By Mike Ferrentino
Flights from San Francisco take 13 hours to reach Auckland, New Zealand. Passengers on those flights experience a temporal dislocation caused by crossing the International Date Line, whereby they board a plane in the evening, then arrive on the other side of the world thirteen hours older, but find themselves pitched up on the fresh smelling sidewalk outside of Auckland International Airport at 5:30 in the morning two days after they left.
It’s not a big deal, but it still feels a little like time travel. The air outside the airport, however, brings to mind notions to the traveler’s head of transport to some primeval world. It smells lush. Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, and the airport sits just to the south of that water surrounded archipelago of a million plus souls, close enough to be considered a fully urban experience. But it still smells moist and fertile and fresh and grassy ripe with some clean smell that I have always equated with hope and adventure.
Which is a bit ironic, because I grew up just about a hundred miles south of that airport, in equally lush surroundings, and couldn’t get out of there fast enough as a young man. It didn’t matter one bit that the air was fecund with life, that the grass grew shocking and riotous green, fast enough to give lawnmowers nightmares, that the people were stoic and strong, the pace of life relaxed, and the opportunities for outdoor fun limitless; I grew up in a small town and felt trapped by it.
Sometimes it takes moving away to realize the greatness of a place. Every return visit over the years would reveal some new amazing piece of land, introduce some new friends who were legitimately larger than life, and each trip would inevitably, every single time, feel like there just wasn’t enough time.
Then, in 2012, I spent 5 months in New Zealand – a stone’s throw from the town I was raised – tending as best I could to my father while he grappled with the fucked up end of life that pancreatic cancer was dealing him. It was a grim wrestling match, played out slow and ugly, and aside from needing to mention it to set the scene, isn’t something I really want to go into too much beyond this.
During that time, I rediscovered how crucial the act of riding bikes is when it comes to relative sanity. I also discovered just how strong and incredible my kiwi friends really are – all having ridden into my life at some point. Bikes helped me ride out the tide of losing my father, and they were the vehicles by which the friends who helped carry me through that loss had arrived in my life. There was also an irony, usually seen through a film of tears, that I was riding bikes, processing the gaping wound of loss brought about through the wasting decay of cancer, in this beautiful, verdant place that smells like God’s own grow room/sex shop – a riotous celebration of life on every level.
So, that’s why I found myself pitched up on the fresh smelling sidewalk outside of Auckland International airport a week ago, with a lurid green and purple minivan waiting at my disposal and four weeks on my hands. It had been a little over a year. It was time to set the balance right, and try to see this place with joy instead of sorrow.
Speaking of irony, though… Much as I love riding bikes, it usually involves pain and discomfort. This trip, this hopeful reclamation of joy, this redemption of a childhood spent not paying attention, this celebration and remembrance of my father and his love of this country, this affirmation of good friends, this salute to life? It is going to involve a lot of legs getting ripped off. Mine. Over and over again.
People are weird, eh?
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