a warm up/ bike check ride and then waiting for the briefing. Luckily ace pre-event support crew member Grahame Spenceley sprung into action and I was back up and running just as the briefing was ending.

The fun really started once we started to head down to 90 mile beach along a small stream bed. Water and sand was flying every where as rides pushed the pace early on. As we rolled onto the beach the bunch soon sorted itself out in to some what of a pace line. While there were plenty of people happy to sit down the back for a free ride it was great to see some had working faces continually putting in the work at the front. As the kms ticked by the wind started to pick up and it was a welcome sight to see the end of the beach. 

The bunch splintered as we headed through some soft sand into Ahipara. Then it was out into the hills pushing towards the first ferry deadline across the Hokianga Harbour. With the last sailing at 8 pm it was going to be a tough ask. The hills seem to just keep coming as everyone kept pushing themselves we beyond a sensible pace for the start of such an event. The group that I was riding in rolled into the ferry dock with 5 minutes to spare. The crew seemed quite relaxed about the sailing time so over the next 15 minutes or so more exhausted looking riders arrived and raided the small food caravan while the ferry hurried us along with its air horn.

Once off the ferry everyone seemed to scatter. Some to the shop, pub, toilet and some up the road. After a quick stop I found myself out the front with Kevin Moginie and was soon caught up by a bunch. As we started the climb to Tane Mahuta the body was starting to feel the effects of the days work under the hot sun. My legs were fading and I was forced to stop as I was feeling dizzy and getting shaking. As the bunch pulled away from me I was left leaning on the road side barrier in the dark in the middle of who knows where. I was approx 190 km in to a 3000 km ride and had already hit the wall! This was going to be fun. 

After knocking back some food and drink and having a few words with myself I slowly pushed on towards Tane Mahuta. As my energy levels started to return and I started to think straight it was pretty clear that I was just suffering a bit from the hot pace and weather earlier in the day. My plan was to ride until 1 am and then lay down for my compulsory 6 hour stop. Hopefully I would be able to limit anytime lost to the bunch ahead of me. Just before 1 am I found a good camping spot and pulled over for a sleep. Little did I know the front bunch had already stopped to sleep and I was out in the front. 

Day 2:
Back in the saddle at 7 am I headed towards Dargaville. A quick stop to refuel and I kept pushing hoping I would catch sight of the front bunch who I assumed were still out in front of me somewhere. I bumped into Seb Dunne on the way out of town and we cruised along together for a while before Seb stopped to adjust something. The kms ticked by and I was getting a bit disheartened that I could not see the front bunch at all. That was until I rounded a corner of a climb and looked back down the road behind me and there they were. What? Behind me? That couldn't be right. As we all came together we pushed through to our next ferry deadline at Pouto Point. This little bunch of 7 (Seb Dunne, Olly Whalley, Anja MacDonld, Steve Hanigan, Nath Vessey, Cliff Clermont and myself) would stay together for the next few days and put down some serious work through these early stages as well as indulging in some very sub par chat.

Again with great timing we rolled into the beach with about 15 minutes to spare and were soon loaded onto the ferry with about a total of 20 riders also making this ferry some by the skin of their teeth.

With 3 hours to kill as we steamed across the Kaipara Harbor it was all about eating and then clocking up some zzzs or at least resting the eyes. Somewhere during the boat ride the idea of taking another 3 hours of rest at the other end of the ferry came up. This would then mean that the 6 hour rest period had been served and we could then ride as late as we liked that night uninterrupted. It sounded like a good idea. It would mean we would miss much of the hottest part of the day, hit Auckland at the tail end of rush hour and hopefully feel super fresh to put some runs on the board later in the evening. So the 7 of us in our little bunch raided the shop and took cover in the shade of some  big trees at a local park in Paraki.

Back on the bikes and we made good time to and through the streets of Auckland before cracking into some climbing to the south. As we rolled around the head of the Firth of Thames talks in the bunch turned to having a quick power nap to recharge the legs. Seb decided to bed down early while the rest of us pushed on a bit longer before curling up on the edge of the Hauraki rail trail around 2 am. Our sleep was cut short when Seb came rolling through around 4 am. We quickly packed up and were back on the road.

