Tag Archives: epic rides

Kiwi Brevet – finishing strong

Day 4 – Near Moana to Maruia Saddle

182km, 3155m elevation

Day four was the day I nearly pulled out of the Kiwi Brevet. I had already had some tough days but mainly they were mentally tough, not physically. I started day four in the drizzle, a little damp but happy to be riding. After an hour or so my left knee started hurting. It went from hurting to excruciating and within a few hours I could hardly pedal. I adjusted my seat to give me slight relief but it was far from fixed. I worked out where I was going to pull out and started to figure out how I could get back to Blenheim from there. While I was sitting on the side of the road I caught a glimpse of my left cleat. It was skewed off at a hideous angle, definitely not straight. I had given myself a sore knee. Fark! I got out the allen keys and quickly rectified the problem. Would you believe that that was it, no more problems. Pays to check these things!

So back on the horse, I refueled at Ikamatua, bumping into the Iride guys who had had a great night sleep at the Blackball Hilton. Jealous!!!! The climb up to Waiuta was glorious. Fresh air, lovely gravel gradient and beautiful green forest. I was (almost) grinning with happiness at how things can turn around if you keep on keeping on.

The next section on the Brevet takes you into the gold mining area know as Big River. The Victoria Conservation Park apparently has some of New Zealand’s finest native beech forest and I would happily attest to that! Despite walking nearly the entire 9km section, it was almost my favourite part of the brevet. Every type of fern you could imagine was sparking and spectacular in the rain, classic New Zealand!

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Unfortunately I had assumed the section after Big River was nice gravel road into Reefton, but it was in fact a long-ass haul on old mining kart track with river boulders the size of my head the whole way. Needless to say I again did more walking. It would be a cool place to visit with more time, exploring the old mining buildings, the DOC hut and mine shafts. Finally popping into Reefton I was in surprisingly high spirits, gobbled down some pies and goodies and headed back on the road.

The climb up to Rahu Saddle, with the setting sun and quiet evening road, was just delightful. I hung my socks out to dry on my bar ends and “wahoooed” my way all the way down to Springs Junction.

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The evening was getting fresh but I was feeling great and happy to keep pushing on. I decided to aim for Murchison or close enough to get breakfast there in the morning. As I started up Maruia Saddle in the dark, the temperature plummeted and my enthusiasm waned. I rounded  corner to see a grassy corner, sheltered by the wind by large pine trees. I quickly set up camp and had the best, albeit freezing,  slumber of the trip so far.

Day 5 – Maruia Saddle to Nelson

226km, 3270m elevation

I luckily escaped an awkward naked hello as Peg and Mike rounded the corner as I was packing up camp. They continued on but we were soon to be new criss-crossing buddies until the end of the brevet. I couldn’t quite work out how Peg had ended up been behind me, I thought she was way in front, but soon caught up and found out she had skipped 200km after she had stitches in her knee at Hanmer Springs. HARDCORE! The early morning ride into Murchison was peaceful and passed quickly as I was looking forward to a big breakfast. I passed Keith Payne who was bleary eyed and looking freezing after a night in a ditch on the road side. We rode the last few kms together into Murchison and both devoured a delicious hot breakfast while I enjoyed my first WiFi of the trip! This is also where I started my obsession with Snickers as the ultimate bikepacking food. By the end of the trip I counted I had eaten 13 Snickers bars!!!!

The next section of the brevet was a steady climb and descent down to Lake Rotoroa. Then started some epic hike-a-bike up Porika Road. The views were sensational, but I would never ever voluntarily go up there again!

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The next hours and kilometers rolled on nearly effortlessly. Pretty passes, pine plantations and lonely small towns. Eventually they all gave way to civilisation as we headed in towards Nelson on the Great Taste Trail. I had grand plans of getting into town and getting a motel room for my first real shower in five days. I rode around and around looking for somewhere but evertything said full or was closed. I eventually decided on Burger King and the campground up the road. I bumped into Peg and Mike again and we rode together to the campsite out of town. I had shower and got some shocked side glances from another female camper (bad tan lines, rashes and general disgustingness), ate cold Burger King in the tent at about midnight and had a glorious sleep until my air mattress got a hole and then I froze my tits off! I was absolutely stoked that by tomorrow night I would be finished!

Day 6 – Nelson to Blenheim

151km, 5185m elevation

Tough day!!!! Somewhere in the back of my mind I envisaged a bit of hike a bike up Maungatapu and some hills along Port Underwood and I’d be done by lunchtime. 10 hours riding time later and some serious vertical meters and I was back in Blenheim. Maungatapu was the hike-a-bike hill of doom and by far the longest and biggest mountain (up to 1014m) that I have walked my bike up. The scenery along the coastline before and after Picton was jaw dropping. I was so worried that I would run out of water on the relentless hills of the Port Underwood track (or Port Underpants as some were calling it). Jut to give it even more sting in the tail if that climbing was not enough, I had a ripper of a headwind all the way into Blenheim. Luckily Seb and Ed came to keep me smiling all the way into town.

