Imagine that you are wandering around the world doing whatever you want. Imagine that you are in a beautiful foreign country, seeing remarkable sights every day, meeting interesting people. Imagine that every day, you are learning new things about the world around you and that every day, you are discovering new things about yourself.

Maybe you're traveling by bicycle and you are constantly amazed by the sense of intimacy you feel with your surroundings. You can feel the pockets of cold air that fill the little valleys you ride through. You revel in the warmth of the autumn sunshine. The rain sifts through the air and adds a shine to the leaves, adds a dark richness to the wooden fenceposts. Maybe the rain adds a shine and a dark richness to you as well.

Most every morning you get up. You load up. You ride. Senses exposed to the world around you.

The distinct sweet rot of silage drifts across the road from a sheep farm, and while part of you rides onward, part of you is eight years old on a cold morning, helping your grandfather shovel steaming silage to feed the cattle. You're helping, even though you aren't really allowed to get near the silage because you don't have any farm boots. And because if you get any silage on you, Grandma will have your hides, Grandpa says.

But more importantly, you remember just a few years later, riding your first ten-speed bike down that same farm lane, past that silage pit and out onto the highway. You'd brought your bike to Grandma and Grandpa's so you could ride during the few days you would be spending on the farm. And you wanted to ride. HAD to ride. Had to be in shape for the 500 mile bike tour you were taking later that summer. Touring from Wyoming into Utah, and through the Colorado mountains back to Denver and home. Just you and your buddy Mike. Both of you just out of the eighth grade and as confident as boys can be. And for that you had to be in top condition. You rode down the farm lane and onto the highway and off across the river bridge and through the countryside to the little town only five miles away. And then you rode back.

Grandma and Grandpa were irate. That highway is much too dangerous for you to ride on, they said. They had specifically told you to just ride up and down the farm lane (as if that was a bike ride) or at the very most, to ride on the road up to the corner and back where they could still keep an eye on you. They yelled. They shouted. They used aggression and the threat of violence to show how much they cared. But you didn't care. And by the end of the harangue, you may have apologized. But you were never sorry. Never sorry for the feeling of muscle-fired wheels eating up the miles, of the cornfields and cattle breezing past, of the freedom of that road. And the joy that no crushing love could ever match.

And here you are still. Still riding along on a bike. Touring the back roads of New Zealand. The knobby tires of your bike scrabble up the gravel road from green sheep-fields into the dark scent of pines. Pine scent and the sound of tires on gravel overwhelm sight, shutting off the scene around you, switching on a summer scene of degraded granite and Colorado pine trees. Wasn't it the tight twisting singletrack descending from Crosier Mountain when you swept fast into a turn and slipped the front tire out from under you in one moment, and the rest of the bike out from under you the next? You tumbled, didn't you. And slid and stopped, scraped. And there in a heap of unbroken bones and a little blood, didn't the forest echo with your laughter? Maybe because, as usual, you were riding alone, no one knew where you were, and darkness was fast approaching.

You are one damn lucky human being. And you know it. It's hard to keep the grin off your face (Why even try?) as you ride these back roads across one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Perhaps you've been propelled here by all the rides you've ever taken. Perhaps all the strange turns of your life have led you here, where all that you have to do is that which you love the most. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to ride your bike. To ride your bike and to expose your senses to the beauty of the planet. To see sky and clouds and mountains and meadows. To feel air and rain and sun. To smell trees and dirt and animals. To hear birds and wind and crickets and people. And to taste. To taste fully of your life on the road. And even occasionally to taste of the mud that has flipped up off your bike tire. (You hope that was mud. Have there been any sheep past here recently?)

Imagine that in lieu of the world on a string, you have your world stuffed into a few bike bags. That all you have moves with you only through the motive of muscle. You have pared your life down to only the simplest of things, only a few precious items to get you where you are going, to keep you strong enough to get there. You look at the loaded bike and are amazed that so little can take you so far. A Spartan existence, surely. Each morning you gather these meager possessions unto you and ride.

