Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Forced Changes Bring New Light

I've been spending the last few days working intensively on my plans for the New Zealand bike tour.  Time is passing very quickly and, as is usual, the closer a date nears, the faster it seems that time propels you towards it.  My aim has been to ensure that the majority of the planning phase was completed before I head back to England in early December.  I have never planned for an adventure of this nature and magnitude before and although I have made a great deal of research and progress with my own plans, there is one nagging question that is a constant companion to me: what have I missed? 

Planning for an adventure is not easy.  That is how I wish to think of this latest chapter in my life story, an adventure.  It is the adventure that I have longed for all of my life.  When I think on it, it reminds me of my first foray into travelling and backpacking.  Eight years ago (is it really so long ago already?), when I headed off to Thailand with my partner, I had no idea what I was doing.  Due to various physical and psychological reasons, I had not prepared for the trip as I should have done and as a consequence, and I stumbled blindly in the dark, feeling afraid, overwhelmed and lost for the first two or three weeks, until I began to find my feet and come to terms with it all.  It was a truly horrible and daunting experience, and not one that I ever wish to repeat.  Preparation is key and cannot be underestimated. 

Despite having to deal with the aftermath of the 'bomb' that was dropped on me (please see my previous post entitled Broken Promises and a Change of Plans) and all that went with it, I have made some great progress in my planning endeavours.  The ripples of that shock spread far and wide and affected almost all of my entire planning.  The only part of the planning left unscathed was my route plan for the South Island.   I have been extremely fortunate though and despite this setback, I have managed to rectify everything.  I've see it as rather fortuitous in some ways.  I am now able to begin my cycle tour nineteen days earlier, which means I'll be cycling for a greater part of the New Zealand summer, which more importantly means that I'll now avoid the need for cycling in the midst of a Kiwi autumn.  The bottom line: more sun, more warmth, and in theory at least, less rain.

The on-coming autumn was the major factor in my decision to begin my original tour route in the South Island, starting at Picton, and to finishing in the north in Auckland.  I designed it in this way to ensure that I would complete the most southerly part of the ride before the cold Antarctic winds began sweeping up from the south, bringing their icy blasts.  As I am picking up my rental bike in Auckland, this meant jumping on a train with the bike and panniers, heading straight down to Wellington, and making the ferry crossing of the Cook Strait, over to Picton.  This is now avoided and I'll begin my tour, by pedalling away from Auckland.

This South Island first plan was far from ideal as it meant heading back up from Wellington to Auckland, with huge zigzags cutting across the country, so that I could take in all of the places that I wish to see.  With the revised route, I'll cycle down the west side of North Island to Wellington, and then after my South Island section is complete, I'll head back up mostly on the east side to finish in Auckland.

Not everything has been as I would have wished though.  With the new start date forced on me, I contacted Cycle Auckland to see if I could rent the Cannondale 2 earlier.  The medium frame Cannondale was not available until 3 February at the earliest.  Despite the dropped bomb, I actually saw this as my first major stumbling block - funny how the mind works.  In its place, they were able to offer a Scott Sportster, but I knew from my research, that this was not a true touring bike.  Then those great people at Cycle Auckland came up with another suggestion.  They would hold both a Scott Sportster (medium) and a Cannondale 2 (large) for me and I could take which ever of the two suited me best.  They also suggested that I make a short tour of the Northland area first, so that I could switch over to the medium Cannondale on my way back through Auckland before I headed south.  Initially, I was not too keen on this plan but I could see nothing else for it.

I had always envisioned myself beginning my tour by pedalling away from civilisation and out on to the open roads, where I would find myself and discover just exactly what cycle touring is all about.  Now, I would have to leave Auckland only to return again, effectively breaking up my tour.  But, after some thought, I made this work for me.  The North Land region of New Zealand is home to the Bay of Islands, a place I have only previously seen in photographs and not visited.  And the Bay of Islands is the jump of point for scuba diving the Poor Knight Islands, one of the greatest dive sites of the world's oceans (Jacques Cousteau had it in his top ten).  Why then not build in a few days stop at Paihia, dive the Poor Knights and tick off one of the places from my personal bucket list of dive locations?  Perfect.  There is always a silver lining, the trick to finding it is to stop focusing on what is past and has gone wrong, and, with a mind clear of negativity, to look at what is and what will be.

