“Oh man, I just realised that this is probably the weirdest thing in the world for you,” Heather said out of the blue. She was driving her bird-pooped old Mitsubishi hatchback with me in the passenger seat, on the way to meet an acquaintance of her’s in Picton. “You’re coming along with me to meet someone that I think you should meet. How often has that happened on your travels? A stranger going 30 minutes of driving out of their way to take you to meet another stranger. Now that I think about it, this is kind of strange.”
If I tried hard, I could see her point. It did take some effort though, to see her point. To me, nothing much seems strange any more. A trip like the one I experienced teaches you to roll with it. Or, on a more philosphical note, I have been taught to be open to circumstances. Willing to approach most circumstances with a mind wide open.
I assured Heather that I was quite OK with it all, and was in fact looking forward to meeting this man that she had told me nothing but good things about.
Peter Yarrell is, among other things as I found out, the race director of the Queen Charlotte Multisport Race in the Marlborough Sounds. Heather had been singing his praises as a very inspirational person, and had mentioned my journey to him. She deemed that a mutual meeting between us was called for while I was in the area.
I have to thank Heather for her enthusiasm for arranging for Peter and I to meet. It was quite possibly the most ‘consolidating’ chance meeting since I have arrived back in New Zealand. I left Peter’s house inspired and energised, and most of all, with a real drive for the next big thing for me; a book about my travels.
A strong north-west wind stretched the New Zealand and Canadian flags flying outside Peter’s beautiful modern home in Picton. Both vehicles in the driveway were adorned with adventure race stickers and outdoor brand logos.
Heather had visited several times before, and made her way to the back door. Walked through the door, through to the entrance of the mansion. I felt slightly ill at ease, as if I was breaking and entering.
We were met by Peter’s son’s girlfriend, Sarah, who informed us that Peter was taking a nap. It was Sunday afternoon after all, and by the sounds of things, the previous weekend’s race was an organizational nightmare.
Heather had arranged to visit Peter this afternoon at 2:30pm. At 3pm he emerged as we were chatting with Sarah. “I’m so sorry,” he apologized. “Sorry for keeping you waiting. Terribly sorry. It has been a chaotic week cleaning up the aftermath of the race.”
He went on to tell us about the chaos of the final stages of the race. Kayakers were reported to be missing in 150km hour winds. Race placings were being muddled, Changes to the course were causing a constant stream of confused race officials bombarding him with questions. “And then, amongst all that,” he said, “I got a call on my cell phone from a volunteer asking whether I was still planning to let the pigeons loose at the awards ceremony, since it looked like it was going to rain, and they would get wet! I tried as diplomatically as I could to tell her that pigeons were not my main concern at this point.”
What I felt emanating from Peter was a passionate enthusiasm for humanity. A passionate empathy for others. It is hard to describe how he influenced me, but I left his home two and a half hours later with a drive and direction for writing a book about my travels.
Peter is just a shade over sixty years of age, and for some reason his enthusiastic interest in my journey and what I had learned along the way woke me up to an important fact. Despite the fact that I came to view my daily life on the road as a totally and fully normal existence for that period of time, to others, the journey is in fact a multi-faceted, inspirational journey with much to offer to others from all age levels and walks of life.
So a big thanks to Peter, and thanks to Heather for taking me to a person she thought I should meet.
I had to ask Heather to pull over as she expertly navigated her car across the narrow gravel road leading to White’s Bay. Even as we were appraoching the hill, I was lost in nostalgia. Not that I have spent much time at all in the Blenheim area, but because the dry, hot, windswept environment reminded me of the MacKenzie Country in central Otago. I had spent every summer holidays camping with the extended family at Lake Benmore near Twizel as I grew up. Those holidays felt like months long. Completely carefree. Although I’m sure that Dad wouldn’t have been able to take more than a few weeks off work. Perhaps one of my relatives reading this entry can tell me how long on average we would spend camping?
In anycase, it was magical to be taken back in time. Heather pulled over on the verge, and I took in the view.
What the image above does not show is the white snow-capped peaks of the Kaikoura Mountains in the distance. The view was spellbinding. “This is dangerous,” I said to Heather.
