So somewhat recently the idea to tour New Zealand by bike came to mind. Initially, it seemed like a pipe dream, however, the more I thought about it the more I realised that this is exactly what I need; the closer I got to turn the idea into reality the more scared I was about going out and starting.
I've heard is that the most important time to do something is when it scares you the most. So here I am about to leave on my very own adventure.
The Hero's Journey
I think there's more to this than a simple desire to see the wonderful landscapes of New Zealand. I'll be off-roading/bikepacking and with the sparsity of settlements here I'm sure I'll end up doing things like stealth camping, getting lost, and running out of food. Not exactly the relaxing beachside summer break but certainly a challenge in self-sufficiency and stress management. Something about this tour feels pivotal to my development as a person. Going completely off the cuff here I have a feeling that this kind of unplanned/challenging adventure is something missing in the growth of modern young men. Or maybe just challenge/adversity in general...
I also appreciate the fact that this is one of those magical windows in my life where I can just hit the road without much of a plan. I have a general route planned out but have given myself plenty of time for detours.
Another thing I fear (and look forward to) is the lack of basic comforts and learning about what I take for granted. I can imagine how appreciative I'll be of water, electricity, and privacy by the time I get back. But I wonder if there's anything else lurking there that I haven't realised.
The title of this post was inspired by Joseph Campbel. I've been influenced by the mythopoetic men's movement and found the concepts there as useful guides. I recommend the books Iron John and King, Warrior, Lover, Magician if you're part of the many modern men out there that still feel like boys.
So I think to keep things easy while I'm travelling I'll write mainly in a journal style. And leave the money saving/minimalist posts for when I get back or days with severe weather. This includes my expenses post. The previous post was really just a brief intro of my mindset towards this trip: to push myself further out of my comfort zone. This, however, will be a post about what I've been doing to prepare.
Being a minimalist traveller, bikepacking is well up my alley. Already owning high-performance gear from brands like Icebreaker, Arc'Teryx, and Outlier I'm fairly well covered.
Thermal Long sleeve
Arc'teryx Atom LT Hoody
(If the jacket isn't enough in the rain I'll consider finding a cheap rain mac)
Outlier Three-way shorts
Outlier Slim dungarees
Xero Shoes z-lites
Vivobarefoot Scott Boots
Some hiking socks
I wish I could give people a detailed description of the bike but the truth is I have very little understanding, I simply trusted in the expertise of the local bike shops. I do plan on changing that however when I return as I see myself getting more into cycling.
Sleeping Bag (6C)
I also bought some cheap pegs to make the tarp set up more consistent as I found using bushes/sticks etc. very unreliable.
I don't really have an exact route planned (especially for the north island) but if I had to sum it up, I'm going anti-clockwise around the south island and clockwise around the north island, this way if I need to get back to Christchurch for whatever reason near the end of my trip i.e, time constraints, I'll likely be close to Auckland and can get a flight home. I did purchase a guide book specifically for cycle touring so I'm not completely lost. The first segment "Christchurch to the Alps" should take me 4-5 days (although I would like to bump up the pace).
It's strange to think in September I was using the couch to 5k programme to improve my cardiovascular health... I didn't finish it but still recommend it. On rest days I decided to do cycling at the gym instead. This is where I realised I much prefer to cycle; running was slowly phased out and I found myself doing 45+ minute workouts on the bike.
When the idea of doing a cycle tour came to mind I started to pay more attention to these workouts. Knowing that my biggest challenge would be encountering huge climbs I decided to focus on increasing resistance. Since I knew endurance would also be important I tried to fit in afternoon rides as well whenever I could. Meanwhile, I would occasionally attempt to climb port hills (via dyers pass). Either due to poor fitness or bad gears, I would always fail. When I finally settled on the idea that the tour was going to happen, I invested in a new bike and started to take the training more seriously. After many rest stops, and in a very easy gear, I was able to reach the summit of port hills. This type of training was certainly the most effective as every other day the task got easier and easier.
And then about a week ago I packed my panniers with what I thought I'd be bringing and attempted the same. I'm glad I did because this makes a huge difference, with the added weight the climb was torturous. Knowing it was important for me to gain the strength to cater for the additional weight I've been doing this daily ever since and have finally been able to get to the top without taking a single rest.
Really, in the end, I feel like the only way to train for something as unique as a cycle tour is to just go out and do it. Having said that the training also helped my body adapt to various cycling postures, helping me to realise I didn't really need to buy a better saddle or bike shoes.
