Monday, December 12, 2011

Transit to hospital: NZ day 5

It was day two on the open road, and I was already adhering pretty well to my usual touring routine of getting up early, having breakfast, and spinning the pedals by 7:30am.  I was surprisingly tired from the previous day's ride, my legs feeling a litte heavy as we pedalled the first few kilometres through the deserted streets of Methven town.  The plan for the day was to ride to the town of Geraldine, about 85km away across the south-western part of the Canterbury Plain.  Today had a different vibe than yesterday - we had heard there was a southerly change coming and foul weather predicted, so the ride had the feel of a transit stage we wanted to complete as quickly as possible.

Jer gets started in the cold of first light

Dead-legged wobbling through Methven. The only other person I saw in town was Jer

The first few kilometres out of town saw us heading back to the mountains, punching into a much milder version of the previous day's gale force blast

After about half an hour or so of pedalling north-west towards the mountains, we reached State Highway 72 and turned south-west, skirting the foothills of the Canterbury Plains.  I was well warmed up, and with the aid of a moderate tail wind, we were hammering along through the farmland at an effortless 30km/h.

Blasting along the edge of the plain, agricultural grazing land slowly turned into large areas of forest

Leaving the higher mountains behind us, ominous weather still threatened. We rode quick and serious, attempting to avoid the predicted meteorological onslaught

We had been riding for around an hour, and we were already over 30km into our journey for the day.  It felt like we were making good time and deserved a break, so we turned into the tiny town of Mt Somers.  Mt Somers apparently consisted of a shop, a pub, a camping area, and I think a mechanic workshop.  We sat on the bench outside the shop, drinking instant coffee and eating cheese and pineapple sausage rolls (a local delicacy we were told), staring at the cold mountains.  We polished off our morning tea then headed to the local domain camping area to fill up our bidons before continuing on our way.  I'd not really come across the concept of domain camping before in Australia - basically in towns like Mt Somers there is often a council-run campground, featuring well maintained facilities like hot showers and electricity, for a nominal fee.  Mt Somers domain campground appeared to be an excellent facility, however on this cold and ominous morning I was fairly pleased with myself that I had chosen the relative luxury of backpackers hostels for this particular tour.

Getting straight to the point
We rode back out onto State Highway 72 and continued our tailwind propelled journey towards Geraldine.  The road continued flat and straight, through forests and flat agricultural land.  Although the ride was easy on the legs, it was taxing on the nether regions, sitting heavy in the saddle for extended periods with no real chance to stretch the legs on a standing climb.  Because of this, we were becoming adept at standing sprints on the loaded bikes - partly to temporarily relieve pressure on the undercarriage, partly to break up the monotony.

At about 11:00am we reached the town of Mayfield, and I estimated we only had an hour at most to get to our destination for the day.  Even though I had it in my head today was a transit day and my riding was fairly businesslike, I was still getting a great deal of enjoyment from ambling through the countryside, heading to somewhere I'd never been. 

All Blacks flags were flying around the nation after the team's world cup win only a week before. The flags provided a constant indicator of wind speed and direction throughout our journey

I couldn't help catching a little world cup fever myself, celebrating the victory with this fellow

Between Mayfield and Geraldine we rode along 15km of dead straight, dead flat road, featuring the occasional hedge

Motorists in NZ were, consistently and without exception, very courteous and tolerant towards us. Here a tractor, towing a plough, towing a ute has just overtaken us moving to the extreme right side of the road

The stretch between Mayfield and Geraldine just seemed to drag on.  It was overcast weather so the sun wasn't really giving us any indication of the passage of time, and the featureless road wasn't giving us a lot of milestones to aim for.  I noticed as we got closer to our destination that Jer suddenly seemed to become very exhausted on the bike - he looked very blank and didn't have much to say, and was riding in a way I'd never seen him do before, making little errors of judgement.  Our normal protocol when one of us shows any sign of weakness is to be mercilessly tormented by the other, however on this day I was getting a little worried about him.  We rode into the busy main street of Geraldine at about midday, and after a few enquiries, found our way to our accommodation.

