As I may have mentioned before, I’m not really a summer person. Hot weather makes me whiny and listless. Occasionally I venture out on my bike, but such outings often end in humiliation thanks to my tendency to sweat a lot. Witness a recent ride out to The Trusts Stadium in Henderson on a sunny afternoon – upon my arrival an acquaintance asked if it was raining outside (because I was all wet). It wasn’t. But when autumn was rumored to have begun, it seemed like a good time to go for a long ride. Somewhere new perhaps – how about Papakura to Miranda & back?
I duly caught the train to Papakura early on a Saturday morning and rode off in the direction of the Hunua Ranges. It was a beautiful morning. The sun slowly rising in to a clear blue sky, mist nestling in the valley, magpies were quardle oodle ardle wardle doodling all around. All this peace was regularly shattered by trucks bellowing their way up to the Hunua Quarry. Once I got past the quarry the road was quieter, and it was a pleasant ride up to the top of the Hunuas and down though the Paparimu valley.
There was some confusion and riding in circles when I reached Lyons Rd, because the route I had planned on Ride with GPS told me to go straight ahead. But in the real world there’s no actual road there. It wasn’t a huge deal, but although I’ve heard of theses GPS-type issues, I’d never come across one before.
The old highway from Mangatawhiri had more traffic on, but it also had a wider shoulder. From Rawiri to Miranda the road was fairly quiet, although at least half the cars I saw were on some kind of rally. I think it was a rally for cars from the 70s & 80s that had been fitted loud exhausts and lots of stickers. I finally made it to the coast and the Shore Bird Centre about 11:30am. I spent a few minutes wandering around looking at stuffed birds (those Caspian Terns are big aren’t they?) before embarking on the return journey.
By this stage I had realised that all this had been a huge mistake. This wasn’t autumn, it was still summer and I was like a snowball in hell. Or like a person who was too hot and far from home in the midday sun. Also I was quite tired. So I pulled in to the Miranda Farm Stop for a rest and some things to eat & drink. It seemed like a good strategy would be to take the return journey in stages – ride for a bit, sit down in the shade drinking for a bit. Repeat. I discovered that schools are handy places when you’re out on the road. They have shade, shelter and drinking fountains.
In this way I rode back to Mangatawhiri and up the Paparimu valley, all the way to the top of the Hunuas. I stopped there to drink ginger beer and talk to the woman who runs the shop, who told me that she also breeds goats. I also chatted to a woman from Kaiaua outside the shop. She corrected me when I said I had cycled out to the Miranda Shore Bird Centre – “It’s now called The Pokorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre” she said. And so it is. She also the listed the attractions that Kaiaua has to offer the passing cyclist. A campground, dairy, garage, and a fish & chip shop. I remembered visiting that fish & chip shop about 25 years ago. The food was good, but parked outside was a ute loaded with a couple of dead and bloody wild pigs.
Coasting down the Papakura side of the Hunuas in the late afternoon was a pleasant relief from all the uphill, and I had a little rest at the railway station before catching the 6pm train home. On the whole, I thought the roads were ok – not too much traffic and with some nice scenery. The only unpleasant incident on the ride was when a white cabbage butterfly smacked me right in the face on the ride back. Fortunately I was wearing a proctective beard which saved me from serious injury. Imagine if it had been monarch (butterfly)!
Recently, my fellow cyclist Emilio and I went for a Thursday evening ride along the Twin Streams Shared Path. I can’t really handle hot weather so I suggested that we go after the 5:30-7pm Tumeke shift, hoping it would be cooler then. When we met at the workshop, there was an ominously dark cloud bank looming out west, and light showers were wandering through Newton. It was still pretty warm though, and much too humid.
First, we rode along the Western Cycleway out to the Te Atatu interchange, then along Royal View Road to the Eastern end of the Twin Streams Trail. The WS is looking pretty good these days apart from the detour around Western Springs that’s been there so long it’s a Strava segment (called ‘Leightons Annoyance’, for some reason).
