Day 19 – Ross to Franz Joseph – Battling the Elements

I remember hearing a mountaineer saying something along the lines of, ‘You don’t conquer Mount Everest, you simply creep up while she’s sleeping’. I’ve realised that riding the Tour Aotearoa is similar. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I’ve learned so far is the importance of staying flexible and being willing to change your plans considering new information. This type of continual dynamic risk assessment seems particularly important somewhere as wild as New Zealand where nature is so firmly in charge.

Two days ago, I ignored my instincts and set off to ride from Reefton to Greymouth along the Big River Trail. Some 50 kilometres and 8 hours of bush-whacking, river-fording, bike-heaving later, I felt like I’d gone 12 rounds with Mother Nature – and lost.

This morning began with a bit of deja vu. I set off along the trail beside a fierce wind that whipped through the trees, almost bending their matchstick-like trunks in half and forcing me to recall all the downed trees I’d seen on the Big River Trail. Rain lashed down with a deafening roar and the trails quickly became overflowing rivers. If I had no time constraints, I’d have returned to Ross, booked a night in a motel, and tried again tomorrow, however, with my strict schedule – all my accommodation and my flight home are booked – I had to reach Franz Joseph tonight.

Sometimes the right decision is the hard one. Pushing through the weather for the sake of completing the ride would have been foolish and dangerous. Instead, I dismantled my bike, squeezed it into a taxi, and enjoyed the drive to Franz Joseph listening to the mechanical whir of windscreen wipers and watching the monsoon slide down the windows.

I arrived too early to check into my hotel so I reserved a hot tub from Waiho Hot Tubs and jumped straight into the warm wood-fired waters with absolute certainty, no regrets, that I’d made the smart decision. As the hot water rejuvenated my tired legs and aching body, I felt thankful to have my first proper rest in nearly three weeks. My long hours in the saddle has meant some of the admin jobs – those small things I’ve wanted to do but just haven’t got around to yet – have fallen behind. Today I had a chance to tick a lot of those tasks off the list. I climbed from the hot tub with lobster-red skin and stretched my tired muscles, I washed my clothes, and then enjoyed the indulgence of a lunchtime beer. A bolt had rattled free from my bike rack, lost to some gravel trail, and I found a replacement from the local garage for the costly sum of £0.05. Nearing the end of the Tour Aotearoa and with no more nights planned in the tent, I posted my camping setup to my friend in Auckland; I’ll be several kilos lighter when I set off again! Finally, I got a good night’s sleep. I couldn’t be any more prepared to embark on the final section of this adventure. You don’t simply ride the Tour Aotearoa, you sneak along it while the weather is sleeping.