Gear Change Up

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Westport, West Coast

The West Coast of New Zealand is supposed to be one of the most scenic roads ever in the history of the universe (the greatest universe ever).

I'll let you know.

So far, it's good. They have seals. Third, in my book, to penguins and hippos.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Nelson Day

It is a holiday here in Nelson, New Zealand. And absolutely nowhere else in the world. But today is Nelson Day, the day when Nelsonians gather around the...well I don't really know what they do. But it is a holiday. I can tell because no one is in town. That's actually not a good indication, because no one is ever really in town unless it's raining. I can't really tell if it's that The New Zealand Economy Is Bad, or if it's that The New Zealand Economy Is Bad And No One Really Cares. Because no one works around here.

So there you have it. I guess I know it's Nelson Day because Taylor and Tyler told me so. And when I asked what exactly we're celebrating, they responded, in unison (mind you), "Nelson."

I don't really know why they have this three day weekend now. I'm not really sure what they need a break from. People just don't really work, and if they are working, then the businesses hold this Nazi-like strict business hours. EVERYTHING closes at 5. And people go home. Everything is closed so there is no reason to hang out downtown. I find it extremely odd because Nelson is one of the bigger towns on the south island, and it's the gateway to three national parks and the entire western half of the island. I feel like people should be out window shopping, enjoying a bottle of wine, taking a walk before dinner, something, ANYTHING, to congratulate themselves on another day well done. But the streets are abandoned come 5:30.

Not good for a destination town.

Aspen would be rolling over in it's grave.

If it know...dead.

I have asked New Zealanders about this phenomenon, and their response was that Kiwis are just lazy. They don't like working. They're lazy with the way they speak (mozzies=mosquitoes, barbies= bar b q's, frosties=frosted flakes). They're lazy with their holidays. No parade, no nothing. There is a gigantic bike race though. The Lakes to Sea Race and Fun Ride, 88 km. I opted out. Back to that laziness theory, only Kiwis would think to hold an 88 km race downhill. In New Zealand men and women race together, and at 125 pounds descending is not my strength.

But in the event that things get wild and crazy tonight, I want no one to have any fear. Ambassador Randy is in town. And for one day, the Denver Ambassadors are going to outnumber the Nelson Ambassadors (3-2).

So, friends. Enjoy Nelson day. Give a little extra toast to that town nestled between Abel Tasman, the Marlboro Sounds, and the sun.

But remember. The ambassadors are out. And if we see you doing something wrong, we are not afraid to go find someone that has the authority to maybe-possibly-if-they-feel-like-it do something.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

New Zealand MTB Championships

It's hot. The sky is clear and blue, and the wind can't penetrate up Brook Creek Valley. Here is where New Zealand's best mountain bikers have come to claim the title of National Champ.

After a frenzied start I head upwards. And upwards, and upwards. The hill is unrelenting, and I offer a weak smile or a word of encouragement to the riders passing me. The fans emplore everyone to go on. "Almost there," I tell myself, or others, but hey I thought I was almost there a while back now. So what the hell do I know. I keep going up, till the top, where I can look down at a steep descent. The kind of descent where it sounds like a runaway boulder crashing through the woods as it heads downhill. The kind of descent where it feels like your bike is going to break apart beneath you, and you can only pray for an easy landing. Maybe a soft rock or something.

Hey, they have all kinds of weird shit in New Zealand.

A soft rock is not out of the question.

But the race goes on. And on. And long after legs and lungs have given out, long after what ever point the riders were out to prove surely must have been proven, the race goes on. Every lap a little slower, every climb up that hill a little longer.

"Is this the last lap?" an optimistic fan asks a passing rider. She musters up the strength to shake her head: No.

"Bugger," he responds.

Another rider slogs up the hill, walking his bike besides him. "This is bullshit!" he screams out before finding a flat to remount and keep going up. No one disagrees.

