Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tour Day 4 – They said it would be hard

A shocker of a night’s sleep, was only slightly redeemed by the morning view of the glacier from my tent. Once I started moving round I felt awful and it took me twice as long as normal to pack everything away. My whole body felt like it had been infused with lead, including my brain. I pootled slowly into town and headed straight for the Speights Landing Bar and ordered myself a Miner’s Breakfast which consisted of bacon, eggs, sausage, hash browns, tomato, and pancakes with maple syrup. While waiting for it to arrive I got out my elevation map of today’s ride and felt a sense of dread. Even before I left on the tour people have been telling me how difficult the ride from Franz to Fox would be, the steep steep roads and repeated hills. In Okarito a couple of people even thought I was crazy for trying to ride over these passes on a loaded bike. All of this was not confidence inspiring and with my sleep deprivation I was feeling pretty down.

After scoffing what was the best breakfast of the whole trip I got on the road. At least it was sunny. I spun along, trying to get my body to wake up and my legs to work properly. I was envisaging a 3 or 4 hour journey to cover 23kms to Fox. Soon the first hill reared up before me and I dropped down into an easy gear and before I knew it I was at the top and, even better, I was feeling fantastic. The road was gorgeous, forest on all side, with glimpses through to valleys and distant mountains. Bird song the whole way, tui’s flitting around from tree to tree, like they were encouraging me to keep going. I flew down the other side, grinning, using the whole lane, no brakes, feeling the adrenalin thump through me. I felt like a new me.

After crossing a river I was into the next climb and a stream of cycle tourists passed me. I actually slowed right down so they’d get ahead of me, I just didn’t feel like being sociable. I did say a cheery hi to them all, but apparently they were working too hard to reply. I found this amusing. I had all day, I wasn’t pushing myself too hard, I was basically la-ing along with plenty of breath for chatting to passing cyclist, tuis or telling myself about the stunning views. I don’t really understand the smash yourself mentality when you’re doing a cycle tour. Surely the point is to be able to take in all the amazing things around you?

I had a couple of rest stops on this climb, just a couple of minutes each, sitting in the sun, looking at the views. Again I was at the top before I expected it and this descent was fantastic, 3kms flew by in a couple of minutes and me face was frozen by the wind chill as I reached speeds of 60kph. Vooooom! Then I rounded a corner and saw the final and steepest climb. My initial thoughts were, surely not, that can’t be it! Unfortunately the photo doesn’t do this zigzag justice, I had to stop and regroup before slipping into grannies and starting the spin. Once on the slope it didn’t seem so bad, harder work than anything I done previously, but not that bad. The first zig was done and now the slightly steeper zag was disappearing under my wheels. It was definitely steep and this climb seemed to just keep going, so I stopped a few more times before reaching the top with a whoop of joy.

The descent into Fox was the fastest of the day and I was buzzing once I stopped in town. Fox is not like Franz Joseph. Franz is like Queenstown, glitzified for the tourists. Fox is like Alexandra or Cromwell, it makes a bit of an effort, but has a much more local down to earth feel. I ordered myself a pizza for lunch and decided I felt so good that I would continue on to Lake Paringa after visiting the glacier. Half a pizza stowed in my panniers I headed off up the valley and as I rode I felt worse and worse. The weather had changed from bright blue sky to gloomy damp clouds and I was getting cold. I finally made it to the car park and quickly donned my orange jacket. I immediately noticed the fantastic DoC warning signs which cheered me up greatly. (They inspired this poem.) I also noticed the “Don’t feed the k eas” sign and was worried about my bike and its luggage at I started the perilsome trek to the glacier. I say perilsome (which I don’t think is actually a word, but that’s never stopped me before), as the signs warned of falling rocks, not stopping, chances of flood and various other impending dooms. Of course that didn’t stop some of the tourists wandering away from the marked track to look for pebbles. *Shakes head*

I love Fox Glacier, with its amazing blue ice and contrasting grey striations. This vast volume of water has been locked up as ice for thousands of years and now great chunks of it come free. There is a gaping maw at the toe of the glacier, not threatening to devour those that come to see this beast, but devouring the glacier itself. Great cracks and fissures climb the walls, ready to shatter at any moment. The glacier seems almost fragile at the moment, its life blood flowing down the valley. However down the valley stands testament to its awesome power, a sheer rock face that was once the inside of a mountain. Scythed through, perfectly straight and cleanly cut by this retreating shaper of worlds. Hopefully this force of nature will advance again and not be lost to future generations. The cold air of this staggeringly large mass of ice was chilling me and I left.

My bike was unmolested by keas, happily, and I zoomed off down the hill, intent on returning to Fox and finding a bed as I was actually struggling to keep my eyes open, even on the bike. On the way out I spied an old suspension bridge across the river. It is well hidden in the bush now and not very well sign posted, so I suspect it doesn’t get many visitors. Like its partner at Franz I have fond memories of this bridge from my childhood and had fun revisiting those by bouncing across the bridge and swaying to and fro above the surging meltwater river.

Back in Fox I booked a room in a backpackers and after a long hot shower to warm up went straight to bed. I slept for 3 hours solid and woke up in time to grab some food from the shop round the corner before eating leftover pizza, watching a bit of TV and zonking out again. I was very tired, but it had been a great day. I’d climbed to Fox in under 2hrs, which was a great achievement and from here on the journey would only get more and more picturesque.

Franz Joseph to Fox Glacier – 36km in 2hr 54 (500m climbing)

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