The Bay of Islands (Lonely Planet images)

I've also spent these last days researching tents. Who knew how time consuming and complicated that was going to be!  It is my plan to spend as much time sleeping in a tent as is possible.  For a trip of three months, it is not financially viable for me to spend each night in a hostel, motel, or hotel bed.  The tent will more than pay for itself.  The nature of cycle touring New Zealand means that I will find myself in some very rural areas where locating accommodation would not be possible.  Even with all of the best planning, something will inevitably go wrong, and I could find myself stuck in the middle of nowhere as night begins to fall.  I must have a contingency plan for this possibility. Perhaps though, the main reason why I am taking a tent, is to make this a real adventure.  It has to be this way.  It was always going to be this way.  Wherever I am able, I plan on some wild camping, that is unofficial tent pitching on public or private land that has not been designated an official camping site.  I know that partly this will be out of necessity, but also, there is this voice inside of me that has always yearned for adventure and for the chance to roam free.

I have decided to write a separate post about the range of tents on offer and how I narrowed down the choices and made my selection.  It is quite bewildering how many types, manufacturers and differing opinions are out there.  I am also giving some thought to whether I begin a separate blog site for my cycle tour (Cycling The One True Path) or I continue to write here.  This blog is about life on the path and I do not wish to dilute it with posts about more mundane matters such as bicycles and tents.  But the path is the path, right?  The jury is still out on this one.

What I have learned over the last weeks is that setbacks will always occur, they are inevitable.  When we hold a vision for our future, a dream in our minds, and something goes wrong, this is an opportunity.  Here is a chance to test your mettle and your resolve.  A dream formed in the heart with strands from the fibres of your soul, that's a dream that can never die.  From each setback, we learn.  When we learn, we grow.  As we grow, so too do we evolve.  As we evolve, then we walk the path, our one true path, the path that takes us to the light of ourselves.  And that is the light of love.   

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Broken Promises And A Change Of Plans

Never before have I experienced a betrayal of my trust, kindness and openness, which has left me feeling both stupid and foolish, as I have in the last days.  To say I'm flummoxed would be putting it mildly.  It has not only affected me on an emotional level, it affects all of my plans for New Zealand.  I've been left needing to make cancellations and re-bookings, and to rearrange my plans and itinerary accordingly, incurring some inevitable financial loss.  But what of the cost to my heart and my ability to openly trust in people?  Is that a far greater price that I am going to pay?

Everything happened in a whirlwind.  We met, we connected and we began the process of getting to know each other.  Very quickly, we fell into talking openly and candidly about our lives and our past experiences.  It was clear that we shared much in common, in particular a love of travel and the way that we viewed life, and the more that we became acquainted and got to know each other, I couldn't help but wonder how bizarre it was that we could possibly be so alike.  It was as if this woman was my twin, my mirror image in character, thought and life experience.  This was the basis on which we decided to meet again, to become travel companions, and after much discussion of possible destinations, New Zealand was agreed on as our destination.

Very quickly, everything was set, the plans were made and the itinerary worked out.  Between us, all of the key components were booked.  Transportation: buses, ferry, and car rental.  Accommodation: hotels, motels and campsites.  Activities: hiking, swimming with wild dolphins, skydiving, kayaking, ice climbing.  All of it was reserved.  Despite being separated by both time and distance, it had been an easy process to put together, making use of internet messaging, email and Skype calls, each one of us progressing an item while the other slept.  More evidence of our compatibility.  This was going to be an epic adventure, a dream trip and this time, I neither of us would be making it alone.

Then, completely abruptly and with no warning, it stopped.  One day, everything was fine and then it wasn't.  One day we were in communication, discussing through messages which type of sleeping bag would be most suitable, and then nothing.  Not even the crackle of static.  Just absolute silence.  A silence that lasted for two weeks.  No explanation, no word, nothing.  It was as though she had fallen off the face of the planet.  I attempted to make contact, to make sure that she was okay, that nothing sinister had occurred, but there was no response.  I grew concerned, who wouldn't?  She was living and working in one of the world's most dangerous countries.  Anything could have happened to her.  After two weeks of this silence, I wrote another email asking that she could please let me know she was okay, and if she could also let me know if our planned trip to New Zealand was on or off?  Finally I received an email response.  It contained one word: Off.

