Friday, 25 November 2011

Cycling NZ - Go Japanese in Lake Tekapo

Day 10 - Sunday 6 Nov 2011
Distance Ridden:
85km; Route: Geraldine - Pleasant Point - SH8 -> Kimbell; Weather: sunny, warm; Terrain: flattish with a few small climbs.

I met other bikers for the first time. Apart from Neil, the overloaded Taiwanese guy, I also met an Australian cyclist on a stroll from Christchurch to Twizel. It makes one feel better to know he ain't the only crazy out there. Neil and I had the same route, but he was too slow and I decided to proceed alone shortly after leaving Geraldine. As per the i-Site staff's advice, I took a longer, but nicer route through some country roads, with a landscape that reminded me a lot of the place I come from - Podkrkonoší - in the eastern part of the Czech Republic. It was a pleasant, traffic-free ride over a few lovely rolling hills, surrounded by huge green pastures and a line of peaks at the horizon.

Talking about green, I ran into a military convoy right in the middle of Fairlie (soldiers with rifles, armed vehicles and all that). Should have asked them for a ride, but bright ideas don't always come at the right time. At least one of them saluted when I was taking a picture; shame it came out all blurry. I saw lots of other military vehicles over the following days, probably due to the military base in the area.

Click to see more pics.
Once I reached Pleasant Point, I just followed the SH8, enjoying more farmland scenery, saw a pig farm for the first time (no wonder pork is so expensive here), some deer farms and whatnot.

In the spirit of freedom camping, I pitched my tent near a ford a bit off the main road and slept on a soft mattress of high grass. A single mooing cow tried to make my sleep miserable, nothing a pair of earplugs (a.k.a. Megadeth in the headphones) couldn't fix. I was a bit upset for not having reached Lake Tekapo (thanks to the 25km detour via Pleasant Point), but at least I had something to look forward to for the next day.

Day 11 - Monday 7 Nov 2011
Distance Ridden:
36km; Route: SH8 Kimbell - Burke's Pass - Lake Tekapo; Weather: sunny, warm, slightly windy; Terrain: hard climb over Burke's Pass, then continuous but moderate climbing and a final downswing to Lake Tekapo.

Having to cover only 35 kilometres, I didn't start riding until 11 o'clock. I was mentally prepared to tackle my first official big climb, Burke's Pass, and with great relief discovered how easy it was. After the initial warm-up slope there was just one really hard, but short (1km) climb and voilá, I was at the 709m summit. The rest of the way to Tekapo was real easy, despite the omnipresent headwind, and it made for a really enjoyable leisurely ride. Just before Tekapo I noticed a mountain bike track and left the main road, rolling into town with great pleasure through a patch of pine forest.

140 years of Japanese cycling, a.k.a. respect for the age
The highlight of the day was meeting a lovely couple from Tokyo, also cycling through NZ. They're no ordinary cyclists, though, they're 70-years old! And they rock, they cycled in the Rockies (Canada), in Spain, in the Alps, in Turkey, and who knows where else. They don't go fast, but they go. What takes me a couple of hours takes them a day, but they do get to places eventually, and for once I enjoyed a slow and leisurely ride instead of rushing forward at full steam.

Japanese feast
Since we were all heading to Lake Tekapo and planning to stay there for a few days, we agreed to meet for dinner. For being such a small town, Tekapo has a surprisingly wide range of Asian restaurants and being with my new Japanese friends, we went to the local Japanese restaurant. I had never eaten real Japanese food with real Japanese people in a real Japanese place before, and this experience (feast) was an absolute treat! I learned how real sushi looks like, how delicious a spicy eel soup can be and how to eat all those things properly, without making a mess and without using a fork (I already knew how to use chopsticks, but this took my skills to another level).

Foot, Oh My Oh Foot
Lake Tekapo is a very nice place, apparently it has the clearest air in the Southern Hemisphere and it's the best spot to photograph the Southern Alps. I concur, and I really, really wanted to do some hiking in the area. Unfortunately, I had somehow strained my right foot during the previous cycling and walking had become quite a painful business, so I didn't really feel motivated to do much, expect a run to the store for beer. Not to mention that the hostel had a hammock.

Hurt or lazy
Who am I kidding... I just become extremely lazy when I'm staying at a hostel, with all the comforts it offers. I just hate arriving somewhere in the afternoon, tired, in need of relax, knowing that by 10 the next morning I must be packed and gone, so instead of doing something useful give in to the spoils of civilisation and get hooked up on the internet all day. It sucks, I know it and it pisses the hell out of me, but it's just how I am. The dark side of me, at least.

It's usually not so bad if there's someone to share the time with, which is why, if I'm by myself, I try to motivate other people to go hiking and thus they motivate me. Unfortunately, there wasn't much choice in Tekapo - just two young German chicks perfectly fitting the "young chicken" category - inexperienced, dull, and lazy (they literally said "we don't like hills" and when I mentioned the word hitch-hike, they almost fainted...). There was a nice (and more brainy) Swiss girl who I spent some time with, but no hiking, either. Doesn't matter, though, I blame it all on the weather and on the aching Achille's heel.

Side note: Plans are made to be changed... and reduced
My original plan to cycle for three months got reduced a lot by my own lazyness, bad morale at times, and now it seems like I'll only be pedalling for a month, just when I'm really getting into it. Considering how much money the bike cost me, it's rather unsettling to be using it just for a short while, so I made a vow to myself - for every dollar spent on the bike and gear, I'll cycle at least one kilometre. That means I have to clock at least 1900km... so far I have 720.

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