I woke up cold, at about 4am on a bench outside the front door of the Omakau Hotel. My feet were especially frozen so I went for a little walk to try to warm them up. It didn’t really work, and when I got back to the bench, I dug my Buffalo jacket out of my pannier and put it on. I was still cold as I lay back down and failed to get back to sleep. After another hour or so, the door opened and a guy walked out. “Er, morning” I said. “Morning” he replied as he walked past. When he came back a couple of minutes later, I asked if he worked at the hotel. He didn’t – he was just a guest. I was confused about what to do – I couldn’t check in or go to a room, so I just went in to the lobby and stood by the heater I found there. Another guy came down the stairs, we said “good morning” and he walked through the lobby and around a corner to somewhere else. I guessed that it was the breakfast room, because I could hear the two men talking and the sounds of toast being eaten and tea drunk. I also heard them talking about me (assuming I was “that c*nt lying outside the front door”). I hoped that someone who worked out the hotel would come along so I could check in, have breakfast and have a shower. But no one did. After a little while the two guys left and I wandered in to the breakfast room. I stood around wondering what to do – should I wait? Should I give up on staying here? I had stopped shivering by this point, so I walked outside and across the road to the dairy. It was getting light now, as I chatted to the woman behind the counter and bought a cup of coffee. While I drank the coffee I decided that there was now no point in checking in to the hotel, and I might as well just get going. So I packed up the Off-Roadrat and pedaled off down the Otago Rail Trail.
It was another beautiful morning and I was alone on the trail. I stopped in Lauder to have an excellent breakfast and chat to the proprietor. My plan had been to ride to Middlemarch and stay the night in a Bed and Breakfast, but as the day progressed I started to wonder if I really wanted to do that. Because, well, I wasn’t really enjoying myself. The trail was lovely, but my arse hurt and I just wanted to have a rest. What am I proving, and who to? I thought. I arrived in Ranfurly at 3pm, had a muffin and a cup of tea. I was about to head back on to the trail for the last 50km section to Middlemarch and I… I don’t know exactly what happened, I think I just imagined what it would be like to flag the last section, have a nice meal and stay the night here. And staying sounded more desirable than pushing on. So I did – I gave up.
The next day I caught a bus to Middlemarch and from there, the train to Dunedin.
I was awoken by what sounded like a hippo slipping over in the shower and falling down a flight of stairs, but when I peeped around my door a few minutes later, I couldn’t see any large animals or dents on the walls. Must have been something else. I was feeling pretty good, considering the fact that I RODE OVER SOME MOUNTAINS YESTERDAY, and I was keen to get going because today was likely to be quite hard – I was booked to stay tonight at the Omakau Hotel (about 100km away) and I would be following a route described in the Kennett Brothers book “Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails” as “adventurous”.
When I packed up the Off-Roadrat and started to push it down the driveway of the hostel where I’d spent the night, I noticed there was a rubbing sound coming from the rear of the bike. The rear wheel was slightly out of true. Fortunately, at the last minute when I was leaving Auckland, I had put a spoke key in my pocket – just in case. So I quickly trued the wheel and then rode off on the trails that would lead around the lake to Albert Town.
It was another beautiful day. I rode along a mountain bike trail that runs around the edge of Lake Wanaka and took me most of the way to Albert Town. I stopped at the dairy for a cup of coffee, but the coffee machine was broken (“again” apparently) so I had a nice cup of tea instead, sitting at a table outside watching a lot of nothing happening.
From there I rode down the road to the Clyde River trails. This took me (unsurprisingly) on a trail next to the Clyde River. It was, of course, lovely. The trail was good, the scenery spectacular and there were no people to spoil it. On the side of the trail about a quarter of the way along, I saw a dead hawk. It had it’s wings spread and it’s head to one side – it looked like a crashed, feathered aeroplane.
I saw a sign warning me of rabbit poison and “helicopter shooting”. I tried not to think about all the rabbits being silently poisoned all around me, and kept a look out for helicopters.
For lunch, I sat on a wooden bench donated by “The friends and family of Brian Thompson who loved this track.” I understand why – it’s a very scenic spot looking out over the river. I sat on Brian’s bench and ate left-over Indian food.
