I’m way behind on this as usual, but we’re taking a few days off before our last couple weeks of riding, so I’m going to try to get caught up. Back in December:
From Colville at the top of the Coromandal, we ride south to Whitianga. A vacation community with some houses attached to a grass airstrip and their own hanger, others on the bay with a private dock.
There’s a little skatepark there, and having recently learned to drop in on a three foot deep bowl (I skate while Colleen is grocery shopping, and almost every small town has a skatepark close to the grocery store), I figured I was ready for a five foot deep bowl. Same motion, it’ll be fine, just go for it.
The general idea is to perch the tail of the board on the coping (the metal edge of the bowl), stand on the tail with your back foot, then stomp down with your front door. Don’t hesitate, get the weight forward, and everything’ll be just fine.
That’s the theory. And lots of 6-year-olds can do this just fine. But learning this as an adult is completely terrifying. A five foot bowl puts my head about 11 feet in the air (or 10’9” in the air, but everybody rounds up right? It looks like a long way down). As soon as I drop in I’ll be going really fast, the concrete is really hard, I need to not break myself because I’m riding a bike everywhere, and also I’m far from home.
But just don’t hesitate, it’ll be fine. Go. I stomp down, and am immediately sliding down the rough sandy concrete on my side, then laying in the bottom of the pool. Fuck.
I roll over and look at my hand- big hole in my palm, skin’s mostly gone on the lower part of my right leg and packed full of sand and gravel. That’s gonna be a joy to scrub out.
“Son of a bitch. Dumbass, what a dumb shit,” I berate myself- for hesitating, which I obviously did, then for not wearing gloves, and for stepping it up too fast, but mostly for putting a big ass hole in my hand that I need to hold onto a handlebar.
“What did you do?” yells Colleen.
I sit up. “Fucked up.”
My spill necessitates a couple days in the campground, but that gives us time to go hike up the hill outside of town, which is pretty.
There’s a big hill to cross to get back over to the middle of the island and onto the Hauraki Rail Trail. We take 25A, and it’s ok until the climb starts.
Then it’s tight- no shoulder and a rock wall on the left side, blind corners, and super busy. I wait at the top for Colleen. She’s not happy when she rolls up.
“I almost got hit! This fucking asshole just laid on his horn and passed me with like six inches of room.”
Road riding, hate it. Just can’t avoid it though.
Riding and camping everyday, it’s pretty inconvenient to be missing a bunch of skin. But I keep on top of the bandaid changes, and lots of tea tree oil. I can’t quite grip the bars right, but after a few days the hole in my hand closes up, and my leg is looking fresh and pink.
After the rail trail, we ride quiet farm roads over to Hamilton, a medium sized town that feels solid and homey, like someplace in Ohio, only with fruit trees dropping lemons and tangelos (which is like a softer sweeter orange) all over the streets. We visit Colleen’s friends Jess and Jacob, and they let us stay for two nights, even though they’re heading out of town.
The first night we have some wine and Jess is describing some board game.
“Is it like bananagrams?” I ask.
“No, not really like bananagrams,” she pauses. “Now you have me saying banana instead of bahnahnah. Banana, bahnahnah.”
We start cracking up.
“But dammit we say bahnahnah here! Not banana. But banana really is easier.” Extra emphasis on the nasally American accented a. “I kind of like it.”
American cultural domination in action. Go ahead, say banana. You’ll like it.
Jess and Jacob have to leave the next day to go to a friend’s show, but they offer to let us stay another night. I have to beg Colleen to stay, she’s always antsy to keep moving.
But I manage to convince her, so we hang out with Julia the cat for another day. Or maybe Julia convinced her.
Then as we’re leaving, we accidentally lock the spare keys in the house.
“I asked if you if I grabbed the keys!” I say.
“I thought you said ‘should I grab the keys’!”
“Why the hell would I ask that, of course somebody should grab the keys, I asked if you did!”
We go back and forth like that for another 15 minutes while we try to figure out a way to break into the house.
There’s no way, Julia’s cat door is way too small to squeeze through.
Finally we text Jess, feeling like very horrible house guests.
It turns out not to be a big deal. So away we pedal.
We pick up the Waikato River Trail south towards Taupo, expecting an easy day ride on a rail trail- which it was for a few kilometers, before turning into some pretty exhausting singletrack. Nothing technical, but constantly up and down, steep, twisty.
This happens a lot- sometimes what we think is a mountain bike trail turns out to be a gravel path, or a rail trail turns out to be tough singletrack. There’s so much information about the trails in the free cycle trail guides that are scattered everywhere, but it’s hard to keep it all straight.
In the case of the Waikato River Trail, I think the cycle trail guide showed a picture of a woman on a comfort bike riding the smoothest section of trail, with a big grin and a crooked helmet. That picture screamed rail trail, so that’s what stuck in our heads.
It ended up being a beefy 50 mile day, but way more fun than we expected.
Then the steps, so many steps. Trail builders here love these things. I can’t say I’m super enthusiastic about hauling 80 pounds of bike up and down them.
Christmas in Taupo, at a hostel a few blocks up from the big deep blue lake. The couple who owns the place makes a feast with lots of steamed pork buns and other good stuff (which I can’t remember because it’s all overshadowed by the pork buns, which before coming to NZ I’d only seen in anime. I’m happy to report they’re just as puffy and fun as they look in cartoons). Christmas down here is usually a day for barbeques and hanging out outside, but it’s pouring. Better than snow though.
The next day the pork buns give me a stomachache. Too many buns.
We turn north with the wind and head up towards Rotorua to visit our friends the Ickies.
A few miles outside of town, there’s a bus heading up the highway pulling a trailer full of rafts, I wonder if that’s River Rats (the company our friends work for). Then there’s a little dude hanging out the door waving and yelling, there’s our boy Dicky. I wave back and ding my bell. Small world, especially in such a tiny country.