There's this thing around here of late-middle-aged men mountain biking. Women too, though there's an edge missing there--the edge that I too cultivate not having, perhaps out of orneriness, or contrariness, or perhaps I'm just a girlie man after all. Maybe the guys really are into fitness, or that endorphin buzz (though maybe not; it COULD be cannabinoids, which is funny on its own), or just proving you're not getting older. Be that as it may, I ride with these people, and follow them on their not-obviously-insane jaunts, but I take up my place at the rear of the pack and stick to it. (This is the kind of thing that makes a virtue out of having no pride.) I think of it as a humanitarian gesture: I make it okay for anybody else to be a loser. You know how a road event will have a support vehicle tracking the last participant? I like to think of myself as the spiritual support vehicle. To sum up: there's a 70Km ride through rough country next weekend, with the biking crowd traipsing off for the death march/ride, and I'm going to be doing my best to not do anything.
But I'm not above a little training.
...and so it was that on a lovely Sunday morning I set out with the Mothballs on a three-hour ride up in the hills. The usual: starting from down near the river and pedalling up into the forestry tracts that blanket the hills from there to Kahurangi National Park on the Tolkienesque mountains beyond; the usual epic views of the river and Tasman Bay beyond; and the usual alternation of cool pine forest and blasted moonscape (after the trees have gone). I don't know the elevation profile--600 feet up? 1000?--but it gets fairly grunty for a fairly long time, then it's ride down and down on a rutted, eroded four-wheel-drive road that makes you (makes me) feel like 10 years old again, riding the corrugations, skidding through the turns, splashing the streams, riding the gravity. Took my first spill of the season too, not quite making it out of that one rut, hooking my front wheel and taking a nice sail over the handlebars. I guess my judo training when I was six years old still pertains, because I got up wondering what had happened, back covered in dust, a little stunned but with no internal injuries in evidence.
After getting down from the hill, five or six miles of (PAVED!) country road following the river upstream, and that was three hours, and that's the preface to the main event: Krys had the brilliant idea of taking a picnic to the beach. We wrangled the majority of the biking crew and hit the beach at Kaiteriteri. There's a reason they call the area north of there Golden Bay: the sand really is gold in color, set in a sweeping curved bay, surrounded by hills and rocky outcroppings, and if it weren't for the pile of white-elephant houses--really comical in their desperation to impress--thrown onto the hills, it would be the perfect getaway.
There are two things I've fully articulated only recently, not at the same time: First, I hate swimming. Paddling about inshore is one thing, but from the moment my feet leave the bottom I never lose the feeling of thrashing to stave off drowning. But, conversely, I really enjoy swimming with a mask and snorkel. It's actually relaxing, it's fun, and it's entertaining, what with the clear view through the glass. So off I went across the bay, enjoying that marvelous jade water, swimming amongst the rocks and fish, passing from cool water to currents of warm. My aching muscles sang with pleasure.
After twenty minutes or so of that, I came out, lay down on the blanket, and had the sweetest nap I've had in an age; exhaustion from the ride toned by relaxation from the swim, just yanked down into somnolent bliss. I eventually emerged from my coma to the gang lollygagging about the beach, in a virtual fugue state of idyllic splendor, time passing idly by. Drinking beer, nibbling on cheese, tomatoes and fruit, shooting the shit and in all ways doing exactly what the moment prescribed: nothing much of consequence, everything to do with savoring life.
So what does this all have to do with eating? Well, like basically every rock offshore in this country, the underwater territory at Kaiteriteri is generously festooned with mussels, generously sized. So after briefly weighing the trouble of going out to get them against the fact that we haven't had any mussels this year, I took a plastic grocery bag into the water and plucked a few dozen for me and Krys. At home, they got steamed open in garlic and wine, then joined with chorizo, tomatoes and other savories in a Portugese pasta sauce that we ate at sundown with just the right wine. If that sounds like rather an anticlimactic punchline to such a long story, consider it as icing on the cake of a super day.