Day 93: Otaio Gorge Campground to Temuka, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

November 27, 2014

Day 93: Otaio Gorge Campground to Temuka, NZ

The concerns of tomorrow become the concerns of today. I'm still tired, still sick, and still cursing the wind that calmed during the night but returned with force just after 7:00 this morning. Adding to all of this, we discover that the drinking water we expected to find — that we confirmed before we left Waimate using an official guide from the Department of Conservation — doesn't really exist. There's a tap and a sink, but posted above them is a warning that the water must be boiled before drinking. Our little alcohol stove is good at many things, but the fast boiling of water isn't one of them. We lose an hour and a half between first boiling about seventy ounces of water and then letting the metal bottles cool in the river, so that they don't melt everything they come into contact with when we shove them into the panniers. And as the last of the heat disappears from inside the bottles, so too does the last of my patience.

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"What I want," Kristen says while we ride side by side, "Is a Chipotle burrito. I want a burrito and chips with guacamole, and soda water with lots of limes, and I want to pay like seven dollars for the whole thing. How about you? What do you want?"

I pause for a moment. I know she's trying to help me feel better, to help me get my mind off all of the things that have stacked up inside and one by one have started to bring me down over the past few days. But I can't get there.

"I don't know," I tell her. "I don't know. I just need to sulk for awhile and then I'll be okay."

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Some people want to be cheered up, to be told that things will get better, to be made to feel that everything is fine. I'm not one of them. I want to feel upset, angry, frustrated, disappointed, aggravated, like my head's going to explode from all of the shit that has fallen my way. I want to simmer in it for awhile, to feel the rain from my personal storm cloud dump all over me, to feel petulant and selfish and entitled. I want to embrace the bad. And then, after considering the problems from different angles, figuring out how I ended up in this spot, then coming to the realization on my own that things will in fact get better — that the shit will have to pass at some point — that's when I can move on and think about what's happening around me and what interesting things might be coming next.

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I'm the first to admit that this method works a lot better when I travel by myself, when the silence and detachment that go along with it affect the moods and feelings of me and me alone. It also, of course, is only capable of working if at some point things start to get better. And for awhile today they do. Not long after we start, the gravel disappears and we return to smooth pavement. We ride downhill toward the ocean along one beautiful valley before turning left and heading back up another into the hills, where the sun lights up the fields below in a thousand shades of brilliant green. Kristen starts to drink the water she boiled earlier and doesn't immediately start to projectile vomit all over the white line at the edge of the road.

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But my head aches and my mouth is dry. We spend fifteen minutes standing in the short grass next to the road, trying to figure out why the directions Kristen put together come up eleven miles short of what they should, and what possible number of turns might be missing as a result. I'm hungry and low on energy, but a pepper and a few handful of peanuts aren't going to be enough to fill the void. I try to ignore the fact that we're both sick, that I've fallen behind on work, and that I'm tired of spending too much money to stay in cabins and at backpackers and holiday parks, but all the want in the world can't make those things go away. Then there's that northwest wind, the one that's supposedly so unusual. It continues to build up strength and howl with fury as it blows around our ears and pushes us all over the road. Layered on top of everything, there's the pulse and hum of the tension between Kristen and me that over the last three days has been building and receding, then building and receding again, but never going away entirely.

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I try to get there. I want to get there. If I could will myself into feeling better in mind or body or both I would. But no amount of wishing to feel great will make it so. It doesn't matter that we're passing through wonderful country, or that we're heading through it on low-traffic roads, or that it's all that we hoped we'd find when we made the choice to come this way. My head just isn't in a place where it can give the world in front of it more than passing attention. I spend a lot of time looking down at the ground, or only as far up as my cycling computer. It makes me feel like a jerk for not appreciating how fortunate I am, which then makes me feel worse because on top of everything else, now I'm a jerk.

These are not the kind of days that make me proud of who I am.

