Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Training and cycle touring with Sarah

I don't recall the exact genesis of the trip, but it probably was a suggestion by Sarah that we do a cycle tour together.  I have a growing aversion to flying with one bicycle, let alone two, and so thought about what might be done closer to home.

At the other end of the scale from flying, at least as far as the risk associated with baggage "handling" goes, is the train, and before long a beginning and end had materialised.  It didn't take too much time with Jonathan Kennett's Classic New Zealand's Cycle Trails to join the two dots together.

The plan was relatively simple:  catch a train to somewhere on the Central Plateau, and ride via Hawke's Bay to Masterton, returning to Wellington again by train.  The outbound options were reasonably limited, but the Friday morning Northern Explorer worked well, allowing us to capitalise on a weekend.  I figured four days would be enough to get us to Masterton, where we could stay the night and catch the sparrow's fart commuter train back to Wellington.  With Sarah working at the north end of the Terrace, and me in the Railway Station itself, the charm of arriving so close to our respective offices wasn't lost on us.

The finer details quickly followed.  The train schedule north would have us in National Park by 1:30pm, which would give enough time to ride back as far as Taihape before night-fall.  Then, we'd have no option but crank out a big day through the Gentle Annie to Hastings or Havelock North, leaving 250km over a couple of days to Masterton.

As I've previously noted, Sarah's transformation as a cyclist has been quite remarkable.  I don't think she'd ridden a bike since childhood as few as three years ago.  We got her an entry-level road bike about a year ago, and a nice upgrade late last year.

I suggested she start using Strava back in March, figuring it would be a good way for her to track her own improvement.  And, improve she has.  During the Tour de France, she signed up to a challenge to ride half the distance of the 2015 route.  In 23 days she rode about 1300km, including 550km in the last seven days of the challenge.  In total, since March, she's logged about 5000km all up, and mostly on her own.

So, I had no doubt that she would be up to the total distance, nor the big day from Taihape.  We procured a Revelate Pika from the good folk at Cycletech, and then it was just a matter of waiting...

I've always known I lack patience.  Its definitely one of my weaknesses as a road racer, and affects my shopping habits too.  I hated the thought of waiting months for the ride, and with the prospect of the local road racing season starting up in the last weekend of this month, the ride was pencilled in for 21-24 August.

A couple of weekends out, the country was being slammed by snow-laden storms.  But, by Monday the forecast was looking OK, and we started locking in various bookings:  train tickets, motel in Taihape, motel in Havelock North, and Glenross Lodge Backpackers in the middle of Route 52.  The forecast only got better, and by Thursday night our anticipation was high.

Day 1

The train was set to depart at 7:55am, and we were able to leave home soon after 7 without the need for lights.  It was a bit like a commute, but for the fact that most workers were still eating breakfast, and we made good time to the station.

6km down!
After a couple of photos out front, I joined the check-in queue, while Sarah guarded the bikes and our worldly possessions for the next few days.  The train was a novelty for us both, and this being our first cycle tour together, we were both excited.  And we regularly told each other as much.

Not many stops these days...
We were allocated seats near the front of the train, in the first carriage behind the luggage car.  We had a good view out to the left of the train, and made the most of it.  The sky was blue, the train was cosy, and there were all sorts of fascinating sights on offer as we made our way effortlessly north.  I enjoyed the very different vantage point the train gave over a car - particularly so for the family driver.

We'd packed sandwiches, so didn't get much of a chance to take advantage of the reasonably priced and fine-smelling onboard dining options.  The journey was about five-and-a-half hours, but went by quickly, mostly by virtue of the ever-changing scenery, and the occasional audio commentary.  Despite being a bit of a spelling nazi, until it was pointed out to me by KiwiRail, I'd never noticed the strange spelling of Feilding, and this was one of many interesting factoids that complemented the visual delights.  

SH1 and the Rangitikei River from the Makohine Viaduct
It was a little strange passing through Taihape, knowing that we'd be back there in 5 or 6 hours, but since the train no longer stops there, we were at least saved the temptation to jump off! 

Taihape from the Main Trunk Line
We were offered a Dominion by a fellow traveller, and aside from an interesting article on a new cycle-insurance product by a company named Apex, the highlight was the weather page, and in particular the image showing the big fat high pressure system engulfing the country.  We had really hit the jackpot with our timing, despite the risky choice of month.

