Days 21-22 – Rainbow Road

First of all, anachronistically, I will note that I’ve been absent from blogging…Why? Because Chandra has arrived and we’re honeymooning. Hopefully I will be able to make the posts catch up, but first, it’s the Rainbow Road through Molesworth Station.

120 km (95 on dirt road).

Starting out from St. Arnaud it was a little cloudy, but the big rain from the day before was a memory. Riding fully loaded with the knobby tires on pavement felt really strange and I was instantly looking forward to getting on to the dirt portion of the ride and the accompanying lack of traffic, solitude, and big remote alpine views. I would not be disappointed (!), but first I had to cover 25 km of pavement. The Rainbow Road passes through the Rainbow Station and Molesworth Station (“station” meaning farm in NZ – Molesworth is the largest in the country). It’s a NZ$5 toll to pass through and permission is graciously provided by the land owners.
The only advantage to the paved part is the relative speed, but soon enough I was on the gravel. I had been told that the road is pretty good near each end, but it deteriorates toward the middle. The beginning was pretty solid so I continued to try and make good time. One thing I was wondering about was the fords of streams. Word was that they were pretty mellow as the stream swelling due to big rains was back down and they should all be passable. The map does not indicate when there are fords versus bridges, and the main crossings were bridges. But…here’s a video of crossing the biggest one of the day – in fact, it was the only one I did not ride through. All the others were fine on the bike (especially after I gave up on bothering to try and keep my feet dry!) and the BOB trailer bag was brilliant at keeping everything dry, even as water ran almost halfway up the side!

I waited to have lunch until I was sure I could cross the Wairau River (which down the valley is Huge!), figuring I might have to hang out to dry myself if it was a deep ford. Of course, it was a bridge, but after a lovely lunch sitting by the river I headed out again, this time wearing my chacos instead of my cycling cleats so I could not care about my feet.
All was going well until I hit a steep spot and my pedals locked up. I looked down to see – disaster! 60 km from either roadhead (about in the middle of the ride!) I had jammed my derailleur into my spokes. After breaking my chain on the Queen Charlotte Track, I should have known that it was in bad shape (OK, I did know) but being a little too frugal sometimes, I had elected not to change it. But now, I sat and looked in amazement at my freshly taco-ed wheel (folded over like a taco – not all the way, of course…) with the derailleur stiffly jammed into a very bent spoke. I started to get pretty fired up but then realized it was time to be resourceful. Thinking the derailleur was crapped out, I instantly had thoughts of having to make my ride a singlespeed with a shortened chain, replace a spoke or two, and limp over the next 60 km. Things got worse before they got better – the derailleur was so jammed I couldn’t pull it out of the spokes! I hit it with my allen wrench (the long heavy one) to no avail, and finally was able to free it with a combination of rocks – one pressed against the arm of the derailleur and the other to strike. It was totally scary to beat on my bike with rocks in the middle of nowhere, but I finally freed it, got out a spoke wrench to tighten up the bent spoke (now THAT is a spoke I know I’ll be replacing later!), and inspected the derailleur. It seemed bent in a bit (from the bus perhaps where it laid on its side in a trailer?) but not broken, so I got ready to move on. As I started off though, there was a serious pinging in the chain and only then did I see the source of my discontent. Another broken link. *SIGH*. So, out came the chain rivet extractor, and another link of the chain (getting short! Limited gears now!). But, I was so relieved to have been saved by the tool given to me by my mom, I had to compose this little (very cheezy, but hopefully entertaining) ode.

The setback was shortlived and I vowed to replace the chain (and most-likely the cassette) in Christchurch. For now, though, it was moving on with much climbing toward Island Saddle.
I paused in the riding at Berts Creek though – a fitting place to pay silent tribute to Bert Tanner who was a dear family friend we lost this year to cancer. He would have loved and appreciated the spot, and in my heart I felt it had been named for him in advance.
The road for the last 60 km was freshly graded which means that the washerboard texture it is famous for was graded smooth, but the gravel was really loose making it hard to keep a pace of much more than 10 km/hr. This is pretty excruciatingly slow! On the descents it was faster, but it also meant more sliding around than I would normally like to experience.
Island Saddle was the high point (I would like to say I did not get off my bike and walk for a bit (pass storming for the first time in my life!). But, I would be lying. It wasn’t so long though – maybe 100 meters, and that was enough to survive it!). From there, I descended to Lake Tennyson which was recommended by Cath (actually, this whole ride was recommended by her and was the reason I brought my mountain bike to NZ in the first place – thanks Cath!). It was beautiful and empty with great views off to the Alps. Just as I took photos of my solo tent and the lake, two SUVs full of middle-school kids showed up and set up 6 tents right next to me. It turned out they were part of a experiential education trip and the instructors were as cool as the kids were knackered, so everyone (me included!) was asleep early and it turned out fine.
In the morning, I had a slow one – making coffee, hiking across the lake, rolling out of camp around 10. Only 35 km to Hanmer Springs! But…loose gravel the whole way, two broken spokes, and head wind most of the way made it a daylong affair. I must say though, if you have to replace spokes on the drive side (which requires a fair bit of work), spending that 1/2 hour in such a beautiful setting probably cancels any sympathy I might try to garner. It was actually quite pleasant (and was the spot where I recorded the Cheezball video above).
I arrived in Hanmer in Time to set up the tent in the sun before the rain came. I scheduled a bus to Christchurch for the next day (suffering 140 km in rain and rare headwind was not appealing – rather save that energy for mountain biking in Christchurch. more about that later).
Rainbow Road was sort of the spine of my ride, much as Hwy 12 along the Lochsa was the spine of my big tandem ride with Chandra. I planned other plans around riding it, and it was truly spectacular. Only seeing one couple on bikes and about 5 cars in two days was worth all the effort – my first pseudo-wilderness experience on a bike, but not the last!

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