Bikepacking in the Solomon Islands

Well it has been a long time since we last updated everyone. So, what have we been up to? Well, since mid October 2021 both of us were working and living in the Solomon Islands, and, of course we took our bikes with us! The Solomon Islands is actually a chain of approximately 1500 islands located north east of Australia. Because of its close proximity to the equator temperatures range between 25 – mid 30 degrees centigrade with humidity usually around 90 percent! We lived in Honiara which is a small city with a population of around 90,000 people and growing!

Outside of work Honiara offered us plenty of single and vehicle tracks to explore. All the land around Honiara is owned by a local families, but there were no fences or boundaries and it is acceptable to cross someones land without causing offence, sometimes this meant passing through someone’s back yard or kitchen. In fact when we were unsure which direction to take, usually an occupant of a house would direct us to the right place. An example of this was when COVID was ripping through Honiara a wonderful lady showed us the way through a steep bit of single track (while we were on a bike ride). Social distancing meant nothing to her as she insisted a young boy from the family help us carry our bikes down the hill.

We were lucky to meet many other like minded people who enjoyed the outdoors while living in Honiara.

We soon learned that the heat and humidity played a big factor in how long we rode our bikes for. Even a two hour Mtb ride without carrying any weight was enough to have us retreating to the air-conditioning for the rest of the day, too spent to do any more physical activity. Because of this we were careful to keep any bike packing trips too relatively short. Then there was some of the terrain to negotiate, sometimes in the pouring rain.

Oh and did I mention there are lots of salt water crocodiles in the Solomons?

So despite the heat, humidity and crocodiles we did a four day bike-packing adventure on the island of Malaita. Here are some of the pictures and ride description below.

Arrival in Auki (the capital of Malaita)after a 2 hour ferry ride from Honiara.
The start of our first real hill. The temperature was well into the mid to high 30’s.
Our camping spot on our first night.

Dawn the next morning. A bit cooler but the humidity was off the scale!
Meeting Peter who works for the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force. He helped us arrange for a local boat to take us up the coast from Atori to Gunatolo. Above is the police station where he works.
Our bikes loaded up onto what is known as a ‘banana boat’.
Tony’s improvised sun hat.
The locals welcoming us at Gunatolo.
We met plenty of interesting people on our ride. We were as much a curiosity to them as they were to us.

There are no Auto-wreckers in the Solomon’s. Any inoperable vehicle are discarded on the side of the road after all useful parts are stripped from them.
We stayed at the Police Barracks in Ma’lu. These lovely ladies cleaned our room for us and gave us breakfast the next morning.
Our final night’s accommodation – a bungalow at Sarah’s resort – a nice place to relax after a 100km ride.

Tour Te Waipounamu…What the hell are we thinking

A 1319km bikepacking race from Cape Farewell to Slope Point through places bikes just shouldn’t go. Why does that appeal so much? I’ve no idea but it does, so when I heard that the race was being put together I got excited. A few months later it was all go. On 14 February 37 of us were lined up at Cape Farewell to tackle the largely unknown. Large tracts of back country would be covered and then there was the 30-50km of hike-a-bike. No one had done this before. Questions were swirling around; Was it possible? How long would it take? How much food do we need to carry?

Cape Farewell

Day one and the last 150km looked like the easy days, on paper at least, so the pace was quick out of the blocks. I had a plan to ride through the first night, catching an hour’s nap somewhere, then having a decent sleep the following night. Plans don’t always, well, go to plan. Later that afternoon I stopped for a powerade and ice cream in Tapawera. As it turns out this was a bad choice. It just sat in my guts for hours and I felt terrible, with no energy and a racing pulse. There was nothing else to do but lie down and rest, and it was only hour 10. Even after a rest I was walking hills that should have been easy to ride. Luckily after a few hours I came right and managed to get back into the rhythm. But there was no way I was pulling an all-nighter so I camped at 1am. This set the pattern for the four nights sleep that I had; stop, set the alarm for 3 1/2 hours later, set up camp, sleep, pack up and be on the bike 4 hours after stopping. Sleep wasn’t an issue coming but funny thing was I always woke up before my alarm went so was generally getting 2 3/4 hours a night, and it felt like plenty.

Day 2 saw the start of the hike-a-bike sections. Firstly, there was the food drop to pick up at Boyle Village. This was like Christmas, with creamed rice and peaches to eat while packing all the food on the bike. The next available resupply was in Methven, some 250km away, but I had the feeling I was carrying way too much.

You soon get sick of this diet

Once the hiking started things slowed down. The Hope-Kiwi track was incredibly frustrating with all the on off action to get over windfall and through gullies. And even after crossing the saddle the downhill didn’t give any respite, with as much climbing as descending. Things only became rideable once we hit the Hurunui river flats.

Just another tree…Hope Kiwi track

The next hike-a-bike was a biggie over the Dampier range. 800mt of climbing, a few km of sidling though chest high tussock followed by an 800mt decent, and only a faint ground trail to follow. We were advised not to do this in the dark given the difficulties with navigation. But who listens to advice, arriving at the bottom of the climb at 8.30pm I decided to crack on with it. It was way too early to stop. I thought there were four others in front of me and a whole bunch behind. This was an opportunity to stay in touch with the leaders and get a break on the chasers.

Just as I was starting the climb another rider, Hedley Wilton, showed up and decided to come with me. Safety in numbers after all. Hedley wasn’t planning on getting all the way over that night but I was focused on getting to Anderson’s Hut on the other side. I figured six hours should do it. I had no plan to carry the bike except put it across my shoulder, but with the mountain of food I had on board this was near impossible. I struggled up the hill pushing and pulling my bike, fighting it through the tussocks and rolling it where I could. It was brutally hard work that didn’t let up. Hedley on the other hand had a simple harness system and carried his bike the whole way. I definitely had harness envy. Some of the down was really fun riding though and I made sure I got the full benefit of that.

So at 2.30am we stumbled to the bottom of the hill and into Anderson’s hut only to find Ollie Whalley and Steve Halligan sleeping outside in the rain. Now the hut’s not flash, the door doesn’t shut, there’s only two bunks, knock them or hit them all the dead spiders fall down. But it’s dry, the mattresses are relatively clean and it’s all I need.

I’m not sure if we woke up Ollie and Steve but they got up to start there day while we went to bed knowing they had a four hour lead on us.

Next day started cold and wet. Rain and a southerly made us glad we’d come over the tops at night, it would have been just miserable up there that morning. Instead we were sheltered in the valley from the worst of the weather. But I can’t complain about the weather, two hours later it stopped raining and although it stayed cold for the day it was dry. This was the only cold day we had during the whole race. The scenery made up for this while riding though Mt White Station. It was massive, 50km from Anderson’s Hut to the Highway, massive gravel escarpments, river flats and towering peaks made a vista worth the struggle to see.

Turns out Hedley and I were similarly paced and we rode together for the next day and a half. He was a quicker riderbut I stopped less and slept a whole lot less that he wanted. So we went over Cass Saddle together. I found this section the toughest hike-a-bike. The saddle is relatively low but the track through the bush is steep with big steps in places. It was just plain hard work. This was rewarded with some sweet single track on the other side, before hitting the river flats and grovelling down a bouldery four-wheel drive track all the way to Lake Colleridge.

Hedley on Cass Saddle

Turns out my pre-race timings were well out. I was planning a resupply at Methven but given we rolled through at midnight that wasn’t an option. Lucky that I had over catered and had enough food to get me through the next big hike-a-bike over the Two Thumb Range to Tekapo. So we passed through Methven and started my least favourite section, the Canterbury plains. Although flat and easy they are boring and it’s hard to stay focused. Camp that night wasn’t ideal, but we managed to find a quiet stop for a four hour break.

A few hours into the next day Hedley was feeling pretty average and dropped off. I was thinking I’d see him later in the day but it wasn’t to be. Little did I know he was feeling pretty cooked and had a decent rest at Royal Hut in the Two Thumb. So I carried on alone up the Rangatata valley, into Mesopotamia Station and over the Two Thumb.

Alone except for my increasingly sore bits, namely my chaffing which was getting worst by the hour. This led my body to become more disattached from my mind. It’s a strange feeling when you start thinking of body parts as other entities…but I digress.

