“You see that covered walkway there? Well, go down it and then, erm, you just follow the road and well, you’ll get there.”
It was 9.30pm and I was standing outside Christchurch airport with my overweight bags loaded precariously onto a trolley, trying to figure out which way I had to walk to get to the Jucy Snooze (yes, you read right) sleep pod I had booked for the night.
It had taken 45 minutes to get through customs because my three pairs of grubby running shoes had been deemed too hazardous to be brought onto New Zealand soil without a thorough cleaning. I realised as I finally walked away that I had totally forgotten to mention that my wetsuit had been dipped a number of times in fresh water containing foreign algae and animal bodies, but figured it was a little late for that. Oh well. I doubted that I would be held responsible for the future disturbance of Lake Wanaka’s ecosystem.
Tired and more than ready to implement the horizontal position strategy that had for some reason failed on the flight, I pushed my load towards one of the exits. According to my phone, it was a 10-minute walk to the Jucy Snooze. I reckoned the lime-green sign should be pretty hard to miss even at night but stopped to make sure I was headed in the right direction anyway. My record isn’t that great after all.
The over-excited young man I asked was unashamedly gay, clearly delighted his shift had ended for the day, and sounded like he knew what he was talking about as he pointed me towards a lit walkway which, according to the sign, also led to the rental car area.
I guess I shouldn’t have been so trusting.
Why, oh why, does this always happen to me??? The first 200m weren’t so bad. I was happy to be manning a trolley rather than doing the push-me / pull-you dance with my bag and bike, and didn’t wonder too much when the walkway spat me out onto a curving, pavement-less road. I was in the midst of the CHC airport car parks but everything was lit and given the hour, there was little traffic, so I didn’t worry too much.
My trolley however wasn’t so happy and kept insisting we veer left, away from the middle of the road. I dare anyone to try and stop a 60kg moving “vehicle” from going anywhere it wants to go once it’s rolling. Every time it hit the curb my suitcase toppled off the front and the bike box almost followed suit; and I still had no idea where I was actually going. After about five such episodes – alternated with a large amount of zig-zagging in the middle of the road – we met up with a stretch of pavement again and I decided the trolley was going to have to go. I couldn’t figure out how to negotiate the 15cm step with it anyway. So like the hooligan I was becoming I ditched my four-wheeler against a bush without a backward glance and started off again with my bags rolling along beside me.
Up pavement, down pavement, past airport compounds and car parks… When I ran out of pavement I followed the road for a bit, checking the time every now and then as the clock inched towards 10pm. I was sweating profusely and very much aware that wherever it was that I was heading, it wasn’t towards airport accommodation.
In the end I followed street lights. I sure as hell wasn’t pushing my bags down an unlit main road, so I took a right and pushed them down a lit main road instead. As I got to an intersection I looked right again and, in the distance, could make out the familiar yellow M of a MacDonald’s sign. Dodgy burgers or not it was better than any other option I had. Like a lost adventurer following the glow of a distant fire I turned my pack horses and trudged off again, a glimmer of hope in my tired eye. Ten minutes and a bucketful of sweat later I had my answer. The green Jucy building was just opposite the fast food; in fact, the saucy girl on the Jucy sign was blowing kisses at Ronald MacDonald. Both were also just opposite the main airport entrance. I had only taken a two-kilometre hike round the industrial block to reach them.
My last and final hurdle was the check in. I assume the sweet girl behind the computer could have handed me a room card in roughly thirty seconds but instead she chirpily pointed me towards the automatic check in machine and watched as I agonisingly went through the 36 steps to confirm that yes, my name was Emma, yes, I was leaving tomorrow and no, I did not require wheelchair assistance. It only took about fifteen minutes.
Yet once I finally settled in the Jucy Snooze was all it advertised. Cheap, very cheerful, very clean and actually quite pleasant. The six-pod dorm smelled as expected of old socks and wet rucksacks but I was past complaining. After a semi-conscious slosh through the shower to remove most the travel grime and frustration I clambered onto my two-metre high top bunk (a feat which in my current state I was quite proud of), plugged my dying phone into the conveniently-provided USB port and rolled down my privacy screen. Christchurch, that was a pretty decent welcome!
My sleep pod at the Jucy Snooze
The next morning I was picked up as planned by the rental car company and driven to their headquarters to collect what was to be my main means of transport for the next two weeks. Despite the fact that my driver looked too young to ride a bike let alone drive and seemed to have been taking a few lessons from the Dubai taxi drivers, we made it to the city centre where I was handed the keys to a slightly odd-looking white van. But it had a motor with a bit of grunt and cool-looking tinted windows so after the obligatory blond moment trying to drive off in neutral gear (warning, can be noisy!), I roared out of the car park feeling a little like James Bond.
