Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Killers & one of the best NZ rides I've done

A chance to sit down & think for the first time in a week. My nice week with no shift work was rudely interrupted by a call from my boss last Tuesday, one of the other supervisors had fallen ill & could I work that night? Home for a few hours for a quick nap & it was back for a very quiet (thankfully) night shift. Enough time for a sleep & to pack my bike up for the upcoming weekend’s adventure & it was off up town for The Killers concert at Vector. It didn’t take too much persuading for Stephen (Te Puke friend) to get me to fork out the money some months ago & I had been looking forward to the night since then. If Stephen’s excitement was anything to go by it was going to be a great night – and it certainly was! I can’t speak from much experience (it must be over two years since I went to a concert - & that was nice & mellow in a vineyard), but what a fantastic concert – a large crowd particularly excited to see a good band, with an accomplished showman up front. Most of the old & new favourites were included in the set & with the live performance, some songs became new favourites & stuck in my head for the next two or three days. Unfortunately, it was straight back to work at midnight following the concert – not too bad, another quiet shift. Worked a bit later in to the morning (due to starting late) & it was rather difficult to get to sleep with sun higher than usual after a night shift – the ringing ears probably didn’t help all that much either.

Well rested, Thursday afternoon was spent packing for riding the Queen Charlotte Track over Easter. Thankfully, all our gear was being water-taxied between overnight stops – so packing didn’t require too much thought, just throw as many warm clothes & riding clothes in that I could find. A pleasant enough flight to Wellington (no aerobatics on landing, which was a bit of a disappointment) & then it was outside to wait for a bus to Elizabeth Gray’s. A sudden southerly blast quickly had me hunting out my down jacket & it didn’t take much persuading from some old guy running a shuttle for me to jump at a $20 ride to Karori & be dropped at the door (much better than lugging a bike bag from the bus stop) – plus I figured he was out late at night trying to earn some money, so he may as well have mine. It turned out to a bit of a marathon shuttle ride considering there were only three others to drop off in the central city & me. Unfortunately, one of the others was not sure where she wanted to go – Cuba St or a little way towards the Aro Valley; of course when we got to the house up the Aro on a tight windy street, no one was home & we trekked back to Cuba. Normally this wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but the driver never strayed above forty in very light traffic. I was pleased to finally get to Elizabeth & Nigel’s – where they were celebrating the completion Elizabeth’s book, well done Elizabeth! It was just as well that the celebrations were winding down when I got there as someone had to get up early the next morning to drop me at the ferry.

Arriving at the ferry terminal half an hour before our departure on Good Friday morning (also the first day of the school holidays) wasn’t the best idea – it was chaotic! Somehow I managed to find the group – or rather they found me in the bedlam; I was the only clown wandering around with a bike bag, so maybe I wasn’t too hard to spot. I only really knew one of the thirteen others, so quick introductions all around (I somehow became “Brendan from Pukekohe” - not a way I had previously chosen to define myself, but I suppose there is an element of truth to it), checked our baggage in & pushed our bikes on to the ferry to stow them with the trucks & so forth. The ferry was at capacity (1650 apparently) so seats were scarce, spent a lot of the voyage outside looking at the view (I hadn’t been on the Interislander for over eight years), bumped in to Sarah & Andrew who I had met at Elizabeth’s wedding two months before, got to know some of the riding crew, enjoyed the nice swells & not being able to walk in a straight line as we entered Cook Strait & generally tried to pass three and a half hours (why did I leave my book behind?). The ferry was a little late getting in to Picton & it took an eternity just to fight through the hoards to get anywhere near a visual on the baggage carousel & another age for all our bags to appear.

