Day 68: Slab Hut Creek Campground to Greymouth, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

November 2, 2014

Day 68: Slab Hut Creek Campground to Greymouth, NZ

We intended to wake up early and start riding around 7:00, but those plans get dumped into the river when we wake up and hear only the buzz of giant mosquitoes instead of the pop of rain drops on the top of the tent. Instead we sink back down into the sleeping bag, pull each other close, and fall into the warm, hazy, sublime place that exists between asleep and awake. So much of what I heard before leaving on this trip was how it was great to have a traveling companion for the times when the trip turned tough, for the times when the beautiful scenery and interesting experiences and endless amounts of food took a back seat to adversity. And although this is true, and I enjoy the luxury of having someone to share in the cold weather and biting insects and flat tires with, it's so much greater to have that person right there with you when the moments you will each remember for the rest of your lives begin to unfold in front of you. It's easy to forget as the days turn into weeks and months and this type of traveling becomes our life, but we're so fortunate to be here, and to be here with each other.

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We're also fortunate when it comes to the weather. Even though we linger in the tent for another hour, the rain refuses to show up. As we return to the highway a break in the thick gray overcast reveals the warming brightness of the sun as it comes up behind us, which throws shadowed outlines of two cyclists and all of the crap they're carrying onto the pavement out in front of us, and causes the reflectors on the back side of Kristen's panniers to glow in my direction like a pair of silver flashlights.

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But just as soon as the break appears it starts to fade away and we sink back into the gray murk of the clouds. We watch farmers riding on ATVS as they head for their fields to milk their cows, and see the dark haze of distant showers as those clouds bump into the tops of the tallest hills. We also spot the pale colors of rainbows, none of which last for more than a few moments before the shifting skies above swallow them back up. Bulls with long, thick horns and shaggy fur and swinging dicks trot alongside us as fast as they can in the roadside paddocks, as if they want to head to Greymouth but just need someone to show them the way. But just like yesterday we ride parallel to the railway line, which always runs either flat or downhill. This means that even the leaders of the herd, the ones who give their best effort to try and catch us, come up short on this Sunday morning.

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In Ikamatua we wait in front of a store that looks open, has two open signs posted on boards out front and another stuck to the door, and has a cashier walking around inside who makes eye contact with me more than once, but that stays out of reach because of a door that's locked for a reason we can't figure out. I haven't had anything that's both warm and unhealthy in at least two days and maybe three, and I'm ready to end that terrible streak right now. As I stand around and become upset that I can't get the hand pie or sausage roll that I want so bad and feel like I deserve, at exactly 9:00 a dirty gray Toyota truck heads down the highway in the direction from which we just came, pulls a u-turn in front of the tiny store, and parks across the street. Not twenty seconds later a purple Nissan sedan comes to a stop behind it. I watch as two kids, one age two and the other no older than four, pop out of the truck and run back toward the car, and without looking back call out, "Bye Daddy!" That's when I realize that this is the last time the kids will see or hear or get a hug from their father until their mom drops them off at this same spot next Friday evening.

Local news.
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We watch with concern as we pedal past a calf who, while trying to reach long blades of grass that are just out of his reach, has managed to get his head caught in the narrow gap between the last vertical wire of a fence and the wooden post that stands unmoving next to it. I also see an animal skeleton hanging from those same kinds of wires, which is the result of a strange but not uncommon thing we've noticed here on the South Island. For reasons we'll never know, people around here seem to have a habit of picking up dead animals from the middle of the road and attaching them to the nearest fence, almost like it's some kind of warning of imminent danger to any animals of the same species who might pass that way at some point in the future. As a backdrop to all of this, we see the shadowed outlines of the clouds inch their way along the surface of the hills on the north side of the valley half a dozen miles in the distance.

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If you've read any cycle-touring journals or done any cycle touring of your own, you'll know that headwinds are a real pain in the ass, always. If you haven't done either of those things, here's the short version of what all of those cycle-touring journals and cycle tourists say about headwinds: they're a real pain in the ass, always. And so it is today, where the last five miles into Greymouth bring headwinds powerful enough to slow us down to five miles per hour on the flats, and that when they become sidewinds succeed in knocking us off the road and into the gutter more than once. It's beyond maddening. But when we consider how wet and windy and cold the preceding forty miles were supposed to be, and compare that to how pleasant they turned out, we call it a fair trade and grind without complaining.

