Sunday, March 22, 2009

Road trip, fat tyre styles (from the vorb files)

I think Simon was still on the Great Divide when I caught wind of the Alpine Epic race. The thought of doing an MTB stage race was very very exciting, after developing a good endurance base over the last couple of years, and having a bit of exposure to the thrill of stage racing via the Wairarapa 2 Day Tour, and a couple of Cyclic Sagas. Unfortunately, once the entry fee was released, I knew it was going to be pretty unlikely that Simon and I could do the Alpine Epic together, and as D-day dawned, Simon suggested we head off for a long weekend of some of the top of the South's best singletrack. It wouldn't have been the same without him, and we'd left it too late to try to organise sponsorship, so I started to get excited about this other venture instead.

Soon after the ill-fated Akatarawa Attack, a weekend opened up, and hey presto, I'd booked the two of us, plus bikes, on a morning ferry to Picton. Simon was taking care the route, and accommodation. This was to be a "road trip" with a bit of a difference - there'd be none of the usual driving between rides - and furthermore, we'd be carrying everything with us. I'd promptly vetoed camping. The thought of spoiling sweet singletrack with a bag full of sleeping bag, tent etc was too much to bear. I left home early on Thursday morning with a day pack on my back. Inside it was a pair of undies, socks, shorts, merino t-shirt, Ground Effect Baked Alaska, and a merino beanie. I had a plastic bag with a few days' worth of Replace, a couple of tubes, and assorted tools, a pack of cards, and a lightweight parka. I had my cell phone, and wallet, toothbrush and toothpaste. I was wearing my trusty Roadworks bib shorts, my Makara Peak Supporters jersey, and a pair of socks and gloves to last the trip. I think I had a couple of roadie caps to keep the sun off my head, and a bottle of sunscreen. I decided against carrying a pair of jandals...


The ferry crossing was choice. We were on the Kaitaki, and got a great spot in the viewing lounge facing the stern. We spent pretty much the whole crossing talking about the pros and cons of shuttle days at Makara Peak, perusing Simon's maps, and talking about the weather forecast... A "big wet" was predicted. Shortly before docking in Picton, we passed a ship loaded with parts for Meridian's West Wind project. The scale was completely screwed up, and it wasn't until we'd passed and we could compare the ship to the launch alongside, that it was clear how big these things were.

We rolled off the ferry, and made the obligatory stop at the Picton Bakery - the Dutch one, with a "j" in the name! An old mate of mine (who I'd seen in Wellington a week before, for the first time in about 5 years) gave way to me as I turned right onto Queen Charlotte Drive! He lives in London, but it's such a small world...

The first 15 minutes of the ride were disrupted with phone calls, and having to stop to check out the windmill parts at Shakespeare Bay, but soon we were properly underway. It was weird being on the road on a fat tyred bike. Simon was on his Giant NRS, and I was on my Specialized Epic. We rode side by side mostly, and nattered away. At one point we passed a hedgehog trotting along the road. Still smarting from putting Simon through a pot hole on a road ride a coupe of years ago, I signalled it clearly, and he was able to avoid it. Soon, we reached Linkwater, a few kilometers after the turn off to Anakiwa. We stopped at the service station for a pie. But, the salesperson had eaten all the pies, and I ended up with a muesli bar, and a drink.


 And now, time for business. We turned left towards the hills, and were straightaway onto a gravel road. I always find it quite amazing how much better the bike feels off the tarmac, and it was a pleasure to be riding. We were headed for the start of the Waikakaho Walkway, aka the Linkwater Long Cut. The track starts at the site of an old mining town, and follows a path cut into rock by miners over 100 years ago. It was unlike anything I'd ridden on before, and I was fizzing. Simon was keen to get some photos of us riding it, so we faffed around at some stunning spots. I was really regreting the irony of leaving my usual outfit at home...


There were a couple of stream crossings to scramble through, but for the first while, the track was in awesome condition. The bench was fantastic and the views down into the valley dramatic. Eventually though we hit a series of very steep switchbacks, and these were out in the open. It was hot, and with a heavy bag on, a moment's inattentiveness, and you were off the bike. As usual on steep, uneven climbs, Simon was faring much better than I. I absolutely nailed one section, riding like a hill-climbing god. Sadly though, it blew my foofoo valve, and inspired Simon to much greater things, and he rode most of the rest, while I ended up on foot for just about all of it!

