Rain and sun, rain and sun ad infinitum – a recipe for autumn and mushrooms. When I’d left the valley two weeks ago it was golden with drought, and now I’m back to a greenness so rich the lambs are belly deep in lucerne and my potato patch rejuvenated and flush with white flowers.
Bartali and I head out, both rusty, on our mountain bikes for the easy route up Hills Creek Road. We’ll go around McKnights Road, race the long hill down to the main road, over the hill and home. The easy route, a 38-45 minute circuit with lots of downhill. My go- to route when I’ve lost fitness and want to gain my confidence back. There’s a slight headwind, grey clouds, and both of us riding bare legged, though not for much longer with this slight chill in the air.
On McKnights Road lake, in all its ruffled expanse, only two black swans. A farmer next to it tilling a paddock. And with the green and the moist air, if there was any doubt it was autumn, there are mushrooms – circles of fat white and brown shapes scattered over the paddocks as far as I can see. I’ve been eating mushrooms every night since I’ve been home.
There’s no traffic on the road or any other people about, just the sheep as we pass by: the weaned lambs fat and woolly, and in another paddock the smooth-coated mothers, strong shouldered with rounded bellies. The rich grass an unexpected bounty. Most farmers are hoping to get a third cut of lucerne. Last night the contractors worked nearby till nearly midnight to get a crop in for sileage.
My bike won’t go into top gear so we stop at the top of the incline and Bartali lifts the chain over for me. Then we’re off, speeding towards the woolshed and beyond. I even pass Bartali, bent low over my handlebars.
One car passes us on the highway, then a truck, Central Stones, going the other way with a load of schist towards Queenstown. Then two laden fertilizer trucks. We swing into the village. I feel stronger in the legs than I imagined I’d be (top gear, even, over Margot’s Hill). It’s the type of ride that inspires me to keep going, to keep getting back on the bike and experiencing this valley with nothing but the sky above. Aahh, fitness, thank you, you haven’t deserted me yet.