Seeing how much my fitness improved in the short time I've been training for this has got me excited thinking about how healthy might be when I'm done.
Cycling from Christchurch to a free camping ground named 'Coes Ford' I set up my hammock in the evening amongst some trees by the river. This was a pretty big shock to the system as this was my first time sleeping in a hammock (in a very long time) and only my second time setting it up, leading to a pretty uncomfortable night. It was amazing though, listening to the birds singing, the trees swaying, and the water trickling. I was able to get by with only my thermals and sleeping bag for insulation thus I have forgone bringing an underquilt/mat as I'm confident that even in cooler weather I'd be able to stay warm with extra layers like my jacket and towel etc.
The overnighter also taught me about hydration management as I had gotten through all my water just to get there, and not knowing if the river water was clean I had to spend the first leg of my return home dehydrated until I found a store. Luckily I am on the warrior diet and I'm used to fasting for 20 hours or so a day so making the same mistake with food isn't really an issue.
Christrchurch to the Alps
Exciting stuff. My first day on the road includes a broken chain and getting caught stealth camping.
After setting off at 9:00 am, I quickly got out of town and to my dismay realised I would be battling a head/crosswind all day. But that didn't stop my excitement; as the urban setting slowly melted away into farmland, I finally realised that I'm on my adventure. I felt like Goku riding his nimbus cloud.
At around the 20km mark, I was reading the sign for the turning I was looking for when the bike slid down the side of the curb. I, in turn, slid off the bike. It came crashing to the floor. This is when I realised the chain had come loose. Panic mode quickly set in. After a minute I reminded myself that this is exactly what I wanted from this trip. A challenge. Having no bike repairing experience I assumed that I'd need to take things apart before I could thread the chain back on. Once I calmed down I noticed that I could simply change gear to give me enough loose chain to work with to thread it back around. See, no reason to panic!
After this, everything was plain sailing and I got to enjoy the scenery.
When I got to my destination I was expecting to find a B&B just outside of town (as per instructed by the guide). Maybe I missed it, but I couldn't find it. This time panic mode didn't kick in because I had really wanted to try stealth camping anyway. The town I'm in has a nice racecourse grounds complete with a nature walk amidst trees around the circumference. Perfect for a traveller with a hammock.
After a wee bit of exploring I found a nice spot by a small "lake" on the far side of the path. I was sure nobody would come this far off the beaten track... until a dog walker arrived with her children. They didn't seem to mind or at least didn't even inquire what I was up to. Her children wanted to stop and talk to me about Pokemon Go, which now that I think about it must have been the reason why they were there! So as far as I'm concerned my first stealth camping attempt was foolproof... if it was for those meddling kids!
After a rough nights sleep, I woke up just in time for the sunrise. Still tired, I rolled over and waited for it to warm up.
Feeling good, I planned on pushing at a faster pace than the guide recommended. To my dismay, I headed out of town to be greeted by an impossible wind that slowed me to a crawl. Eventually, I changed direction and suddenly was very thankful for the wind pushing me along.
After an exciting, steep decline I found myself at Rakaia Gorge... but what goes down must come up... and after some hard peddling, I admit, I had to get off my bike and walk!
The rest of the journey was a blur with the wind behind my back. However today I have learnt the importance of proper sun lotion application. Remembering to cover my arms but not my hands was a big mistake. Protecting my shins and not my calves was another one. Oops.
Today's camping spot is in a designating camping ground, however, the tree options are awful. I had to walk through some long-grass and perform acrobatics around thorny plants to set the hammock up. This makes me wonder if using a bivvy was a better shout...
After my best nights sleep yet (that's what you get for cycling just over 90km) I packed up and went on my way. Since it was such a nice night I decided to take the "bold and adventurous" route (as per the guide) and go directly from Geraldine to Fairlie in the hopes I could get to the popular Lake Tekapo a day early.
Getting to Farlie by 2:00 pm one would think the next 40km was in the bag. That would be the case if it wasn't for the intense winds (lowest gear... downhill kind of winds) and rolling hills I had been battling for the past 5 hours! But I must admit it was the most enjoyable route yet.
Well, I certainly ended the first segment of my trip with a bang. I'll get to that.
This morning had me set off in an overcast/drizzle as I left town, reminding me a lot of England. As the fog cleared I enjoyed the interesting looking town of Burkes Pass. And onward to Lake Tekapo. I couldn't help but let out a "wow" as I took in the views.
