Tour Aotearoa: Whanganui to Wellington
So we were once again back on the road. Velo Ronny’s had made good my bike. Although they didn’t have the correct shifter, they’d managed to put an MTB shifter onto my aero bars. This at least gave me the opportunity to change into the big ring. I can’t believe we’ve been riding for a week already. We were on target for my arbitrary 16 days. Fuck knows why I chose this crazy number. Why couldn’t it have been 15, half the time of the maximum 30 days!
We were riding from Whanganui to Palmerston North. As far as the TA went, this was one of the most challenging days for me. We started late. 10:30 am, and although we only had 200km to ride, much of it was to be on gravel. The food options were going to be limited. After Hunterville, there was only Apiti to get some grub, and then Ashurst, before our destination of Palmerston North.
If we’d set off earlier, say 7 am, we’d have probably ridden on to Eketahuna, another 80km or so. A major stop where accommodation was anything but a cabin. The cabin in Taumarunui had scarred me for life. A mosquito-ridden den of awfulness. I should’ve carried a merino sleeping bag liner. Instead, I had taken just a sleeping bag to save weight. As bizarre as 150 grams sounds. I could’ve just taken a piss and saved more weight. The bizarre nature of bikepacking.
Anyway, we arrived in Hunterville. The last cafe for a while. The last bit of seal for a very long way. The last bit of happiness for a few hours. The last time I’d have fully inflated tyres for some time. I was just about to bring some dark clouds on the four of us. Much to the pleasure of those riding with me. It’s this part of the journey that you really find out who you’re riding with. How they cope with pressure. Just how tired they are. And, although I wasn’t feeling overly tired, I definitely wasn’t coping with the pressure I’d placed on myself. My fitness wasn’t where I’d hoped it would be by day 8.
The road out of Hunterville is pretty gnarly. You’re on the highway for a while, and those bloody truck drivers take the piss. They should be fined for using their truck as a dangerous weapon. They deliberately pass as close as is possible. It’s a pretty frightening experience, even for a seasoned rider. Once off of the highway the road is sweet. You hit a climb not long after. A great climb with a gradient of 6-7%. It definitely warms the legs up after stopping at Hunterville. Not long after we reached the top we turned onto a gravel road that would take us to Apiti. The gravel was good, with some hard pack in places. I was just gaining confidence at this point of the adventure.
It’s a decent ride between the turn off after Hunterville until you reach Apiti. The hills are rolling. The gravel is kind. The scenery as you’d expect in the middle of nowhere New Zealand. Views as far as the eye could see. The same with sheep. I’d now reached the point where I’d started dreaming of Apiti. Of the beer, I may have, as the pub was advertised to be open. I was ready for it now.
The gravel ended, and now the smooth seal began. And my oasis in this gravel desert was close. The other 2 guys were ahead of me. I imagined Craig and Neil sipping an ice-cold beer and eating some fries. But, when I eventually arrived, they were sitting under a tree on the side of the road. They broke the news to me gently. The pub was shut and there was no food or water available either. I was a broken man. I’d been dreaming of this place for the last 50km. Noooooooooooo!!!!!!!
To add insult to injury I’d also got a flat. I’d been running tubeless tyres. A great plan. And a plan that would have worked well if I’d not have chosen CX tyres instead of the gravel tyres required. CX tyres are too soft. The compound is great for mud, but its durability is not designed for gravel. No worry I thought, I have a Lezeyne dart. I’d practised beforehand. Knew what to do. But my execution was disastrous. I was tired.
Fortunately, the others bared with me. They all helped me whilst I brought a black cloud over them. I was so hacked off. My dexterity was failing. As was my humour, and theirs. I whipped out a Tubilito tube. You know, the ones that cost 50 bucks. The ones that are supposed to be ultra puncture resistant. The ones that fail at the valve. Yeah, those ones. So after 2 attempts of inflating. Using 2 CO2 canisters. I finally gave Craig or Neil, I’m not sure who at this stage of the game, a normal tube. They then proceeded to pump it up for me. We were back on the road and moving again. I never looked at my rear tyre again. I just didn’t want to know.
Once moving ever closer to Ashurst, the rain started. It had been out only rain on the TA so far. I was at the point where I couldn’t decide whether to put my jacket on. The rain wasn’t cold, but I didn’t want to start getting cold further on. I threw my jacket on, and away I went. It felt like an age until we reached Ashurst. The dusk had given way to darkness. And as we rolled into the town, even the Foursquare was closed. Fark! Although it was only another 16km to Palmerston North, it was 16km too far without food. We rolled through town and found a dairy that was open. Relief!
