The overnight squal had abated but it’s companion the breeze was here for the day. A constant twenty knots blowing from the south east chased us up the coast to the mouth of the Torrens.
It was there that we turned inland and the sanctuary of overhead acacia and gum. Following the river as it meandered lazily into the heart of the great formal city – Adelaide.
“Mate this place is impeccable” muttered Horse, and it was. It has beautiful trashless trails that open up onto wide manicured fields and open public spaces. All the way from sea to summit.
We blew it
After all the delays our original plans were a complete shambles. So we decided to improvise and follow the coast as best we could north to Port Wakefield then overland to Wallaroo before heading god knows where.
This required us to turn off the Adelaide river trail just prior to the Hope valley. But we blew it. In the bliss of a good back wind we’d blown right past that deviation. And now the shadow of the Black Hill loomed.
In the silence of our collective smirk we knew the right decision. We pushed on up the trail to the Mawson. ‘The mission was still on.’
Claw and crawl
We turned off Torrens Gorge and began the crawl up Stone hut Road. We were at the trail head with a 450m climb in a little under six k’s. “’Rude’ I thought, but I’ve been here before.
Everything I’d read prior reinforced my current demeanour – this was going to be a mofo section.
Gravel was soon replaced with rust coloured soil and mobs of kangaroos. We scrambled our way up, at times pushing and coaxing the heavy bikes through the soft stuff.
Then startled, we burst through the forest at its crest to be greeted by a tortured live rendition of old Tom Waits Rain dogs.
Like a beacon in the roughage to a world civil, we followed its source to Andersons vineyard. Shiraz shortly followed.
The drop and drivel
It grew close, cold and quick. We had already reached todays temperature high of 11 degrees, but without the wind chill. Our blood now thickened, we set off for the drop to Lobethal, shelter and a much needed feed at the Rising Star.
Horse found god at the Rising Star. It came in the form of a cheese toasty and accompanying bowl of liquid garlic butter. As I read the deep fried menu with growing alarm, I couldn’t help but reminisce at the sight of last Friday nights salad.
After prizing Horse from the bar, we made good ground north to Birdwood and the nights shelter. Escorted on route by a squadron of Galahs. who chasing the last of the days light, skipping and swooping through the trees, the lightning flashes of crimson under wing.
Day over, we were pleased to have finally put some distance behind us.
Confirmation. The bikes are here somewhere, but for now that may as well be nowhere. So we’re instructed by the airline to remain at the motel to take delivery.
A sea fog rolls over my malcontent. What was once a sunny trail has been replaced with the cool grey cling of uncertainty as we continue to wait well past noon.
Boredom. Killing time reconsidering routes and staring out into the empty forecourt of the Genelg motor inn. I’m not sure what’s gloomier, the atmosphere in here or the fog out there.
Two battered bike boxes arrive along with some pissant courier. He was doing his best to be obstructive by refusing to deliver them anywhere else but the reception. Creating no end of consternation with management that was clearly audible from the forecourt of the Genelg motor inn.
Reassembled, checked and rechecked we were off. Horses helmet (destroyed in transit) needed replacement. We burst through the bike shop doors with minutes to spare. Bought. Gone.
Now we needed to bike across town to get the last of our provisions from ‘Anaconda’. I wasn’t sure who Anna Conda was, all I know is she had a sexy voice on the phone.
We made the serpentine temptress, but Anna had been replaced by a spotty teenager. Oblivious of my requests and obviously more interested to escape in his four wheeled wet dream at five.
Provisions sourced, we retraced our trail in the failing light and fog of the Genelg motor inn.
‘Bugger this’ muttered Horse, ‘let’s get a beer’.
It arrived. A fierce south easterly squall made good what it was threatening all day. It arrived with a banshee howl and throat rattle of an old smoker.
I didn’t care. Horse didn’t care. And I doubt Anna Conda cared. For tomorrow we ride.
Where to? Well that was a question neither of us knew the answer to.
All I knew is we weren’t going to spend another day at the Genelg motor inn.
I’d just sat down after check in with a coffee when the text appeared; ‘flight cancelled’. The day didn’t get any better.
With that news came the realisation we had lost the opportunity of getting on trail today. Instead we were being rerouted via Sydney on two back to backs to Adelaide. We were split up, squeezed in and driven mad running from an already late leaving flight onto the next.
We waited. Gripping fearlessly on the handles of our empty trolleys in the oversized baggage area. Like formula one racers we lined up, licked our lips and stared out over the passengers in customs hall. We had to navigate that chaos with two boxed bikes and a deadline, I was taking no prisoners. And the only thing standing between us and the finish line was a rotund and moustacheod oversized baggage handler in a blue boiler suit. He waited. We waited. The clock ticked.
Then with a squark clearly audible over the conveyor we heard a sharp nasel quip ‘no bikes on board fight 102 mate’.