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Kiwi Brevet was the best experience! Many thanks were required including Bruno for not leaving me on Wharfdale in the dark despite my protests, to the YHA owner at Authur’s Pass who refused me a room and demanded I ‘get back out there and harden up’, and to Peg and Mike for fun crisscrossing company and also the Iride guys. Thanks to Jo and Scott for their organisation of a such a grand adventure. Mostly thanks to Seb for putting up with my higgledy piggledy pre-event (dis)organisation. You rode an inspiring event to finish 2nd male!

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Kiwi Brevet – plans which don’t go to plan

The Kiwi Brevet is a self supported 1100km cycle event around the top of the South Island in New Zealand, mostly on gravel roads. In February this year Seb and I headed over the give it go. After a few months of 15hr work days, I am finally able to sit here on this rainy arvo and do some writing. I wish I could have written about everything that happened but spending an average of 12 hours a day for 6 days on a bike means that there are far too many experiences to share!

Day 1 – Blenheim to Pool Hut (?) on St James Cycle Trail

205km, 2950m elevation

Standing at the Seymore Square fountain in Blenheim in light drizzle I was so nervous I was actually shaking a little bit. After our briefing in the cinema, it was now 9:50am and I was full of espresso and madly trying to get my GPS to turn on. It dawned on me that I was about to head out for a little 1,200 km spin around the New Zealand South Island with a little GPS arrow as my tour guide. Shit!

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There were a few group photos and I said my goodbyes to Seb and Ed and then it was 10am and this peloton of eager-beavers were screaming out of town in a blur of every colour of rain jacket you could imagine. I found myself comfortably about 10th wheel, keen to sit in for as long as the tar lasted at least. We covered about 35km in the first hour and it felt like warp speed. As soon as we hit the gravel I silently waved goodbye to Sebba who I could see was off the front of the pack, that was the last time I saw him for nearly six days! I dropped back and found myself alone and all of a sudden instantly happy. My own head space, my own speed. And that was where I stayed for the whole of the brevet.

The first 150km of day one passed quickly, the kilometers ticking over effortlessly as I settled into my own rhythm. Passing and chatting to a few people here and there and being passed by a few people too. Mainly I rode alone and began my bikepacking ritual of talking and randomly singing out loud to myself. Gradually the route took us up the valley, riding parallel to the Wairau River for most of the day. As we turned away from the river and over our first big pass, we headed towards the St James Cycle Trail.

Now the big views started. Surrounded by snow capped mountains with the setting sun breaking through gaps in the peaks and illuminating the valley in beautiful oranges and pinks.

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As all plans never go to plan (my plan being that I wouldn’t ride slow off-road sections at night due to my bad light setup), of course I found myself bumping and bashing along the St James Cycle Trail at night, my dynamo flickering like a disco, accentuated by the rigid fork vibrations and the connector plug popping out with every big bump. I urged myself to remain happy and slowy push through, I was determined to make it to a hut although I hadn’t decided which hut it would be. At about 210km one popped up out of the dark and into my light beam, possibly Pool Hut but I can’t be sure. I poked my head in the front door but there was some snoring and all beds appeared full. So I set up the tent outside and drifted easily to sleep after an almost indigestible can of chicken meat and a packet of cold fried rice. Very happy to have day one under my belt and eager to tackle a new day of riding tomorrow.

Day 2 – Pool Hut (?) on St James Cycle Trail to a hedgerow near Springfield

200km, 3100m elevation

It was a glorious morning when I got out of the tent, happy to find the hut-riders had left and I was free to nude up and change clothes outside 😉 I rode alone until I came across Chris Bennett who had stopped for a caffeine pill. According to him that is a big thing so he must have been feeling pretty flat. He had also struggled on the St James track in the dark, having only a dynamo light after his head lamp malfunctioned. We rode the whole morning together into Hanmer Springs, chatting about bikes, jobs, Tour Divide and everything in between.

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At Hanmer Springs we shared a table for breakfast, our first real meal since breakfast the day before. I devoured coffee, juice and amazing pancakes with banana and bacon but was astounded by Chris’ ability to eat a serve of scrambled eggs, followed by a serve of pancakes, followed by another serve of eggs! It dawned on me that I really needed to learn how to eat big and still be able to ride out of town, a skill Chris noted was essential for Tour Divide riders! We parted ways as Chris went to buy a new headlamp and I continued out into the heat.

