In Search of Families In Search of Adventure
A Family on a Bike Tour: New Zealand, Samoa, USA and Canada 2004/2005

Running on Empty

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From:       Kirstie
Subject:   Running on Empty
  Date:         18th January 2005
     Maruia Falls, Near Murchison, New Zealand


Carrying all your belongings for a year in just eight panniers and two bar bags is all about organisation. Each item has its place in the packing system, and to protect our sanity, this system simply cannot be breached. God help anyone who tries to put a torch into the tool-kit pannier instead of its rightful place in a bar bag. When it comes to the food pannier we have developed an elaborate sub-system of carrier bags to help organise the larder. Breakfast things go in the breakfast carrier bag, loaded at the top of the food pannier in the evenings but at the bottom after breakfast. Lunch and treats go in carrier bags stuffed in the back of Cameron's buggy for easy access. The dinner bag joins breakfast in the main pannier while tea, coffee and sugar slide into a side pocket. Most of the time the plastic bags are full, rustling noisily as we stuff them into place. But the Rainbow Road and Lewis Pass took their toll and much longer than expected. By the time we reached the Deer Valley camp spot, near the top of the Lewis Pass the bags were silent and cupboard was bare.

The bag lady found the cupboard was bare

While we had little left to eat, we were a walking feast for millions of sandflies residing in the Lewis Pass National Reserve. We scratched fiercely at dozens of bites acquired while relaxing at the hot-pools earlier in the day and put up our tent. We wondered why this beautiful riverside campspot was deserted except for one solitary van. It was dusk and Cameron was travelling in his pyjamas so we put him straight into the tent with a briefing about the dangers of opening the flyscreen. "If you touch it, the flies will eat you all up for their dinner." We lit a fire, ate our last bit of chocolate and tried to figure out where we could restock our dwindling food supplies. Before long, our campervan colleagues came over with a kettle of boiling water and a copy of the Christchurch Press Newspaper. "We saw you in the paper today and just wanted to say hello. Thought you might like to make a hot cup of tea and have a look at the paper," they said introducing themselves. It was a long time since anyone had offered us a hot drink and we were grateful. Being featured in the newspaper turned every campervan into a potential tea trolley and every house into a possible coffee stop. We enjoyed Matthew's delight at being featured once again in the paper, then sent him to bed while the four of us stood companionably around; cursing sandflies and sipping tea. Then a muffled giggling from the tent told us the boys were up to something. As I stumbled over in the dusk, the sight of glow-in- the-dark pyjamas told me we were in trouble. Matthew and Cameron had unzipped a whole side of the tent in a game of peekaboo. The inner tent was a dense fog of swarming sandflies gathering for a banquet. I scrambled for the torch. "Where is it. Where's the bloody torch? Why isn't it in the bar bag? Stuart, you had it last, why didn't you put it in the bar bag?" I screamed as I tried to swat the dancing sandflies with the newspaper, squashing them onto the photo of our smiling faces.

A beautiful morning at Deer Valley, before the muesli crisis

In the morning, our arms and legs were red with welts and we itched it them with a fury. We started the day with a row over cereal. Stuart had used up the last grains of our muesli to make a huge pan of the stuff which no one was eating. It sat expectantly on a groundsheet while we packed up around it until Stuart could suffer in silence no longer. "What's wrong with the damn muesli? Why isn't anyone eating it? It's all we've got. Look." He held up an tattered plastic carrier bag. Matthew, Cameron and I looked at the unappetising rabbit food we'd nibbled each morning since leaving Hanmer Springs. "Not hungry," said Matt. "Hate moosely," said Cam. I looked at Stuart and he glared at me, stabbing at a sandfly that was feasting on his neck. "Well, don't blame me when you're all hungry later," he said, picking up a spoon and shovelling the offended food into his mouth.

