Ducky's NZ trip - Biking

Dec 26

From Christchurch, we set off on our bikes to beautiful scenic Springfield. It was a real gradual climb for about 70 km through farms and sheep ranches. We had a fair amount of annoying traffic; we'd have about eight cars pass us at once, the trailing onces being slowed down by a really old car. Eventually we came to the park where an old car show was being held, and stopped and had lunch with the car buffs. People gave us a few funny looks, but they were very very friendly. A Filipino woman even came and gave us some cookies!

It didn't rain, but was kind of overcast. We made it to Springfield at about 2 PM, and Hala was kind of disgusted. Springfield was a big town. Population probably over 30. "What are we going to do in Springfield for the rest of the day???" I thought it was great: we'd finally stopped! I was bushed.

I also had quite a good time in Springfield. We encountered a cyclist going the other direction, Mike. He'd taken a bus up to Arthur's Pass, then whipped down to Springfield in five hours. He was HUNGRY, ready to eat a horse, cow, sheep, and have a few giant moas for dessert. He told us that Porter's Pass was actually higher than Arthur's Pass, but that there were some real significant hills in between. (Hala elected to not hear the last part of the statement, and so she spent the next day or two convinced that it was "all downhill" from Porter's Pass.) Mike also told us that there was "bugger all" between Porter's Pass and Arthur's Pass except for a campground at a lake just the other side of Porter's.

Mike was really interesting: he's a grad student at Swindon, working on protein structures, and in particular on the anti-freeze found in fish. But alas, he was going the opposite direction.

We stayed in this kind of strange backpackers'; it really was a private house that had a room with two bunkbeds in it. It felt kind of odd to me, and the family's baby crying kept me from falling asleep for a while.

Dec 27

Photo by Hala Fauzi

From there we started climbing over the Southern Alps. Porters' Pass was brutal. I pushed my bike on foot frequently, but on this hill, even the gung-ho Hala was stopping. (Whose idea was it to go over the mountains FIRST???) And of course, as soon as we got to the top and stopped for lunch, it clouded over and got chilly, oh well. We made it, and derived a lot of satisfaction from that.

Then we went downhill and came to the lake that Mike had described. There was a sign that told us that Arthur's Pass was another 68 km. I didn't think it was reasonable to try for it, especially since it was starting to rain. Hala didn't think it was reasonable to stop and pitch a tent at 2 PM, especially since it was starting to rain. I ended up yielding with enormous misgivings, and we headed on. After a number of hills and a fair amount of rain and 20? 30? more km, I came to a sign saying "Flock Hill - Accommodations", stopped my bike, pointed towards the place, and dug in my heels.

Photo by Hala Fauzi

Flock Hill is a working sheep ranch. During the off-season, they rent out the shearers quarters. Hala was kind of bored with the farm until she found the game room and the pool table. I was having quite a grand old time flirting with the farmhands, looking around (especially at the wild boar, descendent of Captain Cook's pigs), and NOT riding uphill in the rain. It was sunny there, and I liked that. The hands told me, however, that we were in for rain soon. Hala, the eternal optimist, of course refused to believe this. When I made noises about staying another night on the farm, she politely threatened to leave me behind. Ok, I'm coming.

Dec 28

Photo by Hala Fauzi

Hala turned out to be correct - for the next day anyways. There was no rain, but we had a really brutal headwind. The only nice thing I have to say about the headwind is that it gave me lots of time to admire the fields and fields of purple lupins.

We had lunch in the sunshine at a pub whose proprietor swears up & down that he saw a giant moa. (Everyone else within 100 miles thinks he had too much to drink.)

Photo by Hala Fauzi

We made it over Arthur's Pass with not too much rain, a good sense of achievement, and a great deal of relief. And Hala has the photos to prove it.

Then we just had to go down the Otira Gorge. Imagine Lombard Street for six miles with two-way traffic and a little bit of rain. Yow! It was fun but SCARY.

We spent the night in Otira (from the Maori meaning "place of travelers"), a town so small that the hotel room doors didn't even have locks on them.

