“Definition of Commitment: When you find a way over every hurdle in your path and nothing but success is an option” – Polly Letofsky
I grabbed a pen and scrawled on my itinerary “I am fucking nuts!”
Today I would endure more than mild abuse to self. In the last year I had peddled no more than 40km (and thats a generous guess), but today I had committed to an ambitious 169 kilometres on a bike I hadn’t RIDDEN in over three years, which currently leaned against a lamppost bulged ominously in all directions, quivering from being overloaded with not only the usual cycle tour gear but all the kit I needed for multi-day hiking, and I was dressed in a tennis skirt. That’s right, a tennis skirt. The skirt I reasoned would prevent unsightly cycle short tan lines (a horror well worth avoiding), but it did lack the blister-protecting shammy that a more sensible approach to bottomly care would dictate. But despite my obvious foolhardiness, and with immediate visions of myself taking a theatrical nose-dive onto the pavement in front of early morning flat-white sippers, I gingerly straddling my ungainly monster and headed wobbling out into the traffic and made for the outskirts of Invercargill.
The first sweeping impression of Invercargill is that it is very flat. So flat that it is hard to see anything, because what is directly in front of you obscures everything behind it. I’m sure the people who like to critique on the baldness of Invercargill would say that the terrain is decidedly boring, but in my current predicament I was mightily glad for it. So in-no-time-flat I arrived upon the outskirts to town, I read the sign “Bluff 32km” A vacant look descended over me as my navigationally challenged brain quickly scribbled a rough map of southern New Zealand on the back inside of my scull, and just as it looking like I might at any moment start drooling out of the corner of my mouth, my eyes widened with the incredulous clarity that I was in the exact opposite position of where I should be. “Good God Jonesy, make that 172km!” Thus I made a distended wobbly arc of a u-turn and headed back through town to the northern outskirts of Invercargill. My destination, Manipouri via the scenic and southern most highway, State Highway 99.
The large pine trees on SH99 make interesting viewing. A lot of them grow almost parallel to the ground, all leaning north bound, with the southern most tree in any one stand looking melodramatic, as if to have their hands-in-the-air, grey-white and paralysed with fear, leaning back on their friends, and stripped of anything resembling a leaf. At a guess I’d say this place gets a fair amount of wind. But as fortunes would have it, there was not a breath of wind on the day of my cycle, just a muggy sedative 28 degrees. With Indie Rock blaring in my ears the first 50kms went past quick enough and i was averaging 20kmph which was fast enough to make it in eight and a half hours if I didn’t stop – say what?! “Don’t think about it, just keep peddling girl”.
Cycling along in a hot stupor, I idled along the ocean road of the sleepy surfers village of Colac and past the giant wave and surfer that preside over the entry into the one street town. I salivated at the golden sand, at the surfers, but mostly at the clarity of the iridescent blue-green cold, refreshing ocean. I was sweating rivulets under the polyester of my cycle shirt but I couldn’t risk getting salt rash in my nether regions this early into my ride. I had to ride on.
51kms … 52kms … 53kms … 10 more kms of looking at that cool soothing ocean and I crawled to a stop at a sign that said “Monkey Island 1km”. I did the math. That would make 174km, I would be stopped for an hour, I might get salt rash, I was blisteringly hot, the Island looked so cool and dreamy sitting there in the blue-greenocean. How could I not?
The kilometres slowly ticking away increased. My average speed slowly decreased. Halfway to my destination my pace had reduced to a 18kph and I was tiring. I tanked up on bacon and egg pie in a cafe in Tautapere, that for mysterious reasons had well over one hundred egg beaters hanging on a wall along with other obsolete kitchenware. I asked the lady at the counter if the road continued to be flat all the way to Te Anau. “Oh yes, apart from Blackmount Mountain” … excuse me, did I hear you right? Any mountain with the word black in it conjures dark images of foreboding … I was doomed. “Oh but it’s all downhill from there.” A silver lining. I just had to get to, and then over, Blackmount Pass.
Salt deficiency causes head aches, weakness, and light headedness. I suggest it might also cause one to start talking to oneself in the third person? I was losing the plot, and my body was no longer responding to my brain. I reasoned, and why wouldn’t I, that my body was in a bad mood with my head, and perhaps this was a relationship that I needed to work on. I started egging my body on, made it promises, told it that I’d give it all sorts of special treatment and rub downs if it would just get me there.
At 130kms I had been out in the sun a total of nine hours and was now averaging a little over 10 kms per hour whilst still on the flat. I inched past Blackmount Area School, and there ahead loomed Blackmount. How I managed to get over the mountain pass is anyone’s guess, but as the lady from the egg beater cafe promised, it was downhill more or less all the way to Manipouri, and I finally rolled up to Freestone Farm eleven and a half hours after leaving Invercargill.
I slid like a poached egg off my bike. I was all but broken. Freestone is a cute network of little bungalows set into the hillside latticed together with small gravel paths and flowerbeds. Did I mention hillside? Mustering what little energy I had left, I half heaved, half pushed, half dragged my overloaded bike up the 500m gravel driveway to the carpark. Where’s the office?” “It’s the house on top of the hill” On top of the hill! “Greg won’t be back till eight thirty but there is a list of names and their room numbers on the door”. Struggling to walk without making strange cycle motions, I hobbled to the top of the hill. I read the list on the door. I read it again. How could my name not be on that list in the window? Was this some cruel joke? I limped back down. Made a phone call. “No reservation? No rooms left!” Tears welled up in my eyes. I can’t move another metre. I refuse to go. I’ll pitch my tent right here. Right here on this slope.
Nurk a gifted storyteller from Germany took pity on me and sat me down in his bungalow, feed me up boiled potatoes covered in sour cream and onion which I the proceeded to ruin by burying them underneath lashings of salt. I then drunk his wine and let him entertain me with stories of growing up in Communist Germany, which involved love triangles with people called Chinchin and Olaf, inappropriate relations with his perfect breasted Russian teacher, his time guarding the Berlin Wall as an 18 year old with instructions to shoot to kill, his planned escape through Hungry, his much adored Grandfather, and his multiple relationships. How much of any of that was true is anyone’s guess, but I was thoroughly entertained and my pains forgotten. I then said my thank yous, limped to my canvas shelter, and spent the remainder of Christmas Eve repetitively slipping to the bottom of my tent.
Merry Christmas All xxx