A Big Days Riding
Riding 145km in a day would have seemed impossible just a month ago, but now I was about to do it for the second time. I figured it is merely a matter of staying on the bike. One pedal stroke after another. Repeated for around 10 hours and I would eventually reach my destination. Sheer determination and stubbornness will get me from Whanganui to Paraparaumu.
My body is fit, possibly the fittest it has ever been, and at the end of that 145km is a rest day, I’m staying with an old school friend in Paraparaumu. I have the route and the supplies and the motivation now I just need to make it happen.
After two days rest and eating an unholy amount of food it’s time to hit the road again. The air is salty and warm, the smell of the ocean wafts through the streets of Whanganui as I set off full of determination. The sun is shining and I am feeling confident
Out of Whanganui
It starts promising, I make it out onto the highway with only one wrong turn out of town (a personal best). I ride over the bridge and say a fond goodbye, for the last time, to the Whanganui River. Now all grown-up, wide and green and rushing into the ocean. I have watched the life span of this river, from energetic adolescence to lumbering adulthood and now I watch its final journey. It’s also a fond farewell to my hosts Anna, Summer and Sam who looked after me so kindly for the last few days in Whanganui.
I slowly chug up the first of many hills, my legs feel a stiff and heavy after a few sedentary days, I mentally scan my body from head to toe, making a mental checklist of any aches and pains. So far, all systems are OK. The bike is running smoothly after some care and attention. The gears are still playing up but less frequently or maybe I have just gotten used to their tempestuous ways.
Over the crest of that first hill my ten-hour projection is quickly and firmly tossed aside. The warm salty air that was delicately roaming the streets of Whanganui was merely eddies of the rushing head wind I was experiencing now. My pace dropped down to 12km/h and my mood plummeted with it. Riding into a headwind is the most demoralising experience available on a bike. An invisible force that crushes your spirit and leaves you a sweating, burned out mess. Passing cars fly by, oblivious to your unseen assailant. A hidden bully pushing you over again and again with relentless patience and persistence.
My chug become a crawl. I was riding just 55 minutes when I pulled off the road, retreating from the wind behind a roadside winery sign. I usually try not to stop for anything for the first hour, but this onslaught was destroying me. Instead I sat and ate and stared at a map. Trying to fathom a way to avoid the strong Southerly when I was heading predominately South. There wasn’t much choice in roads. The highway trails along next to the sea, following the contours of the coast all the way down to Wellington. At this rate there was no way I was going to make it in one day. My only hope was to get to Sanson and hope the slight change in angle put me at a cross wind rather than a head wind, the lesser of two evils.
Being out on the bike gives a very interactive journey. Travel between point A and point B is never as simple. It is a diverse equation of wind, gradient, heat and weather conditions. Sometimes the odds are stacked against you and sometimes the equation balances perfectly and you are blessed. I struggle my way to Sanson and make the turning. The wind dies as I change my angle of direction and suddenly, miraculously, the weight has lifted. The invisible bully has finally gotten bored and moved on. Now I’m riding smooth and easy, with the wind behind me and then sun beaming down, filled with best wishes for my trip. The 145km challenge is back on!
With my head wind troubles behind me (literally) I was flying along, holding a steady 20+ km/h. Barrelling through little towns and farming villages. I stopped every hour to eat and drink. Pure cycling mechanics, fuel in, energy out. I pull into a petrol station rest stop in Levin 110km in for another big meal and a rest. Then back on the road. More sweets, more nuts, more suncream, more water, the grey sun-bleached road rolling endlessly out in front of me. Time slowly ticking away and the kilometres dropping away with it.
4pm comes around and I suddenly have company. The quiet roads pick up in volume and simultaneously become narrower. I feel the squeeze as the traffic builds. Trucks leave as much room as they can but I am barged across the white lines by their turbulence. Then the vacuum follows behind that and I am sucked back into the traffic behind. Like the road is inhaling me close then coughing me back out again.
I experience my first and only act of road rage. It occurs after an hour of riding in the traffic. The roads are busy but people are still moving fast (around 80km/h.) The road is a single lane each side, narrow with gentle curves. Scattered however with a few very tight bridges. Each one squeezes the traffic through a bottleneck with no hard shoulder. I have already thrown on my High Vis jacket for maximum presence nut the bridges make me nervous.
