In March of this year I hit the road with my girlfriend Traharn. At the time we were in New Zealand, comfortably living on the South Island in the ever eventful Queenstown. Now let’s say that itch for a new adventure grew from a nuesence into an unavoidable condition. Below is the story that ensued. A story about escaping routine to new experiences on the North Island. It’s been published in 4 magazines spanning 3 of the 4 hemispheres, under the titles “3 Shots to Go” and “The Road Less Traveled”. So grab a coffee, sit back, and have yourself a read for 5 minutes… you may be asking for an extra espresso before you leave.
THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
ESCAPING A REMARKABLE ENTRAPMENT
“What am I doing with myself?!” There we are. Asking ourselves the same question. Staring down that pipe known as the “daily grind”. The routine life. That seemingly small, static world of the week that consumes the year. The bubble. Then there’s that feeling you get when you realize you’re standing in the same line, at the same coffee shop, at precisely the same time, waiting to make the exact same purchase you have made for countless weeks on end. You look at yourself basking in the protective shade of everyday life, and can’t help but think “What the hell?!”. Sitting on this thought, something catches your eye. An adventure magazine struggling to escape the rack of over-stacked communal reads. Sympathising with its situation, your internal deliberations amplify. There’s a rising pressure.
Over the coming days you work to shake these primal stirrings. But the pressure increases still. Consumption is in the brain. Then cracks begin to show; one morning, feeling the tinge of added anxiety, you’ll gamble with your coffee order. A wild and rash three word statement that could be that much needed spark… “three shots, please”. Not just the standard two, but three. How outrageous! Every other day you have settled for the status quo, but not today. Today, you are not like the rest. Today is a three shot day and you are an untouchable mess of caffeinated human. As you walk your reflection to work, the uplifting gravity of this monumentally minor change in daily routine dawns on you. What if you were to do away with the routine life altogether? What would happen if you soaked in the unfamiliar sun beyond the shade? New places, people, experiences, uncomfortable situations, challenges, solutions… who knows? Your thoughts are followed by a long list of excuses. But hell, coming from the guy behind these words, here’s to hoping you go home, roll your quarters, and make a move. Escape the rack and enjoy the freedom of the open air. Feed that primal yearning for adventure.
New Zealand is a mind-bending mix of character from Coast to Coast. Last season I spent my North American winter bumbling around in a beautiful beater of a van, spinning mountain bike wheels all over New Zealand’s south island. The trip would amount to one of the best decisions of my life. Naturally, with last years introduction there was little chance I wouldn’t be back. As my January departure date approached, I couldn’t help but question; would this sophomore southern summer live up to the tracks laid last year? But that right there is a classic case of over-thinking the situation. The true beauty of these trips is the simple fact that everything is what you make it.
Fast forward a month and a half, and I find myself suppressing rumblings of unrest. There I sat at a familiar Queenstown cafe, sipping a flat white consisting of a mere two shots, and something triggered. This tempting seductress of a town was slowly drawing me in. Everyday bounces between bike parks, dirt jumps, lakes, trails, buddies, BBQs and before you know it the entire season has passed you by. Entrapment by awesome. Routine had worked its way into the outrageous, and life abroad began to lack the excitement of the “?”. I had misplaced the very foundation of travel. The uncertainly beyond the walls of familiar. I needed to shake the blinders of Queenstown and see more of this amazing country. A road of new stories. The next day the car was packed, bikes were slung, and with my co-pilot Traharn Chidley we headed for the North Island.
The belittling reality of the Cook Strait was consistently reinforced as our bow disappeared under the fallout of five metre swell. On the deck, 100km/h winds cut at our faces as we watched a pair of less than sober folk make full use of the tractionless wooden deck. When our ship-shaped cork made landfall there was little question… the excitement was back!
Upon first glance, Wellington is a layered mass of ridgeline homes folding into contours of coastal green. Diving beneath the canopy, our eyes were opened to the expanse of intercity singletrack reinforcing these hilltop communities. The city adopts the illusion of a living organism. Bermed veins pump life into the urban. We flowed through a metropolis working with its natural environment rather than against it. An often understated, yet refreshing approach to lifestyle. You can ride for hours on end under a curtain of green, before emerging amidst streets thick with restaurants and cafes. Shed the suit, hit trail, and be back in the office all within the span of a lunch hour. It’s a contrasting balance that doesn’t exist in many cities. I was beginning to understand the allure of the overshadowed North Island.
We parted ways with Wellington under cloudy skies. Highway 1, straight north. East of Mt.Ruapehu, through the active geothermal Craters of the Moon alongside the shores of Lake Taupo, and into the bubbling mud of Rotorua. I am actually at a loss for words when it comes to describing the overwhelming atmosphere of this place. The Rotorua Mountain Bike Club has taken it upon themselves to build a bike haven within Jurassic Park. It is the unsung mountain bike mecca of New Zealand. But alas the whistle has been blown. Having just been approved for the addition of a year round lift accessed park, you can bet both the UCI and EWS will be populating its shores in the coming years. In all truth this place is (for lack of a better word) magical. The crafting of the weaving network speaks to the soul. Cascading ferns open to sprawling vistas. Rooted singletrack can be linked with high velocity jump trails or tailored down to meandering ribbons that will give one a true appreciation for New Zealand’s prehistoric beginnings. The blur of green gradients and venting steam funnels pepper the senses at every corner. It’s a self-guided tour through nature at it’s most raw. The underlying magma conducts an endless symphony of molten mud, as each ride adds antidotes of flexing frames and biting tires. Long days feel shorter and the smirk of satisfaction becomes a permanent fixture. The surrounding area boasts rainforest-laden lakes and natural hot springs to mend the appreciated punishment of the days. Whatever your appetite, Rotorua will provide the fuel.
Sinking into our third week of new road, we sat on the beach, mugs in hand, watching the sunrise breach the horizon. It’s golden light illuminating a coastline sculpted by the hand of the sea. Catching the morning, standing sails of rock erupt from white beaches. While towering archways of chizzeled stone provide the framework to an image that will bury itself in the depths of your memory. Staring through the gateway of Cathedral Cove you get the feeling the floating remants of volcanic cones stand guard over this timeless peninsula. After a day in the sun, and battling to bodysurf a ruthless beach break, we reluctantly turned the car South.
Losing latitudes, we looked back. We had driven the road less traveled. Escaped to new experiences and fresh perspective. Exploration is unique to every person. You don’t have to climb the highest peak or navigate an untamed rapid. You just have to go do something that is new to you. As we rolled toward familiar territory it became apparent. Whether you travel North or South. New Zealand is a “three shot” country.