Vietnam Victory Challenge

FlagbigVietnam is a long and skinny country in Southeast Asia with a dense poluation of 94-95 million inhabitants.  It’s best known for its beaches, the Vietnam War, bustling cities and its culture.  Soccer is the most popular sport but thanks to the Vietnam Victory Challenge, mountain biking is quickly gaining popularity!

The 3 day race is in its 2nd year and grew from 80-175 racers in that time.  Host town is the Vietnam tourist meca of Dalat, surrounded in the pine forests of the Central highlands at 1500 M.  It’s a great area to race out of with its cooler climate, abundance of trails in the surrounding countryside and laid back atmosphere.  The street food is some of the best in the World and is a cheap and filling way to refuel the body every night 🙂12080269_10153302254261193_1803370175766522421_o

The stages were fairly short for my standards at 45-50 km each stage but the courses were challenging and entertaining to ride as you were either pushing your body to its limits going up a steep climb or else hanging on through a fast descent which required proper line picking as the ground was rough and often on small trails.

Passing through small meadows and through creeks kept it interesting on the country style tracks. There was an abundance of cows, wild horses and random people doing there things which made it nice having a lead Moto to clear the way. Even with that a guy had to be alert to stay out of trouble as the countryside was alive with action!10571925_10153302254126193_221257095874495135_o

As far as a pre-season training camp goes it was perfect as we could ride our bikes to and from all the stages and spend the post race recovery time getting cheap massages, resting in our hotels, and eating endless amounts of cheap food.  The options of street food were limitless but we tried to stick to a few staples such as Pho soups and BBQ’d rice paper pizzas to avoid any stomach eruptions.  The vegetarian restaurants were pretty sketchy with there rubber imitation meats. The street meat wasn’t any better as it was often unidentifiable. I’ve never seen green hot dogs in my life until now but I’m sure whatever is in them isn’t good for the gastro system.

With twice the riders as last year I was expecting some tougher competition as I defended my title. Unfortunately for the other guys my body finally came back to life after the 24 HR World Solo Champs and was on fire.  I’m not sure what it is but I’ve had some of the best races of my life 2 weeks after 24 hour races, this time it took 3 weeks for those legs to co1396928_10153301545161193_5958302080625576425_ome around but they were on autopilot once they did!

The local southeast Asian riders are defiantly improving quickly as they closed the gap from last year. Lots of them are very strong coming from road racing backgrounds but mountain biking is still pretty new over here so they are working on there technical skills.

Having a race like the Vietnam Victory Challenge for the riders to train for is one of the best things that could happen for a country to develop its riders.  It gives them a goal to strive for and also a chance to test there skills against other riders from around the World.  A few people during the race were asking why I didn’t  take it easy and ride with the other racers for a while, but for me I wanted to set the bar high for these guys to show them what is possible.  I’m sure in a few years they will be setting the bar themselves if they keep improving like they are so I better enjoy the time at the top over here while it lasts!

It will be interesting to see where this race heads in the future as it has potential to be a classic if the organizers are able to get through all the Vietnamese governement problems and continue to grow it. Right not they have it dialled and it seems like the race is getting a good name across the board.12828487_10153289109771193_1560716127465392823_o

The day after the race finished my buddy Simon Trembley and I hopped a flight to Northern Vietnam to start a bike tour from the mountain town of Sapa near the Chinese boarder. Our plan is to ride across northern Laos and eventually end up in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. It was a solid 24 hour journey just to get up to Sapa.

The highlight was a 8 hour pit stop in Vietnams capitol of Hanoi where we toured around with local expert David Lloyd.  He knew the city like the back of his hand and lead us to some solid street food and toured us around old town Hanoi.  After an overnight train ride north we finally made it to the fresh air of Sapa.  The mind and bodies are now enjoying the cool mountain climate as we finish off our recovery from the VVC and prepare for the next adventure!

 

Full Results can be found at : http://www.webscorer.com/seriesresult?seriesid=64160image

 

 

Karapoti Classic- Kiwi Crusade- Goodbye NZL!

