Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Saga of the Osell

Day 1 of Biking in which Water Becomes A Theme

I tried to pack the night before but my time was taken up releasing a rescued seagull at the beach, so the sunny morning was devoted to scrambling and stuffing, stacking and strapping. My first attempt to leave was halted by a bendy bike, result of too much weight. By 1100, vital shoes and sunscreen applied appropriately, I was off, starting on the good omen of a downhill. With help from friend and pedestrian I managed to find my way out of Timaru and its hills, onto the flats and wind of the Canterbury Plains. True to unpredictable New Zealand temperament, the weather quickly turned overcast and drizzly, real side-ways rain. Not being in a rush, I stopped under cover and had a snack, willing the clouds to clear. Boredom got me moving soon though, and the rain kept me going. I wouldn’t stop for another four hours, hoping to dry out.

This was the plan: With a couple weeks to do what I would, I decided to visit Akaroa, the only French settlement of New Zealand. It is situated in the middle of Banks Peninsula, just south of Christchurch, nestled in epic hills. Along the entire eastern coast runs Highway 1, the fastest and busiest route since it holds all bridges. I would take back roads until a crossing was necessary, and only then meet up with the six-wheeled-semi-infested highway. South of Banks Peninsula is a lagoon called Lake Ellesmere, separated from the ocean by the Kaitorete Spit, a 30 km stretch, 20 of which had dirt road. Instead of going around the west side of the lagoon, I hoped the spit would be in contact with the south side and I could portage my bike over sand to solid land.

The rain got worse as the temperature dropped. I was cold and heavy with wet. At 1930 it was starting to get dark as I rode by a grove of pines planted in rows. Looking like good cover, I found a gate to the paddock, but here was a water trough separating me from my protection. I took off my shoes and made the trips across, reloaded, and searched for the right spot. Still barefoot, I pitched my tent in half dark and heavy rain, absolutely cold and miserable. I forced myself to eat a couple handfuls of trail mix before curling up for warmth. Throughout the night I heard shuffles and snuffles outside, but when I checked, my dream-ridden brain fearing the worst, there was nothing.

Day 2 of Biking in which The Noises Discover Me and I Dry Out

During my routine morning dash, still in a drizzle, I heard grunts from several creatures behind me. All night I had worried about twenty-or-so calves, very curious and friendly as it turned out. Too comfortable to move in the rain, I hoped to wait it out before breaking camp. After a little lunch the sky began to lighten up as I headed on, allowing a short day of riding to end at a campground to ease my drying. Dinner was a pot of noodles with flavored tuna (sun-dried tomato and olive oil), with enough leftover for breakfast.

Day 3 of Biking in which I Encounter Mullets And Dinosaurs

With a slow morning of packing, still learning my routine, I had another short day of riding, interrupted by two territorial magpies and a farm dog. Before stopping in the town of Rakaia I had to cross the river of Rakaia, famous for its salmon. The bridge is 1.8 km, lacking in both shoulder and licensed truckers. Safe in the town, I went to a pub for dinner, watching the locals. On the surface, small town New Zealand shares many similarities with small town Wisconsin; rough, chubby, belching, beer men and their women. Take note of a long mulleted man and his Maori girlfriend with the spiral tattoo on her shoulder. They return to redeem their original Kiwi identity. The night was cloudless so I dressed warm in my sleeping bag, sprawled out on the grass with a bar of chocolate, watching the foreign stars. I tried to make constellations that I could remember, but the only one I can recall is a long-necked dinosaur and I haven’t found it yet. The nightly temperatures were just above 0 degrees Celsius, and dew was always heavy and solid, so I made sure to wakeup and move inside.

Day 4 of Biking in which Things Get Sandy

Bored of endless green fields filled with gamboling lambs and edged with mountainous splendor, I planned to camp on the beach before crossing to the spit the next day. The closer I got to the ocean, the emptier and eerier it felt. Mid-afternoon, no buildings or crossroads in sight, I saw a teenage boy dressed in black stumbling drunk and drinking. He stopped and watched me pass, no noise, no expression, just a crooked sway. When I got to the beach I had to push through a stretch of dunes around the bottom of Lake Ellesmere before reaching to point. There was constant wind, the waves were loud, the ocean made me nervous. I pitched my tent behind the final dune for protection and went for a walk to watch the epic sunset. When I got back to camp I noticed a trickle of water coming around the dune. It was dark and the tide was coming in. I put on warm clothes, covered in rain gear and lay on the dune, hoping, willing the ocean to hold back. After a few hours, I climbed back in my tent, waking at three-hour intervals to make sure I wasn’t swamped. At sunrise I found froth and damp at a four-foot diameter from my tent.

Later: Day 5 of Biking in which The Ocean Tries Again and I Meet The Gardener

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hauling Firewood All Day In The Foothills Of The Southern Alps

My favorite pair of socks share twin holes in the heel. I hadn't realized until a hostel friend pointed at my upturned feet and said, "You haff holes in your socks." A man's life is in his feet. Soldiers are told to always keep their feet warm and dry, to take breaks every two hours for boot removal and soul massage. My feet were no longer pristine and shipshape, but on the verge of unravel. The ever-simple solution to buy new socks now takes on greater purpose and priority. I am growing up.