Having got to my destination so quickly I relaxed by the lake having lunch while I waited for a fellow cyclist to catch up to do a nearby hike together. I guess this is where things started to go wrong...
Accidentally taking the long route round we were rewarded with scenes of the lake and surrounding plains. Meanwhile, the sun was getting lower and lower. Having maybe two hours left of daylight I decided to rush to the nearest freedom camping spot a few kilometres out of town. I swear with every day that passes I regret choosing a hammock.
Well, eventually I realised that this was a stupid idea, the sun was going down and the crosswinds were intense but I was in a rush and "I've gone this far, I may as well carry on". After a while, I came across an access road to a nearby river and seeing some trees along the route I decided to turn off. Perhaps focusing too much on the distant trees I failed to realise the paved road I was once on quickly degraded into a large rocky decline. With the bike wobbling and vibrating it wasn't long before I lost control and slammed down hard on my right shoulder! Shock quickly settled in as I shouted in pain and tried to check I wasn't bleeding. The bike was fine. I was fine. Having occurred off the side of such a quiet road anything could have happened. But as I slowly cycled back trying my hardest to breathe steadily and think positive I settled into a good rhythm and returned to town. After a stressful search for a place to stay in a town filled with tourists, I managed to find a spot at the local holiday park to set up my hammock. I've been used to the cold over the past few days but combined with half a bruised body and the growing signs of whiplash, sleeping was impossible. I found solace in the public toilets doing exercises to keep me warm for a few hours until exhausted, I fell asleep, only to be woken maybe 3 hours later by the sunrise.
Not having time to reflect on the previous day's events it's time to put the tour on hold.
Updating the blog, my friends and my family. Thinking about what was going through my head before and after the crash. Getting a massage and a proper bed to try and alleviate the neck and back pain. It's moments like this I'm glad I have developed frugal habits so that when it matters I don't need to worry about money.
Day 6 - Tekapo to Ohau
Back on the road, I headed for the alternative start of the "Alps2Ocean" trail. Passing where I fell 2 days ago I pushed on along the quiet canal road always amazed by how stunningly blue the water was.
Eventually, I came across a gate that I would come to hate (the trail is littered with them), luckily I am packing light otherwise every time I encountered one there would be the arduous process of removing and re-attaching my panniers (as the bike would be too heavy to lift over). I passed two gentlemen who needed a team effort to get their bikes across.
The tarmac slowly turned into gravel and occasionally the gravel turned into large rocks - knowing a lot of this trail is off road I decided to let some air out of the tires to make things smoother. I understand that gravel is easy to maintain but I was finding it difficult to enjoy the countryside while having to focus so hard on avoiding rocks.
Nevertheless, enjoy the countryside I did. The trail took me right into the heart of New Zealand with nothing man-made in sight. It was truly tranquil. The kind where you have to stop and slow your breathing just to understand how still everything is. Stopping in the village of Twizel, I visited a store that I'm sure if you looked hard enough you could find anything in there. Purchasing some tape to (unsuccessfully) repair my water bladder, a foam mattress, and a rain poncho. This is where I met some other cycle tourers who got to New Zealand from England without a plane! The last segment to Lake Ohau was alive with nature. Birds everywhere, rabbits darting across the path and the occasional salmon causing a splash in the canal.
Eventually, I got to the campground and suddenly I wasn't questioning my choice to travel with a hammock. With a beautiful view of the lake and plenty of trees around I was in heaven. Until the sand-flies and wind came out...
Day 7 - Ohau to Otemetata
After a good night's sleep (insulation makes a huge difference), I dragged my feet getting out of camp to continue appreciating where I was lucky enough to be staying.
I continued along the (well signposted) A2O track which took me to an off-road climb. After a while, I noticed the back wheel was dragging its weight. My first puncture! No problem I was shown how to replace a tube in Christchurch. After some struggle, I succeeded in repairing the problem but as I loaded up my stuff to continue I noticed the wheel again had slowly lost its air again! Damn it! I checked the inside of the tire how could this happen? Well after a while some people that passed me on the way up that I naively told everything was under control were now on their way back down and kindly offered a ride to Omarama. En route and more likely to have somewhere to look at the bike professionally. I graciously accepted. Along the way, I was told some history of the area. For example around Lake Middleton is a large manor/gated home that is apparently owned by a high up Microsoft employee!