The day warmed up to be a scorcher and the bitumen was hot and I was saying out loud I wanted to get off this bitch-umen. Where were the trees? In Culverden I downed an ice cold coke and got a toasted sandwhich to go. This is where I started my brevet-long crisscrossing with the IRide guys, Jesse and Kirk. I was a slower rider but pretty spot on with my nav, they were faster but less than spot on with their nav! I passed them just before heading into MacDonald Downs, a large cattle grazing property which the brevet goes through. It was hot, windy, treeless and generally smelt like cows. Slowly and steadily I wound my way up and down through the dry desert-like property, running out of water fast. The guys passed me as I was lying under the only tree we saw for hours eating my amazing toasted sanga, but I soon passed them again as they began ducking into every farm house on route looking for water. Begrudgingly I filled up from a semi-flowing stream with rocks which were covered in cow shit and cows standing on the other side of the stream. I decided that I was happier with giardia over death by dehydration, but put about 10 puritabs in my water bladder and began the slow 30min ride until I could drink it.

The afternoon turned to evening as the guys and I started out on the much talked about Wharfdale section: a walking track in Oxford Forest which can also apparently (??) be a mountain bike track too. I had heard it was hard and there would be some walking and pushing, but I was totally not prepared for what lay ahead in the dark. Hours upon hours of pushing, lifting, shouting, cramping, crashing, more pushing, pulling and whimpering. Somewhere along the way Bruno Geldermans appeared and we trudged along together. The only saving grace for me was that Bruno declared I was not in any state for him to leave me alone out there by myself. At one point I stopped in the middle of the track and decided I was camping right then and there. Bruno headed off and it took me less than 5 minutes standing there in the dark to rush off again to find him! We escaped the forest at about 11pm. I camped in a hedgerow at the bottom of the hill to escape from the strong winds, he decided to head closer to town to get water. I washed myself down in a muddy river crossing on the main road by a farm house and filled up my water from the steam with the sound and smell of cows nearby (eeewww again). Completely exhausted and now cramping from head to toe, I hardly slept a wink. Probably the toughest day on the brevet for me. If I was sensible I should have camped at Wharfdale hut and done the track fresh and early in the morning, but as always, plans never go to plan.

 

Day 3 – A hedgerow near Springfield to near Moana

210km, 2650m elevation

Day three was groggy start, I packed up early and headed into Springfield to find some much needed food as my last proper meal was breakfast the previous day. Luckily I stumbled across the Yellow Shack cafe, where I ate my body weight in delicious homemade goodies including egg and bacon pie, Camembert quiche, a muffin and a much needed coffee. Bumped into the Iride guys at the servo, they had spent the night at school ground around the corner. We headed off to tackle the bitumen section over Porters Pass and on towards Arthur’s Pass. Everything about day three was slow. I knew I was wrecked from the day before so I decided to take it very easy and set no goal destination for the day. The wind was howling and the rain was setting in as I approached the township of Arthur’s Pass. I had all my rain gear on and it was bucketing down. Torrential rain. I ummed and ahhhhed and eventually decided I didn’t want to be caught wet and freezing in the dark on some epic New Zealand mountain pass. It was only 4pm in the arvo but I stopped in at the YHA to get a room. A keen cycling enthusiast and brevet fan, the guy at the front desk  kicked himself for not realising the Kiwi Brevet had started. We chatted and I did some more umming and ahhing, expressing my concerns about the cold and rain. In the end he convinced me I’d be up and over the pass in about half and hour, so he kindly declined my request for a room and told me to get back out there. “Think of how much stopping at 4pm will kill your daily average” he protested.

It was torrential rain, but he was correct. In no time I was indeed up and over the pass, slip sliding down the other side in a river which was running down the road. Over 4 hours passed and I merrily rode along in the easing rain, so glad I had kept going.

As it got dark I looked at the cue sheet and decided Moana was only a short way off course and I could get a room there to dry out for the night. When I t-boned Arnold Valley Road I turned left off course, thinking I only had a few kms to Moana. By now it was dark, I was soaked to the core, freezing and it was torrential rain again. More than 6km down the road I got out the map and realised I had misread the cue sheet, the turn off to Moana was many many kms before Arnold Valley Way. Very sad, I bailed and headed back towards the route. At the intersection again, I noticed a house with a light on. I knocked on the door to ask how far Moana actually was. A lovely old Samoan lady opened the door and she looked a bit shocked to see this bedraggled looking crazy wet Australian standing there. To be honest I don’t know why she didn’t slam it shut again in my face! After agreeing that Moana was too far she kindly offered me her veranda for shelter. Her husband headed off to the midnight shift across the road at the abattoir, and after a handful of rain-sodden cold potato wedges, I drifted off to sleep to the sound of cows being beheaded. I wondered where Seb was and hoped he was dry. I wondered where the Iride guys where, they couldn’t be too far from this horrid weather. Some days bikepacking is not glamorous, and this was definitely one of those days.

A Path Through the Forest – Part 2

The morning of day four of our adventure I was in struggle town a bit. It was taking me ages to get going, I was super sleepy and my diesel engine just wouldn’t warm up. Poor Seb was doing well to keep his cool while I plodded along half-asleep, even taking some of my gear in an effort to speed things up. I hadn’t slept again, three nights in a row now, due to crazy heavy smoke from nearby burning off and a nightmare about being caught at the hut in the middle of a bushfire. I need to get myself some sleeping tablets I think! We cruised along through beautiful forest with more oranges, blacks, greens and reds. The grass trees were magnificent, I wish we could grow them like that back home! Seb tried to make friends with some too.