100_pure_new_zealand-wordsThe last 6 weeks in New Zealand have flown by travelling around touring and racing some great events like The Pioneer, WEMBO 24 HR Solo World Champs and Karapoti Classic .  Throughout the trip  I’ve been spoiled with kindness and support from new and old Kiwi friends alike and it created a trip for the ages.   I look forward to having visitors in Canada so I can return some Canadian hospitality in the future 🙂

As sweet as the journey has been, there were hiccups along they way, one of them being a stage race called the Kiwi Crusade.  It was tight to the 24 hr Solo Champs, just 6 days after, but the race was advertising a 1 million dollar race budget, 400+ riders, and a $100 000 prize purse which would make it well worthwhile draining whatever energy I had left into it. It was going to be fun comparing it with the The Pioneer, as The Pioneer was one of the best all round races I’ve ever done, and on paper the Kiwi Crusade was promising to be as good or better!

Unfortunately the Kiwi Crusade turned into nothing more then a poorly organized group ride as the event talked the talk but didn’t back it up. Showing up expecting 400 riders, Coromandel-Peninsula-New-Zealandwe found a field of 24, the prize money was pulled 4 days before the event although they kept advertising it until I asked them to pull it down in respect to everyone. The million dollar race budget was non existent as we ate white buns and processed meat at the finish line and tried not to crash as there was no medical support anywhere in sight.

I’ve raced a few crazy races in my life but this one took it to a whole new level.  It started with an 8 km prologue in which everyone seemed to take a different route through the half marked course which included random zig zags around a farmers field and circles around picnic tables.   My buddy Justin crashed hard on his head and there was no medical help so he drove himself to the hospital. Other red flags were popping up and my spidey senses told me it was time to get out of there but gong_with_dragon_and_eight_auspicious_symbols_ec04my teammate Ondrej Slezak  wanted to ride another day so we did.

Stage 2 started with a questionable 14 km neutral pre-ride through the city of Tauranga in which we were often led down the wrong side of the road and around blind corners into traffic.  A few of us started following the rules of the road and tried to act like polite citizens so not everyone would hate the next cycling group they saw.

At the official start line we were given directions on how to ride the 80 km course as they didn’t bother putting up any course markings or providing GPS tracks.  “Go left after this bush, right after the puddle, another left by the hill etc..”  We were then instructed not to ride too fast so the marshals would have time to drive around and get into place.  The race started, we all got lost, a lead moto caught up to us and was lost himself and tried to lead us which caused us to get even further lost.  We eventually made it to the finish line thanks to the guidance of Ashley and Adrian as they were a local team who knew the area.  On a positive the first 10 km of the course heading over a small pass through a rainforest was some of the best riding I have done anywhere in NZL!Road-Sign-Lost

That night we were told the race was going to be televised on Fox tv and ESPN and that we would all be world famous. My ears couldn’t take anymore of the nonsense and it was time to move on.  If we had put our race aspirations on hold and took the week as a cruisey, picture taking tourist ride i’m sure we could’ve had a great time as there was a nice crew of racers to hang out with and some beautiful scenery to see in the Coromandel Peninsula.

The biggest problem was based on principles as I grew up in a place where you treat people with respect and honesty.     It’s a shame things like this happen as some of the racers took their annual vacation time, paid big bucks, and flew half way around the World expecting one thing but got delivered something totally different.   In fairness to the organizer, apparently $100 000 of his million dollar race budget was pulled from a sponsor 3 weeks before the race but it still didn’t explain what was happening.   It’s never fun jumping ship but the further we drove from that spectacle the better it felt!

The days following the race were an adjustment as we headed back to Rotorua to digest what had happened and looked for a way to salvage our time in NZL as it was ticking away.  It was time to carry on and get this trip properly back on line.  Some of my Kiwi friends had been trying to get me to race the Karapoti sponsored by The Bike Barn down in Wellington.  I was pretty keen to check out the Southern Hemispheres longest running mountain bike race and its great 31 year history.   My friend Kim Hurst contacted the organizer Michael and he was great sorting out a last minute entry. Harley and his crew at the Bike Barn in Rotorua did some last minute bike work to get the Hei Hei ready for the Karapoti and soon  Tarren and I were bound for the southern tip of the North island!Bike_Barn_Logo

Friday I pre-rode the 50 km old school course which contained numerous steep punchy climbs and rocky descents.
The course was set inside a thick nature reserve with ferns and other crazy New Zealand foliage, ridge top views down to the ocean below and some cool river gorges.    Following the sweet pre-ride, Tarren and I had some chill time relaxing by the river where the race was to start and then a nice evening checking out downtown Wellington.  What a cool city that is!  Saturday morning Tarren flew back to Australia to get ready to return to NZL the day after on a cruise with her family while I headed up to race site in Upper Hutt with 800 other riders to tackle the day.