It’s fair to say we made the second flight with only seconds to spare and completely bikeless.
So here I sit, cycle shorted and shod staring aimless out over the scorch that is the great southern land. I’m melancholic and considering what might have been. Smirking at the irony; I’d just spent the last few days in a workshops discussing ‘adaptability’.
So there’s nothing else for it… beer on the beach. I think we just lost the Mawson.
Today’s top track: Tom Waits – Tom Traubert’s blues
Personal recollections of Méxican adventures and near misses.
I remember the first time I flew into Ciudad de México (CDMX). Five am, September 2010. Below me all I could see were the stars and scattered patches of pueblos, slowly merging like frayed fabric into one single blanket of light, smothering the vast valle de México. And later in the yellow glow of afternoon sun, I was held close within the swirl and sway of a smokey Norteño in the heart of Alameda Central… I was smitten. I had fallen in love with this place. A love affair that would make me call its faded edificios ‘my home’.
I’d arrived with transport, my old Kona ’93. I knew that ‘to survive one needed to move’, and they were very prophetic words on more than one occasion. CDMX is vast and equally congested. Daily I needed to commute from apartment to office, a distance of eight km via that great formal avenue Paseo de la Reforma to Lomas de Chapultepec up on the ridgeline.
Racing a life and death slalom through three lanes of coaches, cars and chaos. Everyday living a very everyday life, with all its colour and unpredictable drama. I recall numerous times where I ended up either at the wrong end of a bus or worse, a gun barrel, but that was normal back then.
There wasn’t much in the way of cycling culture, but Ecobici (CDMX sponsored bike sharing programme) and Ciclovia changed all that. As every Sunday (since 2011) a network of major inner city avenidas are closed to traffic, so that Chilangos (CDMX natives) can ‘retake the streets’ on a bike, or on foot.
Over those few years I lived there, the expansion of Ciclovia was nothing short of explosive, where getting out amongst it on a Sunday became almost religious.
Any given Sunday
There’s waking with that fuming raw claw of last nights mescal and malboro, followed by a rolling morning tear as I stumble round and around stairs out into the world. That familiar ‘shlack shicker shicker’ of steal gate snapping closed behind me as I stare out into the warm mustard light of Plaza Luis Cabrerra . It’s said if you want to talk with God you speak Spanish. Well today is Sunday, Domingo, God’s chosen day.
I ride streets and passeos, a cross stitch of side roads and secret ways to where the formality of Reforma bows before the majesty of Bosque de Chapultepec. It’s there I join the rough river of Chilangos making their way down the broad avenida under a gentle rain of jacaranda flowers. The gutters awash in mauve, gently filled by the slow swoosh swoosh of barrenderos at broom.
It’s hard to describe Mexico City, you have to live it. Be taken and swollowed whole by it. Accept you are a mere flicker of flame for the briefest moment of time within its timelessness. You hate to love it, but you do.
You are drawn into the flow down to centro where old meets the very old. Where asphalt seal gives way to weathered cobble that have been worn huarache smooth over a millennia and more. Where congestion of the new is replaced with congestion of old – car with bike for bike with Trejo. All competing for space and relevance within the narrows of La Merced.
I stop at a corner and lean lazy against a sun warmed wall, setting light to another cigarette. It’s bright glow and ever so slight crackle audible above my first deep inhalation.
I’m alone, well beyond the boarder land where Emiliano Zapata meets Jesús María, down deep within the cacophony of the barrio. Where the street vendors banda competes with the bored beige clad organilleros leaning hard against their high-pitched and mildly mistuned street organs. And away beyond the Jesús in a rising smoulder of ashen covered corn I watch as one Zapoteco woman openly argues as the other eats the days profits.
I shove off in a haze of blue smoke towards the Iglisia of La Santisima and Calle Alhóndiga in search of fresh tamales. Jostling as I go through a thicket of small semi-coiffured indigenous woman fresh from the Callejón de los milagros beauty market towards my chosen tienda. Where inside an old matriarch leans out at me over her bottle ended horn rims, expectantly rubbing thumb against fingers. I nervously place an order and in a whip of street spanish and cuss, three generations rapidly replace my pesos for plastic plate and steaming corn husks.
I nod and slowly back off, making my way to the concrete partition between her and the world where I pull up a red plastic stool within a swarm of niños to unwrap my steaming tamale pollo con mole.
Stuffed full, it’s time I negotiate the mercados and rejoin the city peloton. It’s ‘los siete puentes’ or seven bridges (overpasses) on this given Sunday and a 40km inner city circuit. I make good my freedom and escape to the Avenidas.
We took back the streets. We the people flow with all the hydrological science of a river in flood. At times still, running deep and slow. Others like a rough wash of white water scouring through the narrows. And at its edge people bump, jostle and bruise in spiralling whirlpools against smokey Sunday street vendors.