At 1:30 AM, someone climbed in our bedroom window. Hala and I screamed him off, but it was still rather unsettling and I didn't sleep well. (The next morning we determined that it was the owner's teenage son sneaking back in after a night of drinking and getting the wrong window.)

Dec 29

Furthermore, it started POURING during the night, and showed no sign of letting up any time soon. Between all the hills I'd done before, not sleeping well, and the rain, I bailed. Hala was the one to first suggest the bus, but when she saw two bikers go by (who had obviously just come down the Otira Gorge), she changed her mind. I ended up taking the bus to Greymouth alone, with Hala biking the 100km.

I had a very pleasant day in Greymouth. I got my wheel professionally trued (it had gotten bent on one or more of the plane trips), had a nice chat with a young mail carrier who was in the middle of his appointed rounds on bicycle, and went to a crafts museum. I also had a really yummy supper.

At about 7 PM, I went back to the backpackers' worrying about how long I ought to wait before calling a taxi-van to go looking for Hala. Our speed was about 10 km/hr, I had not seen her from the bus, my info said it was about 100km, it was NOT all downhill, and she'd left at about noon. I thus estimated that it would take her until about 10 PM to get to Greymouth, which was about nightfall.

But Hala was at the Backpackers'! She said she'd just plowed through; she had caught up with the two bikers who had inspired her, the rain stopped after about three hours, it was sunny and warm, and it was "all downhill". (Plus she's studly.) Oh well. I took Hala and Mike and Cecilia (the bikers, who were from LA) BACK to the restaurant and watched them eat.

Dec 30

Photo by Hala Fauzi

The next day, we four rode together up to Punakaiki, a set of interesting rock formations on the coast. We also ran into some interesting rock formations on the road: it was unpaved for about 2 km. And when I say "unpaved", I don't mean "dirt". I don't mean "gravel". I mean rocks. Nice pointy ones. I was extremely happy that I had put Kevlar tires on my bike.

We did have nice weather (aside from a stiff headwind) all the way up to Punakaiki, but - no joke - the minute we got there it started to rain. We had a very cold and wet lunch out sitting on the rocks, with all of us laughing at how silly we were to be so miserable, but none of us willing to hike back to the bikes to get better gear.

Photo by Hala Fauzi

The West Coast of NZ is beautiful. Cross the Big Sur area of Highway 1 with the lushness of Oregon, and you get the picture.

After lunch, C&M turned back and we went on to Charleston, where we were going to spend the night. After battling LARGE hills, a STIFF headwind, and POURING rain, we arrived in Charleston soaking wet and exhausted.... only to discover that both motels were full!

Ride From Hell

We had the choice of setting up the tent in the pouring rain, or trying to get our fatigued bodies the 30 km to Westport before sunset (two hours). We kind of looked at each other, gulped nervously, took some deep breaths, and hauled our tired little bodies off to Westport. We made it just as night fell, and I spent all the next day and night (with breaks for food and New Year's) sleeping.

Hala was just amazed at how long it would take me to recuperate. She felt that with food and a night's sleep, I should be ready to do the same thing again the next day!

Dec 31

New Year's Eve was kind of blah for me. Hala had gone out to paint the town a little earlier. I drug myself out of bed and down to the clock tower to watch the new year start. Because of where NZ sits on the time-zone map, the day, and hence the year, really does starts there. Wow. Oh boy. Lots of rowdy drunk people. I was not impressed. "I can see as much of that as I like when I go back to graduate school", I thought.

On my way back to the backpackers', I stopped some Kiwis, and asked them to point out the Southern Cross for me. It got dark so late and there had been so many clouds that I hadn't had much chance to look. (I had been able to spot Orion very easily, and after some tense moments even managed to convince myself that it was OK for Orion to be upside-down.) Unfortunately, they didn't know where the Southern Cross was.

