Every summer I do a tramp with my friend Laura in Nelson–I fly up after work on a Friday, she picks me up at the airport, and we hike a mountain somewhere in the Kahurangi National Park. We’ve been to some spectacular places (Mt Owen’s peculiar limestone formations are probably my favorite so far). But this year, with these darn back troubles, I haven’t been hiking…. But I HAVE been biking! So this year we decided to met in Hanmer Springs and bike the St. James Cycleway.
DOC’s map shows the cycleway, 64 kilometers of mountain biking through the sweeping Waiau river valley. We concluded that the difficulty of the ride was exaggerated somewhat in the description–DOC must feel responsible keep inexperienced bikers from getting in over their heads. Though there are huts along the way, we don’t have our bikes set up with saddle bags so we decided to do the ride in one day, and stay at a backpacker (a.k.a. hostel) in Hanmer the nights before and after.
The track starts with a climb up a four-wheel-drive road to Maling pass. The forecast had been for showers, clearing during the morning, so we rugged up and brought our hats and puffies and changes of clothes in our backpacks….but the day turned out fine. “Blue skies and never a cloud, the sun dancing on the water.”
Morning tea spot! I had thought we’d be huddling in a hut sheltering from drizzle for our stops, so the sun was certainly a pleasant surprise. The bumblebees were a surprise too–they were nearly aggressive, certain that my blue helmet and Laura’s purple shirt must hold giant stockpiles of sweet nectar, like two massive borage flowers. We moved from ignoring them to “wafting” them gently with our hands to skipping away amid frantically waving arms, and eventually took to our bikes again.
Grassy river flat biking is fast!
There’s a 100k cycle race that uses this track each year, but those bikers have to cross the Waiau river and go up the side valleys a couple times. Laura was tempted to try it….I not so much.
I like crossing rivers on bridges, and thankfully the two times the trail crossed the sizeable Waiau, there were beautiful swing bridges, complete with steep descents and accents on either side.
Standard bridge crossing warning….Two people AND two bikes??? Looking at the drop below I was inclined to be obedient and not put the bridge under undue strain.
The river valley was spread out below us. It’s good to be in the back country. Makes us feel rugged, and a bit like kings.
Laura is hands-down faster than me when it comes to down hill or flat riding, and is really good a handling her bike over loose rocks and around curves….but even she ditched it into a bush one time. Thankfully manuka is a softer landing than spiny matagouri, and she came out with only a small bruise. I took a spill on the way down the first pass and was duly cautious for the rest of the ride, so all in all we didn’t get knocked around too badly. That’s a win for the mommies, whose bodies don’t heal as fast as the kiddos anymore.
“Phew, finally the end of that hill!” The hardest part about most of the hills was the loose surface, making getting any traction really tough. In other words, we walked our bikes up these bits. The last 7k of the track was a smooth downhill, and it was like a glorious sled ride…until we discovered that we hadn’t parked our car at the end of the track. We shared a granola bar and got ready for a long slog up the road into the headwind….but thankfully we had only left it a couple kilometers along. We were in Hanmer in time to enjoy a platter of deep fried nibbles and beer.
These weekends are fantastic adventure, but there’s much more to them than sport. I don’t have a picture of the conversations we share. We giggle and lament, philosophize and opine. We talk about child-rearing and jobs; husbands and siblings; God and science; frustrations and aspirations. And what we learned from our last podcast episode. In short, everything important in life. What can be more satisfying than that?