Oh hai, high.
We were afforded stunning views of Mt Ruapehu and some outstanding pockets of native bush as the train wended its way up towards Ohakune.  The commentary was coming thick and fast by this stage, and time flew by.  As did Rangataua, defying my ability to catch a photo of the home on Kaha St that has been the base from which many a fine ride began.

After a short stop in Ohakune to drop off a few skiers, it was time to get ready to roll.   The Q-Spear bungees had been useful for stowing our bikes on the train, and it was good to see our steeds had not moved at all.  We spent a few minutes organising ourselves on the platform, filled a bottle each with water at the station's cafe, flicked phones into flight mode, fired up Strava, and then we were off.

Final prep
Progress was slow initially, on account of all the great sights.

Tongariro and Ngauruhoe were looking majestic too.

We popped in to the site of the "Last Spike", which we'd heard hadn't actually been the last part of the Main Trunk Line to be built (it was slightly down the way).  It was a bit of a dud, though we had more luck at Horopito.

Horopito Motors
Ruapehu was proving elusive, and I was beginning to regret not taking a shot of it from the train, sans cloud cover.

We made use of the winter month, and inhaled an eclair each at the Ohakune Chocolate Eclair Shop.  The was a group of shifty looking dudes loitering outside the dairy, which Sarah quietly commented on.  I recognised one who'd been a year ahead of me at Rongotai, and to whom time has not been kind.  Ironically, I told her, they were from Wellington, and not dodgy locals!

Yet another obligatory tourist shot
It was fun being on the road together, and although the air was cold, the weather was otherwise perfect.  Well, apart from the annoying cloud over the mountain...  Finally, towards the end of our 120-degree sweep around the mountain gave us an OK view.  

While the road conditions between National Park and Ohakune had been great, the riding south of Ohakune on SH49 was far from it.  The road was narrow, and very busy.

About 10km past Rangataua, I was riding ahead of Sarah, and heard her call out.  Moments later a truck hurtled by, so I figured she'd been warning me about that.  When I checked over my shoulder a 20 seconds later, she wasn't there, and after a second glance, I stopped on the side of the road.  When she didn't immediately appear, I figured something had happened and raced back up the road.

As it turned out, we'd stopped either side of a rise, so only were able to see 50 metres of road - not enough given the 200m gap.  We'd both got a fright, and our fear generated a bit of tension initially.  But, we were back together again, and were well equipped to deal with Sarah's flat front tyre.

She thought she might have hit a stone, but once we'd found the hole in the tube, and surveyed the tyre in the corresponding location, we found the offending bit of glass.  That duly removed, and a new tube installed and inflated, we were ready to hit the road again.  This time Sarah took point, and I was happy to keep an eye on her from a few metres back.

The scenery continued to be amazing, and being behind, I was able to stop for photos without risking a pile up.  We had a quick look at the Tangiwai memorial site, but didn't linger.

Waiouru was a good place for a toilet stop, and we had a hot-chocolate each at the service station before moving on.  Ironically, SH1 was much more pleasant than SH49 had been.  Despite the traffic volume increasing slightly, the shoulder and lane width both also increased, and we both felt much less threatened by the constant stream of passing vehicles.

As Taihape neared, it was touch and go whether to dig out Sarah's Ayups, but she was able to see well enough and we made do with my helmet light, a commuting front light on her bike and a pair of rear lights.  Another few minutes though, and we definitely would've needed to stop and unpack!

Destination 1!
After briefly checking the hours of the New World supermarket, we made our way to the Taihape Motels, a block to the west of the BP Station.  The lovely proprietor remembered Simon and I (or more accurately, our big red tandem), and he ushered us to our room, leaving us with a few packets of chippies and a can of Double Brown.  I retained Sarah's front wheel, and took our unladen bikes to his shed.

Chippies and beer vanished quickly, our 95km ride seemed longer on account of the frequent stops and the air temperature (16 degrees in the sun while eating eclairs, which dropped almost linearly to 1 degree half an hour out of Taihape before settling down to about 4).  Neither of us rushed out of the most excellent shower.

