It was a much more leisurely start to the day than the previous one – slightly later and no screaming fire alarms helped. I’d made it to Springfield and had enjoyed that day so much, mostly due to McDonald Downs, and kept my bargain with myself – all thoughts of pulling out were gone, I was going to be able to complete this course. Today was the day to cross the Southern Alps and spend some time on the West Coast – an area of NZ notorious for excessive levels of rainfall (all the weather comes across the Tasman Sea and dumps there, leaving the east of the island rather dry).
For the first forty-five minutes a strong easterly helped me on my way, but heading up to Porters Pass my bearing changed slightly and the wind swirled through the mountain valleys. For not the last time in the day, the head and cross wind was horrendous; the road up to the pass was pretty steep too. I passed another breveter and then another passed me – Gary seemed pleased for the company and was much stronger on the road than I, I was happy to follow him up the hill as he mostly battled the wind.
After sheltering at the top for a snack, we crossed the pass and worked into the wind on the way down. Then the road turned more north and the wind swirled around to give another big tail wind. Eventually Gary was too fast for me, so I was back enjoying a beautiful morning in solitude. The wind continued to be hard work most of the time; I made myself take regular mini-breaks and tried to capture the expanse of the valley in a few photos.
The highlight of the morning’s riding was having to stop for road work at the top of a large hill after Craigieburn – the traffic having been reduced to one lane. I was at the front of the queue and eventually I was let loose down the hill – there is something thrilling about riding a loaded mountain-bike down hills at over seventy kilometres an hour, all the others on faster tyres and higher gears must have really been flying down here. It was sometime before the traffic passed me again.
Then things turned horrible again as the wind changed again for a good couple of hours about the time I reached Lake Pearson – I was glad I hadn’t made it that far the night before to camp, it would have been a restless night. With my speed again reduced to about half of what it would normally be on flat road, it was proper hard slow work. Just as I reached the Waimakariri crossing I caught up to Kirsty & Robyn – it was nice to have a little company for the gradual climb up to Arthurs Pass Village, which was more sheltered and much preferable to being out in the wind.
There was a small collection of Breveters at the store – time to have one of the best pies (I recommend the New York Peppered Steak) of the week and stock up on food for the coming day(s). The remaining climb up to the actual pass was nowhere near as bad as Porters Pass.
When asked to take a photo, I stupidly suggested holding bikes above heads without realising I’d have to do the same and the rear of my bike is very heavy.
So this photo looks a lot less strained.
The descent down to the west of the island was extremely steep – it was fast, fun and I was very pleased we’d not had to climb it. There was another little gathering at the closed-on-Tuesdays Jackson Pub before the route turned north-east from the highway and we had a pretty decent tailwind for a while on the flat. Rolling past dairy farms now, there was an extended stop at a roadside plum tree before a lengthy section on gravel roads through native bush – beautiful. I was lagging back enjoying the moment, riding so slowly I managed to snap some slightly wonky photos – admittedly, there are no giraffes, but they’re OK.
After stopping slightly shorter than my goal the day before, I thought I’d be able to manage to make up the difference as this day was all on the road (mostly sealed, some gravel). To Blackball was almost 190 km – easily my biggest day on a bike. As we rolled into Blackball at about eight o’clock, it was tempting to continue on to get the double century and camp at some clearing on the side of the road near the Grey River. But it was more tempting to sit down at the Blackball Hilton and enjoy the best meal I had all week – a large pork stir-fry with stacks of vegetables and rice, nothing deep-fried in sight, brilliant. I ended up staying the night.