By Steve Muir
The idea of the Fossil Fuel Free Coast to Coast to Coast (F3C3) is to have a fun holiday, raise awareness of climate change and encourage the use of active, fossil fuel free transport
We’re particularly interested in journeys that are made regularly and may involve load-carrying, like commuting and shopping.
Our first attempt, limited by bad weather, was in February 2016. This year’s participants were all from ICECycles, a Christchurch group that encourages cycling by fixing bikes and giving them to people on low incomes. I made the kayak trolleys.
The day of departure began with drizzle and Annette ringing in sick with bronchitis. Alastair was happy to ride solo, pulling her kayak in case she could join us later. We arrived at Annette’s West Melton home from three corners of the compass—Meg and Steve from the east, Alastair from the south and Chris and Emily from Nelson (collecting Bertha, the Canadian canoe, en-route). After a prolonged lunch the infamous five set off with a cool, gentle tail wind. Perfect!
Bertha tracked well after make-shift strengthening of her tow-bar to reduce fishtailing. We slip-streamed behind her up the slight incline to Springfield, where we dropped our gear at a friend’s house, set up the tent and headed into town for a pub meal. The night was silent and starry.
On a misty morning I made the first of seven porridge breakfasts. After a leisurely start we rode the gradual 30 kilometre slope to the foot of Porters Pass in cool weather with low cloud; the sun came out in time for a sweaty ascent. Alastair, Chris and Emily cycled all the way but Meg and I got off and pushed our tandem, Retro Rita, for the last steep bit.
Mechanical issues came to light with weird clanking and grating from Rita’s derailleur, hub and chain. At Rua Moana / Lake Pearson I tried to fix Rita’s cluster, which after 40 years’ reliable service had lost some bearings somewhere after Porters Pass. A centimetre or more of sideways slop made gear changing temperamental and often made the chain flick off. We all paddled in my kayak before we rode on, with exhilarating downhills and spectacular views through the Alps. The bach at Bealey Spur was a welcome sight and our homemade dinner an improvement on last year's hotel meal.
On Day Three we all biked to Greyney’s Shelter, shuffled gear around and split into two groups. Alastair was keen to tramp the Deception-Mingha route in the opposite direction from the Coast to Coast race, which he has run several times. Meg and I accompanied him while Chris and Emily took the gear over Arthurs Pass with the bikes.
On the steep descent Chris tried to video and ride simultaneously, which he admitted was 'a bit dodgy'! A bus and SUV overtook them, causing oncoming traffic to brake and pull over to avoid collisions as they descended into the rata rain-forest. The woman at the Otira Art Gallery was Chris' old work mate. Only in New Zealand!
Meanwhile, we trampers enjoyed a leisurely but firm pace in near perfect conditions, and it was hot enough for Meg to have a dip in a beautiful green pool where we stopped for elevenses. A lone kea escorted us across Goat Pass.
Near the pass I rearranged a river bank, bringing a massive boulder down on my right hip and souveniring a rainbow bruise. Meg counted 30 river crossings. Chris and Emily had left the tandem and bike at the Deception footbridge and we rode the six kilometres back to Otira. It was great to arrive at the Beaumont's bach to have showers and dinner and watch Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
We left Otira in claggy weather which improved quickly. With Retro Rita still playing up, we limped down to Kumara with the rumoured prospect of a bike shop. The dairy there stocked standard bike bits but nothing useful for a back wheel rebuild. We had a pleasant ride down to the beach for congratulatory photos and eating of left-overs before stocking up with goodies and provisions.
I contacted Annette, who was still laid low. I then persuaded Sam Beaumont to come and paddle Annette’s kayak down the Waimakariri, meeting us at Mt White Bridge, so Alastair and Meg wouldn’t have to tow it back unused. We had an uneventful ride back to Otira with a slight tail wind and kereru diving overhead.
The next day proved that a tandem, no matter how old and clanking, is faster than a single MTB with knobblies. However, Retro Rita was fast becoming ‘Wretched & Rooted Rita’. Steve plundered the Beaumont’s collection of rusty near-dead bikes for a 27 inch wheel with a perished tyre. This replaced Rita’s dysfunctional 700 c wheel, performing admirably the whole way back. We spent the evening playing 500 and plotting future trips.