Two Thumb Range was a highlight. There was absolutely amazing riding and equally brutal rough hike-a-bikes. At this stage I’m thankful for my rohloff hub and wonder how many derailleurs will get smashed being dragged through here. What’s a bike even doing here anyway? The place is so remote and isolated that it feels like you could be the only person left out there, except I knew I wasn’t. At the start of the big hike-a-bike I could see another rider shouldering their bike high up the tussock face. I arrived at that point an hour later, it took another six hours to catch him.

The beginning of the Stag Saddle hike-a-bike

Reaching Stag Pass was just amazing. At 1900mt it’s the high point of the route, scree and tussock land falls away on all sides. Mt Cook is right there, this massive bulk sitting above lake Tekapo and high above the surrounding peaks. Now the course notes promised a sweet downhill. Well the course notes lie, after sidling over a screefield the downhill ridge is gained, and it starts out very sweet indeed…but alas it doesn’t last. Soon enough the tussock arrives and the flow goes. I can’t see the trail so don’t know what’s underneath and it becomes very stop start. Eventually it drops into the river and it’s back to grovelling down bouldery riverbed and through matagauri thickets for what seemed like forever. Luckily this came to an end just before dark and some sweet single track followed to lead us into Tekapo.

Just before Tekapo I caught up with the rider I’d seen on the hill. Turns out it was Martin, the superfast Cech, with a broken bike and shoe. His tyre was held together with duct tape and the sole of his shoe had broken. Not to mention he’d run out of food four hours earlier because Methven was shut. Needless to say, Martin was stopping in Tekapo for the night. I still had plenty of food and decided I could get to Otematata before resupplying.

The pre-race thinking was I could do a final push from Tekapo to the finish, after all it was only 530km away and I’d done that distance in one hit before. But it was too early to stop so I carried on and finally camped at Lake Pukaki at 3.00am. By this stage I knew it was only Ollie Whalley in front of me and Maprogess showed me that he was camped at Pukaki as well. As I climbed into my tent I heard his bike roll past on the gravel. What I didn’t know is that I’d woken him up when I arrived. Thinking I’d ridden on through and was making the final run to the finish, he got up and started chasing me. It wasn’t until he was two hours down the road that he realised I’d stopped.

Climbing around Lake Benmore

I cut my sleep short that night, down to 2 1/2 hours, but it was still 7am before I finished my chores and rolled out of camp. There was 490km to go, Ollie had a four hour lead, I wasn’t that optimistic that I’d peg any of that back. I was very aware that Steve Halligan had pulled an all-nighter and had left Tekapo about the same time I got going, so the pressure was on.

This day started really well, it was a beautiful morning and the scenery was amazing while passing around Lake Benmore to arrive in Otetamata at about lunchtime. This was the first shop I’d been in since Tapawera so it felt like such a treat, pies, hotdogs, fried chicken, coke, bananas and ice cream…it was so good and I rolled out of town feeling pretty satisfied.

But the next section nearly cooked me. It was only 60km across the Hawkdon Range, but there was 2600mt of climbing in that, it was hot and it was steep. One section was 26km from a stream up the ridge to the high point, and it wasn’t all rideable. Brutal doesn’t even begin to describe it. So what I thought would be a seven hour stretch turned into 10 hours of hard work. But the sunset was amazing and experienced from up high with me arriving at the highpoint just on dark. It was through here that I saw one of my stranger sights. Walking up a hill at 2kph, leaning into the bike, I saw two skinks on the rocks and they were getting it on, all tied up in knots. It was a while before they realised I was there and untangled themselves and disappeared into the scree. From the high point the first 800mt’s of the decent into the Ida Valley wasn’t quite the whoopee I was hoping for, deep loose babyheadrocks over a hard packed base, survival riding at its best.

After crossing the Ida Valley the route headed into Lord of the Rings country around Poolburn reservoir and Lake Onslow. It was a shame to be doing this at night but in some ways it was a pleasure to see it in a different light, and the dawn light was incredible.

A new day beginning over Lake Onslow

Through this section the mind and body started doing some strangle things. My chaffing was getting chronic and although sitting on the seat wasn’t such an issue once I’d settled, getting on and off it hurt like hell. But the mind disassociated itself and I heard myself having a conversation that went something like this; Left ass, “I’m sore, I need to get off this seat”

Right ass, “Me too, can we stop”

Mind, “No we can’t, there’s still 250km to go, then we can stop”

Right ass, “that’s not fair”

Left ass, “well we’ve come this far, may as well put up with it a bit more”

Right ankle, “I’m sore now as well, I’d like to stop”

Mind, “Oh quite your snivelling you lot and just get on with doing it”

On reflection this isn’t quite right but at the time it didn’t seem that strange at all, just the usual sort of conversation really. Funny thing was that I was actually feeling pretty awake through here and really enjoying the riding. But I do love this part of the country.

But it wasn’t to last. Things started unravelling a bit just after Lake Onslow. Climbing away from the lake with the rising sun behind me I was stopped by a mob of sheep being moved so I took the opportunity to get off the road and do some chores, eat, lube, etc. Surprisingly there was cell coverage so I checked Maprogress. I wasn’t surprised to see ollie had put a good lead on me and short of some disaster I wasn’t going to get it back. Equally surprising to see was that looking back up the course there was no one within 10 hours. The pressure was off. That’s not necessarily a good thing. I lost focus and urgency about this time and didn’t get it back for another 100km.

The farmer finally came along and was a bit grumpy I’d held his sheep up. I was a bit grumpy that he was grumping at me, especially with being up for 27 hours at this point, so we grumped at each other. Once the grumpy introductions were done we had a good old chat about everything from sheep to fishing to hydro storage batteries (the future of Lake Onslow). Then we finally parted like long lost mates.

So from Lake Onslow it looks like a massive decent into Southland. Looks can be deceptive, this ‘decent’ is 45km and has 850mt of lumpy climbing in it. Needless to say I was pretty happy to hit the rail trail for the final 30km into Lawrence and a much needed milkshake.

Mentally for me Lawrence marked the start of the end. There was only 150km to Slope Point, and although there was another 2100mt of climbing none of it seemed that brutal. And Clinton was only 60km away so there was another ice-cream opportunity. 

Turns out I’d been lulled into a false sense of security. 150 lumpy km on top the 340km I’d done since sleeping wasn’t a walk in the park. Through the first 40km I spent a fair bit of time on the phone to Karen (my wife) while the headwind slowly built. We resolved the problems of the world before I finally got back into focus and decided to get off my ass…as best I could anyway.

Toileting duties and cold drinks took longer than they should have in Clinton but I finally got away at 8.00pm (riding time…37hr and counting). 90km to Slope point, 4 ½ hours on a good day? Not such a good day today. On leaving Clinton the wind picked up some more and I was down to 8-10kph for the next two hours. Surely it wasn’t going to take 10 hours…

Finally the wind dropped, the hills got smaller and the k’s started disappearing a bit quicker…but the sleep monster was coming on quick. The first thing to go is always your vision and it finally happened around midnight on a fast gravel decent. I’d already been seeing double but riding fast downhill without being able to focus on anything just seemed like a recipe for disaster, even if the finish was only 40-50 km away. Luckily I had enough presence on mind to realise this and pulled off the road, put my down jacket on, set my alarm of 25 minutes then curled up on the ground. I was out like a light and didn’t wake up until my alarm rudely cut though my foggy brain. Time to get going again. 

And that was that really, cutting out the last of the course was spent reflecting on what had passed in the last five odd days. It was mentally draining, physically brutal, amazingly rewarding and incredibly satisfying. 

So at 2.58am I roll down the final hill and through the paddock to the lone beacon at Slope Point. I’m not surprised but the place is deserted except of a stiff south-westerlyblowing in from the southern ocean. I manage a smile for the selfie then head for some shelter and sleep.

After 45hrs of riding I wasn’t to keen on the 15km ride back to Curio Bay, but I was keen on a shower and some real food in the morning so there wasn’t much option. This 15km turned into a festival of mind tricks.

But more on the aftermath next time.

Pretty much how I felt.

