Tour Aotearoa Day 17 – Reefton to Greymouth

Before I write about this crazy day, I’d like to explain about the two types of fun. Type 1 fun is fun that’s enjoyable in the moment, while it’s happening; to make things simple, you could also just call this ‘fun’, things like powder skiing, drinking margaritas, watching a movie. Type 2 fun is miserable while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect; this is things like straining to lift your bike over downed trees while your tyre gets ripped by a rock and is squirting tubeless sealant over everything, as the torrent of rain runs down the ‘cycle route’ and flows through your shoes. Okay, in case you hadn’t worked out, those aren’t totally hypothetical examples. Today’s ride sits firmly in the Type 2 fun category, occasionally even straying into Type 3 (it wasn’t fun in the moment, wasn’t fun afterwards, and will never be fun to reminisce about). To be honest, I wouldn’t repeat today’s ride if you paid me…

The guidebook warned the Big River Trail was a rough and challenging track in the dry, and that it was perilous after the rain. It offered a bypass option along Highway 7. Here, I confess my naïve optimism got the better of me. I like a challenge, I relish the opportunity to tackle things other people think can’t be done. And so I began.

The elevation profile for the Big River Trail resembles the teeth of a saw. Sharp ascents give way to sharp descents, and so on. But it wasn’t the climbing that was the problem. I made it to the Big River Hut owned by the Department of Conservation where hikers and cyclists can stay. I headed inside the cosy cabin to cook my lunch on the gas cannister.

Leaving the Big River Hut, the descent began along a boardwalk elevated above boggy marshes. This lulled me into a sense of security that the track may not be so bad. When the boardwalk vanished, the track slowly became worse and worse, until it was unrideable for anyone without Danny MacAskill levels of skills. Eventually I found myself cycling dragging my bike down a river, lifting it over big slippery rocks. Occasionally a blockade of fallen trees barred the route, requiring me to heft the bike between the tangle of branches, in a tough full-body workout. Amid this scene of devastation, I felt a long way out of my depth and began to understand why most other cyclists opt for the Highway 7 bypass.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, a rock shredded my tyre. My tubeless plugs were woefully insignificant for the gaping hole, so I knotted a T-shirt tightly around the tyre and rim, and began limping along the trail with this emergency repair, regularly stop to pump air. The 60 kilometres remaining to Greymouth felt an impossible distance. After all, the first 50 kilometres had taken 8 hours, this glacial 6.25 km per hour pace barely faster than walking and had extracted a hefty toll on my energy levels. For the first time in the trip I wondered, could I really make it?

I’d read about this region’s gold mining heritage; the goldrush through the 1800’s, the pioneer’s village, the preserved relics of this industry, but I hadn’t had time or energy to appreciate any of it. I’d been too busy focussed on Greymouth.

Mercifully, the last 54 kilometres to Greymouth were along a paved road. Even stopping to reinflate my tyre at regular intervals, I covered this distance quickly, and arrived to my accommodation at 21:30, 14.5 hours after setting off. The day had been an important wake-up call to the power of New Zealand’s nature. I felt quietly proud of my resilience and sheer determination, even if next time you’d spot me flying along Highway 7.