No cold feet

Remarkable. Two back to back sun filled days. This was mid-year, months since I pack-muled the Surly and I wanted a challenge, plus I really needed to winter test my kit. So fully loaded and anxious I headed south.

From Highridge through the Hunua, eastward to Miranda, then onto the flat lands of the Hauraki. Destination Thames. Ninety six clicks later I arrived at camp north of town. It was time to set up and hunker down for the evening. A good days ride on good ground.

Steaming nostrils

As the sun slipped away back towards the west, the draft from the rearward ranges flowed down in an endless bitter current. It was going to be a cold night.

It was! It ended up being the coldest night of the year. Cold cold!

FullSizeRender 2I lay in whatever I carried; sleeping bag, layers of merino, leggings and with cold feet, it also meant shoes. Leaving only a set of nostrils exposed to the elements, snorting steam into the tent like an old leaking fell engine. It was little use, the ground cold meant for an endless rotisserie to retain what little warmth I had. It was an endless broken sleep.

Winter test over, I’d learned my lesson and now know what kit I’d need next. I packed early, hit the road and headed towards town to find somewhere warm for my toes (let alone my belly).

Waihi return

‘The Dean’ (of Clevedon Wheelmen fame) arrived for second breakfast a little later.  We latte’d and got on the road. The plan for the day was trail riding Thames to Waihi return.

Stage one to Paeroa was a gravel double track through dairy country direct to Te Aroha Maunga. Rest, photo op’, loo then onward up the rail trail through the Karangahake Gorge to Waihi.

We completed our customary pie stop at 2pm just in time for a freshly invigorated shady wind to follow us back to where we began. A few aches aside, we made good time on the downhill trail.

Then onward to Paeroa and the double track, a setting sun in front of us, elongated shadows at rear. All the while bemused heifers nodded at us, humming their line to another old Glen Campbell favourite: ‘that keeps you ever gentle on my mind’.

I was relieved and thankful to have reached that last bridge and completed those two days. A shade over 200 clicks, a few sore muscles and a few frozen memories.

Good ground and a good day for the Wheelmen.

Today’s top track: Glen Campbell – Gentle on my mind

Mud

And the league of Clevedon Wheelmen

Was it mud or was that a cow pat? It was neither, it was ‘the Dean’.

We were out west, Puhinui reserve to be exact, tracking down trails and backroads. Not training so much as escaping the consistent rain that was sheeting in from the east. The trek was a mix of gravel and grim. At my 5 o’clock he crashed through the knee high reed and pug like an 18 year old, taking the point at pace and showering me in a brown-green streak of something indescribable.

Onward, he whipped up the bridge between paddocks, lost his footing and ended up on his back in a shambles of man bits and machinery.

The Dean was done for the day. I smirked and sympathised. We moved on, feeling our age.

IMG_0491

Introducing the wheelmen

LOCWDean Ogilvie is the chief perpetrator of the League of Clevedon Wheelmen, a small collection of eccentric old fellas with big cycle touring dreams. This is the precursor blog of the pain to come. Yes there is another tour in the planning and ‘the Dean’ being the dean of the League of Wheelmen will be in attendance (acting his age).

Mama will be pleased.

 

Is that all there is?

With no end in sight, where do I go from here?

img_0167Friday 8:01pm… last orders from a departing sun bursting through my door high on the edge of the Hunua.  It has been quite some time since I wrote the last blog and now that I’ve finished is anyone interested?

In that time I’ve taken the road from Bluff to Rawene, let alone  back to revisit my old life in Ciudad de México. Right now I’m sitting high on the edge of the world, Manukau a reflection of days end in the east as I contemplate an answer to the last question I posed eight weeks ago…

‘Is that all there is?’

People often ask me ‘where am I from?’ and that’s an easy answer, but when they ask ‘where do I live?’ things get abstract… I’m a lost pilgrim, continuously moving with purpose, but without destination. Well not as yet anyway.

‘Is that all there is?’

Years ago I had one of those moments where I asked myself this question. For me the bike trip was part of the answer. So I did it because it was right there in front of me. I did it because it was there to be done and all I had to do was choose to go.

Choosing to go was the hardest part, the going was easy. The memory of it… irreplaceable.

So if you want my advice choose to go. Choose the road.

‘Is that all there is?’