P1030171The rest of the morning was very pleasant with wide rolling fire trail and some pretty bush sections including a rickety, long old bridge. Kilometers ticked over nice and easy to Pemberton. There is a section of pretty wicked switchbacks up to the famous Gloucester tree. Seb raced ahead to see if he could get the strava segment while I hung back and took some photos of the mind-bogglingly huge trees. I got a bit wrapped up in the serenity of the trees and bell birds and by the time I found Seb he was considering making an ascent of the Gloucester tree in his cleats but I talked him out of it with the promise of a cafe lunch in Pemberton. The Gloucester tree is a giant karri tree which is 72 m tall and was used as a fire-lookout tree. It had metal rods driven in all the way to the top platform and a measly cage which wouldn’t stop you from really hurting yourself. Not a chance I was going up there thanks!

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Later that afternoon it was pouring with rain and I was feeling the effects of having so little sleep. We pulled into a caravan park in Quinninup and got a cheap little cabin ($25) with a non operational shower and ancient single beds. We ordered take-away fish and chips, had a beer and that night I had the best sleep ever!!!!

Day 4 stats: 126km, 1827m vert. (Strava Day 4)

Day 5 for us was a bit shorter than the rest. It was easy to keep thinking ‘more-of-the-same’ but then you had to pinch yourself and remember that you were riding through these spectacular and unique old growth forests. Occasionally we stopped for a bit of tree hugging and to fill up the food bag with goodies. But that afternoon when we reached the Karta Burnu campsite at 68km, there was nobody else around and the views from the hut were glorious. So what the hell, we stopped at about 3pm! We enjoyed the afternoon eating chocolate, going for a walk, playing cards and drying out wet clothes from the day before. It was a welcome break.

One thing we hadn’t really though of in our planning was that the sun was rising just before 7am and setting before 6pm. That means nearly 12 hours of darkness which we didn’t really factor in. Usually when we are bikepacking we would put in much longer days and collapse into bed but unfortunately on this trip we only had 2 x 6hr  batteries between us.

P1030194  P1030201P1030205Day 5 stats: 68km, 1029m vert. (Strava Day 5)

Eager to make a move after being idle for so many hours, we headed out in the rain on Day 6. The ground was pretty sodden and there was a section of fresh red-dirt track that had just been cut or cleared. It was very hard going and not many words were spoken. We emerged from the red goop only to find a long detour rerouted around a forestry bridge which had been removed years before, so we hoped for a nice coffee spot when we got into the township of Donnelly River. Instead we found shoeless children chasing emus and kangaroos around with a bit of a sketchy ‘forgotten forestry community’ feeling. We were pleasantly surprised to get a fantastic fresh cup of coffee and gluten-free chocolate cake at the (only) local store. We relaxed on the veranda and spent some quality time with the emus and roos.

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The next section took us on some nice forestry roads to Nannup. We stopped at the Blackwood Cafe (opposite the supermarket on the main road) for AMAZING burgers. Go there, you won’t regret it, then headed out of town on the rail trial to Jarrahwood. The rail trail was fantastic! We zoomed along at what felt like warp speed compared to earlier that day. There is a Munda Biddi hut at Jarrahwood and the plan was to stay there that night. However, if you blink you miss Jarrahwood and the population of about 100 people. The place was a dust bowl and the hut was set up kind of between two backyards. Broken down cars and barking dogs gave the place a really bad feel and it wasn’t more than 10 minutes before we were back on our bikes and riding on to find our own camping. It was a totally random spot considering there was forest less than 100m away and compared to the spectacular huts of previous camps which were not accessible by car. Far different from the “picturesque, historic town” that the maps and website describe.

Jarrahdale is a picturesque, historic townWe rode along until we felt we were far enough away from the bogans to not be disturbed that night.

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 Day 6 stats: 103km, 1326m vert. (Strava Day 6)

We had already decided that it would take at least two really big, hard days to get back to Perth to pick up our hire car on time and so instead we opted to ride off the trail out to Bunbury and catch the train back to Perth. It could have gone either way but I guess labeling it as a honeymoon ride, and the simple fact that I wasn’t riding as well as Seb, made it an easy choice. The road to Donneybrook was not great and there was one section of corrugations that rattled me inside out. I knew Seb was up the road thinking ‘oh Beth won’t be liking this’ and it made me grin and keep at it. We didn’t even take any photos except some of my blurry stream of attempts to capture black cockatoos (of which I seem to be obsessed with).

