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

Napier to Mangakuri beach 

Day eighteen

On the road 

Three days of resting, eating and spending time with friends and whanau and I’m up and gone by eight am.


One of those classic calm Napier mornings for the final lift south along the East coast, making good time to Havelock North before taking Middle road to Elsthorpe. Good ground for cycling.

American honey

The ride folding into the landscape with gentle rolling hills before descending into the wide expanse of the central Hawkes Bay Tuki Tuki valley.

A light growing breeze coiling up from the golden pasture, smelling of sweet American honey, reflected back by a pale blue arch of clear sky.img_4121
Stopping at the Patangata pub for coffee before swinging back eastward to the coast. I’ve been this way on two wheels before, back when I was 16 on a little overnight trip. I remember the pain, this time I’m older, somewhat wiser and better prepared, but fair weather memories none the same.

I got to my destination by two. Earlier than expected, but just in time for lunch, a swim and generous company from the Williams whanau. A night to remember and not think about the remaining challenge ahead.

Today’s top track. Greg Johnson – Don’t wait another day. 

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Kuripapango to Napier

Day fourteen

6am, everything is sore. Time to crawl out and get on with it, it’s the last day of the second stage. I don’t want to move… really I don’t. Destination Napier and a chance for some rest and good home cooking. The thought of sweet mamas meat loaf and raspberry square. OK that got me moving.

I said my goodbyes to Kuripapango camp ground and Nick the Brit and headed east into the dawn.

Nick the Brit

Nick didn’t really arrive as explode through a sea of manuka at dusk the night before. He’d just come up from Napier all vim and vigor with a massive cargo in tow (four panniers, a pack and a water bladder (I kid you not)) bound for Ohakune. We talked for a bit about the joy of hill climbing fully loaded, oohed and aahed over bike kit, then I gave him a low down on the Annie. He was strong, a bronzed athletic fit young Brit (in comparison to a old greybeard… me) and I’m sure he’ll make shorter work of my yesterday.

Onward into the east

Napier was another 86km away (according to Nick) and I knew there were hills between it and me. ‘What do they mean when create signs saying 86km to somewhere?’ Is that to the outskirts? The centre? The other end of town? When you measure your days in kilometres this stuff becomes really important. So I started to scheme about points on the line, stage gates, milestones… like a countdown to liftoff. I was like: ‘T minus 2 hours and counting’. Good god I need a life.

All I know is I have at least another 4 to 7 hours on road depending on the terrain, but I’m expecting less considering everything should be tracking my way, downhill. Wishful thinking…

There was an immediate climb out, then another and another, but this was soon replaced by long sweeping downhills through the forest to the edge of the Hawkes Bay high country. I’ve cycled through a voodoo where a lush green palette  has been replaced with the khaki brown of my childhood. Behold the magnificent Hawkes Bay, laid open and bare from the  Takapau to the Tutira.

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Now it was a case of go hard and get home. Now was a time where descent was more common than ascent. Where the breeze, no matter which direction was as warm and agreeable as was the slope of travel. I made good time. ‘Omahu’ by 10:30.

That was my call sign back to the world (time to turn the cellular on) to let them know I was still alive, ‘Omahu’, ‘Omahu’, ‘Omahu’. And ‘Oh ma’ I had arrived.

img_0529It was the new world. There would be feasting, drinking, sleeping in a bed, there would be showers and I would have clean bits! I was excited.

I don’t think I’d ever ridden so fast to the Ahuriri. The moment had arrived. I was at a watering hole. Rest good, good leggies. You got me this far, you deserve a brake.

Todays top track: Michael Bublé – All I Want for Christmas Is You

Waiouru to god only knows where

Day thirteen

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 Jurassic

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.

The horror 

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