*Bike and bike stuff:
mountain bike
tire pump
front and rear racks
clipless pedals
2 rear safety flashers
small headlight
cable lock
handlebar bell
2 water bottles
2 luggage straps
spare tire
3 spare tubes
patch kit
bike tube valve adapter
chain lube
grease
bicycle multi-tool (hex keys, chain tool, spoke wrench)
general multi-tool (pliers, file, blade)
set of 6 precision screwdrivers (for taking apart digital cameras filled with water)
2 cone wrenches (13/15mm and 17/18mm)
cassette tool
adjustable wrench (which doesn't quite fit the cassette tool)
spare water bottle bolts (which fit lots of stuff on a bike)
spare rack hardware
zip tie (one is enough, I guess)
rag (formerly : boxer briefs)

*Camp and sleeping gear:
sleeping bag and compression stuff sack
cotton sleeping bag liner
fleece sleeping bag liner
self-inflating pad
one-person tent with stakes and poles (Too small for all the gear and a good night's sleep. And hardly ever used, but
better safe than homeless.)
ground sheet
small pot with lid (too small to cook a full meal in)
stove and fuel canister (these used only once, but better safe than hungry)
lighter
salt
pepper
water filter (better safe than thirsty)
scout set of knife, fork, spoon (owned and used since about 4th grade)

*Luggage:
2 waterproof roll-down rear panniers
2 waterproof front panniers
waterproof roll-top bag for camp and sleeping gear
waterproof duffel bag(--Waterproof gear bags mean thirty percent less plastic grocery bag rustling in crowded hostels when everyone else thinks the crack of dawn is at 10:00)
seat bag
large day pack
waist pack
small waterproof roll-top bag (mostly for camera)

*Clothes:
zip-off pants/shorts (You CAN own a convertible!)
bike tights
lycra bike shorts
light baggy bike shorts
heavy baggy bike shorts
light running shorts
boxer briefs
long sleeve merino wool jersey with zip front (The best multi-temperature, multi-moisture, multi-weather bike garment ever! Too bad about those allergic skin lesions.)
long sleeve bike jersey
long sleeve surfing shirt (Warm when wet! Not very warm riding in the wind and sweating.)
short sleeve bike jersey (Too damn cold to use.)
cotton T-shirt
long sleeve cotton button-up shirt
nylon wind vest (the best thing ever to keep from freezing on the way down the other side of a hill that caused sweating on the way up)
windproof fleece jacket
waterproof/breathable jacket with hood
waterproof/breathable overpants
clipless bike shoes (nice mesh sides for ventilation that's not needed in the wet and cold)
rubber shoe covers
low hiking boots
12" gum boots
2 pair wool socks
2 pair cotton socks
polypro socks
2 pair mesh bike gloves
windproof fleece gloves
rubber farm gloves
polypro balaclava,
windproof neck gaiter/hat
International Mountain Bike Association ball cap
bike helmet

*Electronics/Optics:
laptop computer in padded case
laptop AC adapter
surge protector
plug adapter
digital camera
camera to computer USB cable
camera battery charger
compact binoculars
sunglasses with 5 sets of lenses of various tints (most popular shade: clear)
lens cloth

*Books/Info:
small leatherback 3-ring binder journal/address book (the one Grandma used in college in the '30s)
3 pens
3 pen refills
The Count of Monte Cristo
Lonely Planet - New Zealand
Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides
Backpacker Accommodation Guide
spiral bound New Zealand road map (with north straight up on the page)
spiral bound New Zealand road map (with north stupidly NOT straight up on the page, but with city maps)
folded road map of New Zealand (found on the side of the road)
Peddlers Paradise South Island - bike touring guide
Macaddict magazine - May '00 with CD
encyclopedia CD (Know what you're talking about, even as you travel.)
digital camera software CD
2 laptop software CD's

*Food:
Various, including:
muesli/granola
boil and eat pasta meals
bread
cheese
candy bars
margarine
carrots (move to New Zealand just for the carrots)
fruit
broccoli

Note: no refrigeration required as fall slips into winter (except, perhaps, for ice cream)

*First Aid Kit:
adhesive bandages
anti-bacterial cream
iodine soap
gauze pads
tape
folding scissors
safety pins
antiinflammatory tablets
ancient Chinese blood coagulant powder

