Day 96: Christchurch, NZ to Woodend Beach, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

November 30, 2014

Day 96: Christchurch, NZ to Woodend Beach, NZ

It's been a long time since we woke up in the morning with no problems that require an immediate solution, no sickness hanging over us like a cloud, and no need to start riding right away. And so we wake up and fall back asleep, wake up and fall back asleep, wake up and fall back asleep.

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Quality accommodations.
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We leave the backpackers at the last possible moment, spend a few hours mucking about in the library, and then start to make our short-term escape from Christchurch. Although there are many things we'd like to see and experience in the city, we know that we'll be back in just over a week after our time volunteering on a goat farm has come and gone, so we decide to leave all of our exploring until then.

The quiet emptiness of the downtown core of Christchurch soon gives away to the malls and fast food restaurants of the suburbs. As we angle our way through the turning traffic, the stopped buses, and the long lines of traffic lights that block our progress, we realize that we've kind of forgotten that all of these things existed during the last six weeks of cycling in rural New Zealand. Along the way we give in to our desperation for American-style food by buying painfully overpriced nachos and quesadillas, which we eat with a soundtrack of mariachi music playing in the background. We somehow manage to dance along to the music without our butts ever losing contact with the seats of the chairs in which we sit.

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Leaving Christchurch feels like sleepwalking compared to our horrible attempts to cycle into, around, and out of Auckland. Despite heading out along main roads, cycle lanes and wide parking areas and shoulders leave a lot of room and there's only a vague sense of danger that hangs over the experience. And unlike Auckland the roads run flat every inch of the away. Less than six miles after we started riding away from downtown, in what seems like no time or effort at all, we leave behind the tract houses of the suburbs and enter a strange transitional world, where small farms, large rural estates, sheet metal sheds, blue Ford tractors, and ugly little nine-hole golf courses all stand shoulder to shoulder.

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Yesterday was a beautiful day, a lovely day, a fine day, a perfect spring day of seventy degrees. For the most part the good conditions carried over to today, which had us hoping that with only twenty miles of riding to do, and with leaving Christchurch under sunny skies, that at last our battle against the New Zealand weather from the seat of a bicycle was over. But it isn't. Of course it isn't. When we approach the checkout line after ten minutes spent inside the grocery store, we look out through the huge plate glass windows in front of us to see a sliver of blue sky in the distance and a foreground full of dark gray clouds dumping rain at such a rate that deep puddles have already formed in every low spot in the parking lot.

We do just about the only thing you can do to escape bad weather in a small town on a Sunday evening when most everything is closed: go to McDonalds. We burn the next three hours reading, writing, eating strange-tasting ice cream, drinking strange-tasting coffee, and complaining about the weather. We also watch a group of eight little kids devour their Happy Meals and then run laps around the inside of the restaurant screaming, as if their minds have become unhinged. Our sense that we've spent far too much time there is confirmed when the same horrible nineties-era adult contemporary love songs we've heard playing in the background all evening start to repeat themselves.

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The rain is the kind of rain that isn't going to stop, so we walk outside, swaddle our bodies in the jackets and pants and gloves that we've grown so tired of, and get back to the business of riding. The rain exists in that place between light and heavy, where the water shoots out from the gap between the tires and the fenders in waves, but where the waves are small enough that they don't soak my feet in the process. When we leave the highway we ride on empty back roads where thick steam clouds rise up from the surface of the pavement, a reminder of how only this afternoon the sun had been beating down on it uninterrupted for hours and hours.

We only have to ride six miles until we come to a secluded chunk of pine forest that parallels a horse trail. We carefully wheel the bikes through a maze of fallen tree branches, take a few moments to clear away a flat spot, and then set up the tent on a blanket of pine needles two inches thick, putting the poles and shell and fly together at top speed to keep out the rain that sneaks through the cover of green above. Inside, Kristen hooks her rain jacket to a loop at the far end of the tent and drapes it over her helmet, so that the jacket hangs down as if it's on a coat hanger. My wet gloves hang from the pocket that runs up near the roof and my wet socks sit in another pocket, where they will wait until bedtime, when I'll put them on and let my body heat help dry them out overnight. When the work of settling in ends, we sit cross-legged on the sleeping bag, eat Tim Tams for dinner, and I listen to Kristen read aloud from one of the wonderful bicycle touring journals written by the inimitable Bill Saint-Onge.

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This is our last night sleeping in the tent in New Zealand. That it comes all alone in the woods with the birds crying out all around us, instead of in an overpriced holiday park filled with RV-driving tourists, fills us with more happiness than I'm able to convey.

Today's ride: 20 miles (32 km)
Total: 3,182 miles (5,121 km)

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