I haven’t ridden my bike much this week, beyond tiny essential journeys in between eating and sleeping and reading. But I did read a memoir by an endurance athlete. When I’m really tired, I can only read a memoir by an endurance athlete. The only storyline my brain can grasp is one where someone forces themselves to run, cycle, swim thousands of miles through punishing heat and cold for no particular reason. Once I’ve read one of these books, I can move on. Anyway, the one I read earlier this week was Finding Ultra, by Rich Roll. It’s about a guy overcoming alcoholism by becoming a vegan and doing five Iron Mans in seven days. It’s sort of mesmerising, deeply American, and earnest in a way that I found excruciating at first but was increasingly drawn into, despite myself. Rich Roll’s catchphrase is: ‘Time to get to work.’ This bit below made me hoot with laughter (uncharitably) – it’s when Rich Roll has begun his fourth Iron Man in as many days, in Maui. He has just finished a hellish 3.9km swim, and now needs to cycle 180km, then run a marathon after that.
‘I washed the salt from my body in the nearby showers and immediately tried to rehydrate and replenish with several liters of coconut water, Endurance Elixir, and avocado sandwiches. But with an already ailing stomach, it was tough to get any calories down without gagging. And as the blood rushed to my gut to digest the nourishment I could hold down, my sense of fatigue increased. Then there was the oven-like heat. The sun was now high and stifling, scorching my beaten corpse with a blistering dryness that far exceeded anything we’d endured on previous days. Fixating on a young couple napping on fluffy white beach towels, I felt my blood boil with jealousy. I had to force myself to turn away. Time to focus. Time to get to work.’
There’s another nice ‘corpse’ moment: ‘On cold rainy nights when I ran drenched and corpse-like through the dimly lit neighborhood streets, that questioning voice would return: Why are you doing this to yourself?’
There’s something about this writing that I find sort of terrible, but I can’t look away. It’s so muscular, so crazy-eyed, this man in such thrall to his body, at once caged by it and freed by it. There’s a fair bit about the horror of saddlesores, which I enjoyed, and then this moment of delight: ‘Thanks to the remarkable natural properties of tea tree oil, my undercarriage seemed to have miraculously healed overnight.’
Anyway, I really recommend it.
My only notable bike ride this week was today, New Year’s Day. I set off down the hill at 7:30am, riding through quiet streets, past a big breathalysing station on Aotea Quay, and underneath SH1 to the ferry terminal. When I got there, my front light broke. Regular readers will be familiar with my bike light curse. Then I caught the ferry across to Picton.
So – taking your bike on the ferry. It should be straightforward and normal. And it was in the past! In the past, you would push your bike up over the gangplank with the other cyclists, lock your bike on the vehicle deck, and walk up the steps into the ship. After the crossing, you would ride straight off, ahead of the cars. But now there is a new system. You put your bike on the back of a little truck at the terminal. Then the truck drives onto the vehicle deck. Fine! But at the end of the crossing you have to go down to the vehicle deck and find the little truck with your bike on it, but then you have to wait for all the cars to drive off, including the little truck with your bike on it, so it seems a bit pointless to have come down to the vehicle deck, and nobody seems to know what is going on or what you should do or when you will see your bike again. Once all the cars have left, you and all the other confused cyclists walk off via the gangplank, and then you are all herded by officials into a fenced enclosure, like goats, and then you have to wait for people to unpack some other truck. Finally the truck gets out of the way and a man frees you from the enclosure and then at last you can walk around to the front and collect your bike from the car park.
Then I rode the 28km or so to Blenheim, which took around an hour fifteen, with hot sun and a head wind most of the way. I’ve done this ride a few times but had forgotten how scary it is for the first 22km or so, on SH1, with campervans and speedboats and horse floats rushing past and only the painted line between you. The slipstream of cars is powerful, especially cars towing things – you can almost see it, like a spasm in the air. There is a decent enough shoulder most of the way, but the shoulder had glass and rocks and clumps of dirt in it and, at one point, tonnes of tiny little apple-like things – crab apples? gooseberries?! – that my tyres wobbled around on, like a cartoon villain on marbles. I was also shocked by the amount of roadkill I saw – hedgehogs, possums, a hawk, both wings still fluttering upwards. The scariest bits were bridges: here, the shoulder would usually narrow right down, so cars would need to give you room, but it was almost like they didn’t know how to, at speed. I wore my hi-vis and kept as far left as I could, and in a few places really hustled, trying to get through a narrow bit before a car came up behind me.
I was gripping my handlebars so tight and concentrating so hard that I barely looked up to take in the landscape. I looked up properly near Tuamarina, and saw fields full of bright grey claw-like trees. The whole way, I saw only two other cyclists, both serious-looking solo road cyclists going in the opposite direction. We waved.
Then an exciting thing happened: I came upon this sign for a bridge. I'd heard at some point about the 'clip-on' bridge that forms part of the Whale Trail from Picton to Kaikōura but I think I'd assumed it would be completed sometime in the very distant future, maybe when I was dead. But – there it was.
After the brief sanctuary of the bridge I was funnelled back into the dark churn of SH1 for a few km. I was really relieved to reach the cycle path at Spring Creek, around 8km from Blenheim. I was just about to zoom onto it when I heard a massive crunch to my right and saw that one car had rear-ended another. (This could be a crossed-out line in Kenneth Koch's poem 'One Train May Hide Another'.) Everyone seemed fine enough, standing around forlornly stabbing at their phones, so I sped off.
The path from Spring Creek is a picture-book path. There are trees that rattle their pods, a paddock with horses and ponies, small bridges with streams under them. What it is about a small bridge crossing a stream? There's a good handful of ones just like this.
After the mayhem of SH1, the peacefulness of this path felt like almost too much. I could’ve ridden along it for hours, the sun scorching my beaten corpse.
Then, abruptly, I was passing the sign for Blenheim, and turning off to the road where my parents live, and I heard the sound of my mum hacking at some branches with a pair of loppers. When I heard the loppers, I knew I was alive.
It remains to be seen whether I will cycle back along the same route to get to Picton on Tuesday.