Day One (Kapiti to Foxton Beach)
In the days leading up to the Taupo trip I had about me that 'Start line' feeling. You know the one - Anything is possible. The anticipation sees you getting through days with greater ease than usual, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that this is truly living - to have a crystal clear purpose, and for it to be related to something that is immensely important in your life.
More so (if that is possible), you are also acutely aware that your definition of 'comfort' is about to be once again redefined. This invariably creates a response whereby your senses are heightened, with a singular focus on the world, and more often than not a smile on your face. Most of all though, you know that the day to day life most see as ok, is on hold once more. It's not ok. This is the reason for your anticipation - you are about to continue one of your many pockets of 'truly living'. Yes. The adventure is at your doorstep, and the next few days are what you will make of them.
Day One would be the entrée. 78kms from home to Foxton Beach, with the pace easy, and at times an unexpected tailwind providing some company. I also popped in to see Paul Rawlinson (and family) in Levin. Much piss taking followed on the amount of gear I was taking. One day I’ll tell everyone the joke is on them, and the panniers / trailer setup were in fact filled with polystyrene...and weighed next to nothing. That would be a lie though. I had with me the entire week's food, and most of it was canned. Paul suggested dried food for the next trip - about halfway along the Desert Road I pondered this sentiment, and I suspect we won't be debating the merits of taking heavy food supplies. It's always good to pop in to see the Rawlinson's, and I even had time to ride past the Levin Velodrome, where the local club were racing. The journey north was indeed off to a pleasant start.
"Pleasant" is not an image everyone has of Foxton however. The issues with gangs, drugs, and alcohol in the area probably mean many are more likely to lock their doors as they drive through rather than stop for the night. Personally, I’ve found the area to be ok as I’ve previously driven through. Doors may have incidentally been locked, but this doesn’t diminish from the town's sheen and appeal. It would seem that if you have a plot of marijuana growing nearby you could have a comfortable lifestyle in the settlement. I'm not sure what other job prospects exist. (Although if you drop me a line you can enlighten me).
I considered staying in the picnic area on the southern side Foxton's welcoming long bridge - One that a cyclist should never travel across by the way. (Use the footpath that is underneath instead). Not out of fear of Foxton's populace, but simply out of convenience. (And to save some hard earned coin).
My spot for the night was an easy choice. I don't think that the rubbish in the picnic area had been collected for over a fortnight, and empty takeaway wrappers competed with similarly empty beer bottles for space around the overflowing bins. I stopped. Surveying the area all around me were flies. Additionally, it dawned on me that all you needed was a polluted stream nearby, with perhaps a nuclear power plant to one side and it would be the makings slightly silly start to a trip. Foxton has no power plant of the nuclear variety, but I crossed over the polluted river, and with the light slowly dimming I carried on towards the settlement.
It had seemed like a good idea to finish work just an hour early before cycling north. Now though I was wishing that I had done a half day instead. It was 7:30pm before I arrived at the destination. This wasn’t helped by my cycle computer seemingly having failed halfway out to the beach. This did not bode well for the trip, as I like to keep a record of trip distances etc, and guesstimates would possibly follow if didn’t get this sorted. I stopped. (Again). Several minutes were spent checking everything, but no cadence or speed readouts were now available. It looked like the speedo had been an early victim on this trip. 500 meters later my data popped up again and said pedal and bike speeds were back.
Coincidently, the same thing happened on the way north the following day through the exact same section of road. It would seem that wireless speedos don't like a cris-cross of power lines overhead. Oddly, I've never had this problem in any city, but in Foxton the speedo cut out periodically. Perhaps there is a hidden power plant nearby, and Tourism New Zealand are simply for the right moment to promote this possible tourist attraction to our foreign friends.