The road was quite up and down and the gravel was getting a bit more hardcore now. Pea gravel, ball-bearing gravel. Whatever you want to call it, it all rides the same: sketchy as! Just about every downhill I’d be literally gliding across these balls thinking, uoh, it’s crash time. We made it to Donneybrook, the apple capital of the south west, to find we had missed the apple festival by one day and so grabbed a coffee and continued on. We said goodbye to our last Munda Biddi trail marker at Boyanup and headed towards Bunbury on a terribly busy and dangerous road congested with Easter holiday traffic. Hanging out at the Bunbury train station was not the best end to our adventure, but that is what it was, so we embraced it and celebrated with lunch at Maccy D’s. Now it was time for some R&R, wine and cheese in Margaret River. I love WA!

Day 7 stats: 74km, 497m vert. (Strava Day 7)

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Touring the route from start to end is a solid ride for anyone. We set a reasonable pace considering the terrain although we had planned for some much longer days. I wasn’t expecting the riding to be as physical as it was and were slowed considerably by sand, leaf litter and debris covered old trails and then gravel. I would not recommend doing this ride on anything except a mountain bike (we had rigid forks which were fine). I am dubious about the ‘family friendly’ promotion of the trail, some bits were really tough going! I can’t talk for the northern part as we didn’t ride it, but the southern part was spectacular, magical and something I will never forget. Exploring this region by bike is something that you must do, so get that bucket list ready for another adventure!

Yirra Kartta Campsite

A Path Through the Forest – Part 1

N.B Grab yourself a cuppa and settle in, these two posts are pretty long but mainly because we have so many awesome pictures to share!

For our honeymoon adventure back in April, Seb and I cycle toured the Munda Biddi trail in Western Australia. The Munda Biddi trail has been created to mirror the adventure of the famous 1000km hiking trail the Bibbulmun Track, but for mountain bikers. In Noongar Aboriginal language Munda Biddi means ‘path through the forest’. Although the trail is about 1000km in entirety, it is segmented up into very accessible sections each with its own map and a signposted route. A good breakdown is on the official site here, where you can also order the maps. It passes through a town every day and there are also custom built huts along the way which you can use if you aren’t staying in the towns. In all seriousness, in the right weather you could cycle tour this route with just a credit card and a toothbrush! We decided to take all our gear, giving us the option to camp where we wanted or stay in the huts.

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In terms of logistics, we chose to fly to the most southern point of the trail in Albany and ride north towards Perth. In the end, this was the best choice as the southern end is by far the most spectacular. We also had a time limit because we had a hire car booked in Perth the following week, so we would aim to see how far we could get in a week.

Being true to the trend-setting bikepacking style, we flew to Albany in our bike gear and traveling with only our bike boxes. We found a great spot on the lawn out the front of the airport to build our bikes up, found a big skip to chuck out our boxes and in just over an hour we were on the road into the seaside town of Albany. We dropped into a local bike shop who recommended the best burgers in town, Dylan’s on the Terrace. After great burgers and huge choccy milkshakes we headed off for a quick lap of the headland for some ocean views. It was really hot and the ocean was aqua blue so we talked about going for a swim at the beach. That idea was quickly shelved when we got to the beach as a bulldozer was putting a washed up dead whale into a truck. The whale had attracted large sharks in the area, the beach was closed and it even made the news!

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Swimming aborted we decided to get on our way for the day. We rode fun single and double track through very dry bush. The colours were just beautiful: orange gravel, green and black grass trees, red gum blossoms and a vivid blue sky. We didn’t really have a plan for the afternoon as we probably wouldn’t make the first huts or town before dark, so we just took it in and enjoyed the ride. Camping was meant to be nice at Cosy Corner, but we were riding well and totally overshot the turnoff. In the end we stopped around at a little spot on the edge of the Wilson Inlet. On dusk we were greeted, to our surprise, by a car full of guys who were fishing at the river mouth. Luckily they weren’t 30 minutes earlier to witness our nude bathing! We didn’t sleep well, the 1.5-man tent isn’t the best size for two of us tall people and when I get hot I tend to dream more. A restless night for us was made worse for me by a horrible nightmare, leaving me drenched in sweat. Eeww.

P1030063  P1030066 P1030067Day 1 stats: 89km, 575m vert. (Strava Day 1)

The next morning we packed up and rode the last hour of rail trail into Denmark for breakfast. There is something both pleasant and rewarding about riding before breakfast, but mainly I guess it is just the lessened guilt one gets when ordering food bikepacking style. We found a fantastic little cafe called Mrs Jones cafe at the Old Butter Factory Galleries with fresh yum food and free wifi – highly recommended!

Once we had restocked at the Super IGA with supplies, we we off towards the coast. This section of the trail was one of my most favourite parts of the trip. A winding iron ore gravel path had been hacked through the thick scrub and white sand that lined the southern coast. It is wider than singletrack but smooth and flowing and occasionally emerged above the scrub and treated us to views of the wild and windy coast. It reminded me very much of a place we rode to in Wildside stage race, Granville Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania.