Indeed. Because this is not a race anymore. It's a war of attrition, and the hill is winning. Chains snap, riders huff and puff up the hill, pull up under the ropes, and head for their cars. Somedays you don't have it. Some days you do, it's just that the hill has more of it. So you do the best you can with what you got to work with. Some drop out. The rest carry on. At least for now.

Two hours after the start: hot, dehydrated, and exhausted, I pull out after the 6th lap. I glance one more time around at the racers still battling, the crowd still cheering, and I head for home. I think to myself, "Self, that could have been so much worse. What if you actually had to ride that thing?"

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Let the record reflect.

Now that the record is reflective, let me explain. Couple summers ago I did some bike racing back home, and I got dropped. Every single race. With the exception of one. And that was fun. But yeah, twice a week pretty much, I watched the pack pull out and ride away, usually within the first half-hour of the race. And that is a hopeless feeling. Because you're exhausted and everyone else is strong, you're legs and lungs are gone and everyone else is chugging along, you have to ride out the rest of the race by yourself while everyone else gets to draft.

Actually, you could quit the race. But who the hell quits races?

So yes, I was the 2003 points winner in the American Cycling Association for the catagory of "Moral Victories."

It's quite an accomplishment. Makes you stand proudly in the mirror and tell yourself you never want to race again. Enough to make you so sick of moral victories. And leave you with that fear in your stomach every time you go out to ride with well...other people. Because what if I get dropped? I hate getting dropped.

Fear. Fear of getting embarrased. Even on a meaningless weekend race. Because it's a pride thing.

But then it's fear on the other side too. Fear of what if I don't do this? Then it's a self imposed limit. I can't have those. I start to twitch. And while I can accept failure, I cannot cannot cannot accept not trying.

And even more fear on top of that. I have to compete. Not just because I am, well, competitive. But because it brings out the best in me. It allows me to focus. It enables me to break a big-ass world down into something I can understand. No interviews, no possessions, no money, no idea what I'm doing? Sweet, whatever, race on Tuesday, so today must be a hillclimb day. And no matter what happens to me, I still have this one area of my life that brings out the best in me. And I understand why.

Focus on the now, focus on what's really important. Don't worry about the other stuff that bears down on us if we let it. Just pedal, pedal, pedal, let it out and go.

Everyone has to have some area of their life where they put themselves on the line everyday. did you do that day?

My heart is a flame that pains me if I do not light it on fire. Someone besides me said that. Although I'm not sure who. You get what I mean though.

It was nice to actually race. And not just race, actually do well. Doing well involves staying with the bunch, and not puking that one time I was convinced I was going to puke. Not only do I think I did well, I, actually moved up a category after my race. Not that I beat anyone. I did beat a couple people, even though I was the only category E entered. But I stayed with the Category D's, and thus, have been branded one of the bunch.


New Zealand is awesome. So beautiful, so many things to see, so much to do, and yet I am perfectly happy in this tiny, crappy town called Richmond (Rich-whuut?). The armpit of...actually if you look at the map it's not even the armpit of the south island, it is in fact the crotch of the Tasman District. But it's got people for me to ride with. And race with. And put it all on the line with.

What more do you need?

Oh, family is nice too. But hey, that's 13 km away in Nelson.

When I'm up, I can't get down.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Does not allow you to take the trips you want to take. I was supposed to head toward Abel Tasman for a while today. And that still may happen. But it's raining at the moment, and a beach trip is not ideal for a rainy day.

Rain does allow you to cut the ADD and sit in an internet cafe and do the work you've been meaning to do since you've got here. Except when you're writing in your blog. That's just a perk But seeing that this is an academic study...

Stop laughing. It is. least the rain is ample opportunity to try and focus my thoughts on recreation and cycling in New Zealand, and how it all relates. If it all relates. If 2.4 billion people in this world are connected by the bike. If I had to ballpark it right now? I don't think they are. Which really blows the whole original theory of my project. But hey, someone had to go figure out for sure.