Those delays gave me little time to assemble my bike, get changed, have some lunch – but that was all achieved (didn’t manage to get any water for my Camelbak) with a minute or two before we set off on the water taxi for Ship’s Cove & the start of the track. On the way we spotted & then circled a large & very playful pod of dolphins – most excellent to watch. We unloaded off the water taxi along with another group of four mountain bikers & a few trampers. Thankfully (I was later to find out just how much so) I managed fill my Camelbak with water & the group set off in dribs & drabs. The track certainly does not lull you in to a false sense of security at the start – it was immediately up a very steep hill & before I was walking parts of the climb & struggling to keep the front wheel on the track for some of the parts I was riding. With that rude awakening, it was good to see every one at the viewing platform at the top & the enthusiastic Dutch guy from the other group of cyclists kindly snapped our only group photos of the trip. Of course now, we had a sweet downhill in front of us & another smaller climb. I was impressed to pass a family that had two primary aged children out riding the track – we didn’t see them after the next rest stop, I wonder how they got on. At the next rest stop we regrouped, admired the view through the clearing down to the Sounds, & learnt not to feed wekas wearing short fingered gloves – fingers are much tastier looking than muesli bars. By now it was cooling down quite a bit & we moved on to more good down hill. As the QCT is a popular tramping track, it is well benched, mostly pretty smooth & had small bridges over most of the small creeks (which of course would be larger when it’s not autumn) – these bridges were quite fun, as typically you would go back along the side of the hill towards the stream, there would be a nice bermed corner & then the bridge would be about a metre inside end of the berm – this often caught me unawares, but somehow I never when front wheel first in to stream and over the bars. Down at water level we emerged on to a stony beach & it was great to watch each rider walk in to the clearing from the track with a broad grin plastered on their face – such was the quality & enjoyment of the preceding downhill. From here it was a gentle ride around the sound’s edge to Ferneaux Lodge (most of the group carried on to Miners’ Camp) – where we stayed in the backpackers’ accommodation for the night (& the guys had the pleasure of cold showers). It was a chilly night, but that didn’t stop us cooking our barbecue & eating it outside. When it was proper dark, a short stroll back the way we came to a small collection of glow worms; on returning, we found the campers had started arriving as Ferneaux had a bar & kitchen & pool table and the campsite didn’t – or maybe they enjoyed our company!

Bags packed & ready for the water taxi at 0900 & on the bikes – just a short ride around to Miner’s Camp, but it did have a challenging swing bridge to try & ride across with out hitting the rather narrow side wires & netting. Craig managed it quite well, I got half way across & then got wonderfully tied up. As most of the campers were still decamping, four of us took the opportunity to do a side trail up the valley to some old mines. Really we just rode & walked up a steep old road for half an hour, wandered down an old mine shaft, deliberated on whether to go any further & then rode back down the steep hill. I managed to get stuck in my pedals crossing a stream on the way back down going too fast & ended up going for a swim – thankfully my camera didn’t get wet, although it was pretty close. Also, I was glad that the day was shaping up to be pretty warm as my left side was soaked. By the time we got back, some of the group had started off & we tootled off with the remains. We had soon climbed enough to be rewarded with yet more spectacular views up Endeavour Inlet – we also managed to find a much better camp site (note for next time) than Miner’s. Mostly a pretty gentle part of the track, some through private land & then quite a bit of freshly benched & cleared track (apparently this bit had been closed recently). Reaching a junction we could either head to Punga Cove & then up to Keneperu Saddle (partly on road) or up to Keneperu Saddle on walking track. Three of us headed up the walking track & it took less than fifteen minutes & was a much gentler climb than the other way – middle ring the whole way. A brief break at the top & we met Brent riding up the road – he was convinced that everyone else was in front of him, so we let him carry on while we went back down the walking track (most enjoyable) & rolled on around to Punga Cove where we found most of the others finishing their lattes! Getting back up to the saddle was a bit more a slog & the climbing continued in the brilliant sunshine up some more steepness & then in was in to some pretty flat downhill to a beautiful lunch spot overlooking the Sounds & where we had gone on the water-taxi the previous day. By the time we got there, Brent & Shaun had worked out no-one else was in front of them & had been waiting patiently for over an hour in the sun.Following a pleasant lunch it was pretty much riding along the ridge for the rest of the afternoon. This consisted of a bit more pushing up hills that were too difficult for me too ride, regrouping at various shelters, a lot of sweet downhill & more struggling to keep an eye on the trail as the views were so spectacular they often pried one’s eyes away from what was about to roll under the Kenda up front.

