A Bike Tour in New Zealand

Auckland to Christchurch, February 1999

Coast near Kaikoura, South Island

I was really nervous about this trip, although looking at the picture above it's getting hard to remember why.

I was 49 years old, and although I was in reasonable shape and had been doing a fair amount of biking around town for the previous year and a half, I had never done any serious bicycle touring. I had been thinking about a trip for a while though, and I definitely wanted to escape the rainy Vancouver winter.

Hawaii was my first thought. With the nosedive in the Canadian dollar, the airlines were feeling the pinch and return airfares were available for $250. But the more I thought about Hawaii the more it seemed to be more of North America, with more ukeleles but probably just as many Wal-Marts. I decided to look for something a little farther afield.

Then I came across some tour diaries of NZ on the web. The pictures and reports were encouraging, and I also discovered that my neighbours two doors up the street, Holly and Michael, had cycled there for a couple of months in 1996. So, ten days before the scheduled start of my vacation, I bought a return ticket to Auckland.

Ten days to get organised. That's when I started getting nervous. I had little in the way of equipment other than my bike and a 20 year old tent. I had no clear idea about what I should take or how to pack it. A woman at work, on learning I was going to New Zealand, told me about how she and her husband had traveled there a few years earlier, and how it had rained solidly every day for two weeks. They had fled to Fiji.

Cycling to work in the Vancouver rain the next day, I had two flat tires. Did I mention that the bike had recently become my sole means of transport? By the day after that, I had a cold and my third flat. In desperation I took the bike to a bikeshop and went home to bed for two days. I ended up feeling pretty lousy for almost a week, and the bike was stranded in the shop for about the same time. This was not a good omen.

Gradually things came together. I have to admit the shopping was fun. There is great joy to be found at Mountain Equipment Co-op in Vancouver, and I soon had a collection of gear that turned out to be well worth the investment.

My cold lingered however. The rain in Vancouver persisted, and the weather reports on the internet for Auckland indicated that a spell of fine weather was due to end on the day of my arrival. After a final day of panic, trying to figure out how to pack everything in a way the airline would accept, I found myself, sweating and miserable, in the departure lounge at the airport.

It was 5 pm on Friday, January 29, 1999. It was already dark and had been raining steadily all day. My cold felt like it was about to turn into pneumonia or bronchitis, and as I stared at my reflection in the window I remember half-wishing I was home in bed with a good book and a cup of tea. What the hell was I going to New Zealand for anyway? It was sure to be rainy, cold, empty, muddy, unfriendly, and expensive. Why had I done this?

In case you haven't noticed I have a tendency to worry, and imagine the worst. So the significant thing here is that I actually got on the plane.

Thus began my first bike trip.

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