As I remain sitting at the edge of the lake, I’m approached by a small girl. She has a round face, black hair, brown skin and brown eyes. She walks up to me and offers me a small purple flower. I smile and take the flower from her. I turn and pluck my own flower from a plant next to me, and offer this one back to her. She smiles.
Rather than running off, she lingers. She fidgets a bit and gives me a curious look before finally speaking. “Mister,” she says, “Why are you sad?”
I’m confused. “Why do you think that I am sad?” I reply.
She looks at the flower I gave to her, and then she looks back at me and says, “You’re all alone…”
Distance Traveled: 340 km (Trip Total: 1764 km)
Today was another beautiful day and a beautiful ride.
Once I get out of Queenstown and pass by Arrowtown, I come to Crown Range road which winds up and cuts through the mountains towards the town of Wanaka and the lake of the same name. I take some pictures halfway up the switchbacks, and discover that my camera is critically low on battery. From here on out, I try to make every shot count, as my camera is turning itself off after each picture taken.
The town of Wanaka is upscale and pleasant, dotted with cafes and restaurants along the waterfront main street. I get breakfast here: eggs benedict over smoked salmon and a coffee. One curious thing about NZ, or at least, about not being in America, is what people consider a “large” coffee to be. Every time I get a large coffee, I get the equivalent of a Starbucks “tall”. Their smallest one. I’m not fatigued or sleepy, but I am feeling under-caffeinated, so I get a coffee at most stops I make today.
The ride along Lake Wanaka is majestic. Par for the course really, considering this is something like the 7th or 8th stunningly beautiful lake I’ve ridden alongside this trip. The sun is shining brightly and the air is a nice pleasant temperature, not as hot as it has been the last few days.
I stop to take a picture of a hillside where the silhouette has a curious scoop taken out of it. To me, it looks as if a fist of wind came by and punched out the softer earth that sat between two stony sides.
Just a few kilometers before I reach the town of Makarora, a bug finds that unlucky soft spot beneath my helmet, but above the top of my collar, and hits me square in the neck. It surprises me, but doesn’t hurt too bad. About a minute later, however I get a sharp stabbing sensation in the back of my neck, like someone is jabbing me with a needle. It’s incredibly painful and forces me to pull over at the nearest lot just as I get into town. I rip my helmet off and shed my jacket as fast as I can, and discover a half-dead bee trapped in my collar. It’s stung me twice on the back of the neck. I stomp on the bee to put it out of its misery and angrily open up one of my saddlebags to pull out the travel first aid kit I packed with me. A man at a table near me silently watches the whole time as I mutter to myself and storm away, leaving my gear discarded on the ground next to the bike.
I get into the bathroom and dig what feels like a splinter out of my neck, then clean everything up before applying some bandaids. It’s actually quite tricky, since I can only just barely see what I’m doing in the mirror. Thankfully the pain from the sting fades, and after a short soda-break, I’m ready for the open road again.
The road leads north into the Mount Aspiring National Park. I have to say, probably one of the most scenic routes of the trip so far. The vegetation in here is very lush. Chokingly dense in fact. The air smells like plant life, even through the helmet.
I ride along a strange half-empty river, where wind blows dusty sand across its surface, making everything seem almost arid and desert-like, despite the flowing water. It’s a magnificently beautiful, alien, and solitary scene.
As I ride along towards Haast, I think a little bit about what the girl said to me in my dream, and what it means to be free. I suppose that real freedom, true freedom, means becoming the most lonely man on the planet. To have absolutely zero obligations, zero dependencies, absolute and total freedom… everything must be left behind. I think about how noble and yet how sad that cause feels to me. I do not know if my soul is strong enough to accept such an existence.
Past Haast, the weather gets gray and dim, but for the most part it is still dry. It feels like I’m riding through a jungle, where opaque and dense walls of vegetation, trees, shrubs, ferns and vines, all hem me in as they hug close to the boundaries of the road. Where the terrain does open up, I’m greeted with green misty mountains and half-dried rivers.
It’s not long before I reach the true western coast of the island, and I can look out onto the vast, foggy and beckoning sea.
I come across a gray-sand beach along a lonely stretch of coastal road, and decide to get off my bike. I climb down the large rocks that form a strong seawall barrier between the surf and the foundation of the road. I walk alone down the misty beach, searching for a rock to take back with me.
I hug the edge of the surf, just a few feet out of the reach of each wave and watch as the water reveals and then hides again scattered rocks buried within the sand. I spot one that strikes my eye: a white, rounded yet angular stone, shot through with colors of red, black, and gray. I watch the waves, and when the time is right, I chase in after a retreating wave and recover my prize from the sea before a fresh wave can intercept me.
I spot a second rock, this one pure white and smooth from centuries of erosion. I pry it out of the dark sand and rinse it off, bringing it up with me as I climb back to my bike. I try to scratch my name and the year into it with a smaller sharper stone, but it’s very faint and difficult to see, even when looking for it. I dry the stone and use my sharpie to write on it instead: “Geo was here, 2015”.
I place the stone within a small bed of bright yellow flowers that are growing along the seawall, as a marker that I was here.
I get back on my bike and leave my music off. As I begin to ride away, I think about whether or not the message will last, or if it will ever be found by someone else. Maybe someday a little girl like the one in my dream will see the pretty flowers and find my stone, waiting there for her. Perhaps she will wonder who I was… Perhaps she will wonder if I was happy.
Miles from the beach, I think about that stone I left behind, the stone I will never again see in my life, and I weep.
My journey for the day soon ends at Fox Glacier. The glacier itself is nowhere to be seen from here, but apparently the base of it is just a few kilometers away down a different road. A man named Bruce checks me into my room and offers me a carton of cold milk. I drink it while I write this post and begin to feel better and more fortified. Misty mountains keep me company from outside my window. Outside, birds are chirping loudly among the occasional scattered ‘Baaaa’ of unseen sheep.
Tomorrow I will remain here at Fox Glacier. I’ve booked a flight on a helicopter to take for a trip around the area and a landing on the top of the glacier itself. I’ve never stood on top of a glacier before, and I’ve never flown in a helicopter either. It should prove to be an exciting day. The weather is supposed to be clearer.
Thanks for reading, everyone.