The streams and lakes of old now replaced by these great rivers of humanity as they flow around the valle through Coyoacán to return again to the city’s colonial heart. And nothing seems to beat beating a gringo. As machismo boys not yet men throw provocative sideways glances and whip past me at pace. Ever so close I can clearly whiff their brill creamed quiffs. “Puta madre!” I mutter under my breath and gripping hard at my handles I give chase – the race has begun.
Two, three and at times four of us contesting the northbound of the Circuito Interior. I’m feeling like Gene Hackman in the French connection, as we whoop and weave our way through the mayhem of bicicletas, racing the three lanes and risking all to get through the intersections before the signals change. Sometimes successful and others not.
I pull up at one red light slightly ahead of one heavily panting bandito. He looks at me grinning, mouth agape and gulping down more polluted O2 from the thin city air. In the change we are both racing again, mad, mad, mad with winning. Then in the briefest of moments I loose him. He cuts a break and takes his chances, to squeeze through the apprehension of a yellow light and is gone. I see him away up in the dusty distance, twisting high in the saddle of his battered Benotto, peering back with that grin and an arm raised in triumph.
Finally we make Avenida Mazatlan in Colonia Condessa. Dismounting at Nevería Roxy, I lean into that familiar formica counter and order a single mandarin sorbet in a cone, then push my way east along sun cracked sidewalks towards where Avenida Tamaulipas meets Michoacán.
With a screech I drag a stool across the floor and pivot back against a weathered wall, before setting alight another cigarette. This local mescalaría supplies my favourite tribute as I spend the rest of Sunday, Gods day, making my offering. I drink mescal from vasos veladoras, or the glass of a disused church candle with its distinct base a reminder of my own mortality. Every sip preceded with a whisper of a prayer “gracias Jesús” and with it my soul is slowly intoxicated within its distinct and earthly aroma.
For me another Sundays circuito receives closure. “Otra mas por favour”.
It took us a day and a half to get to new. That’s always the challenge when you set out from the same trailhead time after time, it takes a while to branch onto uncharted terrain, to find the new. For us the new was just east of Tirau at a place somewhere, yet nowhere called Okoroire. A place of good grub, tall tales and even better, a steaming thermal hot pool.
Night was descending quickly as we slipped below the surface, I watched the stall and swoop of fantails through the punga and mist, as it gradually clawed its way up from the Waihou river falls below. Eventually arriving, greeting my chin with its chill fingers as I dove lower into the earthy warmth of the waters. It was definitely autumn and this was a definitely a very New Zealand kind of place.
Following a good meal I lay back thinking of months past. Well planned intentions and destinations not visited. Now feeling wearysome, fat and unfit, I drifted off to the roar of white water. It’s tumble, foam and swirl forcing fading memories into the deeper fissures of my mind. Ride tomorrow.
It wasn’t the first time we’d seen that sign that particular day, ‘Private road, no entry!’
Horse and I had made good from Okoroire, passing through Tirau and the back roads, sliding slippery in the cool fog over the rolling green south through Putaruru and onward to Tokaroa. Taking shelter from the cold drizzle under a slender canopy of the local two dollar shop where we silently squaffed down our pies.
Then passing Kinleith and the long decent to the Kopakorahi stream to that damned sign – ‘ye shall not pass’. We pulled up as the road continued on into the deep of the forest ahead. It was a wide road, a paved and beautiful road, a lost road, lost forever as just another national chattel surrendered in the sale of now private forest ownership.
Surly, I straddled my bike scouring sites for solutions when Horse quietly muttered a Lebowski under his breath: “oh fuck it!” and pushed on down the road and into the Wawa. I watched him disappear into the deep, soon following.
I missed this. Where the only sensible barriers are the natural not the human. I’ve missed the silence that comes with travelling in company and the trust that comes with it. And I’ve missed the paths untravelled, I’ve missed the new.
So as we rode on we considered our excuses if caught. Horse suggested I swear in broken Spanish, I responded that he may want to invoke tino rangatiratanga and claim his sovereign rights over the Wawa. We eventually settled on sensibility and pressed on through the endless even formation of plantation forest. With its creeping suffocating silence that lays dormant in its still.
We slowly weaved our way up the ravine the top of the Wawa, which then gently fell away in a seamless decent down Flavell Road to the Waikato river. Away up river was raw tooth of rock that is the ‘Pohaturoa’ rising near vertically from the river valley.
Horse took point and led the way through the remaining hill country to Mokai. My legs were tiring as was my mood. I was spent and Horse knew it. Encouragement from Horse is a bit like getting encouragement from a fist full of warm gravel, its blunt, brief and raw. But it had its effect, as I climbed the last wall prior to Oruanui, then on into the fading glow of twilights passing to Taupo.