Wednesday, June 23, 2010

And Back Again (NZ part 26)

(NZ part one here)

We wake up on the banks of the Rakaia River with only 3 days left of our trip around the southern island of New Zealand. It seems hard to believe that we have been living off of our bikes for nearly three months. We break camp and study the maps again for a good place to spend some of this time without riding directly back into Christchurch. We are certain we don't want to spend several days at the end of such an amazing trip killing time in a city, or inconveniencing our hosts that have agree to shuttle us to the airport. We quickly settle on a quick detour to the Banks Peninsula, an interesting geological feature the result of two adjacent extinct volcanoes. The collapsed cones, each with just a narrow opening to the ocean, provided the safe ports that helped establish Christchurch as the major hub for the south island. Of course, this route will mean more climbing, but we usually enjoy the resulting downhill, so this doesn't dissuade us.

We take small side streets through the outlying towns around Christchurch rather than ride along Route 1, and eventually intersect with Route 75, the main southern route from Christchurch out to the peninsula. We ride along farm fields, sheep pastures, and rugged drainages before reaching the main turn to the actual climb onto the flanks of the volcanoes. Dan has an urge to try an alternate route, one that appears to cross a small spit near Forsyth Lake, at Birdlings Flat. If he can cross, he will be onto the volcanoes on a small Bossu Road, which climbs abruptly to the ridge line. My knee has a nagging dull ache, so I opt to stay on the more gradual paved road up to the ridge, and we settle on a campsite ahead of time where we plan to meet later that day. After 3 months of always riding in tandem, it is very odd feeling to split off in separate directions, but we are probably due for some time on our own. I plod along at a very relaxed pace for the climb, stopping at a small tourist shop to pick up gifts of lambswool caps and socks for family. The climb to the ridge is slow, but not extremely difficult, and I opt for Summit Road, which traces the spine of the ridge line for the ride toward our agreed upon meeting place in Akaroa. The ridge route provides repeated glimpses down to settlements along the outer coast, and temps me to drop down for some exploring. Eventually I drop down into the inner harbor of Akaroa on a blazing paved road, losing a piece of clothing strapped to my trailer to air dry in the process. 

I make it to the campground outside of Akaroa in the early afternoon, and with not sign of Dan yet, I reserve a site and set up camp. By evening I am just slightly concerned, but Dan pulls in completely stoked with his ride in time for some dinner, and all is well.

We ride back up to the Summit Road in the morning, a long long slog up, but very rewarding once we hit the ridge. There are climbs once on the ridge line, but nothing in comparison to the haul out of the crater. Before long we are leaving the eastern volcano and headed for the bays and harbors closer to Christchurch. We wind past Pigeon Bay and Port Levy, and down off the flanks on bullet of a road toward Purua. The corners are so tight and the grade so great that we are faster than the cars, and have to pull around and pass one in excitement. Then we are at Lyttelton Harbour and feel the imminent return to the city. We stop for an ice cream at Govenors Bay, and are invited to stay with a couple who run a bed and breakfast there. We camp in their back yard and they refuse to let us pay for the great hospitality the show us. Our final ride in New Zealand is an easy, quick shot in to Christchurch, and we take our time to make it there in the early afternoon. A celebratory pint in a local pub, and then we are back where our adventure began.

It seemed to end as abruptly as my story. Certainly some of the greatest times that I can remember, and always in the back of my mind as a trip that will never be repeated, but should definitely be reprised. Thanks so much to all of you who supported this idea, helped make it a reality, and of course shared in the story. Thanks, as well, to my riding partner Dan Cantrell - that was some adventure.

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