No start time, a suggested route to follow (or not) and mostly importantly – Dawson’s Hotel, in Reefton, at 5:30pm on Saturday October 30th. Don’t be late.
Just when I thought Bikepacking events (I can’t bring myself to call them “races”) could not be any more low key and relaxed, Andy Chalmers from GKG came up with the Tony Tovar of events. While the majority of the Quadragenarian or so of bikepackers saddled up early in the week I found myself deathgrippin the wheel of my VW transporter as I rolled down Rahu Saddle towards Reefton, with waves of the famed West Coast rain pouring onto my windscreen, now just 48hours before our scheduled party. Don’t be late.
The previous days my social feeds were flooded with images and updates of friends and heroes making their way around the Big Finish Line Party Loop, constantly making me question my decision to leave my departure so late. The rain was making me question leaving at all…… I finally decided around 4:30am I really needed to get out of bed and I stepped out of my van just after 5am on Friday morning, amazed the rain had eased to a light drizzle.
Sunrise was followed by broken clouds and patches of blue as I made my way to the brevet Mecca’s of Springs Junction and Murchison. A quick resupply and I was on my way towards the Old Ghost Road. I won’t lie, I was a little worried about this. I have run over the OGR a few times, but I am pretty green to this whole biking thing and even more so to mountain biking… I was slow. Or at least I felt slow. Really slow.
Despite having a solid light setup and enjoying being out after the sun has gone down, I found it hard going doing the final few hours in darkness. 10 hours after starting the OGR, sometime after 11pm I was back on gravel road and making my way towards Seddonville, 18hrs in. It was, at least in hindsight, enjoyable. Knowing the trail but experiencing it in a whole new, challenging style was what I wanted and what I was here for after all.
The most eventful part of the ride into Westport was the rain and the surprising amount of traffic on the road at 1am. I passed many covered in school bus shelters that looked like excellent spots for a nap, but it was too early for that carry on……Don’t be late.
Sometime around 4am I decided it was no longer too early for a nap – I pulled off the main road around 10km north of Charleston, donned my puffer jacket and poured myself into my bivy bag, shoes and all. I don’t remember sleeping, just looking at the milky way and how amazingly clear it was.
Just after 5am, 24hrs and around 300km in I was back on my trusty Bombtrack Cale, gagging down some version of breakfast and excited to see the coast at sunrise. It did not disappoint. This section of road is probably my favourite in New Zealand and thus by default, the world. We are number one after all.
I did next to no research on the Paparoa Trail. I figured it is “only” 55km and is a newly built trail, with biking in mind – how hard can it be? Turns out pretty hard. Epic and beautiful, yes, but also hard. Esp when you decide to have a 4+ hr pity party…… I stopped many times and kept reminding myself I chose this and it’s fun. I was having fun.
Around 30hrs after leaving Reefton I made the ridge line of the Paparoa Range and it was stunning. Really stunning – I just wish I was in the mood to enjoy it! I always had the Big River section in the back of my mind and the option to skip the final 50km of off-road from Ikamatua, for 25km of paved road. The suggested route certainly included Big River and knowing this section was part of the iconic GKB and TA routes, I was super keen to experience it. But I knew the Paparoa Trail was kicking my arse more than the OGR had less than 24hrs earlier, so I didn’t hang around for the views. Don’t be late.
Hanging on for dear life, I bounced past the Ces Clark Hut, with my (lack) of bike handling skills on display for the far wiser individuals than I, who were enjoying the afternoon sun and what I imagined to be the most amazing tasting beverages ever consumed, by anyone, ever.
By this stage my food supplies were getting thin, having only managed one resupply some 270km earlier in Murchison, I was primarily being fuelled by Teenage Bottle Rocket, playing way too loud in my headphones. I was looking forward to Blackball and eating all the sausages – I wasn’t 100% sure they offered anything else… Don’t be late. Yeah yeah – I was going to be so f#*ken late, it wasn’t even funny. And that was if I took the road all the way into Reefton back to Dawson’s.
The decision to skip Big River was an easy one. The Big Finish Line Party wasn’t about the route or how long it took you – it was about the party. Rather than seeing your friends briefly the night before or on that start line, the BFLP was all about connecting post-ride, to share war stories and make new friends. I didn’t want to miss that! I smashed an ice cream and a pie and charged off into the head wind. A friendly magpie gave me a little push along, by repeatedly smacking me in the head and those final road kilometres ticked away. I was totally late. In fact I was the only one that was late, not that it mattered.
Arriving at Dawson’s Hotel I was greeted by friends and quickly had a pint in my hand. It was party time. Well, as hard as a bunch of exhausted bikepackers can party after a meaty 450+km. It was so good to hear other people’s stories – what route they took and the style they did it in. The 2022 Big Finish Line Party details started to get kicked around and what its location might be – I can’t wait to hear those details!
- Bike: Bombtrack CALE AL 2021, size large
- Shimano XT groupset
- SON hub running KLite headlight
- DT Swiss rims and rear hub
- Maxxis Recon on the front and Ardent Race in the rear
- Sonder Confucius bars with Ergon grips
- Bags: Revelate Vole out the back, Alpidura in the frame and cockpit and a slick Yeah Nah Thread Works CHICKO on the bars.