New Zealand 2014/15
Friday, December 19
Sun. Pure blue sky. With a forecast of two solid days of rain to follow.
Christine, our b&b hostess sent an email. She passed us yesterday on the road. We are not visible enough. Hmmm …
Mary got some touches of sunburn yesterday (which was mostly cloudy). It is a warning – we pick up an extra tube of sun screen in town. Strangers approach us on the street and ask about our route. Then they ask, "Do you have a Hi Viz vest?" Hmmm …
This road has a reputation and local knowledge is not to be ignored. We buy a nice bright vest for Mary.
Traffic is very good to us. There is no shoulder to speak of, and drivers wait patiently behind us. Running off the road would mean running off the edge of the world – the margin for error in places is mere inches.
Margin for error
At Waiomu Beach Café we sit at a flitch-cut counter overlooking a small, grassy public park with the Coromandel Bay as a backdrop. On the other side of the bay is the road we rode yesterday. The sun is broiling. The layers of sun screen we have put on are beyond counting.
Waiomu Beach Café
The road out of Thames started with gentle undulations, which have imperceptibly increased in stature. Finally the road turns inland and the hills start. Brutal hills.
A Swiss-German couple stop to chat when we are changing our footwear on the first hill. They ride a tandem (but not today). He gave Lady CoMo a quick, professional look over. He has a bike shop in Switzerland. "Any broken spokes?" Strange question. "You have a very loose spoke here that needs tightening. You need a spoke wrench with a black key. DT Swiss spokes." (Sadly, when packing, I was not able to find Andrew's spoke wrench.)
The first of many
"This is like two tours – a cycling one and a walking one," says Mary when we are halfway up our second steep hill.
From the top of the third hill we have our first panorama view of the Coromandel coast. The water is as blue as heaven in a renaissance painting.
By Coromandel town we are once again spent. For a challenge of hill climbing I tip my hat to New Zealand.
Supper is a hand crafted avocado salad with blueberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, red onion, fresh herbs, and some other stuff I don't remember. Never send me shopping when I'm hungry.
Saturday, December 20
Omelette for breakfast. An explosion of butter sprays my only good, casual shirt.
Mary's knee is bandaged. We fell yesterday. Close traffic makes her nervous. When stopping she instinctively put the wrong foot (her correct, or left, foot) down and we tumbled.
The rear fender is rubbing again. I have no way to fix it. The only choice is to ride on.
The day is fine enough to put on sun screen in the morning. If the forecast holds it will be showers in the afternoon.
Our Lonely Planet Guide (the half we still have with us) says the morning will start with a brutal climb of 3 1/2 kilometres. "Like a double shot of espresso." We decide we will walk it from the bottom. There is no point is beating ourselves up on the hills, and then feeling defeated part way up.
First hill of the day
When we stop for sliders at a restaurant after the first hill we are soaked. Weather is the universal topic of conversation, and you can use it without sounding banal. It is on everybody's minds. When will the rain break? Will summer ever come?
A local opines that bicycles should be banned from some roads in New Zealand. It is hard to disagree with her. There are some roads that just were not built with enough space to ride a bike safely. As the local says, in some places you could spit in the ocean from your bike. (We won't tell this to my mother until we are safely home.)
We start from the bottom of all the hard hills today. Slip into our walking shoes. Our "retirement shoes". And push. And push. And push some more. Walking the bike and pushing that weight up a hill is hard. It is hard on the shoulders, hard on the hands, hard wrestling with the handlebars.
View from the top
It feels like we spend more time today walking than riding. We change in and out of rain gear more often than a fashion model changes clothes on a catwalk .
By day's end we are in a motel in Whatianga staring at falling sheets of rain. We contemplate the German couple with whom we played leapfrog today. Tonight they are huddled miserably in a tent with rain slanting horizontally under their groundsheet. We, on the other hand, cooked up some pasta, made a salad and washed it down with a bottle of good New Zealand wine. Civilized.
Maybe camping is overrated. We consider packing up the equipment and sending back the extra weight.
Tomorrow will be a rest day. There is no point riding in a forecast gale.
Sunday December 21
The sun rises on the right.
A rest day. We are following the advice of the Lonely Planet – don't rush Coromandel unless you have to. Besides, we still need a plan. Where will we spend Christmas Day?
It rained all night. The forecast is for clearing. Do we ride or stay? Do we take supplies? Do we keep camping equipment?
An early morning walk on the beach with a coffee helps clear the head. Everything along the coast will be fully booked for Christmas. And what isn't booked will cost an arm and a leg, says our hostess. "And a leg?" "A leg!"
We pick up fuel for the camp stove and a utility razor to trim back the mud guard. And containers for butter, salt and pepper, postcards and stamps. Detailed maps. We take lunch in a narrow strip of shade outside our door. We are regrouping.
The islands in the bay rise like saw teeth. Some are as sharp as needles. The sun is meltingly hot. Cold water is in order.
Duct tape and glue. I have isolated the root cause of the fender. It cracked in transit. The cracked side is separating and pulling the solid side (the one I am shaving back) towards it. In other words, by shaving back the fender, I am making things worse ...
There is an annual 200 km ride around the Coromandel called the Y2 – hats off to anyone who completes it. It makes the annual the Rideau Lakes Cycling Tour look like an afternoon jaunt. Some people do it twice (Y4) – to them I recommend professional counselling.
Our planning horizon is limited to two, maybe three more days of riding. The issue is very simple. We have two choices: we can continue south along the coast, in which case we will be in heavy holiday traffic, or we can turn inland, crossing the mountain range, and ride until we are in heavy holiday traffic. In hindsight, scheduling our tour over Christmas and New Year's might not have been such a good idea …