01 Borneo Farewell Fanfare.
02 New Zealand April Colors
03 What the guidebook left out about riding Down Under.
04 A whole new landscape. (It's no jungle out there.)
Yip. I've left the hot, green Equatorial regions for the crisp autumn of the Southern Hemisphere. A whole new land of adventure waiting for me. And waiting and waiting. But more of that in bit.
I spent my last days in Borneo back in my home base of Kuching. I did some rides with my friends there. I walked and rode around the city some more. And I found myself being irritable and grumpy.
Some of the things that I was grumpy at were things that hadn't changed. Like the rain that hammered down. Like the constant rush of traffic, the noisy, smoky two-stroke motorcycles. Like the same old, same old Malaysian/Chinese/Indian food. Like the narrow uneven walkways cluttered with goods and blocked by parked motorcycles at every step. Like the locals throwing trash down anywhere, in the street, into the river. Like walking around in a communication-resistant bubble that insulated me from everyone around.
Some of the things that I was grumpy about were things that HAD changed. One day I looked down at my legs and realized how small they were. Wow. I don't really mean small. I just mean sort of "regular." They didn't have that huge, muscled look that they've had for the past bunch of years. I hardly looked like a bike guy. Made me amazed and a little bit sad. Not because of the way I looked, but because of what it meant: I hadn't really ridden for three and a half months. I mean, I know that there are more important things in life than bicycling. It's just that, deep down, I'm not sure what those things are.
Okay, I thought, the vacation was fun. But now it was time to get back to real life and riding a BIKE all the time. And quick, before it was necessary to change my email address to bikelessabout@...
Hmm. Where would the grass be greener? And have skinny little bike tracks worn into it?
On the map, Australia was almost close enough to swim to. But almost everyone I know who has vacationed in Australia has also gone to New Zealand (while they were in the neighborhood). And they've all said that they wished they had spent more time in New Zealand. So... Why not?
On my last evening in Borneo, the sunset sky over the Kuching waterfront lit with colors in a farewell fanfare that I took to be an event of personal cosmic significance. A perception that was somewhat confirmed by the big wet kiss goodbye the following day as I headed to the airport through the driving rain. A short flight to Singapore, then a night of crappy movies and crappy sleep and time shift and disorientation and all the joys of air travel. Getting there by jet is not half the fun.
I left most of my huge un-carryable luggage piled at the Christchurch airport (Travel Light, is my motto that I never live by.) and went to try to find a place to spend the night (Plan Ahead, is my motto that I never live by.). I headed outside to catch the bus to the center of the city, but passed the bus stop and just kept walking. My actual footsteps were fairly steady, but inside my head I was staggering around clumsily, marveling at the strangeness all around me.
It was midday, but the sun was at a dangerously low angle in the northern sky. The air was crisp, and I was glad I was wearing long pants (strange in itself), but the mesh shirt I was wearing wasn't cutting it, and I had to put on a jacket which seemed awkward, but I noticed that other people were wearing them. I was on the edge of a city, true, but it seemed so open and wide and clean and quiet and orderly and empty. I passed a small field of tall autumn-blonde grass and grazing sheep. I passed tidy homes with landscaping and lawns. I walked under trees beginning to change to the yellows and reds of summer past and winter to come.
I walked for most of an hour, then caught the bus the rest of the way into the city. Here the buildings were older, newer, taller. I reeled through the straight, clearly marked streets, crashing up against the walls of confusing oddness on one side, and on the other side, bumping into an older, deeper sense of familiarity. People on the street looked at me -- if they looked at me -- as if I were one of them. And as near as I could see, I was.
Did you ever have an injury that just wouldn't heal? It just stays the same for what seems like weeks, still pus-filled, swollen, black and blue? And then, in one day it's all healed? All back to normal and perfectly fine? You haven't? Well neither have I. But that's how it worked. One day I was a big sticking-out sore thumb, and the next, I was just a face in the crowd. A smiling face at that.
So I'm here on New Zealand's South Island. Nearly two weeks already. And I haven't really made it out of Christchurch. I've been indulging in the simple comfort of eating cheese and mixed greens salads and steamed broccoli and whole grain bread and other un-Malaysian culinary delights. I've been acclimating to the cool weather. I've been riding a rental bike on the local trails and getting familiar with the city.
My "real" justification for hanging out in town for so long is that I am still gearing up. Yes, it is fall here in the southern hemisphere. Yes it is cool, and yes it can rain frequently. And, yes, I am going to be cycling. So I need some warm dry clothes (The Hawaiian shorts aren't making it.). And I need a bike (The rental bike isn't making it.). That's the "real" reason that I'm still in town.
The "actual " reason that I'm still in town is that I like it here. It's feels great. Once I stopped suffering from culture shock due to the rug suddenly being put back under me, I realized that the biggest change was how much I could relax. And how much I liked that and probably needed that, at least for now. Whew! But I believe there is Adventure out there. And I think I hear it calling me.
After this weekend I should have all the gear nailed down and have everything piled onto a bike and have the wheels rolling. Fine. Dandy. But.
Until now, I have been telling you of my travels in Borneo, a land whose very name evokes a sense of adventure and mystery, and which is very much off the beaten path. But now I am in a country where the exotic face of the land has been stomped over by so many pairs of designer boots that it may no longer be recognizable. Where, perhaps, the bludgeon of the tourist industry has pummeled all the unknown out of every destination and event. Where standards of safety and an efficient, effective infrastructure could have sapped the danger from all activities.
