I woke up to a brisk morning on the slopes of the Thyme Hill Vineyard. My lackluster dinner had left me a hungry cyclist. Lucky for me, Inge had laid out a breakfast spread of delicious toast with thyme honey and freshly picked cherries! I ate more than my fill and said goodbye to Inge and her cute Kelpy farm dog. Next up was a grocery run that I was supposed to have done the day before. I dropped down to Alexandra and made it to the grocery store just as a thundershower blew through. I hunkered down for 30 minutes and did my shopping. Once the storm passed, I hopped back on the bike and headed toward the Central Otago Rail Trail. This former railway line turned gravel bike path would be my main route to the Dansey’s pass Holiday Park; a campground just over a mountain pass about 80 or so miles away.
The beginning of the day was quite tough. I found myself cycling into a stiff headwind along the gravel path. At one point I had to walk my bike about a half mile when the wind was too strong. I found a group of cyclists out for a club ride along the trail. They were kind enough to pull me to the local pub where I grabbed a bite to eat. The wind was still present, but much more manageable for the rest of the day. The landscape was beautiful and I was really enjoying my time on the bike. One oddity was the number of ambulances that seemed to be running around this rural, middle of nowhere, stretch of grazing land. For around 30 minutes or so I kept hearing sirens. If that wasn’t weird enough, suddenly a pickup truck came flying from behind me at about 80 miles an hour on this cycle-only track. After moving over to let them pass, I cycled on for another couple of miles. To my great dismay, I found out what was going on. An older man was lying in the path; his bike in a ditch. The men from the pickup truck were performing CPR. That ambulance I heard was desperately trying to find a way to get from the main road to the cycle track. If you’ve never watch someone perform CPR in earnest I would not recommend it. At every compression it looked as if his organs were going to be pushed out of his belly. I had to wait there, in the middle of the road as it were, as they worked and the ambulance tried fruitlessly to get there. I was allowed to pass after they pronounced him dead; I did have to get off the road a mile or so later to let the ambulance pass.
The next section of riding along the rail trail was different. The day’s events had stripped away the excitement of a new adventure. It had been replaced with a mood more somber; I rode through a tunnel of introspection. One minute that man was riding his bike along a gorgeous trail on a hot summer day. The next minute he was flat on his back taking his final few breaths. One minute you can be doing the things that brings you great joy. The next minute you could be gone. I thought about this a great deal during the 100+ hours of riding I did throughout the rest of the trip. These thoughts amalgamated into a new outlook on life, but that will have to wait for another day.
As my day progressed, the gravel changed a bit. The stones seemed to become a bit looser and a bit larger. Perhaps I had reached a newer or less traveled section. Whatever the reason, my progress slowed. It became a bit frustrating that I couldn’t go much faster than around 6 mph. After a few hours of this, I managed to hop onto a parallel road where I could move much more freely. By this point though, the damage was done. It had gotten very hot, I was tired from pushing through the gravel, and I was behind schedule due to the wind and unexpected wait. As I was riding, I saw a man on a nice looking gravel bike. He was riding parallel to me on the rail trail. I used him as motivation to push a bit harder and attempt to catch up on lost time. We both happened to stop at a little shop to grab a snack. As we sat on the benches outside the shop, we got to talking. Adrian was riding from Alexandra to Naseby to see his brother Johnny. I told him a bit about my trip. When I told him where I was heading, Adrian stopped me short and informed me, much to my dismay, that there was no way in hell I was going to make it over Dansey’s Pass before dark. My mind whirled at the prospect of not making my mileage for the first time ever, and possibly camping on the side of the road somewhere. Lucky for me Adrian finished his sentence with “you’re staying with me at my brother’s place in Naseby!”
Adrian led me back to his brother’s place where a recovery shake was dropped in front of me. When I inquired about the contents due to my lacrosse intolerance, i was reassured that it was “vegan mate!” SWEET AS! Sweet potatoes, and sausages followed. Johnny fixed the bent chainring tooth on my bike and we all hung out drinking a beer and chatting all afternoon. Again the kindness of strangers appeared when I needed it most.
I later found out that Johnny and his wife (who I did not get to meet) are hot stuff in the New Zealand cycling scene. A couple years ago I was watching every cycling documentary I could find on amazon prime. When I found one that was filmed in New Zealand I had to do a triple take. There was Johnny talking about, and crushing, some singletrack! If you want to check out a super motivational and amazing film, go look up “The Pioneer” (or find it here: Nutrigrain: The Pioneer). Adrian is no slouch either, having been an exceptional hockey player before he turned cyclist. Thanks to Adrian and Johnny a somewhat traumatic day turned into one that I will never forget, for better reasons. Thanks again you guys, you really saved my behind!
Take a minute to read this article featuring Johnny where he speaks about athletes and his battle with depression: https://www.odt.co.nz/regions/north-otago/speaking-mental-health-hard-road-cyclist