“You keep saying that,” she replied. “Why is it dangerous?”
It is dangerous because I am rediscovering the amazing beauty of my homeland. It is dangerous because it reminds me how wonderful it would be to live here. And that is dangerous because I still have so much desire to work and live overseas. Seeing this creates a tension inside of me. A tension between wanting to remain here forever, and wanting to still experience life overseas, and wanting to do all that at once, if that makes any sense at all…
Right now I have so many options I feel are available to me in terms of how to move forward. What a wonderful luxury. The only thing I can do to relieve this pressure of choice is to be thankful for the options. Thank God, thank whoever…just thanks. We are spoiled for choice here in the western world, and I think we often take that for granted, letting that reality stress us out too much.
As for one option I have been considering for a long time, I was greatly encouraged and enlightened by Heather and her workmates at a pot-luck dinner we attended tonight. Friends of Heather’s, Larry and Kim from Ontario, Canada, invited friends over for a slide show of their recent family holiday in the North Island. I was in a home full of teachers, and I got some very interesting perspectives on what excites those in the profession, and also what doesn’t excite them, of course.
So big thanks to everyone involved. A very loverly evening.
Shop windows, pedestrian crossings, and dazzled expressions on faces of commuters whizzed by as I careened through downtown Wellington. It was 7:30am, and the Blueridge ferry that would take me across Cook Straight from the North Island to Picton on the South Island was scheduled to leave in less than 30 minutes. I would have to push hard to make the 8am sailing.
Images of how I would react upon sighting the South Island flashed in my mind’s eye as I pedalled. Tears welled up as I realised that I would soon be standing on ‘home soil’. As much as the North Island is part of New Zealand, I knew that I would never truely be home until I set foot on the South Island.
I did make it on time, screaching up to the terminal just in time. The following crossing was smooth, and I took advantage of an empty ‘Commercial Drivers Only’ cabin, sneaking in and locking the door for a few hours of shut-eye.
When I did finally emerge from the cabin, careful to depart undetected, I met an extraordinary man. Phil was his name. An algae reserach specialist from Lincoln, just out of Christchurch. “I cycle to most of my confrences,” he told me after I enquired about his cycling shoes and lycra shorts.
Phil was travelling back from a conference in Wellington to Christchurch. On a bicycle. “How long did it take to get from Christchurch to Picton on your bike?” I asked.
“One day. Well, 14 hours, to be exact,” he replied.
From Christchurch to Picton is a distance of 330km (just a shade over 200 miles). In one day. That is a decent effort. Very decent. Looking at Phil’s legs, I was not entirely surprised. Think Popeye.
Phil and I cycled out of the ferry terminal at Picton together, before he sped off on a mission to Nelson. It was just before noon, and he expected to get to Nelson (150km and some very big hills away) by evening. I was left alone to savour the tranquil beauty of the bay in Picton.
I never really appreciated it before, but the South Island really does feel different from the North Island of New Zealand. The trees no doubt feel the wind, but they sway lethargically as if thinking “well I suppose I may as well sway a little…I suppose that’s what I do…”. Ducks waddled, unafraid of humans as they pecked at the ground at my feet, lunging for crumbs off my ciabatta bread. The entire place had an air of un-rushed tranquility.
A lunch of ciabatta bread with peanut butter and jam devoured, I pushed off towards Blenheim, a short 30km ride away. The laid back vibe of my surroundings was only slightly disturbed by a fairly constant flow of traffic from Picton.
Half way to Blenheim, I was met with a very pleasant surprise. The plan was that I would stay in Blenheim at the flat of Heather, a Canadian, maths teacher, and avid active-type living in Blenheim. Also living at the same flat was none other than Nicola (Nic) Clark. My Mum will know who I am talking about. A neighbour from way back when I was living in Invercargill, at the southern end of New Zealand. I haven’t seen any of the Clarks for more than 15 years. I is a small world.
The pleasant surprise was that a friend of Nic’s was on a training bike ride, hoping to meet me along the way. It was a great diversion to the traffic, being able to chat as we cycled.
