Sunday, 17 January 2010

The End of the Line

Sat here in Auckland airport, amongst the random population of international travellers, denied the sun on my face and a fair wind at my back, its hard to look at the last 15 days with true insight. I had mentioned previously that Epic camp is a means to an end. After all, a 'training camp' is meant to do what it says on the tin.

Thats not quite true.

Arriving in Bluff and soaking in the emotions of the group has brought home the 'other' nature of this Epic camp. This is the 'journey' aspect, the sense of adventure and wanderlust that all cyclists have in some measure. The willingness to trade physical (and mental!) suffering for a chance to travel from one place to another under your own power. Sometimes lots of suffering for only meagre amounts of power! But if the journey and suffering were worthy enough, then the end most definitely justifies the means. Or in other words, if you are going to climb a mountain, make it a big one.

Day 15 started like days 1-14: an early breakfast in lycra, bags packed and ready to roll and furtive glances at the route profile to see what millions of years of geology had in store for us that day. Day 15 was due to be a toughie on paper, 185km, over 2000m of ascending and some long climbs. The flip side was the route wound its way through a national park and we would not be rolling on State highway 1 until the final 20km from Invercargill to Bluff. The scenery was said to be stunning (as visitors to NZ amongst you will know - you quickly run out of superlatives to describe the natural beauty of this country)

And joy of joys, the wind was at our backs - a lovely, steady Nor'easterly, gently helping us over the rolling terrain, pushing us to the end of the island. The terrain is so exposed, a headwind would have been unthinkable. Unbearable.

The pace was also very steady - emotionally as soon as we had read the wind direction, the 'push' had gone out of nearly all of us. It would not be a brutal slog to the finish. To continue the Ironman 'final 10km' analogy - we were well on target, feeling fine and our main competitor (the wind) had just slipped on a sponge at an aid station and cracked a rib.

Of course 185km on a bike doesnt just 'happen' - you need to pedal at some point and during the first 20km I feared my legs were shot and I was heading for what the French call a "jour sans". A beautifully crafted phrase to describe the feeling a rider has when he has a very bad day. The Kiwis also have a phrase for this, although its a rougher sounding "legs like shit".

As it happens, my legs came round to the battle tested 'tired but able to push' feeling which was now the de facto mode of operation for the camp. The ever decreasing km numbers added further iron to my will and soon we were over the magic 100km for the day. A quick lunch stop where everyone assembled marked the final countdown and we rolled into the small town of Bluff as a single group. We had a quick stop whilst a few crazies had a crack at the local climb of Bluff Hill (3km, 18% avg - some sections at 35%), where one unfortunate camper, armed with a bottom gear of only 39-23 pushed too hard on a steep section and wheelied over backwards in a spectacular flail of carbon and lycra. Its not often you see the back of a helmet smashed up!

And then the final, 2km processional roll into Lands end (a car park at the end of the road - literally). Champagne was popped. Handshakes, hugs and backslaps were doled out with enthusiasm and a truly ridiculous amount of photos were taken. All that was left was a little 7km jog around the track at the base of Bluff Hill to complete the camp. No problem, right?


It seems John the organiser had seen on Google earth the track running from the car park at Lands end to a lookout point a few km around the headland, before looping back to the car park via the town. So far, so ordinary. What he had failed to realise was the fact that the trail went up Bluff Hill to the top before dropping into town on the other side. So we ran/walked/scrambled up Bluff Hill. To say the trail was steep would be an understatement. I spent the entire time trying not to be sick and staring at the buttocks of the athlete in front. Not for any other reason than the buttocks were at my head height due to the gradient! To top it off, we then had to run down the steep 35% gradients of the tarmac'd sections on the other side. Total. Quad. Destruction.

Still, its not called Easy camp is it? ;-)

And with that we were in the vans back to Invercargill, the hotel and a massive all you can eat dinner at the local steakhouse. I had many, many beers and my head felt very dizzy. I then slept the sleep of a happy camper.

My thoughts on the trip you ask?

Well, its been an amazing experience. Obviously. I hope my ramblings over the past 15 days have conveyed that. Only time will give me the distance and space to appreciate what we did and how lucky I am to have done it.

For now I will reflect on a job well done, a cracking 15 days and a springboard to get very fit for Ironman Lanzarote in May.

POTD is a self shot of Lands end at Bluff. The end of the road and the end of this Blog. Thank you ALL for reading and sharing the journey and the training camp with me.


  1. A million congratulations Rob. You were every bit equal to the challenge and your eloquent postings have helped convey the true atmosphere and intensity of the camp.
    I for one, shall not be doing one.
    See you in Blighty.

  2. I'm completely inspired and truly in awe. Having ridden with you a bit lately I know you were strong, but not as strong as you would have liked - so I also know that to get camp completion you will have had to just grit your teeth and suffer day after day. To me, that makes it all the more amazing and inspiring. do you bridge the gap up to Lordy? ;-)

  3. I'm equally stunned by what you have struggled through and by how well you have managed to write about it afterwards. You've conveyed the sense of pain so well; thank heavens I have no idea of doing it!

    To work Rob! See you at Lanza.

  4. It's been a great journey Rob, can't imagine ever doing something like that myself. You'll go a long way, judging by your determination to participate AND blog every day. Enjoy your achievement, and keep tweeting further exploits. Please give that Dan B a kick for me too...he put me on to your trip, and I miss the bastard on twitter!

  5. Rob, great effort and well done on completing the Epic camp. Shows what a determined mind can make the body go through day after day.
    The blog has been excelent, doubly so seeing as you managed to capture the mood of the day and splender of the country after a full day of swimming cycling and running.

    Hope the return to normal life isn't too anticlimatic after your epic journey.