Eventually the trail ended and I continued along the highway, finding my way to, and then down the Luggate-Tarras Rd. This was fine to ride along – good surface and not much traffic. By the time I turned down Maori Point Rd I was starting to worry a bit about the amount of water I had brought along. I was getting thirsty and didn’t have much left to drink. Along that road were several vineyards with signs outside inviting passersby to come in and try their wine. I went in to a couple of these looking for water. But all I found were labradors.
It was at the end of Maori Point Rd that things went all wrong. I should have turned right on to the Tarras-Cromwell road and then left in to Ardgour Rd. Instead, I inexplicably turned left and blindly trundled off in the wrong direction. All this time I had a topo map sitting in front of me, under the transparent plastic on the top of my handlebar bag. I love topo maps. Not least because if you follow the curves and bends of the real road, on your map, it gives you the reassuring feeling that you’re going the right way. But I was starting to get the feeling I was going the wrong way. The map did not seem to match what I was seeing. Where was Ardgour Rd? And why did I keep seeing buses that said “Lindis Pass” on the front? Eventually I came to a tourist stop with a couple of shops, so I bought a few bottles of lemonade and asked if Thomsons Gorge Road was nearby. The directions I was given started with ‘go back the way you came’. So I rode back down the highway. After an hour or so, I started to get that feeling again. So I checked the map, I had gone right past the Ardgour Rd turnoff again and was heading toward Lake Dunstan. I couldn’t face going back again, but on the map I could see a shortcut. I just needed to ride down to a place called Bendigo, and then another road would take me across to meet Thomsons Gorge Rd, and save me retracing my steps again. OK.
Bendigo consisted of a dusty looking house and a sign put up by DOC describing the mining that used to go on there. I found the turn-off and rode (and then walked) up a really steep gravel road littered with used shotgun shells. Not a good start. From there it got worse. Sections of this “road” and been recently covered with deep coarse gravel that was almost impossible to ride on. There was another section that had been bisected with an electric fence and sheep were grazing on it. I lifted my bike over the first fence, but when I saw the incredibly steep hill just ahead, I gave up. Realising I would have to ride all the way back down this horrible road, through Bendigo, and back down the highway made me want to cry. But it seemed the sensible thing to do. So I did it.
Finally I made it to the elusive but perfectly nice-when-you-finally-get-there Ardgour Rd. This led through some pleasant countryside to a gate with a somewhat ominous sign next to it which read “Road Not Suitable for General Vehicles – Self Recovery Required”. I opened the gate and pushed my bike through. I was now on Thomsons Gorge Road. This led me through some amazing countryside, to the base of the Dunstan Range. And then the road started to go up. And then it continued to go up. At this point I started to worry a bit. I was only part (a quarter? a half?) of the way up and it was 4 in the afternoon. It seemed likely that it would get dark before I made it to Omakau. This wasn’t a total disaster – the Roadrat does have dynamo lights, so I would be able to see. But how was my clearly, kind of shit, navigation going to work in the dark? Would I even make it to Omakau?
I kept going. And it was hard, really hard. The road was steep and crappy, and I was really tired. I had to walk up the steepest bits. I also didn’t know where I was. The topo map showed so many bends that I was unable to work out where on the road I was. It was also getting cold. Eventually the sun went down and the wind came up.
I could still see the road in front of me, but I couldn’t read the map. I also had to keep stopping to open & close gates (the road crosses lots of land belonging to different people). At one point I was at an intersection wondering which fork to take, when I saw headlights coming towards me. It was a guy in a ute. I opened the gate for him and asked if I was on the right road to Omakau. He told me I was. I asked him how far away it was, he said “Oh, a wee way yet.” Yes, but how far? He thought maybe “10 or 15Ks?”. Then he drove off. I put on my puffy jacket & kept riding. By now the road was mostly heading down, which was lucky because I had almost run out of energy. I could only keep going by walking up the hills and pedalling gently on the flats & downhills. Then the road suddenly disappeared in front of me. So I stopped, wondering what the hell was going on. I walked forward a little and then lifted up the front wheel of my bike & spun it, so the light would come on. It seemed I had reached a river. I was confused – why would there be a river running across the road? Had I come the wrong way? I decided to keep going but to walk, pushing my bike in case the water was deep. It wasn’t deep, just cold. When I crossed the river a second time later on, I kept riding through it.