What does a mountain biker in New Zealand and a vendor in China have in common? They both ride bikes. But the New Zealander may want to live on his bike, while the China man would gladly never pedal his again. If they found themselves at the same intersection in Beijing, sure, they might break traffic laws together. But only so they can get from point A to point B. It's a chore, not a game, nor is it particularly fun. And they are just as likely to work together in crossing the street as they are to run over each other should one of them make a sudden move.

But is that the same in New Zealand? First, you have to remember that people ride for different purposes. It's for fun, it's not a chore. Chances are you are choosing to ride your bike up a mountain, seeing as you have a car sitting in your driveway. How does that change the mentality and the attitude to yourself, to your environment, and to others around you? When taking the same two riders and putting them into a recreational mindset, if someone gets stuck with a flat or something, they'll probably find some help. Why? Is it becaues we're all cyclists and we help each other out, or because we're all human and this person has no other way to get home?

And this is the part where I confuse myself and usually forget what the question was in the first place.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Day #103

I run out of gum.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Dance right where you are



"More bikes coming."

Cyclists call it the peloton. It's a group of cyclists riding together for training and/or fun purposes. Riders ride in close formation so that the people in front get dog tired and the ones in the back have a very pleasant time. It's fast. It rode by me this morning And this time I was not on a mountain bike touring, nor did my legs feel like lead, and sure it was supposed to be a recovery day, but isn't the saying "recover when you're dead" or something like that?

So THIS time...I jumped on to the back and I did not get dropped. Not even over the hills. Focus and pedal. Great fun. We were moving through the flats and up the hills, and I am pretty sure the 8k to Cable Bay was accomplished in about 5 minutes flat. A few of the guys on the back noticed the addition to the group and we started talking. Turns out the group was the Richmond ("Rich-whuuuut???") Cycling Club. And they ride every Sunday. And Wednesday. And have track races on Monday. And real races on Tuesday. And I am more than welcome to come along.

And just like that when I thought this was doomed from the beginning and that there's no way it can be done or finished, or that I am the most gigantic waste of space, 30 people zoom past me, I jump on, and just like that, it doesn't matter anymore. Pedal and don't lose that wheel. Keep it simple.

Yew kan dew eet.

I am back on track. Maybe not on track, but in the groove. And maybe only till tomorrow, but oh well. When I'm up? I can't get down. And there is so much to do. Waddup.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

When you're tired, you're numb, you're stressed, and you're mad....

You just have to remember. It all works out in the end.

And if it's not working out? Obviously, it's not the end.

It's hard to say what's wrong. Nothing is really wrong. I wake up and ride and then go talk to a person or two, think about things, and then write about them. Then I read my book. It's a good life.

But something is off in the balance for equilibrium, because I'm not feeling it. I don't know if its the travel that is wearing a bit. I'm definitely mentally tired. Constant planning, always planning for the day, for the week, for the month ahead, for the months ahead because everything you do has a consequence, and when you run out of money that's it. That's pressure. That doesn't help.

Maybe it's that I'm bored? I don't know. Biking. It's an adventure, sure, but it's something I would be doing no matter where I was. All of a sudden it's my whole day and my whole life for a year...but really, it doesn't take up that much of my time. I feel unstructured. And when I feel unstructured I feel like I don't have a plan. And if I don't have a plan, what the hell am I doing?

Or maybe trying to stay focused. That's been the biggest challenge in New Zealand. This is a place I am coming back to with a month and a ton of money. Because there is so much to do here that I straight up to not have the funding for. It's hard to live in the moment when all I can seemingly do is worry about the consequences for the future. Because not only does this thing have to succeed, I need to be able to do it in the manner that I want. So, lot's done, lot's to do, lot's to think about doing in the future. Sometimes it's so big that I'm not sure how to do it, or if it's going to work out. I don't know. Maybe trying to travel for a year and buy a bike and live off a stipend was a really dumb idea. I want to go home, but at the same time I don't. Because while I don't really think that I am meant to wander the world for the rest of my life, I just got an e-mail from Hamilton about an opportunity to be an administrative assistant. And I don't think I'm supposed to do that either.

