The final day, just 190km to ride to Bluff and the job is done. It was a weird sensation to be that close to the finish. We all went through the morning routine knowing it’d be the last time. Up early, bags packed and out by the vans, breakfast and then get the bikes ready. I wanted to get out on the road as early as possible so I could cruise through the day.
Rob Q, Lee and I set off as a group about 20 minutes ahead of the main pack. Once Lee got over some initial excitement on the first little hill of the day we stuck to the cruisey pace. The morning breeze was chilly and we’d left wrapped in layers. Less than an hour in they were already coming off. Things were looking good for the promised fine day.
Our pace was easy enough that a couple of riders caught us by the first aid station. This was definitely a easy day, but I was enjoying the ride and the chance to chat a bit. The clouds were starting to burn off and the scenery was spectacular once again. Even the daunting profile chart was proving to be misleading with the worst of the hills being quite manageable. My expectations after day 14 were for a much tougher day.
Wind is a big factor in New Zealand riding, it’s why I mention it so often. The camp had got lucky and there were strong Easterlies today. Once we were riding the bottom of the island the wind was on our back. We may have been cruising, but we weren’t going slow for sure. By lunch the whole camp was ahead of schedule.
After days of cold, gray skies it was nice to relax in the sun for our break. It was probably the most leisurely lunch of the whole camp. All together everyone excited to be within 60km of the finish. From this point on we’d be riding as a group. The plan was to reach the end of the island together.
Once again those tailwinds helped us make great time as we rode two abreast down the coastal roads. I chatted with Tara about the trip and plans for the year ahead and time flew by. Soon we were on Bluff road and the town was in sight. Unfortunately the road turned to give us a headwind, but I was sat in the bunch so it wasn’t so bad.
A small group of brave cyclist wanted to ride up Bluff Hill. Significantly steep to the point that elites in the tour of the Southlands suffer. I chose to wait at the bottom with the rest of the group. So close to finishing it was quite surreal to be relaxing in the sun. The riders returned with stories of their struggles and Douglas’s back flip. It sounded fun, but I knew my legs just weren’t up to it anymore – they were about ready to go on strike.
Regrouped we took the last two kilometres to the end of the road at a leisurely pace. There was the end of the road, the trip was over. It’s hard to describe the feelings pleasure at the achievement, a little disappointment it was over, relief too! That was it, the job was done. I can now say I’ve ridden the length of an entire country. I threw in a little swimming and running to add to the challenge too.
That wasn’t quite the end. A quick changeover into run kit and the majority of the group headed off on the running trails to run round the hill. That transformed into running over the hill at the far viewing point. Initial thoughts that it meant a shorter run were dispelled once I realise how steep the trail was. We climbed for ages. My calves were burning as we slowly ran our way to the top.
From the summit it was a very cautious run down the road a few of the guys had ridden up. It was as steep as they claimed. I was in no doubt I would have had to stop before the top if I’d tried. I think we all gained a lot of respect for those who did it after 15 days of riding.
At the bottom the van was waiting to shuttle us back to the hotel. I sat in the back thinking over the two weeks and all that I’d done. I’ve nothing profound to offer. Not now at least. It’s been an amazing experience, but I’ll save that for another time.
Finally some thanks. Thanks to John, Scott and Gordo for organising these camps. Particularly to John for all the work he does whilst still doing all the training. Massive thanks to Super Dave and the support crew. None of this would happend without their work. Of course, thanks to all the other Epic Campers for being great company and helping me get through. Hopefully I’ll be back on another camp in the future.