Old Ghost Road

After the Rainbow Road, we ride through a real cold rainy day into Nelson to Philip’s house (that Colleen found on Warmshowers). He was nice enough to let us stay for a few days, take us on a good ride around Nelson’s local trails and to make us dinner. I hope he makes it to the US sometime so we can repay the favor.

Kiwis are super nice and welcoming. It’s my favorite part about New Zealand- or second favorite, pies might still be first.

Mm. Pies.
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Lots of people have invited us to stay at their place, and we try to make those connections happen whenever we can. And people actually started inviting us to stay way back in Los Angeles.

We had just ridden into town, and were stopped at a red light pretty overwhelmed by all the cars and people. There were lots, LA being LA.

“Hey, whereabouts have you come from?” asked a guy on the sidewalk with an Australian-ish accent (I couldn’t tell the difference at the time). I told him we had just ridden down the coast, and were headed over to New Zealand.

“That right? Places is full of people that sound just like us. We’ve just finished up a tour across the US ourselves. Here, let me get you our address, look us up when you get to Nelson.” We wrote down the address, said thanks, rode away when the light changed and didn’t think of it again until last week. I sent them an email, and they told us to come stay a night.

Hamish and Joan have toured across the US three times and around Europe. They first heard about bike touring in 1976, when Hamish saw an ad for Bikecentennial (the original big ride across the US on the Trans America trail, and the forerunner to the Adventure Cycling Association) in a Popular Science. Touring gear wasn’t available in New Zealand at the time, so they sewed up some canvas panniers, Hamish took a year and a half leave of absence from the police, they flew to LA, bought some bikes and rode up to the start of the Bikecentenial Route.

When Hamish retired, they decided to go back to America and do a different route across. And this past fall, they went back and rode across again.

When people grill us about our lifestyle at home, after we explain that no, we’re not trust fund babies, no we didn’t sell a house and quit our jobs, the next thing most people say (real fatalistically) is “Oh, well do it while you’re young.”

So it’s cool to meet folks like Hamish and Joan, that have had good well-rounded lives (kids and careers and all), but have also traveled by bike a ton. I’m sure there have been bumps along the way, but the main thing is that they’re still at it, and still planning more trips. Bike touring is what they like, and they’ve never stopped.

Hamish and Joan ride out of town with us the next morning, then we split off and head into the mountains. Some nice gravel through a logging area. Monterey Pine from California is the staple tree- it matures in 25 to 30 years here, then is chopped down and replanted.
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Every so often, we run into a rider doing the Kiwi Brevet. Brevets are the closest thing New Zealand has to ultra racing. They’re self-supported like the Tour Divide, CTR and AZT, but there’s a mandatory 6-hour stop every day, so riders don’t get to experience the sleep deprivation that’s the main feature of bikepacking races. And riders aren’t allowed to finish under four days, or over eight and a half days. It’s not a race, but a cycle-touring challenge.

I don’t really get it. I’d rather either tour, with all the laziness and harmonica playing and picture taking that goes along with that, or race in that mind-expanding state where I’m dozing off at 30mph on singletrack, tree people are jumping out and grabbing at me with their wooden hands, and I can feel years falling off my life.

Also, back in Nelson, I picked up some Moonmen bars that I’d ordered a while back. These things kinda take my Waltworks into embarrassingly blingally-blinglespeed territory, but shiny ti stuff.
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I’ve been riding Jones loop bars for a long time, but these fix a couple of beefs that I had with those bars. 2.5 inches of rise, to get my bars a little above my saddle without a giant spacer stack, 40 degrees of backsweep (five less than the Jones bars), 30 inches wide, no forward sweep. The higher position is easier on my back, the lack of forward sweep moves me a little farther behind the front axle, which feels nice and shreddy on the descents.
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With these things, that 29×3 Minion, good geometry and 16.5″ chainstays, such a nice handling bike.
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We stop in Murchison for a night, and to pick up groceries at the Four Square. There’s a magazine rack that seems like a pretty good summation of rural New Zealand. NZ Rugby, Pig Hunter, NZ Logger, and Ponies!
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Also, this. “Ah, she’ll be right mate.”
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Meanwhile, in the US, you’d be crazy to carry home a couple bags of frozen chicken from the Walmarts in anything smaller than an F150.

