Shortest day, longest ride: The escape
The winter solstice trip gets underway in earnest as we look to fit in the most distance on the shortest day of the year.
Part Two of Two. Read part one here: Shortest Day, Longest Ride
Just after passing the border between the Auckland and Waikato districts, we crossed the Tuakau Bridge. This seemed like a real divide from town to country and we felt a sense of escapism. It wasn’t long before we found rough gravel beneath our wheels. With few services available, we stopped for a brief snack and made sure to be well-stocked for the journey ahead. The next few hours would be filled with single-lane gravel farm roads, rolling green hills and impressive limestone rocks. I think we encountered one farmer on a quad bike and that was it for traffic. Just think, we were only a couple of hours from New Zealand’s largest city and there was hardly anyone around!
On the initial gravel sectors, I was impressed by how swiftly the Kenda 4titude tires rolled, handling the rough sections beautifully and giving adequate grip on the loosest gravel. The bead-to-bead protection and durable sidewalls are well-suited for this type of adventure cycling.
Our morale was high but the relentless terrain didn’t end and the day’s efforts were starting to show. We needed to stop for lunch before we could tackle the second leg of the ride. Thankfully, we had a large majority of the climbing in our legs and the only place we could stop was within a stone’s throw. Whether it was the need for sustenance or because we were feeling competitive, we started attacking each other and quickly rolled into the lunch stop. Nikau Cave Café greeted us and took orders: coffee, omelette, pizza and soups. The sun ducked behind the clouds as we ate, a reminder that we were still in the depths of winter. As we had our fill of the delicious country fare we nattered about the afternoon’s route back, first to the west coast and then back to the train station.
The lunch stop was so good that we slightly resented not being able to stay longer, but our challenge wasn’t over. I looked across to my riding buddy and said it was time to “rattle our dags.” We climbed back on the bikes and headed into the rolling hills. It had become cold rather quickly. The first climb wasn’t far from the lunch stop and with my stomach filled to the brim I groveled up the slope, hunched over the bike. After a few more inclines we were back tackling the rougher gravel roads. We felt stoked on these roads because we were disconnected from normal society in lush, limestone surroundings. It was as if time stood still in these remote parts.
Our smiles and morale were high even though we had clicked into our fifth hour of riding. It’s amazing how you can distract the mind from the actual task at hand. Daylight started to fade behind the vividly green land we were traversing. Shadows got longer as the darker side of the effort began accumulating. When undertaking a daylong riding challenge such as this the highs are never that far from the lows. The trick is to keep a balance—never go too far into one or the other.
Luckily for us there was sunshine for most of the day which was welcomed in the dead of winter. And as we reached the coastline, the low, afternoon light was blazing. After sipping water and digging around for the last of our food we set off on the final part of our adventure.
I was grateful for my new tires, which gave me confidence in what the bike was doing; this had helped me ride the gnarly gravel descents more quickly. Indeed, the Kenda 4titudes didn’t only handle well but ate up the gravel sections. I felt no lag from these wider tires as they had great contact on the rough and technical descents, especially the broken-up gravel parts. They can bomb down lanes and dance in and out of the loose gravel. In fact, with this set of rubber, you could probably plow through a pothole like a bulldozer.
This last part of our journey was alongside the Waikato River with the sun setting behind us. It wasn’t long after 4 p.m. and I knew we’d have to hustle to make it back to Pukekohe before dark. Finally on flat terrain, our pace picked up and we started to swap turns at the front. We were both fatigued, but a certain energy and intensity was driving us. The daylight was on its last legs and our legs weren’t that far behind. The solid effort had emptied our tanks as we approached the Tuakau Bridge.
There was just a shortish transfer back to Pukekohe, taking us from a rural to suburban setting. It was by now completely dark, so our lights were shining ahead and blinking behind. The night made the hills hard to determine or perhaps that was the day’s toll. Either way, it was hurting. We crested the final climb and rolled into Pukekohe, where we headed back to the city on a high, having achieved our longest ride on the shortest day.