Sunday, March 15th: It was dark when I put up my tent last night. It was dark when I took it down this morning. Another TA first for me. I had one of my coldest sleep’s yet. I had to resort to putting my feet through the short sleeves of my cycling thermal undershirt and pulling it up to my knees. Nonetheless, when my alarm went off at 5.30am I eagerly doffed my sleeping bag and pulled on my cycling clothes (in conventional usage) for the rousing last day of the Tour Aotearoa 2020.
A cheerful gaggle of us gathered in the camp kitchen for a quick breakfast before a rapid pack up. I achieved another excellent performance of 90 minutes from turning off the alarm to turning on the bike computer. I’m getting quite good at this. I should do it more often.
Another personal TA best: my darkest start, illuminated only by the first glow of light in the eastern sky (and my brilliantly bright new head torch), which made possible the photo below.
As we all do, we set off at our own pace, many of us riding contentedly solo. The morning brightened quickly the first photo below is the sky behind me, and the second the road ahead.
Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning. As true as ever. Jim was forecasting unusually light winds from the north for our ride south today, but a strong south-westerly change tomorrow with rain and high winds for those unfortunate riders a day behind us.
Today’s route was mostly fast tarmac with just short sections of cycle trails. With the wind behind me, I made good time time and completed the 70km to Winton in 3 hours 15 minutes, with only a few brief pauses along the way. Amazingly, this was the half-way mark for the day’s route…and handily there was a flash dairy open early on this Sunday morning to serve us. Steak and bacon pie, 500ml of chocolate milk and a large flat white, for me, please!
Some six or eight riders had got there before me…so left while I was enjoying my morning tea. By the time I got to Wallacetown, 23km down the road and the next pause, I’d caught up with some…only 45km more to go! We were really in the flow at this point. Tired and aching muscles, stiff shoulders and arms and sore arses all quit complaining, knowing relief was just down the road.
The Kennett Brothers, inspired route finders, had one last treat in store for us – a cycleway around the outer fringe of Invercargill (with no disrespect to the city centre…), along the Oreti estuary and through marshland beyond. Unlike yesterday’s meander through the water meadows of the middle Oreti north of Mossburn, our goal was in sight – the first glimpse of Buff Hill. (The photo below is the marshland but not Bluff Hill. It’s looking to the northwest the hills near Otautau on the way to Fiordland.)
Thanks to this track, we didn’t join the Invercargill to Bluff road, often busy with heavy port and commercial trafffic, though not on this Sunday early afternoon, til its last third or so. Four of us – Linda, Richard, Derek (all from Christchurch) and I powered along, taking our turns at the front of our short pace line. We zoomed quickly through Bluff and out the other side for the last 1.2k (a sign told us precisely) to Stirling Point, the Southern most tip of the mainland, picking up Anita, Rex and Steve (from Wellington)) and Leith (from Auckland, his Achilles’ tendon still torn but not ruptured) along the way. As we crested the hill just before Sterling Point we suddenly slowed to savour our roll down the hill to the waterfront.
And there was the signpost, just like the one at Cape Reinga, pointing out distant places at home and abroad (…with different distances). We posed for pictures, some champagne Linda and Richard’s friends had brought, and chatted for a long while as another dozen or so cyclists came in.
What a glorious adventure! I might offer another post in a few days’, a reflection on the richness of the people, country, journey, challenge and rewards of the Tour Aotearoa. But for now I’ll jsut say thanks for reading…and leave you with two last photos…one my essential companion, my GPS tracker, showing I was here at the 3,015.5km mark from Cape Reinga…and me and my excellent Shand Stoater…without which I’d still sitting be around at the Cape.
PS: I kept up my weekly Newsroom columns during the Tour, drawing on what I was seeing and learning along the way. Here are the links to them: