Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The moment of truth - day one

Wow awoke to snow on the hills after a night of heavy rain and strong winds have packed the bikes and man they look heavy. Here's hoping we can ride then. Just feeding up on eggs and cornflakes before we head off on our first day of this adventure. Tolhuin here we come

Monday, 23 February 2015

Our last day in Ushuaia

We have had a reasonably uneventful day today. We have spent the whole day doing three things. We have got an Argentinian sim card. We now have two new padlocks and last but not least we now have fuel. After scouring the town for white spirits and finding none we have resorted to using unleaded petrol. We adopted our first dog today. It walked us back to our hostel from town. The highlight of the day was having a free chilly chocolate - it was hot sweet and extremely good. The lowlight of the day was locking the new padlock with all three of it's keys inside the cupboard - doh a slight panic followed as we realized the keys were all locked inside. We then worked out that we could unscrew the hinges to the cupboard and all was saved - oops ! It has been cold wet and miserable today so we are hoping for a better day tomorrow. Fingers crossed. Tomorrow we are aiming to ride 105kms to a town called Tolhuin. Let the adventure begin.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Exploring the end of the world - Tierra del fuego by bike and on foot

What an awesome day we have had exploring the Tierra del fuego national park. After a breakfast of cornflakes eggs and hot chocolate we headed out on our bikes to explore. We cycled to the end of the road at the end of the world. We then hiked up to 1000 meters to get stunning views of the lakes,straits and mountains of the area. It was stunning scenery very much like the south island of new Zealand. Such an amazing day. Dog tired now though so going to call it a night. Will spend another day here tomorrow then start our journey north the day after.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Arrived in Ushuaia - the bottom of the world

Wow wow wow here we are in Ushuaia - the bottom of the world. What am incredible place - cold and bleak but stunning at the same time
We have spent the day getting food, sleeping and looking for fuel for the stove. No luck on the fuel so hopefully we will have better luck tomorrow. Planning a ride and a hike tomorrow in the tierra del fuego national park. Hope the rain stays away.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Arrived in Santiago Chile

Leg one of our journey has been and gone with no hiccups. Ww had an uneventful flight followed by a two hour sleep in our @macpac sleeping bags on the airport floor. We are now filling in time at Starbucks whilst waiting for our next flight to Buenos Aires Argentina. We will reunite with our luggage there so fingers crossed our bikes are in one piece. Happy to be on the way - ready for the next stage of the adventure to begin.

Arrived in Santiago Chile

Leg one of our journey has been and gone with no hiccups. Ww had an uneventful flight followed by a two hour sleep in our @macpac sleeping bags on the airport floor. We are now filling in time at Starbucks whilst waiting for our next flight to Buenos Aires Argentina. Ww will reunite with our luggage there so fingers crossed our bikes are in one piece. Happy to

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Equipment list

Bikes - Surly Ogre - chosen for their durability, versatility, and their set up for on and off road long distance touring. We debated bikes for a good three months before settling on the Surly's so here is hoping we made the right choice. It is a big change to go from a high spec full suspension bike to a hard core steel touring bike. However, we are pretty confident the Surly is the best fit for our journey. We will keep you posted on this.

Seats - Brooks s17 - again we debated this long and hard and again we made a decision based on the advice of other long distance cycle tourers. We are not yet totally sold on these seats and will keep you updated on this decision.

Pannier racks - Freeloaders - at the back of the bike. These are an awesome innovation of some kiwi guys and we have been using them for adventuring and touring on our full suspension bikes. We are confident that although these are a bit heavier than other metal racks they will be far more durable. We are using anything racks at the front - made by salsa - hopefully these will cope with our load !!

Pannier bags - Ortlieb classic rollers (rear) there was no debate here as Ortliebs have been on the wish list for us both since we were University students 

Stove - MSR Whisperlite - chosen for its ability to burn most fuels and also as it can be pressurised for altitude

Tent - MSR - Hubba Hubba lightweight, roomy, waterproof . We have also got a gear storage attachment which attaches to the main tent to give us more rooms

Sleeping bags - Macpac express 800 loft

Trekking shoes - Montrail Masochists 

Rainwear - Macpac traverse jacket and Macpac over pants 

The Countdown begins ....

