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January 2014

FUNNY NOISES ON THE OLD GHOST ROAD

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Welcome to 2014! Nzo is back in operational mode after a long and interesting lap of the South Island. Nowhere near long enough: we didn’t get to a lot of places we had sort of planned to. There is a lot of bike riding to be done down there, but somehow we managed to miss most of the places we had heard about and found ourselves riding some entertaining places even the Kennetts may have missed.

A snap decision to see the West Coast twice rather than traversing the eastern side of the Alps much at all meant we spent a few days here and there in heavy rain, but on the fine days the mad sea, jungly lowlands and ridiculous mountain scenery poking out the top are a hard combo to beat.

We ended up in Karamea, just so we could see what the northern end of the tarsealed road looks like, and got a few bonus extras we had not expected.

The first was the road to Karamea. Seriously. Then there was Oparara Basin in Kahurangi National Park. A must-see if you like forest, rivers, caves, limestone arches.

We also blundered across the Western entrance to the Old Ghost Road, a multi-day alpine trail that will be epic when it is completed. I had not thought to find out exactly where it was, putting it in the ‘one fine day’ basket, but faced with a signpost and a conveniently located drop-dead gorgeous seaside camping spot I thought why not have a look at it right now?

The next day dawned grey and still, with the tops of the mountains buried in cloud. I set off from the seaside on my own, feeling ready for anything. By which I mean, I had a rain coat and some dried figs. The ride to the start of the trail proper was longer than expected, about 10kms, but the first 5 was entertaining due to the detritus that life in such a remote outpost creates. Dead buses and cars, and pieces thereof, were piled in paddocks and around the few houses. One assemblage featured the entire undercarriage from a large truck: front axle, and two rear axles, all complete with wheels and tyres, and in the correct orientation, but missing the truck. The back 5 were on gravel, which became rugged after a ford, then the fun began.

A stiff climb into the gorge of the Mohikinui River was enough to make my bike start misbehaving. A wierd grinding noise in the lowest gears was revealed as soon as any real pressure was on, and as the trail was rising fast that was all the time. Could be something innocuous like a squashed cable housing, or the hanger might be about to break. All bikes have an Achilles Heel: mine has a derailleur hanger that will break if provoked. Designed to snap before fatal damage is done to either the frame or the derailleur, it usually leaves me walking anyway. To get the derailleur off the broken stub is not easy in the field. Do I even have a spare? I have got tools. Could I fashion something out of a dried fig if the worst happens?

I dropped the wheel out and looked carefully at the hanger for hairline cracks. Complete waste of time, my reading specs were back in the van. Reassembled, I thought maybe the hanger looked bent, but would grasping it in the manner of a caveman and twisting it help? Or would I end up holding a snapped off mechanism that was never going to break in the first place? Why do I go places like this on a solo mission without these guys?

I pushed for a bit, just to a place where I could get started again, which turned out to be the top of the hill. The trail looked inviting, and flat. So I pressed onwards. In the middle gears the bike was running better. And when one side of a trail is a vertical drop funny noises become hard to hear or focus on. Plus: waterfalls! Running right on to the trail, and down into narrow chutes toward the river below. Fords to cross, one of them deep enough to dip my Dobies in. A swingbridge that really swung. All in all, awesome, and well worth the trip.

A little research since we got home: it turns out my ride on the Old Ghost Road was on the easy end of the thing, and I barely started it before turning back. Next summer, when it may be complete, it is a definite goal.

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Waterfall across the trail

This bridge really swings
This bridge really swings

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Steam punk mining junk