Day 63: Nelson, NZ to Motueka, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

October 28, 2014

Day 63: Nelson, NZ to Motueka, NZ

Pete was responsible for helping to set up part of the extensive network of cycling routes in the Nelson area, so in the morning he guides us down from the hills, into the valley, and on to a former railroad line that will carry us out along the edge of the bay. The clouds and rain and cold of yesterday have gone, leaving in their place sunshine and not much wind. This means we no longer have the desire to ride while wearing the sleeping bag as a coat and using the stuff sack as a hat.

Further proof that Nelson is the most cycle-friendly town, with the most cycle-friendly people, in all of New Zealand. We felt welcomed and supported from the moment we arrived until the moment we left.
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We ride on a path that travels next to the bay, where the stink of salt water and low tide fill the air, where crying seagulls by the dozens circle above and poop at random intervals, and where we look down into tide pools where inch-long translucent fish aggressively swing their tails in a fight against the outgoing current. The path also travels parallel to the motorway, and at one point goes close enough to all of the traffic that when a small truck cuts off one of those tiny two-door SUVs we can watch the SUV driver raise his middle finger, ball up the rest of his hand into a tight and angry fist, and then move the hand up and down a bunch of times as if he's still in middle school. Before the entertainment value of this wears off we see a sign for Asmuss Steel, who we decide should enter into a partnership with Fuchs Oil.

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Soon the pavement gives way to gravel and stretches of wooden bridges that wind their way over short sections of tidelands in between pulp mills and trucking companies and parking lots. Crabs the size of a dime emerge by the thousands from little holes in the mud at the water's edge, to the point that when we stare down at the floor of the bay the whole thing looks like it's subtly shifting. At one point there's a suspension bridge, and later we ride along the tops of levees among small fields of cows and crops. We also have to dodge a pack of white-haired older women in sensible shoes who are out for a walk, none of whom flip each other off.

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When we reach Rabbit Island we head off the main trail and on to dirt paths that take us through forests where we ride on a bed of pine needles, and through what used to be forests where we pound over rocks and tree roots and try not to bog down in the sand. It's much different than cycling on sealed surfaces or tight-packed gravel, and we start to feel like a couple of badasses, but not thirty seconds after this feeling comes up, a man on a mountain bike who's at least twice our age and has only one arm cruises past us on the right as if we were standing still.

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At the end of the trails we sink to a stop at a beach that runs along a narrow and fast-moving channel. Half an hour later a white metal ferry that looks like a floating city transit bus heads across the channel and drives straight up on to the beach. After the two other passengers and us wheel our bikes up the short ramp, the captain throws the boat into reverse and it takes only five minutes to return to the mainland on the other side.

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The rest of the day sends us along a combination of cycle paths, off-road trails, and short sections of paved roads and highways. At one point we ride by a little kid, maybe four years old, who rides one of those pedal-less wooden push bikes that are the first step before climbing onto a bicycle with training wheels. As his mom herds him over toward the edge of the trail so that we can pass, he looks up and sees me coming on a bike loaded down with all sorts of bright yellow bags. In an instant his face changes from a carefree smile to this kind of squished expression, he cocks his head to the side in a look of confusion, and then he says out loud to no one in particular, in the most adorable New Zealand accent, "The heck?"

I get it, little man; that's what everyone else is thinking, too.

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As we stand in front of a grocery store in Motueka and transfer armloads of groceries to our overstuffed panniers, a bunch of unfortunate things start to happen all at once. The wind picks up, the temperature starts to drop, the distant clouds turn from light gray to a fierce-looking dark blue, and we learn that we have only expensive holiday parks laid out on the roads in front of us. If camping is cheap we'd sleep outside, next to two sets of train tracks, in a snowstorm, with gunshots cracking in the distance, while a cow poops five feet from the door of the tent — quite literally anywhere, and in almost any kind of weather. But if we have to pay nearly as much to wake up shivering, with one end of the tent in a puddle, and ten feet from an RV as we do to stay indoors, we're headed for the nearest backpackers instead.

Don't be fooled: cardboard has more flavor.
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That's exactly what we do. We ride two blocks, check in, haul everything we own up a narrow flight of stairs, and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening among half-naked Germans, Germans in dress shirts, Germans laughing uncontrollably in one of the dorm rooms down the hall, Germans wearing ugly wool sweaters, and Germans playing Scrabble in the lounge. Except for the French couple arguing in nasally tones about something insignificant out in the hallway, we could be forgiven for thinking we'd been teleported to Stuttgart.

Even this guy's German.
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The German-ness recedes into the background as the night wears on. Under the glare of unflattering fluorescent lighting, and with the drone of heinous snoring drilling its way through the wall from the room next door, we lay in the bed in our room and put together possible routes (all two of them) that could take us toward the South Island's West Coast. The room is dry, it is warm, and except for the occasional rumble from beneath the covers it's windless. We expect none of these things to be true for the four or five days to come, because it appears as if our long run of good weather has come to an end.

Today's ride: 32 miles (51 km)
Total: 2,128 miles (3,425 km)

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