The Easter ride to Cape Reinga whetted my apetite for completing the journey from the top to the bottom of the country.
Upon my return I started to planning for the completion of the other 3,000 or so kilometres – the intention being to start it in late October and hopefully complete it around mid December. I will largely follow the Tour Aotearoa route although, unlike that biennial event, I will not be attempting to complete it in 30 days or less and, there are a couple of sections where I will have to use alternative routes, such as around the Kaipara Harbour north of Auckland.
Of course these plans are at the whim of Covid-19 and the weather. As I write, the northern part of the South Island is being battered by another “1 in 500 year” storm (the same area suffered one while we toured there in 2017 and another in 2019, just before our last visit). I think that it is time to stop using this weather descriptive and just accept that this is the new normal. I digress, the storm has probably battered some of the more remote routes that I planned to follow but hopefully they will be rideable by the time I get there. As for Covid, I had hoped that the country would be largely vaccinated by the time I set off in late October but at the current rate, this is looking to be a dubious hope. Furthermore, we seem to think that Covid is licked here and have become worringly complacent. Look across the Tasman people – ask a Sydney-sider or Melbournian if it is “good to go bro”. So, a few hurdles to get over before I finally get to mount the Trek for the big ride.
I am taking a glass-half-full approach and have got on with the process of planning out my proposed daily rides, aquiring suitable riding apparell (for both dry and wet weather & dusty roads) and modified some of the gear that I have so that it will work for the longer ride. I will be riding the North Island unsupported so need to drag a bit more gear along to cover those remote areas where camping is the only option. I have concentrated on minimising the weight but accept that unless I ride naked and sleep under the stars, there is a certain amount of bulk that I simply cannot avoid. Ruth is joining me in the South Island and will carry that heavier gear in a vehicle (unfortunately a fossil fueled one) which means that I can be a little more adventurous and tackle some off-road sections that I would not have attempted fully laden. There are still a couple of sections in the South where I will load up the camp gear for a few nights.
Having a plan has allowed me to focus on my physical readiness. After a very mild and dry start to winter it has all turned to custard in the last few weeks with endless rain accompanied by colder temperatures (well cold for here in the north). However, despite the weather limitations I have managed to get plenty of time on the bike including plenty of hill climbing, many kilometres of gravel roads and in the process, getting comfortable with rural traffic (both motorised and four legged – the latter mainly angry dogs) and of course the inevitable idiot who takes pleasure in trying to run a cyclist off the road. Fortunately, there are not too many of the latter and they are the same brain cell deficient clowns that you inevitably encounter when driving. I have to say that I have been a little more vigilant since our recent outbreak of bike-lash but I am hopeful that will have faded by the time I head off. I am waiting for the barbe-lash when the need for emissions cuts signals the death of the gas barbeque. That will really get the mob steamed up and take the heat off cyclists daring to suggest that more bikes and less cars on the road might actually be a good thing for everyone, including those stationary motorists negotiating their daily commute. Anyway, I am digressing again. Roughly 70% of the ride will be on gravel roads or tracks so traffic will be minimal. Of the sealed roads, only a tiny percentage involves riding along busier state highways although there are a few days that will be spent on quieter state roads. The total ride, including a couple of side excursions, will be 3,240km with 31.200m of climbing. My winter training has so far taken me over 1,500km and 16,000m of climbing. As a result, the hills are not quite the mental obstacle that they were on that first stage up to the Cape. I have devised a simple difficulty rating (hills) which is metres-climbed divided by the kilometres-travelled. For the overall tour this ratio is around 10. My first day has a rating of 18, the second highest for the trip so that is still looming as the obstacle to conquer – the toughest is 25 – if that particular track is still passable after this weekends “1 in 500 year flood (and assuming we have no more this year!) but that is three weeks into the journey and quite a bit of that day will involve walking and pushing the bike – both up and down that hill.
Another skill that I have had to work on is dismantling and bagging the bike to carry on a plane flight. That has involved a little trial and a few errors but I think that I have that sorted, including getting all of my bags within airline weight and dimension limits. I have found a bike station at Wellington airport and hopefully I can get it into kitset form within an hour. I will alllow a bit longer. Getting it back together (so that it functions) proved to be a bigger challenge so I have taken pictures of the tricky bits to ensure that I don’t make the same mistakes when I get on the road.
I am meeting Ruth in Christchurch where we are picking up a camper van. Christchurch is a good central point for pick-up and drop off and allows me to include a ride up the Clutha River incorporating; the Gold Trail, Roxburgh Gorge Trail and the new Lake Dunstan trail and later complete the Omarama to Lake Tekapo sections of the Mountains to sea. Overall, I will incorporate sections of 12 of the great rides as well as a number of regional cycleways into my time on the road. Unfortunately, we have had to bend our flying rules and will burn couple of thousand km worth of fossil fuels. Offsetting the air miles and fuel might make me feel a little less guilty but it remains the detracting feature of the whole plan. The little EV does not really work for this trip – I suspect Ruth would not fancy sleeping in it in the middle of nowhere. Her test in my little 2-man tent left no room for misinterpreting her view of that experience.