Following a successful long weekend in Whanganui with the WAGs, Brendan and I seized on a five day gap I had in my meeting schedule in late-August, and began to plan a spot of credit card touring. Inspired by the successful pattern Simon and I established, I advocated for as short a drive as possible, followed by some heavenly back roads.
Brendan made a couple of suggestions which sounded a lot like The Triangle Trip I'd done with Simon, mashed up with a ride Sarah and I had done from National Park to Featherston, ten and five years ago, respectively. I countered with a loop out of Stratford, and eventually my powers of persuasion won out.
As work pressures mounted and the days started to show signs of lengthening, the wait grew increasingly agonising, but it did give me an opportunity to get a bit of kit from Bryce at Cyclewerks - a bolt-on "Gas Tank" top tube bag for my Open, and a Pronghorn handlebar bag, both from Revelate Designs. I've had a fantastic experience with various Revelate seat bags, and these additions were as well thought out as I'd come to expect.
Bryce had also supplied some Teravail Sparwood tyres, but I ran out of time to replace my pretty worn WTB Byway rear tyre. Not very pro, and I left home with my fingers crossed that it would survive another 600km or so.
My tried and true gear list is always worth a glance at, though could probably do with an update to reflect the few tweaks I've made over the last few years. I stowed tools, chain oil, toilet paper and some hand sanitiser in the Gas Tank, overnight stuff in my trusted Revelate Viscacha, and storm-wear in the Pronghorn. Packed up, the bike felt very nicely balanced, and ready for its shake-down tour.
We managed to sneak away from a wet Wellington at about 2pm on the Wednesday afternoon, and the drive to Stratford passed easily, helped along by coffee in Levin, and some Pad Thai in Hawera.
Day 1 - Stratford to Mokau
Mt Taranaki was looking majestic when we woke up, though it set horribly unrealistic expectations for the day's riding ahead.
We managed to stay dry for the 5 minute ride into Stratford-central, but by the time we'd finished breakfast, ridden 5km on the main drag down to Midhurst, and jumped onto our first back roads, the weather had become pretty grim - wet, and about 8 degrees with a cold wind blowing.
|Morning tea at a saddle before dropping down to cross Mokauiti Rd
Eventually the road tipped up, and over the other side of a 5km climb, we stopped for lunch at a one-lane bridge. Not only did the concrete curb make for a fine seat, but it was also bathed in sunshine, necessitating shedding of the knee warmers, one of the first times in months that I've ridden without them.
We did eventually join The Forgotten World Highway a few miserable kilometres from Stratford. As Brendan pointed out, we were essentially climbing a mountain, and in that respect, the horrible false flat made sense. Still, it was a pretty shit way to finish an otherwise fantastic five day ride.
Stats: 72km ridden, fifth best ride of the 592km total.
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It was great to get away with Brendan, following our very enjoyable East Cape Tour of 2019, and particularly since a planned multi-day ride out of Dunedin at Easter had been scuppered by COVID. We both agreed that the third day had been one for the books, with some great supporting acts either side. Given our different preferences for Day 4, the split had been an easy call, and we were surely each better for it when we met up that evening.
I was really pleased with the route - for a ride almost 600km long, we'd managed about 30km on SH3 on Day 1, 5km on Day 2, another dozen on Day 3, and about 500m on Day 5 - less than 50km in total. The remaining roads had been gloriously remote, but had brought us to convenient and sufficiently well equipped overnight stops to better make the next day's ride well fuelled and enjoyable.
We have very different approaches to packing. Brendan's loaded bike was pretty hefty, with a couple of panniers and a handlebar bag, while my Open and gear probably didn't weigh any more than his burlier Trek 920 adventure touring bike and racks. Nonetheless, we both seemed happy enough.
My rig ran like a dream, and it was great that the tyre plug got me home without any fuss - the tyre's been binned now though. It really is the bike of my dreams, and I can see myself clocking up some serious back country miles on it. I read somewhere today an opinion that 50-34 compact road gearing is no good for gravel bikepacking, but I found it perfect, and never had to resort to a tactical walk. The WTB Venture/Byway combo were pretty sweet too, and once the world gets back to stocking bike parts, I'll be ensuring I have a couple of spares.
Sarah and I had a Christmas plan to ride the North Island route of the Tour Aotearoa, but having reviewed the course, and in particular the amount of sealed road riding, I'm inclined to stay west south of Auckland, and show Sarah some of these magnificent back-country roads.
Bring it on.