Day 78 – Bad priorities, good result
Today I woke up and really, really wanted to be in Coromandel. To be honest, I don't really even know why. From Coromandel I plan to take the ferry to Auckland and continue my riding over there but there are no morning ferries so I could easily finish the trip off tomorrow in plenty of time.
It was only 90km to get there anyway, but 90 very hilly, windy kilometers. I've also built a nice debt in my legs that I can feel every day as my last day off was in Hastings, some two weeks ago. I've taken some short days to keep my legs working but I've been pushing harder than I should. I'm dead set on my goal. I want to finish my trip to the top of the north island and I want to be back in Auckland with enough time to be safe.
I start my ride and push over reasonable hills and against occasionally annoying wind and I come to realize at some point there's no way I'm making the route through Whitianga and into Coromandel Town today but there is a short cut, a scenic gravel road that has a shorter hill and much to see. I was hesitant to do this because it is still a big hill and that is no fun on gravel given my tires and weight of gear and I've also been trying to nurse my remaining stock tire. I don't want to blow the money paying double to replace it here if I could get it home in tact.
As I get to the turnoff for the 309 road I see a girl on a mountain bike coming down. I ask how the road is, “it's not bad, you'll be fine”. Okay I'll do it! Coromandel Town today it is.
I start down the road and am pleased with the quality. It's mostly dirt and thin, fine gravel so it's easy riding. Then it turns sour as the road turns to the sky. 300m climb to make in about 4km and the road twists and turns, with some turns so heavily banked that I slide down to the edge and get stuck. I pedal as much as I can as the gradients get steeper and the gravel gets thicker and heavier. Lesson learned, don't trust people on mountain bikes.
At some point I've given up and stick to walking up to the peak. I realize that I've been pushing harder than I should today and lately. I'm so set on the destination (Coromandel Town at the moment, but Kaitaia in the end) that I'm neglecting to let myself focus on enjoying the ride. At this point it's too late, I'm stuck crawling over this sketchy gravel road and have nowhere I can stop but Coromandel Town. Fortunately the ride down was easier and shallower than the ride up.
When I arrive I head to a hostel called Tui Lodge to pitch my tent based on the recommendation of Paul, the Irish guy I met in Whakatane. When I roll in I spot three tents, with three bikes. I'm pumped, I love seeing cyclists where I am staying so I quickly book my tent spot and set up near them.
There I meet Chris and Lewis, a pair cycle touring together from England. They're rolling on the two mountain bikes (front center and right side of the above photo). As well as a guy from Switzerland (the bike in the background). Chris and Lewis are also doing some actual mountain biking here so their setups are a little more thought out than some of the people on mountain bikes that I've seen strictly touring on pavement.
I also meet a handful of non cyclists staying here as well. Most notably are Lorenz, a German here traveling by car and Quentin, a French guy on a working holiday visa, currently traveling while he waits to hear about work in Auckland. The pile of us and a few German girls hang out jumping on the trampoline, playing cards, chatting and stargazing until quite late. It's a good thing I don't have to be anywhere until the afternoon ferry the next day I tell myself.
The hostel is pretty awesome as a whole. Tons of outdoor and open air space, free laundry and a trampoline!
Day 79 –
Leaving by ferry Fishing and trampoline jumping
I woke up today fully intending to pack my bags and leave by the only ferry to Auckland that day, which departed at 4:30pm. While eating breakfast Chris, Lewis, Lorenz and Quentin slowly trickle in and we all decided to head into town to use some wifi. I let the lady who runs the hostel know I'll be back later to pack up the tent and leave.
The gang have all been here for at least a few days and begin to make plans to go fishing together again today. I realize I have absolutely no motivation to head out so decide I'll stick around a second night and join for fishing. You know, here I was yesterday in a hurry to be somewhere but it's really here, the place in the middle, that I want to be.
We ride down to the dock in Lorenz's car after stopping to get Quentin a fishing rod. Not wanting to carry one for my remaining week and then try to fly home with it, I pass on buying one and give it a shot throwing a line by hand over the pier. I actually caught a fish like this! A small one, but I caught food with my bare hands so I'm pretty stoked. Now I was entirely unprepared to kill it, having never done this before. It flopped around a bit before Lewis lent a hand.
I get tired of hand holding a line so mostly I hang out while the rest of the guys fish. Everyone catches at least one and we make a good gathering for dinner. Back at the hostel I learn to gut, clean and filet a fish. Not glamorous work but felt like I'm a little more suited for life outdoors and after this experience I will be bringing a compact fishing rod on my next bicycle tour!
Lewis whips up a rice, cabbage, onion and fish meal that is absolutely fantastic. One of the best meals I've had on this trip, perhaps that was because I caught and gutted part of it, but still. Picture came out poorly but that's Lorenz, Quentin, Lewis and Chris below.
Sometimes it's hard to remember while cycle touring that its not about the kilometers or that pin on a map you're trying to reach. It's about getting there. It's about traveling slowly, meeting people along the way and letting the trip figure itself out. Sure maybe I won't see as much of the kauri forests in the northern tip now, but in 5 years I probably wouldn't remember that part of the trip anyway. What I will remember is panicking as the first fish I ever caught flopped around on the dock, when I learned to prepare and cook a fish that I caught and all the people I spent my time with.
So as they say, it's about the journey, not the destination. As hard as that is to remember when you're putting in your remaining week or two before you fly home or go back to work or whatever you have waiting for you after a tour.
Day 80 –
Okay now I'm really leaving More fishing, more trampoline
It became obvious last night that none of us wanted to leave. Chris and Lewis decided to stick around again and Lorenz will be here for a couple more days anyway. I said I'd stay if they were, which apparently caused Quentin to stay put as well. As with yesterday we ate breakfast together and walked into town to use the coffee shop wifi. I find that the longer I'm gone the quicker I finish my business online and grow bored of having Internet access but spent a while staring at reddit while the gang finished up.
I jumped on the trampoline for a while then we went fishing. I let the wind blow away the hand held line I had yesterday so today I was just moral support but relieved some of the guys of their posts when the sun or boredom got to them. Wound up catching three fish big enough to eat.
After fishing and gutting a couple of the guys went to do a long hike nearby but I chose to stay behind and work on my R&R. Spent two hours laying in the shade of a tree, drifting in and out of consciousness, watching the clouds drift by. Fantastic. It's been a long time since I've been able to stare at the sky with no thoughts of what I should be working on instead or what I need to do later today or tomorrow.
Our total count of fish for the day was around 16 fish so when it came time to cook dinner we managed quite a feast. Tons of veggies, rice and fish with a total cost of $3 each. Last night we cut filets out and threw it into our dish but tonight Quentin cooked them on the grill. This meant eating a fish that still had eyes but I got to dig into the fish pictured above.
Sad to be leaving tomorrow but getting back on the road for my short time remaining will be good. I've stayed here at Tui Lodge for three nights and that is longer than I have stayed anywhere in these three months. It is a fantastic place and I have loved the time I spent here. It was all because Paul said “Stay at Tui Lodge when you get there… Write that down.”