I must have consumed the whole hot food section and some more. The chocolate shake seemed like a good idea at the time, as it’s supposed to be great for rehydration, but too much for my delicate stomach, obviously! The hot pie and fries were alleviating the hunger pains. They tasted so so good. Knowing that we had just 16km to go felt manageable now.
We soon hit the road again, choosing the road over the trail. It was so much safer to be riding on the highway at 8:30 on a Monday night. It was far too dark to be navigating a gravel trail section. We made it to Palmerston North at 9:30. Headed straight for the nearest fast food joint we could find closest to our hotel. What a day!
The next morning we awoke to find that one of our riding companions had hit the tarmac early. She clearly wanted the jump on us, and we were happy for her to ride ahead, albeit sad that we weren’t altogether and it might be the last time we saw her on the TA. Although the TA is a personal journey, there’s such great pleasure to be had to ride with others. I’m just glad that Neil had agreed to join me in this adventure, and that Craig formed a large part of it, too.
Today we were riding from Palmerston North to Martinborough. Yet again, it was the promise of decent food that was the motivating factor. It’s only 165km to ride, but through some of the nicest scenery on the tour. With a good mix of gravel and seal, it was a fast day. But first, I had to get my bike repaired again. I was getting my left lever replaced, and a new rear tyre, chain, bar tape, and all of the other little things that were necessary. I joked with Neil it was going to cost about 800 bucks, but holy fuck, it ended up being closer to $1200. Knock me down with a feather, I could’ve bought a new bike for another $500. Anyway, I now had a bike that should make it through to the end of the adventure.
We managed to set off just after 9:30. Craig had waited for us. So the 3 of us headed for the first climb of the day, the Pahiatua track. I had an idea it was a gravel track leading up and over the hill. I was shocked to find out it was the main road linking Palmerston North and state highway 2. The trucks were again menacing. With only the trail angel, Mary, to break up both the hill and the danger. We’d missed Mary the night before, so she drove that morning ahead of us waiting for us to arrive. There are some bloody decent humans in the world, and especially on the Tour Aotearoa.
A quick stop for lunch in Eketahuna, and we were soon back on the road towards Martinborough, and the famed hotel. There really wasn’t much to report on this stage of our/my journey. That is until we reached the Martinborough Hotel. We managed to grab a table for dinner. 3 cyclists who’d been sweating most of the day, probably less than sweet-smelling, and definitely tired, probably don’t make a great choice of table to sit next to, but sometimes you have no choice in this rather busy town.
We chowed down the finest food on the tour so far. The fish and chips were sublime, but the dessert was even better. A medley of desserts on one plate, and a glass of dessert wine to match. It wasn’t long before we headed to the motel for a kip. And what a great night’s sleep we had.
The next morning were on the road before dawn. Just trying to escape Martinborough before the traffic started to get heavy. We wanted to avoid riding on the highway with morning traffic, especially all of the farming vehicles. We made it over the hill into Featherston, and then onto the gravel track leading to the Remutaka trail. A glorious trail over the Remutakas, dropping down into Upper Hutt.
The wind was strong and gusty, although apparently not that much according to Neil. The Remutaka’s are famed for being extremely windy. I’m just glad this was a relatively calm day. I got caught out a few times by the, apparently not so strong wind. I was on and off my bike, possibly being over cautious. But better to be safe than sorry. The drop on my left was significant!
We approached a bridge crossing Siberia gulley. It’s a new addition and one that I’m semi thankful for. See, before you had to climb down into the gulley and back up the other side. Now you just use the bridge. I struggled to stay on my bike. It was either was windier when I tried crossing, or Neil and Craig had balls the size of Africa. Either way, I straddled my top tube and gingerly walked across. They simply rode. Chapeau!
Through several tunnels, we finally made it to the summit. A quick break, and then we were happily rolling down into Upper Hutt. From here it’s a tricking mess until you get to the ferry. It’s either a decent trail or a busy highway. They really need to sort their shit out in and around Wellington. It makes Auckland look like Holland. Their cycling infrastructure is dreadful. And here I was complaining about Tamaki Drive!
Once at the ferry terminal, it was time to relax. We managed to book the 1 pm crossing on Bluebridge Ferries. It should’ve got us there at 4, but didn’t sail until 2:30 pm. We eventually would arrive at just after 7. There’s a funny story behind this, but that’s for another time. I can’t speak highly enough of the service we received on the ferry. The food was again great. Much better than many of the cafes and restaurants we’d been eating at.