Finally I spotted a light in front of me, I rode towards it thinking it was a farmhouse – was it too late to knock on the door and ask for help? Then I got closer and realised it was just my light reflecting off another gate. I kept riding. Gradually I started to see real lights in the distance, the lights of a town perhaps? Maybe I was going to make it. The road levelled out, and then became sealed! I must be through the mountains! I got to an intersection with a sign – Railway Rd straight ahead. I remembered this from the map – Railway Rd leads straight in to Omakau – I was nearly there. The flat sealed road was luxurious to ride along, I felt a surge of energy and pedalled harder, maybe I would make it to the hotel before it closed. Omakau was promisingly quiet when I arrived. I found the hotel, and it was closed. I checked the time – it was 11:20pm. Oh. I knocked on the door a few times, but no one came. So I walked around the streets a bit to see if anything was open. Nothing. I was getting cold, and I was exhausted. So I walked back to the porch of the Omakau Hotel, put on my warmest clothes, and went to sleep on a bench outside.
I don’t know about you, but I always take a book with me on holiday. They are an excellent companion – providing entertainment, distraction, a very small pillow, and can help you start a fire. For my “holiday” in Central Otago, I was all set to take David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten. But the night before I left, I changed my mind and packed Cheryl Strayed’s Wild instead. I thought it might suit the journey better – her thousand mile walk along the Pacific Coast Trail could perhaps echo my significantly shorter, but still slightly ambitious plan to cycle from Queenstown to Dunedin in four days. But when I started reading it, sitting in a plane, which was sitting on the Auckland airport runway waiting to take off, the book seemed like it might be a poor choice. It started with the traumatic account of Ms Strayed’s mother dying. As we lifted through the clouds to that beautiful other world above, our heroine started taking heroin recreationally.
My flight from Auckland to Christchurch was uneventful, my flight from Christchurch to Queenstown was spectacular. The weather was clear and the scenery beautiful. Cheryl was still having a bad time though – she was plagued by disturbingly real dreams in which she was repeatedly killing her mother. So I put the book down, looked out the window and tried to work out where I would be riding.
The weather was still lovely when we landed in Queenstown. I collected the Off-Roadrat from the oversize-bag area, where there was a sign directing me to a ‘Bike Assembly Point’ outside. So I followed the directions out there and found a proper(!) Park-Tools workshop stand, free for anyone to use. Brilliant. It was a particular treat for someone who does most of their repairs to bicycles that are leaning against the wall of the garage or lifted off the ground by some crappy assembly of F-clamps and rags. Local (or perhaps visiting) smokers had also been using the stand as an ash-tray. The ‘Rat was looking a little different from when it was last on an aeroplane – it was wearing a rear rack, with panniers. And I had replaced the somewhat worn Rock & Road tyres with a set of Clement MSO’s, that I thought might perform better on the significant amount of tarmac I would be riding on.
With the my bike reassembled, I rode off from the terminal searching for the nearest trail. It took all of 5 minutes to find one that took me almost all the way to Arrowtown, almost completely offroad.
Those trails around Queenstown are really excellent. I would have been happy to spend a couple of days exploring them, but I had to get on – I was booked to stay in Wanaka that night, which meant I had the Crown Range to ride over. I got talking to another cyclist on one of the trails when I held a gate open for him. I told him where I was intending to ride – airport to Arrowtown, the Tobin Track that runs up the hill behind Arrowtown, over the Crown Range, and then on to Wanaka.
He was skeptical that the Roadrat and I would be able to ride up the Tobin Track. But in my experience, guys on mountain bikes always think that non-mountain bikes can’t do anything except ride on roads. So I ignored his advice, but I did follow his suggestion to take a detour to visit the Edgar Bridge. Which was indeed worth going to see.
I arrived in Arrowtown mid-afternoon, bought some water, found the Tobin Track and rode up it. The Track was pretty steep (and a surprising number of people choose to drive their 4WDs up and down it on a Sunday afternoon). So I dropped all the way down to my granny gear and trundled up, stopping every now and then to get my breath back and not have a heart attack. At the top, I stopped for a proper rest and spoke to a local couple. They told me to be sure and turn right at the next intersection, which would lead me to the main highway. Turning left would apparently take me to Shania Twain’s house. A disturbing prospect indeed.
