Ride day 1 – Bluff to Te Anau

Three warriors at the start of battle!
As it ends up, my “ride 90 miles for the entire month of February” training plan turned out to be sub-optimal. Who would have guessed?

After spending the last week exploring the sights in Wellington and traveling down the East coast of the South island, we finally started the purported purpose of the trip. We started today with a photo op at Sterling Point in the town of Bluff, the southernmost outpost of civilization on the South island. We met a guy there would had just finished an 18 day unsupported ride from the Northern tip of the North Island to here. His Mom met him there while we were taking our photos at the start. It was nice to share the experience with him, and a good send-off to the trip. The weather was almost stereotypically New Zealand: cloud cover, a bit of wind and the occasional fine, misty drizzle. Given our multiple layers of clothing it was actually quite nice.

Other than a quick tune-up ride at Jos’s house, this was my first attempt at riding on the left side of the road. A bit surprisingly, this turned out to be a non-issue. We navigated traffic circles, made the occasional right turn, and had no traffic issues whatsoever. This being our first ride, Jos made the unfortunate discovery that he had left his cycling shoes at home in Wellington. We made an unscheduled stop at a bike shop in Invergargill, met the girls at a coffee shop for a quick hello, and were back on the road.

I realized pretty quickly that Terry is in great shape. Spending the winter in Phoenix and cycling 4-5 times a week has its advantages. I’d see him start to wind up and then it was time to hold on. This will be a recurring theme for the remainder of the trip. At lunch I gave him the moniker of “Big Piston”.

Today was the only flat day of the trip. The views started with ocean and coastal scenery, migrated to rural farmland, and eventually ended up in the shadows of the mountains. Sheep, as expected, were everywhere. Terry had a lot of fun barking at the sheep, although the big Merino sheep (which produce Merino wool) didn’t seem to care so much.

We met up with the girls again at our lunch stop. I thought this would be a coffee shop where we might get a muffin or something. Wow, this place rocked. We had fish & chips that were absolutely world-class, along with the rib-sticking coffee that we’ve had all along the way. It’s been really wonderful having the ladies along to share the adventure and help out, and Agnes has become quite competent at driving on the wrong side of the road.

The spritsy  weather continued through lunch and a bit afterward, leading eventually to sunny skies for the last 1/3 of the day. We had a mild headwind most of the day. By the time we finished we’d covered 136 km, or about 84 miles. That is 34 miles longer than my longest ride since October. And it showed. I held on OK through the lunch stop, and for about 20 miles after that, and then the wheels started coming off. Terry and Jos were really patient with me, and basically nursed me home over the last 45 km. Man, I hate being THAT GUY. I suppose someone has to be the weak link. We’ll see if things improve over the next several rides.

As we neared the end of the ride I went into full-on bonk mode. There was just nothing left in the tank. Terry hung with me and made sure I made it back safely while Jos went ahead and prepped the car. I stumbled into the store at the end of the ride, found Amy, and slumped onto a couch. She’s seen me tired at the end of rides before, but this was the first time she’s seen me completely trashed like this. My heart was just pounding after what would normally be minimal exertion over the last few miles. I was essentially useless while the guys packed the bikes onto the car, and really didn’t have any energy until after dinner that night.

I’m hopeful that things will improve after a couple more days in the saddle. Tomorrow is a rest day where we’ll visit Milford Sound, then we bike to Queenstown, have another rest day, and then ride 6 days in a row. Regardless of my relative cycling prowess, the trip will continue to be epic.