Saturday, June 13, 2015

Exceeding Expectations - Bacon in Disguise

I was at a function a couple of weeks ago. It was lunchtime. I was hungry. And there were these little mini quiche thingys sitting on the table. Egg and bacon quiches... Delicious. I made my way to the table, salivating at the thought of bacony goodness. Then I took a bite and was sorely disappointed to discover that actually, it wasn't bacon... It was sundried tomato... How very disappointed I was. I looked around for the hidden cameras, wondering if this was some sort of sick social experiment, gauging the various levels of disappointment when people expect bacon... But get sundried tomato... I mean, I don't hate sundried tomato, but I think it's fair to say that if something looks like bacon, and you are expecting bacon, no normal person would then get a pleasant surprise to discover it wasn't, in actual fact, bacon that they were eating. No one eats bacon secretly hoping for sundried tomato.

But what about when you think you are settling for sundried tomato, and then "SURPRISE"!!! You find out that it is actually bacon? Well that, my friend is a happy day indeed.

I had a ride about a month ago that was just like that. My sister Emily, and her husband Dan were in NZ for a road-tripping holiday and I traveled down to Hanmer Springs to meet with them and hang for the long weekend. I've been to Hanmer Springs twice before, and both times to race, so I was looking forward to spending time soaking in the views, and hopefully riding the St James trail for fun, not for racing. We spent our first day on a sunrise hike up Mount Isobel (worthwhile if you like early mornings, a good climb and stunning views) and then I took Em and Dan out to camp at Lake Tennyson for the evening.

Lake Tennyson is beautiful... It's in the middle of nowhere, 50km out of town on a corrugated dirt road that disappears well into the heart of St James Station. I had an ulterior motive for a night camping out here. It meant that I got a shuttle out to ride the St James trail back into town... A tasty little 80km ride through some stunning backcountry trails.

After a morning of delicious sunshine, the afternoon turned pretty wild, and by the time we got to Lake Tennyson, a significant storm was brewing in the valley at the end of the lake, just waiting for the flood gates to open so it could come barreling across the water to where we had parked up to camp. Em and Dan had a campervan, and we spent the afternoon reading, playing cards and geeking out over topographic maps (ok, that was just me with the maps), watching the sky outside get angrier and angrier and feeling the wind buffet the campervan side to side. I had made a very poor attempt to pitch my tent where it was protected by the camper, and so I spent the night being jolted from my sleep every time the side of the tent slapped me in the face with the force of a gust of wind behind it (which was about every two or three minutes).

We awoke in the morning to a rather stunning sunrise. The way the pinks danced around the clouds created an ominous, angry-looking sky that made the thought of disappearing into the valley by myself for the day seem a little bit daunting. The storm that had been brewing in the valley on the other side of the lake seemed to be trapped there, but gale force winds were still swirling around the lake, in amongst bursts of rain.

I nearly decided not to ride that day. In fact, I went through the motions of putting my kit on and getting my bike prepared with the intention that something would happen at the last minute that would give me a genuine excuse to pike... Something more genuine than a bit of wind and rain. But nothing changed... The wind kept howling, and bursts of rain came and went. It became apparent that the decision was mine to make... And I was already in my riding kit with my bike out of the car... I may as well just ride. I was expecting it to be a bloody miserable day, by all accounts.

I threw my leg over my bike and battled into the head wind down the road, waving goodbye to Em and Dan as they passed me and disappeared into the distance. As I turned right onto the trail, a burst of rain and gust of wind simultaneously drowned me and nearly blew me off my bike... I had the feeling that this was going to be one very long day, and I spent the next 8km considering how feasible it would be to turn around and head back down the road with the possibility of hitching a ride somewhere along the way. But that just isn't my style, so I pushed on regardless, although not without first squeezing my backpack to confirm I could feel the familiar box-shape of my PLB.

It wasn't until I had been on the bike nearly an hour that I crested the top of the first climb at Maling Pass. From here, I could see straight down into the valley where the St James trail wound its way alongside the Waiau River. In front of me, where my wheel was pointed, there were patches of blue bursting through a tapestry of fluffy grey clouds. Behind me, the storm was still raging away in the valley, a dark landscape dimmed even further by the spread of dark clouds that seemed to reach from the sky to the ground. It was trying it's best to get past the Lake. But for some reason, that's where it stayed... It was like Mother Nature was giving me a massive high five for being a hard woman and getting out in it despite the weather. I smiled and rolled on my way down the rocky, loose, fun descent... Mother nature had just taken my sundried tomato and swapped it for bacon.

As I rode through the valley, I was hyper-aware of my surroundings. Everything felt wonderful. The wind frequently pushed at my back, multiple rainbows appeared in front of me, leading the way, and the long alpine grass swished along with the wind, like strands of silver bending in the sun. I felt so alive, and indescribably happy to be where I was right at that moment in time. The mountains surrounded me on either side like a surreal mural of scree-topped silver-green. And given the weather had been so poor, no one else had ventured out for the day, so the feast was all mine for the taking. I pedaled my way along the river, crossing raging torrents on swing-bridges, interrupting flocks of Canadian Geese, and popping my head into random huts along the way.

I remembered from racing the St James trail twice over the last few years that the bulk of the climbing on this trail happens right at the end, and the hills didn't disappoint. As I worked my way up the ascents, sometimes on foot, sometimes weaving back and forth awkwardly on my bike, I made up rude songs in my head about what I thought of the climbs at that particular point in time... At least it distracted my mind from the burning sensation in my legs.

Despite the fact that my untrained legs were feeling rather weary, I was nearly disappointed to reach St James Station at the end of the trail. I sat down on the fence for a bite to eat. A stiff breeze was still blowing down through the gully, carrying the smells of Autumn and the backcountry past my nose. I soaked in my surroundings before getting back on the bike for the 20km ride back to Hanmer Springs via the local trail network.

It was a rather moving day for me. Having deprived myself of true adventure for sometime now, I'd had reservations at the start of the day as to whether I was still capable of a ride that long, and whether I was capable of being hard enough to deal with a big day of bad weather, and I needn't had worried about either of those. We live in a world where we have the autonomy to choose again... To choose how we frame things in our minds... To choose how we filter the world and our interactions within it... To choose to take calculated risks... We can choose to hand back the sundried tomatoes and say "you know what? Today, I'll have bacon thanks", then make that happen. It's only when we choose to make moments great that life truly exceeds our expectations.

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