Day 12 – Picton to Bleinheim to St. Arnaud

143 km today, 773 km total

I woke up at a reasonable time, go my breakfast groove on, stopped for some fruit, and took off for a very cautious 35 km ride to Blenheim with only front brakes. Anyone who rides a bike or motorcycle much knows that the front brakes provide the majority of the stopping power, but rear brakes give important stability, especially with the trailer! So, it was a pretty ginger but, thankfully, also pretty flat ride over to Blenheim on a quest for a V-brake setup.
The first bike shop had no V-brakes in stock and a customer there cheerfully explained to me that it’s all disc brakes now and the age of V-brakes is over. This may be the case, but I didn’t feel like dropping NZ$200 on a new wheel just now which would be the only other option. The customer (I should have taken a photo) was a couple on a funky tandem that is a standard stoker setup with a recumbent setup in the front. So, the front setup is stoker and rear is captain (like the courting bike we saw in Missoula Montana – girl gets the view). Anyway, they have been both breaking spokes and were also telling me about the bolts falling out of their disc rotors as well! Despite having thousands of miles (many of them either loaded touring or hardcore mt. biking) on my bike, I’ve never even looked at the rotor bolts. But, I switched rims right before this tour and didn’t apply new locktite to the rims. Dance of sadness. Anyway, I was glad to hear I’m not the only person this has ever happened to.
So I ended up at the Spokesman bike shop which had some hoopdy V-brakes which will have to do the trick. They were generous with letting me put my bike on a stand in the back while installing the brakes. I picked up an extra set of pads as well and headed to a cafe for a really great coffee and peach/passionfruit muffin. After all that and some grocery shopping (the Bin Inn rocks, by the way!), it was time to head to St. Arnaud.
My plan had been to ride to Nelson once day, then St. Arnaud, the mountain biking one day, then to Blenheim. Already being in Blenheim, however, I decided to just bust it up SH 63 to St. Arnaud – 95 km of gentle climbing, often accompanied by a headwind. I was warned by several people that this ride is unrewarding and terrible with the wind. I heeded this advice so far as to try and book a bus up to St. Arnaud to skip it, but no dice. I decided to go for it and, if I ran out of steam, I could camp somewhere.
It was after 1pm when I left Blenheim but the wind was calm and the sky sort of threatening, but it seemed likely I could make it all the way up.
The thing about this road is, there are basically no turns, only a couple breaks in the gentle climbing which are steeper (721 meters on the day) and while the scenery is nice, most people find it mind-numbing. So I got into a grind and just pushed along steadily, trying (as a mental excercise) to keep my pace faster than 20 km/h. As a concession to the boredom, I allowed myself to listen to music for the final two hours of the ride. This was good, because as darkness started to fall, the headwind picked up, the rain started to fall, and the three days worth of food started to feel very heavy! I finally crested around 8pm and had a bone-chilling but short descent into St. Arnaud.
I had full intentions to set up camp, but the rain showed no sign of letting up and I was reminded of a conversation I had recently with Brady. There’s really not much to be gained by unnecessary suffering. We encounter suffering anyway (and should be prepared for it) but there’s really no need to seek it out. So, when I passed the Alpine Lodge and backpackers place, the thought of a hot shower and a dry place to sleep trumped any crazy need to prove I can set up a tent in the rain, I’ve done that before and no doubt will again, but not tonight.
I walked into the lobby of the Lodge asking about a room. The guy at the desk handed me a key and a 2 dollar coin for a shower telling me to warm up, dry off, and we could sort out the charges when I was settled in (he told me the amount, just didn’t make me pay). It was a refreshing bit of civility that I’m coming to get used to down here. No need to freak out about procedure, but just that little bit compassion, just like the thumbs up I got from drivers as I struggled uphill in the rain, can give a huge boost of energy when it’s really needed. I think I might spend two nights here!

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