Today seemed to reinforce the strengthening sense that this trip just "flows". A tire blows out, and without missing a beat someone offers a ride back into town, and the only store in town that does motorcycles just happens to have tires that will fit. I make a stupid map mistake by heading into a town that does not have another road out, and someone just offers to take me out of their way to put me back onto mine. I am looking for internet somewhere, and someone goes out of their way to make sure that I have a connection.
None of these are mystical in any way, just that things seem to end up all right. I would like to re-iterate that this is due to the New Zealand hospitality that I remembered even as a kid.
The weather this morning tried to warn me that something was going to happen, but I ignored it. I had decided to try to make the 68 mile trip from Kaitaia to Sara and Nick's house in Kerikeri all in one day. In preparation for this, I was up at 7AM and on the road by 9AM after a full breakfast and the carb (And shrimp!) loading of the day before. Bid my hosts farewell, and off I went.
Started off well, with a brisk crosswind. A day of rest was paying off as I was making about 14mph without problems. After a few km, however, I turned toward Kerikeri on Hwy 10, directly into the whistling headwind. Immediately, speed dropped to about 10mph. "Fantastic," I thought, "I've just added about two hours to the trip today." The clouds, too, were menacing and dark, spitting a bit of rain.
Then it got interesting.
About 10km out, I was pedaling hard up a hill, when suddenly my rear wheel locked up completely. Showing some well-oiled, slothlike reflexes, I just managed to pop my feet off the pedals and avoided dropping the bike while it ground to a halt.
A questioning glance at the back of the bike was. . . enlightening.
This is called the "derailleur." It makes the chain go to the correct rear gear. It comes in one piece. I have neatly separated this one into two equally useless pieces.
This is a carbon fiber part of a bike frame. Carbon fiber is light and strong. But not quite strong enough to withstand having half of a derailleur (caught in the spokes) get slammed into it. This one is cracked.
Long story short, the derailleur was broken. Not like a "just-need-to-re-adjust" it kind of broken, but in an "oh-crap-this-bike-won't-pedal-without-a-new-one" kind of broken.
Now, as I came to a stop, I had seen something on the horizon ahead - a bright yellow jersey. There was someone jogging toward me. By the time she finally made it to my poor sick bike and I, I had started walking it back the 10km to Kaitaia (where there was a store that at least sold kid's bikes). The jogger stopped. "What seems to be the problem?" she asked. I explained the situation as we started walking together. The conversation moved to politics and healthcare and a bit about family. Lilac was a middle-aged woman who looked younger than I think she was. She runs frequently. She helped me brainstorm some ways to get the bike fixed. After about a kilometer of walking, we reached her driveway.
"Well, come on in. Let's see if we can find what you need in Kaitaia. I can take you in town."
Before long, she had grabbed the phone and we've called the bike shop. I leave my equipment at the house, and fit the bike in the back of her SUV. Off we go back to Kaitaia.
The bike shop did not have what I needed. No derailleur. At that point, I had not noticed the cracked frame.
We drove back to Lilac's house, and she offered to have me stay the night while I got this figured out. Wow.
We pulled back into the house where her son (Tony), grandson (W---), and granddaughter (Trinity) had come in. Tony had been fishing the surf quite successfully, and was preparing fish for smoking.
As I had talked to Sara and Nick (my British friends in Kerikeri) about making it in that day or the day after, I figured I had better let them know what was going on. They had also mentioned coming to pick me up if it looked like I couldn't make it by Christmas. This would be a really long drive, but the bus would be an option. . . Lilac kindly offered her phone for the long distance phone call.
With barely a pause, Sara offered to come by. It would be around 2:00, which left me with about 3 hours.
Once again, things just seemed to flow properly, despite the agonizing breakage.
Lilac and her family were wonderful hosts. The house is a well-loved older ranch house. The family runs a 90-acre farm/ranch, mostly for cattle. Feeling a bit guilty about all the she had done for me, I told Lilac to put me to work. She needed to dig out a pipe, she said. Off we went out toward the back of the 90-acre plot.