12299399_797233330422328_679231083025091914_n copyThe race started in a river crossing, which I blew as I took the far right line to avoid what I thought would be a mad bottleneck and ended up in 40th-50th position.  Chasing hard up a tight river gorge I never quite caught the  lead group of 6 riders.  On the first climb I quickly moved into 3rd, but the lead duo, a couple young guns were working together and the gap was 2 minutes heading into the legendary rock gardens.  Riding irresponsibly down the rocky drop offs I came within 20 seconds of 2nd place at the bottom but that was as close as my 24 hour engine could get me as the young whipper snappers would post the 2nd and 7th fastest times ever on the course, with my time of 2:19:45 placing me in the top 10.  Spending the day at this classic race was uplifting after the Kiwi Crusade and was a great way to end what has been one heck of a trip to NZL.

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With only two days until flying out to Vietnam I took off after the race and drove back North on some sketchy winding roads through the hills.  It was beautiful but the roads resembled golf cart paths and were barely wide enough for one vehicle let alone 2 when you had to pass someone!  It took a while but I eventually made it to my buddy Dions house in Lake Taupo for the night. The next morning there was time to check out the sweet trails at Crater of the Moon before continuing onto my friends Clinton and Annes house in Auckland.  I hadn’t realized how much gear I had collected during my travels until it was spread out in their backyard and resembled a small bike shop.

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A garage sale was necessary before my flight to get rid of extra weight, a small cache was made in Clintons garage until next trip and still there was 74 kg left to try and squeeze into two 23 kg pieces of luggage and carry-on.  Somehow it all fit without paying any excess charges 🙂  Sitting here in Dalat up in the ranges of Vietnam at 1500 M there’s now just 24 hours to go before putting forth one last race effort to defend my title at the 3 day Vietnam Victory Challenge.  A much needed rest period and  system reboot will take place after this to prepare for the North American part of the season ahead.

Over and Out!IMG_2774

World 24 Hour Solo Championships

12728868_1151614664851096_7007378574034243578_nGoing into the 24 Hour World Solo Championships in New Zealand I knew it would take the race of my life to defeat 6 time World Champion Jason English from Australia.  I had that race and am still shocked at what went down in Rotorua during those 24 hours as it was in a whole new dimension.

Having finished 8 previous 24 hours, all containing some sort of massive meltdown, I had always dreamt of having a race in which the body fired properly for the whole 24 hours.  I told myself I would keep racing 24 hours until I had that ride.  That ride finally came as my lap times stayed between 50-60 minutes for all 27 of them with the last lap being just a couple minutes slower then the first few laps at 55 minutes.  My support team of Tarren Sohier, Jason Beacham and Justin Price came together the day of the race and magically the 4 of us melted into a well oiled machine over the course of the race keeping the pit stops all between 0 and 30 seconds with the average being about 10-15.  English pitted a bit faster but he is a Mongrel.12734151_992495494131704_2954489965895304196_n

Feeling fresh on the first lap I pushed the pace a bit to test out the field and felt strong but the course was pretty simple and had nothing selective in it physically or technically to split the field apart and 8-10 of us rolled through the start finish together.  At this point I new it was going to be a long race of patience and consistency on the flowing trails and backed off the throttle to settle into diesel mode for a while.  For the next 10 hours I rolled around the course between 4th-6th position with Adrian Retief from NZL as the keeners went off the front at a pretty mental pace.  It was a cruisy ride as the course wound its way through some thick green New Zealand foliage with massive silver ferns lining the course. The setting  reminded me of Jurassic Park and I kept expecting a velociraptor to jump out of the forest at some point.   Just after midnight the time splits were starting to near 15 minutes to the lead duo of Jason English and Swedish rider Tobias Lestrell which set off an alarm, if it grew much bigger the race would slip away.

