Blog // Tales from the trail
- Total distance - 80 km
- Total dirt track - 20 km
- Time taken ~ 8.5 hours
- Total climbing - 1,174 m
- Number of killer hills - at least 2
- Sandflies - painful
- Heroes met - 1!
This ride was to seriously push my limits of what I though I could do. Deciding on our route for this stint (either the long way on the highway or cross-country from Pelorus Bridge over a mountain pass - which was apparently pretty sketchy on the downhill; we opted for the highway) we knew this ride was going to be a big one; we just hadn't anticipated how exhausted we'd be at the end of it, nor how memorable it would be - not because of THE monstrous hill, but because of a serendipitous meeting with a completely lovely stranger.
Loaded up on mussels (and muscles?), we bid Havelock-mussel-heaven-town a hearty adieu and set-off. We were very pleased when the campsite owner pointed out it was a Sunday which meant fewer trucks on the road. Clearly buoyed by the relative 'ease' that we had cycled the hilly route from Picton yesterday, we reached the picturesque (and Hobbit-famous filming location) Pelorus bridge in just over an hour - almost 20 km down the road.
Spying a coffee sign, we pulled off into the campsite cafe and ordered a couple of flat whites. It seems we spent too much time salivating over the delicious looking pies at the counter as we were unable to walk away pie-free and talked ourselves into buying a couple... for lunch. It turned out to be a very wise decision because after a few hours looking for places (villages, towns) to stop and eat, we realised following a quick map check that we'd cycled through all the 'places' without realising - no more than names on the map.
Well, we'd come further than we thought we'd have at this point, so stopped at the next picnic spot sign, located alongside a pretty stream, looking forward to a leisurely lunch of pie and cake.
A long, leisurely lunch, it was not! This was to be our first introduction to the infamous South-Island sandfly. Within minutes, they had covered all our bare bits of skin. We rummaged through the panniers in a panic searching for the sandfly repellent kindly given to us by some knowing travellers a few weeks ago, and slathered the oily substance on. It provided some relief but lunch turned into a stand-up-and-move-quickly-from-foot-to-foot kind of affair and we were wheeling our bikes back to the salvation of the road whilst finishing the last mouthfulls of pie off. We weren't relishing the thought of reaching the west-coast where the sandflies hail from!
Sandflies aside, the journey was going well: two-thirds of the way there, traffic not too bad and the wind behaving, we thought we'd be in Nelson by mid-afternoon, tent pitched and hopefully a chilled glass of rose in hand. However, with another 25 km to go, the killer hill we'd anticipated loomed. Stopping for a water break and a handful of dates, we assessed it, got into a low gear and started to pedal. Twenty minutes later, we were still going up and were tiring quickly.
Stopping for yet another break, we watched somewhat miffed, as another cyclist pedalled with ease up the hill behind us on a super light-weight bike with minimal stuff. Stopping, he took off his helmet and said with a grin "You're almost at the top!". The conversation started and it wasn't long before he was offering to show us a quiet and scenic offroad route into Nelson if we were up for it -"A little more climbing, but then it's 10 km downhill all the way into Nelson" he said. Unsure how to answer, because although it sounded like a very attractive offer, we were clearly not in this cycle dude's league, fearing we'd left behind in the wilderness in his bike dust. "Don't worry!" he said cheerily, "I'm on way home after about 200 km this weekend so I'm happy to take it easy!".
Judging by his performance up the hill, I'm not sure his idea of 'taking it easy' was quite the same as mine! Cycling ahead so that he could call his wife from the top of the hill to let her know he was on his way home, we agreed to meet him in on the dirt track just off the main road. 'This is mental,' I thought, as we heaved our bikes, bags and all, over the padlocked gate marking the start of the track. I was well aware that Kiwis were friendly, but this seemed over-the-top friendly, even by their standards. We were being led off into the unknown by a complete stranger and I was, I'll be honest, a little wary, not to mention, weary.
"Pssssssst! What if we're about to be murdered?!", I whispered to Keith, admittedly a little dramatically.
"Well, how do you know we're not?! Maybe he called his wife to tell her he was going to be late?! Maybe he doesn't even have a wife!!"
"Stop being absolutely ridiculous!", Keith hissed before cycling ahead to our new friend, Gordon's side.
Well, I'm telling the tale so clearly we weren't murdered and chopped up into bits. Gordon was an absolute legend! There was more climbing, all the harder because it was off-road, but there were no more cars or trucks whizzing past or punishing heat off the tarmac. He chatted enthusuastically about the area and the numerous cycling tracks around, kept alongside us, didn't mind stopping when I was on the verge of passing out and shared lots of cycle-friendly tips and routes. He was in training for a combined south to north island cycle which he was aiming to do in about 21 days (THAT'S mental!), and knew lots about packing lightly and getting off the main roads where possible.
Even though I was absolutely, completely and utterly done, my legs threatening to drop off with every pedal stroke, my bum numb with saddle sore and even though I wished we were just there already, the last kilometres on the dirt road up and over the valley were memorable for their scenic beauty, solitude and complete novelty of being on a secret trail.
Once in Nelson, a lovely little town nestled between lots of big hills, Gordon pointed out the best cafes and craft beer stops before depositing us outside the local campsite, handing us a mobile number for any future questions about routes before pedalling off home to his wife. Gordon: What. A. Guy! Thank you for an absolutely memorble experience (and for not murdering us!).
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