To Christchurch 1,076km
To Hurunui 95km
To Hanmer Springs 55km
A day and a half in a Motel 6 in Los Angeles, breaking our bikes down into our Ground Effect bike bags, making sure that everything was clean enough to get through NZ customs, (I even put on brand new tyres, since the old ones were practically bald) and our two bags per person were under the allowable 50lbs, (23kgs), and not only did the check in lady NOT bother weighing our bags, but the customs man, in Auckland, didn't even bother to open them to check whether everything was clean. We must look just soooo innocent.
I was nervous getting on the flight. I'm not afraid of flying, but this flight was taking me home. Did I really want to go home? What type of reception would I get? What am I going to do, if I'm not cycling through some exotic country? So many questions. So many unknowns. Hmmmm. So similar to every morning for the last 863 days..... what am I going to eat? Where will I find food? Where am I going to sleep? What will I see and who will I meet today? Grummy. Relax. Everything will be okay, and even if it's not okay, we can make it work.....
I was really happy that only a small group met us at the airport in Christchurch. Fantastic to see them, but just enough people to not be overwhelming. I had considered cycling to the Christchurch flat, but was too tired, and accepted a ride from good mate Jau, while Janie took Ju and all the gear. How nice was it too step into the flat, a familiar place, with food I understood, surplus supplies of things I needed, clothes, cutlery, couches, and I didn't have to hunt for them.... a bed I've slept in before, and friends and family to chat to. I'm in my comfort zone..... but the journey is not complete. I've still got 140km to cycle to get home, to Hanmer Springs. Time to rebuild Fiona.
Alone, I cycle the streets of Christchurch. For the first time in a very long time, I don't need to use Maps.me to navigate. Instead I meander through the streets, soaking in New Zealand. They drive on the left here. Gotta watch that. I understand all the signage. How great is it to see familiar things again, to smell familiar smells, to understand the culture, the heritage and history. Wow. Yep, even in my own country, there are "wows".
My starting point for the cycle home is Bivouac Outdoors. Jo and Andrea, former students, Rachel, and a couple of Canteen staff have come to wish me well for this final leg. Fantastic to have them there, and still not overwhelming, which is what I was hoping for. And then my daughter, Lisa, arrives with Ju...... and the tears begin. Damn. Graham (the Taller one) is joining me on the cycle, and Andy is shadowing us, making a movie. We haven't gone 5km, and we meet Linda, a longtime friend, who just happens to be cycling past. The first of many wonderful hugs, and welcomes. For the next 130km, a car would slow to a stop, and someone would jump out for a photo, a hand shake or a hug. They're breaking me in slowly..... and it's wonderful.
But now Graham and I are in Kaiapoi, and we're hungry. Oh look, a bakery, Sugar and Spice, and they have pies (oh my, how much have I missed them? )and Belgium Biscuits, and Afghans, and Rasberry buns, and cheese scones, and lollycake.... and I understand all this, and know what they taste like...... and it's like all my dreams coming true.
Ju joins us on the road. She's not yet sick of cycling with me. That's a very good sign. Not long after, Lisa arrives with brother Paul. Tears are flowing again. This emotional stuff is really exhausting. Lisa joins us on a bike, and we are four. And I'm happy, excited, and bouncing. How could it get better? I'm surrounded by family and friends, doing what I really love doing, and heading towards the place I love more than any other in the world.
The plan was to camp, but just as we pulled under the canopy outside the Hurunui Hotel, a vicious thunderstorm struck. Torrential rain and hail, and suddenly a cosy bed in a historic hotel seemed pretty inviting. But the "grapevine" has been working. Locals are looking out for us. We have several stop in to welcome me home. Every reunion is another special moment, and my sleep is deep.
I'm excited again. Only 55km to cycle. Our first stop is the Red Post in Culverden, for an amazingly yummy brunch. Karen, Andy and Dale join us on cycles. The peleton now has seven cyclists, more than I've ever cycled with. I'm really happy to share these final kms with these friends. Five kms before the Hanmer turnoff, a siren blazes towards us. Bother. An emergency. That's sobering. Nope. It's Fletch and Kaz. How good is it to see them. When skyping from somewhere on my adventure, they always made me cry, and now they've done it again......buggers
.One more road junction, and I'm home. Oh my goodness. There's a huge crowd. Fire Engines, Ambulances, and probably 40 cyclists, of all ages. Cheering, clapping, yahoo's. My vision blurs. Damn it. I want to be able to see the view as I cycle into Hanmer. All I can see is a watery blurred image. Lots of hugs. My face is aching from smiling. As the peleton, which is huge, make our way over the Ferry Bridge, and down the cutting, cyclists come up beside me and welcome me home. There are people waving and cheering along the road, and more cyclists joining the peleton, sirens, and horns. A face from thirty years ago appears, and introduces himself. Aaron has driven from Dunedin to welcome me home. I can't believe my adventure has touched so many. It was meant to be my challenge, but somehow it has inspired and moved so many people.
Hanmer is crowded. It's school holidays. People are staring, wondering what the heck is going on, but there's a big crowd at the Heritage Reserve. So many hugs. Oh gosh. My sister and her husband are here, from the Gold Coast. So many faces I've really missed. Oh its so great to be home. At the Test of Time gig later that night, I sat in the hall listening. 863 days ago I had been in this very spot, with the Test of Time playing, at a "Going Away Party". It feels as if I've never been away. I'm home, in my happy place.