Lake Tekapo, NZ to Fairlie, NZ

28.8 mi / 12.7 mph / 590 ft. climbing
Home: Maurice’s AirBNB

“Neil. Wake up. I think I’m going to puke.” Not words either of us ever hope to be uttering or hearing at 12:30am inside our tent, but here we were. And unfortunately, she wasn’t wrong. I immediately unzipped her tent door as a precaution, but before I could get my wits together to find a container of some sort, or help her out of the tent, up and out it came.

Luckily she had enough control that the resulting round pool of loose-concrete consistency coated only the desiccated grass under the tent’s triangular vestibule, and not any of our bedding or clothing inside the tent. As soon as she felt in a relatively “safe” state, we were able to get her up and out (through my side of the tent) and down the steep hill in the dark to the bathroom. While she cleaned up and waited for aftershocks, I went back up, scraped as much of the “concrete” as I could into a ziploc bag, and then covered the damp ring with a couple of plastic grocery bags (weighted down with shoes) to seal off the still-wafting scent. Unsurprisingly that still wasn’t quite enough if Rett was going to be returning her (super-sensitive) nose to a spot less than two feet from the epicenter and sleep in peace, so I pulled up the tent stakes and slid the whole thing 4 or 5 feet away and then tacked it back down (even better now that we had booked our own spacious site rather than the potentially-crowded tent-only area).

While she didn’t exactly feel “good” on my return to the bathroom, things had at least settled down enough for her to come back up and try to get back to sleep. Which only left the mystery: why the sudden out-of-nowhere vomiting episode?

Well, maybe it wasn’t much of a mystery. Last night we walked to a small brewery in town, and they were attached to a fancier-than-we-were-expecting restaurant, where we ended up ordering several small plates to share. And one of them was venison tartare. It seems strange that a restaurant would serve a raw-deer-meat dish and be bad at it, but the dish also would be highlighted with a blazing red dot in any root-cause risk-analysis of our past 24 hours. The only thing that slightly reduces the smoke from the vension-gun (or anything else she ate) is that I literally ate (and drank) all the same things she did for dinner, and I felt 100% fine. But apparently it’s possible for people to just react differently, or get different pathogen doses, even when eating from the same plates.

As we settled back into our sleeping bag, I was certainly hoping that the simple food-borne explanation was the correct one, because riding bicycles through New Zealand is already challenging enough; doing it while fighting gastrointestinal issues could be dangerous. It’s especially scary because it’s been literal years since either of us has had a significant illness while traveling, so I feel that we’re so out-of-practice with it that the pain and stress of this “novel” adversary could be overwhelming in a way that it wouldn’t if it was more-familiar.

Morning over Lake Tekapo.

Our alarm went off without any intervening episodes, and thankfully she was feeling well enough to get up, eat some food, and ride on. At the crowded Twizel holiday park we had heard tales of the Tekapo holiday park being even busier in the kitchens, so we had pre-made the decision to pack up and just get breakfast in town. This turned out to be a somewhat-unfortunate call, as the kitchen wasn’t busy at all, and the holiday park had a unique feature of tables and lounge chairs sitting across from the kitchen, in a park-like setting where the hill dropped away, giving beautiful views down to the lake while enjoying breakfast on a perfect-weather morning. Oh well, breakfast at the cafe was really good too, and while Rett stuck with more-mild choices and lower volumes, she was able to put her food away without difficulty.

Lake Tekapo marked the end of our six riding days on the Alps2Ocean Great Ride (and even the section to Tekapo is an “alternate”). It had its challenges, but there is no doubt that it was a “great ride”, and a unique way to explore the stark contrasts of the Mackenzie Basin. Now we would have a few days back to our more “normal” form of road-based bike-touring. I was a bit apprehensive about returning to SH8, but our success on a stretch of it yesterday, and the day’s predicted tailwinds made it the obvious choice over a very-out-of-the-way and back-on-gravel alternate.

More light and shadow this morning painting the hills in different colors.

Oh, and a new trail (not (yet?) part of the A2O) had opened literally a week ago that parallels the highway for the first 9 miles. Early reports had described it as “mint”, so I figured that meant it was at least worth trying, and we could always get back on the highway if some mountain biker’s idea of “mint” was different than ours. But no, it exceeded my expectations by nearly its 9 mile length! It was literally unlike any “gravel” trail we have been on in New Zealand, and instead was much more like a rail trail in the United States: finely crushed stone, well-compacted across the full width of the path! I had come to believe it was illegal to build such an easily-rideable surface in New Zealand!

The slight downhill and slight tailwind had us flying down the smooth surface at a speed that wouldn’t have been possible on most other NZ cycle trails. And since it was uniformly smooth from edge to edge (unlike every other trail where a 1-foot wide (at most!) channel of compacted surface hides and weaves between rough rocky banks), not only could we pick any position to ride in, we could look around at things besides the ground five feet in front of our noses! I really think every other cycle trail builder in New Zealand needs to visit this mold-breaking trail. “Wait, what? We’re allowed to make the whole trail smooth? I never even considered that as a possibility before!”

The newly opened section of the Central South Trail. Note how the very bottom of Rett’s shoe is still visible, as is the entirety of her rear tire. Nothing is sunken in or hidden by big rocks!

