Day 3

Dear Mr Porter, did you ever consider a tunnel? 

Distance: 183km
Riding time: 14hrs
Total ascent: 2470m
Sunrise was at about 6:30, so I set my alarm for 5:45 thinking that I would easily be able to ride without lights by the time I had packed everything back onto the bike. It was a beautiful morning with a pinky glow and I enjoyed the 16km gentle downhill to the start of the Wharfedale track, which I missed because the sign says something else. This time I was quicker to catch on to the loss of the Garmin pink line and only took another 1km off the 172 I was in credit.
Daybreak in Lees Valley
The start of the Wharfedale was like a cartoon dessert with sheep and cow skeletons littering the place. After a couple of river crossings the four wheel drive track climbed steeply and I got off and pushed. The descent was equally steep, and due to nervousness about protecting my knee I rode too cautiously resulting in a fall off the side of the bank, landing upside-down with my bike above me. Fortunately my knee suffered no further damage, and I continued on towards the single track. It was nice to be out of the sun on the Wharfedale track, but the going was slow with a few hike-a-bikes. The hut would have been a good spot to sleep had things worked out differently, but I was very glad to be riding the track in daylight.

I could tell that I was catching up to someone with Raven tyres from the increasing wetness of the trails after each stream crossing. Sure enough, I caught The Coastal Crew towards the end of the track, and followed them onto a really fun downhill section. After more downhill on a gravel road interspersed with gates, we hit the tarseal and headed towards Sheffield. I seem to roll a little faster on the seal, so I left the boys behind spurred on by thoughts of Sheffield’s famous pies. Crossing over the Waimakariri brought back memories of the last time I had arrived at that bridge in my kayak during the Coast to Coast 2012.

Sheffield Pie Shop - world famous in New Zealand.

There was quite a collection of Breveteers at the pie shop. I arrived mid-rush, while the Coastal Crew 5 minutes later missed the queue. After a delicious pie and a custard square washed down with lashings of ginger beer, I got ready to leave with flapjack and a pizza slice for the road. One of the other riders, Mike, seemed ready to leave at the same time. The headwinds were building and riding solo over Porter’s Pass was not an appealing option. As an added bonus, Mike is a bike mechanic, and since I need one of those most days, he seemed like a useful person to have around! We headed off and seemed pretty compatible, though Mike dropped me on the big climbs (and I dropped him on some of the flats). He kindly waited at the top and seemed happy with the arrangement. He even adjusted my derailleur for me at the top of Porter’s. The climb was not fun at all with 20kg of bike in a fierce headwind, especially when the double trucks squeeze past - one wobble and you’re a goner. 

As we crested Porter’s the rain started. Welcome to the West Coast! Jackets on, this did not look like a passing shower. We passed a few more riders struggling over the pass, and headed on, heads down into the headwind. Mount Misery and Mount Horrible to the left of us must have been named on a similar day. I was counting down the kms to Arthur’s Pass when the Bealey Pub appeared on the horizon like an oasis in the dessert. All the surrounding countryside was covered in rainclouds, but beams of sunlight shone down onto the pub. This must be a sign.
Bealey Pub goodness!

We wrung out our gloves, ordered toasties and drinks, and made wet patches on the seats.  A couple more riders that we had passed appeared a little later and there was some discussion about accommodation options for the night. They were convinced that there was nowhere to stay in Jacksons, after which lay a long stretch with no accommodation, so they were planning to stay in Otira. This wasn’t very much further on, meaning an earlier stop than planned. The idea of camping out in the open was not appealing, so the options seemed to be an early stop and a warm dry bed in Otira, or carry on and hope for a barn to camp in. There was no cell phone coverage, so we couldn’t ring Jacksons campsite to check whether they had cabins.

Rewarmed and refuelled, we carried on towards Arthur’s Pass, battered by the continuing horizontal rain. In Arthur’s we had cell phone coverage and rang the Jacksons campsite, where it turned out there was a cabin that could sleep 8. Shame we couldn’t get a message to the others! We pushed on over Arthur’s Pass and down Otira Gorge. Knowing there was a cabin waiting was a huge relief. Poor Mike put up with me pointing out every Coast to Coast landmark on the way.

Riding down Otira viaduct in the impending dark was a little scary. It has a gradient of 12%, and the road surface was flowing water. The rain blowing into my face felt like needles, so I kept my head down and just followed the white line keeping Mike’s rear light just in view, while thoughts of brake failure and tumbling into the gorge flashed through my mind. 
No risk of dehyrdation today.

We were very relieved to arrive in Jacksons, a little less happy to realise that the office of the campsite was as far up the hill as it could possibly be. One last upward pinch before a warm shower. The proprietor of the campground, Bevan, was a little random, and appeared completely unable to add up preferring to think of a random number and then change it a few times. He was very chirpy about it, and by then I would have paid hundreds for a warm bed. The campground shop had an unusual selection of goods, no porridge oats, but a bag of buckwheat for $11.50, the idea of warming porridge for breakfast meant I was willing to pay over the odds.When we asked to split the bill, Bevan twigged that we weren’t a couple, “Oh, do you want separate beds?” Synchronised and very rapid “Yes!” followed by, “we only met this morning”.  Bevan found us the key to the second bedroom. The “cabin” was about twice the size of my house, something we made a point of mentioning when we ran into Peter who had told us that there was nowhere to stay in Jacksons. Since my kit was already soaking, I treated it to a wash in the shower. Good as new!

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