The morning of my most difficult ride so far on my New Zealand bicycle tour began with a pancake breakfast in the sun-soaked kitchen of my hosts. Their household was lit up with excitement over their five year old boy’s birthday party which included a pirate pinata and imminent stomach aches brought on by a chocolate king fish-shaped cake slathered in more chocolate and peppered with candies (or lollies as the Kiwis say.) I was already feeling sick with dread over my impending ride across the Coromandel Peninsula from Whitianga to Coromandel town. I’d made the trek over the steep, switch back roads on a nauseating bus ride so I knew what I was in for. There was no avoiding it. The bus wouldn’t get me to the harbor in time to catch my ferry back to Auckland. I’d already identified a bundle of my belongings that I planned to get rid of to lighten my load, but that couldn’t be done until I reached Auckland. So my overloaded bicycle and I would have to climb more than 4100 feet in just 23 miles. I reasoned with myself that all I needed to do was climb for about the first half then I would get to descend into Coromandel town. At least, that’s what I recalled from the onerous bus trip.
Heading up and over the mountains I had a lot of time to work on not thinking about my grueling ride and instead ponder my two weeks so far in New Zealand. My plans for the year changed drastically since January when I first received the visa. Even in the few months following my departure from Austin to spend time with my loved ones before heading overseas some surprising and disappointing developments caused me to scrap many of my intentions for the year. I then felt so mentally and emotionally drained that the process of planning, a task I normally find energizing, seemed exhaustive and daunting.
Since my arrival in New Zealand I’ve faced a series of frustrations and setbacks. My bike was delayed in the US before I even boarded my Air New Zealand flight. It arrived nearly a week later. I lost my credit card in the first six hours after arriving in Auckland. I still have no idea how that happened. It has taken a very long time to set up a bank account and start the process of getting my money from the United States to New Zealand. At one point I got down to $10 and my credit card company would not activate the credit card I had finally received in the mail from the US. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the weather which ranges from summer to winter in the span of an hour. I’ve been marooned in a place I find very undesirable. One where I must ask for help and rely on others.
Yet the hospitality, friendship, and kindness extended to me since my arrival have trivialized any discomfort or difficulties. New friends have loaned me money, let me crash for a week, arranged for me to stay with their mum, picked up my bike from the airport, and helped get my bike road ready. Complete strangers have given me rides, opened up their homes, introduced me to their families, and cooked me the most delicious meals.
Even my notions for traversing the mountainous Coromandel that day were diminished. It turns out my debilitating motion sickness must have altered my memory about my route to Coromandel town. After ascending for what seemed like a solid three hours I reached the summit of the final climb another cyclist who had passed me earlier was catching his breath at the top. “Wow, good on you,” he said. “You’ve just finished an unclassified climb.” I was ecstatic he didn’t pass me when I was weeping 20 minutes prior. “Yea, that was pretty tough,” I responded nonchalantly, trying not to fall over off my jello legs. Then I headed down the stunningly gorgeous descent overlooking the shimmering turquoise waters of the Firth of Thames.
If I had to summarize my time in New Zealand so far I would say “delightfully uncomfortable.” I quit my travel plans and now my travel has really, finally begun. Tourists stay within the borders of the familiar and convenient, but travelers tread beyond those boundaries to the uncharted and unplanned places. That is, after all, where the real adventure lies.