Trying to avoid poisoning on the way to taking a dump.
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Warning: elderly people stealing children.
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The only pizza place in Greymouth that we can find is Domino's, which as far as quality and taste and personal ethics are concerned is a great letdown. But the fact that it's open and capable of serving hot pizzas within ten minutes of us placing our order has a way of making all of those things irrelevant. We tear open the cardboard boxes and eat like a couple of savages from inside the kitchen area of a horrendously overpriced caravan park, which is the only camping option in Greymouth, and one of those places where the guy behind the front desk goes to great lengths describing to us the number and exact locations of all of the televisions, along with a summary of what kind of cable packages the park has subscribed to.

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The place also has what's listed on the little campground map as a jumping pillow, which is this giant crowned inflatable surface that's about the size of a basketball court. It's designed for children, and the signs posted all around it say as much, but after drinking a bunch of beer and cider it all of a sudden seems like the greatest way we could be spending our precious time in New Zealand, so we race outside, run straight onto the thing at full speed, try to jump as far and as high as we can, and then scream and fall down laughing like a couple of bloody idiots. This goes on until our vision gets weird and it feels like we might puke. Afterward, to make the most of all the money we forked over to stay somewhere we can't stand, we attempt to take the longest, hottest showers ever recorded. The chance to watch drivers of rented RVs trying to park them in the small parking lot, in the hopes that we'll see them run over, into, or through various caravan park objects, is free.

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Later I check to see what's going on in the news back home. A look at the Seattle Times website reveals the following as the most important headlines:

  • Masked intruders assault man in Rainier Valley home invasion
  • Q&A on Initiative 1351: Lower class sizes, no details on funding
  • The hot mess of election eve and a death in the House
  • School shootings in Marysville show need to reach troubled teens online
  • Governor: Wear red and white Monday to support Marysville
  • Jesse Jackson says Amazon diversity data reflect 'white male supremacy'
  • Speeding South Seattle driver hits 15 vehicles; 10 injured
  • 5 wounded in U District shooting
  • Bremerton teen pleads not guilty in assault, slaying of neighbor, 6

We're missing exactly nothing.

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The weather turns more and more insane as the evening wears on. The average wind speed kicks up toward forty-five miles per hour, and the gusts run as high as sixty. The rain blows sideways across the sky, flying parallel to the ground, which makes it seem like it would be impossible for it to pool. Yet within minutes the parking lot fills with standing water, to the point that I can watch the wind sweep down the pavement toward me in clearly defined lines, as if they're traveling along the world's fastest conveyor belt. Watching the madness of the scene from the glassed-in safety of the kitchen, I feel less like a tourist in a shitty caravan park and more like a captain looking out at a storm from the bridge of his ship.

The craziest part is that it's not the middle of winter; we're a month and a half into spring and this type of thing still seems like it's business as usual. It isn't to us, nor is it to any of the three dozen RV campers staying here, each of whom has on their What the fuck are we doing here? face. Everyone deals with the weather in their own way. Even though I'm freezing, I eat cheap and terrible-tasting ice cream sandwiches and refuse to put on long pants. Kristen sits on a bench wrapped in our giant double sleeping bag, which covers her body all the way from her feet up to the tops of her shoulder blades.

"I'm not just in a massive sleeping bag," Kristen reminds me. "I'm in a massive sleeping bag that smells like feet!"

This is our glamorous life.

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The wind not only stays at gale force after the sun goes down, but adding to all of the fun the amount of rain soon doubles and then triples. With the kitchen area soon to be closing, and the chance of us setting up our tent without it blowing away into the darkness asymptotically approaching zero, we embrace defeat and make our way back to the caravan park's office. There we pay a few more dollars to upgrade from a tent site to a room with solid walls and doors that aren't made of mesh, and a floor that won't exist somewhere between puddle and inland sea by the time we wake up in the morning.

The tiny wall-mounted heater chugs and whines and stinks of burning dust, but for the first time in hours we leave behind the constant feeling of semi-cold and find ourselves firmly in the category of warm. It's a feeling that will be easier to come by in the next four or five days, when we take a break from the road and volunteer our time on a small organic farm about five miles north of town along the coast of the Tasman Sea. Not since we started preparing for this trip in earnest back in July have we had even one day where we weren't packing or planning for the future or catching up on something important, and in many small but significant ways that has started to wear on us. We think the rhythm of working outside and exercising different parts of our bodies and sleeping in the same place for more than two nights in a row will be exactly what we need to set things right.

Today's ride: 47 miles (76 km)
Total: 2,323 miles (3,739 km)

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