Heather had been a regular visitor to this blog since she had found it (while I was in China), and it was great to meet another blog reader in the flesh. With over 600 visitors per day to my blog at present, to actually meet one in the flesh, let alone hear from them via comments, is a great pleasure.
A question I was asked by Heather’s flatmates was “Isn’t it weird to meet someone that knows so much about you, but you know so little about them?” It was a valid question, but for me, nothing much is weird anymore when it comes to meeting people. I value the ability that this trip has taught me, to be able to enjoy the company of complete strangers, without feeling too out of place.
Heather, seemingly unafraid of any challenge, was the first to attempt my recumbent bicycle. After a few false starts, she was cycling comfortably in a straight line in no time. People often ask me if a recumbent bike is hard to learn to ride. My response is that in my experience it is easier to learn than a standard bike. Think how long it took you to get the hold of an upright bike!
I enjoyed going to a local pub with Heather (of course by bike) and her flatmates that evening, and meeting some of the other local high school teachers.
For those whose computer struggles with the Vimeo version of the videos, I will be uploading a Youtube version of this soon. Link to Vimeo version here: http://www.vimeo.com/2231681
Be sure to watch till the end for the bloopers!
Matt Chernishov, amongst other things, enjoys kite surfing. Even more than finding a bargain, perhaps. “I got this kite for one hundred and fourty bucks,” he informed me proudly as we set up on one of the many beautiful bays near Wellington. “An old kite like this isn’t as fancy as the newer ones, but it’s good for just hacking about.”
Like a lot of outdoor sports, I found the setting up phase tedious. To get a kite ready for kite surfing, it requires pumping, rigging, untangling…
Once the kite was ready to fly, Matt gave me a quick lesson while the kite was attached to his harness. “You just pull on this and this to make it go side to side. To power it up, you push on this. Don’t put it too much into the window,” he said as he manouvered the kite expertly from side to side and up and down in the 15 to 20 knot breeze.
“Just keep it fairly high in the sky and you’ll be fine,” he continued as he unclipped the kite handle and clipped it into my harness.
It looked easy enough, but before I could finish the sentence “Um…I don’t actually have any idea what I’m doing,” I was sliding on my bum along the sand towards a row of very expensive looking beach-front properties. Half-way there, I stopped. Half a second later, I had resumed my rapid approach to the houses.
I was only after about 50m worth of sliding in a beautiful arc in the soft pebbly sand that I registered that Matt was yelling to me.
“Pull the safety cord,” he screamed. “Pull the cord!”
Luckily he had had the foresight to hook a safety line to my harness and had briefed me on what to do.
I pulled on the cord. The kite banked hard. The kite landed with a loud thud on the roof of the most expensive-looking beach house, quite nicely wrapping itself around the chimeny.
A concerned resident of the house came out to see what the calamity was all about, by which time Matt had already managed to calmy pull the kite free with a few solid jerks of the lines.
The kite drifted back down to earth, lightly grazing some powerlines on the way.
“Um…yeah…sorry about that Rob. I guess I figured since you skated half way around the world, you’d be fine with this,” he said apologetically, but trying to suppress a smile.
We decided that the 12m kite was probably a little too big to learn on, so Matt opted instead to go for a surf on his own. I was more than happy with that decision, and enjoyed watching from the beach, along with Matt’s dog, Ollie.
Misty rain, lots of traffic, but tailwinds. That sums the riding up today.
The highlight was meeting up with Matt Chernishov, brother to Mike, who I met up with in Hamilton a few weeks back. Matt is planning a world trip for next year, so it was great to throw ideas around about potential destinations and organisation.
The breakfast promised to me by 10 O’Clock Cookie Bakery and Cafe yesterday was awesome. Basically a huge pile of the kind of stuff that will power you for the rest of the day…hash browns, eggs, German sausage, portabello mushrooms, ciabata bread, bacon…
The bakery is a family affair, run by the original Dutch owners, the Kloeg family. I was not allowed to leave without making sure that I picked something out for lunch…thank you!
