Day 45: Auckland, NZ to Pukekawa, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

October 10, 2014

Day 45: Auckland, NZ to Pukekawa, NZ

We carry our bikes down the front steps of the hotel just as the dark of the night starts to fade. With lights glowing we coast down a long and fast hill on Queen Street, which might be the busiest street in all of Auckland. Or at least it is during the day. At 6:15 we see only a handful of cars, the first commuters headed into the office, and homeless men packing up their stuff from the doorways where they spent the night.

With two minutes to spare we board the train and soon find ourselves in a tunnel on our way out of the city. The level of relief that we feel at having avoided the complex and aggravating ride away from downtown is hard to explain, but as we speed past all of its marinas, grocery stores, cemeteries, warehouses, and massive concrete car parks I realize that I feel more relaxed than at any point in the last two or three weeks.

Fleeing.
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We step off the train in Papakura, and within a mile and maybe even a kilometer we're in the country, where it's all hedge rows, greenhouses, beekeepers, wooden fence posts, concrete water troughs, and the bleating of so many sheep and a couple of lonely goats. We no longer hear the honking of truck horns or the stink of diesel exhaust, but rather the calls of birds that sit unseen in the branches of the trees and the strong smell of fresh-cut garlic. It's such a dramatic change from the size and the fast pace of the city. It's so wonderful.

I love this country.
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So too is the public toilet we stop at in a small park along the highway. It's a big and metal and automated, and plays piano music from the moment the door locks until the second it opens again. I wonder if it's to drown out the noise of aggressive farting, to provide a touch of ambiance while farting, or maybe some ideal combination of the two.

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At a break along the side of the road we try to wrap our brains around the fact that we've gone straight from fall to the middle of the spring and skipped out entirely on winter; that the days are only going to get longer; and that the weather's only going to get warmer. While we're standing there a Rural Post van speeds by, then at once hits the brakes and turns around at the nearest intersection. She rolls up next to us with the window rolled down and asks if we're doing alright, if we've broken down, or if we need anything.

"Or would you like some coffee?" she asks. "I live just up around the corner."

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It's a pattern that continues when we stop for lunch in Tuakau.

"Hey there, enjoying your trip?" asks an older man when he walks past us as we stand in front of the grocery store.

We tell him that yes, we are, very much so. And now we're no longer exaggerating.

"Excellent! God bless!" he says as he heads down the sidewalk.

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These are the kind of interactions that our ride from Oregon to California felt like it was missing. We started in big cities in Portland and beyond, where no one talks to anybody they don't know, and then as soon as we left them behind we climbed into the forest where we met almost no one at all. When we finally dropped out of the mountains, from San Francisco almost all the way down the coast to Los Angeles it seemed like nearly every city we passed through was either too huge or too full of tourists for anyone to stop and say hello. It feels comforting to know that this is no longer the case.

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Beyond Tuakau we cross a river, ride along stretches of lowland and marshes, and then head back into the hills, where the grass shines in a brilliant green and the clouds and sky appear in shades of white and blue so perfect it looks like they've been digitally added to the scene. We joke that what this place really needs is a clear cut, a giant bald spot where every available tree has been chopped down and taken away. As an American it's amazing but unusual to see such beautiful countryside that's so intact, so full of life, and so free of suburbs, even though we're less than a fifty-mile drive from the largest city in the country.

It's at this point that we decide to call this our first official day in New Zealand.

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Soon we climb out of the river valley and into those hills, where we discover that there are few things more adorable in this world than watching a tiny lamb sneeze. Quiet highways and empty back roads bring us to Shekinah Farm, a rural hostel perched on the top of a hill that looks out on one of the more beautiful vistas we've yet seen. Spread out before our tent are pockets of pasture dotted with cows and sheep and surrounded by trees, with the river we crossed over earlier in the day winding its way toward the north and the west. The part of the landscape on our side of the river looks back at us in muted tones because of the cloud cover above, while the fields beyond look impossibly vibrant under the glare of the afternoon sun. It's every bit as amazing as we hoped it might be when we dreamed about this trip back in my studio apartment in Portland. And the crazy thing is, we've only just started. It seems hard to believe that the most stunning parts of New Zealand are still several weeks away.

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Our legs felt good all day while riding, and almost everything else feels strong after nearly two weeks of rest, but soon after we settle into the lounge area of the hostel a wave of sleepiness descends on each of us. We take long hot showers and cook dinner and drink tea, but each activity only pushes away the tired for a little while. It's the kind of deep-in-your-bones tired that only a long night's sleep can cure.

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By the time sunset comes around the wind has died and the only sounds that remain are the calls of the birds and the bleating of a lone sheep in the field closest to our tent. Cold soon crawls its way under the rain fly and in through the mesh, which sends us burrowing deeper into the sleeping bag, and within moments makes the battle against sleep unwinnable.

Today's ride: 32 miles (51 km)
Total: 1,522 miles (2,449 km)

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