Gear Change Up

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"Brit, meet single-track. Single-track, meet Brit."

Formal introduction courtesy of Joel Orkin-Ramey.

It's actually not my first experience with single-track mountain biking. It is my first introduction where I did not finish the trail, think to myself, "Self, that was nice," and then put the mountain bike back on the shelf for the next four months while I sing to myself on the road. New Zealand is considered one of the world's capitals for mountain biking, so that is my mission down here until March or until I completely destroy my mountain bike.

Complete destruction is scheduled for any day now. A lesson to us all, never skimp on cycling equipment. I have a decent bike which will suit my purposes (ride until destruction). If I were to live in New Zealand and take up mountain biking permanently I would have gotten something else.

Like a tank.

I have never in my life seen trails even remotely resembling these. The technical level is unreal. The trails are tight and hug cliffs. The switchbacks are tight. The Don't Die mantra has returned ("Don't die, don't die don't die don't die. There's a tree, there's a rock, who cares? Don't die"). And the name of the game is fall, fall, fall again. And keep getting up.

It's actually not necessary to fall as much as I do. Neil, Joel's friend whom we went riding with on Christmas day told me of the finer points of if-you-feel-you-are-going-to-fall-unclip-dumbass. Simple, except I am slightly too stubborn to admit that I can't pedal up some of the inclines, and therefore I think even though I really don't need or want any more bruises, I would rather fall than put my foot down out of failure.

Funny part is though not making it up the incline is not really failure. Cycling is a very honest lets you know exactly where you stand. And it presents infinite challenges to make you better. And if you are ever considering being a beginner at something, cycling is the way to go. Because cyclists understand...everyone's been a beginner. Everyone understands the endless challenges cycling faces. But cyclists know how to meet the challenges, enjoy the victories, accept the defeats, while all the time maintaining that positive outlook that it is still possible. And cyclists pass that mentallity on to others. And so Joel rides behind me, "Lean and pedal," over and over and over. And hey, I could get up the tracks.

It's about getting better everyday, but knowing that you still have so far to go.

What better reason to get up the next day and do it again?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Sometimes when the wind blows you can see the mountains

And all the way to Malibu.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Tongariro: Hobbits really are amazing creatures...

...Because volcanic areas are not to be screwed around with. There is something very ominous about them. They're at a high elevation. They're creepy. And add that to the fact that they are in New Zealand so the weather will change every three minutes.

But change not enough so that it was actually possible to do the Tongariro crossing today. The area has been hit with drenching rains the past two weeks, and today was no different except for the wind. Which was more. So that was the end of that. However, we were allowed to hike up to the lakes, which would be a more protected hike with equally scenic views. My comfort level was satisfied because it would not be miserable, my ego was satisfied because it was about the same elevation gain, and my rational side figured what's the worst that could happen?

The volcano could erupt.

But it didn't.

So it was a good hike. Rain the whole time, but I was protected by my trusty rain jacket known only as, "Brit's jacket." The same jacket that got me through north atlantic squalls allowed me to be the only member of our group to make it up to the upper lake. At least I think there was a lake. There was definitely a sign indicating a lake. But the rain and the clouds, and the force 8 winds made that impossible to see. I did get a good view of the lower lake though, and that was amazing, which led me to believe that theoretically the whole hike actually looked like that which means blast I'm gonna have to come back and do it again someday someway.

I really enjoyed today. This trip is full of such contrasts. Two weeks ago I was in the middle of the crowds in Beijing, thinking there has got to be way more than 6 billion people in the world. And today I was hiking with a massive cloud and a national park all to myself. After that though, I am going to need some time to dry out. I'll take that opportunity tomorrow to hang out. Contrary to popular opinion, there is a lot to do in Turungei.

For example, this town has an art gallery/mini-golf course. I think that needs to be investigated.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tauranga-Rotorua. Rotorua-Turengei

I missed a post. I apologise. I am not quite sure what the woman was trying to tell me yesterday, but I think I understood it as the internet for all of New Zealand was shut down. Which I actually found amusing. So it was worth making you wait.

We're now to the point of making this up as I go along. After abandoning the east coast idea, I headed inland for a very hard but very nice ride to Rotorua. Rotorua is a town inland famous for it's mineral pools. I would tell you more except that I was not planning to come this way. After not planning to come this way I ripped out this section in my Lonely Planet Guide Book (The Good Book), so I have no idea really where I am these days or what it's famous for. Like Turengei, I learned is the trout fishing capital of the world, which made me really nervous when I decided to stay here without knowing anything about it. But the place is actually the coolest little town. Very laid back. In New Zealand everything closes at 5 o clock. Here everything closes at 3. Yeah. That laid back. Anyway, since switching routes everything is a little surprise, and that has made it a lot of fun. Like my hostel in Rotorua. It came with its own mineral pool. Brilliant. And this hostel in Turengei. Most hostels come with bars, which is nice but bugs me...the alcohol culture of backpackers tends to depress me. But no bar at this hostel. It comes with a climbing wall. Waddup.

