Day 89: Near Ida Valley, NZ to Danseys Pass Recreation Reserve - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

November 23, 2014

Day 89: Near Ida Valley, NZ to Danseys Pass Recreation Reserve

The chill that descended on us yesterday remains, but the wind has gone and the sun returns in what we hope is a preview of better, more permanent things to come. Our breath forms pale clouds that blow back around our faces as we ride, wild turkeys gobble and peck and the soil below the clumps of tussock grass next to the trail, and from our perch above the valley floor we watch a line of three hares charge across a field below. We don't see a car for hours and go by only a handful of modest homes, all of which are set far back from the trail. It isn't hard to imagine what a passenger traveling on a train headed in the same direction fifty years ago would have seen on a morning like this.

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Within the first ten miles we've shed our hats, our gloves, our rain pants, and then our jackets. I also lose my desire to keep going on the rail trail. They can be wonderful when they give you the chance to leave behind busy roads and highways and take you places that you couldn't otherwise reach, but when the gravel turns to shit and the path starts to run parallel to an empty paved road just a few hundred feet away, the appeal drops away faster than a frightened lamb.

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And so we head off to the highway, which makes it feel like we're pedaling on a cloud by comparison. Better still, it's a double-digit-numbered highway that runs along the spine of a valley far from any major city, and it's Sunday morning. This means there's no traffic to speak of as we work our way toward a line of mountains that we'll start to cross over in the afternoon. When I try to spit on the road but instead spit on myself, Kristen rings the bell attached to her handlebars in celebration. After three months on the road, we still manage to fill out each day with a long series of small fuck-ups, which probably means that this is the way it's always going to be.

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The way the valley, the hills, the colors, and the textures come together, it once again feels like we're heading through Western Montana. When I switch over to riding in the right lane for a few moments this feeling grows stronger still. It's a perfect day for cycling, and the scarcity of days like this make us appreciate the beauty and the ease of it at a deeper level than we ever have before. The miles stack up with what seems like no effort at all as we speed downhill in the sunshine.

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We load up on supplies at the grocery store in the small town of Ranfurly. As we pack food into our panniers, we hear farm trucks roll up behind us and then watch the young men inside hop out and walk into the store dressed only in a shirt and shorts and wool socks, because their pants and gum boots are dirty from working in the fields and have been stashed in the bed of the truck. The trucks sit unlocked and the diesel engines idle for five or ten minutes while the farmers grab a pie and some chips and a soda for lunch, talk to their buddies inside, and delay their return to the fields for as long as is possible without upsetting their boss. With the smell of exhaust hanging over the sidewalk, I pull out my sunscreen from a place so deep in my panniers that sunlight reflects off the curve of the blue canister for the first time in more than a month.

The center of action in Ranfurly.
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We backtrack from Ranfurly and then head off the highway toward Danseys Pass. Every third truck that passes tows behind it a horse trailer, and ladybugs land on my arms and shoulders while I pedal. The heat of the day has caused little tar bubbles to form in the two channels of the lane formed by decades of car traffic, and we hear them pop and snap one after the next as our tires roll over them. When I look back in my mirror I see the pavement close to me darkened by shadows, while the pavement farther off glows brighter in the sun. The line that separates them runs perpendicular to the path of the road, and I notice how it inches toward me as a tailwind pushes the clouds above to the east. It's about this time that I also realize how Kristen talks with hand gestures while making an important point, even while riding a loaded touring bicycle. Magpies squawk and watch down on all of it from the tops of the telephone poles.

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Beyond the small, quiet, 150-year-old town of Naseby we trade sealed roads for gravel, and the mountains that have been a backdrop for the past several days of riding now become our future. We head past a small homestead, where an old farm dog with gray around the face where once there was black watches us rumble by. But he no longer has the ability nor the desire to give chase or to bark, or to do anything beyond stare in wonder. We have our own sense of wonder. It's not from what's passing by us, but from what lies ahead. There's just something magical about riding down a narrow country road toward a line of mountains as they start to loom higher and higher above you, where the true depth of their contours starts to become clear, and when no matter how hard you look you aren't sure where the path that's meant to lead you across them might travel. It's impossible to think about what might lie ahead and not feel a mix of excitement and curiosity and possibility welling up from somewhere deep inside.

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Except for the short patches of pavement that lead up to and away from the one-lane bridges that cross over the creeks, we ride on rutted roads. Back in town, the grocery store cashier warned us to look out for camper vans, but on a rural track like this where potholes and rock chunks and low speeds are the long and the short of the story, we don't see more than two trucks, let alone any of the obnoxious rented RVs that dominated our days and rear view mirrors on the West Coast. This means that we ride slow and wobbling and all alone, with the never-ending symphony of bags and bottles crashing into our metal racks providing the soundtrack for it all.

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Back in Ranfurly we decided that tonight was a night for celebration. There's nothing in particular to celebrate beyond the excitement and joy that feel for being out here on the road in New Zealand, but that's reason enough. With an old wooden picnic table as our perch, we drink wine from a twist-top bottle and cider that we chilled in the cold water of the nearby creek. We cook hot dogs and baked beans over a weak but effective fire that's powered in part by a map of the city of Auckland that we've been saving for a campfire since the day we left. The burning of the map is a kind of retribution for the unending aggravation that the place dumped all over us during our first few days in the country, and the feeling manifests itself in laughter that makes the campers in the sites near to ours look over every few minutes as they try to determine how unwell we might actually be.

I like a good char.
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And burning Auckland-related things.
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With darkness approaching we crawl into the tent, where we read and write and recite the lyrics to Bryan Adams songs in monotone while the guy in the adjacent campsite snores at a volume approaching bullhorn. At the same time, we try to figure out what the people at the other campsite could possibly be building with all of the moving of cars that's required and the amount of racket they generate. (Best guesses: Native American longhouse, or a killing shed.) But before we can figure out what's happening or decide whether or not we should feel afraid, the sound of rain falling over our heads in greater and greater amounts carries us off to sleep.

Today's ride: 46 miles (74 km)
Total: 2,988 miles (4,809 km)

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