Sunday, December 14, 2008

12/14/2008 - Cheater.

The theme in the mornings so far in New Zealand has been "awakened by animal noises". This morning, it was the soft quack of ducks shoveling around the tent. Almost immediately after this rather pleasant alarm clock, however, came the tightening in my gut when I realized that I had to bike back out up that grade again.

"Maybe I should give it another day in Piha," I thought, "just to give my legs a chance to build up to it. Plus, it's raining. Maybe it will be better tomorrow." However, the rain stopped and the sun came out, and my excuses dissolved. If I was going to feel better about this, I would need to beat this hill. My plan was to make for the small town of Swanson, just 17 miles away, where I would try to recoup. I would then head north to Helensville.

The people I talked to this morning all expressed a certain amount of disbelief when they saw the packed trailer and panniers. "Good luck," they all said, but their eyes ended the sentence with either "you must bicycle a lot" or "you are an idiot". The latter was more common.

With a heavy yet determined heart, I started up the grade. It was not quite what I made it out to be in the early morning hours, but still very steep and very narrow. My excuse for pulling off the road for a break this time was to "let cars pass," and it wasn't all an excuse. Narrow lanes and sharp, blind turns made for some frantic pedaling as I tried to stay in view of drivers.

IMGP0774.JPGThe grade is impossible to judge from this picture, but the look on my face tells the story. And yes, that is a classic Land Rover in the background (my old high school rig).

IMGP0775.JPGThe view from one of the lookouts I hurtled past yesterday. I was camped in that green lawn mid-pic.

As I climbed, I figured out that it was about 700 feet in elevation per mile. Quite slow going.

As I approached the top (at about 850 feet up), I passed a red SUV just about to make a turn. A shout made me turn around.

"Oiy! You need something cold to drink or something?"

I was stopped and turned around. A friendly looking man had stepped out of his SUV.

"No, I think I am doing all right," I replied.

"Well, can I give you a lift, then? Roads are narrow."

Once again, the Kiwi kindness shows itself.

It took a bit of time as I wrestled with the idea. Should I or shouldn't I? In the end, I accepted. I was already a day behind by going to Piha, and could use the boost - maybe I could get farther than Swanson today.

John and I managed to pack everything into the back of his SUV and started off. We chatted easily about travel - John has done a large amount of world travel including the Middle East (noted that Syria was a great place to travel in). He noted that people had helped him more than once in foreign countries and he felt it was a good thing to do.

As we chatted, we also discussed where he was heading.

"Hamilton," he replied, "but I can take you by Kumeu."

"Don't let me take you out of your way!" I protested.

"Nah, it's no bother."

Looking at a map later, I realized that Kumeu was north, Hamilton south.

John finally stopped about 4km north of Kumeu, "just so you don't have to worry about traffic".

IMGP0776.JPGJohn Cassidy, my Kiwi hero. Not sure what the blotch is, may have been rain.

This suddenly put Helensville right in my sights, just about 11 miles away. Off I pedaled, and it was refreshingly flat. No need to stop whatsoever, though the headwind was pretty severe.

IMGP0777.JPGThe much-less mountainous terrain south of Helensville. Very green, even in the overcast-ness.

IMGP0778.JPGMore from the Helensville area. The twinkle in my eye is Christmas cheer.

I rolled into Helensville around 2:00, stopped for food, and retraced my path back down another road to the only campground in the area. It is at a hotsprings, exactly what my achy muscles need. I get in for half-price as I am camping there. Sold.

IMGP0780.JPGHot water on sunburns does not equal happiness, but it's great on the sore legs.

A fish-and-chips place was within walking distance, so after my hour and a half soak and shower, it was off for dinner.

IMGP0782.JPGPrimo! It only tastes good when it is wrapped in real newspaper and passes the "translucency test", which this did in spades. Simpsons fans, you will get that one.

Getting late, so off to bed. Planning on Wellsville tomorrow - just 50km. Maybe futher if I am on a roll and can find a campground.

IMGP0783.JPGFeels like I am intruding on botanical gardens. I am one of two tent campers.

Good night. Wonder what animal will wake me tomorrow.

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