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The next section of riding was not so great as there was a long detour (marked) on bitumen and the roads were a bit boring. Once back on the dirt we enjoyed some super fast firetrail and then some hilarious ‘track’ to get to our lunch spot at the fantastic Jinung Beigabup campsite. These purposely built campsites have camping spots, open bunk houses, tables, bike racks, pit toilets and the best bit is that they are off the road and only accessibly by foot or bike, not car! While eating lunch we discovered that the campsite log book would prove to be great entertainment each day: a few tales of woe but mainly stories of others thoroughly enjoying themselves.

P1030097P1030098For the past day and a bit we had been riding past some beautiful red flowers that were a kind of bottlebrush but not familiar to me. I kept asking if we could stop and get a photo but by the time I saw them they were gone before I could be bothered to get the camera out. The next section to Booner Mundak campsite however, proved to be too spectacular for me to resist, and stop I did. Many times!

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Eventually, the road into Booner Mundak campsite turned to crap and the last 4km were just sand. I found riding on the sand hard and walked a fair bit but Seb rode the whole stretch, except this tiny bit which I got a photo of and he says that isn’t fair! But with salami and cow cheese wraps in our tummies, we were ready for bed after a decent day of riding. We shared the camp with an older couple from Berowra NSW and another couple of very loud and grumpy men arriving after dark, with bob-trailers and swearing about sand, sand, sand. Again I hardly slept a wink, this time the fat men were rustling around, tossing and turning and all I wanted was to go sleep outside.

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Day 2 stats: 112km, 1226m vert. (Strava Day 2)

On a crisp and sunny morning, day three, we set off back to the sandy road for sand, sand and more sand. It was perfect weather for arm warmers… but I had left mine hanging over the bunk ladder back at camp. Afraid of getting scolded by an angry I-told-you-so Seb, I braved it with bare arms or rain jacket for the rest of the trip! Eventually we started to gain some height and climb into the Valley of the Giants. First stop was the Tree Top Walk near Walpole, which we thought might have opened at 8am but it turned out to be 9am. It was a great attraction and even by 9am there were plenty of people buzzing around. The highest point of the suspension bridge walk takes you 40 meters off the ground and there are still trees towering above you. I am very afraid of heights and I wasn’t super keen walking around in mtb cleats over a metal mesh, but it was totally worth it! And it was even possible to put Seb in a picture with something that dwarfed him in size for once!

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The ride into Walpole was also stunning. We continued on through towering Tingle, Jarrah and Karri forest, straining our necks to see the tree tops. It was pretty lumpy terrain with bark and leaf litter fire trails intermixed with some totally rad singletrack sections which eventually popped us out onto the  more sandy flat land around Walpole. We stopped for an early bakery lunch in the park, obligatory iced coffees and set off in soaring temperatures and sun.

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The afternoon was hot, dirty and hard work. By the time we had pushed through to Fernhook Falls we decided it was definitely time for a swim to get rid of three days of grub. It was a magic little spot but we decided to push on into the sunset and try and make Yirra Catta campsite just after dark. It was gorgeous riding into the sunset, the best we could do for our romantic honeymoon!

P1030164P1030163P1030170We arrived just after dark at Yirra Catta campsite, where we stayed with another cyclist who was touring the trail south by himself. He noted that the gravel started getting worse further north and hinted towards the most northern part of the trail being the part to miss if we bailed early. Good to get news about the trail in the other direction, so we kindly told him about the sand!

Day 3 stats: 124km, 2201m vert. (Strava Day 3)

End of day three and still happily married… good news. Time to top up your cuppa for Part 2.

Booner Mundak Campsite
Booner Mundak Campsite

Booner Mundak Campsite
Booner Mundak Campsite
which means path through the forest in the Noongar Aboriginal language – See more at: http://www.mundabiddi.org.au/explore-the-trail/about-the-trail.html#sthash.chJsaVVt.dpuf
which means path through the forest in the Noongar Aboriginal language – See more at: http://www.mundabiddi.org.au/explore-the-trail/about-the-trail.html#sthash.chJsaVVt.dpuf

An inkling of form – MBC Stages 4 & 5

Stage 4

After the kerfuffles of Stage 3, the organisers announced we would get a bit of a sleep in and that Stage 4 would be shortened from 175km to about 120km.

Stage 4 brought out the true ‘roadie’ in me with the racing being fast and relatively flat. Cam and I got in an awesome group of four just smashing turns and motoring along.

Pacelining on dirt is a lot harder than I imagined, especially when there is a lot of sand. All of a sudden the rider in front starts to slow and swerve all around. You also really have to trust that you can handle whatever the rider in front rides over, because the vehicle ‘tram tracks’ made it hard to change lines quickly.

Nothing exciting happened in Stage 4 except that we got to the finish at 95km, fully expecting we had taken a wrong turn and missed 25km of racing. The carefree organisers shrugged their shoulders and said the 120km was approximate. And so with that, we were finished by 12.30pm with a free afternoon ahead!