After a pleasant drive, we got into town, where I was left to my own devices to find someone who can help me out. An attendee at a petrol station informed me that the only place that could help is closed for the weekend. Luckily on the way out, I passed some experienced looking cyclists who took a look at the bike for me. Turns out that the second tube hadn't punctured! The valve was just leaking. Damn. Whilst they were helping me the group was organising the "next few hundred kays of today's ride". Damn!
Inspired, I headed out of town at double pace. This time the trail quality was much higher so I could enjoy the scenery without worrying about falling off.
Still motivated by the earlier cyclists, I tackled a hill with full power as I got higher and higher and further around the corner I couldn't help but notice I had severely overestimated how long I'd need to keep up this pace. The gears quickly dropped soon after. Eventually, I got to the top which to my delight offered views of my destination, preceded by a long downhill. Perfect.
Another lakeside view I quickly set up the hammock, fully aware of the looming grey cloud above me. I ate dinner sitting below the hammock, just in time for the rain.
Which makes me realise I haven't been talking about what I've been eating.
Well as you may know I'm not carrying a stove, and what I'm eating has to pack small but still have a large number of calories. I've settled on peanut butter wraps. And while riding I simply drink sugar water/plain water. So far I've also been starting the day with a gel as well. This has been going really well. The calorific water keeps me energised but light throughout the day and then the high-calorie meal in the evening ensure I don't get muscle fatigue. Obviously, this isn't a healthy diet and I would have liked to bring something like Sipreme with me but I would have had to been organised enough to send packages ahead of time. As someone who is no stranger to repetitive diets, this hasn't bothered me (except for one time where I made the crucial error of buying brown sugar instead of white, eurgh!). Although extremely predictable, I've been interested in the way this diet has caused me to have severe cravings, something that wasn't present with Sipreme, suggesting it was indeed meeting my daily requirements. Another thing about this system is that I'm able to maintain some semblance of the Warrior Diet. Although not completely water fasted like I used to be it's interesting to see that even with so much exercise I'm still able to keep energised on one "meal" a day.
Come to think about there are a few things I've been neglecting to mention. Like how much more comfortable the Outlier Slim Dungarees are for long distance cycling compared to the shorts. And how they have held up well without a scratch even though they are what I was wearing when I crashed the other day (although I do have a massive bruise exactly where a rivet is).
And now that I've got insulation and I'm out of the plains hammock camping does seem to be superior (although I imagine with a bivvy I'd be much more adventurous with my camping spots). I'm getting good sleep now and I can set it up fairly quickly. As for the Hennessey hammock, in particular, I feel kind of bad reviewing it because I'm sure it's an old model (and second hand at that). However, I appreciate the noob friendly design. The bug net is keeping me safe from the sand flies as I'm laying here despite it still being daylight outside. Plus, when set up properly I feel well protected from the rain. The velcro opening can be a pain, sticking to merino and scratching sunburnt skin. I feel like I'd have to try different hammocks to really get a feel for how to sleep in one as this feels too small. I know I've been cycling a lot which is causing tightness in my shoulders but sleeping like this every day can't help.
Day 8 - Otematata to Duntroon
Today was very strange. I woke up at sunrise to the sound of sheep grazing, maybe 10 meters away from me. I quickly dived through the velcro opening of the Hennessey hammock and grabbed my food bag and snuggled back into my sleeping bag in the hopes that nothing would come sniffing around. Luckily, nothing did, even though at one point there were sheep drinking from the lake on my right and sheep grazing on the grass to my left. After something like that there was no getting back to sleep so when the coast was clear I packed up and headed out of camp.
With some great hills for me to challenge myself on, I was treated to views of some more lakes and now hydro dams. I was surprised to see much of the "nature" I was seeing was man-made.
In Kurow I stopped to eat while debating whether or not to continue for the day. Judging by the map it wasn't too far so I figured I may as well continue.
The off-road route took me through a local winery, feeling like I was being marketed to I was questioning if I should head back to the highway. Then I turned a corner and the pathway opened into some quiet outback. Reminding me more of somewhere like Malaysia than New Zealand (I have so far been extremely impressed by how consistently the scenery has changed from one day to the next). This is when things started to go awry. As I headed deeper in the track the pathway got less and less "kept". Until finally I was moving over thick mud and branch-strewn forest. The final straw was when I crossed a small stream only to realise that around the corner was a fast-moving river. "Clearly I'm not supposed to be here." I thought to myself (well technically I expressed it out loud in more colourful terms). Anyway, I doubled back on myself an decided to take the sign saying "flood route, highway detour". Boy oh boy if you don't have an adventurous mindset this is not a route you should take. Taking me through thick wet woodland with collapsed trees, up steep gradients and over a stile (yes I had to lift my bike over a fence, twice), only to find myself in unused farmland with shin-high grass and the occasional prickly weed for good measure. During all this all I could think about was my mindset in Day 1 "this is what I wanted" and wondering what the hell I was talking about.
