Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Gunner Return

After 10 days of rain, a thunder storm that went on for about a week and hailstones like baby golfballs, now was the time to check the Heaphy track's condition at it's winter worst.
I rented a bike from Outdoor Adventures in Karamea and planned a return day trip to the Lewis Hut and arriving at Crayfish point for the high tide.

Leaving the Kohaihai at 8.00 I was submerged to my saddle by 8.03. A swollen Kohaihai river will flood a short section of track just over the swingbridge. But I knew that, I just ploughed into it in the interest of investigative journalism. Honest!

Now, before I go any further, I would regard myself as fit (30 and lean like) but It's been a while since I've cycled uphill over mud, rocks and leaves so I didn't last very long. Going over the Kohaihai bluff I did the whole sweaty head thing, and thinking, jeez, this is hard, it's raining, early, da da da. Some fallen trees across the track were a perfect setup to wipe someone out going hard downhill. They gave off an air of caution as I carried my bike through.
By the time I freewheeled into Scotts beach, I remembered why I came and we were full steam ahead on the Heaphy track. The rain cleared just as my drive chain got clogged up in sand and I found myself walking again.

North of Scotts, I rounded a bend and came upon a piece of driftwood, garden table size, dumped in the middle of the track. The piece of driftwood beside it lunged at me and started barking and scared the crap out of me. It was just a wee skinny seal who was taking refuge from the rough seas. 
Onwards anyway, more dragging of said bike through creeks and initial patches of mud. Plenty of crap along the way to slow you down; drains blown out, rocks fallen, knee deep sea foam, driftwood, slips, and on to crayfish point. See Crayfish Point
The Katipo shelter was a welcome landmark. Halfway between the Kohaihai shelter and the Heaphy Hut it gives you a good indication of your progress. The sign says 2.5 hours either way. It took me 2 hours, including pictures, notes and close encounters. I was way behind and high time to get some k's under my cap.

There's plenty of Nikau flats to zoom through to the Heaphy from this point. It's leisure riding, with the odd mud pool that will haul you up. Another seal refused to let me pass. He finally turned on me and the bike was a welcome front as he advanced.

I make the Heaphy hut for 12.00. Four hours. Bad form. The Lewis in a day? Not today. The DOC dude was leaving that day for lack of food. 'Waiting on a chopper all week but it's been too rough to fly' was the report and that 'major work is planned for the track, diggers & gravel buckets etc.'

Heaphy to Lewis is reported to be the muddiest. Granted there are spots where water pools along the banks of the Heaphy river that qualify as muddy, for the most part, the track is firm. If you are sharp enough, you will pick a line that avoids most of the crap anyway.  Otherwise, be prepared to dismount, push/drag, remount.

The Gunner swingbridge throws up a real eye opener. 31 steps to the top from the Karamea side. Again, you had better be prepared to haul your bike. A swingbridge becomes a very fitting name during a high wind. With absolutely no option of fording, the recommended method of bridge traversal is employed. With front wheel in the air and rear wheel leading the way, you can nudge the bike over the steel supports by bumping you knees against the saddle. While holding the handle bars your flapping elbows should be braced against the guy wires for support. If you have a carrier with something like a tent strapped onto it, you are in for a tough time and good luck to you.

I reached the Gunner at 13.00 hours, having picked up the pace. I counted my first sandfly of the day while gnawing at a ham roll. I was half way between the Heaphy and the Lewis and decided that it was time to head back before sundown.  On the ride home I marveled at how people can ride the entire Heaphy in a day, Rather than it being frowned upon, I regard it as being admirable to partake in that kind of endurance for the sake of adventure, exercise and hobby.

And without doubt, the highlight of the Gunner return was the descent to the Kohaihai where, after battling headwind home along the coast I really let her rip on the downhill. I found myself taking jumps and bends like a pro. The whole concept of 'technical' came to mind as I picked a line through the drop. Good thing the DOC dude cleared those fallen trees on the way out as I had completely forgotten about them in my pursuit of the finish line.

I peeled my sodden thermals off in the Kohaihai sunset sky. Under the worst weather conditions but with the correct attitude and preparedness, the Gunner return was a massive success and left me shattered but buzzing. What a trip! 

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