Miranda to Arapuni

Day eight

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Flat… and I mean flat flat. After days of humping hills in Northland I was at one end of the Hauraki plains and if the winds were at my heal I was in for a good ride and a good distance.

My route was a whip around the east of the wetlands close to Paeroa and then north to Matamata via a zig zag chain of interlinking back roads. All went according to plan except the insessent sou’ westerly wind woke up about an hour into the ride, from then on it was a joust. It took six hours for the 98km slog, getting hotter and dryer as the day progressed.

On arrival in Matamata I tracked down the local bike store and had them switch my tires while I went for a meal. I think I discovered the best chicken burger on the planet. CK Burger in Matamata.
Returning and after a brief chat with the bike crew about all thing daring and impossible (all of which I’m not) it was off for supplies. Water, more freeze dried goodness, carb rich nut bars and ample servings of porridge. Then onto the 29 for the ride through to Lake Karapiro and the short run to Arapuni.

Wind, wind, wind

Never a break, Never… I mean really. After days of humping hills and the beast of Brynderwyn into a sou’ easter I’m now on the flat lands. So as some form of demonic torment I’m now humping uphill into a howler. Where every oncoming container truck creates a redefinition of turbulence, and every outgoing stock truck the redefinition of flatulence.

I always find that in conditions like this that the closer to the destination you are, the further it seems to be.  Just one more little hill, one more bend, over and over and over. Take my advice and don’t look at the map, it’s conspiring with the wind.

The river

On one bend of the mighty Waikato, where the state highway follows it like the skin of the snake is the shedding of side road. Horahora, where it drops down to a terrace onward to Arapuni. In a warm late afternoon sun the river shined like a serpent still and deep. I rode the long sunning side until reaching camp after a good half hour.

I set up, ate and looked out over that river. I entrusted my little camp in the keep of the tanewha that must wait there in the dark waters. It had been a long ride today, I sleep in safe company.

Go, no go day

Day seven

Today was going to be different. It was going to be a short hop over to Miranda to hold up for the day, rest the legs, evalate things and make some calls. It was the preplanned go, no go day!

Why Miranda?

Well Miranda has a few unique things going for it that makes it a good place to go or no go the next stage of the trip. Firstly it has a thermal pool, ideal for soaking ones poor old legs and bottom in, let alone the rest of me. Secondly it’s pretty well serviced; with laundry; kitchen; and wine and beer fridge. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly it’s the gateway from the north to the Hauraki Plains and that means touring options.

I had always seen it as the go, no go place for three potential routes:

  1. Go east young man – to whip through to Waihi, then follow the east coast of the Bay of Plenty, then take the Motu to Gisborne, then down (or should I say up and down) the coast to Napier. I always saw this as the route should I get through Northland quickly, was fit, the beastie (bike) was in good order and the weather outlook to the west unfavorable. All up I estimated a seven day gig.
  2. Napier direct – to basically bolt for Taupo and do the Napier, Taupo highway. This was really the route should things have turned pear shaped up north, or I ran out of time to do the other two routes. All up I estimated a four day gig.
  3. The big wiggle – to aim central, do the Waikato river trail, then detour from Mangakino around the mountains to Ohakune and Taihape, before crossing the Gentle Annie to Napier. Basically three back to back trails over a seven to eight day gig.

So where am I at?

Well I got to Miranda in the middle of day seven after an unexpected second breakfast (below). That gives me nine days to make Napier for Christmas eve. All routes are go! Physically I’m better than I thought, knees are good and sure my buns have been better, but they are holding up. Mentally I’m as mad as a mad thing, so no change there. The bike is good, with the only point of concern being the rapid wear of the rear tire.

Tires will need replacing at some point, hopefully Napier (which could be a problem considering the holiday period), but if it’s needed sooner that’s really going to impact my route choice. I don’t want my choice of route to be rooted!

Decisions decisions

I’ve decided on the big wiggle.

I figure with some effort I can get the day count down to seven max, maybe even six. If I can haul a nail tomorrow I could get to Matamata at mid day, swap my current tires around then push on for the Waikato river trial. Trail riding should reduce the wear and allow me to get to Napier by say Thursday of next week.

If I have some sort of major issue (heath, gear, weather bomb, act of God, mother) then I can make a decision to go Napier direct. Ok decision made, now all I have to do is get to Miranda…

An unexpected second breakfast

I left Maraetai at 7:30, a pastal light kind of ride to Clevedon and then a left for Kawakawa bay.

