6am the alarm clock woke me from my restful state, not sure if the legs were so keen, but I was quickly gathering my gear and packing it into all the right places. Arriving in the kitchen, I found Stephen and Dave already eating breakfast, Stephen kind enough to offer me some kind of cereal melange consisting of corn flakes, milk powder, and some other special ingredients. I made good use of the complimentary milk and fruit, but didn't feel hungry enough to really take in enough calories. I was quickly finished and completed my packing allowing me some time to watch the other two take their time preparing. The morning air was crisp, but I felt comfortable wearing my shorts, shirt and fluro vest. It was an overcast morning, but the likelihood of rain seemed small. At about 7am, we rolled down the main street of Hanmer Springs, leaving too early to thank the hostel patron for his kindness, and also too early for any cafe or shop visit. The first gentle descent was brisk and chilly, but it soon flattened out and the spinning resumed. I was very aware that my food supply was short, so I was keen to stock up in Culverden. In Hanmer, I'd not planned ahead and I was left with a 2 Torq energy bars, 2 Torq gels, and 2 OSM bars, not enough for a 12 hour day.
At some point, just outside Hanmer, my chopper flag parted from my bike, the plastic coupling had snapped. Goodbye to the "nice touch". I still had the fluro vest to keep me visible on this grey day. Our progress was too quick, or shops don't open early enough, arriving in Culverden before any services had opened, fingers were firmly crossed for something in Hurunui, the last town before Sheffield on the other side of the Wharfdale Track. The stretch from Culverden to Hurunui had a lot of very straight road, including the longest straight piece of highway in NZ, 13.7km of it. There were plenty of other flat boring bits, riding with company helped to pass the time. Less than an hour after leaving Culverden we arrived in Hurunui and almost rode straight past it, Dave suggesting there might be more of it further on. I didn't want to take any chances and pulled in to the pub garden. It didn't look promising, but I soon spotted the cookie time jar, quickly reducing its contents by 4, adding a packet of chips and peanuts to the mix. The chips were devoured, and the cookies stored. Peter rolled in shortly after we arrived, also keen to restock. We rolled out leaving him behind, but it wasn't long before we saw him chasing us. We eased up, and welcomed him to our riding group. It was good to have another rider to chat with, and the ensuing loose gravel roads were some of the most difficult to ride well, the optimal line constantly changing from left to right to centre and back again. Occasionally we'd regroup at an intersection, directions double checked before proceeding down another Canterbury back road. After all too much straight and flat gravel riding, the hills started to form, Dave and Stephen easing on further up the road, leaving Peter and I a few minutes back. We caught them again at the turn off to McDonald Downs Station, seeing a number of tyre tracks in different directions. I decided to power up my GPS for the first time indicating the turn off was correct. Dave and Stephen rolled off while I refilled my camelbak, munched back a biscuit and prepared to leave. I'd decided I would ride a pace I was comfortable with, being only day two, and happy to set my sights on Springfield. I had been told the navigation through this section could be tricky, but I was prepared to follow my nose, and occasionally my GPS. Peter told me to go on, he was in a bit of a lull and keen for a rest, so off I went. I was also prepared for a lot of climbs, something I'd not gathered from taking the birds eye view of the track. The going was good, the gravel roads were in good condition, and there were no unusual turns to take. On one of the bigger climbs, I spotted a rider grinding the granny gear. It was Darren, riding his skinny tyred GT. I talked to him briefly, walking some of the climb myself, and discussed the pace of the other riders. I said I was happy to ride alone, but enjoyed the company of others, but once the gradient flattened out again, we parted ways, my singlespeed requiring a bit more pace. Not long after, as I was cresting one of the climbs, I spotted Dave and Stephen. Stephen was having some cleat issues, so I rejoined them for the rest of the station crossing, including one final climb over the Lees Pass. The views from here were vast, out over the Lees Valley below, somewhere we'd spend a fair amount of time after descending. The descent was another beauty, with fast flowing bends and good visibility.
Lees Valley Rd, long, flat, lonely, beautiful
Wonky helmet, I was blissfully unaware!
