By Mike Ferrentino
The names spill out, a landslide of exotic words, places glimpsed only in photos or maps, sent via email with descriptions that conjure mental images of tires biting dirt and the dappled strobe of green and sunlight. These are the tip of the iceberg, the first easily recalled names on a long list of places and trails I didn't ride.
Maybe I could have tried harder. Packed multiple rides into every day. Or at least ridden every day. And teleported between trails, without stopping to eat. But there still wouldn't have been enough time to hit them all. So many trails, and a nation that seems to have thrown the switch on building them, meaning that those so many trails are being added to, that more trails are being built, that more old former hiking-only destinations are being opened up to bikes, that the number of trails I missed out on is only going to continue to grow.
A common conversation during the four weeks down there went something like this:
Local: Good to see ya, mate! How long you here for?
Me: Just a couple days.
Local: Sweet as, bru. Didya get a run down (insert name of kickass backcountry awesomeness) track?
Me: No, I only had time to knock out (insert name of two other moments of awesomeness)...
Local: Oh, pity. You really oughtta ride (insert name of yet another local rad trail) before you go.
Me: Can't. I gotta get on the road to (insert name of next potentially awesome destination).
Local: Yeah, nah. That place is alllllriiight, but you really should ride (insert name of still yet another really fucking sweet trail) instead...
And so it went. This conversation, or some very similar variation of it, became so predictable that it felt like that scene in "Being John Malkovich" where everyone begins just repeating the word "Malcovich" over and over and over. It reminded me a bit of the game we used to play as teenagers at our local, usually blown out beach. When a carload of surfers from somewhere else showed up, a tower of surboards lashed to the roof of their Holden, we'd stare along with them out at the flattish water. Then, sensing the moment when their dismay at the shitty conditions was most palpable, time and money wasted for wind-slop, one of us locals would say, "Yeah, mate, bit of a mess. You should have seen it yesterday though, ay? Was sweet as, mate. Sweet as..." Naturally, this same conversation would be played on us whenever we ventured to some beach other than our own and found surf as disappointing as that which we had left behind.
At least trails are consistent. Weather may mess with things, but good trails are good trails, and the laconic chidings delivered by locals from one end of New Zealand to the other wasn't so much an effort to make me feel bad, but stemmed from a genuine pride in the growing spread of amazing trails that can be ridden there. As it was, this was a vacation, with care being taken to take naps, read books, see sights, eat dozens of pies, drink hundreds of beers, do some non-bike things as well as ride bikes.
It is either cosmic irony or a sad aspect of my own low self esteem to realize that I succeeded at all those things, but I also feel like I should have done more of all those things. More meat pies, more beer, more naps, more books, more sights, and more trails, always more trails...
That right there, the notion of trails not ridden, has dogged me wherever I've traveled my whole life. But it is more keenly felt when it comes to New Zealand. This place where I was raised, that I never really knew as an adult or as a cyclist, constantly surprises me, and keeps a hook dug firmly in my flank. Every trip to New Zealand sees me squished into a cramped economy class seat for 13 hours on a disorienting homeward flight, and while I am so happy to get off that plane that I could kiss the tarmac, the hook remains set. Every time I leave, I start thinking about the next trip back.
E noho rā, Aotearoa. Ka kite anō