The rain hadn’t let up overnight, it had been downright heavy. As expected, nothing had dried, but wet clothes had to go on and one must venture out into the rain. But it was a slow start as I wanted to go to the store which didn’t open until eight o’clock – I needed a lot of food immediately and for the longer stretches of no services. The last leg of the West Coast Wilderness Trail is mostly a mix of gravel cycle path and gravel back roads following the coast line south-west.
It may have been damp, but I was very glad it wasn’t cold. I remember little of the hundred and forty-odd kilometre, nine hour ride to Franz Josef. It was wet and grey – but not unpleasant – as I rode past a mixture of sodden farms, and steep bush clad hills. For a lot of highway riding, the traffic is not at all heavy and I had no problems pottering along. The only incidents of note were twofold. The first being I rode past a Canadian cycle tourist that Steve and I had met and chatted to six weeks before west of Napier, on my last overnighter in preparation for the Tour. She’d obviously made her way to the bottom of the South Island and was riding back up the West Coast – recognition was not instantaneous, so we were well past each by the time I realised where I’d seen that face before.
The other happening of note was the most disturbing part of the whole trip. It was about nine in the morning and I was riding south along a long straight flat section. There had not been many people out in the steady rain, so I was surprised to see a runner in the distance. As I got within a few hundred metres, he looked to wearing a lot of white. Getting even closer it was obvious this guy was not wearing much at all – only trainers, white socks, a hat and glasses. This was most bemusing and as it was all a bit flabby and jiggly I was very pleased we were going in the same direction. I held my tongue until right beside the morning streaker and said a cheery “Good Morning”. Poor nutter seemed startled to be passed by a cyclist, on a cycle trail of all places, without warning. In the days following I learned a few other Tour riders had had a similar experience, often with the guy trying to get off the trail and hide in the bushes. Weird.
First photo stop of the day – the checkpoint at Lake Ianthe. I imagine it’s really nice, sometimes.
A big lunch stop and resupply in Harihari was most welcome before continuing into the wet, but gentle terrain that mostly skirted the bottom of the hills on the relatively flat farmland. Towards mid-afternoon the rain strengthened – but I was still warm, so pretty happy to keep grinning (quite literally, I wore a grin for much of the two weeks so thrilled was I with the experience) and bearing it.
A short detour off the highway was signposted as closed to public access, but in this weather – who would be around to enforce it? As the heavens opened completely, I took shelter under a covered walkway at a/the Franz Josef primary school and tried to work out how far I would get that day. My legs felt that they would be good for quite some time – even though I knew there were three steep hills to climb before Fox Glacier. But if I could push past Fox I’d be a much better chance for a Thursday finish – instead of the more likely Friday finish and then having to wait around in Bluff for a day or organise a trip into and out of Queenstown. Such permutations had been swimming around my mind almost constantly, there being little else to distract me from the rain.
I did know, thanks to the handy information all riders got, that there was a motel on the highway thirty-five kilometres past Fox Glacier. I’ve still no idea where that place really was or if there is a village there. I made a call and found that they had a cabin available – for some reason I booked it, in doing so committing to another four or five hours riding in the torrents coming from above. Letting Evan know I’d found a room for the night (they were apparently scarce in Fox) I could shelter no longer and headed off again.
I was pleased with how my legs coped with the three one-after-the-other steep hills – but even more grateful when I rolled into Fox township and found a pub with a big balcony I could use to make myself look less drowned before entering. Large burger devoured, I was suiting up again to receive lashings of rain when the only rider I’d seen since lunch strolled over. Brief chat and introduction over, I was a little less pleased in having had some sort of schedule imposed on me – good company seemed preferable to a soaking ride in the dark. But there was nothing for it, I was there to ride a bike and ride I must.
The off-road trail up to the glacier was really quite fun – I was not surprised to find I had the whole parking lot to myself. Also expected, I couldn’t see the glacier.
Only other photo of the day – and only because it was a checkpoint. Somewhere up there is Fox Glacier.
Another factor in persuading me to push on for the night was that from the glacier the road to the motels was generally downhill losing a couple of hundred metres to return me to sea-level. The rain was now pelting down as darkness fell. I can’t remember the last time I’d seen heavier rain, let alone been out riding in it for hours. It was strangely enjoyable and adventurous. Anything that looked like a waterway was full to overflowing. I had the weird experience of riding down a gentle slope and looking beside me to see the water in the ditch flowing the opposite direction – seemingly uphill. I didn’t think I was that tired.
Eventually “thirty-five kilometres from Fox Glacier” ticked over on my odometer and sure enough, there sprung a motel out of the sheets of water that made up my field of vision. The cabin handily had a big carport; once I evicted the small van and its freedom-camping residents, I was able to sort my bike and wet gear out – the tokens for the drier were well worth it. Evan even turned up, I wasn’t expecting to see him as I’d not heard back from him.
What a day – over two hundred kilometres of rain, the last sixty could be generously described as a constant downpour. But it was warm and I was pleased with the progress. It would have been disappointing to visit the West Coast and not have over three hundred kilometres of riding in the rain – at least, that’s what I’m telling myself. Sleep came easy, even if the cabin smelt a little funky as we tried to dry the non-drier clothes over heaters.