I caught a bus out of Chritchurch heading for Timaru, a coastal town two hours south. The Canterbury Plain holds some of the flattest land in New Zealand, green fields oulined by the formidable Southern Alps. (35 adventurers have died on Mt. Cook this season). With the help of a woman that looked more like John Cleese than any man has, a second bus brought me to the house of Deb and Chris, the distant family of close friends. They showed me the town, the cliffs, the beaches. They told me customs and history. New Zealand soil lacks many important nutrients, so it seems eating your homegrown vegetables is not enough. Kiwis love to compost. Some favorite additives to a well ventilated compost are seaweed and turkey manure. We went on a scavenging trip to the beach, poking through thick rubbery dumps of seaweed filled with thousands of tiny winged insects. We threw buzzing handfuls into a bag, dreaming of fortified Caesar Salad. After a few days in Timaru, I stayed on a farm for two weeks, trading labor for the comforts of a home. The owner of the farm is called Ginny (spelled Jenny). She rents the farmhouse to a farming family, along with enough land for their 500 cattle and 3000 sheep. Jenny prefers the four room cottage complete with kitchen, outdoor toilet and a bathroom in the unusable stages of renovation. Sometimes life can be surprisingly perfect. The cottage is on top of a hill, sharing space with a sizable herb and vegetable garden. Down the hill two cows were kept in a spotted paddock, the grass growing thicker and greener where warm fertilizer had been unintentionally dropped. One cow was licking her new calf, the other still heavy and expecting. "What do you do with the calfs?" I wondered. "Freezer in the Fall." Oh. We went inside for lamb steaks. My days were filled. I moved firewood from the bottom of the hill to the wood shed at the top, I watered the garden with water and liquid manure, we built a lamb pen, we fed the lambs in the pen three times a day every day. I helped the One-Armed Farmess with the Hee-Hee chuckle cover her horses in the rain, we checked cows, I watched the mountains change with the sky. For a couple days the plumber and great-bearded carpenter came to work on Jenny's bathroom. During frequent tea breaks I listened to stories of mountain adventure. Rock hopping, man-moving winds, stories of single trees with enough wood to build twelve houses, of close calls taking hairpin turns on a motorcycle, the road suddenly blocked by a stopped tour bus, its inhabitants out and packed to the edge, enamored with the glacial beauty. Stories of Hell With It, and taking the edge. Jenny's pre-ten year old granddaughter, Jessica, stayed a few days with us. She took me for walks and introduced all the animals, talking and taking pictures. We were met by Papa Goat at the gate of a paddock. Hopping the fence, Mama Goat joined us shortly. She led us behind the abandoned horse carriage to the deflated body of what once was Baby Goat. Jessica cried, hugging and petting Mama Goat, who also cried, licking the kid. It had been her first pregnancy and she had sat on all three of her babies. One night, on our pre-bedtime cow check, we found the second wet, big-eyed baby. We had missed the birthing by minutes. On another day, the farmer told us that one of the cows had mastitis, the infection and clogging of a teat. She needed a shot, but cows are a bit difficult to catch. Five of us cornered her and when she rushed through, one farm man grabbed her tail, swinging around. Another farm man grabbed her by the horns and held her. The One-Armed Farmess stabbed the needle and plunged the plunger. On my final day at the farm Jenny took me to a nearby river to go fly fishing. I walked on the rocks, lay in the rocks, fished from the rocks. It was a fruitful, though fishless, day. I am now back at Chris and Deb's, preparing myself and my bicycle for a couple weeks of touring before working on another Timaru-local farm specializing in bird breeding. Thanks for reading,

May your fly land true, your line hold taut, and your fish be heavier than your heart.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Farewell and Arrival

The day of departure. A final sandwich. Deli meat is too expensive in New Zealand. Thank you U.S. customs for invading my personal privacy for my personal security, you make my day. I had a three and a half hour layover in San Fransisco, so my godfather met me at the airport. Stepping off the subway, I stepped into the concert hall of a bearded man and his banjo. He was sitting at the bottom of the escalator. With confidence brought by the mandolin strapped to my pack, I nodded and smiled at him. In response, his single eyebrow twitched and furiously folded into itself. He then threw his head to the side and laughed with rhythm and tune to his plucking. Michael and I rode up onto the bay, bridge overhead, the hills over the water, the sun over us. On the street I noticed an IRO (NR!) built up with cruiser bars. On the bike I notice a set of boots and a polkadot skirt. I plan to spend more time in San Fransisco. After a dinner of sushi and filet mignon, watching the sun set, I forcibly inserted myself into a plane seat. The flight was as unremarkable as any 17 hour flight could be. Except when I watched Star Trek and started tearing up from excitement, and the old New Zealand couple next to me grew really interested. The first thing the Auckland airport offers to its fresh-off-the-plane arrivees is two large bottles of colorful hapiness for only $79. I saw two (fat) (American) (probably 18 and overexcitable) girls with a handle of vodka for each hand. I was already kind of sick feeling. I missed the entire flight to Christchurch, including take off and landing. There, I followed the arrows to my bikebox and gearbag and dragged it to a shuttle that took me directly to my hostel. I have spent almost two days here, watching baby ducks at the river, smelling the blooming city (it's spring here), and talking to people from all populated continents. I will post pictures later when I can use my own computer and internet at the same time. Thanks to all who helped to get here, much love, cheers,