We ride into Dunedin on a sunny afternoon, then a cold rain moves in. We pay to camp at a hostel, which is a nice option sometimes— sleep in the yard instead of in a smelly, snore filled dorm, hang out in the house if it’s raining. And at the rate we drink coffee, it works out cheaper than sitting in a cafe.
Unless we go sit in a cafe anyway, which we usually do. Then it ends up being twice as expensive. Addiction is ugly.
Anyway, we set up our tent in the front yard.
When it gets darker, the spotlights come on. And the Euro teenagers come out to smoke and drink and be loud on the front porch, about 10 feet from the tent. Sleeping here isn’t going to work. I hunt around for a new spot, and find a vine covered brick patio. Nice and dark. I tie the tent off to some lawn chairs, and we go to bed, I feel real clever.
Slowly, slowly, my mattress starts to deflate. I squidge around on it, half-awake. Is it really losing air or am I imagining? Blow it back up. Slowly deflates again. Repeat. It’s really losing air. I sink down onto the cold wet bricks. Don’t feel so clever now.
At some point, I hear Colleen getting up.
“Colleen! Can you grab your towel off the line? I need something to lay on.”
“It’s raining- it’ll be soaked.”
“Don’t care. The bricks hurt.”
She brings the towel back. It’s damp, but kinda softer.
The next morning I dunk my mattress in the bathtub to find the hole, and patch it with some duct tape and superglue.
It keeps raining, we spend another couple days in Dunedin, which is fine. It’s a good city. Built with money from a gold rush in Otago in the late 1800’s, it’s all heavy Gothic, dark stone buildings. Grey skies. Flowers, just starting to wilt at the end of the season. A good place to drink a lot of coffee (which I’m extra happy to do, since I didn’t sleep especially well on the wet towel).
Like back home in Pittsburgh, Dunedin claims the steepest street in the world. Colleen goes for a run, I take my unloaded bike out and ride around until I find it (not hard, there are lots of signs pointing the way).
And there it is:
Baldwin Street, 35 percent grade. I start riding up. It’s NZ, so of course there are tourists everywhere on the street. A full busload from Japan. Weave around the people, lungs start to burn, wasn’t really warmed up for this. Everybody’s watching, all the sefie-stick-stuck phones and iPads turn on me, my hands start to slip on my grips, should’ve worn my gloves, halfway up keep going. Serious arm pump now, I do the paperboy, damn this thing is steep. Three quarters, make a paperboy turn, hands slip. Off.
Ride back down, start back toward the hostel. I’ll come back later with Colleen and some gloves. No, man, who are you? Go bust that out. Turn back to the street.
Hands slipping again, forearms tight, jerk on my shoulders. Come on.
“OK! Very good!” yells a Japanese guy.
Heart slamming, yank up on the pedals, get up and over the dead-spot in the stroke. At the crux, make another switchback, got it now. Up, over. Jesus that’s a bastard of a road.
Come back the next day with Colleen and do it again. Doing the papergirl with a 32×42— If she was just a friend, I’d definitely heckle her to harden up. But things being what they are, I’ll have to hold off on making fun of her until way after the fact (like when I ask her to proofread my blog).
For the folks at home that have ridden Canton Ave., the other steepest street in the world— the cobbles make it tricky, and the steepest part is a little steeper than Baldwin. But it’s so short you can carry momentum most of the way up. Baldwin is at least three times longer, and it’s ridiculously steep the whole way. So, I was really rooting for the home team, and I hate to say it, but Baldwin is harder.
Still pouring, and hostel life is starting to get old. Except for this cat. Befriend all the cats:
There’s this one dude in particular, a Canadian guy with a man bun, who gets a real kick out of bragging to impressionable teenagers about all the places he’s been, and about what an expert in worldliness he is— “This one time, I was in this hostel in Africa— this chick was trying to have sex with me, she was beautiful, kept trying to crawl in my bed. But I told her no, man, you’re too young for me. Because you know, I’m just a really good guy. I came to New Zealand to find love, it’s my last place to search.” And then he plays the guitar. Teenage boys, rapt, want to be just like him someday.
For some reason he won’t talk to Colleen or me. He must have caught Colleen doing that real serious eye roll that she does, where her eyes roll to the left, to the right, to the back of her head all the way around and back again. That one can really bust a guy down, I know, she does it at me all the time. Like when I read the Grapes of Wrath, and took to saying “some’pin” for a while and squatting on my hams. Eye roll.
Pack up and leave, head up the coast.
When it won’t stop raining, and you don’t want to pay for the drier. Toaster oven:
Into Omarama, another surprisingly cool town. With little blue penguins that live under the campground porch.
A Kona g-bike:
There’s a blues festival in town, we go out to it another bike touring couple, and are slightly disappointed to find no blues, only very mellow folk music.
Then on to the Alps2Ocean Trail, or ocean to Alps the way we’re going. First night, stop in a domain camp (a domain is a small town’s public space, park, rugby pitch, and sometimes campground). The caretaker talks to us for a while.
He’s a little dude, kinda shriveled up into himself like a raisin. Says he was an anarchist and did heroine for 20 years.
“But you know what? Best high I ever had was having kids. You guys need to try it,” he says, and caps off the liter of Scrumpy that he’s sucked down while talking.
“Maybe some other time,” Colleen says.
He brings out a little black fuzzy thing, thrusts it towards me “See this mate? I cut this off a roadkill wallaby this morning. He’s just beautiful. Touch ‘em, musta just died. He’s still soft.”
I reach out and tentatively stroke the dead wallaby hand. Yes, that dead wallaby hand does have soft palm skin. The cut off stub is still red and a little bloody, blood soaked matted black fur.
“Uh huh, it is soft,” I say. Colleen looks horrified.
“Jus beautiful fella that one,” he says again. “Just look at them claws!” he swipes the dead wallaby foot at me. “I’m gonna salt it, make a nice necklace.” He looks at the dead wallaby foot lovingly. “Ok, you folks have a good night. Gotta go make dinner for my kids.” He leaves.
“Oh my God!” Colleen whispers. “Go wash your hands!”
“I can’t believe you didn’t want to touch the dead wallaby foot.”
The next couple days, serious headwind. And once again, we discover that New Zealand bike paths have the best highway riding of any bike paths in the world. I’ve never seen better no-shoulder, dive in the ditch when a truck comes, highway riding on a bike path. World’s best.
But we find some good camping.
And a scenic dam.
I think this this’d be the Nor’west Arch. The Southern Alps squeeze all the moisture out of the air on the West Coast, and over on this side turns into a thin and high cloud band:
Three-legged cat, running to say hello. Befriend all the cats:
Outside of Twizel, the trail gets good, and all the headwinds are worth it just for this one descent. Totally unexpected, and one of the best downhills we’ve done. It’s almost as good as 401 in Crested Butte.
And the rest of the trail is real nice.
More extra-blue glacial water:
The Alps2Ocean ends (or starts) with a helicopter flight across the river— which is totally insane on a bike trail. So we skip that one, find a nice quiet spot next to Lake Pukaki.