Day 95: Geraldine, NZ to Christchurch, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

November 29, 2014

Day 95: Geraldine, NZ to Christchurch, NZ

No amount of water, cranberry juice, cranberry extract, sleep, or time has proven enough to control, let alone get rid of, the bladder infection that has traveled with Kristen for the last week. We can't keep going and hoping that the situation will improve; it's time to find medical help. But even in a modern country like New Zealand this is more difficult than you'd think. Kristen spent hours last night searching for details about where to go for help, what type of health care provider to talk to, and how much any of it might cost. She looked at health-related websites for foreign nationals and travelers, searched through a bunch of different message board threads, and worked her way around heaps of information from the Ministry of Health, but still came away without a definitive answer to any of her questions.

In the morning, Kristen goes in another direction and talks to the woman who runs the hostel. Where the Internet has failed, maybe local knowledge can fill the gap. What the woman does is reach for a newspaper, where she flips to a section in the back filled with advertising. There she points out a small square ad for a service called Canterbury Regional Aftercare. This isn't exactly the just-go-to-this-doctor-over-here advice we expected, but Kristen gives it a shot. When she calls, the kind woman on the other end of the line tells her that she can go to a pharmacy instead of a doctor, because the pharmacist can give her a consultation and then prescribe medication right on the spot. It's a solution more perfect than we ever could have hoped for. Kristen can get the antibiotics she needs today, just down the street from the backpackers, she won't have to pay to go to a clinic, and we can set out on the final two-day stretch of riding in New Zealand that will take us toward Christchurch. Our room fills at once with smiles and laughter and joy.

But Geraldine is a small town, and the first thing the pharmacist tells Kristen is that he isn't licensed to prescribe any medication. To find someone who is, he recommends traveling to Ashburton or Timaru, both of which are a half a day of cycling away. In the condition that she's in this option sits on the edge of possibility, so from the sidewalk in front of the pharmacy, Kristen calls Aftercare again. This time she talks about her symptoms to a rude and judgmental nurse, who berates her for having waited so long to look for medical care. After making Kristen feel bad about herself for no helpful reason, the nurse tries to make her an appointment in Temuka, the town we came from yesterday. But the earliest opening is at 3:00. Even if we were to make it there today, the pharmacy, like all rural pharmacies in New Zealand, would have already closed for the rest of the weekend by the time we had a prescription in hand.

My contribution to the situation goes like this: I eat one of those single serving lasagna lunches that comes in an aluminum tin that I found at the nearby grocery store while nodding, smiling, making concerned facial gestures, trying to make conversation using a series of complex hand movements, and then watching impatient locals honk and complain at one another over bad, slow parallel parking jobs.

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The emotional experience of traveling by bike is kind of like a checking account, where all of the pleasant days of cycling, the beautiful vistas, the delicious meals, and the good nights of sleep come with a corresponding amount of value attached to them. This currency gets deposited into the account, where it's kept safe and bears interest and causes the line on the statement that reads balance to grow and grow and grow. Or at least it does until the times when the weather turns terrible, when equipment breaks down, when an ignorant driver cuts you off, or when you wake up covered in a layer of wind-blown dirt. Those are the moments when corresponding amounts are taken out of the account, where the wonderful feelings that have been banked along the way get cashed in. But as long as the balance never drops below zero, as long as you stay solvent and avoid bankruptcy, you give yourself the chance to keep going and have more of the experiences that will build back up the reserves that have been eaten away.

In the last week I've been drawing down on my balance at a fast pace while adding very little back to it. And as the health and logistical challenges of the last few days have fallen against us and started to stack on top of one another, the pace at which I'm blowing through my savings continues to speed up. At a nearby park, sitting on a wooden picnic bench next to a short hedge row and ugly brown fence that separate us from the camping area that lies beyond, this fact descends on me with full force. For several minutes I stare off into the distance, then follow it up by closing my eyes and burying my face in my crossed arms as they spread across the surface of the table. Eventually this gives way to a long string of complaining, sighing, and head shaking. Kristen wonders if this is what it's going to be like for the rest of New Zealand, for Australia after that, and then for America after that. I tell her that I don't think it will, that things will have to get better, that it won't always be this difficult or this stressful, that there has to be an end at some point.

Then we sit in silence.

Then I think about whether I really believe if what I just told her is true.

Then I stop and ask myself an important question, perhaps the most important question: what would Stubbs McGee do?

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You know, Stubbs McGee, the chubby and smelly cat we met during our first night of camping on the North Island way back in early October. As we do with more or less every animal we meet, we gave voice to what we thought his inner monologue might sound like, as he spent his time rubbing up against our legs during the day and then trying to get inside of our tent all evening and throughout the night. Because of his laid-back disposition and total lack of concern for how lumpy and dirty he was, the voice that came along with this inner monologue ended up sounding like a twenty-year-old stoner, the kind that lives in the basement of his parents' house, doesn't wake up until 2:30 in the afternoon, plays video games at least six hours a day, and has a highly developed opinion about why Taco Bell is better than Burger King. For who knows what reason, this voice and persona have followed us ever since, having developed nuance and depth and an intricate backstory along the way. And today, in a quiet corner of a small park in Geraldine, that strange little antropomorphized animal ends up making all the difference.