*Ditty Kit:
toothbrush and cover
toothpaste
floss
comb
shampoo
deodorant
soap
razor
shaving soap
runs medicine (never used)
muscle balm (never used)
lotion
fingernail clippers
toenail clippers
small checked dish towel (pretend it's a full-sized beach towel)
dry-chamios towel
Swiss army knife with scissors, magnifying glass, tweezers and can opener

*More:
emergency space blanket
sunscreen
compass
pocket knife
keys to bike lock and storage unit
watch with alarm
pocket calendar
mini flashlight with head strap and red lens option
collapsible water bottle (doubles as hot water bottle)
laundry soap bar
pocket handkerchief
string and wire puzzle
lip balm
bug juice
15' of laundry line
camouflage bandana
long shoelace
TP
disposable poncho
bike pants clips

*Finances:
wallet
credit cards
ATM cards
phone cards
money belt
travelers checks
passport
CASH

 



Damn. You look at all this stuff and are amazed that your simple life requires such a huge and stupid pile of crap. What could you possibly need all this stuff for? You think back, trying to remember where it all came from. But you think back too far and remember another life. Was it you? Did you once live in a house filled with furniture, a washer and dryer, closets full of clothes, a kitchen full of dishes, shelves full of books, a workshop full of tools, a full driveway, an impressive stereo, piles of CDs, LPs, cassettes. A piano, for cripes sake? An actual real-life, solid steel anvil?

The weather turns that final corner into winter and the wind blasts in from the south like Antarctic ice. Snow comes, covering the roads at higher elevations, bending the leafy boughs of these ever-green trees. What do you do now, you intrepid adventurer? You with the bike and the pile of crap stuck to it? Well, you improvise. You adapt. You overcome.

Do you put on every layer of clothing that you have? From polypro to wool to fleece to rubber; from shoe covers to balaclava to gloves? Do you improvise a goggle that will never fog up in blasts of rain and the pelting of hail? Do you invent a strong double-outrigger that will keep the bike upright in the seventy mile per hour gusts of wind? Is that what you do? Huh? Is it?

No. Of course not. Because you are not a glutton for punishment. You are a glutton for fun. And there are times when punishment just isn't that fun. And this would be one of those times.

So you load your bike into the back of someone's car and head to Te Anau. From there you take a bus tour to Milford Sound -- that most famous of New Zealand's glacial fjords -- where the mountaintops gleam with fresh snow and waterfalls spill down near-vertical cliffs into the sea. You take a boat trip across a lake and into caves where glow worms dot the black-sky ceiling with green constellations. You take the bus to Queenstown -- the adrenaline adventure capital of New Zealand -- where the most extreme thing you do is take a bike ride on the road around the lake as evening falls and the water on the road turns to ice and you manage make it back to town in the dark, only slipping and crashing on the ice one time.

From Queenstown you ride another bus through the snow-covered mountains to Wanaka where idle crowds are waiting for the snow to get deeper. For the lifts to open. For the snowboard season to begin. But you aren't waiting. You're on yet another bus that speeds you up the famously scenic west coast of the South Island. You make a quick dash to an icy glacier where the mountain parrots try to eat the seat off your bike. And then you're on a train that crosses the towering Southern Alps.

You're traveling so fast now. Cars, buses, trains. Seeing so little. Images flash past the rain-covered windows of these wheeled boxes. You're snug inside, safe from the wet and the cold. Safe from the smells and sounds. Safe from most of the experience of traveling. Maybe you're not even traveling any more. Maybe you're just on vacation like thousands of other tourists who travel New Zealand. Mumbling from one designated stop to another. Taking snapshots instead of photos. Trying to cram in as much as possible before...

There is a plane ticket with your name on it. A ticket you've purchased months ago. Somewhere on that ticket, there is a date stamped in indelible ink. In your passport, there is another date stamped. The date on the plane ticket and the date in the passport -- coincidence or not -- are the exact same date. And that date is fast approaching. A jet path before you. Time running out.

Of course you ask yourself. Is time really running out? Can these simple details of tickets and visitor permits and such be taken care of? Can you work things out so that you can stay longer? It's not like you have to be anywhere, right?

Take a look around at the beautiful foreign country. Imagine the snowy mountains, the lakes, the dark forests. There are roads leading into the future of this beautiful foreign country. But can you see that at the end of that jet path that leads away, there are also roads into the unknown. That there is summer at the end of that path. That there are more mountains and trails and trees and as many hopes.