We were chatting the whole way, the kind of things men usually talk about when they get together – the Argentinian economy, awful bosses, how yoga classes in Auckland are way too expensive, Emilio’s father-in-law and his infuriating search for a flowering Pohutakawa tree, how I learned to really like birds, and my friend’s dodgy Peruvian ex-boyfriend. For this reason we were riding pretty slowly and by the time we got to Henderson it was dark, and we missed a turn off. We ended up off the Twin Streams and halfway up Henderson Valley Road. So we gave up and rode back (getting lost several times on the way).
I rode back out there the next evening by myself, and made it all the way to the end of the trail at Palm Heights while it was still light, and took some pictures. I thought it was a very nice ride – pleasant scenery, very flat, not too busy (at least in the evening). Would definitely ride again, perhaps with more people and a picnic.
Do you wish your bikes could talk? I don’t. I’m pretty sure that if they could, mine would just complain. About the parts I’ve taken off them, the bits I’ve put on that they weren’t designed for and the fact that I hardly ever wash them. Take M. Peugeot for instance… I bought him a few years ago from a woman in Hamilton who I suspect had never ridden him, but perhaps found him in a shed. I think I paid about $150 after being the only bidder on TradeMe. He looked like this.
Despite his sad state, he had clearly been owned by an enthusiast at some point. The Brooks saddle did not accompany him out of the Peugeot factory in the mid seventies and nor, I suspect, did the nice SunTour VX front & rear deraileurs or the Sugino Super Maxy crankset. When I first fixed him up, I just put on some new tyres, cables, moustache handlebars and brake levers. Compared to my other bikes he was fast, smooth and long-legged. A bit of a tourer. We rode around the city, and he was my assistant for my first Velociteer performance. Then I came across some genuine Peugeot mudguards, put those on, attached a dynamo to power the beautiful front light, and changed the shifters to bar-ends.
These modifications made him more practical, but he was a bit awkaward to ride – mostly thanks to that crankset with it’s stupid huge 53T outer ring. After converting the Roadrat in to a semi-offroad touring thing, I needed a bicycle that was better suited to riding to work. So I bought a bunch of parts and made M. Peugeot in to an ancient-looking but with some actually-very-modern components, commuting/general purpose bike.
He was fitted with a dynamo front hub, powering front & rear LED lights, a nice 48/34 PlanetX crankset, Tektro Dual Pivot caliper brakes and Grand Bois handlebars. In this guise we took a trip down to Raglan, as well as hundreds of trips to & from work.
The latest change was from carrying stuff on the back to, to carrying stuff on the front. I bought a Soma Porteur rack, changed the handlebars to a pair of Salsa Cowbells, and put a Chrome Front Rack Duffel on.
This weird combination of an old frame, with a bunch of mismatched new parts, has worked really well for the last year or so. The mudguards mean that wet roads don’t bother me, I prefer the front loading, the dynamo lighting system is lovely, and the whole deal has been very reliable. There’s just one little problem. The frame is too big. Bicycle sizing has never been my strong point, but when I first got the Spacehorse, it felt too small. After lots of riding I have come to realise that it’s the right size and the Peugeot is too big. Every time I ride him now, I feel like I’m climbing up on to this huge machine. So there’s a change a-coming…
The scene: 3:30pm on a warm Thursday afternoon, I’m cycling down Carlton Gore Rd towards Newmarket. I’m approaching the intersection with Davis Crescent and I intend to turn right. I look behind, there’s a car but it’s some distance away, so I indicate by putting my right arm out to the side and start to move to the right. The car fails to slow down and breezes past me, very close. I look up, and through the back window I can see that the driver is looking down and to the left. When the motorist stops at the intersection I ride up next to him and look in the window, he’s doing something with his cellphone. I knock on the window, he rolls it down.
Me:You might want to look at the road instead of at your phone.
