I have brilliant wifi here at my overnight digs at the ‘Old Nurses Home’ in Reefton so thought that I should take the opportunity to give an update on the first 350km of riding. I have not seen any old nurses drifting around the premises, in fact I have hardly seen anyone. Staying here has brought back memories of my 1970 stint in The Oriental Bay Public Service hostel in Wellington.
Today, ride from Maruia was a stark contrast to yesterdays soggy ride through the wilderness. The rain clouds had cleared and I again enjoyed the pleasant riding conditions that had graced the first three days of the ride.
All of the rides so far have involved riding up valleys, over passes and down a valley. For the last three days long stretches of dense beech forest have been added. Each valley has one or impressive rivers roaring to join the Buller and the saddles (mountain passes) started at a mere 350m on day one rising to over 600m on each of the last three roads. With the exception of today’s deserted SH 7 over the Rahu Saddle, the others have been negotiated on goat tracks – probably an appropriate term given the muttering of ‘silly old goat’ when I contemplated these rides.
On Sunday I saw two vehicles and 1 farmer in the first 28km, as I hit the narrow saddle track, the was little to suggest anyone had been near the track for a long time. Near the summit, I was busy checking my altitude (580m) when a lady ran past with a backpack on -‘nearly there’ she yelled as she headed off down the beech forest covered track.
The weather was brilliant for the first three days but yesterdays ride over the Maruia Saddle (goat track is a generous term) was undertaken in weather that really tested the water resistant qualities of my gear. Fail, was the term applied to most. My bag leaked, the dry bags got wet, my waterproof socks failed the test of stalling the bike mid river and my judging of layers got a big fail when, in a sodden state, the wind chill of the downhill had the teeth rattling.
I had my first incident of the tour, lost control of my bike while riding across one of the six river fords on the track. I misjudged the speed that I needed to get me over the stones in the riverbed and stalled as I exited. The bike fell over and I got wet feet. As with my incident in France years ago, I was recording on video at the time and captured the same expletives.
On Saturday I rode the Braeburn Track from Lake Rotoroa, in Nelson Lakes National Park. It was another track with stream crossings through very ruggered beech country. I could not get my navigation app to fire up as there was no wifi or cell reception and I was relying on my memory of the elevation profile. I recalled that it was a short climb and then a long downhill to Murchison. Problem was; I didn’t think too much about our starting altitude (420m) and while another 260m is not much, by the time I hit the summit it was freezing. What I have discovered is that while you are grinding away up these hills the body is kept warm by your efforts and the lack of wind chill. When you effortlessly race down the other side, the wind chill kicks in as the effort kicks out. I got it right for todays descent from Rahu Saddle, I had my warm gear for the 40km downhill.
Murchison was deserted, as was the camp I was staying in, even the owners were awol. Just a message on the door to phone them. They key was in the door of my cabin. On Sunday at Maruia, I rolled up to the deserted motel and there was again no sign of life. I finally found some one and again, the key was in the door, Today there was an envelope at the door with my name on it.
The first two days riding through the Tasman district were great. The ride up to Tapawera was all on trail – The Great Taste trail. I meandered beside fields of vegetable crops, vinyards and as I got further into the Valley, hop vines and eventually raspberry fields – plenty of tastes. At Wakefield I enjoyed a cafe break and remembered that I had packed my headlamp into my bag – it was needed for the 1.35km Spooner Tunnel later in the ride. I was pleased that I made the effort to unpack and repack because I would have been in trouble in the tunnel without a light. You lost the light from both the entrance and exit in the mid point – it was very disorienting and cold.
I was going to brave the camp at Tapawera but when I rode into it I suspected that I could wake up bikeless and tentless in the morning. There were some very dodgy looking dudes there. I rolled back down the road to the hotel and was relieved that they had a room.
I have had plenty of time to take in my surroundings as I potter along; what a beautiful country we live in. The only negative is that being from ‘the north’ I am treated a bit like the grim reaper, bringing covid with me.
While most of the ride has been along deserted trails and backcountry roads, todays largely traffic free state highway was unbelievable. I even got to my destination without being covered in dust or mud (or cow shit yesterday).
After Sunday’s ‘water boarding’ I have decided to adjust my schedule to avoid riding in persistent rain. So a bigger ride to Greymouth tomorrow then the West Coast Wilderness trail arriving in Hokitika before the front passes through.