The final day! The final early rise, leg astride the bike, into the wild for the last time. It’s funny leaving civilisation behind, not quite knowing when you’ll return. NZ can seem pretty vast sometimes, not taking long to escape the confines of the city, something I’ve always enjoyed, and something I struggled with when I moved to Europe. Anyway, the first bit up the Matai Valley was enjoyable enough; a bit of a detour past the storm damaged road was a welcome break from the miles of tarseal we had yesterday. And then it hit. Up. Initially it was just possible to ride, however the morning legs and mind soon decided walking was the sensible option. A quick altitude check confirmed we were making good progress toward the 700m summit. And then we went down. And down. My descended about as fast as my bike and me. The push from there to the summit was tough. Stephen had much better pushing legs and I was very envious of his lighter setup at this point. It was a head down, feet splayed for traction, constantly switching positions, sometimes employing the push-brake-walk-repeat technique. I’ve never pushed my bike this long, let alone one that’s loaded, with water I was probably pushing 21kg today.
I can’t remember how long it took, but it was certainly a grade harder than the pervious day’s push up the Porika Track. The sight of sun and a sign at the top was cause for a loud “yeah”. Stephen was already chilling and having a feed, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to bask in the sun and glory of another mammoth victory. One thing was certain, we had some serious descending to do. Obviously it wouldn’t all be downhill, but I was confident in a lot of pedal free miles, but most significantly, walk free. I actually enjoy pedalling uphill. Loose gravel - foot-out-flat-out (I wish!) - descending was again on the menu, no moments, thankfully meeting some loaded touring bikes on an open section. Q: “How far is it to the top” A: “A looooong way”.
Back on the tarseal it was business as usual, spinning. We weren’t in a hurry today though. Some mildly interesting road riding later we reached Havelock, a place I’ve passed a few times before and a good prospect for food and drink. An order of pie, cake and coffee quickly followed. It was another perfect day, possibly too perfect for riding though; it was early and the need for sunscreen was intensely obvious. Refueled and restocked, we headed off in search of the Queen Charlotte Drive, a road I’ve driven a few times, but nothing can compare to riding a road like this by bike. The azure saturated seascapes interspersed with twists and turns were superb. Not even the rental cars taking shortcuts across our path could alter the feeling of elation.
Stephen and David's bikes relax on Queen Charlotte Drive
Queen Charlotte Drive, a stunning final day around the Marlborough Sounds
After many miles of heaven, we descended into Picton, another opportunity to test my various cornering techniques. “Knee in” or “knee out”? I’ve come to the conclusion that the bike feels more stable with “knee in”. I’m still experimenting, so I’ll elaborate at a later date. Picton was our final pitstop, grabbing a final Powerade to stave off the effects of the midday sun. We chatted and rolled on at a gentle pace, enjoying the oft talked about Port Underwood Road. By most accounts, this was a real brute. I now remember Nathan painting a picture of pure evil, civil engineers ignoring the contours of the land and subsequently carving roads straight over sea piercing ridges. Over the course of the week, the painting faded, and I was actually looking forward to this final series of climbs. Clearly Stephen was still in awe of the potential pain ahead as he dismounted at the bottom of the first climb. Wise was he. I carried on, and after long time of continuous battling (I forget how long), I reached a corner, leading to more climbing. My competitive fibres began to awaken, should I continue alone? I decided to keep riding my pace and not push too hard and I guessed I would see Stephen on the flat final miles to Blenheim. Wild thoughts of diverging blue dots ran through my head. This could be interesting viewing. I guess Stephen was thinking something similar and didn’t want to finish on the wrong side of this duel. I passed a tourist at a solid clip, and toyed with the idea of telling him to not divulge any information about my whereabouts. Yes, the UCI should ban race radios. And then without warning, a stealth counter attack. A sustained one too, he continued up the hill at a rate I had no hope of matching. I continued to follow him at a 50m deficit, so at least the gap wasn’t widening. And then he let up. Phew, I wasn’t looking forward to bearing the rewards of a failed attack; an attack that wasn’t an attack if you follow. We chatted and then stopped to have a snack. Stephen had cooked himself and was out of water. Being the camel that I am, I had a spare bottle, gratefully accepted. I was about to top up my camelbak with another spare I had, when a woefully mistimed return bottle knocked my lidless bottle over. NOOOOOOO! I was a bit gutted, but I had enough to get me to Blenheim on reduced intake. It’s something to laugh about in hindsight that’s for sure. Anyway, this regroup was the signing of a truce, and we cruised the rest of the hills, thoroughly enjoying the tricky winding gravel and later molten fresh tarseal. There really was no telling when to expect grip. It was pretty gusty up the top too, another variable that has more effect on a bike loaded with wind-catching bags.
One of the many bays we passed on the Port Underwood Rd. As you can see, we were quite high
The last 10km was a bit boring, but gave some time to reflect on what had been an enjoyable experience. I managed to lose the route as we neared our destination, but just after 5pm we rolled into the bike shop to pick up our gear. I headed to Seymour Square for a final Spot signal upload. Done. Dusted. I’d no idea what to expect heading into this.
Home free baby. The view from the last descent on Port Underwood Rd
Back in Blenheim after a 5.5 day detour. It was worth it. Dust was a compulsory extra