Biking New Zealand Day 5: Geraldine to Pleasant Point
Daily distance: 27 km
Total distance: 341 km
Our little rest stop in Geraldine was just what we needed to refocus our minds on biking and hash out the plan for the next leg of our trip south. We had effectively finished the Inland Scenic Route and were back on the coast, but now we were intent on heading back inland towards the tranquil waters of Lake Tekapo and the jagged snow capped peak of Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain and the southern hemisphere’s Matterhorn. To be fair, the Inland Scenic Route actually continued another 60ish kilometers on to the small town of Timaru, described as a particularly uninteresting town in our guide book, but since we would have to backtrack a good portion of those 60k, we decided to take a shortcut and turn west before pedaling all the way to the coast. The first ride of this new route would be an easy downhill ride along the country back roads to a wide spot in the highway called Pleasant Point. The guide book didn’t have much to say about this one, but just going on its name we figured it would be an enjoyable place to spend an afternoon.
There certainly wasn’t much to the small farming community, but the only café in town was quaint and served hot lattes and cold beer- the perfect combo to satisfy both of our tastes. Being a small town, we weren’t too surprised when they closed the shop at four in the afternoon, but being the only “attraction” in town, it left us with nothing to do. We settled on the idea of an early dinner, stopped by the small grocery store for some salad greens and wine, and then made our way to the campground.
In most towns here in New Zealand, especially small ones, they have an area called the “domain”. It is usually little more than a grassy field surrounded by a big empty building used for community events, but sometimes the domain will include a playground, a swimming pool, and even a rugby or cricket field. The great thing about these public domains is that you can usually camp there, sometimes for free, but typically at a very reasonable rate, say $5 or $10 per person, which is about a quarter of the cost for pitching your tent at a holiday park, and a tenth of what you would shell out for even the most basic hostel or hotel. Admittedly, you don’t get much for your ten bucks in the way of amenities, but if you are really lucky, as we were in this instance, the bathrooms will have showers stalls. In our current occupation as cyclists, a good hosing down at the end of the day is an important factor for maintaining social harmony- lest one of us be expelled from our small tent for “being too stinky”, as Kacey might say.
Biking New Zealand Day 6: Pleasant Point to Fairlie
Daily distance: 46 km
Total distance: 387 km
It rained all night. We woke up in the middle of a giant puddle. Apparently our tent wasn’t made to be pitched in a puddle, because the floor isn’t exactly waterproof. Everything was soaked. Our cloths, our ground pads, even our sleeping bags. Luckily our bike panniers are waterproof, so some things were still dry, mercifully including the computer and the camera, but anything that we hadn’t put away was thoroughly drenched. It took a lot of motivation, almost more than we had, to step out into the puddle, a soft drizzle still coming down, slither into our soggy biking jerseys, put on our rain jackets that were already wet on the inside, and saddle up the bikes.
I was quickly realizing that bike touring was becoming a test of wills. In terms of inducing mental and physical wellbeing, the things we could control- how far we rode each day, how often we stopped, the number and size of hills we were willing to tackle- were barely equal, maybe not even equal, to the things we had no control over whatsoever- primarily the rain and wind. This fact didn’t sit very well with me- not that I am some control freak who wants mastery of everything, including the weather- but rather that typically, I like to be involved in activities that have a reasonable chance of being enjoyable, irrespective of the weather. It was discouraging to admit that no matter what choices we made to guarantee the success of our biking adventure, the whole enterprise could be fouled up by a little bad weather. But what could we do right now, except dream of sunshine and pedal on.
Arriving in Fairlie early in the afternoon, we were blessed by a break in the clouds. Not wanting to crawl into wet sleeping bags that night, we b-lined it for the only holiday park in town and took the opportunity to lay out all our damp gear to dry out- the contents of our bags were spread out on every available cloths line, table, and fence in our campsite.
Biking New Zealand Day 7: Fairlie to… Fairlie
Daily distance: 32 km
Total distance: 419 km
Just when we thought things were looking up… it was a beautiful day, our destination was the crystal clear Lake Tekapo, everything was dry, and even though we had a substantial hill to climb that day, we felt strong and eager to put it under our tires. But then the unthinkable. Ten miles into the ride I noticed my back brake was rubbing a bit, so I pulled off the road to take a look. Sure enough, my rear rim was slightly bent causing the annoying squeak squeak squeak I had been hearing. The way to fix a bent rim is to tighten or loosen the spokes in the affected area to bring the wheel back to true. So I unloaded my bike, flipped it over, busted out my spoke wrench, and turned the tire to the bent spot, checking the spokes as I went. I soon found the culprit, a completely loose spoke, and as I tightened it incredulously the spoke’s nipple pulled right out of the rim! I couldn’t believe it. The metal of the rim was cracked and fissured around the hole for the nipple, apparently due to the high stresses put on it by my fully loaded bike. Checking the nipple holes for the other spokes showed similar fatigue cracks starting to form in the metal. I’d like to, but can’t, blame this disastrous situation on the company we purchased the bikes from because, like a sucker, I accepted the “free upgrade” to some fancy wheels they offered me (I think to just clear their inventory). To be sure, the wheels were nice- very light with a reduced number of bladed spokes (think flat and aerodynamic), which are great for fast road biking. But apparently not so great for fully loaded touring. The thing is, they knew we were buying the bikes for touring, and shouldn’t have unloaded some inadequate overstocked wheels on me. But, ultimately it was definitely my fault for not making sure I had the proper equipment for our trip.
Well, that sealed it. We were sunk. There was no way we could continue on to Lake Tekapo, and even if we did, there wouldn’t be a bike shop there able to supply us with a new rim. The closest shops were way back on the coast in Timaru, or much further down the road in Queenstown. We decided on the later merely because we don’t love backtracking, and we figured anything we missed between here and Queenstown we could easily drive by and see once we rented our campervan in a few weeks. With that, we limped back to Fairlie, and booked a bus for the following morning.