Day 54: Near Tahora, NZ to Stratford, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

October 19, 2014

Day 54: Near Tahora, NZ to Stratford, NZ

It's hard to put into words the combination of joy and relief that we feel when we wake up and not only don't hear rain falling, but also see the glow of sunshine bouncing off the windows of the caravan. The countryside out here is so green that we wouldn't have been at all surprised to see the rain continue unstopped for the next five days. We're so distracted by our good fortune that we ride the first half mile down the hill in the wrong lane.

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We get a break from the hills to start. The road runs through a narrow valley on the way to Whangamomona, a town of about thirty permanent residents that offers the only food between the two ends of the Forgotten World Highway. Food is kind of an exciting thought, because even though we loaded up with as much as we could carry in Taumarunui, our hunger is now so out of control that that all we have left are a couple of cans of beans, half a capsicum, and a little bit of trail mix. But the restaurant doesn't open until 11:00, and we don't feel like waiting around for two hours, so the best we can do is a muffin and a Snickers and a Coke from the hotel bar, and an endless stream of bus tour group members asking, "It's hard ridin' that thing up all these hills, innit?"

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The riding is in fact hard, but not as hard as it used to be for us. Almost two months after leaving Portland we've finally reached what feels like great physical condition. That means we're better able to appreciate all of the beauty around us during the climbs instead of spending most of the time looking down at our cycling computers or analyzing in great detail the texture of the road surface. And again today there's so much beauty in the hills and the valleys and the density of the native bush. It's a never-ending barrage of colors, textures, smells, and sounds, to the point that it's hard to process all that's happening around us.

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Kristen, the little orange spot two miles and hundreds of feet below.
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Well below the road's edge, fuzzy gray ducks jump off grassy banks into swift-moving creeks. Their parents watch from above and call out warnings when we approach, which the little ones understand, because they stop at once, swim over the the shelter of the nearest low-hanging bush, and huddle there until mom gives the all-clear signal. Farther on we see signs for towns like Te Wera and Strathmore, which consist of maybe four or five houses, each with a couple of sheds and tractor garages out behind them. Throughout all of it, we still can't quite wrap our heads around the fact that the weather was so dark and dreary and wet yesterday, and yet today it's sunny and warm and the countryside around us looks so vibrant and alive.

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Beyond Douglas the hills turn shorter, the farms become smaller, and we're never out of sight from more than half a dozen homes. We also pick up a stiff headwind and a thick covering of clouds that turn the last ten k's into Stratford into a cold and tiring slog. And because we chose to hold off on eating anything other than garbage until we reached town, by the time we get there we're weak in the knees and dazed in the head from a near total lack of energy. Yet we both agree that we won't complain about anything today, because somehow we cranked over the last fifty miles of the Forgotten World Highway in peace and quiet and sunshine, without a single drop of rain having fallen on our heads.

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Riding from Taumarunui to Stratford in two days on heavily loaded bicycles was ambitious. Everything that comes after is not. Our first stop in town is for pizzas, one each. Then we load up on horrible things at the grocery store before heading over to the overpriced caravan park, where multiple dogs pee around the edges of our site before we even have the tent put together. We lose the rest of the evening bundled up inside the tent while eating and drinking said horrible stuff. It's wonderful.

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The worst possible division.
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The view from the tent.
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By the time my head hits the towel-pillow around 10:30, Kristen is asleep, the pissing dogs are asleep, and every resident of the town of Stratford seems to be asleep as well. The low hiss of a distant creek and the occasional rumble of a car passing on the highway are the only sounds left to send me off as well, which they do almost at once.

Today's ride: 48 miles (77 km)
Total: 1,845 miles (2,969 km)

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