Jan 1

The next day, we had a very pleasant ride 95 km to Murchison. It would rain a little bit - just enough to keep us cool, then it would by warm and sunny. The terrain was rolling enough to be interesting, but not steep enough to be too annoying. We even thought we might check-in dry, but JUST as we got into Murchison, it started to rain! At the backpackers' kitchen, a stereotypical little old lady treated us to a near-monologue on her back pains, her husband's fishing/panning for gold, the rain, and her grandchildren, chain-smoking the whole time. (This was unusual; I was surprised at how little the Kiwis smoked. I guess socialized medicine and no domestic tobacco industry will do that to a country.)

Jan 2

The next morning, I topped off my tires at an air pump at a gas station. Hala decided maybe she ought to pump hers up - they were at 40 psi when the max was 60 psi. So she put 60 psi in, and we got about a mile out of town when she fell off her bike. She got up again quite sheepishly - she'd run off the shoulder onto the dirt, then when she tried to hop back on, the tires were stiffer than she was used to and she tumbled.

It rained a fair bit that day, but I was quite enjoying the ride. It wasn't too hilly, and I guess I was just getting used to being wet. Hala was starting to reach her limit, however. The rain was really starting to get to her; every time the rain would stop, she'd get hot and take off her rain gear. As soon as she took off her rain gear, it would start raining again. (Maybe she just didn't have monster hills to keep her happy and to take her mind off the rain!)

We'd gotten about 40 km towards Nelson (on the north coast of the South Island) when we came to a road going off to the right with a picnic area on the opposite side of the road. There were a lot of people on the road, going home from the New Year's holiday, and the picnic area was full of people.

"Call the ambulance"

I saw Hala look over her right shoulder to check for cars, then start swerving and fall for the second time that day. It looked like the same thing that happened before. "Boy, she's REALLY going to be embarrassed this time!", I thought. But then she didn't get up. Uh-oh.

It was on a little bit of a curve and a little bit of a hill and we were a little wet and I did NOT want to duplicate her gymnastic feat, so I slowed down carefully and was beaten to her by some people from across the road. "Call the ambulance" were her first words, and "I'm tired" were her second words. Panic time. Sounded to me like possible concussion.... especially when she later complained of being cold. (The fact that she was soaking wet and lying in the shade on the ground of course had nothing to do with it.)

The Cavalry

Fortunately, because of all the traffic, we had a nurse on the scene instantly, a man with a CB in two or three, a doctor in five or ten, and an ambulance in twenty minutes. (One of our biggest worries at that point was keeping the sandflies off of Hala as she lay there! We had at least two people fanning her at all times.)

The doctor had decided that she had no spinal-column injuries, and we had just loaded the bikes, Hala, and me into a truck to go meet the ambulance half-way when it arrived. The EMTs looked at Hala and decided to take her to Murchison to the medical center there. I followed in the truck with a sweet woman whose name I was too addled to remember, sigh.

At the medical center, they told me they'd probably just clean her up and hold her for about two hours, then release her. "Come back in about two hours." I went and got a motel room (and spread out my clothes to dry), booked two bus tickets to Nelson for the next day, and had a bite to eat (my first food since breakfast), then went back to the medical center.

Socialized Medecine, part II

"We were just about to go look for you! We've got to send her to Nelson!" My knees went slightly weak, but no, nothing serious, it's just that when they scraped off all the blood, they decided that she needed stitches after all, which they couldn't do in Murchison because they were not doctors. So the driver and I loaded Hala's bike and panniers into the ambulance, I rode over to the motel and got all my stuff (and a refund!) and a pickup from the ambulance. Together we took a two hour ride in brilliant sunshine over to Nelson. The ambulance driver was a really sweet guy and gave me a bit of a travelogue as we drove around. In particular, he told me a lot about commercial forrestry in NZ.

Hala's care was free but it took them hours to put in one stitch, looking in her eyeball (her contact lens had gotten knocked out, apparently, and her eye was funny colors), taking X-rays, etc. At least, it felt like forever to someone who was pacing back and forth with nothing for company but back issues of Readers' Digest and New Zealand Woman's World Weekly.

I did unpack my panniers and spread my wet clothes out over my bike, Hala's bike, lounge chairs, etc, so I guess the time was mildly productive. I also managed to make reservations at a Bed&Breakfast.

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Copyright, 1994, Kaitlin Duck Sherwood

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