On the way back to Canterbury Emily and Chris wanted to cross Goat Pass too—but by running. On the morning of Day Five Meg and I biked with them to the Deception bridge while Alastair tidied up the bach. We riders were on our way by 9.30am: Meg on Chris and Emily's Cannondale tandem, Alistair hauling the trailer and I on Retro Rita. Meg and Alastair had the gears to ride the whole Otira road and viaduct (that’s impressive! – JR), while I walked the steep bits nearly as fast, helped by a makeshift shoulder strap around my seat post. The strobe on the Cannondale's bike light and Meg’s tuneless whistling of ‘Brothers in Arms’ failed to impress a local kea.
At Arthurs Pass we stopped for elevenses and stocked up with supplies. As we left the village I offered the spare tandem seat to a hitchhiker who’d been waiting three hours for a ride, but he declined and missed out on a whole new adventure. We dropped off Chris and Emily's tandem at Greyney’s Shelter and headed back up to Bealey Spur for cups of tea and showers and to wash our sweaty kit.
Meanwhile in the misty mountains Emily and Chris traversed gravel, boulders, bush, streams, rivers and gorges, meeting several north- and south-bound Te Araroa walkers. Chris's knees and ankles gave out at Goat Pass, and he hobbled down the beautiful Mingha—among kea, moromiro (tomtits) and robins—with Emily carrying his gear.
We had a dry run of fitting the tandem and trolley into the canoe. There followed lively discussion, dreaming and refining what a future F3C3 could look like. Emily is considering competing in the Coast to Coast event with the F3C3 team supporting her. A good look for the main sponsor Kathmandu, show-casing green and sustainable practice. Logistics, logistics…
The proof of Bertha’s pudding was whether we could fit a tandem and trailer in her and whether she’d still be river-worthy. Day Six started with everyone riding to the Mt White bridge, where we packed the old tandem and the canoe trolley into Bertha. Sam Beaumont joined us (using fossil fuel, unfortunately) to paddle the third kayak.
Loaded with team gear, Meg and Alistair had a long ride to the Waimakariri Gorge Bridge with a testing grind through road works up Craigieburn Cutting and pleasant pit stops at Castle Hill Village and under trees at Lake Lyndon. A frustrating descent behind a slow camper-van down Porters, then Springfield’s Yellow Shack for coffee and cake.
The Waimak. gorge was spectacular, with the sunshine and the incredible blue of the pools. Emily stood in the bow deciding which braid to take. At the first rapid the canoe wobbled with a bit of spillage, but stayed upright. We pulled over twice to bail out. Sam felt unwell, possibly from eating tinned pudding that had been in the van ‘quite a while’. He took several swims and put on a brave face, but was suffering. He left us at Woodstock and hitched back to the main road.
Strong wind, which later eased, made Emily and Chris work hard at first to keep Bertha headed downstream. At the take-out at Waimakariri Gorge Bridge, Meg, Alastair and Sam’s parents waited for more than two hours until the kayakers hove into sight at 7pm, with Bertha towing Sam’s kayak. Everyone pitched in for a smooth transition and soon we were loaded up again with five bums on five seats. With a stunning sunset we headed for Oxford, where Beth and Ian were great hosts despite our late arrival.
Chris had to work in the afternoon so we left at 7.30am. The plains are flat and long and Chris got saddle sore. With more of a fizz than a bang, we said our goodbyes on Marshlands Rd and went our separate ways.
F3C3 was a really enjoyable and satisfying trip through spectacular country with an interesting mix of activity, helped by friendly weather and great company. We’re keen to try the journey again in 2018 and there’s room for more to join. The pace was good for people with an average age of 50 years, with average to slightly above-average fitness.
Also, we’re discussing other fossil fuel free journeys. One could be a Banks Peninsula tour, towing kayaks to one of the many beautiful bays each afternoon, camping and paddling in the morning before the wind picks up. Get in touch if you’re interested.