The 2021 Great Southern Brevet

This is a long distance bike packing race that Tony and I have wanted to do for some time. It has a reputation for being the toughest bike packing event in New Zealand with brutal climbs and unpredictable weather over a distance of 1,100 kms. What makes it so appealing is the amazing scenery that the bottom of the South Island (Te Waiponamu) has to offer.

For me (Karen) even starting this event was a challenge as I had been nursing a persistent knee injury for the last 12 months. After countless physio appointments I finally managed to solve my knee issue by a small adjustment to my pedal set up. She was all on again!! My preparation was not ideal, three 100km training rides with no weight on – she’ll be right I’ve done this sort of thing before!

Now Tony is a different story. He’s been training hard for a race starting on the 14th of February called Tour Te Waiponamu, a self supported brevet race from the top of the South Island to the bottom through some of the most difficult hill country the South Island has to offer. The race includes about 30km of ‘hike a bike’ (where the terrain is so difficult you have to push/carry your bike). This is the first time this race had been run and how it will unfold is completely unknown. Sooooo, here I am barely fit to do 100kms and Tony very fit and strong – and we’re going to ride the Great Southern Brevet together! My solution was to load up Tony’s bike with extra gear – he carried the tent, camp chairs and extra food. I was just carrying my clothes and sleeping gear and the cooking gear.

We started on Sunday the 24th and managed to finish within the 8 day limit for the course a week later. I’ve got to say my training was well inadequate and some of the course made for ‘type 2 fun’ (described as some what of a suffer fest that is not enjoyed at the time, but later enjoyed upon reflection) for me. As for Tony, the harder the challenge or terrain the more he enjoyed it! We travelled through some amazing scenery and met some wonderful people during our tour. Here’s some photos of our tour.

Tony took this photo after I had just been blown off my bike by the wind near the tip of our first climb Thompson Pass – I was not impressed and tears weren’t far away! My first ‘type 2 fun’ experience.
Arrival in Queenstown meant eating an iconic Ferg Burger and…
… a ride on the Earnslaw paddle steamer across Lake Wakatipu – definitely ‘type 1 fun’!
Scoping out some possible accommodation on the Nevis.
Cresting one of the many climbs.
One of our typical camp sites – the chairs came in handy.
And waking up to a frost on our third to last day – wtf, it’s supposed to be the middle of summer!
It turns out this was a common sight for us on our Tour – a mob of sheep being moved blocking the road.
The push up Flanagans saddle – more ‘type 2 fun’.
And rewarded by amazing scenery at the top of Flanagans saddle overlooking Lake Ohau.
Reaching the top of our last major climb! All downhill from here (apart from the up-hills that is).
A fitting place to start and finish a pub – Vulcan Hotel at St Bathans.

Now I can rest up and Tony is ‘tapering’ for his big race starting on the 14th of February at 7am. You can watch his progress during the race by following his tracker at Tour Te Waipounamu 2021

Here is a screenshot of our route:

Bike touring Great Barrier (Aotea) Island

You can always tell when you’re on a good trip by the number of photos you take while away. Our trip to Great Barrier Island (GBI) was one of those great trips that we talk about and recommend to everyone. It had been on our bucket list for quite some time and now we had the chance to go. Originally we were going to take the car, A-van (our pop-up trailer) and all our toys for kayaking, biking and of course fishing, but the $1500 price tag of the return trip from Auckland to GBI on the ferry made us have a re-think. In the end we decided to take our touring bikes, and this turned out to be a great decision.

GBI is situated off the coast of the Coromandel Peninsula (only 10km from the top of the Peninsula) but the two main ways to access the island is via ferry or to fly from Auckland. We decided to ferry which meant we rode our bikes from my sisters house in Auckland to the ferry on the morning of the first day.

Auckland waking up on Monday morning.

We arrived on the island 4.5 hours later in Tryphena and felt like we had slipped back in time. We rode on roads where there was little traffic, and what traffic we met was travelling not much faster than us. Probably half our route had us riding on designated dual use trails with no cars at all. There are 900 residents living on the island which, apart from a little tourism, we wondered what the rest of them do. One of the locals on the ferry suggested some of them may do a bit of drug trafficking.

We came fully self sufficient intending to camp for the three nights. We had less gear than usual due to the warm weather forecast. The first day we rode from Tryphena through to Medlands Beach, then over the Te Ahumata Track to The Green Campsite (for our first nights camping).

Medlands Beach

Te Ahumata Trail

Some desert like plants we found on the Te Ahumata Trail – very spiky and hardy.

The Green Campsite

An evening walk to an abandoned timber mill.

Because the total distances around the island are so short (on average our riding distance was around 30km per day) we decided to walk a 15km loop on day two – pretty much to fill in the day for us action bunnies. Day two took us from The Green Camp over an old forestry road to Kaiaraara Hut. From there we parked up the bikes and walked to the summit of the tallest hill on the island Mt Hobson 626m. What we really noticed this day was how much bird life there is on the island. There were lots of Kaka (NZ parrots), Tui, Fantails and all sorts of other birds that we didn’t know the names of. They didn’t appear to have any fear of humans and just ignored us and went about their daily business while we gawked at them.

The other thing that struck us was the amazing amount of money and time the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the locals had put into building and maintaining the trails and keeping pest numbers down.

More great views from the top of Mt Hobson.

There were kilometres of this type of boardwalk on the trails up Mt Hobson.

Mt Healy.

The view from Mt Healy hut. We both agreed this is a pretty stunning location for a hut.

This sign says it all.

Day three had us riding more sweet off road trails through Port Fitzroy and onto our camp for the night at Harataonga. This was one of the nicest campsites we have ever stayed at and we were entertained by the local Kaka for hours. They even started to squawk at each other at 2am (not so entertaining at that time)!

The view just before Port Fitzroy.

More steps at Windy Canyon.

Harataonga campsite.

Our last day had us biking back to Tryphena to catch the ferry, but first there were the local hot pools to go and check out on the way.

I would say Tony was giving his aching muscles some relief, but we had only biked 15km so far that day. This is a lovely spot.

Our final idyllic beach view before climbing back onto the ferry.

Our route.

The red lines are where we cycled, the blue lines are where we walked.

Getting there and away.

For information about ferry crossings go to: or Ph 0800732546.

Passenger costs are around $150 – $180 return for passengers. In addition to a standard fare Bikes cost $20 extra per direction. There are peak fare prices during December and January, and on public holiday weekends.

Flying (a much faster option):

Great Barrier Air operates regular flights from Auckland Airport and North Shore Aerodrome to Claris. Prices are around $230 return and an additional cost of $35 (or $50 return) applies to bikes. They can only get two bikes on per flight so it pays to book. The only requirement is the front wheel is removed and the chain is wrapped. For more info check out: or 0800900600

Training for the Marokopa Munter.

Once we arrived home from our epic year away I felt I needed another challenge and that came in the form of the Marokopa Munter. You may ask what this means – let me explain. Marokopa is a small settlement situated on the west coast of the North Island. ‘Munter’ is kiwi slang for something being totally broken – ie “Munted”. The Marokopa Munter is a 24 hour adventure race and the idea is that when completing the course each participant should feel “munted” afterwards. To join me on this merry adventure I needed three friends (willing participants) to make up a four person team. Tony was number one on my list because of his navigation skills. He was still feeling a little tired after his Tour Divide effort and wasn’t so keen to begin with, but I put his name on the starting list hoping he would become more enthusiastic as time went on. Sometimes it was a little hard getting him out the door in some of our earlier training missions. Also willing to put their bodies on the line was our friends Nina and Emma.

Now the training adventures began, and this is what this blog is all about. During the three or so months we trained, most of the training was done in what we like to call our backyard – anywhere within 90 minute drive from home. Looking back we had some great adventures.

Here are some photos and captions from those three months:

Overnight to Bog Inn Hut Pureora Forest

Waipapaiti Hut – Tongariro National Park

Waihi Beach

Coromandel (with some diving and fishing thrown in).

Nighttime mission Pureora Forest (after finishing work at 11pm we decided to take our bikes for a 6 hour hike-a-bike in the woods).