Normally 1-4 am is meltdown time as the body starts to tire after 13 hours of racing and the mind starts to wander into a sleep deprived daze.  Knowing it was going to be rough no matter what  I decided to crank the throttle wide open in an attempt to get back up to the leaders and try to build some momentum to carry through the night. logo_radical The lighting system from Radical Lights was unreal and allowed me to put down the fastest night laps of the race and by 4 am I had worked my way up to Jason English in the lead.  Tobias had been riding strong but unfortunatly suffered a crash losing time and energy one lap  and the other guys in the top 5 seemed to be slipping a bit, feeling the effects of their early efforts.  It was a welcome sight to finally see English’s Australian jersey in front of me.   Not wanting to stir the resting giant I opted to hide my existence by  stopping for a piss stop, refuelling the body and then trying to attack him at the base of the only climb on the course, a 3 minute little burner.  Blowing bye English a the base of the climb I managed to gain a small gap but he would slowly close it on the endless flowing single track which followed and soon we were back together. This kicked off the next 10 hours of what was the hardest battle of my life.12744568_1272256446137210_258046917322841236_n

The 17.3km laps contained 15.5 km of singletrack and 1.8 km of fireroad.  It became clear pretty early I was riding stronger on the fireroad sections, and English maybe a bit more consistent on the rest of the course and also pitting slightly faster.  Unable to drop him out on course I rolled through the pit late in the night and told Tarren that next lap I was going to roll the pit stop and try and gap Jason there.  It worked brilliantly gaining a 10 second gap on English heading out of the pits.  Burying myself on the first part of the course which contained the fireroad sections the gap grew a bit bigger but somehow my friend found another gear and clawed his way back by the end of the lap.  I couldn’t believe the guy could come back from the effort and new it was going to be a race to the end at this point.

For the next 8 hours we would take turns attacking each other, Jason usually just after the pits and myself on the climbs and fire roads but it didn’t seem to matter what either of us did as the other guy would just grit his teeth a little harder and close the gap.  It was shocking the speed we were riding and I was concerned a massive meltdown was going to hit at some point and I would fall into the thick foliage beside the trail and start twitching out and need to be rescued by the medics.  Surprisingly that never happened and with 4 hours to go I noticed Jason was looking a bit shaky and put down another big effort on the fire12705258_992704380777482_898707456050461189_nroad and gapped him good, maybe just over a minute.   This was the time, I layed every ounce of energy into the pedals to increase the gap and to finally give Jason his first 24 hour loss in 7 years.  The speed I was going I figured I had to be gaining on him. It was a crazy sensation as the body was exhausted but feeling good although the legs were pretty numb and not quite firing at 100% anymore.  I kept getting glimpses of someone closing in and looked back at one point and saw the beast standing up smashing his pedals just off my wheel.  WTF?  How the hell did that guy close that gap, he hasn’t ridden that strong all race but now 20 hours in he’s finding another gear!?  I looked for another gear and fired another counter attack his way but it was of no use as we were both riding in a crazy state..12733603_1272256352803886_5288312920035249789_n

 

For the next lap we cruised together both screwed but trying to hide it.  I had a problem growing as my bladder was ready to explode so I asked Jason if he wanted a neutral piss stop.  He was fine and said no but offered to ride slowly and wait while I did my business.  It was a camel piss, but Jason stuck to his word and pretty soon I was back to within 5-7 seconds of his wheel as we both hit a long rolling descent.  The problem was we  were riding slow down it, refuelling etc and there was a small drop off at one point.  Hitting it slower then usual my front wheel snagged a root and I  found myself being launched 10 feet down a steep sidehill into a entanglement of ferns and plants.  It would’ve hurt like hell but the thick foliage broke my fall but also made it hard to get out of the mess.  Probably losing close to 45 seconds to a minute getting back up to the trail I had some work to do and chased down Jason for the next half lap, finally catching him.  Later this lap he would put in a small effort just before the start finish as he could likely sense I was a bit tired from the chase. He extended the gap a few seconds in the pits and all of a sudden he was just out of sight.

