Hawea to Ophir

Day thirteen

The chase

The day had arrived. After months of planning the ‘League of Clevedon Wheelmen & Sons’ (an assembly of ‘roughage’ – five boys, four riders and a runner) were to attempt their first combined assault on the 150km Otago Rail Trail.

At 8am with shrieks, uncertainty and mayhem the roughage piled into two trucks with assorted bags, bikes and bits for the few hours it would take them to get to the trail head at Clyde. For Horse and I, it was back on the bikes and the great chase down (120km) to find them before they got too far, or into too much trouble – whatever came first. Off they went in a fading continuous chatter of grey dust with us in pursuit.

Onward we rode, through Hawea Flat and Kane Road, then down the big valley following the eastern shore of the Clutha River to Lindis Crossing, Lake Dunstan to Cromwell.

We stopped for pie and marvelled at the malling fashionistas, bone dry jetski’s and frothing barista squeals. “It’s like bloody Takapuna” muttered Horse as he gwarfed down an average mince and cheese with accompanying onion chutney and green leafy thing. Now I can’t speak for him, but it was clear to me from the sideways glances of the flocking Cromwellians that my three day old dusty shirt with well earned stains and stench wasn’t mall appropriate. It was time for the two dusty strangers to find the bridge back out.

We made our departure and got back to work riding the road down through the Cromwell Gorge.

‘Pfft Pfft Pfft’

Three times in one day we were to hear that herald of an impending flat.

The first was mid Gorge, Horse blew the rear and we needed to pull up. He got to work as I lay back in the wild thyme listening to the endless rumble of traffic superimposed with the occasional roar and shriek of water-skiing Cromwellians. Repaired we made Clyde, turned inland from the trailhead and continued the chase cross-country.

20km later we got the second and this time it was mine. Sweltering in the dry and coping with deflation, my fuse was short as we’d already ridden 115k that day. Horse said “look” and I stared up with a sharp glare. He was slumped over his bars under a clear crackling sun with a lazy finger pointing down trail. Squinting I could see we were only a few hundred yards from a Tavern – The Chatto Creek Tavern. I got to my feet, licked my parched lips and pushed the Surly on. Within minutes we discovered five sugar infused boys collapsing in a shambles through the shrubbery.

The chase was over, we had discovered the Wheelmen and Sons.

Of lost boys and men

Repaired and refreshed with a pint of the finest, it was time to make the final 16km to Ophir for the night. We broke the group in two – me with the ‘fasts’ and Horse with the ‘not so fasts’.

In a spit of loose gravel the fasts were off. Two battling brothers O’ contesting the double track, stirring up a sea of hanging dust, as legs bucked and bit into the peddles (and occasionally each other) as they fought for first, leaving me in hot pursuit! Temperatures were rising, but by the time we reached half way the disorganised became organised, my hell raising rabble had been turned into a quiet controlled pace line with the brothers O’ taking equal turns leading on ‘point’. Discipline was enforced, enough said.

We made Omakau in good time, pulled off the trail and headed for the Daniel O’Connell bridge and the sanctuary of Ophir. That was when chaos ensued.

I got the call. It was the third flat for the day, leaving the fasts and not so fasts now spread between Chatto Creek Tavern and Ophir.

Wheelman Paddy had blown a valve back at the start line and in the pandemonium of Horse and him fumbling for a fix, young Flynn turned maverick and fled the not so fasts in search of the fasts. Now we had a lost boy on the trail and there was no choice but to turn back and find young Flynn before he overshot Omakau. I saddled up and wearily headed back to the bridge – this was going to be a long day.

There was a gravel crunch of slow moving car creeping up behind me, it pulled up parallel with an outward hand clutching an ice cold beer. “You look like you need this mate” I heard from the passenger side. I eagerly took it with a wail of “god be praised” as the car lurched back onto the hard, only to slow again a short distance later. I soon caught up and heard “spose you want that opened to?” And no sooner as I handed the bottle back there was that satisfying ‘ktink’ and now I had a freshly opened ale firm in my grasp. As it turned out the passenger (Lucy) wasn’t from these parts, she was from up in my hood – Papakura and just passing through Ophir on her way to Alexandra. Small world. So as I waved goodbye I told her to keep an eye out for lost boys and men, then guzzling the last gulp and headed back to up trail in search of Flynn.

“You’re in deep shit boy!” I found him up trail and his nine year old solo adventure was over. He followed me religiously for the seven k’s back over the bridge to Ophir mumbling the entire time that he was going quit the trail and head home. I bluntly informed him (with a some judicial use of anglo saxon slang for good measure) that “there was no going back son”. That tomorrow he was joining the O’s and me in the fasts under my tutorage and no longer would there be flights of fancy or ill discipline on the trail. With acknowledgements punctuated by silent nodding, Flynn and the O’s slunk off to await their fathers.

But where was Horse and more importantly where was Pikey?

Horse found me some time later, slumped in the shade clutching my hip’y. “Better get Pikey” he said, and I knew it.  Paddy was walking, so we saddled up and headed back up trail to find him. It was a very long double back when we eventually found him.

Big man

Pikey showed good his appreciation and shouted rounds for Horse and I down at Blacks Hotel, but it was getting late, close to 10 and I still needed to climb way up in the rocks above the Daniel O’Connell bridge to set up camp on Ron and Gary’s ‘central station’. I wasn’t staying with the Wheelmen that night, so I offered my goodnights and rolled off into the dusk, with a friendly fog rolling across my brow, the brew getting the better of me.

High above the bridge is a staunch rocky outcrop looking deep and down over Ophir. That’s big man. So fumbling in my own fog I slowly pushed and scrambled up a path to pitch my tent next to him under the ice halo of a full moon.

It was a day to remember and an equally fitting night, as I wandered warm through the tussock high in the hills under the light blue light to eventually settle resting on big man shoulder hip’y in hand. It was well after midnight as I mumbled through the lyrics of an old Tom favourite.

“Fancy a drink big man?”

Today’s top track – Tom Waits – Jockey full of Bourbon

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