It was also in Rotorua that my cycling adventure has actually somewhat abruptly ended. Sad, but not that sad. I have realized that cyclotourism is not for me. Or it is but what I need is Backroads...nice bikes and someone to carry my stuff. I have no patience for this. More then that though, I have been in a lot of pain while riding. Knee pain and saddle sores. Which has made it not fun. And what am I if not all about fun? So I remade plans to ride this morning and then bus it to Turengei. Tomorrow I plan to hike the Tongorero crossing, but it is supposed to be bad weather. So we'll see. Either way I have a couple days here now where I can hike, bike, and chill. I've been going going going really since I left Beijing, so the thought of riding for fun with no worry about gear, destinations, time, weather, etc, is very appealing.

Monday, December 19, 2005

See this is why God gives you sisters...


I had a great blog going about how I'm so tired, I can't pedal, I'm a horrible person, and I have no idea why any of you like me (how could anyone not like me?).

It's been a hard two days in the saddle, and had I opted for continuing along the east coast it was only going to get harder. I've pedaled both days to the point of exhaustion, and then usually I still have another 30 kilometers to go. I know, a kilometer is not as much as a mile so it's not that bad. But I'm carrying a pack. I am on a mountain bike. And I am not the cyclist I once was. It's no good anymore to think of what I should be doing , or how I should be feeling, because it's not reality now. Reality is I've got all this crap and I gotta get from point A to point B. So I just gotta do what I do what I just gotta do.

Cycling is survival. I collapse on the ground after yet another Hamilton-esque hill, cry a little (but not just a little), and then I have to pick myself back up and keep moving. I have to. Not because there are so many cool things to see up ahead, and not because I have way too much pride for my own good. I have to pick myself up and keep going because I cannot live at this Shell gas station in the middle of nowhere for the rest of my life. I don't think they'd let me.

Cycling makes things very simple like that.

So I got into Tauranga today, exhausted, hurting, and facing the fact that I am not the gigantic invincible badass I thought I was (I hate that). Try looking at New Zealand on the map. It looks small right? Go ride it and it's amazing... it actually starts to look bigger and bigger everyday. I was interpreting that as more and more hopeless everyday. I wanted to ride the east cape and hit Wellington by Christmas.

But physically, I can't do it.

You might want to copy and paste that. I don't admit that too often (see pride (ego?)-too-big-for-own-good section). Anyway, I can't do it so I was going to cut straight down. And pretty much miss all the cool stuff.

Enter the Evil Twin.

Tay gave me a call and in about 5 seconds (summa cum laude) she had a whole new route picked out for me with a day in reserve so I can go play Lord of the Rings. And just like that I am psyched about this trip again.

Hah. You all wish you had a sister as cool as mine.

So. Pedal on, pedal on, pedal on.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


I am having major issues adjusting to a new country, with new circumstances, and different goals I want to achieve. In China my goal was to study cycling as a form of transportation. Check. It was something I had to do because 70% of cycling in this world is for the purposes of transportation and had I decided to blow that off it would have been very hard to convince Hamilton to give me money to go ride bikes with rich people in New Zealand and Europe. Unless, of course, I could find a way to get such rich people to donate to the college on the hilltop. Don't get me wrong, transportation is fun, especially when it's life threatening, but...Mountain biking. Road Racing. This is what I came to do.

And it's been kind of a rough start. A lot of Auckland was stress and nerves. Stress because I was shifting gears (gear change up!) very quickly and trying to pack for a self-guided bicycle tour down New Zealand. And here's how you pack for a cycling tour: You lay out only the things you absolutely need and cannot do without. Then you cut that down by 1/3. Then it's still to heavy, but you have to deal. So yeah. Stress. Nerves because this might be the dumbest idea my little brain has come up with yet. And there has been a very large line of dumb ideas. I hadn't ridden a bike in 2 months before today. I am pedaling the north island of New Zealand by myself where millions of things could go wrong. Most of all, I don't know if I can do this. So I listened to the mix Tay gave me, and hoped for the best.

So I finally got on the road today, and lo, I am out of shape. Absolutely amazing ride...the first part is hilly and goes through farmland...very Hamilton-esque. Then I descended to the seabird coast. Right on the Firth of Thames. I looked across this crystal clear blue water to the Coromandal peninsula, and it is surreal. If I had my roadie I would have been in absolute heaven and I would pedal ridiculously fast. But I was on a mountain bike with a backpack. So after a while I started to get tired. Real tired. So tired I didn't think I was gonna make it, but it's Sunday and what else did I have to do for the rest of the day besides pedal (and post in this fabulous fabulous blog?)?