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It was go time but unfortunately the body was battling a low point and I dropped a few minutes this lap and had 3.5 minutes to make up heading into the final lap.  Yelling and dumping water down my back I tried everything to find any ounce of adrenaline or energy left in the body and pretty soon found myself cruising really well and getting momentum back.  I’ve had laps like this before in past 24 hours and had caught whoever I was chasing and figured that unless Jason was riding out of his mind I would surely be gaining ground. There was also another race on the line, if I could come in before noon there would be an overtime lap to decide the title.  Everything was being sent on this lap to get in before the cut-off.  I’m not sure what would’ve happened the next lap if I actually made it as my body was in a surreal state.  Too bad for me Jason is a monster and he was also having an adrenaline fuelled lap and put down one of his fastest laps of the whole race and even extended his lead by 30 seconds.   Fighting the clock now, I came in 40 seconds past the noon cut off time and thus ended my bid for my first World Title.

It’s been an emotional roller coaster the past few days, being so close to one of my major cycling goals yet coming up short, but also having the satisfaction of riding the best 24 hour race of my life and having reached farther and deeper then ever before.  I’m content with the effort and the race which occurred and keep reminding myself that Jason specializes in 24 hour racing and is the best the sport has ever seen, while I try to wing one once a year around my normal racing schedule.  There was a lot learnt during this battle and the limits my mind used to set on my body have been stretched.  That being said there is a gutted feeling right now and some unfinished business which I look forward taking care of in the future.

King-LASIK-logoOne big positive from the race was the fact my eyes held up for the first time in 5 races and didn’t cloud over early in the morning hours.  This I owe a big thank you to Doctor Joseph King @  King Lasik in Victoria for the PRK lazer eye surgery last October which has left me seeing 20/20 without the use of contact lenses 🙂

 

Huge Thank you to all that made this race possible as it has taken a lot of kindness and generosity from countless friends and sponsors to bring everything together so I could pull this sort of effort out while living out of a bag on the other side of the Globe.   The Kona Bicycle company has stood behind me from day one and with the use of my 2015 Kona Hei Hei Deluxe and a loaner 2016 Kona Hei He DL from Jonny Mitchel and the Bike Barn in New Zealand I had two sweet rigs for this race, with both of them putting in similar lap times and being used consistently throughout the race.  I can’t wait to get some more time to dial in the newly designed Hei Hei DL as it seems to just love eating up single track:)p4pb4808669

Off to check out more of the North Island before tackling the next race in 4 days time.  This one a 7 day stage race called the Kiwi Crusade which will take us through the rolling terrain of one of NZL’s northern Peninsulas!

 

 

Photo Credits:  # 1,2,4 & 6:  Russ Baker

#3 & 5: Jason Beachman

# 6:  Allan Ure / photos4sale

 

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24 Hour World Solo Championships Pre-View

p4pb4808669The WEMBO (World Endurance Mountain Bike Organization) World 24 HR Solo Championships are taking place this weekend on the world famous trails in Rotorua New Zealand!  It’s been a wet week leading up the race but the forecast looks good for the weekend.  The course is pretty easy but the setting is awesome as it feels like your in Jurassic Park with the huge ferns, thick green foiliage and steaming geysers surrounding the area.

Current 6 time World Champion Jason English from Australia is trying to break Chris Eatoughs record this weekend by winning his 7th title in a row. He hasn’t lost a 24 HR race in over 7 years and probably over 30 atteWEMBO-Inline-pos-300mpts.  There’s also apparently some fast Kiwis, a Swede, an Irish man and who knows who else might show up.

My friend Tarren flew in from Australia on wednesday to help in preparations and to run the pit with
help from Justin Price and Jason Beacham.  We have done a lot of races together now and she offers a huge boost of confidence leading into the weekend.   Th
anks to her and many others I’m better prepared for this 24 HR then ever and can’t wait to get out there to try and stop Jason’s bid for a 7th title and write some new history.IMG_2755

Live results from the race can be found starting at noon on Saturday NZL time:  which is  3pm Friday Pacific time in North America on the WEMBO website or at : Sportsplits.com

 

Huge Thanks to Erin Green, Tom, Jeff and Karen Collins, Marcus Peters & Cristy Little for the beds to crash on and travel support the past few weeks!  Also big thanks to the Bike Barn Rotorua, Squirt Lube NZL, Allsports Distribution, Hiran @ Radical Lights   and my Kona Teammates for leaving all there spare parts!  Last but not least a huge shout out to Jonny Mitchell and Kona NZL for setting up a Kona Hei Hei DL to use as a 2nd bike during the race 🙂 IMG_2746

Off for a big ride!