Gradually our view changed from across to Tory Channel to looking across Queen Charlotte Sound to Picton – this must have been the only part of the track which was immediately above a very large drop, interspersed only with a lot of friendly looking gorse. The downhills kept getting better – on one such one we whizzed past another group congregated on the side of the track. We were to learn later that the Dutch photographer from the day before (not the old man from Scene 24) had had an off on a straight piece of tairl, sounded seriously concussed & was choppered off to hospital – thankfully he was OK after a night in hospital. By now we were on the other side of the ridge looking across to Keneperu Sound - somewhere along here I had to stop as (other) Brent had managed to get his derailleur twisted over backwards & in amongst the spokes (snapping one). A few trackside tricks from Craig had the derailleur back in the proper orientation & the hanger bent back in to approximately the correct position – it didn’t look good for making it the rest of the trip. Another long downhill to the top of the road in to Portage – it’s always good fun giving a better rider a head start & then trying to chase them down, it must have taken me a good ten minutes to catch – the last twenty metres always proved elusive. All of a sudden we were spat out on the road (the track carried on the opposite side – we would have to ride back up to rejoin it tomorrow) & it was a quick cruise (for most of us) down to Portage. Shaun wasn’t happy with the cruise down, passed Nikki on the outside of a big left-hander & then quickly found it wasn’t nearly as big as it looked! He managed to get the back wheel all the way around, bring it back in, almost save & then end up lying on his back in a ditch laughing a lot. A pity I missed the action, but it was still pretty funny when I got there a few seconds later.The backpacker accommodation at Portage Resort was much more salubrious than the previous night – not that that is much of an indication - & the showers were hot. Some braved the rather chilly swimming pool & some braved the jellyfish & chilly sea – I was quite happy to be showered & clean. Dinner was a mixture of various packet pastas, risottos, MREs – Anna helpfully showed us why you shouldn’t put foil packets in the microwave. Eventually we vacated the dining room for some of the other guests & moved down to the bar. After the two side trips, falling in the stream & the day’s ride (especially the hills) it was an early night for me.After a much warmer & quiet night’s sleep, it was get up, make porridge, pack up, & wait for some to have countless cups of tea & then the slog up the road again to rejoin the track. The road was just the warm up for the climb up the highest point on the whole track. It started off manageable & then got steeper & steeper – I was pleased at how far I got, but once I was off & walking, the walking became intermittent & more frequent. For not the first time, I was extra pleased that it was autumn & not the middle of summer. More great views of course & a small stop to explain the intricacies of SRAM missing links we were finally at the top (turned out to be a top), we regrouped & polished off the marshmallows. After all the climbing the downhill turned in to a big series of switchbacks (with some decent plunges over the size) that had nice ruts going in to them that turned pleasantly in to berms. It certainly kept one on one’s toes; the last part of that downhill was a big wide open grassy chute that was extremely bumpy that shook me to pieces – I’m just glad I was on a soft-tail.