A short while later, with the tent setup, a big dinner followed. I chatted with a British couple who were travelling for a year - their trip leads onto Australia after a month in the South Island. Then back to New Zealand for Christmas. Ignoring the rationale of travelling back to New Zealand for effectively a 'big lunch', I asked the seemingly innocent question of where in New Zealand Christmas was happening for them - in unison I received two differing answers. Subsequent comments would establish that Christmas was either happening in Auckland, "Which is silly as we will be in Wellington" or it is happening "Somewhere South". The couple's plans began to be debated at length. My work, it would seem, was done. I excused myself from the communal kitchen and sorted the following day's food and clothing.
The bike handled the first day well. It did however take several hours to get used to any movement being transferred to the back of the bike, and frankly cycling with touring gear is an art not a science. You'll find yourself over steering the bike if you become inattentive, but like anything you adjust and adapt. (Or crash. I suppose).
This is quite something. To know each day that all your world is focused solely on reaching the plotted destination. In between you eat, drink, and pedal. Nothing more is needed. Nothing it would seem could be better.
Distance - 76.7kms
Max Speed - 43.9kph
|Lunch break on Day Two - Nice long straights!!|
Day Two (Foxton Beach to just south of Taihape)
An early rise, combined with a leisurely breakfast, made for a late departure. Ohakune had been my original destination, but my realisation that it's all (apparently) up hill on the Foxton to Sanson Highway, left me reconsidering how realistic a 176km day would be. It could be done, but did I really want to arrive at my destination at 7:30pm once again??
Before continuing, I would like to acknowledge the help of the mighty good cyclist Nick Dunne. Not only has he completed the Ten Lapper for the Taupo Challenge, but over the last couple of years I've had the pleasure of getting to know him better as a mate also. On more than one occasion we have sat and 'talked cycling' for longer than most people's weekly long ride. Nick made the two yellow pannier bags for my touring - they are yellow in colour, and gold in quality. Then he also gave me possibly the worlds smallest gas cooker - and if I was inclined to, then I'm sure I could use the cooker to burn a hole through concrete. Bloody good stuff, and perfect for touring. Nick is one of the many Kiwi Endurance cyclists I refer to as my Brother. Nick is currently spending more time with his family, and I know his wife and two kiddies will be very receptive to Nick being around more. He'll bank away the brownie points and the itch will return. I have seen the journey that awaits Nick - you see, Nick is better than he knows. And he is better than many currently realise. Yes. When Nick returns he will turn heads. Both figuratively with what he achieves, and the heads of cyclists sheepishly watching him pass by them. The non-believers are out there. For the record I would like to tell them: 1) They are wrong. 2) They can clear off.
With the tour north continuing I reassessed my objectives. Just before Bulls Plan B became Taihape, and everything stemmed back from the new destination for the day. Through the town I passed a car with a "Watch for cyclists" sticker on the back window. It was Andrew Elliston. Cool guy, and one of the fellow entrants from when I did the Maxi Enduro. That was quite some field, with Josh Kench and Ron Skelton also lining up with us. Andrew, it transpires, had back surgery about five weeks ago, so "it would be only one lap this year". Love it!! (This sentiment has probably alienated 5,500 cyclists, and this may shed some light on why endurance cyclists are such a tight knit group).
The day was a hot one. 'Yes' a cool breeze was about, but the sun was relentless. It would be this way until Waiouru was in sight the following day, but for this day I grew accustomed to the heat, and assumed I knew it until I passed through Hunterville and started the first of the climbs through the Mangaweka's. Each climb grew slightly longer, the heat slightly hotter, and my pace slightly slower. From a weight loss perspective this was touring at it's best - I probably lost two kilograms on that last long climb before Taihape. It went on and on and on. Thoughts passed, my mind wandered, and later in the day feeling would slowly return to my hands.
With the three cycle drink bottles empty, and the water down to just my spare (two litre) container, I found myself just south of Taihape. The hills were behind me, and all I had now was the decision on where to stay. My options boiled down to a tent site ($25 - thanks very much). Or going bush (free). A short while later I noticed that the fence was no longer at the side of the road. Behind was lush grass and trees. And also in the area was my spot for the night. The entire area initially seemed dark and gloomy, but by the time I had the tent setup I was pretty impressed with the location. 50 meters from the highway, and in hindsight probably the best spot for the week away. I was receiving texts telling me that Mount Tongariro was erupting. I didn’t really care to be honest. This had been a good day, I was setup for the night, and I was soon to discover that not only were lentils really easy to cook but I also loved eating them after a day of cycling.