Suited up in our somewhat lightweight evening-wear, we wandered down to the supermarket, where we got provisions for the next 12 hours or so.  Some microwave puddings and fruit for dessert, porridge, milk and more fruit for breakfast, half a dozen eggs, and some mixed nuts, One Square Meals and bumper bars for riding snacks.

We'd scoped out two Chinese takeaways on the walk, and settled on the southern one.  Sarah ordered a bit of tarakihi and chips, while I had a bit of fish, and some sweet and sour pork (and a few of Sarah's chips)!  It was lovely to hear a Maori family speaking Te Reo while they ate their dinner.  And it was nice to be able to listen without feeling like we were eavesdropping. Sadly, neither of us can speak it.

Stomachs full, it was back to the motel, stopping briefly to chat to the owner (a lovely elderly Greek gentleman who'd emigrated to Melbourne and then Taihape as a boy).  We borrowed Salt from his extensive DVD collection, and retired to watch Angelina Jolie strut her stuff.

Before bed, I patched Sarah's original tube, and put it back in her tyre.  If it was still inflated in the morning, it could stay there!

Day 2

We woke to a glorious morning.  The sky was blue, and there wasn't a breath of wind. 
No flutter in that flag!
Travelling light has its merits, and we were soon packed up and ready to go.  The porridge and scambled eggs had slipped down well, and were duly chased down by some coffee from the servo.  The patch had done its thing, so we were back to a full complement of tubes, which was nice for our confidence. 

There was a frost, and the air temperature hovered around zero for the first hour-and-a-half.  But, we were climbing for the most part, and both the effort and the low speeds helped keep us warm.  We were also well suited up - in particular both wearing a pair of Ground Effect's Helter Skelters, ostensibly rain pants, but an excellent light-weight option for keeping the cold air off your legs. 

Occasionally the views would open up, and one glimpse in particular of mountains way, way, way in the east, was quite alarming - we really were going to be covering some ground today!  As the crow flies, we were going about 70-80km east, but approximately double that on the bikes.

Looking East, or thereabouts
I remembered well the point that Simon and I had made the decision to turn the tandem around on our unsuccessful reprise of 2010's Triangle Trip.  I also remembered the state I'd been back in 2010 after running out of steam on the road between Hastings and Taihape.  We were heading downhill this time though, and I felt better prepared!

Having convinced myself that there would be no traffic at all on this road, I was slightly surprised to see a few cars an hour, but they all gave us plenty of space, and didn't detract from the lovely experience we were both having. 

Frost, waterfall and a sweet descent

Morning tea, a couple of hours after leaving Taihape

Erewhon Station

The Rangitikei River
As Jonathan had promised, the panorama of the Rangitikei was indeed breathtaking, and the fast descent was pretty neat too.  I enjoyed remembering the time it had taken for Simon to get a decent shot of the two of us on the Springvale Suspension Bridge, but this time made do with a cell-phone photo of Sarah crossing it.  The clear water of the Rangitikei River below was almost more special than the old bridge above it.

Springvale Suspension Bridge
The next climb was a bit of a monster, and we'd seen it all laid out before us prior to dropping down into the valley.  The initial gradient was pretty nasty too, and I had no choice but to ride away from Sarah.  Her 36-28 granny gear was much more appropriate than the 39-25 I was wrestling with.  I had considered putting on the compact crankset I'd used in France, but hadn't bothered.  Bother!

A frisky magpie took a shine to my helmet, and made several passes before finally leaving me alone.  I waited for Sarah, and we were together soon after when the same bird, presumably at the other end of its territory, gave us both the hurry up.  I suggested that shouting was probably a safer option than waving arms, particularly when riding so close to one another.  It was nice that we hadn't crashed, and also nice when the bastard finally buggered off! 

Ruapehu in the distance
We also said our farewells to Ruapehu, which had been in and out of our rear-view-mirrors over the last hour or two, and then dropped in to the next valley.  Farm land had given way to native bush, and the road had steepened up somewhat too.

Sarah dropping in to the Taruarau Valley
I must admit I'd completely failed to take into account the kiwi sense of humour, and had missed Jonathan's use of "infamous" when describing the Gentle Annie climb in the summary of today's ride.  It didn't take me long to work out that the joke was on us.

