I recently returned from an ~850km cycle tour around the South Island of New Zealand, taking in some awesome and remote adventure riding. The first couple of days of the tour, however, were among the most shithouse days I've ever spent aboard a bikecycle. With the benefit of hindsight, staying up for the 24 hours before having to ride the first 135km leg of a cycle tour probably wasn't the best idea. Before turning a pedal I'd already been up early with my kids, packed up my bike, driven to the airport, flown from Brisbane to Christchurch and had to clear NZ quarantine. Fortunately my mate and riding companion Chris was waiting for me when I finally emerged into the cold and damp Christchurch midnight.
Following an action-packed SUV trip involving some drunk roadside teens and an old derro playing chicken with us in his circa 1982 Mazda sedan, we arrived at Chris' cousin's house in the Christchurch suburb of New Brighton. I jumped straight out of the car, raced straight into the garage, and began assembling and tweaking the bikes we'd be setting off on in a few short hours. My bike went together in record time, although I realised it was probably time to get to bed when I suddenly became manic and confused as I decided to try to perfectly align my rear light perfectly perpendicular to the rear axle of my bike. I looked at the clock as I hopped into bed - it was 2:30 in the morning.
Chis makes some last minute adjustments to his bike before setting off.
My trusty Redline all ready to begin another cycle tour.
Although I had technically gone to bed, I managed to get no actual sleeping done. I was wired from the flight and the bike assembly, and concerned about the crappy wet weather I'd arrived in the night before. I hopped out of bed at 0600, quickly drank a couple of liquid breakfast energy type drinks, and Chris and I tentatively wobbled out into the grey, but mercifully not raining, Christchurch dawn.
Chris begins his first ever cycle tour - getting thrown in at the deep end.
Our ride started on the eastern side of town, and we were headed west. An hour of pedalling through the Sunday morning gloom of empty industrial estates and car yard strips started the day.
Eventually we cleared town and rode out into the countryside.
On a clear day, the looming Southern Alps are clearly visble from the outskirts of Christchurch. The very sight of them energises riders as they pedal out of town to the foot of the snow capped mountains. Not on this day however, every direction was just low grey cloud, light drizzle was beginning to fall, and without the excitement of seeing the Alps, my energy levels were already flagging about 40km into a 135km day. It was shaping up to be a long day in the saddle - particularly faced with the same scenery for the entire day.
I was having to stop to stretch and eat a lot already. It was the most tired I have ever felt on a bike, and I wasn't even a third of the way to my destination for the day.
If Chris' bike looks familiar, it's because it is - this Fuji Touring bike is the same bike formerly ridden by Jer last time we toured NZ.
By about the 60km mark, I'd well and truly had enough of riding for the day. Fortunately Chris was there, and was able to offer me some moral support - as well as allowing me to tuck in and draft behind him on the long straight flats into Hororata. Arriving in the tiny village just before lunchtime was a feeling of tremendous relief, and I demolished a couple of pies, a sandwich, a plate of chips, and a few coffees. As I sat there shovelling food into my face for an hour, the weather looked like it was clearing a little bit. By the time we grabbed some road supplies and pedalled out of town at midday the weather looked almost promising.
70km into a long tour and I was already hitting the wall. Chris, a novice to this type of thing, was feeling fine and was in high spirits. I tried to dampen his spirits with my incessant whining, but it seemed to have little effect.
Riding out of Hororata, the gloomy weather looked to be lifting. Turns out it wasn't.
Rakaia Gorge, at the foot of the Alps. Raining, gloomy, dark, freezing. Blerrrrgh.
Before dropping down into the Gorge, Chris and I were standing around near the top pondering the route ahead. Out of the gloom a female cyclist clad in bright lycra on a racce bike, complete with race number, pulled up and asked "did you guys see a race come through here?" We hadn't. Before the steep descent into the Gorge, she got on her mobile phone, made a call, then wisely decided to turn around and go home rather than drop down the steep road. Once down at the river, there was only one way out...
The climb out of Rakaia Gorge. This thing is diabolically steep, just the thing we needed after about 100km of riding.
We both managed to tackle the steep section of the climb without much drama, although I did have to stop a few times during the 4km ascent to let my heart rate drop a bit. I was on cold flu medication and my heart was racing with the slightest exertion.
Taking a break at the top of the climb. This was the first of many 3pm bursts of energy I'd have along the trip. Pedalling out of there for the final 30km or so push to Mt Somers, I felt strong, and was looking forward to a pub dinner.
As soon as we pedalled away from Mt Hutt towards the small village of Mt Somers, the weather finally changed from drizzle to actual rain. The scenery was pretty non-descript - with visibility down to a few hundred metres in the now fading light, there wasnt much to see. It felt like I could have been riding anywhere - I was cold, wet and there we no visible landmarks to give me any clues as to my location. All I could see were the cows in the cleared paddocks either side of the road. As we progressed towards our destination, Chris became progressively more tired and disheartened, and by the time we pulled into Mt Somer Holiday Park to our cabin our road speed was down to 15km/h. Despite our slow finish we'd kept a reasonable speed throughout the day - our average moving speed over the 135km was 21km/h.
Once in our basic but comfortable cabin, we unpacked, cleaned up, and walked over to the nearby Mt Somers Hotel for dinner and a beer. As soon as we set in foot in the utterly charming rural pub, the publican said "you blokes look exhausted!" Indeed I was - and starving too. Chris and I sat there at our table, not saying much. Despite the fact I hadn't seen Chris for ages before today and wanted to catch up, I kind of just didn't have much to say after such a long day of riding around in the drizzle - fortunately of all my mates Chris is probably the most understanding of those days when I just don't feel like speaking. I was exhausted and a bit disoriented, and looking forward to a sleep. Outside the rain was really beginning to bucket down.
Inside our basic but comfortable cabin at the Mt Somers Holiday Park. Money well spent to be warm and comfortable.
Bike travel pro tip: vaccum seal your favourite chain lubricant so it doesn't leak everywhere on the plane.
Inside the Mt Somers Hotel. Rural hospitality at its finest. It's a shame I wasn't a bit more awake to enjoy it more
This ham steak was enormous - that's a pint of beer there to give it some perspective. Classic kiwi pub food.
As with my previous tour of NZ, the first day had been strangely deflating and depressing. I'm usually pretty hopeful that the following day will always be better than the current one. As I lay in bed I was hopeful the next day would be better, but listening to the rain pour down outside, I wasn't so sure...