The campsite was a makeshift Ger camp on the stony banks of the Kherlen River. A mostly stagnant creek gave us something to wash our bikes in, but later we found the water was actually flowing and further downstream the water was being used in our little single-man cold water shower tents.

Bike washing with a drink bottle and toothbush

Bike washing – Mongolian style

Inside our Ger we had a large piece of felt (obviously a spare side panel for a Ger) on top of a large red carpet. To our surprise, none of the other Gers had this and people were complaining about the dirt floors. We kept our mouths shut but later that evening one of the Mongolians came an took the Ger felt. Doh, at least we still had the carpet!

Enjoying the sunset

That evening the Mongolians killed a sheep for dinner.  I am all for fresh and I know that meat has to come from somewhere, but there was something about seeing the sheep’s head on the washing up table that put me off the mutton pasta and dumplings that night.

Dinner?

Dinner? (Photo Scott Biddinger)

Strava route – http://app.strava.com/activities/82240821

A video interview of me, Bleeksie and others about the day –

Daily MBC video –

Stage 5

My body seemed to be warming to the idea of racing day in, day out, and after the opening 20km of Stage 5 I found myself riding in a bunch which included Sonya, Erin, Jess and Jennifer. Bleeksie and Seb both dropped back in the group at various times and had confused looks on their faces, not expecting me there!

The stage began with a KOM at the 30km mark and another climb to follow soon after at 52km.

After the climbs the rest of this stage was furious and flat. I found myself in a group of six riders which split on the descent into three pairs: myself and a guy, Jennifer and a guy, and Erin and a guy!

Slowly me and ‘my guy’ reeled in Jennifer, then us four worked together to pull back Erin. Erin and I rode together briefly on the next climb before she looked around at me with that “I am going now” look, and sped off. I rode the last 10km by myself, only to hear someone approaching at the 1km mark. Jess screamed past and yelled for me to “get on”. I tired but her technical skills left me for dead on the sandy descent to the finish.

It was great to be able to feel a bit more competitive now that my health was on the way up, and actually feel like I was bike racing. I was lucky enough to escape a fairly large batch of food poisoning that went through the camp that night, forcing a few rider to retire from the race, and left others facing an unpleasant 170km stage the next day. Maybe it was worth avoiding the sheep after all?

Sadly in the afternoon while Seb and I were asleep in the Ger, two Mongolians appeared inside, one with arms firmly crossed, the other pointing at the rug. After playing dumb for a while, we gave up and the Mongolians confiscated the rug from under our feet. Onto the dirt for us that night!

Strava route – http://app.strava.com/activities/82240811

Seb and Nathan both on the podium for Stage 4

Seb and Nathan both on the podium for Stage 4

Sharing the germs around – MBC stages 2 & 3

Stage 2

In my opinion, Stage 2 had the best scenery of the whole race! The first 80km were quite uneventful as we rode from open plains to big rolling green hills, through some lush green forest and up valleys encircled by beautiful rocky outcrops. The last climb of the day came at about 80km. Far in the distance we could see riders traversing the enormous ridge to the left but it was so spectacular I hardly noticed the pain. We were grinding along at such a slow pace it was easy to take everything in. Yellow, purple and white wildflowers, the smell of cedar and pine trees and the cooling air as we climbed and climbed.

I was feeling OK: still a raging sore throat but it seemed all the congestion in my head was slowly making its way out. Our Aussie buddy Cam on the other hand, was not so lucky. He seemed to have some mutation of the thing I had and was feeling crap at best and so we ended up riding the whole stage together.

Cam and I enjoying the mid-race views

Cam and I enjoying the mid-race views

On the decent of the final hill I was giggling and yelling at how amazing the track was but all of a sudden had to screech to a halt with blood spurting out of my nose. The rapid change in altitude had given me an epic blood nose and because my heart was pumping so fast, it just wouldn’t stop. Cam and I spent a good 15min on the side of the hill with every rider stopping to see me lying there with my face covered in blood. It looked so hardcore, but it wasn’t.

Even after a mid-race face clean it wasn't pretty!

Even after a mid-race face clean it wasn’t pretty!

Drama over, we continued on towards the end of the stage still alone in our pair of misery. At about the 90km mark we started crossing rivers. Once had you gotten off, heaved your bike to your shoulder and waded through the freezing water, you were back on for maybe five minutes tops, before having to do it all again. Some of these rivers were deep and flowing fast, so I was very happy to be riding with Cam in case I got completely swept off my feet.

