Day 61: Pelorus Bridge Campground to Nelson, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

October 26, 2014

Day 61: Pelorus Bridge Campground to Nelson, NZ

After crossing the river we ride through the Rai Valley, where many of the hills in the distance don't so much look like they've been clear cut, but more like they're survivors of a meteor impact. Instead of leaving behind the ground cover, whoever logged these hills destroyed everything that fell into the path of their operation, making it look as if the harsh side of a giant sponge was scrubbed all over the folds and contours to make sure that nothing was left behind. This means they stand brown and dead and probably so free of the bushes and saplings and seeds needed to restart life that we imagine they'll look much the same for the better part of the next decade.

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I'm so happy this person exists.
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Only a few miles down the road we round a corner and see ahead of us hillsides covered with indigenous trees and vegetation, which give the complete opposite impression. They are lush and thick and varied in size, color, texture, smell, and purpose. And as we learned last night, this is how they'll look even hundreds of years from now, because the government of New Zealand has made it illegal to cut down native forests. The trees are stunning and give us something beautiful to look at and think about as we crank up steep hills at four miles per hour with cold headwinds bearing down on us and the stink of motorcycle exhaust filling our noses.

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On the back side of the first big climb we battle the kind of headwind that makes it feel as if both tires have gone flat at exactly the same moment, where we crank as hard as we can just to crack double-digit speed, even on the steep parts of the descent. In the valley at the bottom we look out on a world of muted colors, where every third vehicle is a rented RV or camper van, and where instead of having cows or sheep or goats to talk to at any place we might want to stop there are only sad little stretches of evenly spaced pine trees where dense forests once stood.

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Bicycle/table.
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All of it advances the theory that I proposed to Kristen during our ride yesterday afternoon: that New Zealand is trying to save us from ourselves. On a scale of one to ten, by the time we boarded the ferry for the South Island a couple of days ago, our state of being blown away by the beauty and pleasant cycling roads of this country was at about an eight. If we had pedaled off the boat and onto empty roads that took us alongside glaciers and fjords and snow-covered mountains that look like they're home to gods and mythical creatures, there's a good chance we would have hit ten on that scale and just kept on going, at which point our heads would have either exploded from excessive awesomeness or we would have spent the rest of our lives looking absently into the distance, never speaking, with drool cups attached to our chins. To keep that from happening, New Zealand has dialed things down and given us busier roads and logging operations and more clouds, so that we're in the right frame of mind to be impressed but not incapacitated by what's to come.

New Zealand is also trying to make sure we're in top physical shape when we finally reach all of this mind-blowing stuff. The second half of the day fills with hills steeper than anything we've encountered in the last couple of weeks. Our legs turn sore and our lungs ache from the effort. Big trucks and old vans and out of tune cars struggle and strain right along with us, leaving in their wake clouds of blue-gray smoke. But the farther we climb the more wonderful the scenery becomes, because we lose the clear cuts and the mountains covered with identical trees, and instead we're surrounded again by native trees and plants and all of the peace and stillness and birdsong that go along with them.

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And then we go down. Not just a straight dive back down, but the kind of long and winding down that comes with blind curves and steep dropoffs and smooth pavement, the kind that in an instant forces us to dedicate all of our attention to the character and quality of the surface laid out in front of us, the kind that runs for so long that by the time the highway spits us out into the valley at the end our eyes water and we give out a little shiver to try and shake off the cold. All of it reminds us why the slow and tough business of climbing was worth the effort, and why it's good to be alive and healthy and cycling in this marvelous corner of the world.

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By the time we reach Nelson, where we'll be staying for the next couple of nights, I'm wrecked. I can deal with rain, cold, mountain climbing, wars against headwinds, hunger, terrible traffic, and everything that follows from eating 6,000 calories day after day, but as soon as I start to feel sick it's all over for me. And so it goes today, when the pollen in the springtime air kicks up my allergies and reduces me to a sniffling, sneezing, watery-eyed mess. This leads to hours worth of complaining, nose blowing, coughing, riding around downtown in the haze caused by taking an antihistamine that I thought was the non-drowsy kind but turns out not to be, and generally feeling bad for myself. It's all very embarrassing. When two types of medicine fail to take effect I move on to the next logical solution: Chinese food takeaways.

Dripping snot not pictured.
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Of course it could be so much worse. As we sit in a park after dinner a young man jogs by on the adjacent sidewalk while farting, saying shit to himself in German, and looking around with great concern for the nearest restroom.

In the evening we ride a few blocks down the street to the home of Alison and Grant, who reached out to us through this journal a couple of weeks ago. Also staying with them are their friends Vivien and George, who are visiting from Christchurch for the long holiday weekend. Over wine and beer and figs with blue cheese, and in between hot showers that feel like a gift from heaven, we fall into another round of the Please Answer the Americans' Ridiculous Questions about New Zealand Game, which much to our satisfaction continues to be embraced by everyone we meet.

Because everyone but Grant was born in the U.K., we learn a lot about the complex, mysterious, and sometimes unfair system that has to be navigated through in order to immigrate here. We find out how four weeks of vacation per year is standard in this country, and how the influx of media from the United States into New Zealand is causing increasing numbers of traditional British and Kiwi terms to be replaced by their American counterparts among younger people. We also learn that one of the reasons why we see so many new cars on the road here, and why so many of them are Japanese, is because Japan is one of the only right-hand-drive countries in the world. That means that tens of thousands of late-model used cars are shipped here every year when they're replaced by newer models back in Japan. And to the surprise of neither of us, we learn that the fastest growing vehicle type in New Zealand is the SUV.

Near the end of the night, Grant walks outside with us and backs his car out of the garage. This leaves a space long and wide enough for us to set up the tent inside, among bikes, kayaks, ski poles, and loads of other outdoor gear. Soon after, we slide the heavy wooden garage door shut, zip the flaps of the tent behind us, and with the hum of moth wings buzzing in the rafters above our heads fall right to sleep.

Today's ride: 37 miles (60 km)
Total: 2,093 miles (3,368 km)

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