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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Biking along the Waikato River in New Zealand

Our guide describes several choice activities for today. We decide biking the path along the Waikato River is preferable to shopping. A young woman from England, Claire, thinks so too and joins us.

We assumed a paved path, but in New Zealand, paths and trails must mean the same thing, because this one is rough with curves, rises and dead drop-offs in some places.

Along one section, flat through woods, I spot something bright red among the brown undergrowth. It’s a mushroom with a white stem and yellow specks on its red dome.

We see thistles and other wildflowers too. In places, we can see the unbelievably beautiful, unpolluted water of the river, New Zealand’s longest, running at near capacity due to the rains.

Riding my bike, I have some close calls even though I get off and walk the most perilous sections of the trail. Just a couple miles in, and I have psyched myself out so that I don’t trust myself to ride more than 20 feet or so without dropping the toes of one foot to the trail for a feel of solid ground. This, of course, slows my progression, though Mark and Claire have powered on.

The trail splits: up a hill or around it? I take the level option and am on schedule to lean over and touch my foot to the ground. I lift my foot from the pedal, lean left and expect to catch myself on the tall, bending grass. However, the grass is bending over the precipice of a steep, grassy drop-off; there’s no solid ground on which to get my footing!

Realizing this, my mind warps, figuring the best way to fall. Forward or backward? Backward seems obvious, even though that means I have to twist my ankle somewhat to turn myself, as, at this moment, before my left foot has hit ground, I’m in a more favorable frontal approach to the fall. Mind still working at nanosecond speed , I know I do not want the bike on top of me, so I lift my right leg and push the bike in the opposite direction, which ultimately helps Mark find me.

With a push of the bike and a slight twist of my left ankle, I fall headfirst, back down, down the embankment. The back of my head strikes a significant bump, and I’m glad I’m wearing a helmet.

I come to rest, heels over head, 8-10 feet down, but I’m fairly comfortable on a bed of thick grass, not on any stickers or thistles.

To get back up to the trail on my own will take lots of effort, especially with a sprained ankle. And honestly, the angle is so steep, it may be impossible. So I scream as loud as possible, not for Mark by name, but a true scream, because I know I can scream louder than I can yell anyone’s name. “EEEK!” Pause, waiting for reply. “EEEEEK!” Still nothing “EEEEEEEEEK!” Now I’m kind of freaking out. EEEEEEEEEEEK!”

I’m going hoarse. “Surely they’ll stop and wait for me to catch up sometime and realize I’m not coming,” I rationalize. “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!”

After almost a minute of screaming, from a distance to my left I barely hear, “We hear you!” Relieved, I lie in wait.

Fifteen seconds later, a little louder: “Where are you?!”

“I’m here, I’m here. I’m not hurt too bad though,” I add to alleviate any concerns.

A bit later, “Let me know where you are!” and minutes after that, a frustrated “Where are you?” only this time from my right.

Unbelievable. He took the path up the hill. Just like him though. Without fail, Mark chooses the worst traffic or directional option in all situations: If there’s a lane that’s not moving, we’re in it.

Less than a minute later, five or six since my spill, a flushed Mark looks down on me over the edge of the trail.

My rescuing knight takes ginger steps sideways down the slope, trying to find secure footing. He slips! But catches himself. Three or four feet down, he finds a grassy knob of earth on which to secure his left foot. I lean up, he leans down, grabs my arm and pulls me up to the trail, where Claire has joined us on her bike. Mark ran all the way.

I hug him and thank him, grateful he found me yet knowing it would have been a couple minutes earlier had he chosen the correct path. But that’s Mark, bless his heart.