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I was sitting in my car on a rainy Thursday night, in the carpark of the Thames Pak’n’Save, stuffing my face with a McDonalds Fillet’o’Fish while listening to the final melancholy tracks on Echo & the Bunnymens’s ‘Live in Liverpool’ album. “Nothing ever lasts forever” Ian McCulloch was singing – unlike these fries I thought, which did seem to be lasting forever. Why are there so many of them? When I was was a kid there were 8 fries in a small bag and 15 in a large, but this ‘medium’ had thousands in it. Would I never be free of them? The melancholy atmosphere deepened when the CD finished and the carpark PA became audible. It was playing ‘Snoopy’s Fucking Christmas’. I slumped down lower in the seat – where had I gone wrong? What twisted train of events had brought me here?
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Well, I’ll tell you. My plan had originally been to catch the ferry from downtown Auckland to Coromandel Township on Thursday morning, ride down the coast to Kopu, get on the Hauraki Rail Trail, ride to Te Aroha, stay the night, ride back on to Coromandel on Friday and catch the ferry to Auckland. Is simple, no? But a representative from the ferry company had called me on Wednesday to tell me that there would be no sailing on Thursday – apparently due to a “weather warning”. My initial reflex was to cancel the trip, but then I remembered that I like weather, so the ride would go ahead, but I would drive my car down there instead. Sure enough there was lots of weather – it poured with rain all the way there.
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I had been informed that the road from Coromandel to Thames was very pleasant to cycle along, but as I drove along there through the numerous blind corners and past the not infrequent slips I realised that that was bollocks. Riding along that road today would be both miserable and scary. So I came up with a backup plan – park in Thames and ride to Te Aroha along the Rail Trail. Maybe ride back the same day.
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I assembled the Off-Roadrat in the rain, put on my Buffalo jacket, and set off from Thames at about 1pm.
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The first 26km section from Kopu to Paeroa is classic flat gravel rail trail, through open farming country. There are lots of little bridges, and cattle stops. And cattle. And horses. The signage isn’t that great – I missed several of the links between sections and spent some time in Paeroa riding in circles trying to find my way through. The second section was quite different, it wound through bush, past waterfalls and through a long creepy tunnel.
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It was the tunnel that made me wonder if I was going the right way – I thought that was on the Waihi gorge section, but I was supposed to be heading for Te Aroha. The trail continued along beside the river and eventually popped out in a small town. Te Aroha? Nope – Waihi. Ummm, ok then. By now it was about 4pm and I was hungry. So I ate a toasted sandwich, drank a cup of coffee, bought a light (in case it got dark before I made it back) and got back on the trail. While eating the toasted sandwich and drinking the coffee, I had decided to bail out of this thing, ride back to Thames tonight and drive home.
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It really is a nice ride through the gorge. “Was it still raining?” I hear you ask, why yes it was. Did it rain all the way back to Thames? Yes it did. In fact, do you remember that bit in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ where they’re living in a town in the middle of the jungle and it doesn’t stop raining for 5 years? Well it felt very much like that.
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I finally made it back to Thames about 8pm. After 100km of soggy riding, I was starving. The first thing I found to eat was an artificial food-like substance from a multinational chain. And that’s how, dear reader, I ended up in the Thames Pak’n’Save with too many French fries, listening to Echo & the Bunnymen.