Tony’s circumnavigation of Mt Ruapehu (just a 17 hour walk)!

Another Pureora Forest mission this time most of it was in the daylight.

Kaimanawa Forest Traverse.

And finally on the 23rd of November race day came around. Unfortunately, due to injury Nina was replaced by Rachel who did a stirling job of filling her shoes. We got our course maps the night before the start of the race and the route planning began. At the leisurely time of 11am we began our race. We finished really well 23 hours and 15 minutes later coming in third place in a decent field of adventure racers. All of us were “munted” in one way or another at the end but had a great 24 hours of adventure combining hiking and mountain bike riding (complete with approx 5000m of climbing thrown in).

The final morning had us walking in ‘pea soup’.

Transition – time to load up on more food and water.

That hike-a-bike training is paying off

Tour Divide 2019

8.30am day 16

Its 8.30am on day 16 of the Tour Divide and what looks to be turning into a hot day. Pie Town (yes that is the actual town name) has been and gone and I’m riding a dirt road heading for the haloed Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. I’ve only been riding for four hours this morning and already I’m fighting the sleep monster. First there are the hallucinations, seeing buildings or cars in the forest that on closer inspection turn back into trees, hearing people talking, seeing people that when passed turn into trees. Next comes the whiteout. This is the real indicator that I should stop…but there’s so far to go. During a whiteout I can’t focus, I’m aware the road is passing under my wheels, that corners come and go and I’m managing some sort of control but it’s just not registering. The ground is a blur of grey that blends into the horizon, there is just no sense of presence. Nodoz and some other caffeine rich snacks just seem to be taking to long to kick in and then it finally happens…I’m asleep, still peddling, still upright. It’s only for a second or two before I start dreaming. There’s a large beech tree growing right in the middle of the road, what’s that doing there. I’m going to fast, it’s down hill after all. Brake and turn…brake and turn. And with the fright and a massive adrenaline dump I wake up to find myself braking and turning to avoid this dreamtime tree. It seems self preservation beat the sleep monster and the adrenaline dump kept it at bay for another 10 minutes before I just need to stop for a sleep in the dirt. Surely 30 minutes will get me through so the timers set and I’m out like a light. Only problem is the ants didn’t think I needed to be sleeping and starting biting after only 10 minutes. Time to move. But what a difference that ten minutes made, buying me another eight hours of riding time.

So how the hell did I end up here, and who the hell said this would be fun…

Tour Divide is one of those epic legendary events that just seems to draw people in, it has been on my mind for a couple of years now and after 11 months of bikepacking North and Central America I found I had time to spare before returning to work. The body was in good shape, the bike was a bit tired but surely it could do another 4395ish km. So why not.

I went into this race not expecting it to be fun or enjoyable. It was just going to hurt and be a bit of a suffer fest. My goal was 18 days and depending on who turned up I might make the top 10. But how wrong was I. It was everything I expected and more. Yes a sure suffer fest with some very dark places visited as well as the physical pain that accompanies all endurance sports, but it was also immensely enjoyable and rewarding and this turned it into a pleasant ride and amazing experience.

I get asked the question all the time…how can riding a mountain bike over 4395km for over 20 hours a day for a couple of weeks in challenging terrain be anything close to enjoyable. It’s a simple answer really, you just become one with your bike and the environment. There’s no stress outside how far it is to your next resupply or sleep, your aching body and the bike staying in one piece. And all these stresses can be overcome by riding your own race, getting some sleep, eating as often as you can and looking after your body and your bike.

So I arrive in Banff after a pleasant ride up from Calgary with fellow TD rider, Zoe from France, after bumping into her at Walmart. So it looks like it’s going to be a social day or so before the start with bikepacking rigs at every turn. It seems that wasn’t an entirely accurate perception. With a friendly ‘Gidday’ to all I passed some would return a friendly smile or stop for a chat while others would just look at me with this, ‘what the hell are you talking to me for’ look on their face. I just put this down to some last minute pre-race stress and left them to it. I know the race was going to be a lonely old affair so I was quite keen to have some social time beforehand, alas it just didn’t quite pan out that way.

Salsa were there giving away steerer topcaps which qualified you for free pies in Pietown so with this safely tucked away and after a short final fairwell from the legendary Crazy Larry we were off. 145 happy riders leaving the Grand Depart with a common goal of getting to Antelope Wells. Only about 50% of us would make it though, it is definitely a race of attrition. With a target of 18 days I expected to be in around the top ten and headed out of town about there, surprised at how sedate the pace was…until we hit the first rises in the trail. Riders just started streaming past and I had to tell myself not to try and keep up, it’s a long way and riding within yourself is key to surviving. So how did it go?

4.30pm Day 0

Koko Claims…who the hell decided to put the route over here, the first brutal climb of the race. Sweats dripping off me, my bikes on my back and I’m grovelling up the road which looks more like a boulder field. Other racers are passed while they are resting. I though one guy was in a bad way but turns out he was just having a nap and probably didn’t appreciate me waking him up to see if he was ok. It’s 8km to the top and 3km of that is hike a bike. The decent is just as steep, it’s probably all rideable but it’s just not worth the risk so there’s more hike a bike. At the bottom of the steep stuff I meet up with Kim Raeymaekers from Belgium. He’s broken his seatpost, he’s got it going again but the seats about six inches to low, it looks like he’s riding a BMX. It doesn’t seem to slow him down any with us getting along at 35kmh as we head towards Fernie, where he can get a new post the following day. Turns out Kim knows how to ride a bike and came here to win but he’s up against it now. I expected to see him streaking past me in a few days time.

10.05pm Day 0

It’s my first real disappointment of the race. Food is nearly everything in this race so on arriving in Fernie just before 10pm. I go to the supermarket while it’s still open to resupply for the next 190km. Loaded up with food I head to McDonalds for some instant calories…but it’s closed. Here I was thinking a couple of Big Macs and a shake would set me up for the next few hours but no, I have to settle for some hotdogs and fried chicken at the 7eleven. I shouldn’t be disappointed, McDonalds is always terrible but after 14 hours on the bike the body’s crying out for some fatty calories.

I want to get into a sleeping/riding routine so head out of town hoping to camp at about midnight and start riding again at 5am. Camping is the easy bit, sleeping not so much. There’s to much excitement, I’m restless and keep waking up. I decide that if I can’t sleep I may as well be riding so I’m back on the bike before 3am and passing other racers sleeping on the roadside as I head into the Flathead Loop. This is all new country for me, having missed this section when we toured it. I’m not disappointed, it is just stunning. The beauty about these races is you see places and experience things at times you wouldn’t normally be there. Like the sun rising over towering cliffs then the sun setting behind mountain lakes and the stars slowly getting brighter until the moon rise makes them fade. It’s a pretty special experience.

19 hours and 315km later

The US border has come and gone so we’re now in the land of the big. Food is easy to get as nearly every town has a 24hr convenience store and it’s high octane stuff. After a few more mountain passes I’m approaching Whitefish and am a bit torn as to where to stop. It’s only 10.30pm and the suns just gone down but if I push on I’ll be in suburbia and the intensively farmed area on the flat lands so I decide to pull up early and see if I can catch up on some sleep. At least this night, like the rest to come, sleep isn’t elusive and I’m out as soon as my head goes down. Unfortunately the alarms going four hours later and it’s time to hit the road again…yep ride eat sleep repeat.

8.00am Day 5

It’s all about efficiency which means if you can do it while peddling you do. This includes eating and taking care of your dental hygiene. I might have got some strange looks from locals as I rode past brushing my teeth but there’s not to much decorum in these events.

12.30am Day 5

Wyoming at last but it’s getting colder and there’s a good frost forming. Having just dropped off the Teton Range I’m looking for somewhere to camp. Being just outside Yellowstone National Park I’m aware that I’m in bear country, plus I’d seen one earlier in the day, so I wanted somewhere I’d be able to store my food so pushed on a bit longer to get to a camping area. And was I in luck. The roadside camp had bear boxes and a toilet that was just spotless…and more importantly about 5 deg warmer than it was outside. It didn’t take much thinking to camp in that Hilton of a toilet. Oh the things we resort to.

