181125-Weirdly Home

I’ve been home for more than two weeks, but only now am I starting to feel at home. That’s longer than usual, and I don’t quite know the cause. Perhaps the jet lag from traveling in the other direction. Or because it was additional cycling trip at a time unexpected. Two intense weeks of Red Cross training-with class from sunup to sundown-preceded the cycling part of the trip. The transition from home, to class, to cycling, to home, didn’t leave transition time in between.

Of woes I had the usual with a few new. I would never have selected New Zealand as a cycling destination on my own. The time of the year was wrong. Weather was cold, windy, and intermittently quite rainy. Terrain in New Zealand is rugged, and drivers are not known for their acceptance of cyclists. And, of course, no castles.

The transition to cycling touring is always difficult, and I hadn’t been on a bicycle since June, making the first few days particularly challenging. Renting a bicycle I regretted every day (I’m sorry my bicycle – I won’t leave you behind again!). Even with my backpack/trunk, the lack of a handlebar bag and front panniers limited my cargo space. I had zero flat tires from Istanbul to Ireland. Of this trip’s 9 actual days of cycling I had 5 punctures! I blame the combination of the narrow tires on the rental, and the extra weight on the rear due to the lack of front racks (which I again blame on the rental).

That said, I adapted. Once I actaulized I was in no hurry, I walked up hills instead of persisting in a valiant struggle. I did a good job of ducking rain. The one day I cycled in rain served as a reminder that I have quality rain gear. I moved gear around to increase my cargo space. I repacked the tools and tubes so they were more readily accessible when performing tube repair.

In Rotorua I watched  Kiwis have little regard for pedestrians, and that attitude extends to their respect for cyclists. Unlike other countries, Kiwis expect cyclists to move or otherwise be out of the way. I don’t think it’s all attitude however; tight, twisty roads left cars little choice but to pass close by. Everywhere I met friendly people, who would stop to chat by the side of the road.

When I first studied maps of cycle routes in New Zealand, I noticed that the routes were circular and disjointed. On the other hand, I desired distance! I spent a lot of time routing, and am fairly happy with how I pieced different routes together, with minimal time speak in heavy traffic. Indeed, I spent the vast majority of my time on small roads or dedicated cycle path.

I started cycling on October 23, and flew out on Nov. 7, translating to a ~15-day cycling trip. I spent nine nights in hostels, camping only three nights, staying in a motel for two nights, one night in a wilderness lodge. That’s wildly different than my usual ratio of 40% camping/40% hostels/20% Other, an intentional decision based on the spring weather. Camping in NZ generally cost the same as hosteling anyway!

I estimate the trip at roughly 860 km, or ~57 km / day, right at my usual average when calculated across the entire trip.  Subtracting the bus ride from Taupo to Napier of 140 km, the daily cycling average works out to about 80 km / day. That’s less than usual, but the shorter trip meant I never reached the capability of more extended distances. There was also a lot of walking, which slows me down!

Much like everything else on this hybrid trip, expenses calculate oddly. My travel expenses include only bicycle rental, the gas and insurance from the “free” car rental from Wellington to Auckland, the bus from Taupo to Napier, and the ferry to Somes Island.  The “taxis” to and from the airport, as well as my flight, were covered by the Red Cross as part of my training. Andy picked up part of the cost for the rental car. Transportation worked out to $277 of my $900 total trip cost, making the trip sans travel about $41.50/day, my average touring expenses.

I normally carry a stove and cook much of my own food. I intentionally left my stove behind after factoring in the hassle of finding fuel, the shorter trip, and need to limit my gear (for cargo space). That meant I ate more prepared food, increasing my food expense. In hindsight, NZ is an outdoorsman’s paradise, with multiple outfitting stores in every city of size. I contemplated buying a stove while in Taupo (even wandering through several camping stores), but at that point, half-way though the trip, I just fretted a bit more about food.

I’ve asked myself more than once, “Would I have made the same decision to cycle across NZ again?”, and in all honesty I don’t know.  Not much of the cycling stands out (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!). Except for the narrow roads into Rotorua (and the bus into Napier) I had good roads or dedicated cycle path. The one thing I’d probably change is making it longer. Longer is better in cycling. More time on the road makes everything easier. Oh, on MY bicycle.

I can definitely say I am glad to be home.

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