Day 3:
As the sun came up we rolled into the Te Aroha petrol station for some breakfast. I didn't know it at the time but I am pretty sure the chicken wrap that I was stuffing into my mouth was not overly fresh and would come back to bite me later in the day. I headed off into the early morning light in good spirits and looking forward to the day ahead. A few hours down the road in Matamata was the first sign that something wasn't feeling right but I just shrugged it off and thought it would pass. It was at this time we lost Nath who had to stop and get some bike lube. We loaded more food and fluids on board and kept the train rolling towards the Waikato River Trail. 

Talk about under estimating this section. We were all surprised at how tough this trail was and as Olly pushed things on the front I was doing my best to stay in touch on the back with a stomach that was really starting to head down hill. I wasn't sure if I needed to take a big dump or throw up. All I knew as I was feeling very average. Finally I arrived in Mangakino to find the others stuffing their faces and refueling. I quickly grabbed what I needed and we were back on the road again soon after heading towards the Timber Trail. What followed was some big rough climbs as we headed to the center of the North Island. 

It was somewhere along a nondescript section of forestry road that I left the not so fresh chicken wrap and everything else I had eaten that day in the ditch, including a vast amount of blue power aide and half chewed red jelly snakes. Instantly getting a feeling of relief from my technicolor spew I pushed on and caught the group again at the center of the North Island. This feeling of relief was soon replaced with a feeling to complete emptiness and as we started up the Timber Trail all I could do is watch the bunch ride away as my legs became more and more hollow.

As darkness set in and the trial become very littered with mud holes I was ready for the journey to be over and the only destination I was interested in was at home with Lily and our girls. I felt so far away, so helpless and this was the last thing I wanted to be doing. Realising that I was on a slippery downwards slope I stopped and downed some sandwiches and lollies. I instantly started to feel some life returning to my legs and committed myself to focusing on the fun of riding this awesome muddy single track. Something that being from Dunedin I was very use to in winter and summer :) A brilliant full moon rose high in the sky and the forest seemed to glow as the moonlight bounced off the white moss and lichen. I was having so much fun riding the course that resembled a cyclo-cross course that I was almost disappointed (a big almost) when I caught up to a couple of the group and we came to our camping spot for the night where everyone was starting to bed down. I quickly worked on getting from vertical to horizontal as quickly as possible and after what felt like a couple of minutes sleep someones alarm went off and it was time to get back on the road.

Day 4: 
Back out into the dark and it was great fun bombing down the Timber Trail. With my legs still feeling a bit empty I just worked on keeping things steady and enjoy the ride while having to let the others go. By the time I rolled into Taumarunui the other were already feed and watered and in the process of cleaning their bikes. Another quick refuel stop at BP and I was quickly back on the road with the bunch and feeling ok as we pointed our nose to the Bridge to Nowhere Trail. I kept working hard to hold on to the bunch as we had the last jet boat booked down the Whanganui River and I really did not want to miss this.

After a bunch of back road climbing we hit the Bridge to Nowhere trail and the going got tough. Lots of climbing, rough descents and tight back country walking tracks started taking a toll on the legs. The trail went on and on with another climb, another swing bridge to dismount and push your bike over but finally we popped out at the spectacular Bridge to Nowhere. From there is was a short ride down to the jet boat pick up point and again we arrive with almost precision timing. A quick chance to soak the legs in the river before it was onto the boat and off down the river at a great rate of knots which helped bump up the average speed for the day.

Once off the boat there was not much to hang around for so it was back on the road for the hilly 70 km ride into Whanganui. A quick stop in at the convent in Jerusalem for some water was just what I needed to get me through to the end. As I rolled into Whanganui I saw that Seb, Olly, Anja and Steve had taken over a unit at a motel, so I brought a stack of cheese burgers and chips and bribed my way in for a shower and a comfortable spot on the floor to crash for the night. By the look of it Cliff had decided to call it a day at the end of the jet boat so our bunch was now down to 5 riders.

 Day 5:
Another early alarm and we were all ready to roll. Everyone that was apart from Olly who had discovered that of the 5 pairs of stinky cycling shoes outside the motel unit someone decided to pinch his. It was hard to wrap our heads around the situation as all the shoes were really starting to develop a serious odor (hence why they were left outside) and would not be much use to anyone in the general public.
Anyway, Olly decided to go back to bed for a few hours I think and wait for the local bike shop to open saying that he would catch us up down the road, which I had no doubt he would. 

