The Highway Man

Imagine yourself dangling 100 meters in the air then trekking through a dark, underground river system, scrabbling, jumping, hanging, climbing, wading and sometimes full-on swimming for seven hours until you reach the light at the cave entrance several miles away.  That is what Francesca and I did with Waitomo Adventures on their “Lost World 7 Hour Epic Adventure”.  It was definitely one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.   BUT……we had to get there first and we had a bizarre experience on our way down to Waitomo from Auckland.

Auckland skyline

We didn’t spend much time in Auckland as we had a three and a half hour drive ahead of us and the sun was already way past the mid-point of its daily arc.  We found a place to have lunch (Chinese food again!) and then set out for Waitomo.  About forty minutes in I started to notice a guy behind me that looked like he was tailing me.  He would come up fast behind me, but when I moved to the slow lane for him to pass me he slowed down and changed lanes himself to settled in behind me.  That happened a few times which made it less likely to be a coincidence so I decided to execute a few maneuvers to see what he did.  Riding in the slow lane I waited until a car was approaching in the fast lane and at the last minute I switched lanes so my tailing guy would not be able to follow directly behind me.  But a few minutes later, there he was, moving fast between cars, changing lanes and finally back up behind me.

At this point I let Francesca know that I thought someone might be following us.  She suggested that it might just be my overactive imagination, but when he came up behind us so fast and close that it looked as if he might hit us she became a believer.  At one point he pulled up along side us and we got a pretty good look at him.  He was about thirtysomething with black hair and he had one of those neon yellow vests (the kind that construction people or traffic cops wear) stuffed up on his dashboard.  We thought he might be a cop tailing us for speeding, but A: I wasn’t speeding and B: what cop would tail someone so recklessly like that?  If I was doing something illegal a cop would just pull me over, right? He also had a young woman in the passenger seat which made it even less likely that it was a cop.

Our rental car.  Unfortunately I did not get any photos of his for you.

After a few deft maneuvers we ended up behind him and he slowed down so much that I thought he might force me to stop by stopping his vehicle in front of me. Instead he did a bizarre and scary thing.  He sped up and made like he was getting off at the exit ramp that we were approaching.  But then he stopped his car in the median paint stripes that divides the off ramp from the continuing highway and when we passed him he accelerated and pulled up behind us again.  At this point we’re pretty darn sure this guy is following us and all sorts of potential scenarios flashed through our minds.  We thought perhaps it was a case of mistaken identity and this guy thought I cut him off or something and he was going to extract some serious road rage on me.  You just never know with some of the crazies driving the streets.  It’s like anyone can get a license these days.

After a few more miles he pulls off of the highway at the next exit ramp.  Francesca exhaled with relief, but I was still tense as I had noticed as we passed the exit ramp that it was one of those where the on ramp was just a continuation of the off ramp (ie easy on, easy off).  And sure enough through my rear view mirror I see this guy’s car come barreling down the on ramp and pull up behind us again.  Okay, now this is starting to get a bit scary.  I decided to pull off at the next off ramp where I could see a gas station.  The idea being to confront this maniac in a well populated area.  I was able to get a car (a large SUV) in between ours and his and also pulled off at the last minute in the hopes that he may not be able to follow, but he did.  Fortunately so did the car between us so at least I had a buffer car once I got to the top of the exit ramp stop sign.  I wanted to make sure I had enough time to pull into the gas station and have a chance that perhaps he might not see us so I pulled out into traffic with an approaching car not too far off – a situation where I definitely would have waited if I didn’t have a psycho Mario Andretti on my tail.  Fortunately that driver didn’t seem too upset about it.  No one in New Zealand honks their horn it seems.  They are all pretty chill when it comes to driving.  Man, if I had tried that in NYC….fuggeddaboutit!

Rutger Hauer in the highway horror film “The Hitcher”.  I loved that movie.  Scary stuff!  I thought maybe we’d be in for the same fate.

A quick right and then a quick left and we were at the gas station in front of a Quickie Mart.  We got out and I told Francesca to go inside.  The SUV that had been behind us was just making its turn from the exit ramp stop sign and then I saw our guy pull out as well.  There was a Dunkin’ Donuts in the same area and I strained my eyes to see if there were any cops I could call over, but alas there were none.  I would have to do this alone.  But when I looked back his car was gone.  I scanned the gas station, the Dunkin’ Donuts and the road that passed by them, but I could not spot his vehicle.   Was it possible that he didn’t see us?  That’s what I was hoping for, but I didn’t think it was likely.  We waited for a tense five minutes and then got back in our car and crept out of the parking lot via the back way.

Of course we kept thinking that we’d see him come up behind us smiling a fiendish grin and the thought haunted us for the next hour or so.  Even once we thought he was gone for good we were still talking about him as we were so curious to find out what his deal was.   I almost wish he had pulled into the Quickie Mart because then we’d know and would not be in this tortured state.  Of course if he had pulled in we may have ended up in another tortured state so perhaps it’s just as well.

So just remember, all you kids out there, while strangers may indeed have the best candy, it’s best not to engage them on the highway.

Apologies for the teaser at the beginning, but I’ll be back shortly with the posting on the Waitomo Caves.

Hay bales waiting to be collected in a farmer’s field near our accommodations near the Waitomo Caves.  I thought it was a cool color contrast.   I wondered why they covered the hay bales – I had not seen that before in the US, typically they are just roll up hay with no cover.  It turns out that the cover keeps in moisture and makes the hay softer and sweeter for the animals.  Who knew?


2 Responses to “The Highway Man”

  1. damn dan – that sounds like a scene from that old film “duel” … glad that you avoided a showdown

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