It’s raining horizontally in Westport this morning. And while I appreciate the spectacle, I’m not going out on the bike today. Under any circumstances. In fact, I’m writing this from my bed, and have very little inclination to even move from here today.
It’s been a really good few days, though, and I’m due a rest. And there’s a bit to catch up on.
Leaving Nelson a few days ago, I had an ambitious plan (given the ups, downs and twists of South Island roads and weather) to get to the west coast in two days. The first would be a 130-odd km (80 miles ish) run to Murchison, during which I would tick off both the 8000km and 5000 mile markers for the trip. And this would be followed by a (relatively) easy 100km / 60 mile ride down to Westport on the coast. Simple.
As with all my plans, this proved a little optimistic. Unlike most, this one fell apart within five minutes, as I hit the main drag out of Nelson and felt the full force of a brutal headwind. It was immediately clear that there was no way I was going to make 130kms, hills or no hills.
I stopped at a shop to fortify myself with cola for a long, miserable day ahead. And almost immediately, another loaded bike tourer appeared like magic (or, perhaps more accurately, like someone who’d been pushing it a bit against the wind to catch me up).
It was an Aussie called Ben, who was also heading toward Murchison, but who had sensibly split the ride into two more manageable days via St Arnaud. An extra day, and a few more miles overall, but a complete no-brainer, given the wind. Off we toddled, sharing the usual riding-in-company benefits of a bit of slipstreaming, and a bit of moaning about the weather and Kiwi driving standards.
It was a beautiful ride up into the mountains, but still a hard one at over 90kms and well over 1000 vertical metres of climbing. And it turned out that (touring bike geeks that we are), we’d both hit on a very similar threshold for what constitutes a tough day on a heavily loaded touring bike. I’m calling it the Toughness Index. I’ll spare you the immense mathematical complexities involved, and just say that, when applied to all my days on the bike so far, I can now show semi-scientifically that touring New Zealand is tougher than crossing the Rockies (I already knew it felt that way, but it’s nice to be able to prove it). Which also explains neatly why I’m not moving as fast as I was in North America.
The next morning, it was downhill all the way from St Arnaud to Murchison. And just a few miles out of St Arnaud, I finally hit the 5000 mile mark, and had someone there to immortalise the moment in a photo (I’m not sure why I look so grumpy, by the way):
The less astute reader may think that Ben looks a bit like a girl. A more questioning mind may speculate as to who was taking the picture. It’s possible that some of you may have worked out that we’d met another rider in St Arnaud, and had a small peloton for the day.
Oh, and if you really are stuck on who was taking the picture, it was Ben. And he’s not a girl. Obviously.
It’s always interesting to see how different people approach bike touring. I’ve got the carefully-designed, super-overbuilt Beast to carry my heavy bags relatively slowly around the globe on a trip I prepared for months. Ben is running a lighter, faster cyclo-cross bike, which probably helps on the hills. Just as well, as he’s a bit of a climbing junkie, heading for the highest and steepest roads he can find in NZ. On purpose. And Sofia (on a gap year from Mexico) basically just bought a hybrid bike and some small panniers in Wellington, tied her backpack on with string, and got on the ferry to explore South Island.
Anyway, we had a decent run down to Murchison together, with a very low Toughness Index, and only some properly iffy drivers and a bit of drizzle to contend with. And yesterday morning (Tuesday), Ben and Sofia headed south for more hills, while I finally had Westport and the coast in my sights.
I essentially followed the Buller River valley / gorge all the way to Westport. For once, there was very little rain about (I only spent around half-an hour hiding under trees), and it was a really beautiful ride, watching the river get bigger and bigger as it headed towards the sea.
So, once this ridiculous rain subsides, I’ll be off down the west coast. The Toughness Index should drop as I head down the coast, at least for a while. I just hope that the rain (in the wettest part of NZ) and the wind will ease up for a few days, so I can appreciate it properly. The weather forecast is dubious, but then it has been every day here so far. Where is that NZ summer?