I went to sleep with the sound of bell birds, tui's, and every single passing truck. Packing earplugs was a wise move.
Distance - 125.95kms
Max Speed - 49.4kph
|Awesome spot for Day Two's campsite.|
Day Three (Just south of Taihape to just north of Turangi)
Ultimately this day would be about one thing - The Desert Road. I love to cycle this stretch of desolate highway. It's an amazingly busy road, yet you can go several minutes at a time seeing no cars, and in that time it's like you've found a hidden country road to explore. Try to capture that feeling while travelling in a convoy of trucks and cars.
Waiouru saw the temperature drop by about five degrees. This did not bode well for the road ahead, but the hail and rain that was just south never caught up. Waiouru also meant an early lunch and I now had all the water I needed. The first 40 minutes of the day saw me cycling dry, as I had used the last of the water before setting off - spare water would always be handy from this point onwards. As it happened, in both directions along the 65km Desert Road I'd use the emergency water - do no under estimate how important this commodity is when your bottles run dry.
The Desert Road then. I knew what to expect this time: 1) The climb to the plateau. 2) The first 'step', with the sweeping climb to the left at the end. 3) 'Step' number two, with a climb towards the right at the end. 4) The rolling hills. 5) The long descent into Turangi.
Last time I cycled this stretch of road it was the Kapiti to Taupo ride to get up to the 2011 Ironman event. That day, for some reason, I thought there was just one long straight, and I almost sat down on the side of the road to have a cry when I realised I had another straight to go before the rollers. (It was also raining with a headwind that day 18 months ago, so the conditions were tough). This day however, was perfect for cycling. Slightly overcast, little wind, and (for those that way inclined) the faintest smell of sulphur from Mount Tongariro.
Along Desert Road I met Sarah and Dan. Sarah was driving the length of New Zealand in 30 to 36 days. Dan was running the length of New Zealand in 30 to 36 days. I had a roadside cup of coffee with them, and we exchanged a few energy bars. Dan is running between 50kms and 60kms per day - Bloody impressive. A little further up the road Andrew and Helen Morrison passed me. We had a great chat. Andrew looked in great shape, and he was in a relaxed state for his Maxi Enduro event that was now less than 24 hours away.
This is pretty much how the day went, with toots from cars, wide berths from trucks, and the occasional chat. The occasional bit of cycling happened as it needed to. I descended into Turangi in great spirits, and sped through to the campground just north of Turangi. My final catch-up of the day was with a rider ('Kerry'), who was doing the Extreme Enduro (eight laps). He signed the pannier bag on the go, and said that Damian Day (along with a few others) had pulled out due to Mount Tongariro's brief eruption. It sounded pretty grim for those effected by the ash cloud.
I thought about rides like the Graperide on the trip north. A heap of training, two weeks of tapering, smashing yourself during the race, and then two weeks of being 'not right'. In the context of that, I'd done 16 hours in the last two days and felt stronger everyday. It's a pretty cool way of life if you enjoy pedalling all day.
Distance - 130.59kms
Max Speed - 51.9kp
|Start line of the Maxi Enduro.|
Day Four (Just north of Turangi to Taupo)
A short day on the bike, and just over 37kms to the start line of the Maxi Enduro. Everyone was pretty much there in Kiwi endurance cycling circles, with Eugene Collins (broken collar bone) and Nick Dunne (enjoying a short break) the only notable exceptions. The riders setoff with Tim Neal, Andrew Morrison, and Craig McGregor all in Potato Guy tops. Elsewhere in the field were Greg Manson and Josh Kench (who was out to break the record for the circuit).
What followed was my only meal of the week consisting of meat - who would have thought I'd be a vegetarian for any period of time?? Then it was the Hammer stand at the Taupo Expo until 10pm. A long day, but a very enjoyable experience once again.