It is hard to fathom what has happened and I am not going to try.  I have some ideas but to try to rationalise this and make sense of it is a waste of time.  I will find no answer, I will never know.  The facts are the facts.  I do not believe it is healthy for me to try to figure this out.  The old me would have done exactly that.  I would have languished in the hurt, sorrow, self-pity and self-loathing.  I would have replayed conversations and actions over and over and I would have looked for signs and hidden meanings in them.  I would have clung on in desperation to the past, burying my fingers in its cracks, feeling the need to hold on to all that once was, as if to let go, would be to fall into a void of nothingness, in which I would lose myself.

Even during the two weeks of silence, I was surprised at my relative calmness.  I've experienced this wall of silence before, I've known women who have raised protective barriers around themselves, shutting out their heart, keeping it from becoming hurt.  When this happened, I would become like a caged animal, prowling, snarling, testing for weaknesses, not understanding why the bars prevented me from reaching my goal.  It would frustrate me, cause anger, and it would drive me a little insane.  The longer it continued, the more focused on it I would become.  This time there was none of that.  I'm not suggesting the silence was for those same reasons, but whatever the cause of it, the affect is the same.  I did not overreact, I just let things be, content to continue with my life, making the plans for my cycle tour of New Zealand, working my last days in Costa Rica, carrying on with my life.  The times that I did reach out and try to make contact, were from a genuine concern for her safety.     

What have I learned from all of this?  That is what I look for now.  It is more important that I take from this episode of my life some lesson and meaning for my life, than it is to spend time looking back at what might have been.  Perhaps that is the first of my realisations.  I no longer dwell in the past.  Since I began my true journey and since setting out my thoughts in this blog, I am more focused on the present moment and in what lies ahead.  My days of looking backwards are gone.  The past brought me to now, but it is in the now that I am able to make a difference, a difference that will affect my future to come.  The focus needs to be on now, this moment in which I exist, and by living that moment, I take one more step along my path.  Only the dead reside in the past because they have no future.

In that past, I would have looked for an action that I took, some words that I had spoken, even some words that I had left unsaid, and I would have felt at fault for what had happened, as if in some way, I was to blame.  But how could it be my fault and even more than that, why should it be my fault?  Every person has free will.  Every person is an extremely complex mix of experiences, emotions and inherited traits.  I am no different, just as you are no different.  If someone goes quiet and introspective, that doesn't mean that I am the cause of it.  If someone stops communicating and disappears, it is not my fault.  I have spent far too much of my life in the belief that I am no good and as a result of this, I have assumed myself to be the cause of every problem, every moment of silence, every pause in conversation, every miscommunication, every misunderstanding.  And I'll take this thought further.  If someone is not interested in me, if someone does not love me in the way that I love them, then that cannot be my fault either.  All I can be is myself.  It is either a right match or it is not.  It has never been, nor will it ever be, a fault on my part. 

That is what I have learned, but where does all of this leave me and my own plans?  I am still going ahead with my cycle tour of New Zealand.  That has not changed, it was always my own adventure and as such, will remain my own adventure.  I need to make changes in light of what has happened to dates and times, and to my planned route.  Everything has been affected by what has happened.  The details will follow in a new post shortly.  My immediate focus has needed to be on fixing the mess that was created by the broken promise of someone that I trusted.  That done, I can turn my attention back to bringing my dream into reality.  A dream that was always about me, a bike and the road.

I'll finish this post with one last thought.  It is a vow for life, a vow that I make now, and for each day that is to come:-

"I do not need someone else to make my life complete.  I do not need the love of another to make me whole.  For I am love.  I was born perfect and I shall remain perfect.  Since I already walk my path with love, I do not walk my path to seek love.  I walk my path to seek life.  And it is in life that I shall find all that I wish." ~ Andrew M.Smith

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Sorry Lance, It Really Is About The Bike

The bike.  That's pretty important, right?  How can a cycle tour go ahead without a bike?  I don't have one.  That is to say, I don't own one, not right now, and I don't plan on buying one for my cycle tour of New Zealand.  I found some very good people who do have bikes though, and they are willing to let me have one - in exchange for a small fee of course.

