The shop sign mocked me from beyond the safety of the windowpane. What up until a few moments before had been a glowing beacon of hope in the otherwise never changing landscape, an oasis advertised at the roadside by a wind blown rotating sign was now a cruel jest. I was knackered, hungry and it was just starting to rain in that annoying way that soaked you before you noticed it was raining. I could see the things I wanted, separated from me by the glass and barred from me by a locked door and a ‘Sorry, we’re closed’ sign. The door wasn’t that heavy, it moved and rattled when I shook it and the glass was only single glazed. I nurtured dark thoughts of illegal activities, I’d only get what I needed, put the cash on the counter and hope they had insurance for the rest. Why didn’t I go with my own judgement and detour toward the town first instead of listening to the man who told me there was a shop in Staveley, the village I had headed toward? Now the town, Methven, was over twenty miles behind me. I looked at my map, there was another village around six miles further down the road, to my left. There was a motor camp symbol by it. Or, should I pray that there was a shop at the campsite I was headed toward – shown by a tent symbol – on my right, a good three miles away? Left or right?
Arctic explorers can say to with in a hundred yards or so how far they can travel each day with the food they have. Out in the frozen wilderness of either the two poles, they know that this amount of food will get themselves and their equipment so far before they have to stop. If they go beyond what they have supplied for themselves, they’ll never get to the target. Everything is weighed and baggage is kept to a minimum, the food is of a quality that is high in energy and low in weight. If they had shops in the middle of the South Pole of the same type as some of those found in the countryside in New Zealand, they’d have still starved to death.
As I’ve mentioned before, everything weighs more on a bicycle than it does when taken off the bike. This means that I’ve been relying on the idea that a campsite near a village would have a shop, thus saving me having to haul my food from the big town supermarket. However, the prices of things in the village shop are sometimes twice what they are in the supermarkets and there is usually very little choice. In one store I came to near Peel Forest, they had one item of everything on the shelves. Honestly, I was reminded of the pictures of supermarkets in the old Soviet Union. If you wanted a nourishing bowl stew and the person ahead of you picked it up first, hard luck.
When I was driving around in the van, I could have breakfast in the morning, (usually cereal of a name similar but not quite the same as a British brand, like ‘Weetbicks’) then it wouldn’t be unusual not have anything at all until tea time. Even then, one can of ravioli would be enough to bide me over until breakfast came around again. This was because I was sat on my arse the whole time driving, burning petrol rather than calories. Also, I used to buy two or three days worth of supplies from the big supermarkets and shove them in the boot before heading off into the wilds. So food was comparatively cheaper, lighter and lasted longer. Now though, I was burning calories at a rate that would horrify environmentalists had I been eating coal. One can of food is not enough. Usually I’m riding my bike for around six hours at a time, covering anywhere from thirty to fifty miles, sometimes more. In the morning I have a large bowl of muesli, this is good because it fits easily into my bag and doesn’t mind being squashed. Then, depending on money and availability a sandwich or sausage roll washed down with bottled tap water for dinner. If sandwiches aren’t available, (they’re not even supplied pre packed in the big supermarkets, shocking!) a choccy bar. If on special offer, vital sugars lost while cycling are replaced with jelly beans or some other sweets. If not on offer, I think sweet things to get by. When I reach my destination, sometimes announced in my best imitation of a sat-nav voice, only when I have put up the tent, blown up the air bed and had a shower (or a wash from the tap, depending where I am) do I sit down for a well earned feed. My choice of destination had been because the place name was that of a town near where I live in England, hence Sheffield last time. Today was Staveley, for no other reason than it was there and had a campsite. It was lucky that the area I was cycling around was on the very edge of the Canterbury Plains, just before the Southern Alps, as it gave a scenic background on an otherwise flat and boring terrain.
I decided right, and set off. I got about half a mile before I pulled over again. If the other place is a motor camp, then it’d have an office. Usually the office sells food and there is more chance it would be open. I turned around and began heading the other way, the rain starting to fall more heavily now. A little further on and I’d pulled over again to get out my raincoat. I looked again at the map. The campsite was closer, and my legs were starting to feel as if they may never work again after today. A girl came up the drive way I was standing by, she was on a motorbike, I needed a second opinion. She told me there was a shop (on the right) but it may be closed. She didn’t know of the motor camp but said the town was ten kilometres away and that it went up hill. I thanked her and she drove away, laughing politely at my request for a tow. To hell with it, I’d come this far, I was pointing that way and what’s an extra few miles anyway when I’d been cycling all day. I continued toward the motor camp.
The rain held off from giving me a full drenching and for once despite the threat of a hill; the town, Mount Somer turned out closer than the map suggested. At least it felt that way. I followed the sign advertising the motor camp and for the second time that day I saw a village shop. For the second time that day, I saw a closed sign. But wait, someone was inside! I’d just caught the owner locking up and after a shameful display of pitiful pleading, she let me nip in and buy my things.
The motor camp, whilst it had all the things you’d expect like a kitchen and shower block (yippee!), didn’t have an office. I was told a lady came around in the morning to take cash, or put it in an honesty box. I’d just spent the last of my cash on stew and rice pudding and the nearby pub didn’t do cash back. The next morning, whilst watching out for the rent collector who never came and only able to put honesty in the honesty box, I quickly packed up and did a runner.
I hadn’t planned to be on the road again and my legs began aching the moment I’d set off. I’d been told Methven had cash machines, so I headed back there. The route took me past Staveley again (and that blasted shop) and I kept an eye out for the campsite I would’ve spent the night in. I rode past the driveway I had talked to the girl, I rode past where I thought the site would be. Nothing. No site, no shop, no signpost, not even an indication of a spot where a campsite could have been. Thanking my lucky stars for a correct decision, I pressed on and found Methven to be all the things I needed it to be, including having a kebab shop! After two nights there I set off again.
In Peel Forest, a place I chose because I was told it had an interesting waterfall, I had a problem. The shop only had noodles. The other problem was that whilst it was a DoC campsite, it was the most expensive one at twelve dollars a night. It had been raining hard all day and the prospect of building my tent in the rain, then only having noodles to eat was a bit disheartening. The good thing was it stopped raining just as I began setting up, and that it had a real fireplace in one of the huts so I could dry out my things! Also I met two girls traveling in a camper van (Elisabeth and Alex, hi!) who had only rice and a few veggies. We turned our meagre ingredients into something really tasty and filling.
I’m headed back in the direction of Christchurch now, and getting on a jet for home in just over a week. Look out for the big round up and awards ceremony coming soon!
Mini Count :- 50!!!!!!!! I kid ye not! One in Methven, two on the road and one in a garage!
Sorry, no pics, slow internet again!