When you live in the coldest valley in New Zealand (-21 degrees last year) firewood is a big priority. A neighbour, Pete, came over with his log splitter and my bike stayed put till every golden log was split and stacked against my lime washed walls.
I’d lost my confidence a bit to go out again with Bartali. But the first day after the wood is done and the rain has stopped and the wind isn’t blowing my deck chairs over, we head up the valley.
There are clouds skudding in the sky, and below, a flock of newly shorn wethers a dazzling white in a field of short lupin. Further up the road the merinos – newly shorn too but now a dusty brown – have finally had their lambs. There may have been fresh snow on My Ida last night, but today it is spring and there are lambs.
A bird shrieks, and Bartli and I look about for the source. A few paddocks on we see them – the grey and yellow spur winged plovers, the harbingers of spring. They stalk about in the lucerne. Oyster catchers as well, their white and black plumage, red legs and red beaks easy to spot in the burgeoning green.
I take my turns into the head wind going down the valley, though Bartali opens up a gap on every hill. On the way home we do intervals. The first one I’m blown out the back.
“I think it’s my gears,” I say.
“Are you over geared or under geared?”
“Under geared, I think.”
The next sprint I’m in my big chain ring, but I still go out the back.
“It’s not my gears, it’s my legs,” I say.
“It’s the intervals that will build your strength,” Bartali says.
Near the village, he says, speed up, try and beat me. I stand on my pedals and go for it, just holding him off as we speed past the shop and the pub.
“Did you let me win?” I ask him.
“This time,” he says.