Rental.  That's the way I've decided to go.  At least for New Zealand.  Why?  The major factor in the rent or buy decision is that I have never before in my life made a cycle tour.  I have some idea of what to expect, gleaned from the books that I have read by other cyclists that have made around the world (Mark Beaumont) and cross continental trips.  I am also a keen and experienced cyclist in my own right, I am extremely comfortable on a bicycle, I've never been fazed by traffic, and I have thousands of miles of road and trails under my wheels.  None of my experience qualifies me to judge how I am going to be feeling when I spend my first night alone by the side of the road, spend an entire day cycling in rain or a niggling head wind, or how I will feel when something goes wrong and I am miles away from the nearest help.  A day trip does not pose the same kind of problems.  Taking everything with me, heading down isolated roads (which is an absolute must in my opinion if I am to truly experience a place), being alone, just me, the bike, and the constant whirring of the wheels as they spin under me.  I am prepared for the possibility that this will not be for me, that I will cut short the tour and head back to Auckland early, with tail between my legs.  I have to be prepared for that, which is why renting the bike makes imminent sense.

A secondary factor is my transitory lifestyle.  This means that I have a need to keep ownership of possessions to a minimum.  I move around - a lot - and I have no permanent physical residence.  Whenever I go to a new place, almost everything that I own comes with me.  The only thing I leave behind is one smallish suitcase that I store in my parents attic, and which contains my most sentimental treasures, those items from which I am unable to part.  If I were to purchase a bike in New Zealand, the question arises of what I would do with it once I reach the end of my trip?  Unless the cycle tour bug grabs me, I will have no choice but to sell it.  It would not be practical to take it with me, onwards to my next destination because that could mean an island in the middle of the ocean, where there are no paved roads.  Not only that, but getting off and on public transport with a bike, a bag of scuba diving equipment and a backpack would not be feasible.  Then there is the transportation of the bike of which to think.  That could cost me additional baggage fees with the airlines, not to mention the need to package the bike each time for transportation.  It really makes no sense to purchase a bike, not unless I decide that cycle touring is going to become my next big adventure, and in which case, then I would purchase only after I complete my tour of New Zealand

I decided I would rent a Cannondale Touring 2 bike from the guys at Cycle Auckland.  I read some reviews of the Cannondale and it seems to be a good and solid, mid-level bike, that should do the job just fine.

Cannondale Touring 2
My chosen ride

I'll be pretty much utilising sealed (tarmac) road surfaces, so this level of bike should be cope adequately.  I selected Cycle Auckland because I immediately liked their response to my initial enquiry, which gave me a good feeling.  I've since been e-mailing back and forth, asking what I am sure are pretty annoying and obvious questions, and they have been amazing to deal with.  After I decided to go ahead and make the rental, I hit a snag when my credit card payment failed to process due to security issues, because I am currently outside of the UK where my card was issued.  The guys at Cycle Auckland said no problem, we'll hold the bike until you get back to the UK (which will be in another month).  That's a brilliant service which gave me complete peace of mind. 

I'll need to rent a full set of panniers, both front and back, which Cycle Auckland will also supply.  The panniers they provide are waterproof, but I'll not take any chances and I'll make sure that I also take some dry bags to slip inside the panniers.  Another decision to be made is which type of shoe/pedal combination to use.  I've used both the ski type snap in, where the special cycle shoe has a cleat on the bottom that snaps into the pedal, and I have used traditional toe clips.  From a cycling perspective, there is no question that the cleat style is preferable, but again, I have to consider whether I wish to purchase special shoes whose only purpose is for a cycle tour.  But then again 4,800 miles, 76 days...  Wait a sec.  If my calculations are correct (average 85 RPM x 60 minutes x 5 hours x 76 days), that equates to around 2 million turns of the pedals!  I think the speak shoe and clip in is the way to go here.

Now that the bike is organised and the route planned out, my focus shifts to clothing options (sexy lycra!) and the other pieces of equipment I'll need to take with me.  The plan is to camp as much as possible, which means I'll need to carry a tent, a stove and cooking utensils, a sleeping bag and a ground mat.  Water is another big consideration.  The bike comes with three bottle racks but I'll need an extra supply for cooking and emergencies.  There is certainly a lot to think about! 