The realisation of the extent of this journey has finally set in with two days of work left on the calendar. We are about to embark on a 6 month cycle tour through South America. We will start in Ushuaia at the Southern most point of Argentina and head towards Ecuador passing through Chile, Peru, Bolivia and finishing in Quito.

The Great Southern Brevet 2014

Someone once asked me what my dreams for the future were and my answer was "I just want to ride my bike." When I saw the Great Southern Brevet advertised I knew it was something to add to the ever expanding bucket list. Luckily this year things finally fell into place and a fellow adventure racing team mate Emma McCosh and I locked and loaded the event into the race calendar for 2014. 

The Great Southern Brevet is a 1100 km off- road mountain bike adventure. It is an unofficial event which means that riders must take responsibility for everything - the organiser just provides the course and the infrastructure - the rules are simple - all participants must navigate their own way over a pre-determined course and they must stop for a block of at least 4 hours in every 24 hour period. All riders must also carry a spot tracking device for safety and to allow friends and family to follow their progress. Emma and I arrived in Tekapo the Friday before the start and spent most of the afternoon eyeing up other peoples gear and reorganizing ours. It seemed that most people were super experienced and were travelling reasonably light in terms of gear. We were determined not to be seen as the newbies carrying too much but we also wanted to make sure we were going to be safe if we got caught out in bad weather and that we could be self-sufficient and stop whenever and wherever we wanted. We spent the night fretting over whether to take the tent or not but in a last minute panic just before the start decided to ditch the tent and risk finding places to sleep without it. 

This year the event started at Lake Tekapo outside the Church of the Good Shepherd. What a beautiful location. It was an amazing feeling rolling down to the start line and seeing the 70 or so other participants from all over the country and Australia lining up ready to take on the 1100 km adventure ahead. 

Day one - The plan was to settle into a nice rhythm and enjoy ourselves and to get as far as we could before stopping for the four hours mandatory rest. We weren't sure how far we would travel or what the terrain would be like so we didn't bother pre booking any accommodation. The start hooter went off and it was all on. What a great feeling to be setting off on such an unknown adventure. The first climb was a bit chaotic with riders crashing into each other and vying for places, but before long the field had spread out and we were able to relax into the ride. The first section of the ride took us over a small pass then dropped us into Lake Pukaki. Wow the scenery was so stunning we had to keep pinching ourselves to check it was real. Before we knew it we were in Twizel. We raced into the supermarket to supply ourselves with food for the next few days and nights and headed back onto the course. Emma was feeling pretty chuffed with herself as during the brief stop she had managed to buy some new pink cycle gloves – (she had forgotten her others) The next leg was a bit of a bash and a push over Flannigans pass followed by a whoop whoop descent of epic proportions and then a speed trial along the Alps to Ocean trail into Omarama. We raced into Omarama on dark and were relieved to find the fish and chip shop still open. With eyes bigger than stomachs we ordered half the shop then sat in the corridors stuffing our faces and sculling coke. Whilst in the act of eating we decided to push on until midnight and try and get over the next pass to Top Hut up the Manuherikia valley. The next 20 kms or so were a bit of a disaster as our bodies struggled to digest our fish and chips and we tried to relentlessly push on over the next pass. Finally, around 11.30pm we saw the hut and were stoked to find a couple of beds free and the fire already lit. Ah bliss – time for four hours sleep. 

