The Naked Mile

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08/03/08
Greetings all my bashful friends. As you can see by the picture, I finally had the opportunity to do my naked mile, a time-honoured tradition where the cyclist disrobes in a celebration of a long journey through nature. For me, it came somewhere after the 3800km mark, on the canal road between Twizel and Lake Tekapo. A unique set of circumstances allowed this to happen, one of which was my old friend, Mr. Wind. And in case you are wondering, no one helped with the picture. If they had, it would have been much easier and taken me far less time to get the shot. Of course, for all the details, you’ll just have to read more of this post, and check out the map, where you can pinpoint exactly where I pulled this off. Enjoy!

After my miserable biking experience yesterday, I was a little apprehensive about the conditions for today’s ride. As such, I made sure that I got up nice and early (making extra noise for the jerks that kept me up last night), and was on the road before 8am. I was even up before Tony, the owner. He got up while I was eating breakfast, but then went out to get the morning paper from the mailbox with his dog… a 3+km roundtrip! So, I didn’t see him again till I was leaving, when I passed him on the driveway. Conditions seemed like they would favour me today, as it was cool, and the air was very still. Too still I thought, but made the best of it. And the best of it I got for the first 25 or so kilometers. Great riding through the early morning. Up until just past Twizel.

Then of course, the wind resumed for me! Curses. I was already glad I started early, because I knew I wanted to get out of this as early as possible. I made it all the way to Lake Pukaki in a very happy mood though. I even stopped there for a little bit being thoroughly impressed by the brilliant colour of the lake, which is the result of Rock Flour, which are rock particles suspended in the water, which comes from glaciers much higher up. The sun was warm, the tourists were minimal, and the view was outstanding. Well, apart from the fact that you couldn’t actually see Mt. Cook, as it was clearly raining / snowing over there. However, the lake was magnificent.

As soon as I got back on the bike and started making tracks, that’s when it started again. I had chosen to try my hand at the Tourist Route, which is a road that hugs the lake for a while, before heading inland to follow the canal which links Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki, part of the hydro scheme up here. I tell you, this canal was very impressive. Huge earth walls containing this colossus of a river flowing from high to low between the lakes. Apart from the quite steep initial climb and the last climb up to Lake Tekapo, the road was dead flat. Had weather been more favourable, I’m sure I could have just flown the whole way. However, upon cresting the first climb to the head of the canal, it was insanity! The wind was nearly knocking me over. I almost cried and threw all my gear in the canal and hitch-hiked the rest of the way.

However, that would be silly, so I gritted my teeth, verbally abused mother nature, and started grinding my way along, trying to be as cheerful as possible, but not succeeding. I should also note that on this plain, there is no shelter. As a result of the near-constant winds, nothing much grows up here except tussock grass, and you can’t hide behind that. Also, the canal was at a higher elevation than the surrounding land, so no hills or features to save me either. My only break came when I found a low-hanging sign warning of frosty roads being slippery. I pulled my bike and trailer in front of it, and hunkered down behind it to eat some food and snarl at passing traffic which seemed to wonder what the hell I was doing. It was one of those days that I hate motorists, because they just don’t get it.

After my re-energizing wind snack of meat sticks, nuts, crackers, and almond bread, I had to face the music once again. Luckily, it appeared as though the canal may twist slightly away from the wind, so that I would get it sidelong for a while. That helped me raise the pace from 8-9km/hr all the way to 10-11km/hr 🙂 Not cool. There was nothing to do but just tick away the meters, and try to keep my mind off the wind. At one point, I came across the familiar wind-sock sign which warns of windy areas, along with an actual worded sign to the effect that very windy conditions may exist on this stretch of road. Sure, now they tell me! As I was about to roll on, a van coming the other direction swerved into my lane and stopped right in front of me. What the? I was in no mood to chat to a motorist, so I tried the ole stink eye.

However, this fellow was actually some sort of official dude. He stopped to tell me that he had just closed the gate at the far end, due to the wind conditions. He said I had two options. I prayed to all the gods that they didn’t involve turning around and heading back. Nope, I could either cross over and follow the dirt road on the other side, which might have less wind, or just keep going, and he figured I could get around the gate. I opted for the road, and told him I’d just take it easy. He said they close the road now when it’s too windy because cars have in the past gone into the canal! No joking. Of course, given the way kiwis drive, I’m not that surprised. I guessed at my slow speed, and the fact that I’d now have the whole road to myself, I’d be okay.

Road to myself? Hmm… It took some time before I realized what that meant. Middle of almost nowhere, with nobody to come along, or so I hoped. What better time to do the naked mile? I waited a while just to make sure there would be no one. It seemed clear. I had also turned again, and the wind was now more back and side blowing, so my speed was finally more impressive. I screeched to a halt, and considered just how I’d pull this off. There was nowhere to lean my bike up to strip, and there weren’t really any places to set up the camera. Road markers to the rescue! I was able to somewhat strap my tripod to the marker, then did a very comical dance to try and get naked. Easier said then done with gusts of 60km/hr+. If I wasn’t careful, things would blow down a fairly steep roadside and onto who knows where.

Then, there was the problem of the wind moving the camera all the time. In the end, it only took a few tries to get a result that I was relatively happy with. It’s not something I felt like doing for hours. I’ve gotta say though, it actually felt very liberating to be riding the bike Lady Godiva style. It was definitely a whole new feeling. All good things must come to an end though, and I got dressed again, with even greater difficulty, and moved on. Glad I can check that off my list of things to do while in NZ. Great story eh? Tell the world, after all, I just did. I needed a good airing out anyway. Ha ha.

With that done, I felt a new surge of energy, and was buoyed further with the knowledge that I only had about 15km to go, once more on the canal road, after crossing over the highway. Getting past the gate turned out to be a cakewalk, as there was a gap on the right side wide enough for me and the Burley Kid. Sweet. The last stretch was even more interesting from the wind point of view. There was no discernible direction for the wind, it just seemed to swirl and gust from every angle at various times. That made it a bit tricky to ride, but as you can tell, I made it out alive. Finally tackling the last climb, and back onto the highway, I was at last rewarded with the site of Lake Tekapo. What a sight to behold! It truly is a beautiful lake, much like some of our lakes back home like Lake Louise. Brilliant colours, and a sleepy little town. Population of Tekapo: 315.

I rolled into the hostel, and got checked in and settled in. There is apparently a nice climb up Mount John very close, but I just didn’t have it in me today. Perhaps when I return on Monday I’ll give it a go. For now, I have to get set for my side trip up to Mount Cook tomorrow. I’m all booked in, and will be staying one night up there, then returning here Monday night. Although I won’t be biking for days, you can be sure I’ll be punishing myself in other physical ways, like tackling 2 full day hikes in 1 day, and another one the next morning. Or so is my tentative plan. We’ll see when I get there. Until next time, take care, and I hope you liked my funny little story.

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