So the bunch was down to 4 as we rolled out of Whanganui in the dark. I was feeling average at best so today I really wanted to focus on riding steady at my own pace and looking after my legs the best I could. Little did I know that today was going to be one of the toughest days I have ever had on the bike.

The morning went and passed with out any issues. I was riding well and ticking off the vertical and horizontal kms feeling ok. Then at around 3 pm my right quad started to feel a bit tight. Then the left one followed about an hour later. They progressively got worse and worse until they were at the point of me almost not being able to bend my knee to pedal. I wasn't sure what was happening but I could not stand to climb out of the saddle and on the flat I could only spin a very easy gear.

I pushed on toward Palmerston North where I decided to reassess the situation. I slowly rolled into Palmy after having to walk my bike up a couple of little rises on the cycle path after my legs fully locked up and I fell off my bike. What was I going to do? What was wrong with my legs?

So many things were running through my head. Did I have rhabdomyolysis, was my body shutting down and self destructing, would I cause myself long term damage. I realised that this was the longest and hardest I had ever ridden for and came to the conclusion that I had a bad case of FLS (F**ked Leg Syndrome, It is a medical term I assure you) and I just needed some food and rest.

I think the night of luxury sleeping on the floor of the Whanganui motel had made me go a little soft as while I was sitting and waiting for some Thai takeaways (this was the first time I had ordered and waited for food outside of a McDs) I started to convince myself that it would be best if I booked into a motel and soaked my legs in a bath. I soon shook off that idea and as I sat in the park eating my Pad Thai it dawned on me that I wasn't moving very far just sitting hear and all my case of FLS needed was a good dose of HTFU (Harden The F**k Up).

So I dumped the rest of my Pad Thai in a plastic bag and put it in my back pocket and proceeded to pedal very slowly out of town towards the hills. It wasn't fast and it wasn't pretty but I was going a darn sight faster than I was just sitting in Palmerston North feeling sorry for myself. I pedaled until about 11.30 pm when I called it a night and decided to get a bit of extra sleep to see if that would help sort the legs out.

Day 6: 
After one of the most comfortable sleeps I have ever had on the side of the road on some long cushy grass I woke and downed the rest of my Pad Thai before getting the wheels turning again. The legs were feeling better than yesterday but I had gained a couple of knee sizes and could still only maintain a slow to steady pace and had to keep stopping and stretching so they did not fully lock up.

I came to the conclusion that the issues that I was experiencing was due to a large amount of muscle damage and delayed onset muscle soreness from the hard rough riding through the Timber Trail and Bridge to Nowhere. The server soreness was just swelling from the muscle damage and this was interrupting the nervous signals causing them to cramp/ lock up. Thats my theory anyway. 

K by K I kept chipping away at the course through the Wairarapa. I have a lot of family heritage through this part of the country so the thoughts of family past and present helped past the time a stoke the fire within. Enjoy the journey, enjoy the journey. By the time I started the climb up the Rimutaka Rail Trail the Wellington wind was in full force and I had to use all my strength (which was little by this stage) to stop getting blown off the trail and down the bank. Down through the Hutt Valley and into Wellington the head wind strengthened and it looked less and less likely that I would make the ferry in time. I rolled up with 30 minutes to spare thinking that my impeccable ferry timing had continued but they had already shut everything up and were not letting anyone else board. 

There was a sailing at 3.30am that I could get on but they would not allow 'walk on' passengers, only those in vehicles. So the only way I was going to be able to get on that sailing was to see if someone could take me and my bike up the ramp onto and off the ferry in a vehicle. I must have been looking pretty sorry for myself sitting in the ferry terminal all by myself with my bike, as a guy came over and started chatting to me. He was in the process of taking his recently deceased fathers car back home to Christchurch and was hoping to get a ticket on the 3.30 sailing also. I sold him my sob story and next thing I was out in the parking lot carefully taking my filthy bike to bits and putting them in the back of this immaculate Mercedes. It must have been quite the sight. Enjoy the journey, enjoy the journey.

Long story short after a long wait in line solving all the problems of the world with my new best friend I made it onto the ferry. It turns of Kevin Mogine had also made it on by simply riding his bike up the ramp, being chased by several men with clip boards, high viz vests and hard hats. There must be an Oscar with his name on it somewhere or he slipped someone a brief case of unmarked US bills as when he was apprehended he manged to convince them to let him on the ferry on his bike. It was great to catch up with Kevin as I have been helping him with his training in the build up to the Tour and it was good to see he had ridden his way through the field after a couple of hick ups on the first few days. 

