Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat - NZ 2014 part 2

In my exhausted state from the huge ride the day before, I managed to sleep a solid ten hours before my alarm woke me at 0700.  Chris was already up and about, and informed me it was raining steadily outside.  My low mood of the earlier day had faded somewhat after a good sleep, and I had resigned myself to the fact that I'd be riding in the wet for a big part of the day.  On the bright side, at least I'd be riding into some new terrain - I'd already ridden a bike to Mt Somers a few years ago so the area held no real new surprises.  Chris and I quickly packed up our bikes, I donned my full wet weather gear, and we bravely ventured 300m to the local shop for a breakfast of pasties and coffee.

The view out on the road hardly inspired a lot of hope for a lovely day of riding.

Mt Somers general store - now with an actual coffee machine!

 Inside the Mt Somers store

I was extremely excited at the prospect of riding a day in wet weather with all the scenery obscured by cloud.

Once we got moving out on the open road heading south towards Geraldine, it became obvious there was only one option - gun it.  While the rain and low cloud was miserable, it did mean there was little wind, and within the hour we had ridden a massive 29km.  The 20km straight section through the tiny town of Mayfield was dispensed with before we even had a chance to be bored by the lack of corners.  Chris was riding without a speedo or clock, so by the time we reached the corner after the long straight he reckoned we'd ridden about 11km all up.  He was shocked that it was nearly 30km we'd knocked out that morning already.  Our momentum was good, and although we were soaked through by the time we hit the town of Geraldine we were in high spirits.  I was especially pleased as from this point onwards I'd be riding across new ground - the last time was in Geraldine I'd headed west, today we were continuing south to the seaside town of Timaru and beyond.   

We were too dripping wet to eat inside, so we quickly ate a hot breakfast under the cafe awning before jumping on the bike and making a break for it.

Once we reached highway 1 at Winchester, things kind of unravelled a little bit.  I'd heard that NZ highway 1 was bad to ride on, although I had it in my head that it probably wasn't all *that* bad.  As we rode south along for a while things were going OK - lots of large trucks passing pretty close, but nothing I wasn't used to from highway riding in Australia.  Then we hit an extended stretch of roadworks that involved us now riding in soft gravel right on the side of the road as the lanes had been narrowed, leaving no room at all for bikes.  This was treacherous enough, so when a savage southern headwind sprang up along with heavier rain, I'd pretty much had enough.  By the time we hit the light industrial on the outskirts of Timaru I was starting to get quite depressed.  A few taxing hills later and we'd arrived in the centre of town, where I stopped into the local information centre and tried to find out what the deal was with catching a bus the remaining 50km we were due to ride that day to the small town of Waimate.  The buses weren't for hours, and only dropped us 10km from Waimate.  I was less than thrilled at the prospect of waiting around for 4 hours in town then riding 10km in the dark in the rain, so I opted to continue on southwards from Timaru.  Chris agreed to go along with that plan, but I could see that he wasn't too stoked at the prospect of more freezing rain and big hills...

We jumped on our bikes and pedalled away from the city centre heading southward.  As soon as we reached the edge of town, the heavens opened with a vengance, and a harsh southerly sprang up with a view to pushing us all the way back to Christchurch.  I still hadn't seen a shred of scenery for days, but in the gloom I could see a very large hill that we'd have to ride over to continue onwards to Waimate.  Apparently there were a number of these hills that we'd have to contend with.  Almost instinctively, I slowly rolled off the road and sheltered under the awning of an abandoned shop.  I wasn't having fun.  I made a snap decision.  I turned to Chris and said "This isn't a prison, let's just stop."  To say he looked relieved was a profound understatement.  We raced back to the shelter of the information centre in the heart of Timaru.  I booked us a bus to the Waimate turnoff to save us riding into the southerly and over the big hills.  We'd have to ride the last part in the dark - I didn't care.  The bus trip cost a small fortune - I didn't care.  Suddenly it felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders.  I decided to write off the whole trip to this point as a false start.  The adventure began now.  And the perfect way to celebrate the start of the adventure was to sit in a warm pub for three hours while we waited for the bus to arrive.