We ride over to the start of the Old Ghost Road pretty excited. When I started looking into the riding in New Zealand, it was always the first thing that came up.

The trail was put together by a group of guys who found a survey for a gold miners road from the 1800s that was never built. They started gathering funds, digging and blasting, and after a few years and lots work, they finished the longest piece of singletrack in the country (that might be a gross simplification of the process).

But anyway, 85k, five beautiful huts, and some potentially excellent riding.

The next morning, helicopters are flying into the campground to shuttle people and gear to different spots along the route. The commercial helicopters here still blow me away (harhar- just want to be sure nobody misses that pun), they’re used so much in the backcountry.
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Even to shuttle motos:
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We start up the 1200 meter climb (which sounds a lot less imposing than “the 3900 foot climb,” I’ve switched my GPS to meters for that reason). Easy machine built trail, and a nice grade, totally doable on a loaded single speed, plenty of spots for me to practice my cliche long-exposure waterfall pictures.
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Up and up, through the earthquake damaged Big Slip.
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The trail is full of nicely stenciled possum traps. Australian possums were introduced to start a fur industry, and are the most hated pest here because they eat things like Kiwis (birds, not people). Kiwis (people, not birds) try everything to kill them- traps, hunting, mass poisonings. And in Australia they’re a protected species. The world’s funny.
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There’s also old stuff on the trail.
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We stop for lunch at the first hut, and I flip through a bike magazine from 2005. State of the art Dual Control. Shifting and braking, together on rough ground. Amazing that idea didn’t stick.
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And I’m real happy to see that my favorite genre of mountain bike journalism “Hans Rey and Some Other Guy Ride Somewhere Pretty,” has been around for more than a decade (I’m pretty certain one of those articles is published somewhere at least once a month).
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A few hundred more meters up, and we’re headed out of the bush and into the tussock grass.
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And onto a really killer section of trail. Not bench cut, bench blasted.
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After a little more riding, we make it to the Ghost Lake Hut. Booking for the huts on the trail is recommended way in advance. We’re not that organized, but fortunately the tent site is open.
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The alpine starts so low here- all the views of high elevation, without the shortness of breath.
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The next morning is cold and wet, so we pack up quick and head down the trail.
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It’s excellent. Rocks, roots, tight cliff-side switchbacks. I’m grinning the whole time, and I’m not much of a grinner.
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And then the steps.
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Lots of them. It doesn’t take long to get down, but man I sure wouldn’t want to trip.
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After that, the rest of the trail is back to pretty flowy machine built stuff.
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And full of Weka, which are totally unafraid of people and famous for stealing stuff.

They’re not famous for having feet that look like carrots, but they should be.
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Unfortunatly, they’re working on graveling most of the trail (not the Wekas, the Kiwis. People Kiwis.) Most people seem here seem to like their long bike trails to be as uniform as possible. I think it’d be better if they left that sweet sweet gnar in place, because it’s mountain biking.

But I get that it’s also a tourist draw, needs to be rideable for people on rental bikes, and needs to hold up to a lot of traffic. So I’ll save my trail sanitisation outrage for my home trails. Even with more gravel, it’ll still be an awesome ride.
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A mildly vertigo inducing swing bridge:
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And the end. Way up there on my list of favorite trails. Kudos to trailbuilders that put this thing together.
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9 thoughts on “Old Ghost Road

    1. I can imagine it would be (and I’m real glad we had better weather than you guys). I talked to one of the trail work guys, they’re working on graveling the high ridgeline stuff as well, just to fill in the spots between rocks. He said people have been writing to the trail trust that those sections are too rough.

      And oh yeah, went there twice. The second time I was gifted a feather from a dead hawk that some dirty kiwi hippy had tied on the back of his van.

  1. “Meanwhile, in the US, you’d be crazy to carry home a couple bags of frozen chicken from the Walmarts in anything smaller than an F150.”

    I just about rolled the Scamp into the next canyon laughing at that one.

    And the picture, too.

    I loved how when people found they needed a bigger truck in NZ, they just added a little trailer. Brilliant.

  2. did you have to walk anyone it on the single speed? Also what gear ratio did you use? I’m riding the trail next week and not sure whether to put my gears on my bike or leave it as a SS

    1. Nope, the trail is so well built, and such an mellow grade that I only had to hike one short section. My 29+ is set up 34×22, which works out to 32×20 on a normal 29er.

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