Molesworth Bike Ride – The Search for Terra Incognita in 2020

Bike adventuring in your own backyard remains one of the last and best liberties of mobility. It creates an enjoyable space and connection with one’s cities, culture, and natural environment. It supports local economies in between at a beneficial pace and nourishes the body and mind. It’s heartening to see so many Kiwis taking steps to discover their own country by bike again.

It’s the Christmas / End of the year holidays on the southern side of the hemisphere. Around the world, while people of many nations were distancing and isolating themselves around the fear of catching Covid-19, many of those living in New Zealand were blessed enough to live out the best days of their lives in the summer of 2020.

Discovering the Molesworth Muster Trail by bike is a completely different level of experiencing the road less traveled. While you are somewhat at the mercy of the weather, being exposed in turn provides a more interconnected experience both with the environment and a closer shared experience of the early New Zealand settlers, traversing this glorious landscape of the wild and the biggest uninterrupted stretch of farming land in New Zealand.

Staying at the campgrounds by the Acheron house and the Cob Cottage really puts you back into time to when the early settlers used the Awatere Valley to get from Nelson to Canterbury. DOC has done an impeccable job of restoring the old cob houses.

As we biked the first two days in wet weather, we were meet with a little schadenfreude from those in their 4 wheel drives. “oh it must be hard” “oh you must be so wet and miserable” “we would take you in our vehicle but we’re full”. We took it with good cheer, I actually felt a little sorry for those in vehicles driving through the landscape like it was some theme park ride, there’s definitely some loss of connection with the landscape and heritage by observing it in air-conditioned motorised comfort, as opposed to the intense and endorphin raising physical feat of crossing the high country through one’s own steam.

Kicking of the Molesworth Ride with a bit of cloud and rain.

The bike (and gear)

As the ride requires 4 days of self-sufficiency. I packed dehydrated meals and pre-made Indian curries, ground coffee, my trusty Stanley adventure percolator that does all the duties of reheating and rehydrating the food as well as making a fresh brew in the morning. Morning breakfasts was a diet of home-created muesli and milk powder and snacks consisting of mix nuts and chocolate as well as gummy worms. (Got to have that sugar rush.)

The tent set-up was the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 2, a sleeping mat that got carried on a Topeak Versacage mounted on the front fork, and the sleeping bag, also mounted on the handlebar with the tent using 2 x 32″ Voile straps. Additionally, the Basil Miles Double and the Roadrunner Fred carried everything else in the rear of the bike.

For reading material, I had borrowed a book from Turanga (Christchurch Central Library), Kurt Vonnegut’s “Look at the Birdie” a post-humous collection for 14 short stories by the all at once zany, wry and thought-provoking post-war American author. Putting yourself in place with no wifi and cellular connectivity is one of the very best ways to immerse yourself in good literature.

The bike was the same one used for the A20 a year earlier (hard-tail XC MTB CUBE Attention). This year the knobbly MTB tyres were swapped out for a pair of the cool green Sim-Works The Homage 700 x 43c gravel tyres which was a great decision as they handled the terrain like a pro, an ideal combination of smooth-rolling efficiency over the gravel yet traction and ability to handle turns at speed. Fellow bike adventurers used their touring bikes and several others along the way rode with cyclocross bikes, road bikes, and even full-suspension mountain bikes!

Having done the track, if I do it again, I’d consider riding with an all-road / gravel bike with a touring / bike packing set-up. There’s probably no need for a suspension fork on this particular trail. The Velo-Orange Pass Hunter or the Cinelli Zydeco could have been an appealing/dreamy set-up.

You don’t need the most expensive set-up to have a good time. Keep learning and refining with every ride you complete.

When we made it to Spring’s Creek on the north side of Blenheim, we were rewarded with a campground with tidy facilities and the pleasure of a hot shower. Our friends continued onwards to complete the Queen Charlotte’s Track but my bike adventure this side of 2020 had come to a close.

If you would like to join the next Introduction to Bike Packing, we’ll be organising an event in March for the Little River Rail Trail, so stay tuned for more news.

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