Today was the first officially very big biking day, and is regarded by the tour operators as the second ugliest day (Day 7 is by far the worst). The basic statistics of the route aren’t completely awful: 108 km (67 miles) with about 2,000 ft. of elevation gain. All-in, I spent a little north of four hours on the saddle with periodic breaks.
We shuttled out of our down-and-out coast mining town of Hokitika (subject of the recent novel, the Luminaries) and were dropped off in a mining town called Ross in order to avoid the traffic around Hokitika. From there, we had four legs:
- Ross to Pukekura (22 km): mostly level with some rollers, moving us from the coast to the rainforest and pasture lands
- Pukekura to Hari Hari (sounds like a way of taking ones life) (24 km): beautiful pastoral scenery and mostly level
- Hari Hari to Whataroa: (31 km): one big climb, one big descent followed by pretty flat terrain over farm land and creeks
- Whataroa to Franz Josef (31 km): getting into glacier country, so a bit hilly
As always the scenery was stunning (and verdant!). It was a wet and overcast day, so the clouds were hanging low over the Southern Alps and surrounding hills. It reminded me of the Appalachian Mountains in upper-Maryland and West Virginia — I have expected to see a Hatfield or McCoy or maybe the guy from Justified. Not surprisingly, the two primary vocations in the terrain we passed were farming and mining. In addition to the now run of the mill pastoral scenery and mountains, I got to see my first glacier-fed rivers which had an outer-worldly blue hue.
So how was the ride? The hills were pretty manageable including the biggest one (a 600’ climb over Mt. Hercules — quite a small climb given the very big name they chose). Most importantly, there was very little wind. Yay!!!! For the first time on the trip, I was able to start getting to respectable speeds on the flats, which never fails to make me happy.
HOWEVER. The vast majority of this 67 mile ride was in the rain with the last fourth being in a torrential downpour. And it was cold. I arrived at our destination looking like quite the drowned rat. I must have had a very sad expression as the guide who received us immediately offered me a beer. I was so water-logged that I couldn’t even manage to motivate to open it — quite unusual for me.
So was it a good ride? This is the interesting question. I arrived soaking wet, aching, stiff and with a tail bone none to pleased with its new friend the saddle. Under no set of circumstances could anyone describe me as super comfortable. However, I will say that biking through a downpour is an excellent motivator to 1) keep pedaling and 2) to do so quickly allowing me to make great time with a curiously high level of motivation. As well, I kept thinking how happy I would be to finally arrive, jump into a super-hot shower, settle into a nice relaxed state, and finally open that beer. I did all of those things, and they were all quite satisfying indeed. So in some strange way, it was an EXCELLENT ride. What is it about human psychology — oops, I made that too plural — what is it about Dave’s psychology that makes self-flagellation on vacation so appealing? I’m not really sure, but it does. Others must suffer from the same affliction as the Backroads vacation company has quite the booming business.
Tomorrow I get a bit of a reprieve. The biking part of the day is in the afternoon only. My rear end will be quite pleased indeed to spend time away from the cruel bicycle.
I the mean time: HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all of you American people!