However inappropriate my gearing had been on the previous climbs, the Gentle Annie was something else.  Again I had to leave Sarah, and when I stopped to photograph her passing a "Trucks use low gear" sign, the strain in her body was unpleasant to watch.  No hill lasts forever though, and we were soon enough reunited at the top, rewarding ourselves with some mixed nuts and cranberries!

Sarah, near the top of the Gentle Annie
I'd used to map our daily routes, and as a result our Garmin GPS units had elevation data for the ride as well as the route.  These, and Jonathan's notes which I'd photocopied, were reassuring.  Even though the day was marching on, we'd made good progress, and there wasn't much climbing left. 

Soon after passing Kuripapango Campsite and its attendant herd of horses, we were at the highpoint of what remained, and were looking forward to peeling off the 750 vertical metres between us and our next bed.  The view out to the Pacific Ocean finally came, and immediately following that, the downhill ride began. 

Havelock North out there in the distance

I was riding about ten metres behind Sarah when I heard a strange noise, and noticed her rear derailleur in what looked like a strange position.  I called for her not to pedal, and she pulled over, probably wondering what all the fuss was about.  Nothing, as it turned out - she'd simply dropped her chain off the big chainring, and it was soon back where it should be, and we were soon hooning downhill again.

We didn't stop at Otamauri School, where Simon and I had had a brief rest, and nor did I see the disused bit of road where we'd hidden from the sun.

Down on the flat, a bit of a sea-breeze was blowing, but Sarah seemed very happy to sit on my wheel at a little less than 30km/h.  We were passed by a woman on a TT bike, but as is often the case, once her quarry was behind her, she slowed and we soon were in front of her again.  As I rode by, I said she was welcome to jump aboard, and we were a train of three for a few minutes through to the intersection with SH5.

Whilst the network of cycle paths was an impressive bit of infrastructure, I began to regret not staying on the main road through to Havelock North, and just knocking out the kilometres.  The route was convoluted, and after about 140km of very simple riding, all the braking and kerbs and narrow paths and navigation were complications I'd have done without.

In the end, the 151km we covered took us just under seven riding hours, with another hour-and-a-half taken up with photo and snack stops.  4pm was a very civilised time to arrive though, and we were soon showered and getting the lay of the land.

We made a trip to New World, grabbing some milk to go with the rolled oats I'd hauled from Taihape, some muffin splits and a small jar of nutella for breakfast, and some rather decadent looking raspberry and chocolate mousse.

We then went back to base for a rest, and I did a bit of research on where might be good for dinner.  In the end, we settled on Pipi's, which was just as well, as the food there was just as good as the reviews suggested it might be.

Sarah ordered steak, and I ordered the chicken and leek pie, which appeared to surprise the waiter when he delivered the food.  Both meals were soon demolished, and lest we build up further regret that we had dessert waiting for us back at the motel, we left.

It was a short walk back to the motel, where again we were able to borrow a DVD for the evening.  As it turned out, Angelina Jolie starred again (this time, in The Tourist with Johnny Depp).  It was also quite coincidental that Russian was spoken in both films - Sarah is fluent on account of the influence of Mongolia's northern neighbour on its school system. 

I can only suppose the bed and pillow for the night were comfortable.  I think I would have slept well even if they weren't.

Day 3

The previous guest in the room had unkindly set the alarm for 6-something.  My first attempt to cull the clock-radio shut the thing up for 10 minutes, ditto my second, and by the third I bashed as many buttons as I could, but the damage was done. 

There's always an upside though, and it was good to be up-and-at-'em.  We enjoyed the muffins and nutella while I made the porridge in the microwave.  I couldn't quite bring myself to leave the half-jar of nutella and the remaining two muffins, and couldn't possibly eat them before leaving, so they were stashed in my seat bag.  The room came with a "coffee bag" which bought us some time.  Waipukurau was 50km down the road, and we figured the caffeine would get us that far. 

It was another cold morning, but not quite cold enough for a frost.  The skies weren't completely clear, but again there was very little wind, if any.  In short, riding conditions were again great.

We'd soon left Havelock North behind, and apart from the odd car, and a helicopter on frost-watch over some crop or other, 8:30am on Sunday morning was pretty quiet.

