Zen On Dirt

Bum knees…on the Old Ghost Road

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The Old Ghost Road is an 85 km track built with bike riders in mind. With 5 huts on it, the idea is that you can travel with just food and a sleeping bag (super light) and ride the route in 3-4 days. Of course, that’s not what we did, but in theory…NZ has a history of long tramping tracks, I think this was the first one purpose built for bikes.

I guess I find this neat because the idea of building long-distance trails for bikes in the USA hasn’t really caught on. We, as the bikepacking community, have found ourselves either piecing together bits of dirt road a al Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, or picking our way through trails designed for hiking, which happen to be somewhere on the range of heinous to awesome to take bikes on, a al Colorado Trail, Arizona Trail, Continental Divide Trail. But imagine the best part of any of those trails, the parts that were designed on some level by mountain bikers, and create an entire trail like that.

That’s the Old Ghost Road.


We woke up to a complete fog-out. 50 feet visibility? Fog droplets falling on our tent. Dang. We had such promise of fine spells last night. Still, the show must go on, so we cooked breakfast from the tent, did all of our changing in the tent, packed up our bags in the tent, and when finally the tent needed to be packed, then we finally got up.

We set off into the fog bundled up completely, just ahead of an other cyclist who’d come up from the hut below us on a day ride. He was in shorts and short sleeves.

Us? We looked like Michelin Men.


The trail contoured beautifully along a cliff side, very reminiscent of the Inner Canyons on the Arizona Trail. Well thought out trail, amazing construction.


It didn’t take long to get to the Ghost Lake Hut, perched high above, well, high above pretty much everything. The huts along the route are on a reservation system and seem to be mostly booked most nights. People here are stoked on the Old Ghost Road.


From the hut, it was time to go down. The trail was rated 4-5, which basically meant high intermediate to advanced. I’m pretty happy on 3 trails, 4 provides plenty of challenge. I don’t like 5.

There were plenty of places were one could launch themselves off of the side of the hill into steep shrubbery. Unfortunately, Kait decided to capitalize on one of these opportunities and thus started the massive swelling of her knee.


As of this writing, her knee is about the size of a small Weka bird, which is the size of a small T-Rex, which it resembles.



We continued down, because with nearly another 50 km to go, we didn’t really have much of an option.

Part of the trail involved a 30 meter (nearly a 100 foot) vertical descent on a staircase.


It was…steep? Made me really glad we’d listened to the recommended direction to ride the route, because it would have been a massive undertaking to get loaded bikes up the stairs.


After the stairs, the trail mellowed out to Grade 3-4, and some fun downhill cruising ensued down to the next hut, which we deemed worthy of our lunch and coffee break. Observation of Kait’s rapidly swelling knee were not good.

The trail continued up to Solemn Saddle, an 1,100 ft climb. Kait, pedaling with one leg, dropped us all. I think I’m going to bestow the trail name of Soul Crusher upon her.


Unfortunately, trail conditions went downhill from there. Not in the ‘Yay, fun! Let’s go downhill’ manner, but in the sense that it turned into miserable mud for miles on end. We now understood the overly engineered trail that we’d been riding on – as anything not covered in logs and crushed rock turned into a muddy disaster mess.


While Kait could pedal, walking looked incredibly painful. Especially in the mud. Suck.

Progress was slow until we ran into a trail crew…who’d stopped working because their rock crusher was broken. They assured us that the final 20 km of trail was better…as did the naked guy who was taking an outdoor shower at the final hut on the route.


The trail did improve and rolled along, cut out of the size of cliff above a giant river with massive rapids. The km distance signs counted up, one by one, far faster than miles signs would have. Comforting, and encouraging.

Then finally, the end of the Old Ghost Road.

Victorious. Yet bummed.

We made our way over to the Seddonville, know as a one commercial establishment town. Luckily, that establishment acts as a bar, restaurant, and campground host. We utilized all three services and are put up in an old school converted into holiday park. It’s quite possibly the most hilarious place we’ve been so far. Fast internet, no one else here, a lovely indoor space to escape the sand flys. And rural as all get out – we can’t understand a word anyone says around here.

Tomorrow, we pedal 30 miles to Westport where we’ll hop on a bus and head south. And hope real hard that Kait’s knee looks better in the morning.


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