Outside the Timaru information centre.  Fortunately for us it turned out to be next door to a pub.

The manager at the pub was a cycle tourist himself, so he didn't object to us spreading out all out wet gear in front of the gas fire.  Despite spending 2 days together already Chris and I had hardly talked at all - now it was good to be able to chat and catch up over a lot of food and a couple of beers.

Soon the time came to leave the warm pub and wait for the six o'clock bus - something I managed to do while looking incredibly stylish.

The small bus finally arrived, we threw our bikes on the back and were away.  The forty minute drive revealed that there were a lot of big rolling hills to traverse along our intended route, and that the traffic and weather on Highway 1 that day was ordinary to say the least.  Still, it was nice to feel that our tour was now out of the starting blocks, and we were jubilant when the bus dropped us at the deserted Waimate turnoff as the very last evening light drained from the sky.

As the bus drove away I had an overwhelming feeling of elation.  For a start it wasn't raining, and to the west I could see a tinge of pink as sun set under an obviously clear sky.  In the dark I could see the silhouette of actual scenery - rolling hills, a mountain range, and the ocean to the east.  For the first time on the trip I felt as though I was actually on a cycle touring holiday, not just some hellish ride through nondescript grey.  Chris was obviously feeling the same vibe - we were singing, jumping around and joking as we put our luggage on the bikes beneath the lonely fluorescent light beside the otherwise dark road.  I turned on my largely ineffective bike lights and pedalled off into the night towards Waimate, about 10km away.  This momentous event marked the first time I've ever ridden at night in a foreign country.

As the light levels dropped, so did the temperature.  It was freezing as we pedalled down the deserted main street of Waimate about 20 minutes after setting off from the intersection.  The ride in had been uneventful with no traffic at all - riding through town it seemed like nobody actually lived at Waimate anyhow.  The long main street looked prosperous with shops and pubs and heritage buildings and the like, but there were all closed up with not a soul to be seen.  With a bit of crafty navigation we eventually located our overnight stop at the council-run Waimate holiday cabins.  The cabins were basic - very basic - but after a long and exhausting day of two halves, we were absolutely delighted to arrive.

We couldn't make much out in the dark, but we had arrived safe and sound in the right place.

Bags unpacked and bikes stored inside.  For $25 the small but basic cabin had a bit of a school camp vibe, but after a long day on the bike it was perfect.

We knew that we had no chance of getting anything to eat up the main street, but we went for a walk anyway out in the cold night air.  The previous night at Mt Somers we hadn't walked around at all due to rain and exhaustion, so it was a great feeling to get outside on foot and reflect that we were actually in a different location than where we had started that day.  As expected most places were closed but we did manage to find a chippy that was just shutting doors, where I bought the most expensive can of soft drink in the history of commerce ($2.50 for a Sprite).  Still, I wasn't bothered about the lack of dinner as I still full from my Timaru pub lunch, and feeling generally upbeat that we had put the false start of the tour behind us and were now well and truly covering new ground.

Mystifying Easter display at the Waimate chemist shop.  The little Easter baskets had no chocolate eggs in them, but did contain an array of pharmacy only restricted medications.

Back at the little cabin we laid all our wet gear out around the huge heater, drank duty free whiskey, and reflected on our day.  The start had been tough and disheartening, and it seemed like a bit of a cop out to catch the bus, but at the end of the day we'd done what we had to do to arrive at our destination.  It was one of those days that went from bad to worse to horrible, but managed to come around full circle to end up an awesome and memorable day of cycle touring.  Even with the bus ride we'd still ridden over 100km, and were looking forward to a relatively easy 70km ride tomorrow.  The plan was set to lie in a bit, get breakfast uptown in Waimate, and have a very leisurely pedal tomorrow.  I felt energised at the prospect of riding into a new challenge, and managed to mentally draw a line under my usual negative start to a long bike tour.  In cycle touring terms, we managed to turn this whole thing around and snatch a sweet victory from the jaws of defeat.  Roll on adventure!

 A dry roof, a 3 bar heater, and only 70km to ride tomorrow.  Things are looking up for this guy!

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