1.30am Day 6

Bloody hell its cold. I’ve got every piece of riding gear on. The never ending uphill decent of Union Pass is behind me and Pinedale is fast approaching. My drinking tube is frozen and while on the phone to Karen the cold just sucked the battery dry. That means my maps gone so I get it plugged in and bury it deep under my layers to warm up. Luckily I can get it running again when I have to make a nav decision. Then I manage to get back on the phone to Karen. I haven’t seen another racer for three days and won’t see one for another two days so these phone calls are such a mental boost. While we’re chatting I spook a moose grazing on the roadside. It lopes across the road, hops a fence like it’s not there and disappears into the darkness. I finally roll into Pinedale at 2am, get resupplied at the servo and head to the church. Luckily they still leave their doors open for weary travellers. But I’m in for a treat, they have renovated and now there’s a shower, oh it’s bliss, the first shower in seven days.

12.30am Day 8

What the hell am I doing here. I want to go home. I’ve had enough. My ass is sore. It’s the middle of the Wyoming basin, 10km short of half way, there’s nothing here but sagebrush, my 220lm headlamp can’t penetrate the darkness. It certainly isn’t up to fast downhill riding. And then it happens. I nearly lose the front wheel in a rut I couldn’t see. While saving the crash I seriously aggravate my injured archillies. That’s it, I’m tired and I’ve had enough of this day and this race. Tomorrow I’m riding back to Atlantic City and going home. I miss my wife and am sick of the pain, cold and relentless biking. But first I need to sleep. It’s the first night I don’t set an alarm. I don’t care anymore. Despite the pain sleep comes quickly but strangely enough the internal alarm goes off about five hours later. I’m still in no hurry to get up though so contemplate what to do. Unknown to me at the same time a major late winter storm was smashing Colorado 200km to the south. This was later described as the worst June storm in 80 years.

The previous day the bearings in my dynamo hub failed. I didn’t realise it at first. I just knew something wasn’t right with the bike. The drag was heavy and it just wouldn’t roll on, to the extent that it slowed down while rolling downhill on a sealed road with a tail wind… I’d wanted to get through the Basin on this day and get a motel in Wamsutter, that obviously wasn’t going to happen now. I pushed on to South Pass City (population about 8) before I checked the bike properly and discovered the problem. I contemplated riding on to the next on route bike shop in Steamboat Springs but quickly dismissed this as a completely stupid idea given it was 380km very remote kms away. On top of a broken bike I was feeling mentally and physically drained so I decided that was the end of my race, I rung Karen and told her my wheel was busted and my race was over. With a very puzzled sound to her voice she said, “just go and buy another one and get on with it”. As easy as that. Just get on with it.

I didn’t even know where the nearest bike shop was so had to ask the locals. I was in luck, Lander was only 30 miles away and there was a good bike shop there. A quick phone call got me an assurance they had a wheel and would start getting it ready. But it wasn’t just the wheel, I’d lost my ability to charge anything. This was an issue because I was using a mapping app on my phone for navigation so I needed to buy a gps as well. And my main front light and tail lights were out of action too. I had my headlamp and that would have to do but needed to get a tail light. So six hours and $800 later I was back on the trail and heading into the basin without anyone passing me. I knew I was sitting 10th and wanted to hold this spot, but had lost a big chunk of the 8 hour gap I had. Little did I know at that stage that it was a completely mute point.

But this didn’t answer my question the next morning. Actually in some ways it did, I’d just spent $800, I couldn’t justify that to ride one more day so I gave myself a good talking to and got on with it. And I’m glad I did, the ride through the basin was pretty special. It was cold and there were thunder storms passing through, but they just seemed to miss me. The light was moody. The wild horses were curious. There were Antelope everywhere. The place was just completely wild.

12.30pm Day 10

Shall we have a beer, I say. After all there’s nothing else to do. Sure, why not, is the reply from the others. Beer and pizza for lunch in the middle of an endurance race sounds like a great idea. Well it does when you’re holed up at Brush Mountain Lodge because the ground is covered in snow and the road is impassable mud, unless you want to carry your bike for 16 miles. And the snow showers keep on coming.

Let’s rewind a bit. It’s 9pm the previous day when I arrive at the Lodge with Peter Sandholt, who scared the shit out of me when he snuck up behind me just down the road… but I digress. I didn’t expect anyone to be there so was surprised to see the deck covered in bikes. What’s going on. Inside we’re met by Billy Rice who fills us in on the situation. The storm arrived the previous day. The first five racers attempted to cross the pass, four made it over but not without some seriously close calls. The leader lost the trail in the dark and snow and thinking he was going to die turned back and withdrew from the race. The next two racers, Lael and Josh, attempted the crossing about 12 hours later. The weather was still completely shit and a mile past the lodge they hit the mud and made the call to return and wait for a freeze and planned to go at 3am the next morning. Kai and Evan soon joined them and decided they liked the sound of that plan so waited as well.

Peter and I were soon joined by another four riders and suddenly the lodge was bursting at the seams. But that didn’t phase Kirsten, the Lodge host, and a short time later we were each feasting on a large pizza and talking about what to do. I wasn’t getting up at three and couldn’t see a freeze happening, it had started raining again, so decided to get up later and see what it was like.

The storm was still raging following day and it was an easy decision to stay put. The pass topped out at 3020mt and was 16 miles and 1000mt higher than the lodge. I didn’t think I could physically carry my bike that far anyway, not to mention the risk of being at that altitude in that weather with race gear. I was here to race, but it wasn’t worth dying over.

So here we all were. The who’s who of the bikepacking race scene and us race newbies sitting around eating and drinking all day, and getting a bit of cabin fever. But the recovery it provided was absolute gold. The only problem was there was a lot of talk about the impact of the storm on the rest of the route and if it would clear at all or be buried in a couple of feet of snow. I should have known spring snow doesn’t hang around and this clay mud dries out quick, but I was nearly sucked into pulling out of the race. It didn’t help that I was still feeling a bit homesick and it would have been an easy option to see Karen sooner rather than later. Lael, Kai, Evan and Kim all made the call to withdraw and take an alternate ‘touring’ route. That meant I’d effectively be in fifth place so I just had to keep going.

By late afternoon the rain had eased to occasional showers and the mud was slowly drying out. Five of us decided to have a crack at continuing in the morning.

Day 11

Fast forward to 3.30am, 36 hours after arriving at the lodge and 60 hours after the leaders had left the lodge and we were away. What a beautiful blue sky day it was to. It was rideable all the way to the snowline, the hike a bike through the snow was only 6km and mostly on the downhill side and it was a great run into Steamboat Springs and as a bonus the good people at Orange Peel Bikes managed to fix my seat. Things were looking up. It had taken us 6 hours to cover the same distance that the leaders covered in 24hrs.

I was back to riding by myself again though. The other four, Peter, Luke, Bear and Stefanio, were way to fast for me and after the previous day of constant eating I lost an extra 20 minutes riding time by having to repeatedly purge my bowels. Good thing the US Forest Service puts toilets in seemingly random, but clearly very strategic locations.

So Just like that I was back in 9th place. 200km later I saw these guys again after they had stopped at Kremmling for supplies. It wasn’t long before they disappeared into the distance again though. Bloody hell they were riding hard, but stopping more which gave me hope. I knew they would stop in Silverthorne for a motel so I decided to push on for another 30km, then have a shorter sleep and get another 20km on them before they got going in the morning.

The following day the race was definitely back on. What I’d covered in 20 hours took the front four two days so their lead was back to the pre-Lodge lead. Kai, Evan and Kim had seen the progress we’d made over the pass and got back in the race, leaving the Lodge six hours behind us. Overnight I’d put a couple of hours on the fast four. So with seven very talented and fast riders behind me I seriously felt like the fox that was getting hunted down by the hounds.

Boreas Pass, 28 hours after leaving Brush Mountain Lodge. The struggles of the front runners can

still be seen in the now set mud.

I couldn’t ride faster so the only way to stay ahead was to sleep less and ride more. Oh how I started missing that sleep, three odd hours a night just want cutting it. And that was going to get less as the finish got closer.

