Day 46: Pukekawa, NZ to Morrinsville, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

October 11, 2014

Day 46: Pukekawa, NZ to Morrinsville, NZ

At several points throughout the night I wake up to the sound of intense purring. When I look over to my right I see the head of a cat who has crawled underneath the edges of the rain fly staring back at me. We gave him the name of Stubbs McGee the night before, on account of his short legs, stubbed tail, and chubby little body. Each time he comes over he has this look on his face that says, Hey, I heard you moving around in the sleeping bag, so you must be awake, and since you're so obviously awake why don't you crawl out of the tent and scratch my face? I've had all kinds of things keep me up during my years of bicycle touring, from trains and thunderstorms to barking dogs, loud music, and even air raid sirens, but an aggressively affectionate cat is a first.

Stubbs.
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We continue traveling through farm country, past small herds of cows, horses covered with plaid-patterned jackets, free ranging turkeys and chickens, and sheep that graze in the remnants of a long-abandoned vineyard. What stands out most to us is how different agriculture works here versus so much of the United States. We've yet to see a factory farm, or even a huge family farm. Instead the acreage seems smaller and capable of being managed by only a few people. There are always several farmhouses in view, and the presence of huge tractors and other farming equipment is the exception, not the rule. It's how we imagine rural America used to look, before automation and hyper-efficiency and industrial-scale operations took over.

The world around us remains peaceful as a result, with greens more bright and lush and healthy-looking than just about anything we've ever seen. Although New Zealand is known for rainy weather in the spring, we ride under blue skies and a wind that's cold but not so strong that it brings a chill along with it.

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Besides a one-mile run along Highway 1 — which is as clogged with traffic as you'd expect from the country's main motorway on a Saturday — we spend our time on quiet back roads where neither the farms nor the beauty of the countryside fade, not even for a moment. And contrary to what we heard over and over and over again in Auckland, we find the drivers here in New Zealand to be no worse than those you'd find in the rural U.S. Even though we ride most of the time on shoulderless roads, not a single car passes any closer than they should, and most swing well out into the other lane as they fly by. That means we're able to travel the rises and falls of the road along the east side of Lake Waikere more or less alone, with the smell of burning wood piles in the air and the rumbling sound of hooves in our ears as the sheep charge away from the fence line when we pedal past.

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As the day goes on, the coldness fades from the wind and we ride in what might be the most perfect weather conditions for cycling. The views in all directions remain incredible as well, and it's hard not to stop every four minutes to take a picture. It's so rare in life that you imagine something you'd like to do, and then when you actually do it the experience not only matches what you expected but goes beyond. Yet that's where we are today. It's a world away from Auckland, from Los Angeles, from any place we've yet experienced together.

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New Zealand cranks down the awesomeness as the afternoon turns to evening. That's when the rolling hills fade away and we head across land so flat it's like it was shaped into existence by the broad sweeps of a giant bricklayer's trowel. In most of the pastures we see cows, who outnumber cars by a rate of at least fifty to one. The thing that continues to stand out is how small all of the farms are, and how they all seem to be run only by the families that live around them. It's such a different approach from the western U.S., where we could ride a stretch of twenty or thirty miles and never see a single home.

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With tired legs and empty stomachs we reach Morrinsville, where we head to a Thai restaurant to recharge. The food is good, but as seems to be the case all over this country, it's very expensive in relation to what we get. Following dinner we ride to the edge of town, where we read that camping might be available. What we find is no more than a paved turnaround with a dump station where RVs passing through town can park for the night. And so, with darkness falling, and knowing that the town is surrounded by farms in all directions, we roll the bikes over to the edge of the nearby rugby pitch, set up the tent, and dive in. On the heels of a long day we fall asleep in no time at all, to the sounds of passing cars, downshifting semi trucks, revving motorcycles, and the dogs that bark in concern at all of them.

Today's ride: 60 miles (97 km)
Total: 1,582 miles (2,546 km)

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