It’s Saturday, 1:30 in the afternoon. I’m sitting, alone, at an empty bar in Ranfurly. My butt hurts. Two hours ago, I was with the others, but they left, suggested I buy myself a drink. So here I am.
I hate giving up. I always challenge myself, push myself to sprint the final stretch. So what happened this time?
Friday morning, I caught a bus from the Dunedin Train Station with Laura, Rachel, and Courtland. By mid-afternoon, we’d made it to our final destination, a town called Clyde, where the driver dropped us off at the Otago Central Rail Trail starting point. We were going to bike 150km through central Otago in one and a half days. We picked up the bikes we’d rented and rearranged our gear, and we were off.
The short introductory video we’d watched at the starting point had warned us of a hill in the beginning of the route; it had a 1:50 grade, or in other words, for every fifty meters we biked horizontally, we would gain one meter of elevation. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?
The first seventy five kilometers were uphill, and deceptively so. It’s the kind of grade that you can’t see as you go, but you know it’s there because your speed slows significantly. During short intervals when we were moving on flat ground, we’d go between 15/18 km/hr. During the even shorter intervals of downhill bits, we sometimes hit 25km/hr. But on the uphills, or most of the first day, we rarely got faster than 12km/hr. And it was tiring. We stopped a couple of times for water breaks and snacks, but we biked on, determined to finish the entire trail by 3:00 the next day. If we did finish by then, we would be in time to get picked up by the company’s shuttle bus, which would drive us back to Dunedin.
We stopped for dinner at a station along the way, where we stayed for about an hour. It was the longest break we’d taken that day, and it felt fantastic. But when we got back on our bikes, we simultaneously groaned, “oooooh.” Our butts hurt. The terrain was gravel, with some parts rockier than others, but nonetheless rocky the whole way. Before we’d stopped, we’d become mostly numb to the pain inflicted upon our butts. But the seats were entirely uncushioned, and sitting back down produced pain like no other. I pushed through it and hoped I’d become numb again soon.
An hour or so later, we came to a tunnel in the trail. We dismounted our bikes and started to walk through it. But we could not see the other side, there was no light coming from the end. I took out my headlamp, the only one the group had, and shined it on the floor. We continued walking for a couple of minutes before we finally made it to the end and mounted our bikes again… ooooh. There was another tunnel a bit further down. Finally, we made it to normal terrain again, but it was getting dark. We had another couple of km to go before we would be at the next station, which was sure to have flat ground on which to camp, and maybe even a toilet facility. A couple of minutes before we got there, a lighted dome appeared over the mountainside.
A mosque? No, there aren’t enough Muslims in this country for a mosque that size. What was it? It was huge and yellow lit up the air around it, surely masking any stars that were trying to peer out. We got closer to the light, and the light rose above the mountain. It was the moon. This moon was, without a doubt, the most magnificent celestial body I’ve ever seen. I can’t describe how huge it was to you, but the best I can do is to say that when I held my thumb up to the sky, I could still see the moon from behind it.
But we had no time to stare, we had to get to our site before it was dark. We made it, and we took out our tents. The tents were not easy to set, especially in the dark with only one light. We spent more than half an hour trying to figure them out. It was not until a bit later that we found the instructions, and even those were lacking in quality. Tents are supposed to be taut when erected properly, so that they wick off water droplets that accumulate overnight. Ours were saggy and weak, and it is a wonder they didn’t fall down overnight.
We woke up at 7:15, and the sun was just rising over the mountains. The colors were brilliant. And the animals were awake. There was a cacophony of mooing, baah-ing, and woofing, and even a couple of loons in the trees started singing along. And then we heard it:
And I was like baby, baby, baby, ooooh. Like baby, baby baby, nooo.
It was worse than the animals. That’s right, folks; Bieber had followed us to New Zealand. It took us until the next song, Britney Spears’s Baby One More Time, came on until we realized it was the farmer playing music while he sheered his sheep. What an interesting flavor of music he played to do such a task.
Anyway, we left by 8. We’d gone 60km the first day and had only 15 left until we’d reached the halfway point along the trail, also the highest point, where the rest would be downhill. We stopped along the way at the next station, where there were nice toilets and a lodge with a coffee machine and other goodies (for a price, of course). We reapplied sunscreen and kept going. But my knee started to hurt. I slowed down. It hurt more. Every cycle hurt, a shooting pain from my knee up and through my thigh. I lost sight of the others. The pain didn’t subside. I took my leg off the peddle and stretched it while I glided down the hills. Didn’t help, got worse. Still couldn’t see the group. And my butt hurt. That was manageable, but every time I shifted positions on my seat, I had to bend my leg, and the pain shooting through my knee got even worse.
Stop. Please stop, I silently begged my friends. Please stop. Fifteen kilometers later, they stopped; they were at one of the bigger stations along the way, Ranfurly. There, they were going to call the bus company to let them know where we were going to be at 3:00 so that we could be picked up and driven back to Dunedin. They had decided not to go the whole 150km but to stop at 125, for time’s sake. But I had made my decision already.
“Guys, I can’t keep going. I’m in excruciating pain. You go on, and I’ll have them pick me up here.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’d love to keep going, but I can’t. It hurts too much and I don’t want to push it too far.” So we called the company, who would pick me up first, in three hours, and then come to pick them up further down the road. Before they left, we walked around town a bit.
“Rachel, you should treat yourself to a drink at a bar. That’s been on my bucket list for New Zealand,” Laura told me.
“You know, maybe I will. That’s a good idea.” I’d brought my passport just in case I needed identification for that very purpose. A little later, they left, and I wandered around a bit. I looked for a pharmacy to buy a knee brace, but it was closed. So I lay down in the sun with my iPod for an hour and dozed off. At 1:30, I decided to check out the bars.
I’ve never really been at a bar before, and I don’t really know what kind of alcohol I like; I know I like fruity things (I know, I know… I’m a wuss). So I looked at the options from across the counter and asked the bartender what she’d suggest. She said they were all good. So I squinted a bit and saw something that said nectarine. Ok, sure, I like nectarine. So I ordered it. It cost me $4. Then the bartender went away and I looked at my drink.
I’d tried to take myself out to a bar, partly in celebration of completing a 91km trek, and partly to take the edge off my knee. And partly to say I had done it.
I ended up with nectarine juice, completely alcohol-free. I need to get out more often.
But anyway, that’s how I ended up alone in a bar in Ranfurly with a sore butt.
The bus came to pick me up about an hour later. I met up with the other three at their station, and we made our way back home.
Back in Dunedin, I showered quickly and went to my first real rugby game with Erica and Matt, from downstairs. The Otago Highlanders were playing some team that starts with a W, either from South Africa or somewhere in Australia, according to Cleo. It was fun. Fans dressed up in blue and yellow jumpsuits and wore jester hats, and everyone stood up on their chairs the whole time. I left at halftime, though, because I was exhausted and planning on going to a Purim party with my flatmate Michal. On my way home, I ran into a drunk Kiwi girl who was amazed that I was from the States and had seen the Empire State Building before. She asked me if I ate Twinkies and huge bottles of Diet Coke, and she told me that’s what America’s known for. I told her I didn’t eat Twinkies. Then she asked if I knew two people she knew from South Carolina and one from Missouri. I told her no, it’s a pretty big country. Oh well.
At least I was finally the cool American I’ve been expecting to be all this time.