Saturday, December 3, 2011

Return to the Port Hills, return to the pub: NZ Day 2

We treated ourselves to a bit of a sleep in, rising at about 8:00am.  Fortunately, there was a coffee shop right in the hostel, so we both grabbed a cup and sat around out in the  garden.  The weather was foggy, and the temperature quite cold - it certainly didn't bode too well for a day of riding up in the Port Hills, an area situated on the rim of extinct volcano and known for its views of the city and beyond.  Before we got near the bikes however, we had a few other chores to take care of.

Our first task was to walk a few kilometres to the nearest post office, to send our bike bags poste restante to Dunedin, our destination in three weeks time.  The ladies working at the post shop seemed a little mystified by this request, and indeed it seems not a lot of travellers know about this excellent service, so while I was glad to be rid of about 2kg of excess gear, I was also a little unsure if I'd ever see it again.  The next step was to buy some chain lube and other consumables.  Chatting with the guy at the bike shop, he informed us that the tracks around Port Hills we intended to ride had changed a lot since I was last there about a couple of years ago, and also that the fog would lift and it would end up being a hot day.  His meteorological predictions did indeed prove accurate, by the time we reached our third destination, the supermarket, the sun was set to scorch, the sky was blue, and the temperature was on the rise.

Going to a supermarket in a foreign nation is always a deeply amusing and somewhat confusing experience.  I was at an advantage as I've been to the shops many times in New Zealand, and managed to get myself three days of breakfast, lunch, dinner and road snacks for just $21.  Jer didn't fare quite as well with his groceries, I glimpsed him ambling aimlessly around the supermarket looking fairly confuddled.  This was his first trip to New Zealand, indeed out of Australia, and his confusion manifested itself in his shopping basket, which was filled with an assortment of random crap consisting mainly of hair care products.  Shampoo, hairbrushes, conditioner, hair elastics, hair spray - you name it, he had it.  I was a little unsure on what he planned to eat for the week, but he certainly would have a full and lustrous mane.

Ride to the hills
After lunch back at the hostel, the time had come to actually get on our bikes and ride them somewhere.  We did a few laps around the old gaol grounds, adjusted a few things that had shifted during the flight and assembly process, and set off through the Christchurch traffic, south towards Port Hills.

The original gate to the old gaol complex at the hostel

Jer makes some adjustments out the side of the main building

Setting out onto the main roads of Christchurch

One of the great things about cycling in Christchurch is that the majority of the urban area is very flat, so getting around isn't usually too strenuous.  We only had about 7km to go to reach the Rapaki Track, which leads from the suburbs up to Port Hills.  I'd ridden the route before and I knew where I was going, but after about 5km I had to pull over to the side of the road, exhausted.  It wasn't like me at all to be this tired this early into a ride - my heart was racing, I was breathing fast, my muscles hurt and I couldn't concentrate.  I mentioned my troubles to Jer, and he reported suffering exactly the same symptoms.  We sat there discussing it for a minute, and realised in the stress of riding to a new location in a different city in a different country in foreign traffic, we were forgetting to breathe!  I realised I'd pretty much been holding my breath from nerves and excitement since I left the hostel.  At the same time, Jer realised that in his supermarket induced excitement, he had forgotten to buy sunscreen, and now the UV rays were really starting to spice up and he was getting sunburnt.  A few hundred metres down the road we came across a dairy (what they call a small shop in New Zealand), and Jer ducked inside to get some sunscreen.  He soon emerged with the world's most expensive tube of sunscreen, we turned out of the suburbs, onto the open grassy climb of Rapaki Track.

This is what a $20 tube of sunscreen looks like. This is what a man who just got ripped off looks like

The smooth gravel of the Rapaki Track is the easiest way to the summit of the Port Hills

Very hot as we climbed out of town on the exposed slopes.  I unzipped my jersey to cool down, and to catch nutritious insects in my chest hair

Rapaki track looks easy enough...

...but I've got to admit it does go on for a fair way!

Taking a break about halfway up.  Port Hills really turned it on for us - blue skies, green grass and warm weather

View from the top, looking south to Lyttelton Harbour

We paused at the top of Rapaki Track, having reached the summit road.  This road runs roughly east to west along the top of Port Hills, with scenic vistas of the city, mountains and ocean in each direction.  Our plan was to head east to Godley Head, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, before dropping down to the seaside town of Sumner for an ice cream.  These plans were thwarted however, when we discovered the road east was closed as a result of earthquake damage.  I wasn't too concerned, we'd just head west along the summit road, back down the main road into town, then out to Sumner through the suburbs.