Can I -- when the very nature of Adventure relies on mystery , a sense of danger, and an uncertain outcome... Can I have the kind of experience that will unfold into tales that will keep you entertained, keep you interested?
I borrowed the word Bikeabout from the Australian aborigine activity we call Walkabout, in which "regular" life was interrupted by a period of wandering. And if I understand it correctly, the Walkabout was undertaken for the purpose of spiritual cleansing. So, it is possible that there is a deeper unknown than just the world under the wheels. And that there can be a sense of discovery in the most common of settings. And that you may from time to time find the screen of your monitor covered with these small black smudges wiped from the spirit of my wanderings.
* * *
Date: April 9, 2000
Title: LE in NZ
I haven't gotten very far. I'm still in Christchurch. But already there's news.
I now have a bike. It's a cool, quick Kona bike. An older Explosif, maybe '92. Steel frame. Nice components, mostly XT. Light wheels. Reminds me of my first mtn bike, including the fact that it doesn't have a front shock. The drive train is pretty fresh, so it should have lots of miles in it. The brakes have been upgraded to V-style, so I can stop on a New Zealand five-cent piece (The 10-cent pieces here are huge.) Most exiting of all is the ringy little bell I put on the handlebar. Whee! It is really fun to dash around town, jumping curbs, dodging cars, doing wheelies. I can hardly wait to strap 70 pounds of gear on it and grunt up my first hill.
And what a pile of gear it is. After hemming and hawing for days and days over how cold it could potentially get and how wet I could potentially be and how much fun I could potentially miss out on by being miserable, I went out and bought Gore Tex and Windstopper and wool socks and a warm fuzzy liner for the summer weight sleeping bag I brought specifically for Borneo. I might be ready to go. I have enough stuff to make it fun I think, but where am I going to put it all? I brought packs for the bike, but there's a difference in the cubic inches of space it takes to tour in the unending summer of the tropics versus New Zealand in the autumn.
Tonight I should know. If it all straps on, I'm ready. If it doesn't, I'm still here shopping for bigger packs. There are happy hordes of bike and gears shops here, so at least I can find just about everything that I need.
One thing that I won't be carrying is this cute little iBook . I'm guessing that I'll be able to send an update from and internet cafe on the road, but I'm not sure when I'll be back to Christchurch. And until then, I guess there will be no pictures. Whaa. You won't be the only one missing them. I have 514 pictures from Borneo. And my journal. And the CD player and the dictionary and the atlas and some computer games and a few sexy pictures I've downloaded from the internet. All the things that a bike-touring guy needs. Hmm. Maybe I should get a rack to carry the iBook.
I have been feeling a certain lonely emptiness since I arrived in New Zealand. A lonely emptiness that is different from the loneliness I felt in Borneo where I was insulated by being a stranger in a strange land. This lonely emptiness -- or maybe I should shorten it to LE -- is not a new thing. It's been with me for years. It's just that I'd mostly forgotten it in the strangeness of the past three months. Here though, there is a pleasant sense that I fit in. That I could settle down. Get comfortable. That this is the kind of place where I could end the LE.
I have developed two basic techniques for dealing with the LE. One I have found to be consistent and reliable. The other I have found to be generally awkward and impractical. The latter technique, I think I read somewhere, is one of the basic motivations of human nature. Which as it relates to me, could be described as The Quest for Chicks.
In Borneo, (Where -- just to ease the minds of you few sticklers for detail out there -- a married woman is an encik, an unmarried woman is a cik, and the letter "c" is pronounced the way we would pronounce "ch.") I could look at the women in a kind of scientific way. As a detached observer. With a sense of interest in their behavior, but comfortably distant from any fear of them climbing out of the petri dish and interacting with me. But now, even though I am still a foreigner, I'm in a country where I feel I can understand the social process and, worse, where I feel that maybe I could take part in it.
Now, it takes two to tango, as they say. And boy, they aren't just kidding around. Because this has been the very point upon which I have so frequently stumbled. And if there is one thing that I don't like in life, it is feeling like a stumbling fool. Which is why I generally deal with the LE by using the other technique. This other technique allows me to avoid stumbling foolishness and focus on my greater calling as a strong, elegant and graceful person.
Pretty much any time I want, I can -- all by myself -- get on a mtn bike and ride off toward the horizon, see some new sights, sweat up steep hills, dodge trees, jump fallen logs, figure out the puzzle of a tough trail. And if I ride hard enough and the trail is tough enough, I won't have a single thought of the LE. Which is why, I'm sure, I have spent years carefully developing my riding skills and more-or-less maintaining my physical condition. This is an excellent, healthy and practical way to deal with the LE. The Drive to Mtn Bike. It may not be one of the basic human drives, but I have nurtured it and it works for me.
By outlining these two techniques, I don't want to give the impression that my whole reason for taking off on a bikeabout has been to escape the LE. Because: A: it might be much more complicated than that, and B: because it might be true. And I certainly don't want it to sound like I think that either chicks or mtn biking provide the only solution to the LE (see a. and b. above) But there is certainly a possibility that I might not be traveling if I had instead found an end to the LE (if such is possible).
Whatever is driving me, I hope it drives me into the heart of some fantastically entertaining adventures. Get a little action in these updates. It feels like I've been busy but haven't actually done anything, and like I need to get on with it, get on the road and into the dirt. And I'm sure I will. Eventu-LE.