Shortly after Brent’s bike completely packed a sad & the derailleur hanger snapped off – he was left to singlespeed the remainder of the track (this didn’t always go smoothly as the soft-tail kept altering the chain tension). The track going down to the Mistletoe Bay road was lovely & flowing & most enjoyable; all of a sudden it changed back in to switchbacks for the last little bit – Emma managed to miss the first one completely & just pulled up in time as she missed the turn completely. I don’t think that was what the fairies meant by spending time alone. Crossing another road, we were around Mistletoe Bay & the track gently wound its way up & around the next headland – around which we made good time. Pulling up at some sort of picnic table, there were now views to Anakiwa as well as Picton – heading out in a boat & going for a waterski looked pretty good. It was another wonderfully clear skied day, but as there was little to no wind sailing looked like a worse option than normal. Gavin was nominated to lead off & a group of four tore off down what proved to be another fantastic flowing downhill. I found myself at the end of the back of the next group of three; about half way down we whizzed past Paul remonstrating with someone on the side of the track. By this stage of the day we had passed many more walkers & a few cyclists walking the other way (this last day was much more accessible for day-trippers than the previous days) & it was pretty easy to tell that these weren’t two friends catching up after a chance encounter in the middle of nowhere. We got the low down of the scared Australian woman’s tirade at selfish mountain bikers (with the husband & son making themselves scarce), mixed with plenty of sarcasm & reason & manners from Paul at our final lunch on a pleasant beach (except for the sandflies). Being Easter Sunday, we were disappointed to find that if we had have been a bit quicker we could have partaken in an Easter Egg hunt all around the small bay that was well thought out by some fortunate kids’ parents – as much as we helped them, they did not share the spoils. Just a short post-lunch ride & we had completed the 70-odd km Queen Charlotte Track (Shaun managed to get our first puncture of the ride about one kilometre from the end!). What a thoroughly enjoyable ride, great track, fantastic panoramas, excellent people to ride with – if you can ride a mountain bike, I recommend you do it.
Hunting around the sprawl of Anakiwa (home of Outward Bound), which turns out not to have any shops a few of us finally found a B&B that would feed us (mmmm cheese & tomato toasted sandwiches) & let us use the most impossibly large & impractical binoculars that I have ever seen. They also provided us direction to the YHA – always handy to know where you will be sleeping. The YHA turned out to be another step up in our QCT accommodation with comfy beds, big screen TV, over 300 DVDs & a multitude of board games - & best of all, a good shower. I was very well beaten at Guess Who, made a late comeback but still lost a game of Excuses, & cleaned up at Extreme Trivial Pursuit (a spontaneous variation that does away with the board & wedges). Hauling our bags off the jetty, we scrubbed up & caught a courtesy van (driven by someone who should have been sober & perhaps was) to the pub with no EFTPOS. Big old country pubs are fantastic, but eating our various fried meals (the works burger was rather impressive) did rather feel like sitting in a distant great-aunt’s living room full of old faded photos, curios & knick-knacks. The landlords were away for the long weekend so we were graced with a marvellous Liverpudlian (& apparently Wayne Rooney’s cousin) accent & barmaids wearing Easter bunny ears. Eventually we moved out to the leanto-esque outdoor area with darts & pool table (I managed one of my much poorer efforts at pool); our hosts must have been warming to us faster than an Australian tramper, as the fire was soon lit, replacement shuttle drivers were found so we could stay later & we managed a couple of complimentary takeaway bottles of white. After persuading our shuttle driver to have a pint with us, it was off in to the night – with most of us glad that we hadn’t biked the ten or so kilometres to the pub without lights.

If the effing post had not have been broke, the bar may have been less well stocked by the end of the night.

I'm glad it was autumn, or else I would probably be hooked by now.

Not too much of note on Monday – pack, ride back to Picton on the road, dissemble & pack bike, ferry to Wellington, hurried goodbyes to half the group (sorry if I missed you), shuttle to airport, fly to Auckland, home by 2030. Mind you, the shuttle driver was the antithesis of the old guy I had on Thursday night – he was a third his age, drove aggressively, threw the passengers all over the back seats, swore a lot; the other passengers & I were thoroughly entertained by it all.

In an addendum of the previous update which is not nearly as exciting as the QCT, but probably more momentus - Adele & I went halves in a nice big loan from the bank, which means that we now have a house. Adele is very much loving living in it (it is in Timaru, so if I'm lucky I may get to stay there one day) & furnishing it & sharing it with a fellow junior doctor.

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