Normally I'm pretty keen for riding around road blocks, but on this occasion I didn't

The closed road meant very few cars on the summit, we only saw a few other cyclists

Jer riding out to a scenic lookout, with snow capped mountains hidden by haze in the distance

Chasing down a lone cyclist in the Port Hills

A long and entertaining descent back down to the city, just enough to allow my legs to cool down completely

We skirted along the edge of the hills, heading east towards the seaside suburb of Sumner.  Much has been reported in the media about the effect of the earthquake on central Christchurch, but not much had been said about Sumner.  I had naively expected to find the place largely unaffected, but in reality, it appeared to be just as destroyed as the CBD - perhaps more so.  The main road in and out of Sumner runs under seaside cliffs - these had been severely damaged by the quake, and now the road was lined by a massive row of shipping containers protecting from more rock falls.  The road up back up to Port Hills was closed at Sumner, indeed we found that whole suburb had been evacuated and abandoned.  We had no way of going on, and we did not feel right at all touristing around the area on bicycles, so we made haste out of Sumner, and back to our hostel as quickly as we could through the maze of roadworks and detours.

Above the container wall on the road to Sumner. Yes, that is what you think it is...

...a house dangling from the cliff. Horrifying

Another blocked road, another mechanical adjustment

Even sections of the beach were closed.  The earthquake hit Sumner very, very hard - yet outside of New Zealand we heard very little about it

With so much infrastructure around the city damaged, water seemed hard to come by on the road that day

Negotiating the container wall on the way back to Christchurch.  This continued for several kilometres, and could best be described as "harrowing"

Time to unwind
We arrived back at the hostel around 5:00pm, and I immediately began my post-ride recovery routine.  Even though it was only a 60km ride over a couple of hours, we both admitted to feeling really tired and worn out.  I diligently did my stretching, ate some food, applied creme to my nether regions, had a shower and put on my compression tights.  We spent a good few hours just kicking around our room doing kind of nothing at all.  At around 7:30pm we decided to walk back to the same pub as the night before to have a couple of beers, then retire to bed early.  As we were walking out we bumped into a Canadian guy we had been chatting to earlier around the hostel.  We suggested he come down to the pub for a couple of quiet beers with us.

Jer has his first sip of beer.  Pretty much the precise moment it all went wrong

We sat around at the Pegasus Arms, just talking rubbish and having an entirely pleasant time in the afternoon sun.  Our new Canadian friend, whose name was Myles, was a cool guy.  He told us that a few days earlier before arriving in NZ, he had broken up with his girlfriend, so he was a free agent, so to speak.  We should have realised at the time, but the combination of two awkward recluses who rarely drink (I'd not had a drink in two years until the day before), with a socially awesome single guy wasn't going to end well - for us anyway.  Two beers turned into three, then Myles suggested we go to a different bar where he had apparently been chatting up a barmaid the previous night.  For some reason we agreed to this, and off we all merrily went.

The second bar had a pretty bizarre music collection, so we sat around getting increasingly jolly for a while longer.  It's always awesome hanging out with someone from a different culture, particularly when they are in a joking mood.  A new one I heard was "What has seven arms and sucks?  Def Leppard!".  At one point Myles excitedly pointed to someone and said "Hey those girls are getting shots!", and before I knew it we'd downed three each.  I was well and truly over the edge by this point, and went outside to get some fresh air.  Jer soon joined me, and apparently found me wandering around a carpark over the road.  From there we headed to another bar, and after about five seconds of being in there I'd had enough of being out and about.  I just turned on my heel and walked off, leaving Jer and Myles to set the night on fire with their crazy shenanigans.  I don't really recall getting back to the hostel, although I do remember hearing someone running behind me on the road.  I turned around and saw a guy in a full suit, wearing a backpack, jogging around at 1:00am.  That was a bit weird.

I don't know what time Jer got back to the room, but he was also pretty worse for wear.  I sat up to greet him, it must have been nearly dawn, but the sudden move from horizontal to vertical was too much for me to handle, and I ran out to the bathroom for a vomit.  I later commented that I hadn't had a huge spew, and Jer informed me that he had gone in to do the same a little later, and found spew all over the floor, walls, everywhere.  I thanked him for being such a nice guy and cleaning up my epic mess, but it turns out he just didn't want to get the blame after spewing in there himself.  What a tops guy.

In hindsight, it was a truly massive day with a massive finish, I pushed my body to the limits in all the wrong ways, maybe to over compensate for my sedate and strangely quiet arrival in New Zealand the day before.  Whatever it was, it's not something I plan on trying to replicate in the foreseeable future, that's for sure.

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