6.00am Day 13

From here on it’s all new country to me. We hadn’t toured this part of the route so I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I had the clue sheets about resupply points, which seemed to be getting further apart, but I was still a bit unnerving riding into the unknown, but I did get to see my second moose of the trip. About six hours later I got reminded of just how unforgiving this area can be. I was still 30km from Del Norte and had just run out of water. That 30km didn’t seem to far but the stinking hot head wind took its toll. By the time I arrived in town I was as dry as a dry thing and the drink machine at the servo/subway got a hammering. There was one advantage to that hot wind though, my sleeping bag was getting quite wet but about 3 minutes of hanging it on the bike and it was bone dry again.

With the next reliable resupply 300km away it was time to do some serious eating and stocking up before tackling Indiana Pass, the highest pass on the route. But it didn’t look to bad, a 1200mt climb over 36km. Only an average 3% grade, it sounded almost pleasant. But 36km of climbing into a howling head wind increases that grade and

made that climb absolutely brutal.

Indiana Pass. I sure was glad the snow plow had been through this road.

And then just to rub salt into the wounds the decent kept going back up as well. I was so pleased to get over the final rise and roll down to Platoro just on dark. I wasn’t going to stop but I needed water so went searching and there was the holy grail. The lodge had its open sign out so I went on in and next minute I’m eating a burger and chips. They’d seen my dot coming down the pass and cooked me a feed before I arrived, plus they had a supply of iced cinnamon rolls that topped up my food supplies. It was truely bliss and fuelled me through another four hours of riding.

6.00am Day 14

New Mexico at last. I’ve never been to New Mexico and am quite excited about it but it’s not what I expected. I was thinking desert and flatlands, instead it’s beautiful riding through hills and trees, but the waters getting more scarce. And I’m still being hunted down. I knew Peter had broken away from the chasing bunch and expected to see him later today.

5.00am Day 15

There’s stags everywhere. Big Wapiti (Elk) stags with big heads of velvet. I’m high on the Pedregosa Mesa and have been back on the bike for an hour or so. The suns about to come over the horizon and it seems like every open bit of open ground has a Wapiti grazing in it. They aren’t to worried by my passing and just amble off into the forest. But this was a herd of nine stags I’d just spooked, one decided to head my way, cutting onto the track a few meters in front of me then legged it down the track with me hard on its heals. What an amazing experience. In all I saw 23 Wapiti in the first two hours of riding this morning.

2.00pm Day 15

Why is this laundromat here, it’s the middle of nowhere, like 85km from the nearest town. But I’m not complaining, there’s a store attached and they have cold drinks and ice cream. But while I’m eating my ice cream Peter rides on past. He’s smoking and this was the last time I’d see him until after the race.

8.00pm Day 15

Oh for the trail angels. While rolling into Grants I’m flagged down by a couple waiting at the rail crossing. They’ve been dot watching and know my name, offer a powerbar and a Gatorade. I tell you after the last 110km of every sort of hot wind and cold thunder showers that drink was just bliss. And to top it off I got to chat to some locals that are passionate about the race and just make you want to keep on going. This was the second lot of trail angels I’d met. The first was in the middle of nowhere on day five where I ran into a young women putting out a sign and a supply of Powerade. This area is renowned for its limited water supplies so these would be very welcome. After a quick chat I discovered she’d driven a bloody long way to get there and one day wanted to be one of the dots. The generosity of these people is just amazing and never fails to leave you with a good feeling.

2.30am Day 17

The finish feels so close, 250km is close isn’t it. I just want to get it done. I’ve just finished some of the nicest riding on the route though the Gila Wilderness and am coming back into civilisation so I get to check trackleaders for the first time since Platoro. The chasing hounds are at least 8 hours back still deep in the Gila so I can relax about them.

But in front it’s a different story, Steve Halligan and Peter Sandholt are only 20km in front of me…what happened to Peter? He had been over 12 hours ahead. Maybe I can catch them? Especially if they stop in Silver City for a sleep. And then it happened, the CDT trail, a 12km up hill technical single track with at least 3km of hike a bike. So that’s why they were so close.

By the time I come out the other side and head into Silver City those two have carried on. It’s obvious they are pushing on to the finish without a break. Theres no way I’m going to catch them and there’s no way I’m going to be caught by the hounds on my heals if I don’t stop. It’s an overwhelming sense of relief. All the pressure has been taken away, I don’t have to chase anyone, I can just relax and enjoy the ride. The last breakfast is a slow feast of a double serve of McDonalds hot cakes chased down by a few hash browns and muffins. So after eating my fill and unloading some salami sticks from my framebag and that god awful looking McDoanlds burrito that looked so good on the menu board to the homeless guy it was time to hit the road again for the final 200km. Next stop Antelope Wells, but not without another 30 minute roadside sleep in the dirt, a couple of nodoz, ibuprofen, Pepsi’s and ice creams.

Sunrise was always a special time to be riding.

Now this is more like the New Mexico that I’d been expecting

And sleeping in the dirt is becoming the norm.

12.30pm Day 17

Hachita, New Mexico. It’s a dusty desert town that’s seen better days. There’s not much here, a general store, a rundown Spanish looking church and a splattering of clapboard houses. It’s hot and getting hotter so I’m grateful for the ice cream.

This photo was sent to me by a dot watcher and pretty much sums up the metropolis of Hachita.

The significance of Hachita is its only 73km from the finish at Antelope Wells. What a way to finish though. 73km of 42degree hot dry desert. 73km of straight roads with nothing much to look at but the passing mile markers and yucca trees. The trees provide the only entertainment, they look surprisingly like people doing weird shit in the desert.

Move on. Nothing to see here.


There it is. Antelope Wells. Its done. Well…nearly.

Its satisfyingly underwhelming. The border control post is closed so there’s no one here.No one to celebrate with but that’s satisfying in its own way. The only shade is behind the signpost. I’ve got 15 minutes alone to contemplate and absorb this journey before my ride shows up. And what a journey it’s been. I’m stoked with my 5th place and my time of 16 days 8 hours 24 minutes is well ahead of what I thought I could do.

The following day

The body is wrecked. All I want to do is eat and sleep. There’s no skin on the bottom of my toes, the chafing on my ass is making sitting pretty uncomfortable. My legs protest if I walk more than 50 metres. But I’m getting to hang with other racers in this desolate place. What more could you want.

This is a much easier way to get around while hanging out in Hachita with Stefano, Steve and Peter.

A big thanks also to all those who were dot watching. Maybe next time I’ll get to watch your dots?

And the rest of the ride…Big Bear Lake to Tahoe

The rest of the ride from Big Bear to Tahoe was all very nice with some spectacular scenery on the doorstep of LA, but pretty uneventful in the whole scheme of things. Speaking of on the doorstep of LA these mountains are about an hours drive from LA but there’s hardly anyone in them. Maybe it was the shit weather, maybe they had a better offer, or maybe I just got lucky. But I’m not complaining since I pretty much had the high roads to myself.

Oh but I did get to see my first and only rattle snake. I’m not sure sleeping in the road is that conducive to a long life though so it got a hurry along.

I also got to see a heap of Pacific Crest Trail walkers since I crisscrossed their route for a few days. This meant I also got to hook into their supply network which made resupplies really easy and quite social.

Due to a issue with one of my tyres not holding air I had to divert to Bakersfield to find a bike shop. Bakersfield is surrounded by some pretty intensive cropping lands, and the odd feed lot and diary farm. Seeing the dairy farm certainly made me question our ethics around farming. Being use to seeing cows wondering around lush grassy paddocks I was a bit shocked to see thousands of cows standing around in muddy holding pens waiting for some feed to be put over the fence or into the troughs. They certainly weren’t happy cows. Another interesting crop was a paddock of hemp. At first I thought it was cannabis (it’s legal over here) and wondered about the lack of security but the large signs quickly told me otherwise. But I don’t think reading was a strong point of the trailer trash guy that was digging up one of the plants and throwing it in the back of his pickup. I’m thinking he was going to be mighty disappointed.

The snow was definitely a limiting factor and affected where I could go. It also meant there was more climbing, which never seemed to end, as I hoped over the ridges that run toward the coast from the high Sierra’s.

