We left the DOC campsite at 7, packing up our tents still wet from the dew. We wanted to start early, because we had no idea on how long the 40km track would take, and we had to be at the Bridge to Nowhere at 1:30pm for our jetboat ride down the Whanganui river. This was another one of those tracks that people warned us about, and to be honest, we had no idea how our riding speed compared with other riders. So when people said we should allow 6 hours, we (for once) took it seriously (by getting up early to leave at 7, which for us, is taking it very seriously indeed).
The first section of the track was pretty rough farm track, but we made ok time. But then it turned into narrow single track, with muddy and rocky sections which would be great on a proper, unloaded mountain bike, but was extremely challenging on the Raleighs. Our speed dropped, and although no one said anything, I think we collectively started getting a bit worried about how we’d get through 40km of this type of track in time.
Then suddenly, the track opened out into a wider, steep, climbing track, and we breathed a sigh of relief.
A whole lot of climbing, a lot of descending, a bit of wincing about hitting my cheap replacement rear tire into rocks, and we realised we were easily going to make it in time, so relaxed and made it to the Bridge to Nowhere by 12pm. In enough time to spread out our wet gear to dry it in the sun, and do some bombs into the Wanganui River.
After loading the bikes onto the jetboat we headed down the Whanganui for 35 spectacular kilometres, arriving at Pipiriki about half an hour later. Shameless plug for Whanganui River Adventures: Ken and his team, in particular Junior, were friendly, professional, and went out of their way to look after all of the cyclists, with a bike wash, water, and lots of encouragement. They even came out specifically to say goodbye, shake our hands and wish us luck as we left.
In 30 degree heat.
To ride another 91km.
On hilly roads.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that It was one of the hardest rides of my life. You’d think a road following a river downstream would be relatively easy going. Canterbury seems to have it sorted with our nice flat braided rivers, but this; it was 7kph uphill, then the briefest of 20+kph stints back down, before being back to 7 again. And repeat. Jeremy’s friend Paul came out to ride with us, bringing welcome bananas and ice blocks, but how we envied his light, unloaded whippet of a road bike.
We carried on, making it to the top of the wildly inappropriately named Gentle Annie on dusk.
Basically, from there on, all I remember is being cold and exhausted. Staring at Paul and Jeremy’s rear wheels for hours, we eventually made it into Whanganui, up the hill to photo checkpoint 11 at Durie Hill lookout.
From there, we rode another 15km to Fordell, where some friends of Jeremy’s had made us the most amazing full roast meal, and provided us with real beds (thanks Israel and Sarah!). I’m sorry if we weren’t very talkative or coherent; I had already used most most of my energy by lunchtime!
131 km total distance
1823m total climbing
8:55 total ride time
Water - nowhere near enough