In Search of Families In Search of Adventure
A Family on a Bike Tour: New Zealand, Samoa, USA and Canada 2004/2005

Thumbs up

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From:       Kirstie
Subject:   Thumbs up
  Date:         9th March 2005
     Whakapapa Village, North Island, New Zealand


"Cameron, you need to use your thumb. Matt, your sign is upside down. Hold it the right way up. Come on Kirst, thumb out," Stuart chivvied as we stood by the side of the road, freezing in the morning air. The Rastafarian truck driver cracked up laughing in his cabin, giving us a thumbs up in return but indicating with a nod that he wasn't going any further than the camping ground opposite. A whole family strained their necks staring as they drove past. "Never seen a family hitch hike before?" Stuart muttered, as their car stuffed with people, mattresses and luggage chugged up the hill without us. Clearly they hadn't. I was a first time hitch hiker, but it didn't take me long to develop the two necessary techniques. The first involved me sticking my thumb out confidently, making eye contact with the driver, then dealing with the rejection. The second was a nonchalant half gesture, indicating I couldn't give a toss whether or not anyone stopped. I started with the first of these techniques, then ended up practising the latter as time wore on.

Family on a Bike try hitching

As hitch hikers go, we were a shambles. Matthew was bored after ten minutes and more interested in simulating a volcano by dropping pumice stone on his brothers head than hitching a ride. Cameron immediately crumpled up his 'chairlift please' sign and was trying to hitch with his middle finger. Stuart was getting increasingly desperate. "Come on boys, thumbs out. Kirstie, you hold the sign. Hold both signs. Look everyone two campervans in a row."

We had cycled to Whakapapa two days before; an uphill ride to the highest hotel in New Zealand. We were aiming for the chairlifts which would take us up onto the ski resort, high up the active volcano. However, we spent our time there mooching around. Two things were in our way; the chairlift was closed due to eighty kilometre winds, and it was seven kilometres away, up a winding road with five hundred metres of vertical ascent. We weren't about to cycle that. But on the morning we were due to leave the resort, the wind dropped and the sun came out, penetrating the freezing mist. "It's open Kirst, the chairlift is open." Stuart pointed towards a sign outside the village shop. We happily made enquiries, but the only bus had left at eight that morning. Stuart quickly decided there was no way of getting up to the chair lift unless we bagged ourselves a lift. There weren't many vehicles on this quiet mountain road, but most of the ones that passed us were buses or campervans. "It won't be difficult to fit us all in. I reckon it's just a matter of time."

"Right. Change of tactic. Let's try begging," I decided. We had been sticking our thumbs out for forty minutes without any joy. The kids had given up and were messing around in the bushes, the paper sign had disintegrated, Stuart's wrist was limp and I had long since had enough. I approached a couple just leaving the visitors centre. "Hi. We need a lift to the chairlift, do you have room for four cyclists without bikes?" I asked. "Sure, jump in," said the American couple, clearing a space on the bed for us all. Five minutes later we were there.

Stan and Kit restored our faith in humankind with a lift

The first chairlift was fast and creaky, and only had room for two on each seat. I experienced a rush of adrenaline as it hurtled towards Matt and I, hauling my son clumsily onto it as we lifted into the air. "This is higher than I have ever ever been." Matthew shouted as we hurtled into the icy cloud. I looked behind at Stuart and Cameron and tried to take a picture with freezing fingers. Cameron looked no bigger than a toy doll, huddled into his daddy's arms for warmth.


Stuart and Cameron appear out of the mist on the way back down the chairlift

The second chairlift was wider and we could all fit on. "Dad, why is this even higher than the country of Europe?" Matthew asked. "It's not really Matt, some of the Alps are much bigger than this, and Europe isn't a country anyway," his Dad patiently explained. "I know that," said Matthew. "Europe is a collection of countries including Hungary, France, Spain and of course the United Kingdom. Oh and Idaly. I think we should cycle Idaly for our next trip. They eat pizza and pasta there every day you know." We looked at each other, astonished at Matthew's sudden knowledge of Europe. "I like pasta and pizza, can we go to Idaly now Mummy?" asked Cameron. "Look, we're at the top of the volcano, can we play in the snow dad?" said his brother, suddenly back to sounding like a four year old.

Cameron had never played in snow before. His eyes were wide and his fingers clenched tight as he grasped the crystals firmly and then wondered as they melted in his hands. He wasn't going to be left out as his Dad and brother strode across the frozen wasteland of snow and grey volcanic rock.

The barren rocky volcanic snowscape up Mount Ruapehu

In the café we ate hot pies and viewed photo's of people skiing on the volcano during the last eruption. "The crater lake is full at the moment," said Stuart. "There could be a mud flow at any time. Lets go shall we." As we approached the chairlift once more the rain came in, along with an ice cold mist. On the way back down the mountain I was given an education in volcanoes by Matthew, who pointed out the places where the rock was rich in iron. As I lifted him off the lift he whispered in my ear, "Don't lets hitch hike again, it was rubbish. You go and get us a lift Mum." But I too had now mastered the best technique for hitch hiking and immediately collared a Yorkshire man outside his campervan. We were down the hill and eating ice creams before Cameron had begun to thaw. "They eat ice creams every day in Idaly," you know Dad, said Matt, his face dyed green from a 'goody gum drops' cone. "I like ice cream. Can we go to Idaly now Mummy?" said Cameron, hoping if he asked enough it might just happen. "And there's volcanoes too." Added Matthew, "Idaly is really great. Family on a Bike will love it there. But I think we should cycle there Dad, 'cos you're terrible at hitch hiking."



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