It is beautiful despite the overcast skies. Bright green covers the steep hills which we climb without much trouble (Lilac, excellent runner that she is, was not even breathing hard). We held an animated conversation as she pointed out different places on the farm where they had planted trees, or how they moved the animals. We dug out the long plastic watering pipe from some seriously nasty mud and drug it out onto the side of the hill, then back to the house.
Like an idiot, I forgot to bring my camera on this little trip.
Back at the house, I spent time talking to Tony and Lilac and showed the family pictures of Alaska, which they had never been to.
I was also introduced to a new taste sensation, "chutney". It's a weird blend of fruits which are pickled a bit and put on bread. It sounds disgusting, but actually is excellent. They were very surprised that I didn't even know what chutney was.
Then it was outside to collect fruit, which Lilac wanted to send me off with.
Lilac using a can on the end of a stick to pick fantastic ripe plums. I was expecting 4 or 5 for the journey. . .
. . . but ended with a bagful, along with one of my favorite fruits, passionfruit.
Soon enough, Sara made it up the driveway. My equipment was loaded up and off we went after very heartfelt thanks to Lilac and her family. I was sent off with smoked fish rowe wrapped in paper for the journey. Excellent on a sandwich.
The last time I had seen Sara and Nick was four years ago. Sara is a GP (general practitioner, like a family doc in the US) who had been doing locum tenens work throughout New Zealand when I was there doing a rural rotation (my mini-bummatical). Nick, Sara, and I all had hit it off immediately, and I ended up spending about four days with them in Picton.
Nick, Sara, and I at the 2004 Midwinter Swim in Picton. At this point, I think I was still trying to convince them to actually do the swim.
I was successful. It was cold. I am not sure why they wanted to get back together after inflicting this on them.
Since those four days, I had not seen Nick or Sara. They ended up settling up in Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands. We had e-mailed very infrequently, but had promised to get back together should we end up back in the same country again. It was a fantastic few days and I left New Zealand in 2004 knowing that I had made some very good friends.
My recent e-mails to Sara and Nick were met with the usual humor, enthusiasm, and warm offer to come stay for Christmas - "The more, the merrier!"
I have to admit, though, that when Sara's SUV pulled up, I was a little nervous. In reality, I knew Sara and Nick for four days. I think that Miss Manners would say something like, "If you know someone for four days, and then an equal number of years pass without actually speaking to them, it's probably not alright to just stay with them again for days at a time."
However, that doubt was all washed away as Sara hopped out and gave me a hug. After 15 minutes, it was like I had never left.
Along with Sara in the car was Sally, and old friend of Sara and Nick's. She and her husband Jon were just finishing a year here in New Zealand where Jon was doing some of his surgical training. They were also spending Christmas with Nick and Sara, then were off to return to jolly old England.
The car ride was almost an hour and a half. About halfway through, it started DUMPING rain. Secretly, at that point I was glad my derailleur had given up the ghost - it would have been a miserable ride.
We arrived at the Hampson household (a very cosy green house with a guest shed, well outside the city limits) and I spent the evening catching up with the Hampsons and their friends Jon and Sally. It continued to absolutely dump rain for the rest of the day.
A day made for broken bicycles. Taken from the Hampson front porch. If you hadn't known that they were British, the Mini Cooper gave it away.
Great to be able to drink summer ale in the appropriate season again.
Several bottles of good wine and champagne, good dinner, and good conversation later, I was able to snuggle down into the guest room and fell asleep to sounds of rain beating on the roof. Rather than my helmet.
The bubbly. Sara on the left, Jon on the right, and the collection of disembodied hands belong to Sally, myself, and Nick, respectively.
All thoughts of bike problems dwindled. It will all work out. Everything has so far. Even if this has to turn into a walking tour of New Zealand.