I always say the whole point of this little jaunt on a bicycle around the world has little to do with cycling. While that’s what I spend most of my time doing, the sometimes elusive enjoyment pedalling day to day through whatever mother nature throws at you certainly isn’t the reason why I set off in the first place and it certainly isn’t the reason why I keep going.
More often than not, riding that bike of mine is just a means to an end.
It’s a means to that amazing campsite I have found because I can pick up a bike and lift it over a fence or push through some bushes to a spot that no one else travelling with wheels would be able to get to. It’s a means to a ravenous appetite, to which cycling acts as a Get Out of Jail Free Card when it comes to matters of restraint, portion sizes, or the potential of seconds and second breakfasts.
It’s also a means to some pretty great encounters with people.
One of my last days riding in New Zealand started with that first perk: I open my tent door to an incredible view straight down the middle of Pelorous Sound that would normally come with a 5-star price tag. I paid nothing, except the time it took me to wait until near darkness before cycling up to the viewpoint overlooking Havelock, wheeling my bike beyond the car park and putting up my tent far away from the road, leaving no clue to any passer by that I was there. It’s been a bit of a challenge to find spots to sleep for the night in New Zealand as it has developed a vendetta against wild camping, with some justification. The number of camper vans roaming the islands reaches plague levels in peak season and locals have had enough with many “freedom campers” not following the fundamental rule of leave no trace. Most carparks or any entrance to scenic viewpoints are now littered with no camping signs instead of used toilet roll. If you can get past the carpark, though, it’s not difficult to disappear completely from any passer by who might be enforcing these rules.
I make breakfast and watch the water of the sound change from metallic grey to turquoise, the signature colour of all the Marlborough Sounds at the northern tip of the South Island. Here lies a warren of waterways and walkways that I planed to explore as a last hurrah of my time here, enjoying the reliably mediterranean weather this part of the island gets. It was a welcome change to the rain of the West Coast.
On my way to Picton, I bump into a guy on a road bike coming the other way and what follows is a chain of events that has appeared on so many pages in my diary over the last three years. Tell someone that you’re doing something silly like cycling around the world and you’ll get a range of reactions from disbelief, concern, or praise but then – almost every time – some life affirming story born from the kindness of strangers. This time a road-side encounter with a man called Bruce turned into an offer of a roof over my head and then that escalated into the loan of a full suspension bike and some company for the Queen Charlotte Track, a multi-day ride along single-track that runs along the ridge of the hills that separate the Sounds or down by their enticing, turquoise water. With a proper mountain bike to deal with the jarring terrain and the enjoyable company of someone eager to take up up the opportunity play tour guide, it was the ideal sendoff from the South Island I had hoped for. I was grateful to have avoided doing it on my own bike, too, as had I not bumped into Bruce, the experience would me more akin to a three day hike-a-bike with a lot of explicit language.
New Zealand is a beautiful country that offers some spectacular views; you don’t need me to tell you that. But without those chance encounters, my experience of this country would have been just that, a nice place for a ride. But these stories of spontaneous hospitality form extraordinarily kind and generous people suddenly fuse more meaningful emotions to one’s memory of a place; you don’t just think not just ‘ooooh, that was a nice view’, there’s something extra that does quite well to fill you with gratitude for spending time there and the people who live there who made it so great. Being on a bike just helped make it all happen.
And that’s why I ride.