Day two – 4.30 am and the alarm was ringing. Luckily there were three other riders in the hut with us who were also getting up at that time so it made it a little easier to get motivated. Brrrr off we went into the dark and straight into 20 or so freezing river crossings. Once on the move we soon warmed up and half way down the valley we stopped to eat a breakfast of baked beans and remove our outer layers – somehow we had managed to buy baked beans and sausages – I’m just saying the sausages were not well received! We were petty amped to get into Saint Bathans and our next check in point – I had visions of a quaint little café serving eggs and mushrooms. Sadly we passed through St Bathans around 7 am and it was as dead as a door mouse with no one in sight. We couldn’t do much but push on so headed out of town deflated and disappointed into a rather annoying headwind which stayed with us for the rest of the day and nearly did our heads in. The next pass up Thomsons Gorge over to Tarras was a real battle it was up up and up and straight into a 90 km headwind. Talk about soul sapping each corner we went around nearly resulted in us either being blown backwards or off the track completely. However, we knew that sitting down on the road crying wasn’t going to get us there so we dug deep and soldiered on telling jokes to try and make light of the situation. Finally, we made it over the pass into Kurow and once again ordered far too much food. We spent a bit of time here staring into space and dreading the next twenty or so kms into Hawea which was directly into the headwind and a menacing looking cloud. Reluctantly we got back on our bikes and put heads down and bums up into the brutal wind. We struggled all the way to Hawea and at one point threw our bikes down on the side of the road swore at the wind and stuffed our faces with more food. Finally, we reached the shores of Hawea. The weather was taking a turn for the worse and it was starting to pour down so we were quite relieved to be turning our backs on it and heading down towards Wanaka. The Upper Clutha river track to Wanaka via Albert town was a hoot but we were pretty knackered and struggled to appreciate it fully. Once in Wanaka we flopped to the ground on the waterfront and spent a few minutes staring into space before debating our next move. Our dilemma was this: it was only 7pm and we still had a few hours of daylight, we had a place to stay in Wanaka with a warm bed and a hot shower, the next 2 hours of riding was reasonably flat and would be good to get under our belt whilst we had a tail wind, the riding after the flat was over the Crown range and quite extreme and we didn’t want to be up there at night, we were knackered and would benefit from a good rest, Emma was starting to get a bit of a cough and rattle … we went around and around debating our next move before settling on staying in Wanaka the night having a good night’s sleep and then heading off a 2am the next morning. Given our competitive make up pulling the pin at 7pm was a hard call as it felt like we were being soft and giving up. However, once we arrived at my friend Jacky’s house had a shower and sat down we realised how tired we were. We could hardly string two words together and around 8.30pm had to excuse ourselves for an early night. Ah bliss a comfy bed! Day three – Unfortunately, for us the night wasn’t as peaceful as we’d hoped. I was fretting about relentless forward motion and having stressful dreams and Emma was coughing her lungs out, struggling to breath and starting to develop a weird lung gurgle. What a mess we were. We missed our 2 am alarm completely and jumped out of bed feeling completely shattered around 5am. Back on the road we went. The next section along the Cardrona road passed without incident but then it was ALL on. We spent the next 5 hours pushing our bikes up Tuohy's Gully to Tuohy's Saddle and then along the ridge to on the Rock Peak Track to the Crown Range. Man it went on and on but again we knew that the only way to get to our destination was to keep soldiering on. By this stage Emma’s asthma wheeze had become even worse and she wasn’t in good shape. Both of us turned a blind eye to it and tried to pretend it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. However, deep down both of us were secretly processing the thoughts that maybe our ride was over. I kept checking Emma was ok and she kept assuring me she was fine – even though I later learned that her arms were going numb !! Phew at long last we hit the downhill and massive ride towards Arrowtown. After fixing a flat tyre we sped into Arrowtown and headed straight for the Medical clinic desperate to get something to relieve Emma’s symptoms. We needed to keep an eye on time here as we were keen to catch the Earnslaw sailing across to Walter Peak that day and avoid overnighting in Queenstown. After grabbing some Ventolin from the doctor we sped off toward Queenstown hoping to get there in time. Just out of town my derailleur started playing up and we