For the first time in weeks the land has dried out enough to ride my bike from the house to the road. The sky is grey though, and rain clouds coming up from the south. Time to get riding before the weather changes again. Contador and I settle into good pace up the valley.
We talk about the river, the Manuherikia. The community has big decisions ahead – setting the minimum flow, balancing the farmers’ needs for water against the healthy life of the river. Yesterday we spoke at a meeting in Alexandra. Ahead of us submissions, careful readings of data. Somehow, as a community we have to negotiate a way through conflicting needs.
At the top of the valley, we turn left up Lockhart’s Hill. The wind helps from behind, and with my new control over the lowest gear, I go up the hill without too much struggle. Even so, a gap begins to open up again.
“Does it matter if I get a bit behind,” I call out.
“No,” Contador calls back. Good. “Unless it means you’re not trying.” Shit. Probably true. I push down harder on the pedals.
The sheep in the paddock next to us are newly shorn. Some look up from grazing as we pass by.
“I didn’t know shearing had started,” I say.
“It’s been going for weeks.”
“I haven’t seen any sheep driven up the road.”
“No, but I’ve seen the vans with shearers going through the village,” Contador says.
Ahead of us, a dramatic sky lets enough light through to shine on Mt St Bathans. It’s a big mountain and one I don’t get to see from my own place. The willows growing along the Ida Burn are too profuse. But here it is, rising ahead of us, the sun shining silvery in places on the slopes.
The slick patches of tarseal on the road shine with silver as well.
Mt St Bathans and the Dunstans up ahead.
Will I be fit enough to cycle to the St Bathans turn off? I ponder this, turning the pedals, keeping up with Contador. And then the question is over-ruled by a flock of sheep bobbing in a mob across the bridge, cars banked up in front of them. More sheep for the shearers.
“We’re not going to cycle through those,” Contador says, and in a flick I’ve turned my bike around, heading back towards the Ida Valley.
It’s five kilometres from the Ida corner to the village. Downhill, with a head wind. I tuck in behind Contador’s wheels. We cruise into the village at 39kmph. And there outside the public toilets is a van. Oops. I remember I’m on toilet cleaning duties this week and had almost let the day slip by. While Contador does intervals, skimming back and forward through the village, I carry mop and bucket from the general store to the toilet, clicking along the footpath in my cycling shoes, helmet on my head.