Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day 30: Martinborough to Stokes Valley (Upper Hutt)

March 27th 2014
Distance cycled: 66 km
Total distance to date: 1683 km

I said goodbye to Ed after morning coffee and breakfast and started towards Featherston. 

My book said this stretch was Grade 5, for expert riders, but I found it easy. However, I cannot ride Grade 3 mountain bike trails. Clearly they need two different scales, one for road riders and one for mountain bikers. 

I continued on my way to the Rimutaka Cycle Trail. 

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I felt guilty for taking it so easy the last few days. This trail swept all that away. 

It was a long slog up to the summit on a gravel cycle path. Along the way, I sweated my butt off and got a front flat. Working hard again!

There was also a gully that forced me to dismount and walk. It was so steep on both sides that I was barely able to get the loaded bike across. Plus I had to cross the stream without getting too wet or letting the bike fall over in the river. Definitely a challenge. 

There were several tunnels that I had to go through, the longest of which was 600 meters. That one was kind of scary, even though I had my headlamp. 

I sang to myself as I biked through the long tunnel, partially to hear the echo of my voice and partially to distract myself from the claustrophobia. It took about 5 minutes to bike but felt much longer. 

When I finally emerged on the other end, I found I was at the summit. There was a nice park/picnic area there, much unlike anything on the other side of the trail from where I'd just come. I also found a Dutch man named Eric who was also cycle touring the country. He was the only other person I'd seen on the trail. I stopped to eat a late lunch (it was after 4pm) and chatted with him for a bit. We informed each other about the different sides of the trail, since we were headed in opposite directions. I told him about the gully. He told me about the trail barriers. I assumed they were squeeze barriers like the ones I'd seen on other trails and at the start to this trail. Nope!

These barriers were too narrow to squeeze by, too low to go under. The first one had just enough room on the far side of the gate to get by. The second one did not and I was preparing myself to have to strip everything off the bike when a guy from the other side of the barrier approached and offered to help me lift it over. 

"It's heavy," I said. 

"No worries," he replied. He also had a bike and a rifle since he was headed to the shooting range that was along the bike trail. A guy with a bike and a gun can certainly lift a 35-kilo bike-plus-gear setup. Otherwise he's not a MAN. 

Once I cleared the 2nd barrier, I rode a stretch of road filled with the worst potholes I'd seen in New Zealand. This road led to the highway. The cycle signs led up a side road, which I took, but I hesitated at the turnoff to the trail because of yet another barrier. And the trail was gravel. I knew the highway would be more direct, but busy with traffic. After a few moments' contemplation, I headed for the highway.

Best. Choice. Ever. The entire 2km stretch was downhill and had a decent shoulder. By the time I reached the end of the descent, there were signs again for the cycle path. Rad!

Partially on the cycle path, partially on the highway, I meandered my way to Upper Hutt, where I stopped to message my WS host. I couldn't remember if I'd told her an arrival time but it was already 6:30 and the sun was getting close to setting. Plus she has kids so I wanted to make sure I got there before their bedtime. I found a main road that paralleled the highway, had a nice bike lane, and took it into Stokes Valley, past a strange police blockade that was stopping all the cars but waved me through.

Finally, as it was about to get dark to the point of needing bike lights, I arrived at my host's house, a little brown house on a hill with a pointy roof. I climbed up the steepest driveway I'd ever seen - so steep that I'm nervous about getting the bike down it again tomorrow!! I was greeted by two girls aged 8 and 10 and their dog, who was barking excitedly. Susan came to the door and let me in. She is an awesome punky Kiwi in her mid-forties, totally not what I was expecting. She and her partner have this amazing house which is decked out in all sorts of cool 70's animal knickknacks and has 4 levels, all connected by a spiral staircase. It's like Peewee's Playhouse in here. I LOVE IT. I wish it were my house.

Susan made dinner, which was a cornucopia of whatever she could find in the fridge. We had sweet corn on the cob, beans, potato wedges with hummus and homemade pesto, shredded cheese with sliced green onion. It was chaotically delicious.

Susan and her partner refer to me as their couch surfer, which is OK with me. They haven't gotten any requests through CS in the last 3 years. I'm their first WS guest but Susan hates the website's name and plus they just really like couch surfing. 

I want to be these people when I grow up. 


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