I don't know. Whatever will be will be, so I sure wish I could just chill out and enjoy the time while I have it.

As Bela Karolyi would say, "Yew kan dew eet."

Sometimes I hate that guy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Nelson arrival and a trip with the small one

I made it to Nelson, the sun capital of the south island of New Zealand. Along with both bikes. A big waddup to DHL.

I arrived in Nelson to this crazy girl on this funny looking mountain bike sprinting up to me. She turned out to be my sister so it was ok. I apologised for not getting her a housewarming gift. I had been eyeing the "cute kiwis" being sold in the giftshop, but I really only wanted to get her an ugly kiwi. Which they didn't offer. So I was emptyhanded.

I settled myself into her flat, only to be told that we were leaving. Yes. A biking/backpacking extravaganza. Now, if we learned anything from the beginning weeks in New Zealand, it was that biking+backpacking=really dumb idea and lo, should not be attempted again. But it still ranks above the driving-the-car-at-risk-for-explosion idea, and since we had no other way to get to the trailhead, we took off. Heading straight for the massive hills and very dark rain clouds.

Yeah. That was a mood killer.

After a double-defeat on the final ascent, my young sister and I staggared with our bikes up to look out over the Marlborough Sounds. We descended to our campsite for the night where we got the tent up just before the downpour. We huddled together eating cheese and crackers and passing a cuecumber back and forth, and my worry of starving on this trip began to set in. I realize it's impossible to starve to death in three days. But that does not make the fear any less real.

In answer to your question, yes. It was a Chase family vacation in the truest sense.

But we woke up the next morning to a sunny and beautiful day. After some cereal and hot chocolate, we rode to the trailhead, dumped the bikes, and set off on the Nydia Track. We hiked to a beach and set up camp, then lunch, where we ran out of gas. So we enjoyed what would be the first of many meals of cold soup, and set out to hike the rest of the track packless. We came back and made a dinner of more cold soup.

The beauty of backpacking is all food is good. You can't lose. You find yourself talking about how you should buy this food and eat it all the time at home. How it would be graet to have cold red currey instant soup everyday! And how you need to try all the other flavors! But no, no you really shouldn't. Cold cream of pumpkin soup is really not good, unless your alternative is dirt. Other then that, stick to the pringles and diet coke.

The next morning we hiked out of the track. We got back to the bikes and rode to the campground, where we had the idea of, "ride the bikes up the hill, without the packs, then take the trail down and go get the bikes tomorrow!" Brilliant. Can still ride, but without the weight. Allowed us to conquer our demons from earlier in the trip. We rode up to the Ophouri saddle and looked out over Duncan Bay where we finished our cheese and crackers along with half a snickers. Yes, a feast.

New Zealand is famous for its odd creatures, and we were lucky enough up on the saddle to come across a family of flightless birds. Now these birds were interesting in that they were birds. But they had no wings. The young one was convinced we had stumbled upon the significant connection between dinosaurs and birds. I didn't have the heart to tell her that the chances of the two of us making a real live scientific discovery are...well...bad. But still. Birds without wings. They exist. You read it here first.

We took the trail back down to the campsite, where the campground hosts asked us to stop throwing the water bottle at Lucky, the campground cat, after the 18th time he tried to get in our tent and take a nap. Turns out lucky just recently had a broken back. We complied, and marvaled and Lucky's resilience. Here is a cat that is recovering from a broken back and we had thrown things at it, chased it, kicked it, and thrown it, and still he seemed perfectly fine and lucky that we had no means of lighting it on fire, as the campers at the next site over threatened to do.

