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Journeys, Never Forgotten – the Fiend!

It was during one of my frequent and often prolonged telephone conversations with Russell, during which he proudly stated that he had just purchased a new 'ten speed' cycle. He would be riding to Ngaruawahia, a township not too far from our home-city of Hamilton.

In a huff of envy, I snorted at him, the relative lack of wisdom in such a purchase.

After all, what could be achieved with such a specialist cycle other than racing around in circles?

It was late in the seventh decade of the century recently past and I had so very much to learn! What followed was several years of two friends, despite attending very different schools, planning cycle trips of ever extending magnitude for the various holiday periods. Such planning was quite noticeable in the lack of concern for prevailing weather conditions such as heading across bush covered ranges like the Mamakus at the onset of winter.

Cycling in the fog and drizzle clad in typically summery cycling attire, was one unwise aspect of these journeys. However, fully laden and otherwise, logging trucks hurtling by in these conditions was a safety aspect our youth relegated to just 'one of those things' you had to get used to. Such traverses were ubiquitously through forested and often hilly terrain.

Often very scenic when you could see further than a few hundred feet in any direction. Great in summer, if you could ignore the heat and the melting tar dragging at your overladen wheels with every laborious stroke of the pedals. This was certainly a friendship founded upon mutually held values!

It was on one of these trips across the Mamakus, in noticeably more clement weather than previously referred to, that we had one of several encounters, which in some way or another had an influence on us both as people and friends. As we were traveling through Fitzgerald Glade, a bush shrouded stretch of road near the summit of the ranges, we saw ahead of us a middle aged Maori gentleman emerging from the bush edge and begin to gather up his aging single speed cycle. We stopped to chat as travelers are often wont to do.

As it transpired this gentleman whose name has, unfortunately passed from my memory, was undertaking a challenge to cycle from Auckland to Wellington. His attitude and humour struck me as especially admirable when it was discovered that he was a recent dischargee from service in the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, an ambition of mine for many a year before. We offered him some of our fruit juice fortified with glucose.

While initially reaching for our proffered vessels, he withdrew his hand and stated that water alone was his preference. He would find a stream he said. Here began the demise of our youthful fixation with the energy elixirs we had been attempting to find. After all, it had always been available from our taps, waterways and the wellsprings of our minds. We would meet this fine fellow only briefly for one more time on our journeys. Kia Kaha! Friend!

Another time, on a return trip from Wellington, we were assailed by a furry Australian over stayer. We had stopped at a point on the Napier/Taupo road purported to have hot pools available.

Indeed there were, although not such as we would have expected.

After several inquiries from the locals present we were directed to a less than auspicious entrance to a trail wending between patchy gorse and blackberry. We gathered our towels and, electing to keep our footwear on, ventured along the trail.

For what seemed a rather longer time than expected, we continued walking. A partially constructed building appeared. It was obscured by blackberry and gorse bushes, though not at all overgrown.

This obviously used bathing shelter comprised two concrete block baths with natural hot springs issuing forth into them. The water and the baths themselves were clean, ocassional discarded soap packets lay about. The steaming water exited the baths through a simple drain pipe, finally disappearing through this overflow to the river valley below.

Our view, while lounging in the luxuriating pools, was unimpeded by the noxious weeds we had traversed to reach this spot. We idly viewed the serene bush covered slopes across the valley as we steeped our appreciative muscles in the natural spring waters.

A worthy choice for rest at the end of a hard day !

The baths themselves were of somewhat crude construction but this in no way detracted from the soothing benefits of the  mineral waters on two tired, aching and appreciative travelers.

Still enthusiastically extolling the fortune of our situation, we strolled happily back to our camp site under a spreading macrocarpa tree and prepared our evening meal.

It was as we attempted to achieve a much deserved sleep that the fiend struck. Clambering noisily around in the tree above, sending carefully aimed detritus and other unmentionable products at our tent.

After a period of grumbling and cursing from us both, things eventually settled and we proceeded to sleep.

Sleep, that is, until my bicycle was sent crashing to the ground.

This unnerved us somewhat, and we emerged, with some trepidation, torch beams viciously stabbing the night as our upper torsos thrust suddenly from one end of our shelter.

The searching torch light beams soon caught the beady red reflections from the eyes of the culprit. Peering from above the saddlebag of the disturbed bicycle, the critter, thus itself disturbed rapidly exited the scene and scuttled nimbly into the hoary branches of the Macrocarpa.

After a period of respite from its attentions, it then seemed content to pad stridently, if quadrupeds can be described as moving stridently, around our tent and ocassionally taunt us with the horrible chortling challenge of Trichosurus vulpecula.

Continuing on to another of our expeditions together, I will describe a personally notable event occurring towards the end of the southward leg on our journey to Bluff, at the southernmost end of the South Island of New Zealand. It was somewhere in the vicinity of Clinton, State Highway One rolling over the foothills to the Southern Alps, where my motivation and commitment to this venture Russell and I had undertaken flagged.

My grumblings and weariness were sporadically displayed in fitful and often irreverent comments to my traveling companion. No apparent heed was taken by Russell until at a rest stop I seriously confronted him with my plan to avoid the drudgery and toil of the return trip with no loss of glory to ourselves. It involved a leisurely train trip back up the country. Not an especially cunning plan, but simply by means of alighting at a more southerly station than Hamilton, it would still allow us the apparently triumphal return of the travelers to cycle into our home-city.

I quite naively made the crass statement that 'no-one would know!' to which he replied in a matter of fact one, 'I'll know'.

All further conversation and thought of quitting ceased with that simple statement.

I was fifteen years of age then, and the shame of that weakness of will on my part is still one of my most powerful motivators. Albeit, only Russell's strength of determination made it so.

I wish I could recount more.

Rest In Peace Russell. Killed by a drunk driver; twenty ninth day of January, nineteen hundred and eighty six.

Travel


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