Back on the highway physically and mentally tired I threw I middle finger to the next A2O sign I saw. Apparently, I hadn't had enough because I decided to follow another off highway detour. Which lead me a good 10 minutes through some farmland only to be given a "No access" sign due to some irrigation process. Great.
Back on the highway, physically and mentally tired I vowed no more A2O and headed straight for the next town.
After a bit of a scare not finding a place to hang my hammock. I found a spot to start setting up. It didn't take long for a gentleman to inquire "Is that a Hennessey hammock you've got there?". We had a nice chat about hammock camping as he said he used a larger one on a motorbike tour!
Luckily the campground had hot showers so I took my time and washed away the stress from a difficult day.
Day 9 - Duntroon to Dunedin
After a good night's sleep, I topped up on my water reserves and packed up. I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable with the process of slinging up the hammock and taking it down. Especially when there are bugs around.
The scenery today wasn't particularly "wow" but had some interesting rock features and took me along a heritage trail. But for the most part I was taken through farmland, which I'm sure for some people is fun, but as a vegan, it just kinda makes you depressed. Especially when having to shepherd sheep, who for the most part figured they could just move to the sides. Except for two little'uns who I "chased" until they were cornered, at which point had to dart past me, clearly afraid for their lives.
Anyway, on to more positive things, today featured what must be the toughest climbs I've encountered. The kind where you have to shout out "COME ON!" when you're near the top while having to keep one eye closed because sweat got into it. Damn, that felt good. I treated myself to an early meal after that.
Soon after I found out why I was on "Tunnel Rd". After seeing the worrying reflection of mud just at the entrance of the tunnel I turned on my lights and kept my fingers figuratively crossed. This is where I found out my front light is basically useless. Barely making out the walls one meter away from me.
Effectively in the dark, I kept moving, hoping that whatever just went down my back was just a water droplet, and the feeling on my legs was just mud.
Slowly getting closer to the coast the air got that salty seaside smell and the breeze got colder.
After the tunnel, much of the trail was fairly simple. The kind of bike ride where your mind just wanders. Finally, I found civilisation, I was in Oamaru: very quirky town clearly rich in New Zealand history. Much of the architecture - I'm guessing it's famous for - is familiar to me from English towns. So for me, it felt like home.
My plan was to get a scenic coastline train from there to Middlemarch where I'd be able to start the next "official" trail immediately. Sadly, it turns out that that isn't possible. I was faced with two options: cycle (basically a highway all the way) or get a coach to Dunedin where I can then catch the train. Well, the first option is certainly what a low budget bikepacker would choose...but, well I didn't. For some reason over the past few days, every morning has been amazing and I'm excited to get going. But in the evening I just want the trip to go faster. I've certainly starting to get the feeling I've got what I wanted from this adventure.
Otago Gold Rush
Day 10 - Dunedin to Daisybank
After a good night's sleep in a hostel at Dunedin, I treated myself to the included breakfast. Well, goodbye Warrior Diet, there is free food and I haven't had anything but peanut butter for weeks. After a bit of a rush out the door and attempting to quickly navigate the settlement to the old train station.
After a relaxing train ride up the gorge; over old bridges and through deep tunnels, I reached Pukerangi. The end of the line, at least on this day. It's a shame because I was hoping to connect my route by one train journey straight from Oamaru and here I was one bus and one train later and I still had to bike the start of the Otago Rail Trail. With some tough but short climbs, the route from Pukerangi to Middlemarch is an enjoyable one with some interesting geography.
After topping up my water supply (which was lucky, as I soon learnt that supplies are slim along the trail) I made a start for the closest campground along the trail, Daisybank. Underestimating the gradient of this former railroad I struggled my way late into the afternoon. Getting tired and bored of the scenery (largely farmland) I decided I'd stop at the next shelter and call it a day. After finally relaxing at an old "gangers shed" it was time for a short 2km journey to the nearest trail loo. Which when I got there conveniently had a sign saying Daisybank was close by. Extremely tired but now motivated I pushed on.
