NZ Day 18: Riding In The Rain

We did a late checkout, deciding to leave Taupo a day early to gain some flexibility later.

The woman behind the desk apologized several times about being unavailable by phone the previous night to deal with the noisemakers. She was fine with our early departure, and made a lot of comments about how cool our bicycles were as we did final packing and rode away, downhill to the visitor center.

It was difficult deciding whether to wait for a shuttle with limited space, or start riding immediately for the city on the south side of the lake. The first bus that was going in the right direction was a double-decker with a very small luggage area, but the second was a conventional shape with just enough space, so we piled in and headed towards the the small town of Waiouru, intending to go clockwise around the Tongariro National Park by cycling the 15-mile highway connecting Waiouru to Ohakune, which was almost entirely downhill, and catching the other shuttle route up to National Park, skipping the nasty uphill portion of the ride. It meant skipping the hot springs near Turangi, but it was a lot more sane than our original plan to ride from Taupo to National Park via Highway 47 over three days, which was 70 miles and about 4000 feet of ascent with the Tongariro Crossing crammed into the third day. In retrospect that would have been a disaster.

Waiouru was a tiny fart of a town with a military base nearby. We had some crappy sausage and chips for lunch, eating next to a ragtag gang called the “Mighty Mongrel Mob“. Yep, they’re a real thing.

Don't mess with the Mighty Mongrel Mob! They might sit on you.

Don’t mess with the Mighty Mongrel Mob! They might sit on you.

It was actually pretty interesting to run into this group. It made me thoughtful, as I ate my crappy sausage, about how so many of the cultural divisions in this world can ONLY exist because of the physical divisions that feed them. For example, if the members of the Mongrel Mob had easy, unrestricted, permanent access to the same physical space that the Justin Bieber Fan Club used for meetings, how long before the Justin Bieber Fan Club got beat up, robbed, raped, and trashed out of existence? Or would they harden and fight back, and quickly lose their taste for Beiber’s vacuous music, and dissolve from the inside out? Afterwards we might have one unified large group, called the Mighty Beiber Mongrel Fan Alliance or something.

But that scenario can’t and won’t happen, because the Justin Bieber Fan Club – and other fluffy cultural groups like it – has enough open space and crowd anonymity that the Mongrel Mob would simply never be able to corner them.

To generalize the example, a group of aggressive assholes might believe they are dominant, and spend their entire lives declaring and believing it, while completely unaware that there are other, more productive, richer, healthier, less violent groups all around that are simply very good at avoiding them. Thus, a physical division created deliberately by one group can define the contents, and even the destiny, of another group that seeks no such division.

I find that very interesting, from an anthropological standpoint especially.

To bring it back down to Earth: Everyone avoids the Mongrel Mob because it’s generally a bunch of dicks, so the Mongrel Mob festers and gets even more dicky.

Anyway, rain began to pour, so we wrapped up in our water-resistant gear. We didn’t have to do a lot of pedaling since Waiouru to Ohakune was 200 feet of ascent and 1000 feet of descent spread over 15 miles. Instead we enjoyed the wind and the stinging rain as it pelted our bodies and made us go “whooooo!” and “awwww yeah!”

A dozen miles along we saw a huge stripe of carrots dumped in the field to feed the sheep. Crunch crunch crunch!

A huge stripe of carrots dumped in the field to feed the sheep. Crunch crunch crunch!

Then a few more miles after that, we encountered … this …

In Ohakune we spotted a hotel built right behind a thai restaurant and went to check it out. The restaurant turned out to be closed but the hotel was decent, so we checked in and went walking around for a good meal. Ohakune is small – only about 1000 residents, spread thin – but the tourist trade is lively so we had at least half-a-dozen open restaurants to choose from.

The third restaurant we checked seemed okay, and the food tasted good. We drank cider by the fireplace and people queued up old 80’s and 90’s rock songs on the stereo, by walking up to a laptop wired to the wall and searching on YouTube. I queued up “Changes” by David Bowie and no one seemed to mind.

The matron of the establishment congratulated us on finishing all of our food, like we were good kids. That might not have been so praiseworthy, though, because by the time we got back to the hotel room it was clear that Kerry had food poisoning. She barfed in the bathroom for a while. Bees kept flying in the open window and accosting her while she concentrated.

“I learned an important lesson,” she said. “I cannot digest an entire half-pound of milk cream in one night!”

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