Really the only route to take and besides, I wanted to pop in on friends, Mr and Mrs Healy for a cup of team and to leave a little kit to lighten my load. Unbeknownst to me and what was wonderful good fortune, that today was actually Mr Healy’s birthday and a planned breakfast feast was to about to ensue. My timing was impeccable, which was much more than could be said of the way I looked and smelled after a few festering days on the road.

After a few rounds of coffee and my second breakfast on the patio overlooking the estate, I then disgorging a few unwanted items in the care of the Healy’s and prepared to set off once more. I wasn’t in any particular hurry as Miranda was relatively close and there was the small matter of getting over the Kawakawa Orere saddle, but I pushed on.

It was a lovely day for a ride and I swooped on through to Miranda by two. Just in time to treat my legs and bottom to a good soaking in the thermal springs, and my belly to a fine Merlot. I do think I shall sleep well tonight.

Sandy spit to Maraetai 

Day six

Warkworth to the CBD is a nasty ride. It’s a slog of up down tight roads and fast moving traffic I haven’t experienced since riding back in DF, but to be honest I expected that.

One particularly memorable climb narrows to a point where there is no margin for the rider and no margin for error. You have to play roulette, judge a gap, then go as hard as you can for 150m on maybe a 15 degree incline before the next  wave of traffic arrives. I did it… just.

In that wind, the downs were as hard as the ups. The crawl up from the tunnels, Owera to Eastern Bays in a nasty sou’ wester,  through diesel infused traffic. I was pleased when I saw the Devonport terminal.

I got the first ferry at two, met Nina for a catch up and then another to Pine Haven at five. Free camped above Omana beach, I was asleep by 8:30.

img_0475So how bad?

I’ve spent a chunk of my day to day riding experience in city traffic, Commuting London and Mexico City. In those times I’ve had a lot of close calls: riding fast to escape merging buses, being under another, being in the wrong suburb at the wrong time, being a target for aggression and targeting my aggression, and one time looking down the wrong end of a few hand guns in La Condesa (Mexico City) when one particular situation got out of control (my fault).

For the record Warkworth wasn’t scarier, it wasn’t even closer, it was just a lot faster.

 

Now I’m through Auckland and I’ve left Northland, bring on the lowlands and a wind at my heal.

Whangarei to Wellsford and beyond 

Day five

I had a warning about the road ahead. ‘The pass of Brynderwyn’.

Like some mythical place full of nasty things with warty bits and bad breath determined to stop a humble pilgrim on a bicycle. After the day before I was feeling a tad anxious, and wasn’t sure if I should trade my porridge for a few cloves of garlic to ward of the evilness awaiting me in the distance.
After many hugs and well wishes from whanau I made my way out the gate, up the drive then turned left to face the south.

I didn’t get far before pulling up for coffee at a small cafe in full festive celebration and dressed in appropriate regalia to entertain the patrons. On receiving my order and a side of opinion on beast Brynderwyn, I knew my day could only get better. I’d just been warned of the road ahead by a serious middle aged bearded man dressed as a Christmas pixie.

The first few hours were a relatively flat ride, but my right shoulder was being incessantly clipped by a nasty sou’ wester. It was the foul breath of the beasts of the Brynderwyn.

I stopped when I knew I was close. I could see a long formidable range of hills stretching left and right. I was already tired from the day before and that sou’ wester. So I slurped long and hard on my (whey powder, with MSM and powdered green and red stuff) sucky bottle and after another liberal coating of all my bits with the chafing cream my bottom was ready and so was I.

As I reached the foot of the pass I could see the road snaking, like a river flowing uphill and then I had a massive dose of luck. It was a ‘stop go lady’. The crew were resealing most of the three lane incline and rather than letting me play dodgems with the traffic cones she gave me a whole (closed) lane to myself.

So I got into a slow crawl, using the tar truck, gravel crew and Wilkie talkie man to set the pace. It was an constant 3.5km climb, but after yesterday it seemed relatively easy. I reached the summit. I had beaten the Brynderwyn, warts and all.

I whipped down the backside of the beast and pulled in at the first pie-stop for a top up, then onward to Wellsford. I made it by early afternoon.

Wellsford, Warkworth and beyond. 

Wellsford was my target for the day, I’d didn’t want to overpromise myself with astounding feats of Dutch courage, but with 80 odd kilometres behind me I knew I could push for more. So after another liberal coating my bottom and I were ready and we decided to push on to Warkworth, eventually arriving about 4 pm to stock up and then onward for camp at Sandy Spit.

