Sunday, April 13, 2014

Baxter, and the five minute rule: a Whanganui ride

Matukituki Valley from Cascade Saddle, 1968
1968. I'd been tramping up the Matukituki Valley, and being young and impressionable had carried a book of poems that included James K Baxter's Poem in the Matukituki Valley. I was hitching south of Dunedin when a blue VW puttered to a stop. The elf like driver beckoned me in. As we got going he introduced himself. "James - James Baxter". "Wow- I've just been in the Matukituki, and was reading your poem..." To be honest, I can't remember much about our conversation - I was rather awestruck by being in the presence of a major NZ literary figure; James K had finished a year at Otago University as the Burns Fellow, but I think he reminisced about the weeks he'd spent with a National Film Unit crew and some NZ climbers, making a documentary about climbing Aspiring. After he dropped me off at the Octagon, our paths, as they say, diverged; James K went on to convert to Catholicism, and founded a commune at Jerusalem on the Whanganui river. I did library and bike stuff.

2014. The annual CANDO meeting of cycle advocates traditionally starts with a bike ride, and this year a group of us started in Raetihi to ride down the Whanganui river.
Don rides down to Pipiriki
The first half was a largely gentle winding descent to Pipiriki, the traditional haul-out for Whanganui canoe trips. By the time we got there I was starting to think about how long it had been since lunch, and that we'd probably missed cafe opening hours, even if Pipiriki ran to a cafe which it hadn't on my last visit.
Patrick at Pipiriki
On the final run towards the landing, I spotted an uphill driveway with a sign advertising ice creams; a split second decision saw me converting momentum into climb, and riding into what turned out to be the old school playground, now the campground. Several of my companions had already checked out the camp shop, converted from a classroom. Sure enough, there were still some ice cream pottles in the freezer, I bought one and went to sit outside on one of the playground benches. The chocolate creaminess was mined with a small plastic spoon from under the lid; and life seemed good. But then disaster - a slip of the plastic spoon, and a substantial chunk of ice cream took flight, and descended onto the concrete. I thought about the 5 second rule: that any food that has laid on a floor for less than 5 seconds is probably OK to eat. 4 seconds. Nonsense, of course - once the food has contacted an insanitary surface such as a school playground, it's polluted and shouldn't be consumed. 3 seconds. "But there's just been some research that confirms the 5 second rule" - this from the delectable chocolate, lying enticingly on the concrete. 2 seconds "seems a pity to waste me" 1 second "and missing out on my calories could lead to an unhealthy dose of bonk before you get to Jerusalem". I quickly scooped up the errant ice cream, popped it in my mouth, and ignored the occasional gritty remnant of it's 4.99 second stay on the ground.

The last part of the afternoon was a pleasant cruise down the newly sealed Whanganui river road to Jerusalem, enjoying the autumn colours and river views.
Gottfried and Lynneke cruise the autumn colours
Bridge across sidestream
Pilgrim Lynneke enters Jerusalem

At Jerusalem we stayed at the convent, choosing beds with floral covers under ubiquitous crosses in what must have been the novices dormitories. We whipped up carnivorous and vegetarian pasta options so we'd be carbo loaded for the following days run to Whanganui, finishing up with Lynneke's fine vegan crumble.
Jerusalem accommodation
Dinner at Jerusalem
Next morning I explored the area - sounds of Pasifika music led me to the garden where Sister Christina was listening to the sounds of her Samoan homeland on Access Radio; the few nuns now at the convent occupy a comfortable Lockwood rather than the old convent.
Sister Christina
Leaving Jerusalem, we stopped by the bridge where a young dog and his mother were waiting. Suddenly there was the roar of a quad bike and a yell "Get out of the way, Fritz!". The pup scooted to the side as the Quad bike lead a herd of cattle over the bridge, driven from behind by a couple of cattle dogs, the working part of Fritz's whanau.
Gottfried waits with Fritz and his mum, Jerusalem
Cattle moving, Jerusalem
Cattle beast thinks about the "share the road" message
Once the road was clear, we headed off down the valley. At this point, the ice cream conversation started again. "You know how I said research proved that the 5 second rule works? Well you of all people should know that you shouldn't believe everything you read on the Internet. I'm afraid it's time to go". And so the trip down the river for me was punctuated with trips into the bush, and the 24 hour starve that usually deals to gastro problems.
River Queen at Matahiwi
Still, it was a lovely ride. The river gently flowed past bush clad cliffs and the small communities. At Matahiwi  another schoolhouse has been  turned into a cafe and gallery, with the "River Queen" from Vincent Ward's movie sitting out front.
Whanganui River cliffs
Later the road climbed up the side of the valley, and dropped over to Upukongaro, where I risked a ginger ale at the pub, and listened to flouro coated forestry workers, their conversation punctuated by an F word, neither flouro or forest, relaxing after their day in one of NZs most dangerous industries. .
Looking back up Whanganui River from saddle
The main group had headed on into Whanganui, but Max kept me company through to the Whanganui rail bridge, where the statistically likely puncture had occurred.
How many cycle advocates does it take to mend a puncture...?
A steep climb up Virginia Road got me to the Quaker Settlement, and a couple of days of discussion of cycle advocacy.

And James K? When I'd talked to Sister Christina at Jerusalem, she'd pointed out the gate and path through the scrub that lead up to the house where James K had established his commune. In front was his grave, looking out across the bush to the church. A long way from the "the altar cloth of snow/ On deathly summits laid" that he spoke of in Poem in the Matukituki Valley; but a good place for him to have found peace.
James K Baxter's grave, Jerusalem

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