As it turned out, according to a local living nearby, Daisybank isn't a campground just the label on the map makes it look like it is! Damn it! The campground was were that toilet was. I had already passed it!
After a bit more of a look around, sure enough I found a pathway down towards the river. After a creative hammock setup, there was enough sunlight left for a cool dip.
Day 11 - Daisybank to Omakau
Waking up to the rain, after struggling to sleep due to a slack rainfly flapping in the wind, is not fun. Hoping it was a short downpour I tried to go back to sleep. While I was, the tarp slowly collected more and more water until I noticed a small puddle forming. It was time to face the music. In what must have been my quickest pack away I threw on my cheap poncho and set off in search of proper shelter still in my thermals with my shorts on top.
Already covered in mud, the next i-site was my new sanctuary. The first place since Middlemarch with water, I got to resupplying. And asked if the weather was going to let up. The good news was yes but not until the afternoon. I decided to waste some time by eating but soon was back on the upward trail. Zoning out and focusing on my cycling form I got to the highest point of the trail. Strangely my mood switched from wanting to stop early to wondering if I can actually finish the trail in two days. Apart from the damp feeling, and some pitch black tunnels (that, after scraping the wall with my foot, I learnt that it is best to dismount, as instructed) the rest of the ride was a smooth cruise.
Time to wash my mud covered clothes and dry my damp hammock whilst taking a much-needed shower.
Day 12 - Omakau to Roxburgh
After staying up late in Omakau I returned to my hammock to find that perhaps my hammock rigging skills weren't as good as I was beginning to think. The rainfly pinned down firmly due to the occasional wind was indeed pinned down, rather than outward. Due to the diamond shape of the shelter, the top and bottom of the hammock had gotten wet while I was relaxing in the kitchen/TV room. Oops.
Collecting my (luckily, synthetic) sleeping bag I returned to the kitchen and became a couch surfer for the night.
Waking up early and unsure if sleeping on the couch was actually an okay thing to do or not I decided to get up and inspect my gear which, in a sleepy haze, was left to its own devices in the rain. It seemed the rain did not persist all night as the hammock was dry. Still tired I slowly started packing away.
On the last leg of the generally disappointing Otago Rail Trail, I came across my friend whom I met just before arriving in Tekapo before parting ways when I decided to take a day off after the crash. It was nice catching up and he left me with a warning that the highway I will be taking to my next route is a difficult one. And with that, we were off.
Arriving in the settlement of Alexandra, I stopped for supplies and got my bike looked at, ever since Day 1, when my chain fell off, I've been avoiding my highest gears due to a worrying sound the chain would make. While that was getting taken care of I went for a walk around town. Making use of New World's free Wi-Fi (a supermarket chain) to prepare a blog post and visiting Molyneux park, which I found funny since a podcaster I admire is Stefan Molyneux.
Related: Introduction to Secular Ethics
Anyway, I returned to the bike shop where the mechanic basically said that nothing is wrong, there is just a lot of tension and if you change gear like so then it should be fine. Well at least the bike was cleaned... paying a humbly low sum of money for my non-issue I bought a puncture repair kit and went on my way. Messing with the gears I felt fairly unsatisfied with the advice. Before I left town I paid for some wi-fi to finish uploading the blog post.
The next few hours of hell were along the highway I was warned about. Wow. Definitely my most intense ride yet, I was treated to some of the biggest gradients (up and down) I had encountered yet. Wanting to stop but knowing I had to use momentum to get out of some of these climbs I just kept on going. It's a good thing I had regained access to my hardest gears because if I wasn't fully using the downhill momentum I would have been screwed. I have no idea how my friend made it with four panniers. Saying all that, it was hard but I enjoyed it and I learnt a lot of cycling technique. And mental fortitude at that.
After a final hill, I rolled through the beautiful town of Roxburgh lined with fruit orchards and roadside sales of fresh produce, the temptation was too strong. After a tough ride I "rewarded" myself with some nice fresh cherries.
It was on the outskirts of this town that I found my favourite campground so far; with free unlimited Wi-Fi, I was in heaven.
Day 13 - Roxburgh to Beaumont
Waking up to the symphony of frogs, birds and horses as the sun rose I quickly got out of the hammock, popped to the toilet, got my earplugs, and went back to sleep. Aah. After a few rough nights, a relaxing morning is what I needed. Catching up on some YouTube and the latest episodes of dragon ball super, I had what must have been my most chill morning since Tekapo. Sad to leave and seriously considering staying another night I left at around 12. My latest start so far.