No. There is always a road. For me right now its south and I’m unsatisfied, as I’ve left a whole other island unridden. I feel like a climber reaching a ridge, but never traversing to the summit. Turned back by unseasonable weather, but eager still to return when the conditions improve.

So for me it’s a hikoi south in a season of my choosing and this time I don’t think I’m going alone.

Now… are you interested?

Greytown to the end of the line

Day twenty two

Damp

It was a damp start to the day and nothing of my kit is really dry, but it doesn’t matter as this is the last day. I packed, stuffing everything back into dry bags and panniers and then strolled out of the trees to find some early sun. This is by far the coolest start I’ve had on the road in three weeks, with dew on the ground and a stillness in the air. All is quiet in Greytown. I skipped breakfast, I was out of coffee and wanted to hit the road.

The state highway south to Featherston was light of traffic and breeze. In one of only a few days on this entire trip it was calm and flat, with the sun streaming like staccato through the tree lined road. Rimutaka growing ominous in advance of me.

I’d already chosen the incline route and considering what I’d done to date this should be an easy climb, but trepidation was getting the better of me. After coffee I swung south from Featherston to find the beginning of the incline.

The last climb

The climb up from the Wairarapa proved to be suitable grade as my worn tyres slipped and crawled their way over the rough ground, I just keep going and going, crossing the debris field thrown down by the storm clouds further up the ravine, transiting the tunnel and there is was… the summit. All my trepidation abated. I’d made the top and everything from here was basically downhill.

The southern route was a slow river flowing down the mountains.  It almost felt like it had stretched itself out smooth and long to bathe in the morning sun. Best I get on in case its mood changes. I have to say that the incline has been one of the most stunning tracks I’ve taken so far… and familiar as it dropped down into the high valley of Kaitoke.

I’d reached the top of the Hutt by noon… it was now a river trail south to Wellington. It’s a gloriously still and sunny day. Perfect ground.

I pulled up on the Petone foreshore to get a glimpse of the finish line way across the bay (Wellington), just as Jack White began to wail Wayfaring stranger.

‘I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger. Traveling through this world below. There is no sickness, no toil, nor danger. In that bright land to which I go’

Timing is everything.

The end of the line

I pushed onto Wellington at pace, with renewed energy, I felt I could go on and on. The end of the line was Queens wharf and I was there before I knew it.

1,668 kilometres later, to the hour of starting way up at Cape Reinga three weeks earlier, I was there. Alone. All I could think of to say was… “is that all there is?”

Todays top track: Little feat – Willin’ 

Tiraumea to Greytown

Day twenty one

Right… time for an early start. If today is going to be like the last two then I need to get away early.

The day was grey and cooler than previous days, “looks like rain” I said to no sheep in particular. I packed, ate, left a donation and got moving.

I took a look up that climb that defeated me yesterday, the devil looking down, chalking up his cue. I had to pay a bribe, a toll, something that showed I was righteous enough to make passage and I had it.

Fumbling I put on a playlist from the only band to have sold their souls to the devil… it was time for some Led Zeppelin.

So with ‘Mothership’ blasting in my headphones I made peace with the devil and he was pleased. Beyond that initial climb the land fell away into ever broadening valleys and shallowing peaks. I made it to Alfedton in a little over an hour, then continued south for Masterton. The devils billard table behind me.

It began to rain about an hour out, but that didn’t stop me. I was drinking strong hot coffee by 11am.

The rain picked up as I hit the road again and I was soaked by the time  Greytown appeared through the milky haze.

I may have been wet, but that was the best 100km I had ridden in days. Thank you Jimmy Page.

The last night 

This should be my last night on the road and it was going to be a wet one. It didn’t matter, I was more fixated on tomorrow and the Rimutaka.

I kept thinking about the last good climb to come as I prepared my last dehydrated meal. “I should be good for this” I said aloud, but I was filled with trepidation. I’ve not ridden this way before, “I sure hope I make it”.

As I drifted off I was reminiscing how far I’d come. Maybe 1,600 km in the big wiggle. It had been a cathartic journey with reality on the other side of those mountains. Maybe I should keep going… Maybe the road is my reality… I drifted off…

Today’s top track: Led Zeppelin – Ramble on  

Herbertville to Tiraumea (where?)

Day twenty

Gale left me

I finally got to sleep. I’d teathered the prow of my tent into the wind and beaten off the best gale could give. I awoke late to carnage.

