Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Sublime And The Slightly Ridiculous

Molesworth sheep station lies on a rough old secondary road that travels through high hills and mountains between Blenheim and Hamner Springs in a rugged area at the top of the South Island of New Zealand. The road is only open during the summer period for a few months. I explored this area a few months ago with my brother Christopher in his Camper Van. We not only drove through the main area from top to bottom and back again [The area that is accessible to all robust cars and camper vans (too rugged for caravans which are not allowed) ] but also drove a southern section of the road which is only possible by four wheel drive vehicle.
The landscape in this area is stark, rugged, beautiful and silent. The road winds its way through hills that change colour with the light - blues, purples and the mellow glow of golden tussock. The sky is very big and the stars at night look brand spanking new. River flats of waving tussock, braided rivers, hills almost like moonscapes come and go during the day. We stopped from time to time to look and to listen. The deep silence has its very own set of soft percussion instruments - the wind in the tussock, the sound of cicadas in the distance, the noise of a seed pod bursting somewhere. All kept in time to the beat of a relentless sun.
Two things can help to get close to something - time and contact. Driving through an area cocooned in a car is one kind of experience,  we did this, but to get closer to this landscape we parked and camped at one end of the Molesworth Station at a Department of Conservation camping ground and spent a day cycling about 40km of the southern part of the road. The experience was sublime. It's that experience we have all had from time to time if we are wise. Its simply to go into an area of wilderness and take the time to look, listen and feel the scale of it all. This scale puts all sorts of things into perspective. I guess without wanting to get too carried away I would say that it was a sublime spiritual experience.
Of course while God (whatever the hell that word means) is making her presence known in impeccable ways. The humans in the landscape are doing what comes best - being slightly ridiculous - let me explain:

It would dovetail really well with my previous blog posting to tell you that ridiculous things happen to me in threes, but I would be telling a porky if I did. No, for me the number is always legion. But for reasons of symmetry and to guard my sensitive ego I shall only tell you about three of them.

One of the main attractions for me in doing this trip was that I would be able to bike through parts of it. I learnt a lot about the merits of cycling in The Netherlands - and the main point is that you really, really do interact in a much more exciting and personal way with the environment when you are truely close to it.
 - Its the difference between winning your way to windward through spindrift towards a safe harbour on a beautiful little yacht called 'Crackling Rosie' as opposed to motoring there in an ugly fat launch called 'Fatmans Gin Palace' spewing diesel fumes everywhere - - So when it came time to put the quick release wheels back on the bikes and saddle up I was disappointed to find that a nut off the back axle was missing. The wheels had been stored in a cardboard box (with a large hole in the bottom) and had been loaded in and out of the back of the camper in various camp sites all the way from Auckland. To say that I was disappointed is well a bit of a porky - I was furious, and got angry - well angry as in throwing a mild tantrum, Ok, Ok, a fairly large tantrum, but being a sensitive new age guy I  stopped as soon as Chris started to take a photograph of me.
I was pretty sure that for me the cycling was over before I had even begun. I couldn't see where we were going to get such a strange little nut with such a curious little thread. BUT find one we did - we took one of four nuts and bolts that held the carrier on the back and before you could say "Nick knack paddy whack adult tantrums are so immature and make you look and sound like a really sad bastard" my bike was ready to go. NOW here is the interesting bit. A couple of days later when we were parked up at a former place in a previous camping ground the axle nut with its little black plastic end was found by my brother, "Hey, he shouted, come and take a look at this! " - I held it in my fingers in disbelief - a nut, returned to a nut - how appropriate I thought.

The second and third interesting things happened to me at the southern Molesworth station camping ground. After a long day cycling I went down to the Clarence river for a much needed wash. I took with me a bottle of green Palmolive Dish Washing Liquid as we had both forgotten to bring any shampoo with us. I thought that if this stuff gets dirty dishes squeaky clean then it will do the same for my hair. I stripped naked and plunged into the icy snow fed Clarence river. It was invigorating and refreshing after having spent the day cycling in 30 degree heat - The Palmolive liquid didn't turn my hair green, in fact it worked a treat, and as I was plunging myself under and telling myself what a fine, intelligent and oh so adaptable fellow I was............

(Dish washing liquid! pah! when I am cycling the Gobi Desert I shall scrub myself with sand ! I am such a hardy and redoubtable character)

..............I felt something bite me very very hard on my right foot ---- Don't try and imagine this, protect yourself, pass over this bit quickly --- a slightly overweight white man runs stark naked, stumbling over slippery boulders, leaving a comet trail of white fluffy dish washing suds behind him... out of the river... a pretty sight? not at all, but I wish someone had had a camera, the photo would have looked really, really good alongside any of Lady Gagas' photos.
As I reached the river bank I turned and saw a large black eel swimming away. It had bitten me very hard and when I looked down at my foot it was bleeding. Later on I showed the wound to the DOC Ranger at the camping ground and he said, "Yes, thats an eel bite, see the pattern of the rows of teeth, lucky it didn't bite a chunk out of you."
That night I had a dream. I was on a large stage. The music was raging. Fireworks were going off in every direction. I was dancing with Lady Gaga, who I could see was outraged that my dancing was upstaging her. She was in a blue leotard - I was naked, limping and holding a nut in my hand.

--- None of thats true of course, I made the dream up - but it adds a nice end symmetry to the story don't you think  :-)


Ben Bongers said...

Nice rough terrain. Looks like a good ATB experience.
You have aggressive fish over there. A similar more friendlier experience long time ago in Croatia: After a long hike the fish would eat the cheese between my toes.
How nutty men can be. I carry a small bag of spare nuts since 33 years on my tours…. Never had to use it.

Alden Smith said...

Yes this eel certainly was aggresive, I don't think there are many other small aggressive fish though.
Interesting what you say about you bag of nuts, I bet the day you leave the bag behind you will need something from the bag!!!!

Delwyn said...

You are a rather nutty character Mr Smith...your eel reminded me of those huge old eels at Muruia Springs we would stop and feed on our way to Nelson each Christmas for the summer holidays.

Your biking in the wop wops sounds a very peaceful and Thoreauish activity...

Happy days

Alden Smith said...

Delwyn I have heard of Muruia Springs but never been there. From the brief look I had of the eel it was about a metre long. Nutty? - probably - but the worrying thing is I am very average, so what does that say about the rest of humanity?

VenDr said...

Thanks for this. A year or two ago after visiting my family in Nelson we took the Molesworth road home in our little Honda Civic. The poor wee car took a fair old hammering, and we didn't stop for the night but just drove straight on through to Hanmere Springs, but it was a memorable trip. The eels at Maruia were always quite a sight but I'm not sure they're there anymore. Someone else might correct me on that one, but I think the old lady who tamed/fed them died. Or got eaten by an eel.

Alden Smith said...

Kelvin, I am not surprised the Honda took a hammering, we found the first third of the road from the northern end through the Molesworth Farm area pretty rough and we were in a 4WD 3 litre Diesel Truck. The first 20 to 30kms from the southern end that we cycled was bumpy enough but doable.

Although the 59km Molesworth section in the middle of the journey is closed for most of the year I think a drive from Blenheim up to the northern Molesworth farm gate in winter would be particularly spectacular. You would have the Kaikoura mountains on the right and all round be driving over hills that would be high enough above sea level to be covered in snow - I am going to do that some day and build a snowman there.

Delwyn said...

In response to your friend VenDr

it was many moons ago that we fed the eels at Muruia Springs...perhaps more than 45 years ago...so I am sure that old lady will be well gone !!!!

Happy days

日月神教-向左使 said...