I said my farewells to Fiona, and I was on the road again, heading for the Rimutaka Range of mountains (hills). The main State Highway 2 was described to me as a narrow winding steep mountain road, with 18 wheeler trucks speeding up and down the twisting ribbon of pavement. What was not explained to me was the wind. I was almost blown off my bike a number of times, and one blown off balance to the extent that I ended up riding right across the two lanes of highway.
There was not a huge amount of traffic however, and the 13km steep uphill was soon behind me.
The downhill was also very blustery. It was a bit of an anti-climax having to pedal downhill.
I pushed on to Kaitoke Regional Park. Derrick, the engineer from Masterton who I met yesterday, had told me about a DOC campsite there. For a $5 fee, I had the whole place to myself. Very nice.
Another wonderfully restful day today in Masterton. The morning was spent at the Masterton Reformed Church, and the afternoon was spent wandering around the beautiful Castle Point.
Fiona, the friend I am visiting here in Masterton, has been attending the Reformed Church in Masterton since she arrived back to New Zealand from overseas. I tagged along with her today.
I had never been to a Reformed Church service before, and from the outset I could tell that the style of the proceedings were very traditional. Women were, more or less without exception, wearing skirts. Men were wearing shirt and tie. Everyone was in their Sunday best. The first hymn sung was composed in 1734. The following harked back from the 1800s.
The message was preached with restrained gusto, but Peter, the pastor, was obviously well learned in scripture. The reading was from Ephesians chapter two, and Pastor Peter concentrated on verses 4 to 14 that highlighted God’s grace, mercy, and sovriegnty.
Following the service, a pot-luck lunch was held, and I was able to meet some of the 100-strong congregation. Thankfully, the ones I met had personalities…unlike the rather bland service (although I must admit, the hymns were sung with a fullness and richness of sound that I have not heard in a church before).
I met Derrick, a keen engineer who along with his son has made low to the ground recumbent bicycles in his garage, including a full carbon 7.2kg speedster. I also met the owners/bakers at the 10 o’Clock Cookie Cafe and Bakery in Masterton. My story resulted in me being invited to have a good hearty breakfast at the cafe before I leave tomorrow.
After a quick lunch, I joined Fiona, Pam (Fiona’s mum), and Sophie (Fiona’s little sis) on a drive out to Castle Point.
Castle Point was a pleasant surprise. Absolutely stunning place.
The wind was howling as we made our way up the short walk to the top of the Castle Point walkway.
We made it back to Masterton just in time for the roast pork to be taken out of the oven. Fiona’s Dad had been slaving over the hot coals all afternoon while we gallavanted around the countryside, and had dinner more or less cooked by the time we got back. Great effort!
A quiet day today, with some bush walk action…photos to come.
Some inspiration from Dean Karnazes in the mean time, from his book 50 Marathons in 50 Days (ISBN 978-1-74175-559-6).
It is so easy to live a life that has been scripted for you by others, to fall into the mire of conformity by following a path that society has laid before you, rather than heeding your own unique calling. Comfort, complacency, routeine, the path of least resistance, the easy road – these things are the bane of humankind. It is a disquieting moment when you awaken to realise the trappings of conventiality have created a life for you that is entirely different from the one you wish to live.
Challenging and testing your mind and body, even to the point of exhaustion, failiure, and breakdown, can feel as wonderful as anything else life has to offer. I suppose the enjoyment of hard work is more of an acquired taste than the taste for pleasure and fun, but once you’ve acquired it, you’re blessed with more ways to feel good, and life is better. Harder and better.
Matt Henwood, my friend who I stayed with in Auckland, bought the book for me to take with me on my way. It was an interesting read with many transferrable principles even if you’re not into running.
It was a fairly fast ride into Masterton from Eketahuna today, despite an hour long distraction in the form of the Mt Bruce Bird Sanctuary. Masses of native birds in the wild and in aivaries (including kiwis). Beautiful spot, and well worth the $10 to get in.
I was stoked to catch up with Fiona Bruere, a friend from uni days, and even more stoked to stay at her parent’s place for the weekend. Awesome!
A self confessed pyromaniac, Fiona’s father made sure the fireworks for a belated Guy Fawks celebration went off without a hitch.