The Pioneer Recap

20908_eventimage_resized_792b69df5df849572638e86bea6543b4The inaugural Pioneer was a grande success as the Kiwi’s had all there ducks in line and treated us 250+ riders to a sweet 7 day race through the Alps of southern New Zealand.  As far as scenery goes its tough to beat the drastic Panoramic views NZL offers with its open landscape, turqoise blue lakes and glaciated mountains.  Riding wise the race turned out to be a bit tougher then the profile suggested as the Kiwi terrain was rough and slow going in many spots with many creek crossings and steep rough four wheel drive tracks through grassy fields.

Teammate Spencer Paxson and I had a solid Prologue finishing 2nd behind the World Class duo of Anton Cooper from NZL (U23 World Champion) and Dan Mcconnell from AUS (World Cup winner).  Stage 2 our race hit a road bump as Spencer flatted early on in the stage and the deep dish rim wouldn’t accept any of the 3 tubes we tried putting in as all the valve stems were a bit stubby for the odd ball wheel.  This created a dilemma as we finally got a small amount of air in there and limped to the first feed zone to find a proper tube with an extended valve.  We ended up near the back of the race after losing around 30 minutes and had a long day ahead as we slowly clawed our way back up to 4th overall on the day but lost loads of time on the leaders.

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From this point on our goal was a stage win which we would come close to in a couple sprint finishes with Dan and Anton but kept falling short.  Eventually we had our day on Stage 7 claiming victory and solidifying our GC position in 2nd overall with the other Kona team of Barry Wicks and Kris Sneddon taking home 3rd. It turned out to be a great Kona Team training camp with the racing just making up a small part of the good times.  Fellow Jasperite, Steve Brake joined us for the week to drive the van around between stages and added a good factor to the event with his wisecracks and free living attitude.

These sort of races are where its at as after every day of riding we would end up in a deluxe camp often by a lake and have the afternoons to swim, relax, eat and enjoy the company of the other riders as they came in.    Not only was it an international bike race but even more so it was week long camping trip with a bunch of cool people in a great setting.  Even though New Zealand is a English speaking country there was still a language barrier as apparently our accents are bit different.  Trying to ask the catering company for a bowl to eat my post race cereal one day in turned into an odd conversation as they thought I was asking for a IMG_2508ball.  Hmm, no sir, why would we have a ball, we’re a catering company.  The conversation went back and forth a while until I pulled out my phone with a picture of a cereal bowl on it.  Definitely a first world type of problem,
The days after the race in the New Zealand tourist mecca of Queenstown were solid as my friends Erin Green and Tom opened up there house for me to crash at.  We road our bikes a lot on some awesome trails, ate loads of food and did a lot of lakeside chilling.  This was highlighted with my first ever DH shuttle run as the local Kona shop, BikeAholics    leant a Process 153 trail bike so I could join them on there group ride down the steep slopes of Mt Coronet to Arrowtown.  It was rad, the Process trail bike ate up everything in its path, all I had to do was hold on down the steep ass slope!   By Wednesday it had been 14 straight days on the bikIMG_2543e so I left the rig at BikeAholics to get tuned back into race shape and took off to Wanaka to visit some friends for a couple days of hiking and SUP.  It was perfect to refresh the mind and pretend being a 14 year old again horsing around in the summer sun

On the way back through Arrowtown I made a pit stop to visit my friends Jim and Brenda Argan from Jasper.  They are the parents of one of my best friends (Dane) growing up and took us out as little kids on some of our first big bike rides and mountain hikes in Jasper.  They were at the Stage 7 finish line which was de ja vu to last year at Singletrack 6 as they watched every stage.  After wining 6 out of 7 races with them at the finish I’m trying to sign them up asa good luck charm in future races!

IMG_2532Now up in Christchurch, the final plans are being formulated to head up to Rotorua to take on the 24 hour World Solo Championships.   As of now all the pieces of the puzzle are scattered around a bit but they are all there to be put into place and make next weekend one for the history books.  As for now theres a whole lot of R&R going and I couldn’t of landed at a better place then my mates Marcus Peters house as his family has offered the use of there attached guest house to recharge the batteries for a few days.

I’ve always heard about the legendary Kiwi hospitably and have been blown away with all the kindness this trip.  It will be hard to repay all of you but there will always be a giant welcome mat layed out in Canada for any wary travellers!

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