Looking northwest towards the hills we'd emerged from the day before

We were soon climbing and in and out of the morning mist, and it was pleasing to note that both sets of legs seemed to have recovered well from yesterday's steep climbs.  It was hard to know quite what to wear, and we had a few stops to sort out clothing.  Too much and not enough were both common.  

I'd screwed up when I'd mapped the route into Waipawa, staying on Middle Road much longer than necessary, but recognised Te Kura Road from the Kennett Bros' Route 52 chapter, and we took the turn despite the bleating of our GPS units.

Before long we were on SH2 and into Waipawa.  We stopped briefly by the Museum, but with Waipuk only a few kilometres up the road, we decided to press on rather than try to track down some decent coffee.

The claim to fame of Waipukurau, at least as far as I'm concerned, is that it is the birthplace of my Dad, Ross.  The night before, I'd asked him for a recommendation on where to have an early lunch, and was quite surprised by his response.  His local haunts include Maranui, Chocolate Frog and Duke Carvell's, so I was surprised to read:  Angkor Wat main drag for great custard squares. Pies, the lot.  A blast from the past.

I'm not about to argue with a hometown boy, even if the tip seemed unusual.  We found the place easily, and were soon making our first order.  Sarah had a steak, bacon and mushroom pie, while I went with the tried and true steak and cheese.  And a custard square of course, and a coffee each.

The custard square didn't look the best - a bit thin for my liking - but I tried not to worry about that while I tucked into the pie.  It was a perfect temperature - neither too hot nor too cold.  And tasty, and with good tender chunks of steak.  It didn't last long.

In hindsight, I can't believe I actually put the pie down to take this photo...

The custard square was much better than it looked.  I wrote to Dad:  "OUTSTANDING TIP!!! Had to go back for a second steak and cheese pie and I'm struggling with the urge to double up on the custard square too!!!!"  A couple of minutes later:  "Nope.  Couldn't resist!!"

I'll never drive through Waipuk again without stopping at the Angkor Wat on the main drag.  And nor should you!

On the off-chance that this was the last supply post until Masterton, we grabbed a box of OSMs from the supermarket, and another bag of mixed nuts.  Then, after a toilet stop at the Caltex, we started down Porangahau Road.

We passed the derelict hospital on our left, which tempered my lingering elation from morning tea.  It was a somewhat sorry sight.

After the short spell on SH2 between Waipawa and Waipuk, we were again back to a car every once in a while, and the road meandered benignly along.   We passed some wetlands, and a curious arrangement of cabbage trees in a paddock.
Ti kouka
The kilometres ticked by, and we were soon at Porangahou itself.  I'd recently inhaled a fly of some sort, and was quite looking forward to an icecream throat wash.  The dairy was open for business, but the proprietor didn't really seem into it.

The icecream flavours were unlabelled.  Most were obvious, but I wasn't sure about the one in the back-right.  I asked the guy, and he was silent for about 30 seconds.  He fumbled around in the top of the freezer for a bit - was he looking for labels?  He finally said "you don't want it anyway".  He was right, I suppose, and I made do with a scoop of orange chocolate-chip.  Sarah took the soft option of a Kapiti icecream on a stick with no interaction required. 

We ate outside and were somewhat surprised to discover Vodafone reception which gave us a chance to send txts to our beautiful daughters, both cooling their heels back in Wellington.  Soon though, it was time to saddle up again, and after a short back-track, we were soon on unfamiliar territory again.

Our next stop came quickly.  Opposite the very grand (and obvious) sign that befits the longest place name in the world, someone had seen fit to install a "Longest Place Name" sign on the other side of the road lest we miss it.  Sarah read a little about the origin of the name, while I faffed about with my camera.


By the time we reached the Wimbledon pub, we'd both worked up a thirst, so we treated ourselves to a beer and pack of chippies.  These both vanished quickly, and we went outside to our bikes.  The publican followed us and chatted to us for a few minutes, before wishing us well, and leaving us to our bikes.