stopped a few too many times to try and sort it. It was so frustrating as we were so close but it felt so far. Highly relieved we rolled into Queenstown with only an hour to spare before the next sailing of the Earnslaw – we frantically dropped our bikes into Outside sports to get a new tyre and a derailleur repair, raced into the shops to replenish our food supplies and ordered some hot noodles for the ferry ride. Luckily, things fell into place for us and we arrived to board the Earnslaw slightly stressed but in the nick of time. As we were queuing to board Natalie, Emma’s friend appeared out of the crowds – how nice it was to see a friendly face and get a boost of moral support. Arrghh how blissful was the trip on the Earnslaw. We filled our faces with noodles, supped on chilled ginger beer, caught up on the stories of the other 12 or so riders on the boat and put our feet up. Our only wish was that it was longer. Before we knew it we were off the boat and facing a massive ride to Mossburn through the Mavora lakes with another unfriendly headwind. Reluctantly, we got back on our bikes and headed into the lakes. The scenery was stunning which made up for the brutality of the riding. We struggled on into the headwind and later on into the bitter cold determined not to stay the night up near the lakes which seemed so bleak and desolate. Our plan was to get to Mossburn and try and find a verandah or something but 10 kms out of town in the cold and dark at 11.30pm we decided we’d had enough and started looking for some kind of shelter to sleep in – after a couple of disappointments we turned the corner to see a massive, well lit, shearing shed. It was lit up like a Christmas tree and seemed to be beckoning us. Wow we couldn’t believe it. We pulled over all smiles. I was about to put my mattress down on the poo and mud of the shearing shed floor grateful for the shelter from the elements to provided. Emma looked at me and said what the hell are you doing? – let’s go upstairs and inside!! I guess a farm upbringing has its benefits!!. I followed Emma and we found ourselves in a room with lights, toilets and hot water – what a score. Feeling chuffed we sat down for a dinner of salad and chicken and settled in or a night of sleep in our warm little shed. Emma even made herself a wool mattress. Unfortunately, the Ventolin hadn’t given Emma much respite and she had the night from hell – wheezing, coughing and hardly able to breathe. It was like sleeping next to someone who is having their last breath. During the night I decided enough was enough and that we would pull out the next day in Mossburn. The alarm went off at 4 am, then 5 am then 7am but we decided to wait as long as possible to give Emma more chance to recover. However, when we heard a car pull up outside the shed we bolted out of bed and sheepishly made our way down to our bikes. Luckily, the farmer was sweet with our trespass and simply gave us a wave and a smile. Day four- Day four started with us feeling a bit down and out and thinking we were riding to Mossburn to pull out. On arrival at Mossburn we discovered there were no doctors for miles so rang a friend in Alexandra and asked her to make an appointment for us that afternoon. Now we were committed to keeping going and getting to Alexandra but we were still dubious Emma would make it that far. Back on the bikes we hooked up with Bruno Geldermans and made steady progress helping each other tackle the headwind. Just out of Garsten we picked up Julian Morton and the four of us struck up a friendship pretty quickly. We stopped in Garsten for a caffine fix and to restock food and then headed up the Nevis Valley towards Clyde as a group. From here on in the four of us rode together. The ride up the Nevis was something out of another century, and an experience we will never forget. We were invited to have tea and biscuits with a lovely lady called Anne, what an experience being in one of the original settlers homes and hearing all the stories of past generations, we rode passed an incredibly good looking stockman with fresh white teeth and a couple of beautiful horses. We looked for the film set for a Speights advert as it was sooo Southern man, we crossed over 30 or so rivers and had the pleasure of experiencing our first ever tail wind of the ride. The end of this ride over Duffers saddle and into Clyde was bloody hard work as we were all completely trashed, but lucky for us a friend of mine and multisport legend Bernice Lepper rode up to meet us and delivered fresh cherries and apricots at our feet. Wow what a buzz !! We were almost in tears at this point. Bernie lived at the base of the descent into Clyde and invited us all home with her. We were too late for the doctor for Emma so decided to sleep the night and reassess her health after a good night’s sleep. We soon found ourselves in a spa with a glass of wine and all the fruit and food in the world. The four of us were like pigs in shit – boy were we feeling blessed! Ah bliss a hot shower and a comfy bed.