The day started like all previous with a double dose of daring do, but this was going to be different. This time I had to cross from central to Hawkes Bay.
I’d been considering this leap since the very beginning, ‘what is the best way to get there?’ and as I’d described in an earlier post I had determined three routes with this as my preference. Taihape to Napier via the Gentle Annie, with many a warning of the route ahead. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
It was a clear blue day, with the sun already in bloom by 7:30 as I stocked up on more water and snacks. My plan was pretty simple, get from Waiouru to Kuripapango in a day, a ride of about 85 km through the Rangatiki and over the Gentle Annie pass.
I was on my way, gliding down towards Taihape, then turning off state highway one to the Te Moehau junction, over the first rise to see the land laid out in front of me. I felt like a grey ships captain peering out of the wheelhouse at an endless swell, with a far off ridge barely visible through the sea haze, but these weren’t rollers, they were hills. This was the Rangatiki.
The road beyond this point swiftly dropped down to Moawhango and with it that sinking feeling of again going beyond the point of no return, but this time there weren’t choices. It was this road to Christmas and mamas home cooking. I’m now as unfavorable to roads going down as those going up, as one inevitably tends to proceed the other.
The work began at Moawhango… climbing, climbing, climbing for at least a few hours to the top of black hill, before a rapid descent to the old swing bridge crossing the Rangatikei river at the Otupae outstation. The most disconcerting moment was the view on the way down, as across the valley in plain sight was the grey road going back up. It was 11:30, already hot and that road steeper and higher than the previous.
I crawled, growing wearysome in the heat back to the top and the tablelands, rolling like a shawl draped over a widows shoulders, it must be Annie.
The place was fairly deserted, little to no traffic apart from the odd passing farmer going about his trade. It was still, the kind of summer day where the silent heat sounds like crackle and smells of melting tar freshly licked.
By 2:00pm I was creeping slowly through the Sparrowhawk and Tahuhunui ranges. The green fields of the Rangitiki in my past and the wilds in my future, I was entering the Kaweka.
The Kaweka: still, dusty, scrubby and raw. I had already broken into my reserves of water, I’m already well past the 2 litre mark and the elements were not letting up. The place was reminiscent of the high sierra of Guerrero where you grow up learning to expect the unexpected… that is how it felt to me. A place where the unexpected happens and it did, it went down.
Not your usual down, but down down. So much down that in that crackle and tar my brakes screamed and broke the tension in the air. An unexpected scream not out of place in this place. They were screaming and I was screaming in the suddenness of the noise and the speed of the descent.
Then it came into view, as I was going down this endless descent I could see that familiar grey river of tar and gravel flowing up the other side. I pulled up to a stop and involuntarily said to no one listening: ‘the horror’. That grey river of tar and gravel was the Gentle Annie, and she didn’t look gentle. On the other side of that pass was my camp site and it had just turned 3pm, I’d already been on the bike for 7 hours.
Crawling up the Annie will forever stick with me, like the wet fragment stench of the tar clawing at my tires. Every turn of the crank came with its own unique and frank Anglo Saxon exclamation questioning the parenthood of that mountain pass, but in the end I reached its summit.
One more long screaming decent, but this time that scream sounded like angels trumpets hearlding me into camp for a well earned feed of instant mashed potatoes and dehydrated chicken bits. I’d done it and this was something I was only going to do once.
Tonight I will sleep quiet in the clevage of the great ravines, listening to the chatter of the river. Another climb in the morning. Timeless.
Todays top track: Bob Dylan – Cross the green mountain