I followed their directions and made it to The Crown Range road. I read later that riding over the Crown Range is considered to be the third hardest hill climb in NZ. It’s probably good that I didn’t read that before I organised the trip. It. Was. Hard. One nice feature of the road, is that it’s equipped with “chain bays” – areas designed for people into pull over and put chains on their cars. If you are a cyclist you can use them to stand around pretending to take photographs while trying not to collapse. Or so I hear.
At the top, I stopped to admire the view, but instead of sitting down, I had to stand in a weird half-crouching position to stop my legs cramping. I was able to stand up straight after a few minutes, just in time to chat to another guy on a mountain bike, who was going the other way. Coasting down the other side (for 30km!) wasn’t as much fun as I had anticipated – despite stopping to put extra layers of clothes on, I was freezing the whole way and couldn’t get comfortable on the handlebars.
I arrived in Wanaka just as it was getting dark and spent quite a long time standing in a shower at the backpackers where I was staying, defrosting ,before having a very nice dinner at a local Indian restaurant and then crawling in to bed.
Coup and I flew down to Wellington in February this year, for Nicolai and Jaenine’s wedding. I took the Off-Roadrat with me, with the intention of riding up the Hutt River Trail. As usual my plan was pretty vague – to ride from our (honestly pretty average) hotel in the central city, to the Hutt and then up the trail, maybe to the top of the Rimutakas, maybe down the other side to Featherston.
Riding to The Hutt was unexpectedly terrifying. You see it started off as a typical urban road, but as I followed the signs pointing to Lower Hutt, the roads got busier, and the speed limits got higher, until eventually I realised I was on a motorway. An actual motorway with 4 lanes of cars doing 100km/hr next to me, and nothing but a painted green stripe on the road to protect me. Jeebus, I thought, these Wellington cyclists are a bunch of hard-bastards.
So I was very relieved to make it safely to Petone. Having forgotten to bring a map, I just headed for the river assuming that the trail would be next to it. And it totally was. I hadn’t considered however that a river has two sides – so which side should I be on? There were signs indicating that there were trails on both sides, so having arrived on the western side, I rode up there. It was very pleasant – there were people walking dogs, people picking some kind of berry, even some people managing to do both of those things at the same time.
Eventually, in a place called Manor Park, the trail ran out and became a golf course. I’m sure one of the trail signs showed a crossing there, but it turned out to be a railway bridge only. I discovered this after bushwacking for a while, trying to find a way across. I gave up eventually and rode back down to Avalon Park and crossed there. This side of the river seemed more developed, the trail was wider and gravellier, the dogs were waggier. In fact I saw what I believe to be the waggiest thing in the world – six golden retrievers going for a walk together.
Eventually, around …Birchville (I think?) I got lost. The trail had become quite haphazard and after following markers that pointed over a bridge, the path just got smaller and smaller. It led through some trees and across someone’s front yard, down a hill, behind a row of houses and then ended at deserted children’s playground.
I was starting to think that local hillbillies had moved the trail markers so they could lure unwary cyclists to the playground of damnation to be… dismembered? Taught to play the banjo? I wasn’t staying to find out. Suppressing my panic, I blundered up to the nearest road and circled back to where it had all gone wrong. I guessed that the safest thing to do was head north, so I did, eventually emerging at a dairy where I was delighted to find my favourite thing – liquorice toffee. Unfortunately, this stuff is impossible to eat in public due to it’s extreme toughness. So I stuffed it in to my bag with the intention of devouring it later.
I was starting to think that I was never going to make it up the Rimutakas, but after a couple of lucky turns, somewhere between a Devonshire Tea place and the local Naturist society, the road started to head steeply upward. I followed, and sure enough there was the start of the Rimutaka Hill Trail.
Which was beautiful. It starts off a bit steep, but gets gentler as it goes on. It runs through a forest, there’s a tunnel, what more could you want?
