Day 59: Koromiko, NZ to Onamalutu Campground - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

October 24, 2014

Day 59: Koromiko, NZ to Onamalutu Campground

Cold and wind and rain in huge amounts are in fact what the morning brings us. Rather than pack up a wet tent, only to find ourselves soaked within five miles and freezing within ten, we pull the top of the sleeping bag over our heads and for hours listen to the sounds of the fury outside play across the rain fly and feel the force of the wind whip the sides back and forth. As the day wears on the sleeping bag increasingly fills with crumbs and the lingering smell of peanut butter and honey. Having the choice not to ride when the weather is terrible is one of the joys of having no plan and no pressing deadlines.

By 1:00 the crap has passed and the sun comes out and blue skies peek through what's left of the clouds. Kristen doesn't want to leave; she'd rather stay parked inside the tent all day to rest and read and eat. But even though I feel bad doing it, I lobby for us to move on. Based on what we've seen with the last few days, and also of the forecast for the next week, days free of rain and wind are going to be in short supply. We'll be wishing for conditions like these when they're gone.

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The hillsides remain covered with pine trees of identical color and size and spacing, which means all of them were clear cut at one point and then replanted to grow with the greatest width and fewest number of physical defects as possible. This has the effect of making it feel like we're riding through any one of hundreds of back roads that I've driven down during the last fifteen years in Washington or Oregon, rather than traveling through some new, mysterious, foreign landscape on the other side of the world.

At the bottom of the next hill we celebrate three things all at once: crossing the 2,000 mile mark, leaving Highway 1 behind for what we hope will be forever, and seeing crops instead of farm animals in the fields along the side of the road for the first time since we started riding in this country. But we're all out of beer and chocolate following the excellent decision making of last night, and no stores look like they're about to appear from over the horizon, so instead we enjoy a narrow, winding, unlined road that bends left and right without end in the small gap between the Wairau River and the hills that angle down steeply from above. We pass by vineyards with rows of grapes that number in the hundreds, with each line of vines as perfect and straight as the one that comes before and the one that comes after.

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One of the great bicycle touring questions has to be, How far would you ride down a dead end road for cheap or free camping, knowing that you'll have to ride the same distance back on the same road in the morning? I can't stand to backtrack, so normally I cap this option at one mile, or maybe two if my legs feel strong, and the sun is out, and the winds are favorable, and there's the promise of sausages that will be delivered to my tent by an attractive person with both a good sense of humor and clean hands. But out here, with so much farming, so many fences, and so few options that don't cost thirty or forty dollars a night for two people, today the answer becomes eight miles. That's far and away the most I've ever gone for this sort of thing, especially with a near-zero chance of sausages. Along the way we pass still more clear cuts, where bright yellow flowers grow and bloom in the areas where the earth has been savaged and left bare to the elements.

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Even though it's the Friday night of a holiday weekend, we roll across a short bridge over a quiet river and arrive to find the campground empty. We cook a pot of chili beans with a yellow pepper, an avocado, and fat chunks of cheese, and then sit cross-legged in the grass to eat it as the last waves of heat filter down into the valley before the sun disappears behind a mountain. When we're done we close our eyes and try to identify how many different bird calls we can hear, which turns out to be difficult because there are so many birds and they all seem to vocalize at the same time. The only other sound is the hiss of the breeze passing through tens of thousands of blades of grass.

It all seems so perfect and wonderful, which it is, but we manage to keep things humble. Kristen follows up this beautiful scene by defying the laws of physics and putting her bike shorts on backward, yet somehow doesn't notice the problem for another fifteen minutes. I'm content to break wind with great diversity in tone and volume for the next three hours. The cold that sneaks into the tent from all angles turns us kind of delirious and leads to uncontrollable laughter late into the night.

This is our life.

Today's ride: 31 miles (50 km)
Total: 2,021 miles (3,252 km)

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