"The largest hill on the ride" was a bit of a bastard, with a gradient reminiscent of the Gentle Annie.  We regrouped at the top, and then enjoyed the inevitable descent that followed.  We shared a one square meal just short of the turn off to Pongaroa, and then enjoyed the ride up-valley that reminded us both of sections of the Makara Loop which we both enjoy a couple of times a week on the way to or from work.

Many of the places we'd passed through had been little more than dots on the AA Touring map, so the scale of Pongaroa surprised me.  I was expecting the hotel, but not the school and other buildings which befit a community of a couple of hundred people. 

Pongaroa School
Clearly quite excited to be in Pongaroa!

It was 4:30 or so, and a bit early for dinner at the pub.  But our accommodation was 9km down the road, prohibitively far for a return trip later on.  We popped into the pub to see if the courtesy van option that had been mentioned a few times online actually existed.  They were indeed happy to pick us up, and so we arranged a time, and then happily tackled the final climb of the day.

Lodgings ahoy

The Glenross Backpackers was a welcome sight, and on the kitchen counter we found a note and a pile of food that the owner, Pauline, had kindly agreed to supply us with.  Between that and the Pongaroa Hotel's imminent uplift, the supply of bars in my seat bag weren't looking necessary. I was happy to tuck into the liquorice allsorts, while Sarah opted for an orange and a kiwifruit!

We then found our room, and showered, and by the time we were dressed, it was time to make our way to the road.  The hotelier was right on time, and we chatted to her on the short drive back to the pub.  She said we were to let the staff know when we wanted to go home.

Sarah ordered a glass of merlot, so I had a Tui to myself.  The resident cat was putting on a fine display tossing and turning on the carpet. 

Sarah settled on a sirloin steak, politely declining the lady's size. I had trouble choosing, so went with the fish burger and the kumara and corn fritters.  We were both very happy with our choices! 

His, hers, and his.

No match for hungry cycle tourists!
As well as warmth, and delicious food, the hotel also had WiFi, and we made use of that in the expected absence of vodafone coverage.  We'd brought the charger so Sarah had her battery-hungry iphone plugged in for much of the evening.

We took our time, but once the apple slice had disappeared, it was time to go home.  The chef couldn't raise the owner, so drove us back to our lodgings herself.  They didn't charge for the ride, but we insisted they add a few dollars to the price of the meal.

When we got back to the room it was time to get organised for bed.  I couldn't find the USB cable for my cell phone - it turned out Sarah had thoughtfully put it in my bag along with her own, and at some point I must have dropped it.  We couldn't check the pub floor, nor the chef's car, and it didn't seem to be on the driveway.  There was nothing for it but to turn my phone off, and hope that the 50% remaining would last.

Day 4

Perhaps fixating on the lost cable, I didn't sleep that well, but at least there was no clock radio to further screw up the start to the day.  Once clothed, I took another look out on the grass, but finally put the cable firmly in the lost category.

Pauline had provided bacon and eggs, and Sarah prepared those while I made some porridge.  We also toasted the final two muffin splits.  All in all, it was a mighty fine way to start the day.

We were almost ready to leave when Pauline appeared.  We paid her, chatted briefly, and then completed our final preparations.

Masterton was only 81km away, and so we figured we had plenty of options.  We certainly weren't going to need to stay the night there, and as it turned out, there was a 3:40pm train back to Wellington.  The option of riding as far as Upper Hutt, or even home, was still there, but not particularly appealing.

After 3 days' riding in very still conditions, there was quite a wind blowing.  Route 52 turned westwards, and for a long while we had the wind in our faces.  Sarah wasn't enjoying it one bit, and we even swapped her deep front wheel onto my bike, as it was catching wind gusts.

We stopped by a curious concrete structure for a bite to eat.  Sarah has a thing about wind, and it was sad to see signs that she wasn't enjoying herself - the first other-than-fleeting moments in almost 500km! 

Almost immediately upon setting off, the road veered 90 degrees to the left, and the wind that had been quite unpleasant over the last hour or so became very wonderful.  Our speed, and Sarah's mood, both picked up immeasurably. 

Traffic jam on Route 52
At Alfredton, we turned left to stay on Route 52, and picked up familiar roads.  I'd ridden the approach to Dreyer's Rock Road in the fifth round of the 2015 North Island Series, and beyond that, we were backtracking on roads that Sarah, Khulan and I had ridden together on the weekend of Centre Champs.