Eventually, the climb ended, and we were on a ridgetop, in native bush. It reminded me a lot of the Tararuas, and to further cement the link, there was a hell of a lot of "tramping"... We stopped for a while at the high point of the ride, during which we were forced to do a bit of a pruning job on a nearby beech tree. The penis-like protruberance was too much for either of us to bear, in all its sad, droopiness.


The descent was absolutely glorious. The bench was wide, and occasionally had rocky or rooty sections, which required a bit of concentration. Photo stops were compulsory, and frequent.

We took a wee detour on foot to check out an old gold mine. Hilarity ensued as Simon neglected to heed the warning sign, and tripped over while lining up for a photo.


 I was super keen to check out the mine, being armed with a super set of Tojjarific night lights, but the pool of very cold looking water in the bottom of the mine, and of course DOC's concern for my wellbeing prevented me from checking it out. Eventually we left the native forest, and entered a deer paddock. The route out passed through private land, whereupon the stream down the valley disappeared for a while. It reappeared, as if by magic, presumably after the water had been used for some unknown purpose.

It was getting well on in the afternoon by now, and we had a bit of riding yet to do. At the end of the gravel road out of this valley, we met the Wairau River. We turned right, heading westwards towards the Renwick-Havelock highway. We were both pretty tired, and the riding highlight of the day was well and truly over. We weren't going to reach Renwick by sitting on the side of the road though, so we kept plugging along. Eventually we reached the highway, and had a short ride over the Wairau, and into Renwick. Simon had booked us in at Watson's Way Backpackers in Renwick, which is on the main road. No sooner had we checked in, than we were off to get some food before the supermarket closed. The place itself was well equipped, and soon enough we were in clean clothes, (not a full set each, but close enough) and eating a hot meal. Simon picked some plums out of a tree in the garden while I had a bit of hammock time. We slept well, despite leaving our riding clothes for a little too long in our very small room.

We awoke to the predicted rain. It was pissing down in the valley, and it would have been raining a lot more in the hills. We had planned to do the Wakamarina track on this day. Topping out at over 1000m asl, and in the Richmond Ranges which had been one of the few areas with a heavy rain warning, we had no qualms about pulling the pin on the day's ride. We made short visit to a little museum, which had a very old bicycle, including a wheel with spokes made of number 8 wire! Then, after much uncertainty (seems everyone uses cars these days) we managed to flag down one of the Nelson-Picton coaches as it passed through Renwick, and hitched a ride to Blenheim. Our attire was not ideal for sifting around in town, but no matter.

We had a rather nice lunch at a local cafe, and then went and caught Tom Cruise's latest film "The Valkyrie" at the cinema. I paid for lunch, and Simon paid for the movie, so it wasn't until I ducked into Farmers to buy a flannel (in lieu of a towel - I really wanted a shower before we left Renwick that evening) that I realised that I was without my credit card. I spent the next hour hurtling around while Simon played on the internet... I didn't recover the card, but someone had reported it found to Visa 8 minutes before I reached the counter at the branch.

We caught a cab back to Renwick, and jumped on the bikes soon after. It was not raining heavily, but drizzling on and off throughout the ride. We stopped briefly in Havelock (still no pies), before riding the final kilometres to our accommodation at the pub in Canvastown. We had a great little room out behind the pub. Towels were provided, so I didn't need to use my flannel to dry myself...

Back in our town clothes, we headed to the pub for a meal. We discovered an old game which used to be on the wall in the Strathmore Park Fish Supply, and which I used to feed 2c pieces into like they were going out of fashion. In a bizarre twist, I'd been describing the "chink - chink - chink" sound they made to someone only a few days before...


Turns out, I was much better at this game than I remembered. Simon had a 10c piece, and we threatened to bankrupt the place. We won 40c back, before we lost our ball! We started a game of pool, and a glass of beer (OJ for Simon). While he kicked my arse at pool, the kitchen staff prepared one of the biggest plates of food I'd been confronted by in a while...


