Day 49: Arohena Campground to Ngaherenga Campground - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

October 14, 2014

Day 49: Arohena Campground to Ngaherenga Campground

We expect to wake up to overcast skies and a layer of fog, but when Kristen pokes her head out of the tent she finds blue skies and the rising sun reflecting off a lake so free of ripples it looks more like a mirror.

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We ride along gravel roads for much of the morning, and when we stop next to one of the endless fields of green we hear the indescribable sound that comes along with a hundred cows crunching down on and then pulling up on huge chunks of grass, all at the same time. In the other fields, when lambs spot us coming their heads jerk up, they start to stare, and then a moment later they run as fast as they can to their mothers, where they immediately start feeding with their stubby legs halfway bent and their little nub tails wiggling like mad. The rest of the time I sing songs made by bands from New Zealand out loud to myself, which means singing the same three or four Flight of the Conchords songs over and over again.

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1080 is the type of poison used to kill possums in New Zealand. The irony of course is that this homeowner uses his helicopter for the purpose of spraying a different type of poison that kills weeds.
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When the gravel ends we bomb down a pair of long hills at better than thirty-five miles per hour, which spit us out next to a lake and a scenic reserve. As with every other time we've stopped near water in this country, the moment we stop moving we begin to dance around and wave our hands and smack our legs like we're freaking out because we're high on something. But really it's because we're trying to get the little black mosquito-like sandflies off our legs and keep them from biting us, which they have incredible skill at doing.

From there we find ourselves surrounded by a forest thick with trees and ferns and birds, where the road winds through rock walls that run almost vertical. The road also runs up hills so long and steep that at many different points I have to fart in order to make sure I don't come to a full stop and then start to roll backward.

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By lunch time we reach Mangakino. In the grocery store there we find this kind of food called pikelets, which are like crumpets in that they're bread-like things that are soft and spongy on the inside. But they also have a cooked surface, and they're kind of sweet, which makes them both look and taste like delicious little pancakes, so of course I love them straight off. I also fall hard for these cookies called Cadbury Fingers, which are in fact the size of a pinky finger, covered in creamy chocolate, and are the perfect size for shoving into your face one after another after another. A man can only eat so many cans of beans.

Every day we learn a few more bits and pieces about the culture here. Today we realize that one of the generic terms for a person is fella, so when someone asks if we're getting along okay, they ask, "Ya doin' alright fellas?" We also notice how with the New Zealand accent, the word no gets stretched out a little bit, to the point where it almost sounds to our ears like it has two syllables. And then there's the fact that when most people around here talk about chickens they call them chooks instead.

We set up shop in the library for a few hours while the rain passes and while all of the garbage that I ate for lunch congeals somewhere beyond my stomach. When we walk out in the late afternoon we find sunshine and headwinds, which will prove to be our companions through the evening. Beyond town we pick up a highway that's so free of traffic it's hard to believe they're allowed to call it a highway. Like a set of stairs it goes up and flattens, goes up again and flattens again, and never breaks that pattern in any meaningful way. From this series of ledges we watch lumpy and uneven hills dotted with boulders roll into the distance like waves on a bay until at last they crash into the mass of a mountain so thick with trees it appears dark green all the way the start of its rise to the tip of its peak.

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When we stop next to a field, the calves feeding at a distant trough begin to look up and try to figure out what type of animal we might be. And then, one by one, they form into this mass of tiny hooves and swinging tails and slowly work their way toward the fence line where we stand. When they get there, they stare at us with their wet little black noses twitching and this look on each of their faces that says, Hey, we're here, what happens now? We stand there for a few minutes and exchange looks and some words before heading off, which is the point when the entire herd turns and then trots with us along the fence line for as far as the little strands of wire between us will let them.

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As the evening wears on we climb our way up and up and up — almost 2,000 feet up beyond Mangakino — and work our way into the start of the trees we looked up at back in the afternoon. The air turns cold and the clouds to the west grow thicker and more turbulent and richer in texture. By the time we reach the campground the setting sun illuminates every tree branch and leaf and trunk in shades of pink and orange.

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At a picnic bench surrounded by a forest preserve filled with the diverse kinds of trees and bushes that have lived in this part of the world for perhaps thousands of years, we drink cans of Victoria Bitter beer and snack on bars of milk chocolate and then eat from a metal cooking pot filled with rice, beans, a yellow pepper (which they call a capsicum in New Zealand), and chunks of cheese. It's a collection of simple things that on their own usually don't mean much to anyone, but after a day of hard riding they feel like luxuries to be savored in the moment and then appreciated after the fact.

Indeed.
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It feels like a cold night is coming. We force ourselves to stay awake until 10:00, so that we don't wake up before the sun starts pumping out heat. This leads to discussions of important questions like Is a human's life worth more than the life of a salmon? Will the population of the U.S. ever stop growing? And do you know all of the words to the song "Colors of the Wind?" By the time we've answered them, all that's left to carry us off to sleep is the subtle hum of the insects hovering above the crest of our tent.

Today's ride: 42 miles (68 km)
Total: 1,687 miles (2,715 km)

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