And just what is it you're hoping for?

Take a firm grip on your heart. Hold it to your eye. Look inside. Look closely. See that which you love, that which you desire. Look closer yet, and you can see that that which you love and that which you desire are not stuck to the land of the beautiful foreign country. As much as you have loved traveling here for these three months, you can see that the things most important to you are not here. These things will travel with you wherever you go.

Can you see yourself in that beautiful foreign country? Can you see that there is no reason not to take the jet path laid out before you? That a path from one beautiful place to another is just another path? Can you see the falsehood of: "It's not like I have to be anywhere"? Because that's exactly where you have to be. Anywhere.


I left New Zealand. I’d really only seen one corner of the South Island. But I knew that I could stay forever and never see it all. Knew that the part of me that was looking for something elusive could keep looking no matter where I went.

I spent a couple weeks in San Fransisco and Northern California. I looked among the shit-talking drug dealers and the shouting street people near Mission Street (the most dangerous place I'd been in all my travels.) I looked among the amazing quiet of towering redwood trees, where sunlight sprinkled down through three hundred feet of shade. I looked along the cold, fog-shrouded coast, the tumbled edge of the continent. I looked among golden hills, among rows of olive trees, and even in Chico -- Bicycle City USA. But, alas, I had no bike.

I headed for ground zero. To the land of my first conscious thoughts. To my ancestral homeland. To the bike I had stored in Boulder, Colorado. And here, I've been staying with family, catching up with a few friends (though not all -- yet) and trying to make myself useful. But perhaps the best thing about being in Colorado (and I'm afraid my family knows it) has been the chance to get on that bike and rip along the twisting lines of trails, to coax my wheels up the stair-step rock piles of the mountain tracks, to ride hard and revel in the beauty of the planet. For lack of anything else perhaps, I am a guy who rides.


I ride the edge of evening. One eye in the sky. Spinning the cranks and pushing the speed, banking the turns, leaping lightly off the tops of bumps. Until a whole part of me loses touch with the ground and flies along, just below the impossibly pink bellies of clouds. I soar and swoop and glide in a sky full of color and shape and dimension. I dodge through rays of the last sunshine of a summer day. Time shifts yellow into orange into red into magenta into a warm, calm purple, blue. Lost in the rich colors of the evening sky.

While part of me is flying, another part of me -- a part momentarily forgotten -- hits a pedal on a rock so hard it twists the bike sideways beneath me, nearly throwing me off and jarring me back to the trail and the dirt and the earth. Whee. So I stay on the trail. Ride over the surface of the earth. Here, under the changing colors of the sky.

I'm not alone on these near-urban trails. I pass runners. I pass other riders. I grin. I say hello. But their faces are locked. Intent on the seriousness of their exercise. But for me, this is no exercise. This is the real thing.

I remember a day -- not long before I tossed away a whole life and headed for a tropical island -- when I was in the corporate parking lot on a warm evening in late autumn. The work day was over, and I was standing and staring up into the resonant blue of the sky at the moon. A co-worker saw me as she headed for her car. "What?" she said. "Haven't you seen the moon before?" And I wasn't sure what to say.

Because actually, I had seen the moon before. I'd seen it as a sliver so thin that it had to cling to the edge of the sunset sky, too shy to be seen in the dark. I'd seen it dodging clouds on a windy night, spotlighting dry grass hills that stepped to the horizon. I'd seen it light a meadow into day without disturbing the darkness of the surrounding forest. I'd seen it so apparent that the cries of coyotes echoed off it. I'd seen it masquerading in a costume so large and orange that part of it caught on the edge of the world as it swept into the ballroom of the sky. I'd seen the disk of the moon torn away by eclipse, leaving behind a distant sphere, suspended so close in the dark void of space.

But always. Confused. Not able to understand. Not capable of fully grasping the beauty. Trying time and time again. Even now. Each time I see the moon, see the sunset sky, see the surface of the earth glistening with rain. I do my best to look with awe and wonder. Do my best to never fully understand. To make sure that I have to keep looking. Keep moving. Toward these things that I can love and desire. Anywhere.


--Greg

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