When I got to this gate, I decided it was probably the top, or close too, and that this would be a good place to stop. So I turned around and started the ride back. This turned out to be very similar to the ride there, except;
a) the gradients were all reversed
b) I didn’t get lost as much
c) I stopped at the Lower Hutt Pizza Hutt
d) I Strava’d it here
And the wedding? Well that was lovely.
I had an afternoon free during my recent trip to Sydney, So I decided to get out of the city and take a ride in the country. I had heard that the Royal National Park was nice, so I asked at the Clarence St Cyclery if they thought that was a good idea. The very helpful staff assured me that it was indeed a good idea, and gave me comprehensive directions. Also, somewhat endearingly, I overheard them refer to me as ‘the touring gentleman’. So I blundered around the central city looking for a railway station, eventually finding one hidden underground. Sydney trains are pretty flash, electric double-decker things. They don’t cater very well to bikes though. So I wedged myself and the Roadrat in the doorway, trying not to block it too much. After a hearty lunch of coffee and banana-bread in Sutherland I set off. The first few k’s were on a fairly busy (but generously shouldered) highway but soon I turned off in to the Royal National Park.
This was much quieter. I followed the road as it meandered steadily downwards, worrying very slightly about what it might be like riding back up. Pretty soon the road stopped meandering and started plummeting downwards. I was trying to remember the directions I had been given. “Ride through the Royal National Park to the —- Weir”. The Orderly Weir? The Otterly Weir? Aha – there it was – The Audley Weir. Now go along the Lady Something Drive.
And there it was – the beginning of the Lady Carrington Drive.
This was completely beautiful. There were no other people, just me and a Lyre bird (who I spotted sneaking across the trail in front of me).
There were also at least a billion insects producing a periodically deafening buzz from the trees.
One particular sparrow-sized insect gave me a hell of a fright when it dropped out of the sky and expired while stuck to the front of my shirt. It had a suspicious looking beak mark across its abdomen, so I think it was a present (or a warning) from one of the other birds.
Eventually (after about 10km) I reached the end of the trail and got back on a road. I was pretty sure they had told be at the shop to keep heading “right and down”. So I did.
This road was also lovely, I was passed by the occasional car and the occasional cyclist.
Until I reached the coast. I followed the road along the top of the cliff, stopping for a little while to watch people hang gliding.
I stopped at Stanwell Park where the gliders came in to land.
I ate some of a muesli bar, and shared the rest with the local cockatoos.
Then I was back on the road and cycling over the fantastic Sea Cliff Bridge. I hadn’t really planned how far to go down the coast, but just past Thirroul the road started to get busier and less pleasant to cycle along.
So I gave up and caught the train from the Thirroul station back to Sydney. I can heartily recommend this route to any other “touring gentlemen” or ladies who might be in the area. It was about 45-50km of beautiful scenery, lovely wildlife and good roads – I loved it.
Temazepam is a drug prescribed for insomnia and anxiety disorders. I took some a few years ago when my fear of flying was at it’s most abject and I needed to get to Christchurch. It worked perfectly. I assumed that there would be side-effects – drowsiness or incontinence or something. But there was none of that, it was just as if the part of my brain that worried about the plane crashing had been surgically removed. These days I’ve managed to get my terror under control, but I can still do with a little help. So wandering through Sydney airport on my way back to Auckland the other day I was very pleased to be offered a shot of ‘spiced’ Wild Turkey. While not as efficient as Temazepam, it did help take the edge (of fear) off.
I was at least a couple of hours early for my flight, having left The Glenferrie Lodge (on Sydney’s glamorous North Shore) at about 11am with the vague plan of riding across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, along a nice cycleway to Darling Harbour, on to Cheeky Transport in Newtown and then out to the airport.
The first thing I discovered was that the nice cycleway that appears on the map, seems to have been buried under an enormous building site. Darling Harbour was nice though. The second thing I discovered was that like Auckland, how pleasant your cycling experience is, depends very much on the route you take.
Let me start from the beginning – the Off-Roadrat and I arrived in Sydney on a Monday afternoon, I was there for a work-thing, the bike was there to provide transport and entertainment. I had travelled in Air New Zealand economy, the ‘Rat had flown (fairly) safely packed in a Ground Effect ‘Tardis‘ bike bag. After retrieving my bike from the ‘fragile and oversize items’ baggage claim, I took it to a quiet spot outside the terminal and reassembled it.