That was soon gone (except for the onions and those pesky cooked tomatoes - who eats those damn things?!), and we turned to the dart board. Simon's misspent youth again came to the fore - seems he spent a bit of time playing indoor games... The Hurricanes were playing the Crusaders on the big screen, but we had "round the world" to deal with, then a big day on the bikes ahead. Tomorrow, we'd face a wet Nydia Bay track, nestled in the middle of a 105km ride.

Alarms were set for early, with a bit of road riding to do before breakfast in Rai Valley. It was a good place for a stop, and we were able to buy some lunch, as well as having a decent feed, and offloading a recent decent feed...


We had three big climbs to do, and the first one was on the road. Part way up the 400-odd metre Opouri Saddle climb I remembered I have an altimeter on my watch, and enjoyed monitoring our progress up the climb. At some point I decided my granny ring was necessary, while Simon stayed in his middle ring, and powered away. We had some morning tea at the top, admiring the view out to D'Urville Island. The day had dawned overcast but dry, after the heavy rain of the day before. Nonetheless, we could just about hear the water draining off the bridle track descent down to Tennyson Inlet. While we were scoping it out, and deciding against tearing it up (and getting us and our bikes filthy in the process), Simon discovered a crazy fungus growing on the side of a tree...


The road descent to Tennyson Inlet was glorious. It's not often you get a 500m descent like that, and it had some cool features on it. I whooped with delight as I rolled past Simon on a long straight section. I love getting my payback after a climb when I can get into a tuck, and use my extra 20kg to generate an extra 10km/h to take me past him, screeching! I suppose he shook his head, and rolled his eyes. Hopefully I brought a smile to his face.

We both hauled our bikes in when the road split to accommodate a big ol' tree growing out of the middle of it! Great to see the roading engineers have their priorities straight in this neck of the woods!


Not long after we were at the start of the Nydia Bay track. The sign at the road end warned "delays may arise in wet weather as streams at Kaiuma and Nydia Bays are not bridged." We were committed, though I took a photo of the sign specifically to refer back to if we found ourselves stranded!  Simon checked tyre pressures in preparation for a whole bunch of rooty singletrack goodness...


 And roots there were!


 After the rain of the day before, this track was pretty taxing. Simon wanted a photo or two that highlighted the nature of the track, so the first section took a while. We were pleasantly surprised how much of the 370m climb to Nydia Saddle was ridable, Simon nailing more of it than I could. We got some pretty stunning views into the sounds


In contrast to the climb, much of the first descent was unrideable. Eventually, we got to spend more time on the bike than off, but a combination of super technical track, with a liberal dosing of wet, and a fat stack of fatigue to compliment my conservative nature, meant I was clipping out often. Before too long, we were both feeling pretty worn out, particularly our left knees. Our left feet were often left clipped in while our bikes were flung around beneath us. Some of the riding was absolutely glorious though. We reached the bottom of the descent, and had a bit of undulating track to ride before the jetty at Nydia Bay. We passed an awesome swimming hole which looked like a spa pool with the current swirling around in it.

We had lunch by a great big solar panel (it looked like it might be a sunny spot), during which we were visited by a couple of dogs, including a pretty feral looking one who cocked its leg on Simon's back pack. This gave me the giggles, but fortunately the mongrel didn't piss on the pack. What a weird thing for it to do. A few minutes after leaving this spot, we stopped in on at Te Mahoerangi Eco Lodge. This is a lovely collection of cabins and would be a great way of doing the track over a couple of days:

After a good yarn, we set off again, and were soon wading though a stream. Strangely this was the first time we'd had to get wet feet, but at least it was passable. The climb to Kaiuma Saddle was a good one, and it ticked over pretty fast. There was another half climb which I suffered a bit on, the length of the day, heat, and a sore knee catching up on me. After a 200m descent, we popped out onto a gravel road, with about 26km to ride back to Canvastown.


Agonisingly, we had to head a few km up stream to get across the river between us and our beds. It was a good work out though, and I enjoyed being able to get into a steady rhythm, and ride like I was commuting for a bit.

We both enjoyed another big feed, and a decent night's sleep!

Speaking of which, I'm spent!

The final day leads nicely into this year's Karapoti tale. Hopefully in the next day or two...

[I never wrote about Karapoti.  My next ride "report" was mid-May...]

Originally published on vorb