South Island

IMG_0669IMG_3610IMG_3616IMG_0683March 3

Much has been happening since I last posted on this blog.

We were up early on a cool morning in Wellington after a wonderful group dinner party at Vince’s home the night before. Spiny Lobsters and venison were the highlight of a wonderful dinner. Vince and Lindsay both dive for these lobsters which they refer to as prawns and Vince’s son Michael had shot the Red Deer. Delicious! What a great dinner. We started the party at 4pm since we were getting up early to catch the ferry to Picton on the South Island. A three and a half hour ferry ride would await us from the Wellington terminal.

Bags were all down into the bike trailer by 6 am – Lindsay then gave us instructions for both the bike ride to the terminal and the process of getting our bikes aboard. As soon as we had enough light we were off. Wellington has a lot of big winds and the Cook Strait, which we are crossing, is known for the accompanying big seas so we were prepared for a rough crossing. The winds had switched to the south the day before, dropping the temperature, but keeping the swells small, though an area where the seas meet was sure to be very windy. We weren’t disappointed. A few of us spent most of the ride on the upper deck to try to get some good photos. However, as we got close to the South Islands we could see the swirling waters approaching and suddenly a huge wind hit us. I stayed on the deck as long as I could stand it but finally retreated inside to stay warm. Few photos of the rugged shoreline would be taken this day. The big ferry handled this turbulence with ease, however, and we off-loaded in Picton and headed off on our bikes for the short (28K) ride to our night’s home in Blenheim.

Blenheim, and the whole surrounding Marlborough area, is noted as the best of several different wine regions in New Zealand. Our ride through this area to St. Arnaud led us past vineyard after vineyard. The surrounding mountains provided a scenic backdrop. Scott, Lee, Q, Bridget and myself rode together to lunch and Terry joined us for the rest of the way. St. Arnaud is a small village in among big mountains. We arrived too early to get into our rooms so I wandered down a pathway behind the hotel to a stunning mountain lake – Lake Rotoiti. It was gorgeous. This region has ski hills, mountain bike trails and great trout fishing. There is still snow on some of the mountains here. The sun had come out and we all enjoyed basking in it after our cool morning ride. Life was pretty good.

Lindsay had written on our next day’s route info – BIG TOUGH DAY. It was a gravel road trip with lots of climbing (1700m) and wild country. When Lee saw the profile of the ride on Terry’s Garmin she just said, “Oh My God!” She promptly took a photo of it and posted it on Facebook. The climb on the Garmin looked so steep that we would have to drag our bikes and clambor hand over hand then slide down the other side. Of course, having experienced these compressed Garmin profiles before we knew better. But it was to be a very steep pedal on our bikes. Q, Bridget and myself took off ahead on the rough dirt track off of the paved approach country lane. We had a lot of little stream crossings during this day and on one of the early ones Q hit a boulder and went down. It was a cool morning and getting wet wasn’t in one’s best interests. It was the last we saw Q until we reached Hanmer Springs. He took off fast to stay warm. The rising sun did its job so he didn’t stay cold long. Bridget and I really enjoyed this remote ride up the valley and into the mountains. There were a number of gates to stop, open and pass through along the way as well as a stop at the only little abode we would see all day to pay a woman collecting money to pass through her section. It was only $2 for cyclists but 4-wheel drive vehicles had to fork over $25. We did see a handful of fisherman plying the streams with their flies but really nobody else along this very rugged stretch. We stopped for a few photos but a major high power line weaving its way along the same course left us with few unadulterated shots. We had been walking through the streams pushing or carrying our bikes but when we came to what appeared to be an easy shallow crossing I stayed on the bike (foolishly). Just about to pedal out on the far side I hit a hole and a boulder and over I went. Landing on my side in the water I instantly remembered my camera in a small pouch on the frame of my bike so I pushed the bike upwards away from the drink then scrambled up myself. Dragging both myself and the bike up the bank, I opened the pouch and to my great relief, found the precious camera dry and happy. Pulling my phone out of my back biking jersey pocket, I was amazed to find that dry too.
Pretty damn lucky. The sun dried all but my shoes out in no time. No more pedaling through these little streams.

It was a big long push up up to the top of the pass. Our feeling was that the work was now over so we plopped down in the soft mounded grass to eat our sandwiches and enjoy the views. Oh, how wrong we were. The 45 remaining K’s were on a miserable washboard of a track with big rocks and loose gravel that shook every bone in our bodies. It was a tribute to the makers of these bicycles that they can withstand such abuse. We would weave our way along the roadway always looking for a line that would give us some relief from this corrugation. But there was no real escape. What a relief to find ourselves finally in the beautiful mountain town of Hanmer Springs. We sat in our chairs with first a beer and then a soothing thick shake as we waited for the others to arrive. The wine club finally had enough members to convene and the stories flowed. Everyone was sore and tired but jubilant to be here in such a refreshing comfortable setting. The best things in life are those that are well earned.

Peter and Greg finally arrived after over 12 hours of riding. Peter had had 4 flats and a fall on the gravel road but yet was so chipper and happy to have gotten through this day. He was rightfully proud as he headed into the shower. Bridget, Q and I had had a great dinner earlier and now Peter was now off for the same.

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