The bag is pretty minimalist – no wheels, not much padding, only just enough space for the bike. It took me about half an hour to put it back together, that is – to put the wheels, pedals, saddle, front-rack and handlebars back on. To minimise mess, I had removed all oil from the chain and waxed it.
The Roadrat survived the flight ok, thanks I suspect to it’s robust chromoly steel frame. The wheels are also tough – they’re both 36 spokes on touring rims (the fat Bruce Gordon tyres probably help protect the wheels too). I used the remaining spaces in the bag to put things I didn’t want to take on the plane with me. Obviously one of the upsides to a minimalist bag, is that you can fold it up and carry it with you – which is what I did.
I had done a little bit of research to see if there was a nice route from the airport to the city. I found one, and tried to follow it (I printed out the pages and stuffed them in to the clear sleeve on top of my front bag). It was indeed quite bike friendly, with some nice separated paths and was a good introduction to Sydney.
I got lost a few times, and eventually made it to the waterfront. But then I couldn’t see how to get over to the North Shore where I was staying. So I asked a couple of locals, they told me to carry my bike up some nearby steps, ride through the Botanic Gardens, along the waterfront and then over the bridge. I couldn’t ride along the waterfront because it was closed due to some event, so I rode in circles trying to find a way to the bridge, until I eventually followed some signs that took me to the walkway that is attached to the side of it. It was super nice riding over the Sydney Harbour Bridge at night. There were people out running, and tourists taking pictures, and then a couple of German backpackers flagged me down and told me I shouldn’t be riding and that “ya it’s better for your life you know – if you get off and walk”. I said “yeah ok thanks” and then kept riding wondering what the hell they were talking about. But I later discovered they were totally right. One side of the bridge is only for cyclists and the other side is only for pedestrians and I was on the wrong one.
Over the next few days I rode to and from the office I was visiting on the North Shore. Over there the roads are mostly nice and quiet, except where they’re really busy, and I found a brilliant cycleway next to a motorway. I rode around central Sydney which was mostly ok, and I took the ferry to Manly. Which I didn’t like so much – there are lots of bikes over there, but the official attitude seems very prescriptive. There were signs that pointed me to ride on the footpath in some places, and then signs in other places threatening to prosecute me if I rode on the footpaths. The best thing about going to Manly, was that it resolved something I’d been wondering about for at least 20 years – what the hell is the lead singer of Australian Crawl, saying in that line from ‘Reckless‘? “As the Manly ferry cuts it’s way to..” Sub Gillard bee? Sad killer knee? It hit me when I was buying my ferry ticket – “circular quay”! Hurrah, finally sorted that out.
It wasn’t all city riding though – I spent one day doing a great ride outside of Sydney, which will be described in Auckland Bike Slob vs Sydney Part 2.
This is how my Cotic Roadrat (or Off-Roadrat as I refer to it) is looking these days. It’s set up for on and off-road riding, can carry a fair amount of gear, and is really fun to ride.
The brakes are a weird combo of Tektro cantilevers at the front and an Avid BB5 on the back. It used to have an Avid BB7 at the front, but I had to change to rim brakes when I wanted a dyno-hub on the front. I was intending to build a new front wheel using a Shimano hub with a disc brake mount, but when the hub arrived I noticed that because the Roadrat fork puts the disc brake on the right-front of the fork rather than the rear-left, the hub would be running backwards. I have emailed Shimano tech support to ask if this is a problem, but haven’t heard back yet.
The front wheel (Shimano DH-3N80 dynamo hub on a Mavic A319 rim) is one I bought fully built from Rose Bikes in Germany, and the rear is a Shimano Deore hub on a Velocity Dyad rim, which I built myself. The tyres are the excellent Bruce Gordon Rock n’ Roads. They’re surprisingly fast on the road and fantastic on gravel, grass and mud, providing lots of grip and a smooth ride.
The crankset is a Stronglight Impact. I bought this from XXCycle in France. I like the Stronglights because they are simple, good quality, fairly cheap, and they have a great selection of sizes. You can choose singles, doubles, triples, and with all different combinations of teeth & crank length. And, they’re silver (I really don’t like black bicycle components).
