This morning was interesting. Did the usual to get camp packed away tightly in my bike trailer, but was sitting down to breakfast and was joined by a couple of guys. One of them, as it turns out, was a mountaineer and did search and rescue. He spent time in Antarctica taking expeditions out with dog sleds. He is very modest about this, but has obviously done a LOT in his lifetime, including some first ascents of Chilean mountains. His knees are worn out, so, somewhere in his 60s, he has turned to (What else?) whitewater kayaking. What a cool guy.
Anyway, after my morning coffee (instant, using the instant hot water in the kitchen), I head out again. By the graph of elevation in my New Zealand bicycling book, I should be able to mostly coast to Westport, 60 miles away.
I am getting ahead of myself, though. When I turn on my camera to take my first picture of the day, I notice something odd - the screen doesn't turn on. I take a picture, anyway, hoping it works, and then bail out the battery and the SD card. Sure enough, water from my cavorting in the river last night has managed to get into my waterproof camera. Pentax will be hearing from me. I leave the camera open to dry before I try it with power again.
This is, unfortunately, the entirety of my pictures through beautiful Buller Gorge today. This is Murchison, at the upper end of the gorge and about 400 yards from where I camped.
Forgot to put this picture in from last night - this is another angle from Murchison, showing the clear cutting that goes on all over New Zealand. They treat a lot of forests more like fields, harvesting wood and the replanting. Alas, it causes a lot of the mountains to look like Britney Spears during a crazy phase.
Anyway, into the gorge I head. The clouds look ominous and the blue sky from yesterday (see the above picture) have definitely disappeared. The downward slope of elevation denoted in my book turns, in reality, into a series of climbs and drops, most of them quite steep. The view is worth it as I follow the river and get a look at some of the whitewater that the kayakers crave.
Hours later, I stop for lunch. The sun has broken through a hole in the gloom, but ahead is a particularly dark area beyond one of the climbs. Need energy for this one.
It is about a mile after lunch, halfway up a moderately-steep hill, that I feel a wrench of the rear wheel and the bike shudders to a stop. I barely have time to pop my feet out of the clips, and cut my right ankle on the chainring. It is not obvious initially what is wrong, but the wheel just won't move. After popping off the panniers and trailer, I finally see the problem: The new wheel came with a new axle, which was too short to also hold on the trailer connector. The nut has stripped the thread on the axle and has fallen off. I find it just about 10 feet back.
It will not stay on, either, due to the loss of the threads. I don't have another, and it is not rideable in this state. With a sigh and a look at the impending storm, I push the bike, trailer, and panniers up to the top of the hill and start hitching. I brighten a bit as I realize once again that this is just part of the fun of the trip.
I had no idea how right I would be.
The road is fairly quiet here, so cars come every 4-5 minutes in the direction I want to go. It only takes 15 minutes before someone stops, actually two cars. A guy pulls up and says, "Need some help?" (Keep in mind that I had not even tried thumbing this car as I thought it would be too small to fit everything in). I explain my situation, and he immediately says, "No problem, I can give you a ride." Not quite understanding, and thinking that there was no way we were going to fit all my stuff in his car, I ask, "Is there a safe place to put the bike?"
His response is one of the best of the trip.
"Yeah. In the car. It's a police car, and I'm a police officer."
Such was my introduction to Don Abbey, an absolutely wonderful policeman from Westport (my goal for the day). Belatedly, I see the hidden police lights (it is an undercover car, I wasn't totally a moron.)
A second car pulls up behind him, a white station wagon. Behind the wheel is Kerrie, a good friend of Don's and cut of the same kind cloth. They are coming back from a conference in Christchurch. Before I can even greet her, she is already starting to load things into the station wagon. With the seat down, it takes no time to pack it all in. I hop in with Kerrie, and off we go.
Kerrie is great fun to talk to. She is a sports organizer for the schools, but also is a kindergarten teacher. She was born and raised in Westport, and loves it there. She says that the great part of Westport is the people, as they tend to be very friendly, as well as its closeness to the mountains and the ocean/beaches. As we finish the 20 mile journey into Westport, her thoughts are belied by her waving to about 4 different people as we go, including one of her teenage daughters going the other way.
The bike shop in Westport is closed (as it is a Sunday), and tomorrow is a Westport holiday, so it won't be open then, either. She tries several friends that are "bike fanatics" to see if they can help, but no one is home. We meet up with Don, and come up with a plan. There is a good bike shop in Greymouth (which would have been my next day's ride), and the bus runs daily there. Perfect. Don and Kerrie take me to the Intercity bus station, and confirm the time at 11:00AM. When I ask if I can leave the nonfunctioning bike and one of the panniers at the station with them, they almost jump to help. I am not sure if it was just that the guys were really helpful, or if Don is just well known.
Kerrie drops me by the I-Site, where I can pick up my ticket (as the bus station is also a gas station, so there was no one who could do tickets on a Sunday). I will stay at a hostel tonight and head for the bus in the morning. Or so I thought.
After thanking both of them, off they went, and I picked up my bus ticket. As I start heading for the hostel (just a block away), Kerrie comes zooming up next to me again. "Hey! I just talked to Don. How would you like to stay the night at his place?"
I agree, of course, and pile the remainder of my stuff in the car again. We head to Don's house, a very nice place with an excellent yard and a very cute dog, and offload my gear. Don is almost apologetic - "I didn't even think to ask when you were there". As Kerrie leaves, she tells us both that dinner would be at 6:30 at her house.
I end up in the room recently vacated by Helen, Don's daughter (also known as "Tazzy", like the tasmanian devil, as she is apparently full of energy and positivity), as she has returned to school. We sit down for a "cuppa" and relax for a bit.
I find out that Don has been in New Zealand for about 20 years, a transplant from Britain where he was a police officer as well. He got tired of the "single man' game" of anti-terrorism and came to New Zealand, newly married to a Kiwi. She is a physio, but is not here today. Don is very energetic but thoughtful at the same time, very fun to chat with. He offers his internet, and I try to catch up on e-mails before dinner. We head to Kerrie's (yes, Mom, I brought a bottle of wine and some ice cream!) for more great conversation in addition to roasted chicken, potatoes/yams, broccoli, and wine and beer. Best dinner in quite a while, and a huge step up from PB&J. We are joined by Kerrie's two teenage daughters as well who were lots of fun. We eventually got into a discussion of accents, all trying different ones, but they all seemed to find southern accents the most funny to listen to. Interesting.
I lost track of time, but eventually it started to get late. Don and I headed back home, but not before I tried my camera - it now works. Thanks again, Kerrie, if you are reading this.
Kerrie and her super-energetic dog, who will retrieve a stick until she drops (which would probably be around 2011 judging by her activity levels.) Very sweet.
Don and I have another cuppa, and I learn a lot about northern Ireland back when the bombings were occurring. Very interesting to hear the impressions of someone who was actually there. We also discuss his current job, which revolves a lot around working with troubled youths. He is very energetic and positive despite the often difficult situations he is put in - he and I share a feeling that most of the kids described as "troubled" are worth the time to help, and I get the feeling that he is very good at his job.
We head to bed eventually, and I won't lie - sleeping in a real bed is heaven after the magically disappearing air mattress. I'm out like a light.
Sorry for the lack of pics today - now that my camera is working, I can go back to snapping like crazy.