It was a grey windy morning when twelve randonneurs assembled in the Martinborough town square keen to grab a coffee, chat and then test themselves and their machines against the course.
There was a range of bicycles from the now popular 'all-road' drop bar bikes, to traditional steel touring bikes to mountain bikes.
On paper the course is reasonably flat if it was all sealed road. Half of the course is not sealed (and arguably 10 km is not even a road), and cruelly the unsealed half contained the biggest hills without the benefit of a tail wind.
After an unceremonious start, most of the group rushed off leaving their newly minted president behind (I wonder if there is a message there?).
Despite the promise of a tail-wind, the ride down to the Cape Palliser turn-off was tough going, so much so, most stopped at the ‘Land Girl’ in Piniroa for their first coffee and second breakfast before even 30km had past.
In true anti-social fashion, I elected to keep riding. I would not see the riders, who stopped at the cafe for the rest of the ride, ahead of me, the usual suspects had broken free with Jeremy on his plastic fantastic mountain bike at a pace that would put most roadies to shame.
Turning onto Cape Palliser road saw a change in fortunes with the wind from foe to friend. The earlier clouds that threatened rain cleared and the strong cross wind that had impeded our progress was now squarely at our backs, making the 30 km charge down to Ngawi fast and enjoyable. I enjoyed the company of another rider riding a mountain bike for a while until the strong winds and the taller gears of my setup allowed me to ride away. I knew that the same wind pushing me along at 40 km/hr would come back to haunt us and so it did.
Ngawi is a town of bulldozers, a few batches and a pie cart, but not much more. It was also the end paved roads for the next 50 km. There would be no barista coffee or danishes to be had there, so I pressed on.
The road from Ngawi was corrugated and dusty, but spectacular as it made its way to the lighthouse at times clinging to precipitous pieces of road carved into the cliff. The ride was living up to the 'Epic' moniker in its name.
The prize for riding such a narrow and disintegrating road finally came into sight as the lighthouse came into view. The first photo control. Some riders even had the energy to climb the steps up to the lighthouse.
David Blake captured the best snap. (hopefully it was the camera on its side and not him)
The fun began. About 10 km's of coastal track lay between the Lighthouse and White Rock road, and as the route followed the coastline, the wind that had been at our backs increasingly sought to frustrate forward progress as we turned into it.
The coastal track is a public access way four wheel drive track, that was rough, stony and unkempt, but for the most part a bicycle could be ridden over it, albeit slowly, at-least at first for as we approached the river flans, the landscape transformed into a dessert of stone sand and scree, that even the fattest tired bikes could not ride over.
Fortunately as the track approached Ngapotiki Station (we had sought and were granted permission to ride through), the scree was replaced with a nasty climb up and over a headland to be met by gates that were almost impossible to lift your bike over if your riding by yourself.
Mercifully the roads within Ngapotiki station were great and well kept and once navigating another of their impossible gates we were o White Rock road with 'only' 70 hilly km to run
White Rock road is beautiful. It makes its way up from the coast following the Opouawe River watershed. The windy metal road gained its altitude gently and steadily to nearly 200 meters before dropping down into the Tuturumuri valley where the local school provided the opportunity to restock rapidly depleting water supplies in preparation for the main climb of the day, the 320 meter crossing of the Taumanuka saddle to drop down into the valley on the other side. The road from the school had been paved and would remain so until Ruakokoputuna road, the wind was now a block headwind and increasing as the day wore on.
With that climb done followed by a spectacular descent into the adjoining valley, the last challenge of the day and the last photo control loomed with the climb up Blue Rock road. Blue Rock road is one of those difficult climbs. It seems flat (despite the GPS telling me otherwise) and as if your riding with a dragging brake or a flat tire. This time round this was compounded by the effect of the wind that at times, the gusts would almost stop you.
The descent back into Marlborough was fantastic making the memory of the climb fade into the bliss of metal and then a fast sealed road.
Nearly 8 hours later I found myself back in Martinborough enjoying a well earned cold beer with Chris Little who had finished with the speedy group an hour earlier. Other riders arrived back at Marlborough over the next couple of hours, dusty and tired but all very happy that they had been able to complete such an epic ride.
That's the thing about Kiwi Randonneurs brevets. Whether your first or last doesn't matter. Its participation and testing the resolve of the person to complete and when you do, its awesome. Type two fun at its best.
We'll definitely run this again next year.