The handlebars are Salsa Cowbell 3s. These are fairly wide, have a shallow drop, and flare slightly outwards. Not especially aerodynamic but very comfortable. The front derailleur is a Shimano 105 and the rear is a Shimano Deore, both secondhand. They are operated by Shimano Ultegra bar-end shifters. The brake levers are Tektro.
The saddle is a Brooks Flyer and the front rack is a Nitto M-12. On the back is a Planet-Bike Versa Rack Disc. Hanging off the front of the Nitto is a B&M Eyc light.
The bag on the front? Made that myself (hence the dodgy sewing). There is a padded compartment on the left for my camera, and a map pocket on the lid.
When I was a child, my family and I lived for a couple of years in a pine forest. Not because we were Beatrix Potter style charming woodland creatures, but because my mother was scared of the wind. You see, we had arrived from England in the mid 1970’s and my parents had chosen the Marlborough Sounds as the ideal place to live. We hadn’t been there long when it became clear that the wind which periodically howled through The Sounds was slowly driving my mother crazy. At first she resisted – when the wind started up at night, she would get my sister and I out of our beds in the upper storey of our A-frame house, tell us to put our mattresses up against the visibly buckling ranch slider windows and sleep downstairs.
But eventually she realised that this level of anxiety was untenable, and when our goat tragically hung itself, she decided that it was time to move house. My mother confronted my father and demanded that he find the town in New Zealand that was furthest from the sea, and therefore the wind. Fortunately he is a Master Mariner and consequently entirely qualified to find such a place. After consulting various maps, charts and taking sightings on his sextant, he determined that we should move to the teeming metropolis known as Minginui. Not only was it way the hell inland, in the middle of the Ureweras, but it was surrounded by a Radiata Pine shelter belt. Surely my mother would be safe from the wind there.
And so it was that we moved to Minginui, and lived there for a couple of years amongst the trees. This formative childhood experience left me with an unfashionable fondness for pine forests, as well as the conviction that as soon as it gets windy, everyone should be putting mattresses up against their windows.
I was thinking about Minginui on a rainy Tuesday morning in the Woodhill Forest Mountain Bike Park. It’s years since I’ve done any proper mountain biking. In my early twenties I owned a flourescent-orange Diamondback Ascent and my friends & I would frequently thrash our bikes and ourselves around the Riverhead & Woodhill forests. Before there was a park and before bicycles had suspension. I had gotten the urge to reacquaint myself with Woodhill but I didn’t want to drive up there. So the Off-Roadrat and I caught the train from Auckland city out to the Waitakere station and rode the remaining 25km. Most of the way it was pleasantly quiet backroads, but there was a stretch of about 5km on the main highway to traverse.
I rode around the park for a couple of hours, got lost a couple of times and then cycled back to the Waitakere station just in time to catch the 2:30pm train back in to town. Although it was a nice day out, I’m not in a big hurry to take up mountain biking again. But I am tempted to explore some more of the Woodhill forest area – I wonder if there’s an overnight trip to be had somewhere up there…
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?
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.
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.
I assembled the Off-Roadrat in the rain, put on my Buffalo jacket, and set off from Thames at about 1pm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m not an especially competitive cyclist, but I do like an interesting ride. So when I heard about this race called The Dual, taking place on Mototapu and Rangitoto Island, I was keen. Not because I wanted to race other people, but it just looked like a chance to ride around a beautiful place that you aren’t usually allowed to ride around. In the weeks before the race I turned The Roadrat into The Offroad Rat and tried riding further more frequently (I believe this is called training).
I thought I was feeling reasonably prepared, but in the last few days prior to the event, I had trouble sleeping and had nightmares that my ex-girlfriend was trying to smother me with a pillow. I don’t think it was the actual ride I was worried about, so much as the logistics – dropping my bike off at this place, picking up this stuff from from there, remembering to bring these things on the day, and very importantly – getting down to the ferry in time. But as it turned out, all that stuff all went quite smoothly, so by the time the ferry left downtown at 7am on the Saturday morning, all I had to do was follow everybody else.