I’d ridden 116km in total, all of it in gnarly traffic, over rough ground into a sapping sou wester. Dinner tonight was going to be special and I was famished. It consisted of a few warm rolls, fresh ripe tomatoes, an avocado, a fine cheese and a big can of Watties anytime breakfast (beans, potatoes, bacon and sausage).

Ok I’m not proud, I’m hungry.

Orongo Bay to Whangarei via the Rawhiti coastal road

Day four

Tonight I’m staying with whanau in Whangarei for the night. So instead of taking the direct route South, I’ve chosen instead to take the coastal road and see the sights. It will put another 10 km on the day, no big deal.

It’s such a perfect day…

I got up at 6:00, the sky calm with a paperthin whitewash of colour. “Right, breakfast!” Coffee and a double ration of porridge awaited, so I went for water. Now where is my coffee… come on where is it? I’d only been away a minute, but it’s vanished. I’m not happy, nothing comes between me and a Jed’s extra strong bean bag to get my plumbing working before hitting the road. “It’s been nicked” I said aloud. That’s when I heard the rustle.

It was coming from somewhere in the manuka reveg’. With few choices and less time I immediately dove in and nabbed what was now a very empty supply of Jed’s extra strong bean bags.

Oh and I know who took them, there is only one. I heard him all last night, stomping through the reveg’, boom, boom, boom, so close I could almost smell his grubby breath. Oh yes I know who it was… IT WAS WEKA!

He’d stolen my Jed’s extra strong bean bags within seconds of me going for water. Leaving me with only the double ration of porridge and an empty mug to start my day. I wasn’t happy, continued to pack, got on the beastie and headed for the gate.

I couldn’t help drawing a little smile though.

If Weka gets into that coffee he’s going to have a different outlook in the next few days… so rather than sensing the natural delights of a night camping in the reveg’, perhaps the next visitors will sense something very amiss. A weka chilling out to a brew of Jed’s extra strong, with perhaps even a whiff of a gauloise and the low distant sound of a recently rereleased Lou Reed album. It’s such a perfect day.

On the road

So instead of turning right for the Opua ferry, I turned left for Rawhiti and crawled up the hill. I had this feeling at the top that should I go down the other side there would be no turning back. The wheels involuntarily inched forward with a little help from Sir Issac Newton as I slowly built up speed to the bottom. I was off, and maybe, just maybe I might regret it.

The place is pretty. Lovely little bays and beaches with pohutakawa dripping down to meet the sea, gorgeous wooded valleys strewn with white wild flower meadows, backed by steep inaccessible ridges.

Yes, ridges and valleys, ridges and valleys, ridges and valleys… one after the bloody other. If you want to see it.. awesome, do it, you won’t be disappointed, just take a car!

This little side road ditty ended up being an epic mission to rejoin the main highway back south to Whangarei. One very memorable (etched in my sit bones until the end of my days memorable) was the climb out from Helena Bay. Biggest climb I’ve done since Ajusco back in the big city. Needless to say I made it, next time I won’t put Sir Issac Newton in a position where he makes the decisions!

Ritu, the stop go lady

Oh the back roads and all those wonderful signs of bygone eras, all gone, including the store I needed to refill my reserves! I was pieless, completely pieless I was surviving on peanut butter sandwiches and half a salami. Worse still I was nearly out of water.

Turning a corner there in front of me was a road construction party and the stop go lady. So I stopped, waiting for the lick of a new layer of tar. I’ve never really appreciated the importance of the stop go ladies until I met Ritu. My parched voice politely enquired if she knew the whereabouts of a store where I could purchase a refreshment. “Nah!” “But you can fill up at the six pack.” The six pack was a double cab truck that carried the driver, two stop go ladies and the guy that leans on another truck with a radio and a shovel. The six pack was way off in the distance and between me and it was the steamy tar truck… waiting, waiting, waiting, then Ritu gave a shout… “go”. In a wake of sticky gravel I was off to top up my bottles for the ride ahead to the main road.

I will forever to this day be every grateful to the stop go ladies, I promise my maker to always wave and smile. I hope I get to see Ritu again.

I made the main road at 3:00pm, only 25km to Whangarei and there shining like a beacon to the faithful, calling in the worshippers from far and wide, it stood there, upright and proud. It was the BP 2go sign. I was there to repent, I was there to renourish my being and I was truly rewarded.

I was pieless no more!