Cycling New Zealand: Part 1
It is amazing how much you can learn in a short time while traveling through a foreign country. Having never really done any true bike touring, we knew there was a lot to be learned. Scott and I have been riding our bikes through New Zealand for not even a week, and many things have become quite apparent. Many things we can relate to from a cycling standpoint, and many things that go far beyond cycling.
For those of you who are keen to hear what we have learned thus far, I will start with a few points of interest.
1. Fully loaded touring bikes are not the bike of choice for town line sprints. This becomes increasingly apparent after climbing for 40 minutes in 38 degree (Celsius) heat.
2. Wind in New Zealand is shifty. It works hard to avoid the aide of cyclist, and equally as hard to provide them with the additional challenge of a headwind. No matter how much a road twists and turns, the tireless wind will match the direction shifts to maintain its constant assault on cyclists. Somehow it seems both stronger and more consistent than the summer winds in the Bay Area.
3. Gaining a meter in elevation in New Zealand takes substantially more work than adding 3 feet to your elevation totals in the US. Weird!
4. The Ozone layer is thin here, and any exposed skin without a healthy dosing of sunscreen will very quickly bear resemblance of a a well cooked Maine lobster.(see a photo of me. really)
5. It's good to travel with someone whose company you enjoy. While the long days in the saddle often feel like a business meeting on wheels, conversations can quickly turn to something of great value or great humor, and it certainly helps ease the pain of the many long hours we have been spending in the saddle.
6. We have found that cycling on the "white roads" (the back roads on the maps) is far more enjoyable, although certainly not as direct. They have allowed us to find several great cafes and lookouts while helping us avoid the traffic and large trucks that the main roads attract. There isn't a huge amount of infrastructure in NZ, so sometimes they are unavoidable, but we plan to limit their use to times only when there is no other option. Tomorrow we will begin our first major outing (130k) on dirt roads, so we'll keep you posted on that.
On a trip like this, the experience obviously extends far beyond the cycling experience, and we have learned a great deal from that as well. We are experiencing the culture first hand, from the cuisine and the landscape to the coffee and sand flies.
The latter is what truly enriches any foreign travel experience. And from these perspectives we have had many great experiences already.
One of the most unexpected surprises was the quality of the local wine and olive oil. As many of you know, these are both staples in our diets, and they have both been used in most of the meals we have been preparing. Many of the campsites or accommodations we have stayed at have great kitchens that provide us the chance to try preparing some of the local food on our own. We have already gone through many bottles of both. We have also consumed a fair bit of prepared food as well, taking down several meat pies, lamb skewers and venison sausages to keep the engines fueled. Many of the local beers have also been exceptional. For some reason or another, we have been plagued with constant hunger. I don't know if this is attributed to Kiwi food not being as filling as American food (Think Super Size me baby)
... or the long days on heavy bikes. (Yes Grant, we are riding over a 100k a day for you). There is something odd that happens to your metabolism when you cross into the southern hemisphere, but we haven't found the proper remedy yet.
Our travels have taken us through some truly amazing areas. We have seen snow capped peaks, deserted beaches, mountain ranges reaching in all directions, rivers winding through lush valleys and rain forests reaching the ocean. The contrast of the bright greens and the vivid blues is simply stunning. There are more sheep, cows and deer linging the hillsides than you can imagine, and over every climb is a view that surpasses the last. But the only thing that we have encountered that has outdone the beauty of the country has been the kindness of the people. Everyone wants to stop and talk, with genuine interest in your story. Without hesitation they will offer up anything they can to help. Whether it be advise, directions or accommodations, the Kiwi's are truly wanting to help. Even the same truck driver who runs you off the road, blaring his horn along the way, asks you at the subsequent rest stop how the ride is going. Weird but true.
We were fortunate to run into an amazing couple in the town of Takaka, as we were on our way to Collingwood and Cape Farewell on the south island's northern coast. We had left the town of Motueka in the morning, knowing we were going to have a long day ahead, but we didn't have our full itinierary figured out. We climbed the major pass that separates Motueka from the Gold Coast, and descended into the town of Takaka with a blistering headwind per usual. As we discussed our plans over a bite to eat and a cappuccino, we met Mike and Debi. They consulted us on our ride plans for the afternoon, and graciously extended an invitation to join them and some friends and family of theirs for the evening. Then went on to offer us meals and a room for the night. A total leap of faith on their part, and at the same time, an amazingly kind gesture. As cyclists themselves, they were happy to help enrich the experience of other cyclists. There was a bit of trepidation on our parts, however, as we read a report in the local paper the same morning of a local gentleman who tried to kill a bunch of "freedom campers" (aka us the night before), because they were parked on a local beach. Undeterred, we made the extra 12.5k to their house after a long 140k in the saddle.
Mike and Debi opened their doors to us, cooked two amazing meals for us, and told us countless stories. These are the types of experiences that make a trip like this so much more than a bike ride. We will share more about this great experience soon, but we wanted to send a special thanks out to Mike, Debi, Phillis, Frank, Joe and Connor for everything they provided us with. We hope we can reciprocate when they come to visit the states. Go onslowtarbabies!
There are a couple of other noteworthy things we have discovered thus far. First off, we are very fortunate to have the staff that we do, running a tight ship while we are gone. They make it possible for us to sleep well at night. We have also learned that despite no formal training in either case, I take much better pictures than Scott, and he is a far better cook than me. Perhaps the latter could be attributed to the recent arrival of Scott's brother Ritchie, a professional chef, who has taken up residence at the Penzarella abode and the shop, but we can't say for certain.
As we continue our adventure, there are a number of questions that we can't get out of our heads: whether these touring miles will translate to good base miles, how long we can avoid the rain, whether the sand fly bites will ever stop itching, or whether the wind will ever chase our tails as opposed to batter our faces. We will keep you updated with this and the rest of our adventures when we find another good internet connection (not likely... I don't think a fiber optic cable ever made it to NZ). In the mean time, happy pedaling.