Our final day we hiked back to the bikes and enjoyed an easy ride to the town of Rai valley, where we broke the record for longest amount of time spent hanging out in Rai Valley (2 hours). The bus ticket said we would be picked up in front of the Rai valley shops, and it was hard to distinguish if that meant the cafe on one side of the street or the gas station on the other.

It was the gas station.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Rushing headlong in the wind,

Now where only dreams have been.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Neither rain nor snow nor...

When traveling to other countries you really learn to appreciate the freedoms you have at home. Like in the US, I have the right to life, liberty, property, and the post office will ship whatever the hell I want and do so with a smile on their face.

Back to how I'm a crappy traveler. I have two bikes. New Zealand has two islands. I need to get two bikes across the Cook Strait using only three wooden planks and some twine. Then I can win immunity at tribal council.

Just kidding. But the fact that the post office will not ship my bike is a slight flaw, in that next week I have to somehow get from Wellington to Picton to Nelson using only three wooden planks, some twine, and a bus that does not allow me to carry on more than one bike because honestly who the hell travels with two? (raises hand).

I'm not hugely concerned. The bike shop that's on Courtenay Place has...well...bikes in it. They had to get here somehow. Someone must be willing to ship bikes.


There is a reason that the New Zealand Post Office does not have a cycling team. They would take a look at the mountain and be all, "Um, yeah, that mountain definitely does not fit our required dimensions, we're going to have to pass on this stage."

Sunday, January 01, 2006

First ones to 2006, and making the most of it

Officially, I am the worst backpacker ever.

When you set off on your own for a year with just a backpack and a smaller backpack, it's supposed to be a lesson in living minimally. In being mobile. In getting by with only the basic necessities.

I have learned some of that lessoin. In China I used to wash all of my clothes by hand. Two reasons: First, at this point in time I don't own enough clothes for a full load. Second and mostly, because everytime I use a dryer I lose a sock. And I only have 6 socks. Not six pairs of soxks. Six socks. So I gotta hang on to those.

Clothing is easy because 1) I have always been way before my time when it comes to besing fashionably hip, and 2) because I don't mind being the dirty kid. Other people might mind that I'm the dirty kid. But I didn't ask them

S now here I am in Wellington New Zealand. I have one pair of pants and two bikes. And 6 socks. Even after all my lessons learned about the ease and necessity of traveling minimally, why is it that I cannot figure out how to travel with anything less than two bikes? Why couldn't I have packed an easily transportable project like stamp collecting or something?

Lucky for me, my hosts in Wellington are understanding. Lauren and Joel. Or as I call them, "both-my-second-semester-sophomore-year-roomates." But we really lived together for four years. We are forever connected in mind, spirit, and music. We even have the same towel. REI quick-dry, recommended by 3 out of 3 members of Babbit 23/24 living in New Zealand. Get the orange one, and you can be a part of our club.

The thing about traveling on your own is that it's very fulfilling. And once you are with other people, you learn the contast. Adventures alone give you a sense of accomplishment. Adventures with friends are just plain more fun. And I'm all about fun.

Just like Rose before them, Lauren and Joel have been great. They have made my time in New Zealand a blast. Riding with Joel and pushing eachother up and down hills. Talking with Lauren endlessly, even though we could have sworn it was a few minutes.

And today we kicked off 2006 by going sea kayaking. I was trying to reflect on 2005, because so, so, much happened. So much to miss. So much to think about. Do the whole understand the meaning of it all thing. But I have found that when I am with my friends, I don't want to do that. I just want to ride and talk and cook dinner and laugh for hours on end.

This is what friends are for. Rather than give a teary, thoughtful, goodbye to the past, we go enjoy the day together. Sunny, some wind, but absolutely beautiful and absolutely peaceful. New Years day is supposed to be a day to look toward the future, but I didn't get too much of that done. Too busy enjoying hanging out with my buds in the present. Can't ask for more then that.

But then Lauren saw a penguin. She said it was blue.

And there you have it. I can ask for more.

I want to see a penguin.