Heading back to the accommodation we decided to see the times for the riders and found five of them at the check-in area. Greg Manson wouldn’t mind me saying that he looked pretty rough, but the riders otherwise looked fairly fresh, and with a time thus far of 11:30 this was impressive. They had half the race to go, it would transpire that just seven of the 16 starters would make the finish.
Distance - 37.28kms
Max Speed - 44.3kph
|Ron Skelton at the top of Hatepe...and on his way to winning the Taupo Extreme Enduro.|
Day Five (Taupo to Raehiti)
Five hours sleep would be enough. Up by 5:15am and cycling by 6am. By the time I reached Turangi I had spent a full 90 minutes off the bike - Photos, chit chat, and generally enjoying the Taupo Challenge from a spectator's perspective.
Brian Bushe was in either 9th or 10th place for the Enduro as the cyclists neared the end of Lap 1. About a minute behind him were 12 to 15 in the chasing bunch. He knew they were there, and obviously had a good Lap 2, as he climbed a further four places in the second lap. Pretty bloody good.
Also seen were the Women's Elite racers, the Men's Elite racers, and an assortment of Enduro and Maxi Enduro cyclists. And me - cycling the 'wrong way' around the lake as I pedalled towards home.
Shortly before Turangi I saw Josh Kench, who was on his forth and final lap. He had hooked in with the dropped women from the elite race, and they were working as a group. He looked pretty happy with the world, and looked to be heading for a time just under 24 hours.
At Turangi Craig McGregor called out that "Ron was at BK". I like Craig. There is no BS, and his understated demeanour hides the fact that he has done probably every endurance event available at arms reach. His call of Ron being ahead had me confused though, as Ron Skelton had been seen at the top of Hatepe earlier in the morning. It was Ron. He had finished in a time of 68 hours and was in fine form. It was a good catch-up, and nice to have a chat with a pretty impressive cyclist. He put his squiggle on the panniers and outside we had a photo taken of us. (Send it through Ron!!).
Time to knuckle down. The climb out of Turangi goes forever, and I had an early lunch at the top. Then the 'rollers'. Then the two long straights before Waiouru. It was a special day of riding. I really love the Desert Road. Not in a superficial, 'I love chocolate' kind of way. But more in a 'spiritually enriching experience' kind of way. The landscape is huge, and you simply accept that cycling forwards is your only option.
Waiouru came soon enough. Actually, it didn’t really. I had a headwind the whole way through the Desert Road, and it took a lifetime to get along the central plateau. It would be fair to say that the journey was a slow one, but as long as progress was being made I was happy.
So the decision. Continue south and retrace my steps, or instead turn right and head west to Ohakune. I turned right and enjoyed both a tailwind and downhill ride for the next 27kms.
Arriving at Ohakune I was ready for dinner and a shower, but very early in this trip I got into the mindset of not assuming I had arrived at my destination until the tent was setup. Wandering into the office at Top 10 Ohakune I wanted just two things: 1) Directions to Wanganui. (For the next day's journey). 2) A tent site.
I got neither.
The staff at Top 10 Ohakune didn’t know which road should be taken to Wanganui. (I kid you not). Better yet, an unpowered tent site was $40. (That's forty dollars). I thanked the woman for her time, and departed. She looked somewhat surprised. It was 6pm on a Saturday night, and I assume that she thought I had no other options. There is always a solution my friends. I cycled back to the main street and looked about. The tourist information office had a 24 hour kiosk I could use, but unfortunately some womble had placed it on the inside of the tourist information area - and had locked the doors. Elsewhere we had 18 to 25 year olds sitting on the streets outside of the backpackers - They looked bored, and I suspected that with a bit of alcohol to lubricate things this place had the potential to get a bit silly. No one had a map which was odd, but then again neither did I.
