Lake Tekapo is a special place. The fields of thyme flowers, the pristine lake water, the mountainous backdrop; I felt at home there. Even though I had another long day ahead of me, I did not want to leave. I packed up camp on the early side, but didn’t head off right away. I spent several hours hiking around and savoring the sweet mountain air. I figured that since today had a lot of downhill, I would have plenty of time to get to the next campground.
The next section however was not downhill. In fact it was quite challenging. By 1pm, I had only covered 25 or 30 of my nearly 90 miles, and lunch was far overdo. I stopped at a fruit stand that was set up in the median of a divided boulevard. I bought a kilo of strawberries and a smattering of other delicious fruits. The look on the shop owners face when I explained I was going to sit down and eat it right there was priceless. Three or four pounds of fruit later I hit the road. Full and re-hydrated, I set about my task; ride 60 miles before sunset. The catch? I was already hurting from the days before.
There are no more pictures from this day. I rode up hills and down hills. Through small towns and down a big highway. Into the wind for hours with little respite. I was not making good time. The only thing sustaining me was a a packet of meal-mates (awesome New Zealand crackers) and a box of cookies. Every 2 kilometers I could eat one. Around 7:30pm I was completely exhausted and I realized that I didn’t have it in me to make it to the campground; the well was empty. I pulled up to a little motel. I was short of my goal, but at least I would have a roof over my head. They showed me the room, and my heart dropped. It smelled of mold, there were roaches skittering around, and I had to use a porta-john outside. I realized it was essentially a shipping container with some curtains and a bed in it. I was not spending 80 dollars to sleep in this hole. Having now wasted 30 minutes of precious daylight I made up my mind. Ashburton or bust.
With the sun setting, I had 20km to go, and what looked to be less than an hour to do it. My legs throbbed and my shoulders ached. My chapped lips stung as sweat dripped down my face and headwinds tormented me. What did I get myself into? This was now the 4th day in a row that I wasn’t going to make it to camp. Why was this happening? Why was I on a highway racing the sunset for a patch of dirt to set up a tent on. Why was I here?
20km. The distance of the bike portion of a short course triathlon. A distance that I had ridden, maybe a thousand times now seemed a monumental task. I felt like the well was empty. I felt like a failure. I felt like I couldn’t do what I set out to do on this trip.
I pushed into the wind with gritted teeth. Gritted with bugs and sand. Gritted with determination. I made it to the campsite just as the owner was closing her office. She took one look at me and gave me the entire empty bunkhouse to myself. For free. I laid on the floor, wondering what the hell just happened. It was 9pm and I had made it. I had pushed through what limits I thought I had. I reached the other side of giving up.
I now understand that this was exactly why I was on this epic journey. Why I put together a route that would climb the height of Mount Everest more than two times in more than 1,000 miles with 235 pounds of man, bike, and gear. To find out what happens when the well is empty, and see where that took me. I have done century rides. I have done an Ironman. I have challenged myself physically throughout my entire life. I had not until this day ever reached the bottom of the well. Alone in the fading light, in a foreign country, on the side of a highway, I found the bottom and dug deeper. I tried to give up for a 4th day in a row and the universe did not let me. This day of the trip with no fun sights or cool destinations. This day with an easy climbing profile and a more reasonable mileage goal. This day was what pushed me over the edge, and into the journey of self discovery that I didn’t know I had been looking for.