Because if you ask what Stubbs McGee would do in this situation, where it seems like everything and everyone is working against him, there's only one possible thing he would tell you. He'd look around, do whatever the cat version of shrugging his shoulders looks like, and say something like, "Hey man, it's cool. Don't even worry about it. It's just, like, whatever, you know?" And then he'd go lay down in a patch of sunshine or hide underneath the deck or something.

And here's the thing: that's the answer. It has to be. That's the attitude you need to have in order to make it through all of the challenges that go along with traveling over long distances by bicycle, because they are complex and varied and never-ending. Yet even though I've known for a long time how obvious that perspective is, and how much logical sense it makes, I haven't been able to get there. I haven't been able to acknowledge the bad weather or the sickness or the dozen other frustrations and then let them go. There's always been some sort of mental barrier that I can't get past. But put into the context of a talking farm cat who may or may not like getting baked every night, all of a sudden everything makes perfect sense. And in instant — one weird and improbable instant — the thundercloud that's been hanging over my head for the last several days, building in strength and deepening in tone all the while, disappears without a trace.

Lunch is a constant disaster.
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Having made the obvious decision to nominate Stubbs McGee my spirit animal, we then decide that our only option short of waiting around in a more distant small town until Monday is to catch a bus to Christchurch, where we're almost certain we can start to set things right either later this afternoon or tomorrow morning. And so we buy a pair of tickets, hope like hell that on this weekend afternoon the bus will have enough space for our bikes and a driver willing to take them, and then set about the unenviable task of passing four hours in Geraldine.

Hand-whistling in a visitor center ten times larger than any 2,500-person town should ever have. Not pictured: the horde of two dozen Japanese tourists buy sheep-themed souvenirs.
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Just after 2:00 we grab two seats on an otherwise full bus and zone out for the two-and-a-half-hour ride to Christchurch. With the stale recycled air wrapping itself around us, we watch the countryside speed past to the sounds of tires humming on pavement, the heavy breathing of the tired tourists slumped over in their seats, and the over-loud drone of the bus driver's microphone altering us to the presence of the completely insignificant gift shops, milk factories, military bases, and bridges that flank our path toward the South Island's largest city.

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The center of the evil empire.
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We have only a few moments to notice the extensive earthquake damage still apparent in Christchurch before we pull the bikes off the bus, load them back up, and tear ass out into the city. Kristen found a pharmacy that can prescribe the medication she needs, but only if we can make it there within the next twenty-five minutes. This leads to a frantic run of map checking, riding the wrong direction down one-way streets, cursing the headwinds that slow us down, dodging pedestrians when we pedal on the sidewalk, angling away from cars pulling out into traffic that don't see us, cranking over sections of pipe exposed from beneath the sidewalk by the quake, and partly running the red light at the intersection next to the pharmacy, which leads to the honking of car horns and causes outraged expressions to form on the faces of the drivers. It's madness, but it works. We make it where we need to be in less than ten minutes.

"I think I saw you break more road rules in the mile it took us to get here than in the 3,000 miles than came before," Kristen says as we lift the bikes up a short set of stairs and then wheel them toward the pharmacy's front door. "And it was wonderful."

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With a supply of supercharged infection-killing pills in hand, we head to the nearest grocery store and stock up on the small luxuries that help bring us comfort when we've been feeling down: cereal and milk, pesto and bread, and whatever kind of cider sits in that sweet spot between delicious and affordable. We power through them soon after at a backpackers, where the lights in our room are just bulbs screwed into the walls, where the inside handle of the door has left a corresponding hole in the drywall, where taped-together sections of newspaper form the curtains the cover the window of that door, where the wheeled heater leans into the wall like a sick animal because one of the legs that supports it has fallen off, and where the ceiling is so low that the tips of my hair brush against the sections that sag down toward the floor. Given that the guy who works the front desk kept us waiting in the lobby for ten minutes to check in because he was busy getting stoned in the backyard with some of the other people staying here, none of these things come as a shock.

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And we don't complain about any of them. Because even though we are both physically tired, mentally worn down, frustrated with a dozen other things, and ready for a break, we both know that the break has arrived. We have two weeks before we box up the bikes and fly to Sydney, and we don't expect to ride more than fifty miles in that time. We also believe that we've made it through our first real stretch of adversity on this trip. Although we didn't handle it well in many ways — me especially — we still made it through, and we're better prepared for Australia and America and whatever comes after as a result. We talk about these things, then Kristen reads a book out loud to me, and then we try to fall asleep. This last part proves difficult, because only a block away a rock band belts out brutal but high volume covers of songs by Guns N Roses, Rod Stewart, Journey, and Bryan Adams, which are complemented by the nearby booms of explosives and the cries of police sirens that soon follow.

Beneath the same stars more than 500 miles to the north, on a quiet hill perched above a dark valley, Stubbs McGee purrs contentedly.

Today's ride: 6 miles (10 km)
Total: 3,162 miles (5,089 km)

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