I stumbled out of my tent to see a sea of ripped awnings, tents and debris. Gale had taken it out on everyone else. I had escaped her calling in the night.

It was late, I was tired with a pain in my left knee. This wasn’t a good start to my day.

I decamped at pace and made my way out of the wide valley. A gentle steady pace. Passing open green fields and cows chewing on their early cud. Their necks pivoting in unison as I rode past. I could almost hear them humming out another Glen Campbell classic…“That keeps you in the back roads. By the rivers of my memory. That keeps you ever gentle on my mind” …I smiled back.

The road goes ever upward

img_4133I reached Wimbledon easily and then things went into a purgatory of stiff peaks and valleys, this was the east coast. I kept a low profile (only way to ride), trying to stay hidden but before long they saw me… Gales three sisters. One from the west, one the south and the other at times from the east. They were obviously here to defend gales virtue and they were going to abuse me all day.

I pushed on, into the world, like hells billiard table, never smooth and always tormented and frequented by gales three sisters.

I was sore, hot and hungry. I saw the sign, like forgiveness on the back of a prayer. It read ‘pub lunches at Pongaroa hotel’, that’s when the hallucinations started.

Was it going to be a pie, fish and chips, a burger and fries, a pub lunch. The prayer became a curse for more than an hour. Then I arrived.

Pongaroa isn’t much, it maybe was once, but now it’s another small slow drive by in the middle of the east. It did have what I needed though, a pub and a menu.
Gales sisters waited outside for me. I decided to take my time, Alfredton was my ambitious destination, but already this day felt like a day to concede.

A night in the field. 

I continued on south by south west. An immediate climb has become oh so frequent. That climb eventually leaded to a pass just north of Tiraumea and when I reached it I could see distance south all the way to the Tararua’s and the Rimutaka. All the way the devil was playing the black.

I descended, I was spent and as I turned past the abandoned Tiraumea school house the road rose again. I straddled my bike and gazed upward.

One more climb and what lies beyond? Was it the promised flat lands of the Wairarapa or was the devil setting up for another break?

I wouldn’t know, his table and  enterouge of gales sisters had beaten my today. I swore at that hill.

Withdrawing to the safety of that old field behind the school house, I shared camp with a herd of scraggly sheep.

That golden light

Tired, floating deep in the yellow grass in the heat of a yellow summer I thought back to ‘On the road’ and Jack Kerouac. I love that book.

I remembered leaving my well thumbed copy in a crappy old cabaña back in Talum years ago. It’s one dog eared page marked with an inscription I left with an old weathered pencil. It reads ‘a passage for a wayward traveler’ marked next to highlighted text…

‘…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…’

“what it is to be so mad to live”… I said aloud to no one in particular.

Today’s top track: Sufjan Stevens – Death with dignity 

Mangakuri to Herbertville 

Day nineteen

img_4127-2Still

It was still when I awoke and began the routine. Coffee and a double dose of daring do. It was hard to leave the hospitality of the wonderful Williams whanau, but after hugs and backslaps I slipped down the path and hit the gravel for the road south.

Everything to Porangahau

After listening to well regarded advice I slipped the gilded gravel back roads for the beach then back to gravel on the way to the southern tip of Porangahau, where I met gale.

Let me tell you about gale.

Gale loves the lowlands and the heights, she doesn’t abide by the rules.  When they say she will be north by north west she will be south by south east, no matter which way you turn she is there, in your face, in your grasp. Doing everything possible to delay you, attempting to wear you down with her relentless attention.

I push on, clawing my way through her misguided affection and with every pull of the crank her determination and resolve gets all the more aggressive. Like a lover scorned her anger is not abating, until there is a stand up fight. Me upright on my peddles facing her directly screaming  “enough, for gods sakes leave me alone, it’s over”, but she simple won’t take no for an answer.

This argument continued all the way to the Porangahau general store and ice cream shop. Then beyond. All the way to Wimbledon where I finally managed to turn my back on her. She did her best to grab me and throw me from the bike in disgust. Her howls now at my back.

I made Herbertville at four.

Gale stayed until early morning. Throwing all manner of abuse at me and everyone else at the campground. Many surrendered their tents and self respect. Not me. I didn’t give into the bitch, even when she got to 140 knots.

It was a lousy sleep.

Today’s top track. The Doors – L.A. woman