Bike tour part five

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Nelson to Blenheim, and a half marathon too

And we're back on the bikes! After the cold of Central Otago and the long bus ride up to Nelson, we were looking forward to some sunny fall weather. We weren't disappointed; Nelson in May is gorgeous.

Nelson is considerably larger than most of the towns we'd been through, and it was rather refreshing to have such luxuries as a choice in eateries and hostels. We got off the bus at around 7 pm, which meant that we were standing downtown at night on somewhat deserted streets. We happened upon a hostel within a block, and managed to snag our cheapest room of the trip at 50 NZD for an ensuite. It was a bit dingy, but a bed is a bed, and it was nice and quiet for its location.

Not far from the hostel was the destination that I most anticipated in Nelson: The Free House. It's got a friendly shared-table atmosphere, lots of board games to use while you visit, and a refreshing food policy: they allow you to bring in takeaway, or to order from next door restaurants, and they'll bring it to your table and clean up for you. Pretty sweet deal! The highlight for me was the beer selection; the best of the South Island, in my experience. To be fair, I think Dunedin had some awesome brew pubs, we just didn't have time to see them! Jacqui and Scott blogged about the Free House when they first visited it. Good stuff.

Another great part about Nelson is the beach. We went for a short bike ride on our first full day, and ended up spending some time in the sand enjoying the sun.

We could easily have enjoyed another day or two in Nelson, but we were on a deadline... the Vineyard Half Marathon was coming up! We wanted to reach Blenheim a couple of nights before the race in order to rest up our leg muscles, so we set out towards Blenheim on the busy State Highway 6.

The road between Nelson and Blenheim has a series of hills, starting with a steep 100m climb, then followed by a 400m and a 250m (check out the elevation profile at the top of this post). While we'd gained more elevation in a day before, these climbs were particularly intimidating because of all the transport and logging truck traffic. Eek! Fortunately, we ran into a line-painting crew on the big climb, and they were going at exactly the right speed. Thus escorted, we made our way up hill number two without incident. Again, no pictures... I was concentrating too much on not dying!

We spent the night in Havelock, home of the green-lipped mussel. I didn't like them very much. The hostel we stayed at was a cavernous old schoolhouse, and it poured rain all night. We left our bikes out back tied to a tree, where they were guarded by these three:

How many dogs fit in a box?

The next 35 km or so to Blenheim were flat and rather wet. Despite the ominous-looking clouds, we decided to camp for a couple of nights until Jacqui and Scott arrived. We stayed at the Blenheim Top 10 Holiday Park, which was a pretty terrible value. It cost almost as much as the Nelson hostel, and we got a patch of grass for our tent. Nowhere to put stuff under cover, nowhere to lock the bikes, no dishes or cookware in the kitchen... but at least they had showers. And a human hamster wheel:

Wheee!
This is harder than it looks.

We wandered around Blenheim to see what sights were to be seen, as we were spending four days there. If only the half marathon had been in Nelson! I wasn't drinking beer for a couple of nights, but at least Nelson had good coffee too. Alas. Blenheim did have some beautiful gardens, and this fellow:

Beware, Dog!

Again, I have few pictures of Blenheim. How is it that I have something like 400 pictures from this trip, yet I seem to have missed so much? Anyways, I digress. We spent a wet couple of nights in a tent in the crappy roadside holiday park (did I mention it was near a major road, as well as a train track?) and then transferred to a nice motel with Jacqui and Scott and Dexter. Scott ran the half marathon too (and blogged about it), so it was a great chance to see them again.

The morning of the race dawned magically clear and sunny, after three days of solid rain. What luck! I was nervous about actually being able to run 21 km, as I'd only run 17 km cumulatively in the previous two months. However, the run was on nice soft grass, the scenery was pretty special, and I made sure to pace myself super slow. I finished in 2:20, which isn't particularly fast, but it's 4 minutes faster than my only other half marathon! You can't quite make it out in the following plot, but I managed to gradually increase my speed, as planned. My first 6 km I averaged 6:53 min/km, then I bumped it up to 6:43 for 10 k, and finished off the last 5 k averaging 6:23 min/km. I didn't even hurt in the knees! Thank you, biking.

Garmin's view of my half marathon

The day after the half marathon we biked a slow and flat 10 km to adjacent Renwick, where we found Watson's Way Backpackers. This is not your typical student-party-budget hostel; It's more of a luxury guest house with shared space. Even the beds were pretty high quality and new feeling. We talked about going on a wine tour of one or more of the many nearby vineyards, but we ended up just relaxing at the hostel with some board games instead.

This was honestly my hand. Apparently Ryan's was consonant-heavy.

The next day went to the Four Square to stock up on emergency provisions, and then went for a delicious breakfast at the Three Bears Cafe. Still recovering from the stresses of running a half marathon, we set off for the last chapter of our biking adventure. Destination: hot springs!

The Three Bears Cafe

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