The Motorist:What’s it to you?
Me:You nearly ran me over back there.
The Motorist:Well… were you indicating?
Me (while riding away):Yes, which you would have seen if you WEREN’T LOOKING AT YOUR PHONE.
The scene: an unspectacular Tuesday morning, I’m cycling to work heading west along K’Rd. I’m approaching the intersection with Ponsonby Rd, so I enter the right turn bay intending to turn right. A car coming in the opposite direction crosses the centreline and heads directly towards me. I stop and motion to the right, waving my hand to indicate to the driver that he should get back on his side of the road. The car stops, the driver waves at me to get out of the way.
Me (looking non-plussed):You’re on the wrong side of the road, the centre line’s over there.
The motorist (motions me again to move out of the way): …
Me (still non-plussed): FUCK YOU, YOU’RE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD.
The motorist (winds down his window so I ride up next to the car): Fuckwit.
Come with me now, on a journey through time and space. Or more specifically, a super-fantastic ride through a beautiful part of Auckland. For the full experience, make your way (preferably by bike) to Hugo Johnston Drive in Penrose. Being a predominantly industrial area, the traffic is pretty gruesome during the week, but it’s fairly quiet evenings and weekends. If you want to travel there in a stylish new electric vehicle – the nearest railway station is Penrose. You could also ride there via Cornwall Park (as I usually do).
At the end of Hugo Johnston Drive is factory. It was built to manufacture teen vampire fiction. But since the demand has now moved to dystopian future romance novels, or anything written, read or even sounding like John Green, this factory is about to be mothballed. To the right of it is the entrance to the cycleway. Don’t worry if you see lost or furtive looking individuals wandering around, they’re probably just buying & selling drugs, or dogging. Or doing something else that is perfectly innocent. Pretend you haven’t seen them and follow the path. Welcome to the Waikaraka Cycleway – let it be your guide to the wonders of the Mangere waterfront. Sights like…
One of the Ports of Auckland’s other container storage facilities.
The building where the Auckland City Council stores crashed UFOs and performs alien autopsies.
The lovely Manukau Harbour.
Did you ever wonder what happened to all the beautiful historic buildings that were knocked down during the 1980s Ugly Glass Tower Building Boom? Well here they are being carefully stored for future archaeologists to sift through and wonder what the fuck people were thinking.
I think this used to be His Majesty’s Theatre.
The Lovely New Mangere Bridge.
After you ride under the New Mangere Bridge, hang a left and ride over the Old Mangere Bridge. This is a very popular fishing spot, and apparently seals are seen here occasionally (when they are released from their contractual obligations to promote Papakura car washes). Over the bridge, turn right on to Kiwi Esplanade. This is a pleasant road that follows the waterfront, and will take you all the way Ambury Park. If you ride along there on a Saturday or Sunday morning you may be lucky enough to see flocks of brightly coloured roadies. At the end of the road, go through the gate and follow the gravel.
In Ambury park you will find pukekos, sheep, Clydesdale horses, chickens, rabbits (both wild and domesticated) and small children (both wild and domesticated). After pausing here to admire the forbearance of the animals, you can go through the two gates, turn left and ride south to explore the coastal wonderland (that will start to smell like poo after a kilometre or so).
You can ride around the Mangere Basin, and all the way out to Puketutu Island. In fact I encourage you to ride out to Puketutu Island – it is beautiful and quiet. There are tracks that run halfway around each side of the island, both sides are worth exploring.
There is also a track that goes around to Oruarangi Rd and the carpark next to the wharf. Be aware that these tracks are shared with people walking, so be nice to any you come across. Once I was trapped giving way to a large group or tired & sweaty teenagers who kept asking me if “the bus” was nearby. I told them it was just around the corner. And it may well have been.
I usually ride to the Oruarangi Rd wharf and then along a track leading through the Otuataua Stonefields. From there I cut across a field (where there are sometimes actual cows) to meet up with the end of Ihumatao Quarry Road, and then back to Mangere on sealed roads.
