Gunn's journey nearing its end

Tahoe Photographer Eric jarvis stands near the beach in Hokatika on the South Island of New Zealand.

Tahoe Photographer Eric jarvis stands near the beach in Hokatika on the South Island of New Zealand.

Editor's note: Former Appeal photographer Rick Gunn left the Golden Gate Bridge in July 2005, setting out to ride his bike around the world.

Along the way, the 44-year-old South Lake Tahoe man has seen poverty and wealth. He's rejoiced in the kindness of strangers and wept at the lingering effect of man's cruelty to one another.

And he captured it all in photos and stories that have been printed in the Nevada Appeal.

He recently completed 24,000 miles.

Now, he's on the final stretch of the Wish Tour, with plans to return to his starting point on May 3. We'll be there to document the end of his journey and to welcome him home.

You'll be able to follow the final legs of Gunn's journey on the following Sundays in the Nevada Appeal.

It seemed a shame I wasn't arrested that afternoon. Flying through the air and all - stark naked - off a public dock; bottle of Champagne in hand.

Moments earlier, near the shores of Lake Manapori, I'd watched with feverish anticipation as my bicycle computer's odometer rolled from 23,999 to 24,000 - the mileage equivalent to the circumference of the earth.

Feeling the need to celebrate, I unclipped my bike-bags, un-holstered two bottles of bubbly, set my camera on timer, stripped to my birthday suit - then launched.

As I did, I imagined the headline:

"American cycle-tourist arrested wearing nothing but helmet and cleats."

But any thoughts of incarceration that afternoon were pure delusion.

This, after all, was New Zealand: Two wind-scoured rocks at the ends of the earth, inhabited by a paltry 4.1 million people, and a staggering 40 million sheep.

The fact was, that, during my 1,200-mile-ride across the dual island nation, I'd come across exactly seven cops.

From a purely numerical standpoint, my chances of being incarcerated hovered around .0058 percent.

More disturbing, I thought, as I crawled from the water and grabbed my shorts, was the statistical likelihood that I'd been seen nude by more than 3,000 sheep.

The entire folly seemed to evaporate the next day, after I received an e-mail informing me that the exact circumference of the earth was actually 24,902.

I still had 902 miles to go.

The e-mail had been sent by good friend and fellow photographer Eric Jarvis. Two days later, he followed it with another.

It read:

"Anyhow, I'm en route to Nelson, wherever the hell that is. Looking forward to seeing you and the adventure of a lifetime."

A fortnight flashed before I arrived at Nelson's tiny Airport. Trying to keep it real, I showed up sporting an ear-wide grin, and a cheesy stick-on mustache I'd purchased at a local Chinese variety store.

"Dude," he greeted me, after stepping from the plane.

"Dude," I returned excitedly, then wrapped him in a heartfelt hug.

Several seconds later, his attention finally turned to my upper lip.

"What is that?" he queried, after a bit of conversational catch up.

"It's the Scoundrel," I said, pulling the label from my pocket.

"I bought you the Bandito," I added, handing him his small strip of fur.

He looked at me as if I were insane, then shoved it into his pocket, never to be seen again.

It'd been a year since 'Jarv' and I had ripped the lid off Laos; blasting off rope-swings, trekking through remote mountain villages; two camera nerds with an itch to travel, wreaking photographic havoc across a foreign land.

New Zealand would prove no different.

Our adventure began curbside, about an hour outside of Nelson.

Standing with our thumbs out, lumping two oversized backpacks, a scatter of bags lay near our feet. In them: Bread, fruit, peanut-butter, pasta, a three-liter box of wine, and a 280-gram Frisbee emblazoned with a flaming-orange kiwi.

Jarv was the brains of the outfit.

As we waited, I could almost see his mind working, diligently evaluating the logistics of the trip.

I made myself useful by doing handstands in the middle of the road.

"Where you two headed?" a driver finally asked after pulling to the side.

"Marahau," Jarv replied.

"Trekking?" the man furthered.

"Kayaking," we chimed.

"Hop in," he said, popping his trunk.

Winding our way over a small mountain road, the man went out of his way to drop us off at our campground.

The next morning, after we'd stowed the last of our gear into the sleek hull of a two-man sea-kayak, the two of us stood beneath an impossibly blue sky, with a 2-mile crescent of golden sand spanning beneath our feet. Staring ever-outward at the sparkly-calm seas, we took a moment to eye our destination: Abel Tasman National Park.

Next week: Rick reaches the tip of New Zealand in his search for 24,902 miles and then begins the long journey to where it all began - the Golden Gate Bridge.


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