As we neared Masterton, the day really warmed up, and while the wind wasn't as favourable as it had been, riding was still very nice.  I sat 50m or so back from Sarah, and admired her as we neared the end of a challenging few days' riding.

We cruised along the main drag of Masterton, and I stopped at Jaycar to buy a cable.  I'm not sure why I felt compelled to do so, but it did feel like order had been restored.

We ran through our options, and decided to keep riding, our new target Featherston.  Before that, a late lunch in Carterton beckoned.  As is often the case, neat sights are where you least expect them, and I felt compelled to whirl around to photograph the coolest tyre rack I've seen.

Although were gunning for Wild Oats in Carterton, the Clareville Bakery caught our eye.  The carpark was full, and it was right there (rather than 10 minutes up the road!). We locked our bikes to the fence, and went in.

We enjoyed the last guilty pleasures of the trip.  Award-winning pies, and a donut each (filled with custard, which was a most excellent surprise).  We had time up our sleeves, so didn't rush.

I actually really enjoyed riding through Carterton, and then Greytown.  It was funny to juxtapose the frustrating experience you tend to have in a car, with that on a bike.  The tail wind wasn't quite as sweet as it had been, but it was still mostly in our favour.

Just south of Greytown we saw what looked like an accident site up ahead.  We approached nervously, but we were spared any grisly sight.   A trailer had overturned in the wind - a large window unit standing upright on the trailer must've caught a large gust.  There was glass all over the road, and before going much further we stopped to check our tyres. 

From Clareville, we had 24km to get to Featherston, and we knocked these out in just under an hour.  I enjoyed counting down each kilometre from Greytown, eliciting a smile from Sarah each time I called out.

We grabbed a coffee in Featherston, and made use of a wall socket (and my new cable) to charge my phone a bit.  The 3:40pm train was due to arrive at 4:20, and we headed off to find the station at about half past three.

When we got there a few minutes later, the ticket office was still closed, but it opened precisely 30 minutes before the scheduled arrival.  We'd got changed at the cafe, so were relatively comfortable, despite the cold wind.

We were warned that we might not be able to get on the train, but in the end there was no problem.  Bikes secured in the baggage car, we found a forward-facing seat on the left of the train, and sat back to enjoy the hour-long ride back to Wellington.

It was actually really fascinating - the railway line took a deep gully before disappearing into the Rimutaka Tunnel, and the route between Maymorn and Upper Hutt was similarly engaging.

Out the window, we saw the first signs of rain since we'd left home, but when we disembarked in Wellington, neither of us could be bothered digging out coats.

The ride home felt very much like a commute, and while arriving a bit damp (from both the inside and the outside), it was bloody marvellous to get home.  Khulie was there to greet us, having just returned from a MTB ride at Makara Peak.

Yet another virtue of travelling light was that the unpacking was quite straightforward.  Not much to go in the washing machine, and not much to put away unwashed. Out of curiosity, I collected the uneaten bars, quite surprised to discovered they weighed 1.2kg!!!!  Good training I suppose, and a sensible precaution, I thought.

The trip had been a resounding success. One puncture, one dropped chain and a lost cable were minor irritations, and certainly not enough to jeopardise what might have been described as perfection.

Our bodies had coped well, our gear had been great, and the route had been stimulating and enjoyable.  The weather conditions had been incredible, and had made a huge difference to the quality of our experience.

The nicest aspect of the trip though, was how compatible Sarah and I had been.  My bike was quite a bit heavier than hers, by virtue of larger clothes and all of the shared gear.  This had worked well, as it narrowed the gap between our riding abilities.

I was constantly amazed at the very short waits I would have for Sarah at the top of any hill.  Often they were not even enough to grab the camera out.  Despite the riding being hard work a lot of the time, we had ridden together with virtually no friction, and the collective experience had been an enhancement for both of us.

We've come a long way in a very short time, but we seem to pass every test of our relationship with flying colours.  We discussed marriage a few months ago, and several times on this trip, as we rode, we enjoyed joking about it. We both (now!) agree that it's a very safe bet.  No arguments in 550km is a pretty remarkable record!

God damn it was good to get out, and particularly with the woman I love.