After we all arrived at Home Bay on Mototapu Island, there was plenty of time to retrieve our bikes and watch the triatheletes swim up and down. At about 8:30 we were summoned to our pre-race briefing where we heard about the bird trust and were told to be careful. There was an interruption to this – a loud bang. When we all turned to look, we could see a very non-plussed looking man holding a bike with the tyre hanging off the front wheel along with some shreds of recently-expoloded inner tube. It was at this point that I noticed everyone else had brought their bikes to the briefing, while I had just wandered over by myself. Why? I thought. The answer was provided when the briefing concluded and we were informed that the race would start in 2 minutes. By the time I had fetched the Roadrat and packed my stuff, everybody else had gone. So I cut through between a couple of tents and started the race third to last.
The first part of the course was up and down gravel roads on Mototapu, where I learned that a) the Off-Roadrat is pretty happy on those roads, b) I’m faster than some people riding up hills, and c) I’m slower than almost everyone riding down hills. Then it was across to Rangitoto and what became quite a steep ascent. Coming down the other side was, frankly, terrifying. It was a loose gravel “road” surrounded by nasty-looking volcanic rocks. Crashing on your way down there would be very unpleasant. This is probably why an ambulance was placed there. Part way down, I came across a guy carrying his bike, so I asked him what was up. He told me he had just gotten his second flat tyre and didn’t have a second spare tube. I hesitated for a bit, then caved in to my own good nature and gave him my spare tube, after soliciting a promise from him to give the tube back to me, if he found me by the side of the trail with a flat tyre of my own.
Now up until this point I had, I must admit, found myself unexpectedly caught up in, well, racing. But after stopping for a few minutes, and then being alone back on the track, I remembered that I was just here for a nice ride. So I slowed down even more, started taking pictures and enjoying myself. Fortunately that descision coincided with a really beautiful section of the course that took us back across Rangitoto to Mototapu. From there it was more gravel roads back to Home Bay where we started, then back up & down some more hills, followed by a turn off to the extra loop for the 50k’ers that the 30km course didn’t take. This section started off fairly innocuously as a left turn on to some grass.
But it soon became clear that this section was a tour through Mototapu’s armpit. It’s a beautiful armpit I’ll grant you, but the surface alternated between cowpat-ridden long grass, and fields so dry and sunbaked, it was like riding over lumps of smashed concrete. The un-suspensioned Off-Roadrat was not so happy in these conditions. One real bright spot was an aid station we came to. I was coasting gracefully down the side of a hill (like a chimp on a skateboard coasts gracefully down a sheet of corrugated iron) when I spotted a secret military training base Well that’s what it looked like, except that the buildings all had solar panels on their roofs – a secret GreenPeace para-military training camp perhaps? That would also have explained why the aid-station there, was staffed by the nicest and most enthusiastic children I have ever met. One of them said to me “You can have water or some energy drink.” While I was deciding, she added “It’s not really energy drink, it’s just water with a bit of cordial in.” which was fine with me. Fortified with cordial, enthusiasm and a barley-sugar, I continued.
And then there was more grass and more cowshit and more fences, and then every few kilometers there would be a person directing us where to go. Finally we made it back on to the gravel roads – I was very relieved. They had told us at the briefing that the very last leg was all downhill, so everytime the road went down, I thought, is this it? Is this the last downhill?
But none of them were. Eventually I arrived at an intersection and was directed, along with a whole lot of runners, to a grass path heading up a hill. This turned out to be the least enjoyable part of the course. It was more rock-hard uneven ground, but now with a million runners and another million walkers. At times there was a relatively smooth path, but it was jammed with walkers, so I was constantly saying “excuse me” so they would step aside and I could stay on the path. This didn’t work on one guy who told me he couldn’t move sideways because he had snapped his achilles tendon.
Finally I made to the home stretch – the descent to the finish line in Home Bay. This turned out to be not much fun at all – steep hill, lumpy surface etc. Fortunately it didn’t last too long and I was able to totter across the finish line and collapse under a tree. I got up after a while and had a beer. Then I had a second beer – I believe this is acceptable post race hydrating.
For a first race, I thought it went well. I managed to finish, I wasn’t injured and apparently I didn’t come (quite) last. Would I do it again? Hmm, not sure. I’m leaning towards riding The Contact Epic around Lake Hawea next year though…