Today began with a 45 minute journey down Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Station on the famous coal fire steam boat, TSS Earnslaw. The lake was calm, the sky clear blue and the sun was shimmering. Arriving at Walter Peak Station we retrieved our bikes and quickly got underway, we would ideally like to have begun the ride at 8.30am as opposed to 10.30am given it was 102km long and on mainly gavel surfaces.
We rode the first 12km to the boundary gates of Walter Peak Station slowly just getting our bodies warm and mentally getting into the day. A further 2km of riding through the edge of Mount Nicholson Station brought us to the top of a very long valley (turned out to be 12km long) with spectacular mountains lining both sides. The ride down the valley was largely flat or gently rising so quite easy, the only challenge being the very rough gravel roads. Despite the quality the suspension on our Avanti bikes we were experiencing plenty of jarring through the shoulders and our perennially sore bums, which was to continue for 85 of our 102km ride.
We exited the valley at the 26km mark via a steeply rising hill climb 3.5km long. Thank goodness we had the wind on our backs… it's not easy riding up such a long hill that did not offer any respite - even on high quality bikes with 30 gears. We eventually crested the summit to be met by Rene and Denise. They had driven right around the lake and South to Mossburn (our eventual destination), before driving 55km up the gravel roads to bring our lunch and replenish our electrolytes and water bottles. It had taken us 3 hours so far averaging 10km per hour. After scoffing down our very tasty home-made pies chock with steak meat and mushrooms we were back on the bikes in 20 minutes and headed south cognisant that it was 2.30pm and we still had 73km to reach Mossburn.
The top of the hill brought us to a stunning high country plateau that ran south for as far as the eye could see. It was largely flat terrain interspersed by the several small hills and much to our delight contained a fair amount of gradual descent. After a couple of hours of riding we caught up again with Rene and Denise at a water ford we were required to cross. They kindly offered to put our bikes and us on the vehicle and we could resume riding on the other side. That drew an instant and emphatic chorus of no's from us… we said at the start of our journey in Picton that we would ride or push our bikes every inch of the way and although the ford was only 6 metres in width it would have been 6 metres we did not ride or walk. So we took off our shoes and socks held them in our hands and wheeled our bikes across the ford. Despite the beautiful summers day the water temperature was bloody freezing and by the time we exited the other side with our bikes our lower legs and feet were tinged with blue.
Rene mentioned they had picked up a nail/spike in the rear tyre earlier but the air loss did not appear to be that bad so hopefully it would get them to Mossburn where it could be changed. 5km down the road were came across them in the process of changing the tyre as it was leaking air too fast to get to our destination. We remained with them while they figured out how to release the spare tyre as out in this high country there is no mobile service and we had only encountered 3 vehicles in 50km of riding. It is dramatic terrain and the day was gorgeous, but there was still a slight chill in the air reminding you this environment can experience dramatic change in temperature in a very short time. Certainly you would be unwise to consider riding through it between April/October.
We cranked up the pace and were riding a very gradual, but almost continuous descent and chewing up the kilometres. 30km out from Mossburn and still on gravel roads Rene and Denise caught up with us and after a brief chat headed onto town to see if they could arrange a physio to check out Tony's neck and shoulder that had been giving him grief for a week. He had had a couple of massages plus taken some pain medication and Rene had altered his bike set up several times. Clearly Tony required some remedial work so he did not have to ride the final two days to Bluff in continual discomfort.
The 85km mark brought shouts of joy and much relief as we finally exited the gravel roads onto a smooth tar seal surface. We travelled west for 4km side onto the wind, which had increased in strength as the day wore on and it was knocking us about, requiring all of our concentration to stay on the bikes. We linked up with Rene and Denise as we turned south onto the main highway for our last 14km run into Mossburn. Rene pumped additional air into our tyres (we rode the gravel roads with lower tyre pressures giving us better grip in the loose metal) so they would ride faster on the smooth sealed surface. Virginia led us home at a cracking pace at times getting up to 47.5km per hour on the smooth slightly descending highway into town. We rode the 14km in 23 minutes averaging 36km per hour such was our keenness keen to get to our hotel, but none more so than Virginia and Tony and I had to ride all out to hang onto her tail.
Soon after arriving Denise took Tony to Lumsden (small town 20km away) for an appointment with a physio they had tracked down while Virginia and I enjoyed a much needed hot shower and scrub to remove the thick coating of gravel dust from our bodies. Tony returned for dinner around 8pm looking more relaxed, having had a good session with the physio. She had identified displaced vertebrae and treated them accordingly plus given Tony remedial exercise to ensure it did not deteriorate. Hopefully he will be able to ride relatively pain free for the all-important last two days of our epic journey. Yes 2 days only to the finish line, it seems surreal after having come 1,211km that it will all come to an end in just two days and 140km.