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