I woke up squinting into a streaming sun. It was a warm evening and I’d intentionally left the tent flap open when I finally stumbled off the shoulder of big man in the early hours of the night before.
I was high on top of the Raggedy overlooking the Manuherikia valley disappearing away up the trail in the north. Eyes foggy I briefly peered out before flopping back with a thud. I wanted to lay there a while longer, but needed to get up and on the trail early as promised. I reached for my Jeds and put a brew on. It was time to pack and get back down the hill to Ophir.
Not all of us were riding. Sarah (Healy) planned to run the entire length of the trail over four days as part of her long distance training. Thats an average of about 40km a day which in the crackle and blister of central is daunting. So it meant early starts… hypothetically anyway. I rolled into the Wheelmen camp at 8:30 am. Some still hadn’t stirred, but Sarah was up. Time for more coffee.
The ‘assembly of roughage’ were finally ready to get back on trail mid morning – Sarah was long gone. A stampede of rowdy boys rolled forward to the Omakau railway station and the beginning of todays trail.
Form a line!
“FORM A LINE!” I bellowed. After the chaos of the day before the fasts and not so fasts were merged and a refresh of riding regulations was required. “AND THAT MEANS YOU BOY!” as I threw a quick sideways squint at Tigre who was still playing silly-buggers at the Omakau station passport stamp station.
The chatter quickly subsided to silence as I paced slowly up and down the rabble, hands behind back and crunching the dusty gravel underfoot. After a pause I began… “Yesterday was a shambles and this is not be repeated! We are here to ride the Otago rail trail. This is not a fight. Not a race and definitely not a search and rescue exercise. Is it Flynn?” He immediately dropped his head and nodded in embarrassed agreement. Striding up and down the line I set about explaining the finer intricacies of a pace line, about taking point and riding as a unit. Ending by stating “You WILL have fun!”
Slowly the snaking line of Wheelmen & sons (plus Megan) gathered momentum and made for Lauder. The silence gathered volume, only broken by the occasional call of “Joes got point” as one rider swapped lead for another. Good boys.
We passed Sarah with a cheer, then Lauder came and went. We began crossing the Raggedy Range only to find ourselves stalled and peering deep into the first of two Poolburn gorge tunnels. Light limited we dove into the cool blackness – a reprieve from the heat and glare of the world outside. Then united in a scream we warned the monsters hidden within the old coke crusted walls that we meant business and wanted safe passage. First one tunnel and then the next.
Our train of Wheelmen & sons eventually crossed the Poolburn viaduct making a familiar clickety clack of wheels riding hardwood and rail. It was time for a boys lunch of baked beans and sausage.
She entered the tunnel… but didn’t make it out. Didn’t she yell? Was she now with the monsters in the deep?
Within minutes questions became schoolboy theories run rampant. She had some how staggered out with her head off and bleeding profusely from an enormous flesh wound (likely suffered at the hands of some hideous black eyed tunnel troll).
Now rescued and relieved we discovered she had only received a minor graze to her chin (and pride) from not paying attention trekking through tunnel one and walking headlong into an inky wall with a wallop. With order (and reality) restored we all reverted back to our beans.
Megan was made of tough stuff and laughed off the graze, but like her I was more concerned at the rising mercury of the midday sun. She was hot and water was running low. We needed to get moving.
We traversed the remnants of the Raggedy down into the windy blast furnace of the Ida valley. We only had 12km to Oturehua and in the heat and shrivel of water rationing it felt longer, but we made it.
I flung open the doors of Gilchrist’s general store (New Zealand oldest operating shop) and stepped back in time. After a brief search through old packed stalls of Lysol, Watties and Weet-bix I found what I came for: three litres of ice cold L&P and a fists full of Jelly-tips.
Between Gilchrist’s and the Oturehau Railway hotel the thirst quenching requirements of the Wheelmen & sons were suitably satisfied. And with impeccable timing, here comes Sarah… still running.
Today’s top track: Dry the rain – Beta band