Saturday, 1 December 2012

Cycling the North Island - Day 05 - Die, evil wind, die!

Back after a short break from blogging. It's been a week since my cycling journey through the North Island started, and I'm now fully into it. Ironically, I'm sitting on a bus while writing these words...

Monday 26th November
After an extremely windy night on the coast, spent in attempts to hold the tent together rather than sleeping, I carried on to Martinborough. The day started greatly - first I met a young farmer herding a huge flock of sheep, a scene that reminded me the Kiwi b-horror Black Sheep, then I had a refreshing bath in a stream and finally, refreshed, clean and full of energy from my bacon and eggs breakfast, I started tackling the long ride back to civilisation. Of the 70km from the coast to Martinborough, the first thirty were on gravel, through beautiful and utterly remote farming/native bush country, while the remaining forty were on sealed roads, through beautiful farming/native bush country. The first part was easy, with much milder gradients leaving the coast than the official road to Cape Palliser I took to get there. The real hard work started when the terrain threw a bunch of long steady climbs my way, but it wasn't until the biggest hill's summit that I realized trouble was coming. A warning sign saying "wind gusts" and a large, crazily spinning wind farm were the harbingers of what followed - lots and lots of bad wind. Indeed, as soon as I reached the ridge, a strong northerly almost blew me off the road. And yes, I was heading north. Oh happy days.

8,63 megawatts... who cares, I don't want it to be windy!
The swift swoosh down the hill was awesome but brief, and every metre of road that followed was earned in sweat and blood. I reached Martinborough by early afternoon (surprisingly, there are almost no vineyards in this renowned wine region) and having planned to take the rest of the day off, I bought a pack of beer and started enjoying its contents right away. With great pleasure. Then I started looking for a place to stay and soon found out that accommodation doesn't come cheap in Martinborough (the only campsite in town charges $20 for a tent site, what a ripoff). I therefore decided to carry on and find something more affordable elsewhere, with several beer bottles still in my pack (it was tempting to drink them all and get rid of the weight, but ride intoxicated? No... I gurgled them along the way).

I never reached Carterton, the town I was heading to, because the road turned west after 15km, directly into the wind's direction, and a blast of westerly almost stopped me in my tracks. I got off the bike right there and then, pitched my tent in a small patch of trees and feel asleep with the words "fuck this shit" being the day's last remark.

Stonehenge of the modern age.
Tuesday 27th November
Waking up all sticky with the previous day's sweat and dust, I equipped myself with soap and towel and jumped into a nearby river. Once refreshed enough, it was time for streaky bacon and jumbo eggs breakfast, giving me enough energy to tackle yet another headwindy day.
The first stop was Aotearoa Stonehenge, NZ's own version of the ancient English landmark. I had the privilege of an exclusive tour, since I arrived on a closure day, but considering my means of transport they had mercy and let me have a peek. It's quite a piece of work, all concrete and steel beams and of course fully quake proof. Like its European peer, it's designed to do some things with astrology, but I didn't really grasp the details.

At lunchtime I reached Masterton, the area's largest town, and as soon as I spotted a McDonald's sign, something strange happened. As if a magical force was pulling me, I was irresistibly drawn to a nearby fastfood, with the words BIG MAC, DOUBLE BIG MAC and FREE WI-FI flashing in my head. While boosting my morale with a large lamb burger, chips, coke, flat white coffee and an episode of the highly addictive Big Bang Theory, I logged on to Warmshowers.org, the Couchsurfing for cyclists, and managed to secure a host in Pahiatua, 65km further north.

Happy to have a plan for the night, I left Masterton, and that's where real hell broke out. Imagine driving on a long, straight, flat road with dull surroundings and not being able to go more than 30km/h, even when crashing the gas pedal to the floor. Better still, imagine running the marathon in knee-deep water with big iron weights tied to your ankles. Are you imagining it? Then you know what it was like to ride a bicycle that day. Luckily, the terrible headwind lasted only for about 15km, until Mt Bruce came into view and I had to start climbing. After a short climb and a blissfully swift descent, the road turned slightly east, making the NW wind almost bearable. At 7pm, I was knocking at my hosts' door. A combination of shower, razorblade, clean clothes and a juicy rump steak turned me back into a civilized being who enjoyed a pleasant evening with his hosts. They're nice people who do like their cycling, and their stories made me realize I'm not the only person afflicted by bad winds. Thank gods! I was convinced somebody put a wind curse on me.

Wednesday 28th November
This morning, after a substantial bacon and eggs breakfast (I never tire of mentioning it), I did the very thing I swore to avoid - cycling west, directly into the evil maw of an omnipresent westerly blowing from the coast. This decision, however, had a logical basis. 30km west of Pahiatua is Palmerston North, a city where I could catch a bus that would take me several hundred kilometres west, dealing with all the wind for the humble price of $32. In other words, a bargain. I'm heading to Taranaki National Park, to the mighty mountain that's sometimes referred to as New Zealand's Mt Fuji. Although I originally wanted to cycle everywhere, avoiding any other means of transport, catching the bus was for the best. It saves me at least two days of frustrating riding through boring country on a busy road, and unlike my original plan to leave the bike somewhere, hitch-hike to Taranaki and then back, it will allow me to ride east using the Forgotten World Highway (HW43), something I've been looking forward to for quite a while. And guess what: I'll be finally riding with the wind! Or so I hope. Ok, that's it for now, the bus is well on its way, we should soon be able to see... yes, there it is! Mt Taranaki... wow, it does look like Mt Fuji!

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