Saturday October 13, 2007
I started the morning in Hokitika, NZ which is situated on the western coast of New Zealand overlooking the heaving Tasman Sea. I struck out early in the morning to take a stab at beating the oncoming storm bearing straight towards me and my intended destinations. My plans were to liesurely drive my way over Arthur’s Pass to the Castle Hills area and give the place's legendary bouldering and caveing sites a go. Additionally, the Dali Lama is rumored to have labled Castle Hills one of the 'Spritual centers of the Universe' making it all the more tempting to see.
I departed Hokitia along a tourist drive that is designed to add no more than 15 extra minutes in travel time and showcase some of the westcoast’s landscape scenery. Unfortunately I can't confirm this claim for as I drove into one steep and twisty chicane, I misjudged the curve and masterfully thrusted my rented Toyota Carolla aground into a gaping asphalt divot cut in the shoulder. "Most Triumphant." The end result of my driving misguidance included two pinch flatted tires and some less than appealing chucnks removed from the normally sturdy aluminum rims. I struck the asphalt with such force, that I can still hear the chassis’ lingering harmonic ring resonating in my memory. Kim may recall a similar occurrence on our road trip to wonderful Akaroa back in 2001.
Here’s the blow by blow: After the impact I silently hoped that I was to somehow come off lucky and avoid a flat and so I urged the little Toy further up the incline through the turns. I may have eked out barely more than 100 more feet before the passenger side tire-drag became too obvious to continue to ignore. I pulled the car over inside the last corner’s exit and inspected the damage. That’s when I noticed that not one but both passenger side tires were flatting. Unsure of how to address my dilemma, I opened the boot praying for an even number of spares and rooted around finding the lonely single. Perhaps, I thought, I could replace the front, move all my baggage forward of the rear tires and limp slowly back to town. I broke out the scissor jack, stuffed it underneath the oil pan, and started raising the car. After barely attaining altitude I noticed the jack’s slowly increasing rearward tilt. Panicked I relented my hard fought twisting and lowered the car back down. My patience was wearing tremendously thin at this point but I kept my cool and reparked hanging the rear bumper slightly over the ditch on the uphill side of the road. Just as I reattempted raising the vehicle, a passerby swerved to avoid me and stopped to check on my predicament. He quickly understood my predicament and my lack of a bonus spare and volunteered a cell phone call to his friend with a tow truck. After that, he was off. 30 minutes later the tow came and flatbedded me and the Toy back to Hokitika. On the way back, he relayed some more bad news… automotive repair shops aren’t open on Saturday’s. But, he did say he’d see what he could do. Once we arrived to his garage he made a few calls and tracked down a friend of a friend who owned a shop in town who could maybe help. What happens next is truly the stuff of legend.
The next 45 minutes were a blur of joining him and two of his mates in the Tow garage’s 2nd floor breakroom. He shared with me a couple of cans of 11:00 AM beer and I listened to a slurry attack of “F” bombs and laughter from the two gentlemen sitting across the table from me. Mystified at the skillfull use of the F word, I counted its use in one sentence… and quickly lost count. Some 30 minutes into the breakroom adventure, a visitor and his mid 20's daughter joined us as well. I was somewhat mortified when my Tow-man began a not so sbutle pleading for oral pleasure from the girl in front of the father and everyone. He even offered cash payment for her rendered services, all of which she ashamedly and flatly denied. The father never seemed to care at all. 45 minutes finally passed and we were off to the repair garage located 2 blocks away. 45 more minutes and I was back on the highway in proper trim and speeding off for Arthur’s Pass. The eastbound storm had now just gained a solid 2-3 hours on me and was quickly threatening my plans.
I achieved Arthur’s Pass close to 2PM. The rain achieved it at 2:07PM. I went inside the tourist information center hoping to make the final call on what my odds were for continuing my quest of caveing and bouldering Castle Hills. Christina the Ranger gave me some essential beta on my plans including how to know when the water level is too deep inside the cave for safe passage and silly things like that. So I sped off in haste through some of the most beautiful country in the world. Passes in New Zealand seem a bit different than those in Colorado. Ours go waaaaay up into the rarified reaches of high alpine saddles. New Zealand’s are quite a bit shallower and seem to wade their way in between broadly separated ranges within the winding valleys found far below the snow capped and majesticly stoic peaks. Once I reached Castle Hills, I immediately changed into some decent spelunking gear and made my way to the cave’s water outlet (which is the human entrance). I plunged into the water ankle deep and slowly waded my way up to my chest… My chest is is well past my waist and the waist was Christine’s suggested highwater mark. Then I noticed the foaming water floating by me. That was the second clue in gauging safe passage. I recoiled in horror and realized that Tim Nicoll nearly succeeded in killing me. By this time, the rain had reached me and drenched the boudering routes. Hannible from the A-Team used to say that he loved it when a plan came together. So what of plans that crumble apart? Adapt.
I took a long hard look at the map and noticed Mt. Hutt Ski Area coincidentally lied within the last route before the final approach to Christchurch. Between It and myself lay an stretch of road in unknown condition. Adapting, I hit the road again and made my way downvalley to the turnoff. Upon finding my impending destiny I was immediately stopped and met with a clear decision… a proverbial (and literal) fork in the road. The start of this road began with a dodgy stream crossing equipped with some intimidating construction cones highlighting the damaged stream ingress. The Toyota (let alone myself) was surely not equipped for that, especially after my recent brush with near-disaster. Just when I felt the pressure to relent, to take the high road and stick to the road more traveled… my peripheral vision made purchase on an approaching bone stock VW Vanagon. It traversed a wide grassy hummock and stopped next to me. With our windows rolled down, we discussed the odds of my Toyota making it on the dirt road ahead. His girlfriend ensured me that as long as I got past the initial obstacle, I’d be fine. Then the driver pointed to an alternate route downstream from where I stood. It was the same route he used to get over to me. They drove off and there I was again, at the foot of the unknown. 5 maybe 10 minutes passed as I was beset with decision making. And then suddenly, I moved the level from park to drive and I carefully crawled the Corolla(sortof) over the hills and through the beach until I found a shallow pass. It was now or never. I hit the gas and immediately felt the Toy bog down and wallow in the squishing rocky sand beneath my tires. I pressed further and corrected, recorrecting and pushed on the gas even more again. The car tossed and heaved under the pressure until it popped up and over the far shoal. Amazed and proud of the mighty Toy, I tracked the previously laid tire ruts back to the original dirt road and resumed the road less traveled. Mt Hutt awaits and the rain was gaining again.