Day 56: Wanganui, NZ to near Turakina, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

October 21, 2014

Day 56: Wanganui, NZ to near Turakina, NZ

Give us a heated room with a comfortable bed and a reliable internet connection and you will be amazed at our capacity to eat crumpets, to drink tea, to work, to complain, to fantasize about Indian food, to pull items believed to have been lost long ago from deep within our panniers — to do just about everything except ride bicycles.

When at last we come out from our cocoon we find no wind or rain or even clouds, just a warm and fresh spring day of the kind normally reserved only for tourist brochures and horrible romantic comedies. After waiting to leave the backpackers until the last possible moment we eat lunch in the shade of maple trees in downtown Wanganui, where instead of the pastures and sheep we've grown used to it's bank branches and bookstores and office workers in business-casual clothes walking to grab lunch.

The 1990s are alive and well in New Zealand.
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The 1970s are alive and well in New Zealand.
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Whoppa Sausage Rolls are alive and well in New Zealand.
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After two long and tough days where we covered a lot of ground and pushed up more than a mile of elevation gain between them, we leave the city behind with a plan to ride only as far as the closest campground. But a short day doesn't mean an easy day, because we're still in New Zealand, and cycling in New Zealand and expecting that you won't be riding up hills all day and every day is like going to KFC and expecting that you won't come away feeling ripped off, bloated, and ashamed of yourself. Traveling just twenty-five miles today will require almost 1,500 feet of climbing.

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For the first half of the ride we ditch the highway and pedal on a peaceful back road that looks like something from a postcard. We go by some of the smallest farms we've seen so far, where there are cattle and sheep as always, but also goats, elk, horses, and ponies with stubby legs who wear jackets that keep them warmer and more fashionable than we'll ever be. Along the way we talk to the sheep, dream about where we might want to travel in the years to come, and while talking to each other go through the wonderful experience of inhaling a bug, coughing like we have emphysema, and then spitting out what's left of the poor little guy onto the white line that marks the pavement's edge.

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And then we rejoin the highway, which seems to have tripled in volume in the twenty-two hours since we left it. In an instant the complexion of the afternoon changes. The peace, the quiet, the animal sounds, all of it disappears, never to be heard from again. We can no longer enjoy the world around us because we have to watch our mirrors at all times, or else we risk being knocked over by the blast of wind generated by a semi-truck that we didn't know was coming. Of course if we pay too much attention to our mirrors we risk shooting off the narrow or nonexistent shoulder and executing a graceless header into the gaping mouth of a culvert. It's only an eleven-mile run to the campground, but it's the clearest possible reminder of how the route you choose has a greater impact on the character of your cycling adventure than any other factor.

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When we pull off the highway it's like waking from a terrible dream. In place of the trucks and noise and stink we find a tiny lake, waves of soft grass, the call of birds and the rush of the wind, and farm dogs so happy to see us that their wagging tails make it difficult for them to walk straight. It's a chance for us to return to the relaxing day we began this morning, which we do by cleaning up, making dinner, blasting New Pornographers songs in the campground kitchen, chasing the cows away from the nearest fence line, and then viciously attacking one another in a kind of jousting match with our inflated Thermarest mattresses while a confused man watches from inside the living room of the nearest house.

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The evening fills with the sound of the country, which on the North Island of New Zealand means the chattering of sheep and the pained cries of cows, who for reasons we'll never understand moan like they're being probed thoroughly with something jagged. We also hear the occasional semi-truck rumbling up the nearest hill in the snarl of its lower gears. It's a subtle reminder that the highway hasn't finished with us yet.

Today's ride: 25 miles (40 km)
Total: 1,946 miles (3,132 km)

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