The first warmup cycle for the New Zealand crusade began today. After carefully planning out the journeys mileage, I decided the most important thing would be to test the terrain once here, to see how my fitness holds up against it.
The plan is to leave the loving company of my family on the 7th January proceeding south to Invercargill before heading back north to the city of Christchurch. All in all the journey will be roughly 1600km, by far the biggest test of endurance ever undertaken. Not counting match day drinking marathons with the boys back home of course.
The first section of pain and sweat takes me through the New Zealand South Island Alps. Many people I had bumped into mentioned their wariness of these Rocky Goliaths. Quoting the lean German rider Lukas, from whom I bought my touring bike, ‘I want to enjoy the South Island so I’ve decided to not take the bike and use transport instead’.
Considering his light cycling physical presence the concern for my bulky welsh rugby build set in.
So, as mentioned, it felt like a warmup cycle was clearly needed.
Starting from Murchison I traveled across the mountains to the ocean-side flat lands, namely the town of Westport. The journey took me 96km, filled with steep climbs and a leg breaking headwinds.
After the first 20km I already started getting the negative internal mutters. Having always prided myself on my leg strength, this opinion quickly disappeared as gear one became my best friend. Understandably this slowed my usual pace down quite significantly. Normally I reach a comfortable 40 to 50km per hour, but after reaching the half way mark, I only managed 50km’s in two and a half hours.
Cycling through the mountains holds some breathing taking views which make the hard work worth while however. I lost count how many times I beamed after seeing what lay over the horizon. Be sure to make a lot of time for photo opportunities, if you’re thinking of tackling this route.
There are very few rest stops along this way, and NO WATER. For once I planned ahead and took two liters with me. This barely lasted until the first refueling stop, in Berlin. The little cafe of Berlin has food, rest rooms, WATER and alcohol if you’re feeling crazy. The staff are pretty sarcastic and fun, although joking about your sorry state while in urgent need of H20 is probably not the best idea.
On that note, something I love about the New Zealand culture is everyone’s deep yearning to be friendly and helpful. When I arrived, at the small Berlin cafe, a pleasant local man eating at the diner came out, offered to fill my water bottles from his personal supply and gave me some useful heads up advice about the headwind I was about to hit. I thanked him gratefully and ploughed onward.
With the mountains retreating as I got closer to the coast I assumed the ride would become easier, despite the mans advice. That was my first mistake. While entering a large valley between the town of Berlin and the coast there is a relentless headwind. To give you an idea of how strong the devils breath storming up the valley was, I stopped peddling on a forty degree decline and came to a swift stop! This part of the cycle took me longer than the first. It was tortuous to say the least.
But as with most of New Zealand, the scenery makes it all worth while. The valley has a hazy blue river running through it, nestled between towering green peaks. Simply breath-taking. Again make sure you scheduled in plenty of time for Facebook selfies.
Finally I reached Westport, having clocked up 97km, in a little over five and a half hours. Considering I’ve planned the New Zealand crusade around a 100 to 150km cycling day, it seems, I have my work cut out for me. Hopefully there will not be a broken Welshman added to the hundreds of dead possums that litter the New Zealand roadsides.
To top off the day we made a short stop to the seal colony, just outside Westport. The beach reminded me of a closing James Bond scene, where he beds the naive 21 year old secret agent.
The seal colony was OK. It turned out harder to spot each blubbery mammal than cracking a magic eye picture. I didn’t continue on the lighthouse walk, accepting defeat for the day and returned to the car.
The star tavern nearby provided me with ample substance, fried as most road side bars in the South Island. Shaking hands with every server I met was kind of surreal, thanks to Derek the owner. I remember each name, so the gimmick may have something to it. As I sat and munched down the cholesterol I pondered the ride to come in three days.
Watch this space.