Day 7: 
About 12 hours after I had arrived at the ferry terminal in Wellington I was in Picton putting my bike back together and getting ready to roll. Kevin had rolled straight off the boat and away so once up and running I worked at ticking off the Ks towards Nelson. Despite all of this down time I had only manged to bag about 3 hours of sleep which was not ideal. 

The climb over the Maungatapu Saddle was tough on legs that were still feeling below average at best. It was so good to be in the South Island again. As I rode through Nelson I had a number of family members come out to say high which really helped lift my sprites. I headed back out into the country via the back roads as was greeted with a glorious sun set as I clocked in for the night shift. 

Day 8: 
My morning pack up was made super fast by the swarming mass of sand flies trying to each get a piece of me. I had bivvied up on the side of the road just outside of Lake Rotoroa and the sun rise did not disappoint as I got stuck into my work for the day. I didn't want to say anything to loudly but my legs were starting to feel average at best for the first time in I could not remember how many days. However, today my arse was really starting to feel a little worse for wear. The first few climbs of the day felt reasonably good and after a quick refuel in Murchison and a top up of Vaseline after running out of chammy cream last night having upped my daily usage while trying to improve my rapidly deteriorating posterior things were looking up.

Today was all about clocking up the vertical with a few serious climbs to tick off. The first was through the Maruia Saddle which was a beautiful bush clad road. The second on state highway 6 over Ruha Saddle and then from Reefton over to Big River  before heading through to Waiuta on the rough track. I reached Big River Hut just on dark and then the slow going got even slower as I made my way through the Big River - Waiuta track primarily walking and riding very conservatively in sections so I did not do anything stupid like fall down the bank or break a leg on this very remote section of the tour. Inch by inch I moved through the rough track in the dark and eventually popped out in Waiuta. I cruised down the hill for a while and found a good bivy spot close to the main road and pulled over for the night just after midnight. The legs had hard more than enough riding for today.

Day 9:
As I headed towards Greymouth on this cool morning I was battling big time. I could not get comfortable in my saddle and this was throwing everything off. I then remembered I had packed a spare pair of shorts so I quickly stopped and slipped into another pair of shorts and this instantly made a huge difference. Being able to sit on the saddle comfortably again made a huge difference and I soon got into my groove and started ticking off the Ks. Having grown up on the Coast it was nice to be on familiar soil and have familiar weather :) We had had hot and humid weather in Northland, Wind in Wellington and now I was on the West Coast it started to rain and I mean really rain. After a couple of hours it eased off and the remainder of the West Coast wilderness trail passed in dry conditions. As I arrived in Hokitika I was greeted at several different locations by friends and family all wanting to help in anyway they could and being very confused when I declined and explained the ethos of this self supported event.

I don't know if it was the moral boost from talking with some friendly faces again, the 2 pies I downed at the petrol station or the fact that I had been pedaling painfully slow since Palmerston North, but as I headed south I felt an energy returning to my legs that I had not felt in a long time. This could not have come at a better time as when I last checked the MapProgress site there were a bunch of riders not far behind me and they seemed to be closing in fast. 

I pointed the compass due south and started on the long road section from Ross to Hawea. I seem to make good progress through the evening and pulled in to Whataroa just after 1 am where I punched out of my night shift stint and settled down on the grass next to the community hall knowing that tomorrow was going to be a big day. 

Day 10:
I rolled out of town in the pre-dawn dark and started ticking off the Ks. As the sun came up I was greeted with a stunning South Westland morning which helped to shake the haze of tiredness that seemed to be engulfing me. A quick stop in Franz Josph to refuel then it was time to get climbing over to Fox. I was please that my legs seemed to be on the continual improve and I was able to climb out of the saddle and get some power down into the pedals. Once into Fox it was a quick side trip up to the Glacier walk car park for one of the compulsory photo stops before getting back on the road South. 

This had been one of the sections that had 'worried' me most as I wondered what the traffic was going to be like and how many close calls I would have with loopy tourist drivers. It turned that the drivers were amazing and gave me so much room it was almost awkward. Maybe it was because the tourist drivers come from country where they are use to driving with bikes on the road. All I know is that the smooth road, good grade, courteous drivers, crystal clear steams on the side of the road to drink from and brilliant weather I was really enjoying the journey today.

