31.5 mi / 7.3 mph / 3887 ft. climbing
Home: Molesworth Cob Cottage Campsite
The alarm went off at 6am, and I was glad to see the radar showed the rain had largely moved on, even though last night’s forecast had a chance of it lingering a couple more hours. That meant we could get moving straight away, and after using the kitchen to get our bagel-and-bacon breakfast together, we rolled out a couple minutes before 8am. Less than two hours, hooray!
When we had turned into the gravel drive of the Camden Cookshop a couple days ago, its surface was so much better than the road. Now knowing that smooth gravel is possible here, I lamented its rarity on public roads. But the road gods must have heard my lament, because when we turned back out, the surface was instantly better, maybe even better than the driveway! And it continued like that for the whole day; it was basically as good as a good rail-trail, fine-grained and well-compacted (or at least it was always easy to find a compacted track). I felt a little bad for the northbounders we had met, since we probably undersold how much worse the gravel would be for them going forward vs. what they had already seen, putting more blame for our difficulties on our weight and skinnier tires. But mostly it turns out we had just been going through bad gravel!
Although the rain had cleared, the clouds had not, but the mountain views as we continued up the Awatere Valley were still stunning. Over every hill and around every turn, there were entirely new panoramas. For the first couple of steep up-and-down hills, we were again granted pavement for the steep sections, but after that we were entirely on gravel, save the 20 yards of asphalt on either end of a bridge. But it didn’t matter, because the gravel even on the steep grades was smooth enough to not cause significant problems. That’s a huge contrast from our previous ride, when we were forced to walk up and down steep parts because the loose stone was incompatible with keeping the bikes upright.
The proof of the road’s quality came in one of the most brutal hills we’ve ever done; a driver who had stopped the other day warned us about it: 650 feet up an 11% grade! The “good” thing is that it requires only a mile of forward movement to reach the top at that pitch, so I figured I could ride ahead to the top and then jog back down to do a bike-ferry for Rett from as far up as she managed. Well, she incredibly managed to do about 2/3rds of the hill on her own! And mostly riding, not pushing! She had to take breaks to catch her breath, but that meant she was regularly restarting on 11% gravel! That’s something she wasn’t able to safely do the other day!
I took advantage of the near-zero traffic (we didn’t see a single vehicle for the first 90 minutes of riding) to switch back and forth across the road in order to reduce the effective grade, but even with that I needed to stop a few times to keep my heart from exploding.
By lunchtime the sun had made an appearance, and my yellow rain covers quickly became covered by flies. Were these the dreaded South Island sand flies? I don’t know, but we didn’t want to take any chances so turned our seated lunch into a less-comfortable walking-around lunch.
At one point on a downhill, the pristine gravel went rogue, and my front tire whammed into a big rock. Seconds later, it was completely flat, and I knew exactly why: the rock had caused a pinch flat due to too-low tire pressure. The tube gets “pinched” between the rock and the aluminum rim, creating a 2-hole snakebite pattern, which is exactly what I saw when I got the tube out. I’d had a brief thought earlier in the day: since I had lowered the pressure yesterday to make the bad gravel less-jarring, I should probably increase the pressure now that we’re on this smooth stuff. But of course I didn’t do it, and now we’re paying the price. At least it was the front tire, which goes a lot faster since I don’t need to remove all the panniers. With the horse already out of the barn, I still filled both tires up to 60psi (vs. the 30psi they had been deflated to. It definitely made the still-good gravel less-comfortable! But more-comfortable than fixing another flat in the now-hot sun.
Although we luckily had the big hills early in the day when we were relatively fresh, there were many steep smaller hills at the end of the day that felt almost as tough (at least partly because we were no longer fresh!) For the second ride in a row, we slightly exceeded RideWithGPS’s climbing estimate (usually it’s the opposite), and that made it the 2nd-most climbing we’ve done in a day, exceeded only by the Beartooth Pass.
Despite all the cyclists that had passed through Camden Cookshop on our first day there (all going in the opposite direction), today we didn’t see any on the road, until we got to camp. When we arrived a little before 3pm, we had our pick of undefined spots in the open area along the riverbank, and so we grabbed one of the three picnic tables. But 5 cyclists (in 3 parties, all loaded much less than us and coming from much further) had filled in, along with a big family and several other parties.
Rett had spied a good swimming hole to clean up in (only vault toilets and water (that you’re supposed to boil/filter, but we didn’t) here), but by the time we were ready the clouds had returned and it was too cold, so we settled for sponge-showers with our water bladder. Of course afterwards the sun came out and kept us way too hot.
For dinner we had dehydrated backpacker meals, the first time we’ve ever really done those, but we’ve also never needed to carry five nights of food. They were quite good! And except for the need to wait 15 minutes for them to rehydrate when we were super hungry, super-simple to deal with.
The camp host came by to verify our registration, and we had a nice chat with her; she reminded me a.bit of our beloved Sue from Glacier National Park. When talking about COVID-life in NZ (“it was wonderful for traveling, since no one was here!”) we mentioned musician Amanda Palmer, who had gotten “stuck”, and then lived here for 2.5 years, partly because life seemed better/safer than back in the US. To our surprise, the host was familiar with Palmer, because she had just heard her in a radio interview! Which Amanda was giving to promote her return here, for a short tour this month (sold out, argh!!) because her time here meant so much to her. We won’t be here that long, but it will be interesting to learn what role this amazing country will play in our lifetime memories going forward. We’ll certainly remember the Molesworth forever!