So with the light slowly fading I decided on one important point - whatever I did I would do it now. I asked for directions to the next town (Raetihi), and was pleasantly surprised at the town being just 11kms away. I had a wry smile on my face as I cycled to Raetihi - of all of the perfect locations I had seen that day for camping out, and I now found myself surrounded by dairy farms. Not a hideaway for miles it would seem. I almost slept in a hedge, which would have been better than it sounds, but Raetihi awaited.
I arrived in Raetihi and had dinner. (Actually, I arrived in Raehiti, found a note on the campsite office door saying, "Back later - No sites available - Do not stay here". Then I sent up a tent in one of the dozen or so available sites, had then had dinner). The term 'Sleepy' would be an apt one for Raehiti. As long as you can get past the sound of cars doing burnouts about couple of blocks away. On the doorstep of a National Park, and still the local youth get bored easily it seems.
Wanganui was just 88kms away. Just a tease really. I decided I might try for Bulls. While a long day, it would still be about 20kms less than today. Either way, I had approximately 250kms of cycling left for the last two days of the trip.
Distance - 165.04kms
Max Speed - 53.4kph
|A brief stop during the Paraparas - The couple I met were almost 70 and were cycling the length of New Zealand.|
Day Six (Raehiti to Bulls via the 'Paraparas')
I rose at 5am, and while the gear was being packed (and porridge cooked), small talk ensued. I queried several other campers as to how their race went, and simply got a reply of "non non" from each of them. "Who says the art of small talk is dead", was my reply to the collective group, and I finish packing gear and breakfast.
It had seemed a logical assumption that these cyclists, located here the day immediately after the Taupo Challenge, had 'Done Taupo'. No. Surrounding me were 20 to 25 cyclists, all in their mid to late 60's, with a range of bikes as varied as their demeanours, and they were all cycling the length of New Zealand. They all seemed confused by my questions about their ride around the lake. This was not helped by one minor point - not a word of English existed between the lot of them.
I setoff and my surroundings were hills and a low fog - the latter would remain for an hour. The former all day. Few roads are like this one. The Paraparas, as I was to find out, is a road that delivers you to Wanganui via a very hilly circuit, with non-stop winding corners. But, (and here's the clincher), you are descending from altitude (538 meters above sea level) to a coastal town. Thus, each climb was enjoyed as you'll soon see a new amazing view at the next summit - and despite this reward you were also apologetically given a longer descent than the distance of your last climb. This pattern was repeated all day, with each new view seemingly better than the last, and the descents always a little longer than you would have expected. A golden day of riding - one day I’ll ride it in reverse. That will be even better.
90 minutes into the ride I heard a rubbing sound and saw that a spoke on the rear wheel had popped. ("Spokes" have now been added to my gear list). It took 40 minutes to remove the gear, apply a series of duct tape sections between spokes, and put the gear back onto the bike. This worked. Actually, it worked very well, and I was mighty impressed with my roadside repairs.
Two of my foreign friends caught up to me by now. We chatted, (as much as possible anyway), and for the next 90 minutes we then leapfrogged each other - them flying down the descents, and me passing them on the climbs. (Odd but true). I then passed one of the pair on a descent. This breaking of one of the many unwritten rules of road cycling meant that on the next climb they took off. au revoir!!
The hills continued until I was about 20kms from Wanganui. No hills left. Just one small mountain. To say the climb was a long one would be an understatement. In front of me a family stopped at the picnic site for lunch. In front of me, as I slowly climbed, they ate, played, packed up, and departed before I reached them. I too would have my lunch at the top. (It happened about 20 minutes later than I would have liked). At the top was an amazing view of rolling hills in every direction. I was going to take some pictures, but I couldn’t be arsed, so take my word for it. Or better yet, ride it.
The descent was expected to start immediately, but instead was a ridgeline that last about 3kms. No shear drops on either side of the road, but paddocks well below none the less. This was quite surreal, as I didn’t know the road and therefore didn’t know when the descent would start. Eventually the descent started, and with it the run-in to Wanganui.
Wanganui is known for two happenings in recent years. 1) Banning gang patches. 2) The town being renamed to "Whanganui". Everyone still calls the town Wanganui however, including, I would imagine, our patched friends who now have a sweater over their hard earned 'cuts'.
