Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cycling Along The Rail Trail

In New Zealand we have a number of disused rail corridors which are slowly being converted to cycling trails.  The local one at Shoestring Cottage is near completion and on Sunday Mr Shoestring and I set off for our inaugural outing.  I would like to report that it was a completely happy experience but to be honest I have to admit that it was (for me) terrifying to begin with.  Having never owned a bicycle as a child and being new to cycling I refused to cycle on the road to the beginning of the track, looking like a complete ninnyhammer by walking my bike to the place where the trail started.  In fact I urged Mr Shoestring to go on ahead, having vaguely formulated the sneaky idea that I could perhaps turn tail and go home once he was out of sight.  Mr Shoestring was too clever for me though and insisted on staying by my side. 

Once we got to the beginning of the trail I noticed very little of the surrounding countryside to begin with because I was concentrating so hard on negotiating the terrain.  I gripped onto the handlebars as though liable to lose control at any moment and the only thing I noticed was the varying grades of stones used for the surface of the track.  Mr Shoestring cycled along behind me, calling out helpful instructions which seemed impossibly ambitious to me.  He urged me to try veering from side to side, using my weight to change direction.  Then he wanted me to attempt all kinds of complicated manouvres involving the gears, and to mount by jauntily swinging one leg over the bike’s frame while wheeling along.  I think not!  I could happily change the gears on the right hand side but those on the left seemed to me to have seized up, so I was unable to oblige. 

Who would have thought riding a bike was such a complicated, nay, dangerous, undertaking?  I will never say, “It’s as easy as riding a bike” to anybody.  There were a number of bridges and cattle stops, and I cautiously dismounted at each of these.  Eventually I plucked up enough confidence to cycle up and over one bridge – not too bad!  When I came to the next bridge I smashed my bike into the railings at the side and bent the handlebars.  Mr Shoestring was very cleverly able to twist them back into shape for me and on we went.

Eventually the going became more enjoyable and I was able to look around me.  What pretty farmland we were passing through.  All the blackberries were fruiting (not quite late enough in the season to harvest any as yet, but maybe next weekend).  In some places garden plants had escaped and dahlias and the dreaded purple convolvulus made a beautiful show.  There was a kind of wild sweet pea clambering all along the sides of the trail in places too.  

A rabbit went hurtling past us and kept on the track for a long way ahead instead of diving off into the surrounding bush for cover.  Its scut made a flashing signal visible from a long distance off.  A hen pheasant went dashing along the path up ahead too, but she had more sense and left the trail and took cover quickly.  I noticed some spur winged plovers which made me remember the first time I had seen them.  I asked a farming friend about them and he exclaimed, “Oh, those horrible things!”  (In fact he used words much stronger than that but I had better not repeat them.)  He seemed to utterly loathe and abominate them, and when I asked why, he could think of no reason apart from the fact that they fly at night time and utter a raucous cry.  I still can’t fathom out quite what had caused his intense feelings towards them, but it still makes me smile when I remember it. 

We must have covered 20km altogether according to Mr Shoestring’s calculations and by the time we got home I was able to conquer my fear and cycle on the road, confidently making plans to travel a bit further next time.  After sitting down with a cup of tea we both could feel the effects of sitting in the saddle for quite a while and knew we were in for a fair bit of training before we would be doing the entire length of the trail.  We have learnt that the trail may be extended in the opposite direction also so we have plenty to look forward to. 

On Saturday we did a little bit of marketing and Mr Shoestring discovered these folios of Modern Masterpieces of British Art, published in 1932, each with eight lovely prints on linen finish paper.  ($2.50 each, acceptable even under our present reduced circumstances.)  We loved the fact that they contained so many pastoral and melodramatic story telling scenes.  (Lots of shipwrecks and tragic events unfolding.)  They insist on the covers that they will be completed in not more than 24 fortnightly parts, as though there could not possibly be more than 192 modern masterpieces of British art.  They could come in handy for framing at Shoestring Cottage if the walls don’t collapse under the weight of what we already have there. 

I found this very pretty embroidered tablecloth in mint condition, obviously somebody's treasure which had been put away for "best" and never used.  How sad but it will definitely be having an outing or two now, so all was not wasted.  

The Jerusalem artichokes are finally flowering, reaching for the sky and no doubt under the ground they will be romping away and continuing on their campaign for world domination.  If I don't dig up every single one I know there will still be more there next year, they are so rampant and vigorous!
Autumn is on its way and soon we will be needing to bring out the quilts, the weather has turned horribly windy and wet but at least it isn't too cold yet.