Zen On Dirt

Massive mountains and a bikepackers dream

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Three things I learned about New Zealand today:

1. Roads in New Zealand are never as straightforward as they look.
2. A cook shop does not serve burgers. In fact, it doesn’t serve food at all.
3. New Zealanders are the nicest people I’ve ever met.

You know that dream that all bikepackers have, where you’re standing in front of a house late in the day, maybe putting on a jacket, maybe having a snack, probably dreading the onset of cold and the need to find a campsite in impossibly steep terrain, and someone comes out of the house and offers you your very own cottage to stay in?

That happened to us today.

It couldn’t have been more perfect.

I woke up with cold feet this morning. I cursed this, not because of the actual cold feet (that happens to me more often than not on other bikepacking trips) but because I’m carrying so much extra clothing as a reaction to freezing my tail off so many nights during our 14ers bikepack this past summer and all that extra clothing did exactly nothing for my feet. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother trying to stay warm.

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We met the other bikepacker who was at the site (he was fast asleep when we’d rolled in right at dark last night), a Irish man who’d come to New Zealand to visit for 2 months 1991 and decided that it was the place to be. He’d just started riding mountain bikes for cyclotouring instead of staying on pavement. Correct life choice.

We rolled out of camp into jaw-dropping scenery. What I had interpreted on the map as cruising down a river was actually cruising up a river, but for the most part, it was pretty mellow pedaling. We were riding through the largest farm in the country, the Molesworth preserve, and cows were everywhere. Except that these cows were scared by bikes and would run from us! I wouldn’t say they were graceful, but they moved better than any American cow I’ve seen.

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There were only two mellow passes to go over to get to the other end of the no camping section on the ranch and we made it to the picnic tables for afternoon coffee. Where we proceeded to while away a copious amount of time.

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From there, I’d once again interpreted the map (to be fair, I wasn’t working with any contour lines) as cruising down the Awatere river. It was not to be.

What started as 300-400 foot climbs and descents through rolling hills turned into massive climbs and descents with massive mountains as a back drop.

I was stunned. I’ve never seen mountains like these. I’ve never seen roads like these.

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It became very apparent, fairly quickly, that we weren’t going to make our campground before dark. So when we saw a sign for Camden’s Cook Shop and Accommodations 4.5 km down the road, we got excited. While we didn’t particularly want to pay for camping, but Scott was drooling at the thought of burger.

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We followed signs for backpackers and eventually found the owner and her two young daughters in their kitchen.

‘Let me show you what we have,’ she said, and we followed her around to the little cabins. ‘Sheep shearers normally stay here, but we rent them out when no one is around,’ she explained. ‘For tenting, it’s $18 per person, for the rooms, it’s $25.’

That’s when Scott explained that we were actually more hungry than needing a place to stay. ‘What’s the cook shop part of this?’

The lady laughed. ‘A high country cook shop is the name for shearers’ quarters like these. The cabins and kitchen and bathroom.’

We ended up leaving. Scott was crestfallen. But we kept pedaling, now knowing for sure that we’d be camping somewhere tucked in on the side of the road, which continued it’s trend of climbing and descending above the giant river gorge. We were ready to call it a night, so we stopped to fill up at the next creek in between a couple of houses.

We were ready to leave when a woman came running from the front door. ‘Where are you going to stay tonight?’ she asked.

‘Oh, just up the road somewhere,’ Scott said.

‘You should stay in our cottage, free of charge, it’s open for anyone who needs it.’

It was an offer that no body could, or should, refuse.

So Pip walked us across the street to a little white cottage in a field with two giant black bulls (‘Don’t worry,’ she said, ‘They won’t come around front.’) and left us in a beautiful little house with a kitchen, bedrooms with beds, and couches!

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And so here we are, snug as bugs in a rug, and so stoked about our good fortune. And on the beautiful riding that we got to do today.

Slightly less stoked on the amount of food we have, but we’ll make it.

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