At the end of a long slow low km day I was wondering what was going on so put the route into the map and was surprised to see I’d done 5333mt of climbing over 147km. No wonder I was a bit tired. It turns out the last 10 days of riding had 40620mt of climbing over 1286km. I guess that just means it was great TD training.

Then there were the early starts and after dark finishes. Bear avoidance became secondary to staying warm as I got into camp at 10pm in the rain and cooked in the tent. Maybe not best practice in bear country…but I’m told black bears are pretty friendly in these parts, more like cute puppies really.

The last night on the road was interesting to say the least. I had to get near a pass if I wanted to get to Tahoe the following day. The pass was 2620mt and I figured I’d be able to find a good snow free camp at about 2100mt, putting me 40km from the pass and in reach of Tahoe. How wrong was I. As soon as I hit the snow line it became thick with everything that hadn’t been plowed buried under a foot or two of snow. I should have known after seeing cars loaded up with skis and snowmobiles coming down the road. So there was no option but to camp in the snow, no good comes from camping in the snow and there was definitely sleep lost to cold. A wet sleeping bag didn’t help any.

But next day the sun was out, the scenery was fantastic and I made it to Tahoe.

Near Carson Pass

Once again I was being taken in by Jim and Alenka, who we last saw in La Ventana, Baja. As I was nearing their place Alenka drives past and is surprised to see me. She pulls the car over and as I pull up the first things she says is, “you’re so skinny”. Followed by, “we need to fatten you up.” Not long after that there’s a promises of a steak dinner…and it was a massive steak, absolute bliss. Little did she know I’d still be there two weeks later…

Time in Tahoe was spent eating, eating some more and a little riding. But the best part of Tahoe was catching up with those we met last year on the Continental Divide and trying to convince them all to come to NZ. This whole journey has been about the people and seeing these friends again just confirmed that for me.

Lake Tahoe at its best

But while making my way to Banff the hospitality didn’t stop. Connie, who we met for an hour on a ferry in Mexico arranged for her friend, Karen, to look after me in Calgary. Karen was amazing, taking in a complete stranger and making sure I left with my conviction in the good of humanity well and truly cemented.

It’s time for the Tour Divide now. That’s one ride that’s going to be less about the people and more about how much the body and soul can take before it breaks.

Setup for the TD

So we’ll see how it goes and see you on the other side.

Big Bear Lake to Tahoe

One Ticked Off The Bucket List

In any ride, or adventure for that matter, there’s highs and lows. The highs can be amazingly exhilarating and the lows can make you want to go home and curl up in front of the fire and lick your wounds, so to speak.

The ride from Big Bear Lake to Tahoe City was a bit of a roller coaster of highs and lows. At one point I was struggling both physically and mentally and was ready to go home. It was cold, wet and at times just a bit of a grind. Other times were incredible and I was riding along with a grin from ear to ear and enjoying the solitude, sweat and pain that goes with it.

The bucket list item and a major highlight was the time I got to spend in Yosemite Valley. Yosemite has always fascinated me, ever since I saw the towering granite in climbing magazines years ago its captured my imagination. I didn’t realise how much I was looking forward to it until I rode passed the sign at the Park entrance and started grinning like a Cheshire Cat. It’s strange how little things can flip that endorphin switch.

Anyway I digress, entering the National Park from the South the terrain is pretty much like the rest of the country. There’s a bit more wildlife though. While riding up a two hour hill a motorist stopped to tell me there was a bear a bit further up on the road. A little more alert I rounded a corner a couple of km later and saw a whole bunch of cars parked all over the road and people milling about. All my alertness went out the window when I realised they were all there to get photos of the bear. To the bears credit he was 5-10 metres off the road and scratching about in some tree fall looking for something to eat. Luckily Mr Bear didn’t realise that there was probably a good meal or three in all spectators. As I weaved through the cars and people I couldn’t quite believe that people were taking their kids to within 10 metres of this beautiful but wild and powerful animal just to get a photo. I guess Darwin’s theory is still alive and well.

It’s not until you start descending into Yosemite Valley that the true scale of the place becomes evident. Then there’s a long tunnel to descend through that opens out to an amazing panoramic view of the whole valley with El Capitan taking centre stage. The cloud and mist just added to the atmosphere. It was truely breathtaking.

Descending further to the valley floor was equally spectacular. With all the rain and snowmelt there were waterfalls coming off every cliff. Needless to say I was well distracted and the ride up the valley to a camp was somewhat protracted.

And what better place to have a day off. The only problem with that plan was there was so much to see and do. So yes it was a day off the bike but there was the hike that just had to be done, especially with the sun shining and the waterfalls just going off. It was detracted from a little by the swarms of other people having the same thoughts, but it was Memorial weekend, which in the US seems to be the official start of summer and everyone heads to the woods. Just this year someone forgot to tell summer that.

However the crowds couldn’t take away the mind blowing scenery and it didn’t take much to find some solitude.

It wasn’t all exercise though. The thunderstorms finally arrived late afternoon and it was time to retreat to the tent for some reading an relaxation.

The following day dawned wet with snow forecast. Since I was heading north there was a couple of hours climbing before I could drop to the west. The plan was to get out of the Park then cut through forest service roads until I got to Highway 88, the nearest open pass, and could cross the Sierra’s.

Well it didn’t take long to reach the snow line and I spent two hours climbing in the falling snow. Before reaching the snow a ranger stopped me and suggested I turn around because it was going to be impossible, even though the road was open. She couldn’t quite fathom that I was going to carry on regardless and was shaking her head as she drove off. I was prepared to turn around if need be but I’d also learnt long ago not to trust an overweight American telling you that something was impossible.

As the climb progressed the snow became heavier and the road started disappearing altogether.

Near the top of the climb, in about eight inches of snow I came across a crash where eight cars had stacked into each other. Looking like they were all rentals I wondered if they had the excess waiver. Then the road crew tell me the road was now closed…”but you’ve got this far so you can carry on”. Phew. The top was only a few km away then it was all downhill. Easy right.

So riding up the hill was definitely a highlight. I was warm and dry but probably sweating a bit much. Riding down the hill was definitely not a highlight. The road was graded so the snow wasn’t an issue, but it was slippery and there were a few two wheel drifting moments. The biggest problem was the snow changed with the change of the terrain. It became wet and incredibly cold. Although my core was warm(ish) my gloves became wet through and my hands froze. The only way I knew I was braking was by feeling the bike slowing down. This cold went right through me and by the time I arrived at the Park Entrance 20 minutes later I realised I couldn’t continue without getting warm. Luckily for me here was a small visitor centre with some very friendly staff. It was warm and they even gave me a hot drink. At this stage I was a bit of a mess and couldn’t even sit on the floor without getting light headed and thinking I was going to throw up. But time worked its magic and after an hour and a half I was ready to get down the hill to some place warmer.

It didn’t take long to drop below the snow and things started looking up. On arriving in Groveland I hooked into a hot rotisserie chicken and hot chocolate when a guy approached me and said he was a guide in Yosemite and a mate of his had sent him a photo of me riding though the snow. He figured I’d stop in town and had come to find me and offer me a place to stay. Although incredibly tempting it was just too early in the day and I decided to keep moving. But this was just another example of the incredibly generous American hospitality that we had experienced earlier in our trip. Less than an hour later I had dropped to 200mt altitude and was back in shorts and shirt. It’s amazing what 1700mt of altitude can do.

The culture shock of returning back to ‘normal’ life.

Culture shock one…

After travelling in Latin America for just over 5 months our first taste of the culture change was returning to the US. Tony and I flew Spirit Airlines which turned out to be a bit like the Walmart of the skies judging by some of the passengers flying with them. A man was boarding the plane in Atlanta holding a fluff ball excuse of a dog and was complaining to the air steward that he was charged an extra $100 by the Airline to bring his ‘dog’ on the plane. He kept repeating his displeasure loudly for all to hear. He said it was a service dog and should come on for free. The stewardess (God bless her) told him (and I quote) “Quit your complaining and to sit down while I find you a seat. It turned out the dog provided ‘emotional’ assistance to the man. Tony and I looked at each other, rolled our eyes and thought ‘Only in America’…

One of the best and worst things about the States is everything is BIG – case in point this Chicago Pizza we ate at Diane and Mike’s house the first night we were in San Diego. Half a pizza was enough even for us hungry cyclists. That brings me to one of the best things about the States – the hospitality.