As a dedicated foodie, I've spent a lifetime thinking about my next meal. On a cycling tour food becomes even more crucial to my existence; it's fuel for my legs, it breaks up the day and adds interest to what can sometimes be a boring ride. The ride over the Lewis Pass hadn't been boring but it was tough and I was very low in energy. I needed some carb loading, some fresh fruit and vegetables and a little variety in my diet. One thing our road menu lacked was variety: Monday - pasta and dried peas; Tuesday - rice with dried peas; Wednesday - noodles with dried peas; Thursday - picnic (can't face pasta again); Friday - noodles or rice? We hoped to resolve this crisis in a restock at the store in Springs Junction and approached it with excitement in the pouring rain, discussing exotic menu options. Our food pannier was in a sorry state, we had run out of bread, pasta, noodles and treats. All we had left was rice, dried peas and sandwich fillings.

A sign of scrawly handwriting outside the store welcomed us, "Frozen Bread for Sale. Please Ask at Counter." A woman sat behind the counter watching over a few dull white formica food shelves lining the opposite wall. The back wall was end to end branded coolers crammed with all kinds of colourful fizzy drinks, sports drinks and ice creams. I pushed opened the door, a bell rang, the woman looked up and I headed for the food shelves. As I surveyed the formica looking for food I found myself in Communist Russia in a famine year. No need for shelf stackers here. What little produce there was sat in units of one, set in acres of free shelf space. One bright red tin of beetroot sat a safe distance from a lonely tin of tomatoes on one side with a tin of golden peaches on the other. A packet of powder soup sachets stood a respectful distance from a packet of binbags with a box of pizza bites for company. There was little chance that this shop could supply our daily energy requirements. "Ok then. Let's be creative about this. If you were a guest on Ready Steady Cook, what would you do with this lot?" I asked Stuart, trying to make light of the dire situation. "Quit," he said hopelessly. "Lets get some bread, take the box of pizza bites and get out of here." He walked up to the counter.

"Do you have any bread please?"
"Oh. Any frozen bread?"
"Will you have any later?"
"If we come back tomorrow..?"
"But the sign on the window….."
"You don't have a delivery till Thursday?"
"That's not for four days."
"Right. We'll have the peaches and the beetroot then."

Outside the shop we repacked our food pannier, putting the bag of rice, the packet of dried peas and the tinned beetroot into the dinner bag when a woman approached us. She told us she would soon be moving to a farm sixty kilometres down the road, and said if we were passing we should call in. "We won't be there because we haven't moved in yet. But the people who own it are very nice. Just tell them I sent you."

We stood outside Tui Lodge and debated whether we should knock. The children were fed up, we were on a main road and had just climbed yet another hill. "Come on then. Lets go for it." We knocked on the door and a gentle looking woman cautiously answered, popping her head around it. "Hello." I wasn't quite sure what to say next. "Er…we're a family of cyclists who need a break. Can we take it in your garden please? The lady who is coming to live in your house said you wouldn't mind."

Caroline was a librarian in a local school and her husband John ran a dairy farming business. They sat and questioned us about our travels while we wolfed down a packet of their biscuits, two cups of coffee each and a litre of juice. "Would you all like to stay for the night? You can get some shelter here," Caroline asked, politely ignoring the children climbing all over her leather sofa, and crunching biscuits into the carpet.

John and Caroline showed us the kindness of strangers yet again

"It's very nice of you, but we have a tent and need to get to Murchison soon as our stocks are running low. Would you mind if we cooked ourselves some dinner instead? It will save us getting eaten alive by sandflies again." Out came Caroline's pans and the remaining bags of rice and dried peas. Pretending this was a normal dinner for a normal family, we cooked it up and served it in our camp bowls. The children looked at their food hopefully for a moment, and then resignedly ate it up. "Would anyone like beetroot with it? Eat up now boys, there is a special pudding tonight…tinned peaches!" If John and Caroline thought us the oddest family in the world, they didn't say so, but as they waved us off, we had no idea what they made of us gatecrashing their quiet afternoon.

That evening, we received an e-mail from a family in Nelson that had seen us in the paper. "We'd like to invite you for a feed when you get to our area. Would you like Italian, Chinese, Indian or bland and boring English?"

"Thanks for the invite," we replied. "We'd love anything that doesn't involve rice or peas."



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