I’m honestly a little reluctant to share this ride, I’m afraid that if too many people use it then I won’t be able to enjoy my selfish solitude. But recently I’ve seen a (ludicrous) proposal to stick a motorway through the Mangere waterfront, and there’s a plan to put 500 townhouses at Ihumatao. So maybe we should all just go and enjoy the place now, before it’s all ruined.
Route here that will take you on a loop starting & finishing in Newmarket.
I had some fascinating yet secret business to conduct on Waiheke Island the other day and I thought it would be nice to go for a ride down to Stoney Batter while I was over there. I used to live on Waiheke years ago, and I had walked the road to Stoney Batter once. I remembered it being a long walk on a hot day. Back in those days, if you wanted to go there you pretty much had to walk it, because the local land owner had dumped a huge mound of earth in the middle of the road to stop people driving down it. The mound remained there for a few years making lots of other Waiheke residents quite angry, until a pitchfork-wielding mob bulldozed it away. Or the local council did, I can’t remember which.
The ferry trip over was nice, and so was the ride down to Onetangi. The hill up behind Onetangi seemed like hard work, so I stopped at the top to have a drink and eat the extraordinarily expensive vegetable pie I had purchased from a cafe in Oneroa. The view was lovely from up there and it reminded me of time spent lying in the grass and talking to friends up here, back when I lived nearby.
My new bike is an All-City Space Horse frame, built up with various components, some of which I transferred from the Off-Roadrat, and some purchased specially. Why a new bike? Because I want to do more touring, and although the Off-Roadrat had done a fine job carrying me to some out of the way places, it wasn’t quite right. Mostly, it was the wrong size. A little too long in the top tube, which made the handlebars too far away, even with a really short stem. It was also not really stiff enough to carry much of a load. The steel which was pleasantly springy unladen, became a bit wobbly with a few bags on (especially the front). I was sold on the Space Horse when I saw this one. It could take fat tyres and a front load – awesome. I found a frame at Human Powered Cycles in Melbourne, bought it over the phone, and my friend Steve happened to be visiting NZ and was kind enough to bring it over with him. After finishing building it up, I’d done a few rides around town, but this was my first real outing and I wanted to see if I had everything set up properly.
From the top of the hill, the route wound mostly down before turning left on to Man O’War Bay Road. The first few kilometers of this gravel road were untiringly flat, but then the hills started, and then continued all the rest of the way. Friends of mine had warned me about the chronic washboarding on the road – they were right, it’s pretty bad at times. I had to stop about halfway there, to adjust the front derailleur so that it would shift the chain to the inner ring. Somehow I had failed to check that when I put it on.
After finally making it to Stoney Batter, I wandered around for a bit, looked at the small concrete building surrounded by broken plastic chairs, mops and other detritus that was labelled something like “Visitors Centre” and was menaced by a sheep.
Riding back down that gravel road was much easier (which confused me at the time, but made sense when I looked at the elevation profile later). Although I did have to stop once to fix up my handlebars which had slipped round to face downward after one severe section of downhill washboarding.
Now, I don’t think I cut an exceptionally athletic figure when I’m out riding – not so much greyhound, more old spaniel. But at one stage during my return journey, when I was slogging up a long hill toward Onetangi, a guy leaned out the window of a passing car and yelled at me – “You can do it! You’re nearly there! Good on you maaate!”. What? I thought. Of course I can make it – I do this all the time – dammit. On my way back through the habited part of The Island, I stopped at the Waiheke skateboard park and had a quintessential Waiheke encounter – a couple of the local youth were trying to light a joint on the gas-powered public barbeque. They weren’t successful and asked if I happened to have a lighter on me.
The Bike performed well, and I just need to tweak a few things like the front brake & the saddle to make it ready for a new trip I have in mind.
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.