Today however Wanganui was all about the wind. I would have a head wind the whole way to the city. The wind's strength grew as I got closer. So much so, that surrounded by local shops and recreational parks, I looked down at one stage to see that I was crawling along at 13.4kph.
The next thought was more pleasant however, and that involved the approaching left turn that I'd shortly be taking. More hills awaited, but it didn’t matter, as the wind would hopefully be at my back once I turned towards Bulls.
And it was.
The remainder of the trip was fast, and frankly I was impressed as to how much time I was making up. It would be an early dinner.
My tea would be delayed by several minutes however, as the owner of the Bulls motor camp proceeded to tell me how he had, "Recently done a cycling tour". My response (in hindsight) should have been "That's nice". But instead I naively asked how far his trip was. "1,250kms of cycling…in five days". He was quite clear that he had cycled the trip. My new cycling friend, I should point out, was on the wrong side of 16 stone, and it had by now become apparent that the smell of alcohol in the office was in fact coming from him. I decided the previous possible sentiment hadn’t quite reached it's expiry date. "Good on ya mate", I commented as I wandered off to pitch my tent.
Later, while preparing my gourmet dinner of lentils and rice, he wandered into the kitchen area. It was quite some sight in the kitchen area, as I now realised that the bubbling pot of mussels belonged, not to some careless guest, but the owner of the campground. Bits of smelly water were being flicked all over the oven, bench, and kitchen walls. Moreover, within the water droplets was (I can only assume), sand and small pieces of shell. It is assumed that the mussels were not washed, rinsed, or cleaned in any way before being cooked. I commented that he must have had some long days on the bike on his trip. Blushing, and temporarily stopping his stirring of the mussels, he simply commented that he, "was only joking around". At this point he chose to add that the mussels were being cooked in the communal cooking area, "because my wife won't let me cook them in the house". Small victories were not overlooked it would seem, as he also quickly mentioned that he had been given some crayfish that day and he was about to eat two crayfish while he watched the soon to start sports news.
This much was true. I saw him scurry off to his house, and several minutes later he shuffled to another building carrying a plate with crayfish placed carefully on top. He had left the mussels cooking, and as I left I assumed he'd be back later to ensure they had been boiled sufficiently for his liking. (The next morning the pot would be in the sink - It was doubtful he ate the mussels. Part of me doubts he was even allowed to eat those crayfish, or possibly even watch the sports news).
With just one day left I enjoyed the sounds of native birds, and the strong winds outside. The Foxton Straights were left, and I'd be riding them soon enough.
Distance - 144.59kms
Max Speed - 44.3kp
|One of many beautiful views through the Paraparas - A special day on the bike.|
Day Seven (Bulls to Kapiti)
All that was left was the only section where I'd retrace my steps - mileage and little else.
The winds were about, but it didn’t matter. I had just one day left and I'd make the most of it. Today would be ridden for time. I simply counted off the hours, and with them the passing settlements. The occasional wave from someone cutting their hedge, or walking their dog, or mowing their lawns. It would seem that I was returning to civilisation.
The rear wheel wasn’t too happy with the world. And with about 10kms to go on this journey another spoke went. It would be five by the time I got home. As I stopped at journey's end, the smell of burning rubber from the rear wheel surrounded me. The bike needed repairs and a rest. I, on the other hand, would have happily washed my clothes that night and headed off at dawn the following morning for a new adventure. Yes. Best week ever.
Distance - 108.59kms
Max Speed - 40.1kph
I got thinking along the way. Here are a few gems I learnt on this trip…
- Civilisation is overrated.
- Water is always free if you have the guts to ask.
- Once you get your free water, make sure you always carry a spare two litres.
- Riding all day every day will not kill you.
- You can live quite well on a diet containing no meat.
- 25kph on the flat can, at times, be considered fast.
- If you think it you can do it.
Seven hundy done.
Getting stronger everyday.
As dreams awaken.
|Arrival at Taupo - Great week away and next up is 'Top of the South' tour.|