Catching up with my family, I was given the advice to adjust the tension on my rear derailleur, initially, this brought back my original problem but after playing with the gears and the chain falling off again everything seems to be running well. Could do with some lubricant though.
Today's ride was very relaxing but at under 50km, it was also one of my shortest. I was taken along the Clutha River with some interesting historical information about New Zealand, like how the now extinct native Eagles could hunt the, also extinct, Moa - a 2m tall flightless bird!
Day 14 - Beaumont to Balcutha
Not wasting any time getting out of camp, knowing I had a long day ahead of me, I packed up and left at around 8:30 am.
The final segment of the Clutha Gold Trail took me away from the river and back into farmland. And was generally a nice ride.
Reaching Lawrence, I resupplied just in time to head onto the highway in the pouring rain.
After an enjoyable downhill, I stopped and dried in the sun while contemplating my next move. It was only midday and was making good progress. Take it easy and stop at Milton or push through en route to Balclutha? Feeling good I went and took the right-hand turn towards Balclutha. Immediately into a headwind. Combined with some great hills I pushed on and rejoiced as the town sign came into view after a particularly hard climb.
Utilising the free wi-fi at the information point I met another cycle tourer who had started in Auckland and says that the Catlins (my next destination) has been his favourite place. Nice.
Day 15 - Balclutha to Pounawea
Covering my face with my sleeping bag when I woke up, noticing that at some point in the night the rainfly had blown over onto one side. I had neglected to tie it down as the only place I could set up in Balclutha was the garage of the motor camp. Not having the rainfly over me might have been a nice experience if I wasn't sleeping in full view of the public!
Eventually, I got up and had a look at where I will be going, the highlight of the day was to be nugget point, however, on the map, it looked like there were a few shops in the Catlins so I figured I'd do a fairly large food haul while I was in town. I have switched to bread instead of wraps recently, mainly to save money as value brand wraps are hard to come by. I've noticed though that since the change I seem to be able to eat more (it could just be my body deciding to have more calories as I've simply been eating until satisfied rather than aiming for a certain amount of calories). According to some (very) rough math, last night (and finishing supplies this morning) I had approximately 5000 calories, not including the sugar water I drank while cycling. That's a lot of calories! In (mostly) one meal!
After resupplying, I got onto the southern scenic route and just out of town took a dismal wrong turn to the Finegrand "farm" where a truck full of farm animals passed me and eventually lead into a building with silos marked "inedible" on the other side. This is where meat comes from folks. Just in time for Christmas.
With that looming on my conscience, I moved on to the coastline where I was buffeted by the fresh sea air.
Moving on towards nugget point, the road quality deteriorated the closer I got until I straight up had to get off and walk some parts. Right at the end, the road improved again, but there was no cause to celebrate as there was a long winding climb to get past first.
Again underestimating how far I could get today I cycled straight past my planned campground and headed for Owaka and again after some nasty climbs (this time rewarded by a good downhill) I found myself at the i-site asking which campground is best for hammock-ers. I was advised Powanea and must say I agree with the recommendation. Rolling into the campground I was treated to beautiful birdsong.
After having setup and eaten dinner I took a walk along the local track. First into the forested area and back along the estuary.
Day 16 - Pounawea to Tawanui
Waking repeatedly to the pitter patter of rain drumming on the rainfly (now properly setup, I felt seemingly well protected on the sides, unlike on my previous post) I got up early and headed for the kitchen, sanctuary from the rain.
Moments before check out I concluded it was no use to wait out the rain so I began to pack up in the damp.
Today wasn't a particularly difficult day of cycling but the weather kept it interesting. On and off rain with occasional hail mixed with a headwind kept me second guessing.
My Atom LT Hoody held up well with the conditions maintaining (some) warmth and drying very quickly in the few moments the sun shone through. Not making it very far along the Catlins - zigzagging between different tourist destinations I got to enjoy a new type of scenery: the rainforest.
Learning that a walk I want to do may take an entire day I decided to camp at the trailhead early. Escaping the rain I napped for 3 hours after eating dinner in the hammock. Using my sleeping bag to keep me upright in what was a reasonably comfortable position.
Day 17 - Catlins River Loop
Well, today was a "break" from cycling, instead, I did a day hike along the Catlins River.
