Wanaka or bust
Makarora was cloudy and gray, and a fierce tailwind hounded me out along the high glacier plateau. I arrived at the shore of a huge (30 km long) lake, whose navy blue surface had choppy whitecaps all across it. Another lake, Hawea had a smoother surface, and more turquoise water, but when I tried the water, it was too cold to swim.
Finally the tailwind became a side wind, and hills barricaded my swift progress. Not to be defeated, I jogged a kilometer in my fine white Shimano bike slippers, clickety-clack. While shoving the overloaded bike along, Iwondered why I have to grab things like boots, buckets, ribbons, bangles, flowers, etc.? And load them on….?)
Before I got into town, I switched costume from my neon blue wooly tights and lacy skirt with the four “tail lights” on the back, to my 42 below jersey and a generous smear of lipstick. Despite the effort to look professional and polished, I failed to wow ‘em at “Edgy Racers” bike shop. I guess the Homeless Lady bicycle luggage didn’t help.
The mechanic, a blase Canadian who has seen everything, suggested I look on Couch Surfing.com….I said: ‘but I’d rather operate within the bike culture, so that’s why I came through here first… say, can you tell me if my bike is solid enough to finish the last stretch of my journey…I only have 3 gears that work…”
“You gotta take the panniers off first”.
The formerly tidy bike shop became a frightening jumble of plastic sacks full of Way Too Much Clothing, and Dubious Foodstuffs. I kicked the 70-odd pounds of stuff over into a corner near the dressing room, wishing it were not so … er. Not so. I knew I’d have to slam it all back and roll out within the hour. No hope of being a resident Shop Rat/raconteuse here….
But the wall where I’d piled my hoard was covered with meticulously matched up contour maps of precisely where I planned to ride, and I had to study it, and silence the “get out of here” vibe I was picking up. In fairness, it was a tiny space, and sales were happening as I rooted through my junk, hoping to get a cool souvenir to give them for their help, however unhelpful it might turn out to be.
The tough choice was between the high, short route over the Crown Range (some climbing involved, but only tourist traffic) or the longer, 110 km route through the What-the-fu canyon. On route 6, which is becoming more and more like the Route 2 of the North Island: a de-facto freeway. And I am nauseated by the realities of cycling in New Zealand. They don’t give a damn about vulnerable road users–they only slow down for cows because of the potential damage to their fucking car or truck.
I told him that option one looked best.
He fingered my wheel with the bike up on the stand. ”Your brakes won’t stand up to the 25 km of steep downhill switchbacks. With that load of yours, the rims will split under the constant braking,…”
This wasn’t good news, and I spent the rest of the afternoon strategizing about how to a) throw my junk into a tourist’s van, and collect it at the botton, and ride unencumbered, or just b) not bother riding, and hitchhike the last leg.
I’m superstitious about accidents that happen “on the last run of the day”…(never mind that a broken leg makes it impossible to do any more runs) and it is often tempting to switch plans (and foil Miss Adventure, the goddess of non-planning travelers) to dodge out of harm’s way. For me, harm is that fishtailing trailer being towed by a genuine hoon.
So I studied up on my options, which are very few when one is hungry.
This half of the trip I’ve kept my renown in the bag, hence a very undazzled kid in Wanaka.
I gave him and James (the other shop mech) my precious 2007 SSWC Aviemore beer opener for their kind counsel, and putting up with my exploded luggage. As I rolled out the door with a poorly-repacked extra wide bike, the first mechanic said , ”Go over to Kai, and just talk to people there. You’ll probably find something”
And so I went to Kai, leaned the ungainly bike on a shrub, and waited in line behind three tanned, blonde girls who could have been in Vail, Nice, or Whistler . When my turn came I said “I’d like a plate of your fries with aioli, your local brewski, and a place to stay tonight.
The servers eyes lit up and she said “we have room at our place….under one condition…”
“You may not clean up the kitchen”
When I let myself into their little cottage, I regretted my promise—here was a home where no cleaning lady has been–ever. Twenty sacks of debris–beer mostly–adorned the yard.
I excavated a large, badly scarred teflon pan and got to work making supper for three. My suppies have to dwindle immediately, so I dumped all the good arborio into the sizzling pan (black bits of plastic bobbing along in the oil….ulp…) chopped a couple of onions and made a huge risotto.
A Czech boy came in with a case of beer under his arm–a roommate–fresh off a 9 hour hike up on the mountain across the lake. He is nearly the first person I’ve ever met that babbles more than me….he raved about his somewhat dangerous adventure, and eyed the pan I was stirring.
I served him and Hollie’s man and myself, and dove into bed in broad daylight, wiped out, but tucked under a real duvet in a real “sleep out” (rear cottage) of my very own.