What to wear…

Next it was back to NZ for me. The previous 11 months had consisted of living out of two tiny bags with very limited outfit choices – one for on the bike and one for off the bike. I arrived after 40 hours of travel feeling tired and very disheveled in my ‘off the bike outfit’. I felt a bit like a hobo (which is pretty much what I had been). I had two big bags of clothes waiting for me at Cheryl’s house. How exciting it was to have a choice of more than one outfit. I was so excited to pull on a proper pair of jeans and pondered which top (more than one) to wear with them.

My off the bike outfit (for colder weather) from the last 11 months.


The next small pleasure for me was my toilet bag. The first thing I noticed was how much it weighed! It was soooooo heavy – what could possibly weigh so much?? I opened it up and honestly for the first night I didn’t delve any deeper into it than to retrieve a hairbrush and toothbrush. I had lotions and potions for just about every conceivable situation – I could now pamper my skin and hair and wondered how I survived for so long without deodorant!

Toilet bag comparisons – what I needed while on the road on the left and what I thought was essential prior to that in the ride.

Culture shock two – the Kiwi accent…

We didn’t meet many Kiwis on the road over the last 11 months so my ears pricked up when I started to hear the familiar twangs of a fellow Kiwi speaker when I was waiting to board my flight to NZ from LA. Apparently the Kiwi accent has been voted the worlds most sexiest accent in 2019 by travel site Big 7 Media (I hear you say who)?? As I was sitting there listening I wondered where Big 7 Media had got their survey participants from. Were they all deaf people reading lips?? This was further confirmed when I watched NZ’s Dancing with the Stars after I returned home. The two hosts of the show Dai Henwood and Sharyn Casey were soooooo ‘Kiwi’ as they gushed over the dancers. Did I find it romantic? No! More like cringe worthy. Maybe we have come a long way from the ‘80s and ‘90s when if you wanted to hook up with someone you’d say ‘wanna a root’, but that phrase uttered with a Kiwi accent just doesn’t do it for me.


As it turns out driving back on the left hand side of the road was just like riding a bike – it just seemed natural. Riding and walking on the left however was a totally different story. The first time I rode my bike after coming home I happily toddled off on the right hand side of the road. Once I realised and switched to the left I felt like I was on the wrong side of the road. I now find myself walking on the right hand side of the footpath and have to keep reminding myself that I need to ‘keep left, keep left’.

The Price of Avocados:

After paying next to nothing for avocados over the last 5 months in Central America the photo below says it all. Needless to say avocados may be off the menu for a wee while until they’re a little cheaper than $4.98 each.

But there’s some really great things about being home too. I get to see my mum and sister, catch up with friends I haven’t seen for a year and enjoy the wonderful food here (‘fush and chups’ and bakeries).

Hmmmmm, how am I going to resist!

Going it Alone

It’s a strange this how we get used to a certain way of life. After 11 months of travelling with Karen, and the last five of that having al but just each other to talk to due to our lack of Spanish, it was just the way it was. So saying goodbye to Karen as she headed back to NZ was an interesting experience. On one hand I was loosing my riding buddy…but on the other hand I only had to worry about myself. No thoughts, consideration or concerns for anyone else. It’s a bit hard to get the head around.

We had been staying with our previous warmshowers hosts, now our friends Diane and Mike, in San Diego. That first night alone they were heading out for dinner so I got to couch up and catch a movie, any movie…whatever movie I wanted. No consideration…it doesn’t come easy.

But I can’t stay in San Diego forever. The trails are calling.

So the plan is to ride the SoCal route to Big Bear then stitch a route through the San Bernadino and Sierra Nevada ranges to Tahoe. My excuse is it’s a training ride. But in all honesty it’s my ride to make as hard or as easy as I like. I didn’t do a very good job of the easy.

Leaving San Diego turned out harder than I though. The day dawned wet and didn’t look like clearing anytime soon so procrastination was in order, not help by Diane and Mike who kept suggesting I wait another day. It wasn’t until lunchtime that I finally hit the road. After grabbing last minute supplies the single track and dirt started. I was surprised it came so quick and it was so good. I wanted to get some miles in so skipped the first suitable camp and pushed on. Only problem with that plan was the next suitable wild camp was well after dark.

The SoCal threw up more surprises as it went. Some good, some not so good. Climbing over the Cuyamaca mountains was stunning. It was green and lush with the vegetation changing with the elevation gain until I was riding sweet single track through high alpine meadows.

The wildlife was pretty cool to. Given the extent of everything being regulated to within an inch of its life in the States there were plenty of animals about (unlike Central America where everything’s been eaten). Deer were grazing, a pack of five Coyotes crossed the track in front of me, a bobcat slinked into the bush as I came around a corner.

This wasn’t to last though. It was time to drop into the desert and nothing lives down there…except a few strange people. And I’m sure they get stranger the longer they stay.

Dropping into the desert also meant dropping into the heat. And it was hotter than hell. I’ve always liked desert riding for some reason. It’s just a brutally harsh landscape that ironically has been carved by water. The only bit not to like is trying to ride the often unridable deep sand…oh and the unrelenting heat.

But there are some wonders as well like the sculptures all around Borrego Springs. Apparently some guy decided to build these things and dot them around his land. The biggest I saw can only be described as the Loch Ness monster of the desert. At over 50 metres long it was pretty impressive.

This creativity certainly held my interest more than the shambles that is Slab City.

But Slab City is a whole story on its own. Let’s just say one guy went there circa 1975 to find his salvation. Over 25 years he lived in a truck and built Salvation Mountain as a sort of temple or shrine.

Anyway that attracted other people that saw Slab City as a freedom. The last free place in America they say…except for all the signs saying don’t do this and don’t do that. Needless to say these people appear to be either escaping something or trying to find something. The pessimist in me says without much success.

And then there’s the Salton Sea. At 80mt below sea level it’s not the healthiest looking body of water and it’s not even meant to be there. It was created in the early 1900’s when an irrigation canal failed. They thought it would dry up. It didn’t. But surrounding the Salton Sea is the most barren desert I’ve seen, well except for the massive expanse of irrigation cropping lands that seems incredibly productive. For half a day I rode alongside the canal that feeds this land. Turn out it’s from the Colorado River which is a long way from the Salton Sea.

So after three days I get to leave the low desert and climb into the high desert that is Joshua Tree National Park. But first there was the gauntlet of American Culture to run. This was in the form of a road that is used by the locals as in informal shooting range. All five km of the roadside was covered in empty cartridges. When I say covered I mean at least an inch deep. Any homeless guy could make some good coin recycling all that brass. So I passed five groups of people out there shooting there glocks and assault rifles at targets made of either silhouette humans or manikins. And safety was definitely not a consideration. These guns were being waved all over the place and there wasn’t a holster in sight. Just madness.

But then there was the peace solitude of Joshua Tree, well until I hit the main tourist rod into the park. What an amazing place. The granite boulder rock formations are just stunning and distracting.

The plan was to stay in Joshua Tree for the night and explore some more but it’s still desert, just a bit higher, and there’s no water so I made the call to push onto Big Bear Lake. After all it is meant to be a training ride.

So that means climbing out of the desert and back into the forest. As I get higher it gets colder until finally all the layers are in for the 10pm descent into Big Bear. Arriving that time of night meant I was lucky to get a bed but I found a hostel that had a bear of a dog fittingly called yogi. He was beautiful.

Turns out I was due a day off and with snow and rain forecast it couldn’t have been timed better. Hard to believe that it’s only three days between being below sea level at 40deg and being in the mountains at 4deg.

So what was the first week of going it alone like. Strange kind of sums it up. There’s no one to talk to, no one to make decisions with and no one to share the adventure. On the bright side there’s no one to complain when I fart in the tent or want to push on that extra couple of hours. And I’m not being subjected to coffee breaks, although Karen thinks I secretly enjoy those…hmm not so much. But all in all I miss my adventure buddy (aka wife) and would much rather Share the journey.