I’ve tried a lot of diets. Who hasn’t, right? There is one philosophy that says if you are craving your favorite treat, one should belly up to an entire tub of your treat and finish it all off. You will make yourself so sick of this particular treat that you will never want this treat again. But, this strategy is flawed. As my spoon scrapes the bottom of the rocky road ice cream tub, I toss the carton away and think: “Man, I could really go for some rocky road ice cream right now.”
Gluttony. This is the topic I was mulling while rumbling over miles 33, 34 and 35 of yet another epic Kiwi Mountain Bike Odyssey.
Kiwis are big fans of the odyssey. They created several “Great Walks” or “Great Rides” which are backpacking trips and cycling trips designed to be covered over several days to a week. Old Ghost Road is a mountain bike odyssey covering 84 kilometers (or 42 about miles) through old mining ghost towns. It is a ride designed to be completed in 2-3 days, with riders stopping to stay in little mountain huts, and paying a pretty sum for a shuttle to be driven back to the trail head once the trip is over. This price was a bit steep, and we are not set up on our bikes to carry overnight food or equipment. So, what were we to do?
As we looked at the topographical map, it seemed like the first 30 kilometers or so are the most epic. Some people pay to be hoisted to the peak in a helicopter, then roll down this section for a mere $500pp. This gets us to thinking: we could ride it as an out and back.
“30 kilometers, we can do that.” I say to Andrew.
He looks up from the map, through his dark fuzzy eyebrows. “No, it’s 30 kilometers one way. 60 out and back.” Andrew knows that the longest ride I am usually willing to subject myself to is 25 miles total (or 50 kilometers) — and that is only on my trusty full suspension, Calamity Jane. Jack and the Bean Stalk are cheap hard tails that clatter and bounce over every single lump in the road. It makes your bottom sore and wears out our legs and backs.
“We did 80 kilometers on Dun Mountain Day,” I say. We did, but not by choice; we got lost. Nonetheless, that success was just enough to embolden me to do it again. I know I can ride 60 kilometers if I want to. Andrew cocks his head to the side measuring how serious I really am. He is game. He could probably ride the whole trail in a day if he started early enough. I am the limiting factor, but the ride seems so epic I can’t leave it alone. I think about 22 days at sea and figure: I can do it.
We enjoy one last view from our beach front campsite, then start the drive southward. We stop along the way at a lagoon boasting some of the clearest water in the world and at a fruit stand selling the most delicious blueberries, fresh and sweet walnuts. We buy a jar of delicious and healthy Manuka honey and visit the local honey bees.
Last picture is of the beautiful Manuka flowers we have seen along many of our hikes and mountain bike rides. Great for honey!
We were aiming for Westport, still about an hour and a half away, under the mistaken belief that the trail starts there. But, as we cross a sign that says: Lyell Canyon, I say: “Lyell Canyon. That sounds really familiar.”
“It does, doesn’t it. What is that? What are we supposed to see there?” Andrew asks. We pull into the parking lot preparing to check our maps and see a large sign post: “Old Ghost Road.” It’s our mountain bike ride. That was pretty lucky, given our current rate of finding mountain bike trails.
We unpack at the trailhead campsite under a barrage of evil, biting sand flies. A relative of the mosquito, sand flies are smaller, black and voracious. When they bite, they inject a poison used to thin your blood. I don’t really know how this is possible, but the bite is even more itchy than a mosquito bite. Thousands of flies swarm us attempting to attack our ankles, hands, face, any exposed skin. I roll up the windows in the van to try to quell the onslaught and leave the keys in the on position.
Half our later, Andrew discovers a dead battery. Andrew tries to take the blame for the battery, but I know I am the culprit. I fess up. “Wife!” Andrew grumbles, but cheerfully begins a circuit of the campsite trying to find someone willing to give us a jump. We share a bottle of wine with our saviors, a dairy farmer and a shepherd from Quebec visiting New Zealand on a work visa.
I sleep fully clothed, with socks and gloves and a scarf wound around my face. The little flies leave footprints in the condensation on the windshield, marching around waiting for us to let down defenses.
We are happy at first light to get started on our trail. The climb is beautiful. We make our way through native beech tree and fern forest, with a giant river running through the gorge thousands of feet down and to our right. Every mile or two, a waterfall drops off the side of the mountain, runs across the trail, and continues its downward movement toward the gorge. It is shady, cool, and the sound of flowing water surrounds us. Old mining relics - shoes, rusty metal, old bottles or rusty cans are left here and there on the trail.
Signs let us know to be careful of little robins as they are “inquisitive” and tend to jump onto the trail. Mountain bikers stir up leaves and dirt, leaving worms and bugs nicely exposed for the picking. Pretty soon, we learn exactly what they mean. We stop for a water break and a fluffy little robin hops over for a visit. Andrew scruffs the dirt and leaves with a stick, and the robin picks through it for the worms. Finding his prey, he looks up at Andrew and hops around until Andrew scruffs up the dirt again.
The first 10 miles of the trail climbs at a relaxed grade, perfect to keep old ore carts rolling. The grade lulls us into believing we will have no problem with this 50 kilometer plan. We stop for lunch on the deck of the first camping hut, overlooking the gorge and the forrest covered peaks around us.
The mining trails end, and the next section uses switchbacks to climb the second peak. At this point, my body is getting sore from the jostling over the shale and slate rock. I decide to ride faster, in the hopes that the shorter time we spend jostling, the better off I will be. My legs quickly get tired, and I am running along on my insistence that I can do this - even if I don’t want to anymore. We break above the tree line and enjoy an amazing view over short scruffy brush and little flowers growing low to the ground. We can see New Zealand’s “Southern Alps” in the distance, and the trail turns ragged and rocky. We make it to the top, sit at the picnic table and bask in the warm sunshine.
“It’s all downhill from here, baby!” And off we go in the other direction.
By the time I get to mile 35, my hands are completely numb. I’m hanging onto the handlebars and timing my breaking just right, but I know this only by the fact that I haven’t ended up ass over teakettle. “I might need a recovery day,” I think to myself.
As I ponder my lot in life, I realize Andrew and I aren’t good at doing a little bit of this and that. Instead, we do a lot of one thing, then move on to a lot of another. Before we left, we worked two high paced jobs that demanded at least 60 hour weeks, often jumping up to 80 hour weeks. Andrew would log 40,000 miles in his car each ear. At an average of 50mph, that meant he was driving three months straight of every single year. Last year, we sailed (75) twenty-four hour days. If you put them all sequentially, it equates to 2.5 months of our life. We spent nine months enjoying beaches, tropical islands, swimming, scuba diving, but we didn’t see desert, alpine mountains or our beloved mountain bikes at all. We made sailing friends, but we left our family and friends at home only to be communicated with via technology. Then, suddenly, our life shifts to another extreme. For six weeks during the holidays, we visited family and friends. We did very little else. Now, in New Zealand, we are spending three months living/driving in a van and mountain biking as often as our tired legs will allow us. Enough is never enough for us.
Before we left on this trip, my mom asked me a number of times. “Why can’t you just take little vacations here and there? You won’t enjoy a long trip as much.” But taking a week long vacation is like taking one cheese square and walking away. I can’t do it; I am a glutton.