Armed with only my water bladder, a bottle of sugar water and some peanut butter wraps I took the hard option to make what is supposed to be a two-day hike into a one day loop. Knowing that the estimated times were for people with heavy packs I figured I'd be quicker.
Starting early in Tawanui I was quickly taken into the rainforest and indeed the entire trail I enjoyed the sound of flowing water as I journeyed alongside the river. With the occasional exciting river crossing.
No time to take a break in The Wisp (the other side of the track) as I was getting eaten alive by sand flies. Time to take the (sadly very littered) logging road back and eat my wraps on the way.
Taking a detour into the woods I emerged near the top of a hill for stunning panoramic views.
Time for a well-earned rest.
Day 18 - Tawanui to McLean Falls
Waking up late after an uncomfortable night (I think there was too much slack in the hammock, either way, my knee joints are starting to feel stressed from being bent outward while I sleep) I packed up quickly due to the sand flies and after some worryingly muddy water coming out of the campsite tap (I found a spider in my bottle!) I eventually got some (relatively) clean water coming out. Without a stove for boiling or a water filter etc. getting water in the Catlins has been a gamble.
After a few days of avoiding using the caffeinated gels, I went ahead and used one before starting the climb out of Tawanui. Woah! I hadn't realised how much of a difference these things make. Maybe it was because I hadn't cycled yesterday (and my form is improving) but I felt really strong today.
After a few days of roughing it in a DOC site, it was time for a proper shower and somewhere with internet. En route was one of the few shops in the Catlins. Closed. Great. And nearby The Lost Gypsy Caravan (a museum/theatre with great reviews on CamperMate). Also closed. This forms a problem, as despite stocking up, I have maybe just over 1 day's worth of food left. And at least two more days of riding.
With this in mind, I avoided some of the touristy detours in order to get to the campsite which handily has a restaurant/bar. Allowing me to delay going through my supplies. Nearby to the famous McLean Falls, I did find time to make that detour.
Spotting someone in need a member of staff gave me a blanket! So kind!
Day 19 - McLean Falls to Invercargill
I think I need to stop saying things like "today was my hardest day yet".
Waking up to dry gear I packed up and left fairly quickly but not before having a chat with an English couple about what it's like to cycle tour, in which, I expressed concerns about my food supplies.
To my absolute surprise, I found the same couple waiting for me later in the day with a gift of food! It's things like this that remind you of the good in the world.
Not long after seeing them again at Curio Bay preparing to surf I entered the worst weather I have encountered so far. The day had been a battle against the howling coastal winds but when I got caught in a hail storm brought on by cold Antarctic winds my wit's cracked. After stubbornly pushing against the pebble-sized hail for a minute I turned around and headed back to the close by town. I had barely turned around when the hail abruptly stopped as quickly as it started.
It was a few minutes later that I noticed bruises on my legs from where the hail was hitting me.
The rest of the day didn't get any easier. Getting blasted by a crosswind on a steep decline I feel the bike almost go from under me and climbing up a damp gravel road the back wheel would repeatedly lose traction forcing me to walk some sections.
Around 10 km away from my destination and it starting to get late, the hail returned.
A small bus drove past me as I secretly wished for it to pick me up. I snuck a look up and there it was pulling over on the side of the road. In a stroke of luck, the owner was a local taking his bus turned camper for an MOT he'd done some cycle touring himself so knew the pain I was feeling.
We passed a family of cycle tourists and he gave them access to his home as we continued past Fortrose (my planned destination) he pointed out the campground, no trees, no protection from the wind or rain. If it wasn't for the lift I'd have been hiding in the public toilets all night.
Taking me all the way to Invercargill we parted ways as he dropped me outside the information centre. It's things like this that remind you of the good in the world.
Finding a nice warm hostel it's time to think about this cycle tour a bit more critically given these experiences.
Revelation and Return
So after some time reflecting in Invercargill about the experiences I'd had over the course of the bike tour I have decided to return to Christchurch.
The great thing I found about the cycle tour is that between the hardening weather and euphoria from a tough climb there were moments of peace, where your mind just wonders.
It was during these moments that I started to notice a pattern. The same thoughts about where I want to be, who I want to be and so on kept on returning. After some time I could visualise these things so clearly that it was painful not to be working towards these goals.
And thus I have returned with what I've learnt, the ups and downs of the road were ups and downs of life and the resistant winds the resistance to your goals.