I awoke at 3:59am, exactly one minute before my alarm was due to go off. The time had come for Jer and I to depart to New Zealand, for three weeks of cycle touring on the South Island. Sitting around eating breakfast in the dark, trying not to wake up my family, I felt very anxious. I couldn't put my finger on it - I'd wanted to do this ride for at least two years, yet here I was about to set off, and I suddenly didn't really want to go. I don't know what was bothering me, perhaps it was that I finally had to put my money where my mouth is about this trip. Perhaps I was worried about getting my bike through quarantine. A big part of my anxiety was about flying into post-earthquake Christchurch - in February 2011 the city was hit by a violent earthquake resulting in widespread destruction and loss of life. I was dreading what I might find there, a bit like the feeling of walking into a hospital to visit a very ill friend. Whatever it was, I certainly wasn't feeling as jubilant and excited as I usually do at the start of a big ride. Soon my mate Rudi arrived to drive me to the airport. I picked up my bike bag, left the house with little fanfare and set off into the dawn.
One of my lesser known hobbies is being unnecessarily early to things, and today was no exception. I met Jer out the front, we checked our bikes, got our tickets, cleared customs in record time, and set about the business of killing time around Brisbane airport.
Waiting at the airport: it's awesome!
I'd like to solve it thanks
Once in the air, Jer played his trump card for blasting away the airplane blues - a Sega Megadrive emulator on his laptop. We settled in for a few hours of sampling the finest games that 1992 had to offer.
All the coolest kids play 1992 Wheel of Fortune
Go directly to gaol
After what seemed like the shortest trans-Tasman flight ever, we began our descent into Christchurch, past the icy peak of Mt Cook peeking out above the clouds. We landed, quickly cleared customs and quarantine, and were soon on a shuttle bus driving through the city to our accommodation. To say driving around Christchurch was shocking and confrontational would be a profound understatement. I'd been to the city a few times in the year leading up to the quake, and now it was quite literally unrecognisable. The entire CBD was closed off, deserted and looked like a photo of a blitzed Second World War city. All through the suburbs were demolished buildings, potholed roads and damaged homes. It was intense to see, and I actually felt very guilty being a tourist being driven around through it all - I'd be leaving in a few days, but this was the inescapable everyday reality for the residents of the city. We drove mostly in stunned and sombre silence, eventually reaching Jailhouse Accommodation, just south of the cordoned off city centre.
Located in the main building of an old gaol, our accommodation appeared an imposing site in the late afternoon twilight. We dragged our luggage inside, and were shown around the building. The rooms were immaculate and easy to navigate, built in the converted cells radiating off the main concourse. By this stage we hadn't eaten for some time, and I was starting to feel quite vague and a little bit panicky for some reason. We hurried off to the local shop to load up on snack food, and returned to set about building our bikes in the hallway.
I use one of the excellent Ground Effect Tardis bike bags to cart my stuff around
Assembling bikes while eating greasy snacks, to ensure correct lubrication of bolts and maximise dropping of parts on the carpet
My favourite feature of the Ground Effect Tardis bike bag is that it folds up very small, which I then post to my destination to collect when I get there
With the bikes all ready to go, finally it was time to relax
Once the bikes were together, we stepped out into the light rain and walked in towards the Christchurch city centre, looking for somewhere to have a feed and a beer and a quiet sit down. I used to know my way around Christchurch reasonably well, but now everything seemed different - we wandered around, not really knowing where we were going. The streets were largely deserted, which I found odd for a Friday evening. We eventually came across The Pegasus Arms, a little pub adjacent to the cordoned off city centre. Stepping inside, it appeared as though the entire population of Christchurch was in there that night - the place was very lively and welcoming. To celebrate our arrival in New Zealand, I had the first beer I'd had in two years, which I immediately proceeded to spill everywhere with an elaborate hand gesture after my first sip.
Back in our "cell" - as you can well imagine, gaol jokes were flying thick and fast
The first day of our trip was a strange experience that was both busy and boring. I went to bed feeling disoriented and exhausted, and also buzzing with pent up energy and anticipation of what lay ahead in the coming weeks. I was just about to drift off to sleep, when some people walked past the window outside, loudly having a drunk conversation. A girl said in a dejected voice "All I wanted to do was have a one night stand with him!", to which some guy said "Will you have a one night stand with me?". The girl then angrily replied "I don't have one night stands!". It was a fittingly bizarre and disjointed end to a bizarre and disjointed day. Tomorrow, I'd be back to the comfort and familiarity of my touring bike, something I was very much looking forward to.