My choice of verandah was almost too good – I woke with a start and realised it was half-past seven and I’d overslept. This was somewhat understandable as the storm had come through and it was still very dark for the time of day, and now also very wet. At least everything I had was dry as I hurriedly packed, scoffed some food and headed out into the rain for the last leg of the journey.
Heading south, it was to be a hundred-odd kilometres to Invercargill on mostly-quiet rural roads. The wind had swung around towards the south from last night’s wonderful nor-west tailwind, so was a bit of a hindrance. I steeled myself to be riding into the heavy rain for the remainder of my Tour. For some reason, the route left the sealed road and turned away from the river it had been following, just to climb a hundred vertical metres steeply and then return to the same river valley it had just left. But in coming down that seemingly-inexplicable hill (I now think it was to put us on the quieter side of the river), a wonderful thing happened – the sky cleared and we were without heavy rain, basking in sunlight.
It was also around this time that another rider, Steve, caught me – we would ride most of the rest of the Tour together. Steve was very pleased to learn that Dad was coming to pick me up and we could probably give him a ride back to Dunedin – definitely better than riding there. We worked out we’d been on the same boat from Pouto Point way back on my Day Three and Steve had just caught up to me. For one last time, I had a farmer in a pick-up pull up beside me as I was riding enquiring as to why there were so many cyclists on his quiet back road. I tried to get across the outline of what we were doing over the noise of the wind. We followed the straight Southland roads down to Winton for the last food stop, always pleased when the wind was more help than hindrance.
For some reason, they don’t seem to bale their hay around here – just make little stacks.
Second to last photo checkpoint – photo with an enthusiastic Southland local. Fascinated as she was by our journey, we also heard a lot of the Wanaka A&P show that was coming up that weekend.
With only seventy kilometres to go, it was a straight run south to Invercargill battling what was now becoming a gale of a sou-wester. Passing through the outskirts of the city, any time we turned east speed was quickly gained with no effort. Unfortunately, the route was still south and on a cycle path on the edge of the estuary – which afforded absolutely no wind protection. It’s a lovely wide trail, smooth and flat for ten miles; well, it normally would be – we struggled to stay on it as we were repeatedly sprayed with water from the estuary and blown into the grass.
How could it be so hard to stay on such an easy trail?
Steve leaning into the wind and fighting his way back onto the path.
The trail looped around a bit and only a few times did we almost get blown into the estuary. Aware of the ridiculousness of this, there wasn’t much to do but laugh at the absurdity of having come so far only to find the flattest part and the last one percent was to be the most difficult.
Finally we reached State Highway One – that which we began our journey on and on which we would ride the last twenty kilometres. This really wasn’t a good thing – for two reasons: one, the road, while flat and straight, was heading straight into the gale for eight kilometres; and two, unlike the far-north this part of SH1 is very busy and largely used by big trucks going to and from the port at Bluff. Sigh. I rode with Steve a little way as our pace dropped to that of walking. We were constantly blown off the hard shoulder, rolling down the grass verge and then fighting back onto the highway only to be almost sucked out into the traffic lane by the pressure drop after each passing behemoth. Once again, my slight frame was no use as I just didn’t have the strength to continually muscle into the wind. Steve gradually pulled away and I was left battling into the wind alone.
On my commute, I ride on a busy highway with even bigger trucks rattling past – but here, for the first time, did I actually start to fear I might get hit by one. After only a mile or so of this madness I decided that it wasn’t worth the effort of riding to just to increase my chance of becoming a hood ornament for a big Kenworth; I got off and walked. After almost three thousand kilometres of riding, I was reduced to walking along a flat, straight highway – it still sounds outrageous. At least I found out the next day that I was trying to ride into an eighty kilometre per hour gale, that was gusting to a hundred and twenty!
I cut a pretty pathetic sight pushing my bike alongside the highway – which in itself was no mean feat and took all the strength and willpower I had to go on and not just give up and lie in the grass. Such a wretched figure I must have looked that three drivers at different times pulled up besides me offering to put my bike on the tray/trailer and drive me the last kilometres. I felt ridiculous having to turn such kind offers down. Then the rain blew in…
Putting a raincoat on in such conditions is remarkably difficult. After taking ninety minutes to mostly-push my bike eight flat kilometres (!), the road finally turned south. Now I only had a big crosswind to deal with – if you don’t know, frame-bags make very good sails. Tentatively I tried to get back on my bike; it was only after a few attempts at riding a few metres that it was actually worth it. But then a skinny, elevated rail bridge with no shoulder had me walking again. Finally, I could ride again; as the road approached Bluff it turned south-east. The struggle was over, I had survived; suddenly I had the wind at my back and was flying through town. With the last twenty kilometres taking over two hours, the toughest part and indeed my whole Tour Aotearoa was over! Such satisfaction.
There was no fanfare, or anything external really to mark my finish – just a sign post at the bottom of New Zealand that meant I’d ridden the length of the country. A month later (it sure has taken me a while to write this up) I’m not sure I can convey the wonderfulness of it all – what a great route, what a diverse and beautiful little country, what fantastic people I met along the way, what a lot of tasty food I ate and just generally: how good was that?!
Dad arrived a few minutes after I did after buying tea (due to the wind, I was somewhat later finishing than expected). Photos (above) taken, it was to the adjacent cafe to eat and drink. Somehow I managed to drink a pot of tea, a deserved porter (of the beer variety, not an actual porter) and a water concurrently – I think that was excusable after 3000 km in 16.1 days. That was two days quicker than I’d dared hope – wow, I can actually do these events and I’m pretty sure I could do them better. With two extra days up my sleeve, I had rebooked my flight home so I could rest at Mum & Dad’s before a more relaxed return home.