I was spending the first two nights with the Smith family (the great thing about having a high-flying businesswoman as your mum is that she’s sure to know someone most places) just outside of town. My Google Maps suggested three different routes to the address I had been given. I will pass on the details of that particular trip. Suffice to say that I headed off down the shortest option (the left one on my map), took a wrong turn halfway and headed back up the second (middle) road towards the city, before finally figuring out where I was and driving down the third and final route to destination. I still managed it in under an hour without driving the wrong way around any of the roundabouts, and only accidentally hit the brake pedal about five times thinking it was the clutch.
First night accommodation with the Smiths
I was greeted by two exuberant Labradors, a gaggle of noisy white ducks, two sleepy pigs and two excited little girls. The way I was going I was just glad I didn’t run any of them over as they all rushed to greet me in the driveway.
The whole Smith family / menagerie made me feel very welcome and after making sure I was happily settled into my sweet-smelling, sock and rucksack-less bedroom, pointed out a good bike route for my afternoon session. To say the day was less eventful than the one before was an understatement. I was due back at the airport at 5am the next morning to pick Guilhem up so I hit the sheets early, loving the feel of disappearing into the piles of puffy pillows. Shattered from my recent travels and possibly a little jetlagged from the three-hour time difference with Australia, I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
Afternoon bike ride in the Christchurch area
I’m sure most of us have at some point experienced that moment when you start emerging from the depths of Sleepland and before you’re even half-conscious you know something is terribly wrong. A few things registered as my brain kicked feebly into gear. The alarm clock should have been going off in my ear: it wasn’t. It should have been dark: it very clearly wasn’t.
Even before my eyes were open I was rolling over to grab my phone and check how late I was. Answer: very. I swiped out of flight mode and tried a voice call as I attempted to put both feet through the same leg of my jeans – this number is not valid. Fuck that. I decided against losing the 10 seconds it would take to put on a bra and whatsapped with one hand while the other wrestled a shoe onto the wrong foot.
“R U still @ the airport?”
The answer was immediate, albeit a little chilly. “Yes. But I can get a bus into town.” No “hi honey”, no niceties. Well, I suppose I deserved that.
“No, don’t move. I’ll be there in 20.” No point in losing time on explanations either.
“OK, if you’re sure.” By this time I was legging it out the door. I hit the unlock button on the key and jumped into the van. Wrong side, dammit, wrong side! A month in countries where people drive on the left and I still hadn’t registered which side the steering wheel was on. I clambered over the seats and texted one last message as I fish-tailed out of the driveway and sent a spray of gravel over the two pot-bellied pigs asleep in their pen.
“’I’m sorry. Blame it on the iPhone. Stay where you are, I’m on my way.”
There was no avoiding the fact that I was not going to go down in girlfriend history – if I was even still a girlfriend at this stage.
Google Maps on my phone in one hand, I navigated the unknown roads with the other and kept my foot firmly on the floor. A wrong turn was quickly solved with a hard 180 at 50 km/h, a bit of a bump along the grass verge and possibly a little rubber left behind on the tarmac. The van handled it like a trooper. 007 was moving. I never thought I’d appreciate automatic gear-shifting quite so much.
I beat the Google Maps predicted time but a sizeable margin and screeched into the “pick up / drop off only” car bay, leaving the van right beside a sign which read “no stopping”; I would count my run into the terminal as my interval session for the day.
Needless to say, Guilhem was calmly drinking coffee in the arrivals area, and apparently already had a number of accommodation options in New Zealand over the coming two weeks. None of which involved me, but then I could hardly blame him. He had long ditched the Hawaiian shirt – sport compression leggings – sunglasses combo which, in true Guilhem fashion, he had worn out of the arrival gates just to make me laugh. I did not even want to begin to imagine the looks he had got for that, especially standing around like the proverbial lonely clown.
Rather than apologise a million times, I now had two weeks not only to handle my first ironman of 2017 but also redeem myself somewhat and prove that no, I hadn’t intentionally planned on leaving him stranded on the other side of the world after he’d flown 26 hours to meet me.
As I drove the funky little van away from CHC airport the Jucy Lucy on the Snooze sign winked at me and blew us a kiss. I’m pretty sure she was laughing at me.
New Zealand, we’re on our way!