Day 83: Mavora Lakes Campground to Te Anau, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

November 17, 2014

Day 83: Mavora Lakes Campground to Te Anau, NZ

A cold morning, a warm sleeping bag pulled over our heads, low-grade sickness, and the potential for frigid headwinds put us into the cycle of waking up, looking around for a moment, taking a deep breath, and then tucking back into the bag and falling asleep again. This happens at least half a dozen times, which is why we don't start riding until 10:00.

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When we join back up with the main road it feels like we've been returned to the real world we left behind in Queenstown. We trade steep grades, rushing rivers, and massive empty landscapes for well-engineered fences that come right up to the road's edge, a farmer herding cattle from the seat of his ATV, narrow lines of trees installed as wind breaks, and easy pedaling on a gentle downward slope. It is perhaps the most normal and unremarkable part of rural New Zealand we could have possibly ended up in.

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For who knows what reason, the Social Distortion song "Ball and Chain" has been running in a loop inside my head all day. During one of our breaks we stand over our bikes in the middle of the gravel road with the wind and cold swirling around us and listen to the music and the words fight to make their way out of the tiny, hollow-sounding speaker of my iPhone:

Well I searched and I searched
To find the perfect life
A brand new car and a brand new suit
I even got me a little wife
And wherever I have gone
I was sure to find myself there
You can run all your life
But not go anywhere

It fits with today. The benefit of a ride marked by less dramatic scenery and experiences and emotions is that it helps put everything that's come before into context. It gives us a chance to reflect on what we've seen and done and how we've felt about those things. (The general consensus is something along the lines of: Holy shit, we're here, in New Zealand, and it's everything we could have hoped for and so much more.) And it puts into sharp focus the direction that our lives would have taken had we not stubbornly refused to follow the path of least resistance, the path that was expected of us. Three or four years ago, the idea of either of us ending up with each other on the South Island of New Zealand would have seemed impossible. Now it's hard to imagine any other outcome.

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When we join back up with the highway, Kristen says we should come up with some kind of game involving all of the camper vans that speed by without end. I tell her that I already made one. It's called Say As Many Terrible Things About the Rented RV and Its Driver As You Can With As Much Swearing As Possible, although it could use a shorter title. Instead of diving into that game, we call out to the lambs and the sheep in the fields next to the road, telling them that we're on our way to Te Anau and that when we get there we're buying cheese rolls. But no matter how excited or how matter-of-fact we tell this to them, they always haul ass toward the far end of the paddock before we have a chance to explain in any kind of detail how awesome we expect that will be.

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In the end, our run toward town mostly involves looking back and forth between the pavement in front of us and our rear view mirrors. The kind of tired, distracted impatience that always shows itself on the last twenty miles of riding toward a place where I know I'm going to take a day off comes out in full force today.

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The main street of Te Anau is an unbroken mass of gift shops, overpriced cafes, and a half-dozen kiosks selling sightseeing trips marketed as adventures. Tour buses stalk the streets at all hours of the day. It's all such a contrast to the real estate section of the newspaper, which is filled with listings of sheep farms, dairy farms, and modest rural homes for sale. Although we love the beauty and isolation of the countryside through which we've been traveling, we long ago lost our patience for the tourist traps that stand in between the remote and stunning stretches.

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But we don't let places like this define our trip. As we sit down and eat dinner in one of those overpriced cafes, we have big stupid smiles on our faces and we find no fewer than eighteen ways to tell each other what a wonderful time we're having on this adventure. Even though we rolled into town tired from a long stretch of hilly and windy riding over the past week, the fact is that we made it. We pushed ourselves farther than we reasonably should have, and still we made it. And when we look back on all that's happened since we left Franz Josef Glacier, we talk so little about the wind or the snow or the fatigue or the mental angst, but instead we choose to relive all of the amazing things we experienced, and we revel in the freedom and mutual support and cheap pizza that made those experiences possible. We start to imagine what waits for us in the rest of New Zealand, and then in Australia, and then in America, and then wherever the road ends up taking us next, whether it's by bicycle or Volkswagen van or some other mode of transportation we don't yet own. In so doing, any last hope of those big stupid smiles receding from our faces disappears.

The kind of sampling of local culture that we can get behind.
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We head back to our room and waste away the evening listening to indie rock, reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, eating chocolate bars, and working through a few bottles of beer and cider. Rain falls in sheets on the metal roof, an electric heater the size of a television pops and zaps every few seconds in the nearest corner, and when we walk around the room we have to turn sideways because it's full of bikes and gear. A hard-earned day off awaits, and right now there's not a thing in the world that sounds better.

Today's ride: 41 miles (66 km)
Total: 2,807 miles (4,517 km)

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