Until the Bitter End

Until the Bitter End Adventure, Romance and ‘90s Alt-Rock in New Zealand

It’s an early April morning, and a touch of autumn is in the air as the two-liter, four-cylinder engine sputters to life.

The 1994 Ford Econovan, dubbed “Black Mamba,” pulls out of Christchurch, New Zealand, headed south along the coast toward the town of Dunedin. Like most vans in the country, the Mamba backfires as she makes her way down the two-lane highway, her rust-eaten chassis shaking with the potholes.

Inside are four smelly tourists, all on three-month visitor’s visas. Mark Taylor is at the wheel, talking Tinder and snacks, while Will Cadham gives him incorrect directions. Simon McLaine heckles both from a makeshift plywood bench in the back, while trying not to cough from a mix of exhaust fumes and dirty chamois odor.

I’m crammed in the middle, pointing my long-obsolete Super 8 camera out the Mamba’s equally abused windshield to capture, well, whatever we find ahead. Considering the past few weeks, that could include nearly anything.

This journey began at the end of January, when we left North America with intentions of racing in New Zealand for the 2017 winter season. To save money, the four of us decided to share expenses, buy a used van and make a documentary about privateer racing. But those plans began to unravel just a few days after arriving in Christchurch, when we learned there was a computer issue with the online lottery system. This meant if we wanted to compete in any of our scheduled races beyond the first two, we’d have to re-enter our names and hope we’d be selected by chance. We should have been anxious—those races were our reason for being in the country.

“Fuck it,” Mark joked. “I’m not going to re-enter.”

We laughed. But as that faded, we all exchanged quizzical looks. Were the others kidding? Or was there some concurrence deep within our ridicule?

When the lottery reopened, none of us entered. Suddenly, we found ourselves in New Zealand with months of free time, endless miles of unexplored trail, and a big van called the Black Mamba.

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