Up at 6.30am and after a hearty cooked breakfast at the Springs Junction café we were fuelled and ready to go at 8.45am. Today was a big one and we needed to get going earlier and were all feeling pretty tender after 4 massive days of riding our mountain bikes. I did a live to air cross with Mark Watson on Radio Sports last night and he told his listeners that riding 100km on a mountain bike is like riding 200km on a road bike. The exact comparison is debatable, but I can assure you the difference is like a Range Rover to a Ferrari. We are travelling on mountain bikes because we are spending around 70% of time off road.
4km into Springs Junction then left on highway 7 to Reefton 44km down the road. No sooner than you turn onto the highway the road begins to climb and it did so for around 7km. There is little respite during the climb but we're riding into fitness and rode all the way to the summit at 696m where we stopped for a short rest and re fuel before beginning our descent. And what a brilliant descent that went for ages and we reached speeds around 55km at times, averaging circa 30km almost through to Reefton. The highway mostly wound its way through forest so it was a stunning ride, cool and serene except for irregular traffic. 48km's clocked up, we reached Reefton stopping at a local café for lunch. The food was fabulous in its freshness, diversity and quality (great café for Reefton locals, be delighted to have it in Grey Lynn), we ate well and their freshly baked Hot Cross buns were bloody delicious (good carbo loading too).
Back on the bikes Virginia stopped at the local lotto shop as she was feeling lucky today (our 42nd Wedding Anniversary spent riding the South Island… we were already lucky), then we headed south for Ikamatua 30km down the road. Riding out of town Virginia spotted a sheep way over in the paddock that was cast (on its back and unable to right itself) in a dry drain and yelled for Tony and me to stop. She was over that barbed wire fence in a flash and running across the paddock with me in hot pursuit (20 metres behind) while Tony minded the bikes. She had the poor thing rolled over and on its feet in a flash (came from good farming stock) and it initially walked like a drunken sailor, so it had been there for a couple of hours. It trotted off to catch up with the flock in the next paddock and we resumed our ride. We had only reached the end of the straight when we encountered a steep, long rise in the road and with 59km to Blackball we were thinking this was going to be bigger than Texas for us oldies. However once we crested the hill the downhill run was electric and Virginia set the speed record so far at 60km per hour.
We covered the 30km to Ikamatua in quick time and were averaging 27km on the largely flat roads with a very slight breeze on our backs. Once there, we turned right onto a secondary sealed highway for a 32km run into Blackball. Making around 20km per hour with less favourable road conditions we were still on track to reach our destination circa 3.45pm. That was until we passed the Pike River Mine Memorial site (had not realised we would be passing it) so stopped for 15-minutes and walked through it and read all of the messages for each of the 29 individuals lost in the disaster. It's a great memorial that puts the average New Zealander in touch with the real people and the tragedy of the disaster. After paying our respects we were back riding with 17km to go. Well wouldn't you know it… less than 10km from the finish line we encountered a series of very steep inclines in the road that certainly tested us coming towards the end of a huge day. But no walking for us and where it goes up it inevitably comes down, so it did with a terrific descent that had me matching Virginia's 60km per hour high for the tour so far. Of course when we made the turn off the road for our last 1.5k run into to the Blackball to our hotel (Blackball Hilton) guess what we encountered… one final hill and quite steep it was. We beat it and as we rode up the main road there was Rene and Denise outside our hotel on the road loudly pumping his air horn and welcoming us to the finish line with a group of other hotel guests cheering us on.
Exhausted, Rene relieved us of our bikes and Denise showed us to our rooms where they had put all our gear in readiness as usual… amazing support crew!Off to dinner with the crew and to explore this historic hotel. Very different place to spend our 42nd wedding Anniversary, but fun for sure.