First published Wheelworks Journal 16 September 2021
Words and photos by Tom Cappleman
Boat 2 Bivvy! This was an epic #bigbikepacking adventure - I think this is totally a thing! The idea was 36 hours in the South Island starting with getting on the ferry at 2:30am in Wellington on a Friday morning. We slept as much as possible (3.5 hours) on the floor in our sleeping bags and hit the road at 6am in Picton. The mission was to ride the 60ish k's to the Mt Sunday/Mt Riley access road and get up and over the Mt Sunday summit 1300+ meters to stay in the Mt Sunday Bivvy Friday night.
Mt Sunday is a Grade 6+ super gnarly, super steep beech forest descent - up there with the hardest in the Richmond Range - definitely the hardest in the wet. The weather turned before we hit the alpine and stayed torrential for the rest of the trip. This made navigating the exposed tops with bikes slow and sketchy and filled us with dread for the downhill in the morning. We made it to the 3 mattress, 2 bed cute Bivvy and the 3 of us hunkered down for the night after a pretty huge day.
The next morning we were into it! Hitting the trails at around 8:30am. Starting tentatively and then just getting into zone! We were riding sections that ranged from ridiculous to looking unrideable in the conditions. The front bags were adding weight in the perfect spot for this slow steep navigation of shute after shute! It was all on, precise riding, big exposure heart in the mouth stuff. So much fun and so much reward, I'd say we walked away riding 90% of what was possible in the dry. We were riding a high when we reached the bottom in one piece.
That came crumbling down as we hit the hills of the access road on the way out. We had 60kms ahead of us, it sounds easy. I'd say we all underestimated how hard that was on big bikes, with bags - the Sb165 goes so hard, but this is not it's happy place. We battled our way through the headwinds and rain thinking about the beer and boat combo waiting for us at Picton. The last 20km from Spring Creek to Picton was the deepest and darkest all of us have gone, the rain, punishing headwind and traffic made it pretty terrible. After sitting on the front for the last 10kms dragging us home, I was finished - arriving in Picton was the happiest I think I'll ever be leaving the epic South Island riding. The beer was good, the boat was good & the sense of achievement was huge - a massive success!