On Road 85 km (53 miles) – Single track 16 km (10 miles)
The jet lag is slowly shifting – this morning it was 0430 that I awoke. I knew I wanted a reasonably early start to make what I thought was about 60 km to Rotorua by about lunch time.
Getting dressed, I found a saddle sore (as in skin ripped and everything!) worse than I’ve had before, so I really wondered how this was going to play out! After packing up though, I hit the road around 7am and the sore would be a bother the rest of the day, but not serious.
The early morning rolling hills above Okauia heading toward Te Poi were really stunning and the weather was perfect with hardly any traffic. Awesome. I kept a pretty fast pace until I started climbing toward Rotorua. Realizing it was going to be significantly farther and wanting to arrive by lunch time I pushed super hard starting the climb which turned out to be a huge mistake! There was no way I would maintain the pace I thought I would, and I started to bonk pretty quickly (despite the cookies given to me by the girl in Te Aroha yesterday). Plus, there was a headwind – not very strong, but enough to be a factor. So when I got to Fitzgerald Glade, I stopped for Passion Fruit – Peach Pie. Yes. I saw a sign advertizing the café, and in my head was the Ginger Ninjas song “I’m a brownie I’m a muffin I’m a scone…” and I knew a quick stop would be the trick. That stop and a slight adjustment of attitude was plenty to get me to the top and to Rotorua on time!
The reason I was trying to reach Rotorua at a particular time was to meet Brian Brown – a prolific bike touring guy along with his wife Sue. They’ve been all over and I posted a message on a New Zealand biking list about maps which led to not only Brian introducing me to the warmshowers.org site (more about that later), but also email correspondence about routes and touring in New Zealand in general. When I told Brian, via email, about my need to get to Taupo by Sunday, he put me onto the route I’ve taken, and then had a brilliant plan! Rather than ride all the way to his place (where I’m staying tonight), he would meet me in Rotorua and take me on a mountain bike ride on some of the best single track in New Zealand (Roto Vegas – it has a more official name).
I thought Rotorua was a smaller town than it is, so I had drawn myself a simple map to the café to meet Brian. I actually got pretty lost, but after finally finding the right street (after asking more than once for help) I heard “Mike!” coming from two guys on a bench! What a trip that was! It was Brian and his Brother-in-law Hugh who were waiting outside the café.
The single track was sick!!! It was exactly my favorite style of riding – rolling generally smooth surface through tight trees going over roots, dropoffs. Chandra would totally have loved it and it stands up to (or maybe exceeds!?) Skeggs in quality! I thought the saddle sore and road-weary legs would cause trouble, but not at all! There was some pain, but totally worth it! Brian said more than once that, as a mountain biker, it would be a huge shame to be so close to such great single track and not to ride it at all.
This plan represents another attitude shift (pushed by Brian and others I’ve met so far) in terms of how to ride around New Zealand – especially as a foreigner. If you ask Chandra about the 10 at 10 on 14a in Wyoming in 2006, she’ll tell you all about the value we placed on powering our way every inch of our journey from San Francisco to Madison. We were totally dedicated to a specific experience that required making the entire way from one life to another under our own power. Being here is different though. My goals are to see and experience as much of the country as I can without feeling like I’m rushing around like a crazy person. Brian really helped impart that perspective and I’ve now embraced it fully!
A byproduct of this shift in attitude is the ability to experience things like driving around after mountain biking and checking out what is rumoured to be the best carrot cake in Autralasia (it was certainly the best I’ve ever had anyway – see photo!). We also zipped around to see several interesting geothermal sites including a pit of boiling mud, the largest boiling water spring in New Zealand at Waikite (Te Manaroa), and these little pits where pigs are de-haired by dropping them into the geothermally hot water!
We ended the day at a barbeque with Brian and Sue’s friends out at a lake nearby with plenty of chilling out and food and wine. The pace I’m hoping I’m settling into is really turning out to be just about right!