When we finally reached the end of the stage we were both ruined. It had been such a long slow day, with our elapsed time being close to eight hours. The goal of ‘just getting through’ was a struggle in itself and I envied all the race talk that was going on around camp. RACE!? I could hardly ride. With a 170km stage looming for the next day, we ate a huge meal and got to bed early. It was raining heavily and I fell asleep overhearing a local racer saying that rain was forecast and it would be about five degrees in the morning. Mongolia was really putting the hurt on us.

bethgoats

Strava route – http://app.strava.com/activities/82240843

Really awesome Stage 2 video –

Stage3

stage3

river crossing

Ger

Our breezy Ger

Stage 3

Indeed in the morning it was frigid. We started in the drizzle and nearly every rider had their long pants and raincoats on. It was quite an amusing start to the stage, with riders spreading in every direction dodging mud and huge puddles. It quickly became apparent that these freezing muddy puddles were impossible to avoid and within 15 minutes we were all drenched from at least the knees down.

I found myself in a group with my friends the Spaniards again and we set about pacelining across the valley into a bitterly cold headwind. A bumpy, ass-pounding climb brought us to the top of a swampy marsh like area. We headed partway down hill, the bog getting increasing deeper, until we came across the convoy of bogged race vehicles. Through the swamp (finally) we bombed down a crazy steep downhill and crossed a raging river. Around the corner we came head to head with the race leaders. “WHAT THE HELL?” We thought initially they had gone the wrong way or something but it turned out a river was impassable and we were being sent back the way we came.

Back across the raging river, up the hike-a-bike hill of death and, of course, back through the swap and passed the convoy of vehicles who were now bogged going in the opposite direction!

stage3bog

Bogged in the bog

We spent a few hours holed up in a friendly local lady’s Ger where we were fed some peanuts and coke. 40 riders sitting around in wet muddy lycra which they had been in since 7am. You can guess how good that Ger smelt. Poor lady, she will have probably built herself a new house by now.

Eventually we got transported to the camp at the end of the stage in the race vehicles. In true Mongolian style we were told it was maybe 40km and shouldn’t take more than an hour or so. Very vague…

Four hours later the sun was setting and we were still driving. Getting thrown all over the vehicle, smashing heads on the roof and crashing into each other as we careered through the Mongolian countryside. We passed time in our car (which was two guys plus Erin, Jess, Marina and I) by conjuring up meals that we would like to eat. It seemed roasts and Asian food were the flavour of the day.

So from race start to getting the camp the ordeal was about 11 hours. That is a long time to be cold, hungry and in the same set of lycra! By far worse than riding the 170km which we were mean to. Some of the amazing volunteers didn’t get back to camp until 1am. What an adventure!

stage3ger

Pungent wet and muddy cyclists crowd around the fire

Most photos are © Eric Peterson

Getting to the start line of Mongolia Bike Challenge

Rolling under that start arch of Mongolia Bike Challenge Stage 1, I breathed a big sigh of relief. I was here and this was finally happening. Getting to this point in time had been more of a challenge than I hardly dared to admit to myself, let alone the riders around me.

My training leading up the event was focused and with two weeks to go I was feeling strong. I had done a lot of hours on the road bike, working on moving my big enduro base to more high end intensity. I had also done some big and long hills on the mountain bike. Things were looking positive!

But somewhere between that good feeling two weeks before and the start line of Mongolia Bike Challenge, my health fell in a bit of a heap. Antibiotics and off the bike for a saddle sore. A terrible yeast infection. Then two days before we left the country I got some kind of viral chest infection. I started on a second round of antibiotics the day we flew out. Flying with a head full of mucus was heinous and I hardly got a wink of sleep due to the crazy pressure build up in my ears.

Walking around Ulaanbaatar I was in a bit of a daze. I could hardly keep my eyes open, I had a raging sore throat and ringing ears which I couldn’t relieve the pressure from. The city was confusing. There was so much construction going on; dirt and pollution everywhere. Old buildings that looked like once they had been beautiful but now were completely run down. Parks full of weeds and rubble which looked like at some point they had been nice places to relax. The traffic was a honking, hectic mess of SUV, luxury 4WD and Toyota Prius. Shops were boasting Gucci and Prada and things that I couldn’t quite comprehend would mean anything to nomads who were now living in suburbia.

That afternoon I was too sick to do anything. Seb ever so kindly put my bike together while I slept up in the hotel room, desperate to get some ounce of recovery into me before this adventure even began.

We loaded bags into the race vehicles and buses and headed out of the city. Ahhhhhh! It was a nice to leave the craziness behind and head for the rolling green hills. When we arrived at the enormous Genghis Khan statue, you could feel people’s moods lift.

In the lovely afternoon sun we went for a ride to freshen the legs (my first ride in about five days)! We explored our custom made Ger camp (Mongolian version of a yurt) before being treated to a fantastic opening ceremony and banquet. After a decent night of rest that was it, the gun was off and we were dashing away from the Genghis statue towards what I would soon find to be the toughest day I had ever experienced on my bike.

Stay tuned for a recap of our ups and downs, excitement, tears and crazy stories from seven hardcore days of stage racing around Mongolia.

P1020627  P1020621            P1020631   P1020658

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