The trail section is just one segment of the much longer Central South Trail, and since it’s being built in phases, it came to a fairly unceremonious end at a river crossing and dumped us back onto the road. We had a minor hill to climb to Burke’s Pass, but then tore down the other side, revealing it to be much more notable of a “pass” for people riding the opposite direction. Something about the tailwind and the slope made the first 300 feet of drop feel more like a 1000 foot gift, and then we still had 1000 actual feet to go down more-gradually after that. The tough traffic on the shoulderless highway was far easier to deal with than it would have been if we were grinding up into a headwind at 5 mph (and we felt bad when we saw another cyclist doing exactly that).

Even though I’d seen the elevation profile, I hadn’t really realized we’d be dropping 1500 feet (finally doing a version of “Alps to Ocean” after doing “Ocean2Alps”), so it was sort of a surprise to look up and see how much greener the hills had already become at this lower elevation.
No, Rett didn’t get a leopard-print tattoo, that’s a constellation of various bruises, mostly caused by disagreements between her bike and the rough gravel over the last week.
It’s strange to be able to see what the “inside” of a tree farm looks like, thanks to these guys’ neighbors being clear-cut recently.
Livestock, cars, livestock being towed by cars at 100kph; all part of life on a New Zealand State Highway that leaves little room for bikes.

At Kimbell another slightly-older trail appeared, but except for some slightly rougher dips where water had eroded the surface a bit, it was just as rideable as the earlier section, and the five miles of it that brought us into Fairlie meant that only about 12 miles of the day’s ride needed to be on the highway. Perhaps the best illustration of the trail quality is that I was able to complete the six-screen process of canceling a motel booking on my phone, all while riding on the trail! Thank you trail builders for building trails that leave no question about whether to use them or not!

We went straight to the Four Square for groceries, but our eyes were so big that we collected more than was reasonable to strap onto our bikes and ride back to our AirBNB (helped by the L&P deal where the clerk had free brown-and-yellow-striped L&P socks to hand to Rett if we bought two 1.5L bottles of the Kiwiana soda instead of just one!) So I rode the few blocks to the house, dumped all the gear out of my bags, and rode back to where Rett was standing guard over our stash, and having a nice chat with an American guy who is currently a minister at a stone church on the shore of Lake Tekapo. Not a bad way to come live in New Zealand!

Days 2-4

We had originally booked just two nights at our AirBNB in Fairlie, but rain chances and headwinds meant that staying a couple more nights would not only shift us to riding on more-favorable days, it would give us a multi-night restorative stay that we haven’t had in a long time, maybe not since we left Auckland more than three months ago. We’ve definitely stayed in places for more than four nights, but even in our 12 nights in Wellington, I don’t know that we had 4 straight do-nothing days like we hoped to achieve in Fairlie,, due to its small-town absence of must-do activities. Only problem was our current place wasn’t available for the third night, so we would need to move to another. Well, we messaged our hosts anyway, and it turns out that yes, the next day was only blocked off because the caretaker couldn’t get back to clean it after us, but without that need, yes, it was no problem for us to stay! Proof that “it never hurts to ask”, especially since not needing to move (and figure out what to do during the check-out/check-in gap) would make the 4 days 100% more-relaxing than a 2+2 would be.

On the second day, the Internet (including TV/streaming) stopped working, and a quick inspection made it clear that service was provided by the Spark cellular network, and the monthly data allowance had been exceeded. The solution was for our host to pay NZ$10 or something to buy more data. Simple, right? I do it every month for data on my phone here. Except he came back saying that it was some sort of scam message, and that he doesn’t have Spark Internet at that house, when he very clearly did. I eventually got on the phone with him (he lives in Timaru), and he seemed to have a decent understanding about how Internet service works, but insisted that there was nothing he could do, because he didn’t have Spark, he had fiber from 2degrees, and it connected to the Spark-branded modem via Bluetooth. Um, ok…except there is no 2degrees equipment anywhere in the house, and the Spark modem doesn’t have a Bluetooth radio. He maintained that he didn’t have a Spark account, that he was on the phone with them for “hours” trying to get it straightened out, but someone wouldn’t be able to come on-site until after we were gone. It was all very shady and strange, and worse, I burned half a day trying to prove that the nonsense this guy was telling me was truly nonsense. In the end we just gave up and used the cellular data from our phones, but reception in the house wasn’t as good via our phones as it was via the big Spark box, so it was glitchy and slow and annoying. First-world problems, but while some people might read books, play games, or do puzzles to get quality-downtime, Rett’s primary method is watching video media, and mine is doing computer shit, so it made our downtime 10% lower-quality than it should have been.

On the third morning, the house was so cold inside (low 60s, with the high outside forecasted to not even reach 60) that we needed to light the (nicely pre-built) fire in the wood-burning stove (which was the only heat source in the huge old five-bedroom house we were staying in). Now that it’s March (equivalent to September in the Northern Hemisphere), that makes a little more sense than when we needed to light a wood-burner in December (Northern June), except that the day we arrived in Fairlie was the hottest day (82F) we’ve had in months!

Rett continued to eat a bit carefully for a stretch, but thankfully it seems like her midnight surprise was essentially a one-and-done episode.


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