Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Right Place at the Right Time

You hear a lot of people say, I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but there is the flip side to that expression which is the RIGHT place at the RIGHT time and that is what happened to me at the New World supermarket in Hokitika, New Zealand.  I only needed apples....and to tell you the truth, I didn’t even really need them, but I had gone 4 days without seeing a proper supermarket and eating fresh fruit.  For me, that is enough to justify a stop at the supermarket.  However, I knew very well, that I wouldn’t come out with just apples, especially with the hunger I’ve had recently and entering right at suppertime.

Front row parking.....

I parked my bike outside New World, one of the 3 chains of supermarkets I’ve encountered here in New Zealand.  I like this chain because they have a fabulous bulk section, specials on their artisan breads (if you hit the bakery after 5pm), and free wifi…and I mean free as in you wouldn’t have to purchase anything nor ask for a little voucher card like at other places.  Really, you could, and I have, just stand outside and use their wireless.  Having said that, it is no surprise these supermarkets are hit heavily by backpackers, buying their dinners for the night, and stocking up on groceries for the following days.  Inside, it is common to see tour cyclists leaning against the pastry windows on their smart phones, backpackers on the bench by the carts checking emails…It is quite a sight to see! These places are happening, yet I didn’t expect to have such an eventful trip to the supermarket when I first pulled into town early this evening.  

I was due at my host’s house in Hokitika, friends-of-friends from Oregon, the Zuckerman’s.  In fact, I had called from a local gallery to say that I was heading up. Their house was 20 km from town, due east of my route and I had told them I would be there in about an hour.  I passed the supermarket at first and didn’t stop, but at the following round about I turned around.  I have very little self-control these days….

I didn’t even make it into the supermarket before my first encounter.  I parked my bike outside next to two other loaded touring bikes.  Coming towards me was a young lady.  I asked her if she was traveling alone and indeed she was.  She was young solo tour cyclist number three for me.  After going 4 years without ever encountering one, she was my third in 3 days.  Johanna, 21, was Swedish touring the south island on her own although she had just the other guy with her and they were going to head over a mountain pass together.  Impressive.  Of course, we got a picture together.  She hadn’t ever seen another solo woman touring and I told her about the other two I had recently encountered. 

They set off, and I connected to the wifi.  My phone started making all sorts of crazy sounds as I entered New World.  Of course from the moment I set foot inside, I forgot all about what I had come to buy.  In the last 4 days, the only fruit I had was from a can, except for some overripe bananas at lunch that day.  I know I say it a lot, but I do miss SE Asia, A LOT!  Food here is expensive and the cheaper items aren’t really nutritious.  I find myself eating the worst food possible for fuel in New Zealand.  In Asia I had loads of fruit, veggies, soy protein, and legumes,….Here that has all been replaced by chocolate, cookies, bread, trail mix, and canned foods.  I’m working on changing that even if it means breaking my daily budget for a few months!

So back to my story,….I did end up getting the apples, had my choice of cheese scones or garlic rolls on special (I chose garlic bread and ate half while wondering the aisles), raisins for my trail mix, and bar of chocolate to gift to my hosts.  I put back some other items I had in my hands after I asked a local about the super markets in the upcoming towns.  There was one in each “big” town.

I went to check out and I saw two cyclists behind me.  I asked them where they were from and it turns out they were on a group tour with a company from the states and in day one of their riding week.  They were buying wine and ground coffee,….It’s a whole other world when a SAG van follows you and carries your bags!  My last pit stop was meant to be the toilet.  It made my evening to find hand sanitizer in the dispenser of the bathroom.  I was in need of a refill since Singapore (hey, no judging with this gesture,.. a post is soon to come about the tricks of the trade with tour cycling). 

Topped off the hand sanitizer
I had my items in my bags, kickstands were up and I was ready to go.  But wouldn’t you know, up came a young gentleman asking me where I was coming from.  I told him where I started and of course that led us into a conversation about bike touring, which it seemed he had done plenty of.  We talked and talked and shared stories about biking.  He was also a runner, hiker, kayaker, and worked as a fire fighter.  From his accent I thought he was Kiwi, but it turns out Clinton was from Sydney and on holiday exploring the South Island, a place he visits often for all the outdoor activities.  He was on his way to a trail running race tomorrow, which got us into talking about marathons, triathlons, bike races,….you name it.  Every time we went to say good-bye, a new topic of conversation arose and we continued to chat. 

In the mean time, the group of Czech cyclists in a guided tour rolled up with their guide. I’d seen for the past four days (ever since my night at in the camper van) and shared 2 campsites with them.  I never see the riders actually riding, but the driver honks at me with a van full of cyclists at different places on the main road.  We are like good old friends by this point and so I interrupted my conversation with Clinton to greet them!  Afterwards, we picked up our conversation again.  This time he was giving me ideas for cycling in Australia and my route in Tasmania when my friends Coen and Oliver rolled up (from my previous post).  I had seen them the previous night in Hari Hari at the campsite, but I had stayed with a Warm Showers host, so I hadn’t caught up with them about their ride for the day.  We said our good-bye’s for good this time as they were headed back to Christchurch tomorrow and I was going north.  These two and Oliver’s dad were good fun, always with a smile on their face and cracking jokes.  What fun!

My loyal Czech cycle guide, I've been with them 5 days on the road now

They went in to do their grocery shopping and Clinton and I continued to talk. By now, almost 2 hours had passed since I had called my hosts to let them know I was coming.  Clinton nicely offered to take me up to their house, even though it was in the complete opposite direction for him.  I wasn’t going to accept, not because I don’t take rides from strangers, but I don’t go in cars.  However, since my hosts lived totally off my route by 20 kilometers, I thought that justified the car ride.  He wasn’t helping me progress on my route, rather it was more like a wee detour!  Poor guy had never entered the supermarket to buy what he needed, so while he did, I unloaded the bike and tried to get it in the car he had rented.  It wasn’t easy, but when he came out, with two people and both the wheels removed, it fit!   

I had a map to guide us, but of course with all the talking in the car, I navigated us poorly and we took a few wrong turns.  Eventually we made it and I was thankful that I had chosen the car.  Tomorrow I have a big day and I was fine getting in as much “rest” as possible today. Besides, as you know, I always enjoy good company, especially someone with similar interests. 

Clinton probably regretted offering to take me to my host's house, took awhile to get the bike in his hired car.

I laugh now as I write this blog with the biggest smile on my face.  No two days are ever the same for me.  Just this morning a student at the South Westland Primary School asked me if I ever get bored or lonely.  How can I possibly have time to get bored or lonely on this trip, my days are so entertaining! The strange thing is, had I really decided not to go to the supermarket and instead headed straight up to my host’s house, my evening would have unfolded in a completely different way.  Sadly, I probably won’t ever see any of the people mentioned in this blog ever again.  But for me, my night of meeting the third solo female cyclists out on the road, greeting my Czech friends, wishing my French/Dutch guys good-bye, and meeting a nice Ozzy was memorable.  Not to mentioned I arrived at my host’s place on cloud nine, full of adrenaline, to find out that they themselves are also really fun, lively people! Together, we enjoyed a delicious meal and great conversation and stories.   

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