Late afternoon I arrived in Haast and had a quick stop to refuel before clocking in for the evening shift up over the Haast Pass. A tail wind and a big can of Mother Energy drink made the early stages relatively easy going. All of the tourist must have pulled into camp for the night as the roads were completely dead. So much so I was able to get a few photos at the Gates of Haast undisturbed. I crested the top of the Haast Pass as it was starting to get dark and layered up as it was also starting to get very chilly. 

I pushed on through the darkness and into a stiffing head wind towards Hawea. I was down to a crawl by the time I reached Hawea due to the wind and it was somewhere along the Hawea - Wanaka trail that I pulled in behind a bush and bed down for the night.

Day 11: 
After what only felt like 2 minutes I woke up having over slept my alarm again. I quickly packed up my kit which was becoming second nature by now and headed towards Wanaka. It was great to see Lily at this stage and after a drink and some food at Kai Whakapai I was on the road again with some company for the first time in I don't know how long in the form of Shonagh North a Wanaka based athlete I work with. I was amazing to have a conversation with someone other than myself again or just the quick exchange of words at the shop counter which had pretty much been the extend of it over the last few days. 

The Cardrona Valley passed quickly and before I knew it I was on my own again as the climb up the Crown Range got stepper. A quick photo stop at the top and then it was time to enjoy the fruits of my labour with the down hill into Arrowtown. I came through here in the Great Southern Brevet and now just as then the Queenstown trail network just seemed to go on and on. Great if you want to get in some good off road Ks but not so great when you are trying to get to Queenstown to catch one last ferry. As I rounded the headland into Queenstown bay the tourists were busy snapping photos of the Earnslaw as it steamed off across the lake. Keen to keep moving South I took the water taxi option and after a quick refuel I was making my way across the lake.

As I headed South from Walter Peak Station things were really starting to heat up. Luckily the building had wind swung around to more of a side/ tail wind and I started to really feel like I was cranking along the long flat gravel sections. The last time I was through this way was in the middle of the night during the Great Southern Brevet so it was really nice to see it in the light of day. The sun soon started to set in a brilliant Southland sun set. I rolled through Mossburn and followed the thin blue line on my gps out into the dark Southland night. Long straight roads a few climbs and more long straight roads took me through to Winton ~ 70km from Bluff. It was 1 am and I did entertain the thought of pushing through to Bluff  but decided I would likely enjoy things more after some sleep. So I crawled into my wet sleeping and bivvy bag one last time and feel asleep eating the remains of a cold pie.

Day 12: 
As my knees creaked and I pulled on my shorts (that felt more like sand paper than a soft chammy) I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that this was the last morning I would have to go through this routine (at least for the immediate future). It was cold going to start with in the early Southland morning but soon started to warm up as the sun started to break through the clouds. Again long straight flat roads were the name of the game. I rolled around the outskirts of Invercargill and Bluff hill started to come into view in the distance. I don't really remember to much about the closely few Ks of the Tour Aotearoa apart from the heavy sea air that filled my lungs as I rode through Bluff heading to the finish at Stirling Point.

I crested the rise and there it was. The infamous yellow signs surrounded by a mass of people. A mass of people not there to see me but to have their photo taken in front of the signs. My welcoming party was there as well and it was so so good to see the familiar faces of my family and friends.

While it had ticked over to my 12th calendar day on the bike, in terms of 24 hour periods since the start I had clocked up 10.9 days or 262.5 hours in total. It was a really strange feeling to finally reaching my 'destination'. I wasn't overly excited, exhausted or broken. It was more a strange feeling of relief. Relief that I was now going home.

A huge thanks goes out to Jonathan Kennett who put this whole crazy thing together. Also my amazing support team including Torpedo 7 who helped take care of all my gear requirements, Kursti Annison and Kelly Olsen for keeping my body in working order, Gamble Forest Harvesting for their amazing support, all the athletes I work with through Exponential Performance Coaching who provide me with endless sources of inspiration and last but not least my amazing wife Lily for keeping the home fires burning and keeping the natives under control while I was away. With out all of these amazing people there is no way that I would have made it to the start line let alone Bluff. 


  1. Nicely worded mate, I really enjoyed reading it. Hope the legs have recovered. Andre

  2. An excellent read, with plenty of humour - sounds like you had the classic brevet experience...!

  3. What a great read and an inspiration of how shear will power,determination and a not give up attitude can get you through