Sunday, March 7, 2010

Day 6 - McDonald Downs to Molesworth Station

Distance: ~150km
Time: ~11 hours

Day 6 began with a very cold and rather damp start. After several mugs of coffee, the distinct lack of food became apparent and the first priority was getting some breakfast down - which couldn't happen until Culverden. It was also dawning on our rather fuzzled minds that it'd be a race today to get through Molesworth before 7pm, although the opportunity of a sub - 6 day time was still tangible enough if conditions were favourable.

The morning ride was foggy and a little dreary, and it was quite hard to leave behind a comfy shearing shed for another day of saddle sores and tired legs. Rodney was having some trouble with a muscle tear in one of his quads, and was uncertain about going the distance. He also advised that the 60km stretch of Molesworth could take 5 hours to cover, a prediction that was echoed in Simon's guide to riding the stretch. It was a slightly ominous (and exciting) prospect, and thrilled the racer within.... (ahem). The morning bike inspection required lots of lubricant after the mud the previous day, and I discovered that my rear brake cable was sticking from the mud - this is where having a release on a drop bar level comes in handy!

Fortunately the roads into Culverden were nice and easy, with only a few passing hills. In the flatter terrain, we dragged long turns on the front with riders who were bonking hard and harbouring thoughts of eating anything that moved. I remember doing a 10km turn from Hurunui to Culverden, motivated only by the thought of food and consuming food as soon as possible. Such noble and mighty motivations we fostered within...... a charity ride rolled past on the other side of the road by contrast. They, at least, were riding for more than the satisfaction of an empty belly!

Culverden arrived and brought with a very nice bakery, which we duly invaded. It was also rather *cough* humid *cough* inside.... a nice change after long company in the presence of smelly male cyclists. With this and food as distractions, it was a very pleasant breakfast. We loaded only lightly on food, knowing Hanmer was not far ahead, and hit the road again.

The roads into Hanmer were easy and a little boring. There was a little bit of traffic that eased once we turned off towards Hanmer itself. It was good to get away from the cars - shortly after we travelled this area, there was a deadly head-on collision on the same stretch of road. After a nice little gorge climb and some flat country, we rolled into Hanmer springs, only to be harassed by more sandflies and bitten again by the big painful ones.

At Hanmer, we stocked up on food for the next 205km, as well as refilling bottles. We knew well that this would be the last food and water for a while, and thus didn't hold back on our purchases. The downside would be lugging this weight up the next hill! It was probably 1.30pm that we departed the tourist haven, without visiting the hot springs. Jollies Pass started nicely with pine forests and the tormenting lure of some nice trails. For now though, it would all be uphill.

The pass was a bit of a brute of a climb. There was a kilometre or two near the start of a relentless granny-gear gradient. After what seemed an age, the climb flattened out a little and offered fine views back over Hanmer and south towards.... something. Eventually I reached the top, which was more of a plateau leading towards the Molesworth / Rainbow country. There was plenty of mist about, and we'd read the forecast of rain. I sat down, read some of Simon's book and waited for Phil and Joel to crest the climb.

Joel was walking - the climbing loads had blown another two nipples and his rear wheel required more attention. Fortunately he'd stocked up on nipples in Hanmer, and the repair wasn't too costly. Nevertheless, the clock was ticking, and we rode the next section to the Acheron Accomodation House at rather a ferocious pace, aided by a slight tailwind. This section was great riding - an undulating, fast gravel road through massive, intimidating valleys and next to a gushing river. Acheron did not take long to emerge on the horizon!

We entered Molesworth station at 3.15pm, which meant a 3hr 45m timetrial was in order to traverse the 60km before the road was closed - that's fairly fast fully-loaded off road. The pace over this distance was torrid. This country was indeed big and intimidating - endless valleys popped up with a winding road, followed by a corner, then another endless valley. The weather was holding though, and we were making good time.

After a few grinding climbs and sharp descents, we eventually bore away from the river and headed over a barren and desolate pass. This was the appropriately named "Isolated Saddle", which provided endless views over three river valleys. I spoke to a friendly DOC ranger at the top, who said that his colleague at the other end was aware we were coming, and assured we wouldn't be kicked out. With that relieved from our minds, he pointed out the road ahead - a long drag over a grinding flat (Isolated Flat), then a brutally steep climb over the hills in the heart of a rainstorm (Ward's Pass).

Isolated Flat was one of the most brutal sections of the Brevet. It was actually a false flat, in true Brevet standard, and quite a grind. Additionally, it was one of the roughest roads I've ever ridden. Strewn rocks all over the surface disguised deep and jolting corrugations. The sight ahead was no better - the rain was hanging over Ward's Pass, and given our proximity to the powerlines, I was praying that there wouldn't be any associated electrical activity.

Our luck and patience held out over Isolated Flat, and we eventually began the climb up Ward's Pass. It was steep and grinding, but all rideable. At the top, we took a token picture of the pass - not very scenic, given the weather - ate a little food, and decided to smash out the remaining distance to the end of the station. We were low on water and downright exhausted, looking forward to a reprieve.

After a steep and sketchy descent from Ward's Pass to the Awatere Valley, the wind swung around to become a headwind, the road remained brutally rough and full of annoying pinchy the climbs. This was immensely tiring and unwelcome at this point! Eventually, we rolled through to the end of Molesworth and the DOC station at 6.56pm. We refilled on water, had a chat to another friendly DOC ranger and a couple on a mountain tandem, and decided to be slack tourists and crash for the night in the pleasant camping spot, rather than try and push on to Hodder Bridge. The sub 6 day time was out the window, but with such an enticement as a nice, green campground under willow trees and next to a bubbling brook, who could blame us. It was a very pleasant camp knowing the next day would be cruisy, comparatively short and mainly downhill, and dinner was consumed with great relish.

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