We rode into our accommodation at Rawhiti House Backpackers, which as it turns out, was previously a maternity hospital.  This was an unexpected treat - I'd booked all our hostel accomodation on the BBH website based solely on the cheapest prices, so finding that our accommodation was in fact awesome was one of the great pleasures of this tour.  The hostel was in a position that commanded an excellent view of town and the Canterbury Plain, with large well appointed rooms and a huge sunny lounge area.  The owners of the place were very friendly and welcoming, and seemed to run a pretty tight ship, so the place was spotlessly clean and the vibe was quiet and peaceful.  We once again had the hostel pretty much to ourselves, with the winter tourist season over and the summer season yet to begin.

The hallway at Rawhiti House, featuring various historical artefacts and photos, a bit like staying in an awesome museum

Steep driveway leading up to Rawhiti House - the final sting in the tail after a long ride

Chris, one of our hosts, helped us to lock the bikes away in the storage shed, and I set about my usual post-ride routine.  Literally as soon as we got in the room Jer fell asleep, so I showered and walked around exploring the old hospital and grounds.  By now it was a very warm day, the first  opportunity I'd had to wear shorts and a T-shirt since arriving in New Zealand.  I went to grab my shoes to walk into town and noticed that Jer was awake, so we both walked down the hill to the main street.  Jer was completely exhausted and didn't seem quite himself, whereas I on the other hand was feeling chipper, delighted to have an afternoon off the bike to spend at my leisure, exploring a new town in a foreign country.

Jer said "I don't feel as happy as that duck".  I asked "what?" and he replied "the duck - it looks pretty happy". This was another clue something was wrong with Jer, I'm pretty sure that's a kiwi bird!

The main street of Geraldine seemed pretty busy, certainly compared with the town of Methven we'd left that morning.  We found a coffee shop, staffed by the surliest man in the world, and I wrote up a few postcards back to my family.  After we had both made a few phone calls, Jer decided to head back to the hostel to have a rest for the afternoon, and I set about one of my favourite cycle touring activities - wandering around town with nothing in particular to do.  I was feeling great being away from the bike, out of my cycling clothes, and lord of leisure at Geraldine.

The main street of Geraldine

I think Jer is telling me he'll only be on the phone for one more minute

After a couple of hours of walking around seeing the sights, including the hugely confusing "giant jersey", I stopped in at the local butchery to get some meat for dinner, then headed to the supermarket to partake in the noble art of buying marked down bakery goods at closing time.  Arriving back at the hostel I found Jer lying in his bed, eating biscuits and looking a little brighter, however I was still concerned about his health for the following day of riding.  We made dinner and adjourned to the lounge room, where I wrote out my notes, and Jer perused the vast library before settling on a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four, in Dutch.

Jer finds reading a book in a language he can't understand is not the enriching experience he might have hoped

Each night on tour I diligently write my notes. Partly for your amusement in the blog, partly as I get paid to write cycle travel articles for magazines

As we sat around relaxing in the lounge, our hosts came in and advised us to close the large windows in our room window immediately, as the southerly change was arriving.  I rushed in and closed up the windows, then ran outside to get my clothes off the line.  In my shorts and T-shirt, it felt like the southerly wind was blowing straight from Antarctica.  Back in the warmth and comfort of the lounge, we poked around looking for something to do.  As is often the case in backpacker places, people leave small books or board games. Here, for some unknown reason, someone had left behind a huge boxed fantasy role playing game called Dragon Lance.  We found it incredibly mystifying that someone would cart this huge game all the way to Geraldine, then just abandon it.  We were also fairly intrigued and amused by the concept of the game - I was thinking about opening it up and trying to figure it out, when Jer suddenly said in his best medieval accent "I dareth thine!".  For some reason this cracked us both up and the mood was instantly lightened, with our worries forgotten.  Again we headed to bed early - a big day awaited tomorrow and we wanted to be well rested.  Back in our room we commenced the inevitable project that has to happen when men are forced to live in close quarters for a long time - we started recording a fart tape.

Rather than storms and rain, the southerly change bought freezing but clear conditions to Geraldine

The day ended like every other on tour - me going to sleep early while Jer collated his photos and played Megadrive on his laptop

Although the day had held nothing spectacular in terms of scenery or technical riding, I had a great time and was feeling positive.  I was well and truly getting into the rhythm of bicycle touring, and looking forward to finally leaving the Canterbury Plain and climbing up into the high country.  Tomorrow promised great changes in topography, altitude and scenery as we pedalled towards Lake Tekapo.  I drifted off to sleep in eager anticipation of a challenging day for the body and mind.

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