Day 66: Murchison, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

October 31, 2014

Day 66: Murchison, NZ

The forecast calls for heavy rain to start at 8:00 in the morning, and not five minutes after the hour hand clicks over to the 8 the wetness shows up as promised. Staying in line with everything we've experienced over the past couple of days, the weather that follows remains schizophrenic. At first it falls straight down onto the metal roof in waves, ringing and resonating in a range of sounds and tones like some kind of liquid orchestra. But soon after, we look out through the condensation on the motel room windows and see sunshine, with breaks in the clouds off to the north revealing pure blue skies. Half an hour later we hear an aggressive commotion outside and watch as the fronds of the palm trees across the motel property thrash back and forth with tremendous speed and force. Any regret we might have had about committing to a day off slides away like the torrents of water that shoot from the edges of the roof and gush from the gutters.

Everyone's smiling because today is New Hat Day.
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Near-obsessive checks of the weather become a core part of the morning and the afternoon.

"It's not going to rain at all tomorrow," I tell Kristen. "The high temperature's going to be like sixty-three degrees. It's going to be great!"

"We're gonna have to stop and take breaks to tan our butt cheeks," she responds.

Honestly, if it's sunny and warm like we felt on the North Island a couple of weeks ago, I'm in.

If the rain and cold keep up, we're ditching the bikes and commandeering this tiny van.
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I spend most of the day writing and editing pictures and working. Kristen continues her dive into the details of New Zealand's history. She tells me how in days long past the Maori would sometimes eat their enemies, as a kind of ritual to absorb the power of the people they defeated. The first of many European imports to New Zealand, according to the book she reads, was a dead Dutchman. We're pretty sure that's not a thing that happens anymore. Although even if it were, our chances of ending up in that kind of spot seem slim here in the South, which seems to us just about the whitest place you'll find in the world, short of about the far northern reaches of Sweden.

See, everyone loves New Hat Day.
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Kristen also reads to me the story of how New Zealand came to be called New Zealand:

Abel Tasman called the new country Staten Land, because he speculated that it might be the western extremity of the Staten Land off the south-west coast of South America named by his countryman Jacob Le Maire in 1616. When in late 1643 this was perceived to be impossible ... an anonymous cartographer in the Dutch East India Company renamed Tasman's line of coast "Nieuw Zeeland" or, in Latin, "Zelandia Nova." This was clearly intended as a matching name for "Hollandia Nova," by which the western coast of Australia was at that time known (Holland and Zeeland being neighboring Dutch maritime provinces). It was over the name Zelandia Nova that the newly recognized country appeared on European charts of the Pacific Ocean and the known world from the middle of the seventeenth century. By the late eighteenth century, this scratch of coastline would be identified variously as New Zeeland, New Zeland and, eventually, New Zealand.

"I might have to wear my bike shorts to bed tonight to dry them out," Kristen says to me. One of the more unusual things we've found in New Zealand is that it's easy to find a washing machine, but next to impossible to find a dryer. This seems especially strange when you consider how we're in a country that's cold and wet for what seems like most of the year, to the point that wearing wool socks with sandals is considered socially acceptable.

"That's cool," I tell her. "Just try not to put them on backward this time, okay?"

Two of my favorite things: history and sun-bleached leg hair.
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Following detailed research about strategies for avoiding lightning strikes when you find yourself cycling or camping in the middle of a thunderstorm, she cooks up an elaborate scramble of eggs, cheese, a red pepper, spinach, onions, and kumara, a kind of sweet potato brought to New Zealand thousands of years ago by the Polynesians, who themselves first found the things when they long ago sailed across the vastness of the Pacific Ocean to South America in the quest for new lands.

Our searches are less ambitious, involving only missing laptops and lost underwear.

The best.
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As evening turns to night, the little white plastic heater in the corner chugs out a small stream of heat, while every ten seconds or so a blue zap of electrical current spreads across its face. We are reasonably sure this won't set our tiny room on fire. We're also reasonably sure that tomorrow will bring a satisfying day of riding. The forecast calls for clearing skies, the clearing skies we see when we look out the window also suggest clearing skies, and we feel rested and ready for a day filled with climbing and gorges and maybe even some butt tanning.

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