You know when things don’t go as planned, and it unexpectedly works out much better? That was my day today. (Long distance solo bike journeys, in my experience, have this seemingly magical effect… Though I’m sure there’s nothing supernatural about it.)
The plan was to cycle from Oamaru to the little village of Waikouaiti, where I was to stay in the only pub/hotel available. I heard about Beach Road, a coastal route out of Oamaru, from a Green Party member who lives near Hampden, who had contacted me after reading the blog and offered to ride part way with me today. I enthusiastically accepted, and we made a tentative plan to meet somewhere on the coastal route.
Beach Road is the perfect cycle route. Rolling hills, gorgeous expansive views of pristine beaches, and hardly a car in sight. It was a dream. I was quite tempted to go for a swim in the shimmering crystal blue sea, but I was already behind schedule. So I pushed forward as quickly as possible. When I met up with my cycling companion, he had been chatting with a group of 6 Russians who are cycle touring the entire ring of fire, and have been in NZ since early December.
It is a pleasure to be able to cycle and converse at the same time. You don’t notice the uphill effort as much, you can share your awe at the magnificent scenery with someone else. It’s usually just nice to have company, just as it is nice to share a car with others for long journeys. Funny, it’s taken for granted that cars take up at least twice the width of a cyclist all the time, even when they’ve only got one person in them. Yet often those in cars seem outraged that two cyclists should ride abreast and converse as they are travelling together…. We discussed many things, including possible routes for my next two days, as I was getting nervous about being able to arrive in Mataura in time for Saturday.
Leaving the coastal route at Wainakarua, there is literally no alternative (not even a steep, up-hill, out of the way one) to SH1 until Moeraki. And this stretch is where the shoulder of SH1 becomes much more narrow, and significantly bumpier. It would have been terrifying but for the company to distract me, although it did get much more difficult to converse.
We stopped in Hampden for lunch, as that was the turn off for my cycling companion. (The fish and kumara chips in Hampden are about the freshest and most delicious I’ve had. Highly recommended as a stop if you’re on the road.)
Sitting outside eating our freshly caught lunch, we chanced to meet a woman from Karitane (just past Waikouaiti), who is quite involved in a number of community and sustainability initiatives.
“You must meet her, I’ll introduce you,” said my cycling companion. And so he did. She and her daughter were coming back from a workshop on food security that had been held in Oamaru this morning. We got to talking, and she proposed that I stay at hers tonight.
I had been contemplating canceling my booking and trying to make it further along today, anyway, and when she proposed that she could ring a number of people involved in the East Otago Walking-Cycling Network to see of they wanted to come over for a chat over coffee and cake, I couldn’t refuse.
After lunch, I headed off alone towards Palmerston with Kanye West’s “Stronger” as my motivating soundtrack, steeling myself for the grueling hills ahead, aiming to be in Karitane by 6pm. There was a slight complication, as I was probably going to have to pay for the booked accommodation anyway, but I figured I’d sort that out when I went through Waikouaiti.
About 9km out from Palmerston, I stopped for a water break at a beachside rest area, the last point before the State Highway turns inland. I started heading up the hill, slowly overtaking a truck (that had previously overtaken me) which was pulled over on the side of the road. The driver, a classic kiwi truckie in his early 60s, struck up a conversation with me as I passed.
I’m not quite sure how it happened, but he offered me a ride (anywhere I wanted on the way to Invercargill) and though I initially declined, I impulsively accepted. I’d gone just over 50km and had about another 30 to my destination. I thought, this is a great opportunity to see what it’s like to be inside a big truck, and chat with a truckie about the issues he faces, and save a bit of time and energy so I can make the next two huge days and not miss part of the festival. So we strapped my bike on the bed of the truck, between two giant rain tanks, and I hopped on in.
My observations were as follows. It is damn comfortable to be up high, gliding along in a truck. You get excellent visibility of what’s in front of you. We passed 3 cycle tourists going the other direction. You have NO IDEA at all what it’s like for the small slow moving objects you pass. It’s easy to see how drivers, even if they give wide berth as this driver does, could become quite cavalier about overtaking bikes at close proximity, at high speeds. They’re quite insulated.
We had a great chat about transport, truck driving, and the demand for goods around the south island, and I heard a lot about his family and life story. But it all happened quickly, because we were through Palmerston and to Waikouaiti in no time. Maybe 15 minutes and we were where I was planning to be in 3 hours. And it was so easy and comfortable. This could get addictive.
Just as I was starting to feel guilty about all those kilometers I hadn’t cycled, things started to work out. I popped into the motel to see if I could cancel for the night, only to find they were in the midst of trying to arrange a last minute hotel in Palmerston for a long staying guest because they had double booked. They were in the process of booting out some poor gold miner for me, but he’d been out of contact up a mine shaft all day. I got there just in time, so the hotel owner could cancel the arrangements and we were all happier, with the gold miner none the wiser.
Arriving in Karitane at about 330, I was able to do laundry and visit with my exceedingly generous hosts, who had arranged an impromptu cycle advocates meeting and even baked a chocolate cake since I last saw them in Hampden. I watched the child poverty documentary that has been the centre of a serious political maelstrom (more on that from me later) this week, and I ate about twice as much as every one else of a delicious home cooked dinner: fish, rice, veggies and salad. What a miracle.
At 7pm, a number of locals heavily involved in the East Otago walking-cycling network started coming by, some with home baked desserts. We had a fantastic korero about their projects and aspirations, about transport policy and advocacy, and we even got a surprise visit from Dundedin City Councillor Jinty MacTavish, who is from nearby. At least one of the people here tonight is heading to the Keep the Coal in the Hole festival this weekend as well, and she was able to provide me with alternative route advice for my last 2.5 epic days.
This is how we can and must develop the solutions to the challenges we face. With community. Sharing information, ideas, food, rides, passion. I feel so lucky to be a part of it, and to receive such kindness and generosity from strangers.
Tomorrow I plan to meet Metiria at the top of Mount Cargill around 1030am, for a ride into Dunedin with public health expert Hank Weiss, and hopefully some local cycle advocates.