Wrapping up the West Coast

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07/02/08
Hey gang! Your humble narrator checking in once again. Another day has passed, and what a doozy it was for me. As you will note by the map that goes with this post, I’ve put another 121km on me, my bike, and the little trailer that could. Yup, it was my longest day yet, but it seemed like the thing to do, as there was virtually NOTHING between Fox Glacier and here, Haast. There was one cafe at a Salmon Farm early on, but that was it. It was all biking, all the time, with only the briefest of pauses to have some PB sandwiches for lunch. I thought there might be somewhere to get more water, but nope. For the whole day, I only had about 1.8L of fluids. Yikes. Good thing it was mostly overcast. Oh, BTW, I forgot to mention it, but I’m now well over 2500km into my trip on the bike! Cool eh? Read on for a little more about this challenging day, and don’t forget to look at the map 🙂

Last night, I mentally prepared myself for a long day on the bike. As with any long race or training day, if you acknowledge it will be a long time, it really doesn’t seem all that bad. You just have to keep going, knowing that you’ll eventually get where you want to go. To cap off my rest day, I drank a couple cans of beer, had my bag of popcorn, and watched the movie “Touching the Void”, a real-life story of a pair of climbers that have a bad day in Peru, and one guy has to cut the rope holding up his partner who has a broken leg in order to save himself. Guy drops into a crevasse, but somehow lives, and the movie is all about his fight to get out and back to the basecamp. VERY amazing story if you haven’t seen it. This was a nice way to end my time at Fox Glacier. I was in bed around 11pm, and got up at 7am. On the road before 8:30am.

Thankfully, while the sun was out and about, I was mainly sheltered along the roads where I was biking the first part of my day. In fact, I even had on my arm warmers and jacket, because it was that chilly. That was nice for a change. However, all things come to an end, and eventually, I wheeled my way back into the sunshine, and gradually removed the layers, until I was once again sweating up a storm whenever I was pointed uphill and pulling the load behind me. The road I was following was mainly flat, with some undulations here and there to keep me on my toes. I knew that the only real climbs of any note would come later in the day, at Knight’s Point, a series of 3 hills about 200m each.

My first little break came at a place called Bruce Bay, where I pulled out a sandwich and chatted with a Kiwi who was standing by his campervan. He pointed out that the bay was full of dolphins, and pointed out a few. Sure enough, you could see all sorts of dorsal fins and dolphins playing. I even had the good luck of seeing one do a huge arcing jump out of the water. It was really cool. I was tempted to strip down and go swimming, but feared there may be some strong rips and that would be the end of me. I contented myself to watching them play. As I was about to pull out, I saw a whole peloton of bike riders go whizzing past on the road. Turns out it was just a group of friends who were doing a 5 day tour from Christchurch to Queenstown. They were on the exact same route I was for the day, Fox to Haast. I caught them at a break they were taking a km up the road from Bruce Bay, which is where they told me this.

I headed off right away, as they took their break. I expected them to pass me within 10 or so km. Well, would you believe that I didn’t see them again until a few km from my end point? Meaning 70km later?? Methinks they took an extra break, and took a nice long lunch, which I did not, because they certainly weren’t going slow. When they did pass, there was no way I could even draft off them. These guys were real riders. Tomorrow, they are going from Haast all the way to Wanaka, over 140km, whereas I plan to stop at 80km. I saw them again at supper and talked with them for a while. I was invited to Wanaka with them for a housewarming party, but sadly, I can’t see that happening. It’s just too far. They joked about hooking my trailer up to their support vehicle. If that actually happens, I’ll be in Wanaka tomorrow, but somehow, I doubt it 🙂

I was also caught up to twice by a German cyclist as well. He was on a mountain bike too, and had passed me right at the start, and then later in the afternoon. He had taken a longer break than me as well, which is where I must have passed him. He had a good beard. Wild looking. My new beard seems to be slow in coming in, and I don’t look nearly wild enough, but give me another month. And as per Kev’s wish, I haven’t touched it at all. No trimming, cleaning or anything! The second time the German caught me, we rode together for a while, until we got to the base of the three big hills, then I told him to have fun, and carry on, I’d be going slow. Off he went. What is it with the other cycle tourers that bury me on the hills? I take comfort in the fact that it’s only a very few of them that actually maintain my pace on the other sections anyway. I’ve met lots that go slower, walk some hills, and don’t always go as far, or worse yet, take buses :-). However, it’s clear that I’m still not the uber-biker I’d like to be. Boo.

Apart from these little distractions, and the occasional car and campers, I was very much all alone on the road today. There were long stretches of nothing. Just forests crowding in, or cliffs towering above, or water somewhere near me. I sang quite a bit today for entertainment, and as usual, talked to my friends the cows as I went by. They say that on the West Coast, you can truly feel small and be put in your place in the Universe, and I think I got a bit of that sense today. There was lots of time for introspection. Anyway, did I mention the forests? Some of them were very cool, and nearly impenetrable. I kept wondering if it would be possible to stage an adventure race around these parts, as I’m almost certain you couldn’t actually get through the overgrowth out there. Crazy.

Tomorrow I turn my back to the West Coast, and will be veering into the Southern Alps to make my transition from coast to inland via Haast Pass, the lowest of the alpine passes of the Southern Alps at under 600m. The funny thing is that a couple days later, I’ll be crossing the Crown range of mountains at an altitude of almost 1200m on the highest highway in NZ to get to Queenstown! The road I’ll be traveling on tomorrow was only completed in 1965. I’m always sort of amazed at how ‘new’ a lot of things are in New Zealand. Well, that’s it for me for now. I’m off to pre-book my hostel in Wanaka, as I’ve been told by many that I “have” to go to the Purple Cow Backpackers. I’m also going to check into some Mountain guiding companies in Wanaka to see if I have any chance of summiting any big peaks in NZ. My guiding friend tells me to be prepared to fork over 4-7k NZD to climb the ‘real’ peaks down here, so I’m not sure I’m willing to spend that money, but I’ll ask around to see what my options are, as a lot of the guiding companies are based in Wanaka. Wish me luck, and I’ll let you all know!

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