The following 28km were scenic but again flat and a not so much fun for me. I like a bit of undulation, challenge followed by reward. As a skinny legged rider, I loath the flat stuff, but somehow enjoy it more when there's a head wind. I guess the fact that I am going slowly on unchallenging flat roads, is a bit disheartening, although gravel isn't the easiest to maintain speed across. I stopped to take a two photos, highlighting for the first time that I'd been riding with my helmet tilted to one side. I've just switched to using a Giro Atmos after breaking my Bell Sweep R in a fall. I should have tried before I bought it, because the fit isn't quite right, and to make matters worse, I can't mount my head light centrally, leading to leftward tilt. For some reason I neglected to take my light off at this stage, so I enjoyed a lopsided helmet for a few more days. I was now navigating on cue cards and using my trip computer. Somehow the two didn't match up, either my trip distance was off, or the cue card was wrong, coupled with my lack of topo maps and also being too conservative with my GPS battery, I cruised past the turn off to the Wharfdale Track. While the sign isn't the most obvious, nor does it mention the Wharfdale Track, I should have been paying more attention. I proceeded to climb out of the Lees Valley, spotting Dave further up the climb, reducing my concern about a potential missed turn. As the 28km mark indicated in the cue sheets passed, I was eagerly awaiting the turn off, but it never came. I stopped a pair of tourists in a car and noted the track must be back in the direction I'd come from. At this point I should have U-turned, but I decided I should try and catch the others and decide which way to go, detour or retrace. I'd consulted my GPS, and was certain it was further back. As I reached the bottom of the flowing and long descent, I spotted Dave and Stephen across the bridge. "I think we missed the turn" was the unanimous verdict. Nothing for it but to retrace our tracks and find the missed turn. Up we go. It was a brutal reminder to double check directions and also have multiple reference points. With the aid of my GPS and maybe a topo map, I wouldn't have missed the turn.
After reaching the beginning of the Townsend Tracks/Wharfdale Track, we stopped for a refuel, finishing last nights chips, and quietly cursing our mistake. We were certain to have lost positions owing to the 1hr+ side trip. The ride to the start of the track was a bumpy old river bed 4x4 track, making progress painfully slow and a bit painful. A few river crossings later, we finally reached the start of the track, only to be greeted by some more crossings. There were plenty of signs showing the way as well as giving distances and times. The track itself was more of a hiking path, interspersed with creek crossings, bike carries, smooth singletrack, rooty climbs, drainage ditches, mud puddles, rocky climbs. Progress was slow, but we eventually reached the top, greeted by a change in weather. It was really amazing to have transitioned from the dry desolate valley floor to a lush beech forest. The clouds started to penetrate the forest canopy on the south side of the hill, and the drizzle soon followed. The way down was brilliant, maneuvering between the trees, avoiding the ruts, all great fun on a loaded bike, and I felt like I was back in Stanmer Park (Brighton UK). At last we were out in the open, met by Peter having a break at the gate, and descended the access road, stopping to open gates every few hundred meters. Once down on the plains, we were greeted by more flat roads, crossing the impressive Waimakariri Gorge, and, having been dropped again, was surprised by D&S aprroaching from behind. Sightseeing or something. I didn't bother trying to hold a wheel, and they again disappeared up the road, stopping intermittently to check directions, no doubt. After texting in, we spotted the vaunted pie shop in Sheffield, threw up our arms in despair at it being closed and on the other side of the railway, and hit the last 10km of gravel nastiness to Springfield. I'd run out of food and energy an hour earlier, so it was a pretty dark part of the day for me, but slowly the road crept by. By now it was getting dusky, I had my lights on, more for safety than seeing the road. The final turn toward Springfield was very well received, all I wanted was a big feed, and a bed to sleep in. The weather was still a bit miserable, so it would be foolish to camp out. I followed my nose and found the Springfield Hotel on the main road, enquired about a cabin, and was happy to share one with D&S. Mercifully the publican offered to cook up a feast of fish and chips, and there were plenty of goodies to stock up on for the following day. Lollies, cookies, peanuts, plus an extra serving of chips, much to the surprise of the bar lady.
Studying direction after taking a 1hr+ detour up a hill. Lesson learned
Chips? It's always a good time to eat chips
After downing the fish & chips, an L&P, we were able to put on a load of laundry, much needed after two long days of riding. The showers were another luxury, something I'd prepared to go without, well, not really prepared, but I was willing to go without, as many other riders did :S . Sleep came on quickly after diving into bed around 10pm.