Day 60: Onamalutu Campground to Pelorus Bridge Campground - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

October 25, 2014

Day 60: Onamalutu Campground to Pelorus Bridge Campground

It's cold when we wake up; so cold that we can see our breath inside the tent. Outside the grass, our bikes, the rain fly, and the jacket that Kristen left spread across her handlebars last night are all covered in a thick layer of frost. The water in our bottles sounds slushy when we give them a shake. Before heading out of the tent we put on all of our rain gear and warm clothing, which gives me another chance to tell Kristen how we look like we're smuggling a bunch of lumpy things, and how much we sound like a pair of walking garbage bags.

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After the eight-mile run back to the road we left behind yesterday evening, we head north to Havelock. We pass several small herds of alpacas on the left, while on the right we look out on broad sweeps of valley land, all intricately fenced but without a single animal to be seen. Above all of it are the half-mile-wide dead patches of recent clear cuts and the dull metallic skeletons of high-capacity power line towers. From the beginning the highway is thick with traffic. There aren't any huge commercial trucks, but the difference in volume is made up for by all of the cars and camper vans and the small trucks pulling boats on trailers. It's not the quiet and peaceful Saturday morning ride we'd hoped for.

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Soon a bicycle tourist appears in our mirrors; our first since we arrived in New Zealand! He's loaded with four panniers and a backpack, and I say hello to him as he pulls even with me. But he motors on past while saying a muffled hello back with his head down, without any hesitation or thought of stopping to talk. Farther up he passes Kristen without saying a word, as if they're two ships passing in the night, except one of those ships is a grumpy old man looking to crank out a hundred miles today. As a result he becomes the butt of a few dozen offensive and unrepeatable jokes that fill the rest of the morning and spill over into the afternoon. Hell hath no fury like a Team Hawthorne member scorned.

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We reach Havelock in the late morning and lose a few hours in a cafe. Inside we see the silent cyclist who passed us earlier, and he turns out to be just as good at avoiding eye contact indoors as he is on the road. Later we sing under our breaths the lyrics to songs by the Bee Gees, Richard Marx, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Elton John as they spill out of the speakers in the ceiling. In the span of three hours we don't hear a single song released in the last decade; it's like New Zealand exists in some kind of below-average popular music vortex. People here are going to be so excited when Maroon 5 finally shows up here some time next year. I also eat hand pies — which we've seen for sale so often that we're convinced they're the national food of New Zealand — and vanilla ice cream that tastes like bananas and sits on top of a cone made from a thin layer of cardboard, all while reading with great interest the adult classifieds section of the South Island's major newspaper.

The heart of the action in Havelock.
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The heart of the music selection in Havelock.
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In between all of this, unprompted and unexpected, Kristen looks over at me and says, "I like riding bicycles."

This isn't a feeling that's easy for me to understand, because bike riding so often feels like an endless grind to me, so I have to ask for more detail.

"Why's that?" I ask.

"I like the speed. I like the feeling of the different types of pavement beneath me, to feel it through the bike. I like feeling the strength in my legs. I like the contraction of my muscles, of the blood rushing to my legs when I'm pushing up a hill. I like the wind in my face. I like breathing hard and getting my heart rate up. I like being able to go places that cars go, but also to be able to fit into places that they can't. I like carrying everything that I ever need with me, except you, but you're never too far behind."

Keeping up on world events.
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I think about this on the windblown thirteen miles that follow, as we ride in the open palm of a narrow valley that follows the crooked spine of a river that runs out of sight along the valley's northern edge. Until this spring Kristen had never ridden a bicycle more than sixteen miles in one day. As recently as two months ago, on the day that we left for this trip, she had never ridden a loaded bicycle at all, not even around the block. Since then she's had to deal with extreme heat and hills and wind, all while learning to ride her heavy and awkward touring bike on busy highways and rough gravel roads and winding mountain descents. And she's had to do all of these things while often pedaling for more than a week between days off, which means traveling long distances on legs that are still adjusting to the stress and fatigue that comes with bicycle touring. That she has developed a love of cycling despite all of the possible reasons for her to have learned to hate it instead leaves me more optimistic than ever that our best days on the road have yet to come.

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Just before we cross the river at Pelorus Bridge we pull off the highway and into a campground. There we set up the tent in a distant and quiet corner where we're surrounded on three sides by indigenous trees and bushes. We cook dinner in the common kitchen, where the size of our pot and cups and the meal we create are about a quarter as big as the armloads of stuff that every other camper seems to have brought with them in their car or truck or van. And yet we love what we eat (a mix of rice, chickpeas, tomatoes, a packet of butter chicken-flavored seasoning) and how we eat it (straight from the pot with one shared fork) because it was assembled and cooked using only what we brought with us, with what we carried here under our own power, and the energy we gain from it will give us the strength we need to tackle the almost 3,000 feet of climbing that wait for us on the thirty-three-mile ride into Nelson tomorrow. As with so many aspects of traveling the way we do, we continue to find that what matters most are the things we have, not what we don't.

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This becomes true again when we return to the tent. We don't have a heater, or a car trunk full of sweaters in different knits and colors and styles, or walls around us that are impermeable to the cold that descends with force as soon as the sun sets. What we have is a well-insulated sleeping bag and someone else to curl up next to inside of it — someone who can listen to the chorus of bird calls, the rustle of the wind in the trees, and the rushing sound created by the river as it passes over the rocks, and have a deep appreciation for all of them.

What we have is everything we need.

Today's ride: 35 miles (56 km)
Total: 2,056 miles (3,309 km)

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