So here I am. I did make it. It is satisfying, but now I have more and more questions in my head about the rest of this trip. I am not sure if it's a good idea. The bastard flaw in my thinking: Do I think I'm gonna make it? I don't know unless I try. So...I have to. I have two hot dates in Wellington for Christmas.

But. My first cyclo-tour experience. And lo, it is hard. So not much to do except go find some food and journal and sleep. And try again tomorrow. Got to be strong, got to keep on keepin' on.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Auckland: The Land of Street-Crossing Nazis

Ok, there's only a few cars coming. By Beijing standards it's ok to cross the street. But no one else is going, which means I don't have strength in numbers. I'll just wait.

Ok, now there aren't any cars coming. But no one is going. Ok...I guess I can wait.

Ok, now it's a green arrow the other way. No cars can come. We can go now. one is walking. Still waiting.

Ok, now we have a green light and no one is walking. What the hell. True, the little man is still red, but who listens to the little man? What exactly are we waiting for?

Ok, this is ridiculous.

::loud star-wars like beeping noise:: crap where's my light saber? Hey, where's everyone going?


Green man.

Go go go!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Last spin with the Zhonguo peloton

The main difference I have found between my experience in China and my experience sailing (ok it's not the main difference (ocean vs land being the main difference (bear with me))) is that while on the boat there was no escape from the environment, while in China I can escape whenever I want to.

No, I don't go to Mongolia. See, this past week it finally got ridiculously cold in Beijing. It's not necessarily cold temperature wise (balmy day for Clinton, NY), but Beijing is the proud posessor of a wind that will cut through all layers, chill you to the core, freeze your ears off, and not even feel bad about it. It's easy to tell what direction the wind comes from. It's opposite of whatever direction you happen to be walking. But for the most part the wind comes from the northwest. Mongolia.

I don't ever want to go to Mongolia.

You can't make me.

By escape China I mean that I can go somewhere and have everything be familiar. Like I never left home or school or the states. I can go somewhere and establish a routine. For me that place has been Evolutions, the gym a few blocks from my dorm. It's kind of a funny place in that it's expensive to belong to by Chinese standards but ridiculously cheap for Americans. So my bud Rose was telling me all these Chinese movie stars, CEOs, and foreigners on expense accounts work out at this gym. So it's them and this random bunch of study-abroad students. Amusing.

Sometimes I worried that I was using the gym as kind of a crutch. How much of a cultural experience can I really be having if I'm pushing my research so I can hit my spin class?

But this is a cycling adventure. And while Fuzi (not "fuzzy") has been solid, he wasn't going to prep my legs for the work ahead. Plus when I'm so far from home, it's nice to have a place to go to everyday where I can get the same friendly familiar smiles and same "Ni Hao"'s.

And the same songs for every spin class. These instructors would not last long with the Denver Athletic Club peloton. I knew that when Laura the instructor answered her cell phone during warmup. A very J.V move. Then she also had the annoying habit of playing a song, scanning the cd for another song, deciding that she didn't want any of these songs, only to change the CD and go through the exact same routine, meanwhile I am starting to twitch. And each class it ended up being the exact same songs in the exact same order. What exactly was she looking for?

The instructors are kind of one-trick ponies in that they have one routine and use it for every class. And let me tell you, the techno version of, "A pizza hut a pizza hut kentucky fried chicken and a pizza hut" is murder to get out of your head.

See, now it's in your head. Be strong.

And let's eat.

To the beat.

The cool thing about cycling is it is what you make of it. I remember Bicycling magazine once did a poll of readers. The question was, "What do you say to your bike?" I always thought that was ther wrong question. It's not what you say to your bike, it's what your bike says to you. And my bike always says to me, "Relax, I am only making you better."

So spinning my wheels in Beijing. Three nights a week. It was good, it was bad, but it served it's purpose. I stayed strong, I got rested, and I managed to get off the edge without losing the edge. Time for some real riding.

So, crew, it's been real. And if anyone asks?

I think
You're fine
You really blow my mind
You and I can run away
And I just want you to know
I wanna be your Romeo
Hey Juliet!

Sunday, December 04, 2005


There is no longer any excuse for Chinese gymnasts to come home with anything less than the gold for the olympics. After hitting the Chaoyang theater for an acrobatics show, I don't know what the Chinese have been doing all this time anyway. Chinese gymnasts have historically had a problem with inconsistency. I say get rid of all of them and put the acrobats in their place. They can hit their set ever time, every night, night after night, with bright lights shining in their eyes. While balancing a bunch of spinning plates on a stick. 10.0.

And any country that can put 12 people on a bicycle and ride around can be the king of bicycles. Hands down. You win. I'll stop arguing now.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

State of being

You know that feeling you get when you burn your tounge really badly? I've had that feeling for about 6 weeks now.