My second attempt to leave Raglan, New Zealand was in the pouring rain. I decided to bicycle 44 km on Highway 23 to Hamilton to stay with a friend while I reconfigured my route for the next few weeks. A small, skeptical crowd gathered in front of the backpacker’s hostel, smoking hand rolled cigarettes and watching me load up my touring bike. I’m pretty sure bets were placed on whether I would actually leave this time.
I was finding saying goodbye to the free-spirited surfing town difficult both emotionally and physically. I felt right at home there in a cozy hostel, filled with beautiful and interesting travelers from all around the globe. Not to mention a hot tub, surfing, ocean views, and a kitchen that was the center of entertainment and international culinary excursions every evening. I intended to only book one night and stayed for three. I wasn’t alone in my reluctance to depart. Most backpackers came for a night or two and stayed for one to six months. They found jobs, formed relationships, bought surfboards, and found it as easy to settle into life there as it was to ease into one of the courtyard hammocks on a sunny afternoon.
For my first attempt to move onward, I left early in the morning knowing my first day would be the toughest with 15 km of unsealed road. I didn’t set up any accommodations on my route along the west coast to New Plymouth. I planned to free camp and eat the food I brought along with me. It was a chance to make up for the financial indulgence my stay in Raglan had been, plus test my new strategy of keeping my scheduling to a minimum. I hoped to cycle 70 km the first day so I would only have to ride 100 km the second and third days. It wasn’t very long before I hit the gravel road outside of Raglan. It was much tougher than I expected with sloped and winding turns. I fell several times and wound up pushing my bike often. I was bruised and bleeding and counting off each kilometer on my Garmin until I’d reach pavement again. The scenery was a sharp contrast to my battered body and frayed emotions. Pristine pastures rolled gently towards the blue-green sea. Windswept hillsides waved at me serenely and a couple of horses ambled toward the fence to offer an encouraging nay.
Finally my bike rolled onto smooth, secure pavement. I filled up on a bag of noodle stir-fry and pushed on, invigorated by the belief the worst was behind me. But, after just 15 km further I hit gravel yet again. I was mentally defeated but told myself it couldn’t be unsealed for that much further and the Harbor town of Kawhia was only 5km away. Shortly after I ran into the gravel I spotted a camper van pulled over by the side of the road. I stopped to ask how much further I would be on gravel. “Oh about 50 km,” said the tanned Aussie in the front seat. My eyes filled with tears. There was no way I could navigate 50 km more of gravel road. Exhausted, injured, and defeated I asked, “Where are you guys headed?” He told me they were going north to Raglan and were dismayed to find their coastal drive took them down a bumpy, dusty, unsealed road. I must have appeared the most desperate traveling cyclist he’d ever seen when I asked if I could throw my bike in their camper van. Turns out, they had a bike rack on the back and after a bit of negotiating we were able to get my bicycle fastened securely. I hopped inside with Jared and Eloise and after what seemed like only a matter of minutes and we were back in Raglan. The short, uneventful trek back to where I started was almost comical compared to my harrowing experience trying to cycle away. I checked back into the hostel, dumped my stuff on my same bed, and decided to pretend I just went on an extreme mountain biking adventure.
Later, after a few beers and enough time passed to help mend my damaged ego, I fessed up to the fellow backpackers about my failed attempt to leave town. But, once I told the story I realized it wasn’t as much of a tale of defeat as it was one of a hilarious misadventure with a very happy ending. I learned an important lesson about cycling in New Zealand. Roads are often very remote and wild and you really can’t assume anything about your route. The extra night at my beloved hostel was the best night of them all. I also have some wonderful photos and wicked bruises to remember the trip. I only left because the road beckoned, but then it brought me right back to my starting place. Funny how life works out that way sometimes.