Following the fell engines - Over the hill in Aotearoa - CycleBlaze

November 20, 2020

Following the fell engines

Upper Hutt to Greytown

Today proves to be the longest ride of this wee tour, though possibly not the most challenging.

We leave the big smoke behind as we regain the Hutt River trail. Another 10 km of riverside trail, now mostly twisting single-track, brings us to the unprepossessing Te Marua store, where we farewell the river and head into the hills. 

A close-up while I have a chance ...
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Almost immediately, I am off my bike, pushing it up a steep graded forestry road while Tour Leader takes off to do whatever he does at the front of the peleton. 

There are a series of road barriers to overcome, each of which has a bicycle-width metal chute alongside the barrier arm. This is all very well for an unencumbered bike, or for a set-up carrying panniers a little lower than mine. As Tour Leader rides off into his own dust cloud, I meet a chute that gets the better of me. Grumpily, I lean the bike against a bank, unhook the panniers, wheel the bike through the chute, find somewhere else to lean it on the other side, re-fit panniers, ride on...

When the peleton re-forms, TL immediately senses what is required of him as my domestique. The next time I meet a too-small chute, he is there to help me lift the bike up and over. With team unity restored, we continue our ascent of the Remutaka hill.

The rest of the uphill ride proves to be a very manageable gradient and it's with a sense of satisfaction that we arrive at Summit,  not surprisingly the highest point of the trail, for lunch.

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The Remutaka railway was built over 150 years ago as a way of linking the geographically cramped capital city with the rich agricultural hinterlands to be found over the hill. The steep terrain really demanded a tunnel but in the 1870s it was decided to build a railway line across the Remutaka range as a short-term solution.  The Upper Hutt to Summit section was straightforward but the drop down to the Wairarapa had a 1 in 15 gradient. The solution: to adopt an innovation designed by an English engineer just a decade previously, the Fell system. (It had been used twice before, in Europe and in Brazil.) In a nutshell, John Fell patented a system that used  horizontally-mounted wheels gripping a raised centre rail, giving locomotives extra pulling power on steep inclines.

Some 77 years later, well after Fell engines had fallen out of favour, the new tunnel was completed. I'll come back to this tunnel in a future journal entry, when I am back at home and can access old family photos.

Back at Summit shelter, finishing lunch, we are about to reap the rewards of the hard labour spent building the Incline (the steep drop) 150 years ago. Immediately we are plunged into darkness  entering the last of the five tunnels we have traversed today. This one, though, is downhill, no pedalling required. And so it continues: 5km of adrenaline-inducing freewheeling down the Incline until we reach Cross Creek. Woohoo!

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The rest of the day, we leave the trail and navigate a series of tedious back roads - sealed and unsealed - traverse an unfortunately ankle-deep ford and whizz briefly along the truck-infested highway to get ourselves to Greytown for the night.

We are staying with a dear friend and teaching colleague who has retired to this wee gem of a town. We are cosseted with food, books (she is a bibliophile,  easily the most well-read person I know) and conversation (she lives alone!).

And that was today.

Not so grumpy here
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Dawn HunterGreytown sure is a neat wee place. 😊
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1 week ago

Today's ride: 61 km (38 miles)
Total: 97 km (60 miles)

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