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I put away about twenty dollars worth of pies and cookies and sodas at the small store in Cave, and we fill every water bottle to capacity with water that we can be sure won't make us sick. The break gives me a chance to re-energize, to switch my mind away from the business of cycle touring, and to decide to stop feeling down on myself and the day. The winds aren't going to all of a sudden switch direction, the gravel that we know lies ahead isn't going to turn to blacktop before we get there, and we aren't going to find anywhere to camp except for the place we intended to reach all along. There's nothing to do but dig in and fight against what's coming.

It all makes logical sense. Except that as soon as we make the turn straight back into the teeth of the wind that's gusting up to forty miles per hour, on the road that we're supposed to travel for the next eleven miles, every great thing I tried to tell myself falls away. I stop at the edge of the road and alternate between staring down at the patch of gravel just beyond the front tire and looking out in the direction we're supposed to go. There's no joy in the thought of the empty roads, rolling hills, or charming countryside that might lie ahead. After the terrible winds of yesterday afternoon, all I can think about is the blowing dirt and soft gravel and workmanlike effort that's about to become the focus of our lives, and the hunger and thirst and sickness that will be our rewards once we come out on the other side. We look over the map of the area on the phone, scrolling up and down and left and right, zooming in and out, looking at the same set of towns and cities over and over again, hoping for some sort of amazing solution to the problem to materialize.

And then it does.

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"What about Temuka?" Kristen asks.

I look at the map again. Somehow I'd missed it. But there it is, Temuka, about twenty miles away toward the Pacific, a place with enough mass behind it that it's hard to tell whether it's a big town or a small city. And most important of all, a place that's due east of where we stand, where the winds have in the last half an hour started to come straight from the west.

It's not even a debate.

"Yes! Temuka! Perfect! I love you!"

In an instant everything changes. With one of the greatest tailwinds I've ever experienced at our backs, we travel the eight miles to Pleasant Point in twenty-four minutes. That distance would have taken us more than two hours with the wind blowing into our faces or battering us from the side if we hadn't changed plans. Two hours! For the first time we can appreciate the fact that the sun shines and the skies are clear and the temperature pushes all the way up to seventy-five degrees. But we make sure to do it while moving, because the wind blows so strong and in such a perfect direction that it feels like a mistake, like somehow a correction must be coming, and that unless we take advantage of the good conditions right now they will disappear.

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In the process, my looming mental breakdown — the kind where I'd just stop pedaling, chuck my helmet into the nearest fence post, and run screaming away from the bike and into a field of terrified sheep — falls into the wind-blown grass that waves goodbye to us as we fly by it on the back road to Temuka at twenty-two miles per hour. Instead of riding until the sun falls behind the hills, we spend the afternoon and evening in an overpriced holiday park, where we eat up, clean up, rest up, and make plans for a modest two-person Thanksgiving dinner for tomorrow night. We also work to figure out our approach to the Christchurch area, and the volunteer work and packing for Australia that will go along with the week and a half we'll spend there.

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Later in the evening I write in the holiday park's lounge, which is a small orange metal shipping container with a sliding glass door and a window, a TV and a heater, and the ugliest set of maroon seventies-era furniture that the park's owners could find. Outside, a couple of seven-year-olds play a newly invented game of Do Not Touch the Concrete or the Grass, which involves a picnic table and jumping and a series of about ten rules, only half of which make logical sense. When the game gets stale after five minutes, they move on to the nearby foosball table, where they play while talking in the stream-of-consciousness way that all seven-year-olds do, with their speech colored by the kind of adorable accents that all of the children of New Zealand are required to have.

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Backed by a chorus of chirping birds, the moments in and around the shipping container, or lounge, or whatever it is, are quiet, peaceful, reflective, and without stress. All of those feelings would have been unimaginable only six hours before. I don't understand how the days of a bicycle tour almost always seem to find a way to work out alright by the time they're over, but there are few things in the world for which I'm more grateful.

Today's ride: 44 miles (71 km)
Total: 3,143 miles (5,058 km)

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