On the next bridge I decide to take the initiative and employ something know as ‘defensive cycling’. I pull into the middle of my lane so no cars can get past (just for the bridge) and take the bridge as fast as I can. I don’t want to be squeezed up against the wall of the bridge with nowhere to go.
Crossing the bridge I pull to the side and wave thanks to the first few drivers going past. Those first drivers happily wave back nonplussed with their slight delay. I return my head to the road and continue riding. Then a dirty gold car comes right by, all rust spots and mud steaks, honking loudly and passing by far too close. I look up, startled, to see a very irate lady giving me the finger, clearly distressed by her 2-minute delay. I promptly return the gesture as she speeds off. This turned out to be the only act of anger towards me as a cyclist the whole trip.
I finally pulled into Paraparaumu at 7pm. 11 hours and 151km after setting off, rest breaks included. I quickly followed procedure and got lost in the suburbs. But after a few phone calls I finally rolled down her driveway. It had been two years since I had last seen Heather and she didn’t even flinch when she hugged my absolutely sodden back. My face and arms were grimy with layers of road dust, dried sweat and old suncream. Shower was top priority then tacos and nachos were swiftly demolished as we caught up.
Another few days off the bike and my trip felt again more like a holiday. We spent the time hiking in the Rimutaka Range, whilst my bike was being revived in the local bike shop, they had ordered the parts ahead of time and quickly set about making the repairs on the same day. As we hiked my legs felt strong and my cardio was great, I recovered quickly from the steep hills and my heart rate stayed steady the whole time. The bike ride was certainly making me fitter as I was going. Although for that first day off it was definitely a bit sore sitting down.
Paraparaumu to Wellington
Rested and with shiny new drive-train on the bike, I set off bright and early. Rushing to get to Wellington in time for the ferry over to the South Island. I was again anxious about missing another ferry and so left plenty of time to make my way through Wellington. The morning was beautiful and sunny. Kapiti Island was hung over my right shoulder, dream-like in the distance over the gentle ripples of the turquoise waters, on my left the Rimutaka Range jutted up catching the sun in its glorious vibrant green flanks. It was a wonderful place to ride and another tailwind was just the icing on the cake.
The ocean became my new friend after spending so much time inland and in the forests. Now, the gentle thumping of the waves was a heartbeat in the background. Like the rumble of the Whanganui or the gentle sloshing of the Waikato River. I would be seeing plenty of ocean for the next week or so before I had to dip back inland again for the Old Ghost Road.
Guided through Wellington
Navigating through towns is always difficult, even though there is plenty of cycle lanes in Wellington I didn’t want to get lost again. I rode over to a small group of female road cyclists, The HCR Women’s Contingent as it turned out. They certainly looked like they knew where they were going. Clad in full lycra and with gleaming clean road bikes. They offered to guide me through to the waterfront. I just had to try to keep up. They looked the part and they certainly lived up to it. I was gasping for breath and sweat pouring off my face as I tried to keep up with their steady 30km/h average! I hadn’t ridden this hard in a long time.
As I pulled into the bike shop/ café in Wellington the ladies were already sitting down with their coffees and snacks, I stumbled in exhausted but thrilled. It was a great new experience to ride in a road cycling group and a lovely example of kiwi hospitality, letting me tag along at the back of the pack. I had ridden 60km in 2.5 hours! Just shows what a few days rest and a new drivetrain can do, not to mention not wanting to look slow in front of the roadies.
The South Island
On the Interislander Ferry I watch the North Island slip away with mixed emotions. Relief and pride over a huge accomplishment, already over a third of the way through my expedition. But also nerves about the upcoming middle section. It was technically the most difficult and the most remote section. Therefore, the most dangerous I had some serious mountain biking coming up, with the Queen Charlotte Track, Old Ghost Road and having to cross Arthurs Pass all within the next two weeks, the real struggle was only just beginning.
However, looking out over the prow of the boat and seeing the small islands of Queen Charlotte Sound I felt a giddy sense of excitement. Adventure was just around the corner and I was keen to get involved.