This is why New Zealand makes a great place to begin my first major tour. It is a modern, civilised and English speaking country, and a country with which I am already familiar.  Although some sections of my ride will be very rural and isolated, I am sure I can find someone to assist me in any sticky situations that may arise.  And if not?  I guess that's all part of the adventure.  Right..?

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Deepest Desire

The old man bade me stop.  With the aid of his staff, on which he leaned heavily, he shuffled a few steps further forward and I felt the pain that must have been in those old arthritic bones.  With a swiftness of speed that defied his age, he whirled around to face me.  At that moment, everything shifted and became blurred.  I felt a sense of dizziness and I wanted to reach out to steady myself, but there was nothing to which I could hold.  I staggered, ready to fall.  "Stand up straight and look at me!", the old man spoke with such commanding authority that I was compelled to look, even though I wanted to drop to the ground on my knees.

I stared at the old man in wonder.  His robes were the same, yet his face was changed.  Gone were the deep lines that had been etched and carved into his leathery skin, the combined effects of wind, rain and sun, over countless passing of the seasons.  His eyes, that had been almost blind with milkiness, shone clear and bright, and there was a light that burned in them now, the like of which I had never seen.

I could not help but to stand transfixed, lost in the depths of those eyes, unable to look away.  The light seemed to burn into me, a dazzling blue electricity that reached into my soul.  I followed that light and together we plunged into the depths of my being.  It felt like falling into an endless abyss where time held no meaning.  At the moment that I thought we could fall no further, I found the words that I had long been seeking.  There they were, at the very root of my own soul, entwined in the fibre of my being, the words that my heart recognised and knew as its own.  Here at last was the answer to that which I had sought for too long.

"This is your truth, for the heart reveals the wisdom of eternity past and eternity future", it was the voice of the old man.  "It is not enough to feel the truth of them, it is necessary to speak the words out loud, to make these words your own."

I tore my eyes away from the old man and I looked up at the sky.  I felt the warmth of the sun, that giver of life and energy, and I spoke the words that had shaped my entire life and existence, the words of the deepest desire of my heart and my soul.

"To know love."

It was that simple.  Those three words encompassed everything and explained my entire life.  I could see it all plainly, my life history stretching backwards to the moment of my birth.  As I looked back in time, one thing was abundantly clear to me: throughout my entire life, I had been involved in a constant fight for love.  The love of my parents, the love of another heart, and perhaps most importantly, the love of myself.  I could see something else as well, I could see that I had been afraid of achieving my deepest desire out of the fear that it would never meet with my expectations.

All of this happened in an instant.  Even as the word love hung in the air, I turned back towards the old man, but the old man was no longer there.  Where a moment before he had stood leaning on his staff, a mighty tree now grew.  I stared in bewilderment.  I felt dazed and overwhelmed with emotion.  Perhaps it only occurred in my imagination, but as I stared at that tree, at its deep, furrowed, protective bark, I am certain that I saw the tree smile.

Walking back down the mountainside to return to the village, I knew that I would no longer be afraid.  From this day on, I would confront my desire and I would no longer run from it.  With courage as my companion, we would look love in the eyes and together, we would let ourselves fall into its warm embrace.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Great New Zealand Cycle Tour - North Island

Today, I finalised my cycle route around the North Island of New Zealand.  It's another 38 legs of cycling (I might wish that I had 38 legs rather than only my two by the end of all this) and adds a further 4,050km (2,500 miles) of cycling and brings the total trip distance to 7,720km (4,800 miles).  That's a scary number.  It's a lot of cycling. Heck! That would be a lot of driving in a car, and it's about 8 hours of flying time.

I am beginning to wonder what is it that I am getting myself involved in?  It's not too late.  I could back out.  It is a solo project after all.  I would be letting no one down, no one is dependent on me completing this ride, I have a responsibility to no one.  Except that is, to myself and that is the most important factor for me.  This ride, this adventure, it represents something very significant in my life.  It is an adventure of which I have long dreamed and as such, I have imagined many times how it will feel to be on the road, pedalling along, spinning the cranks, legs moving up and down in a  perfect rhythm, the dance of man and bike.

My route for the North Island was not so easy to decide on.  In the South Island, I begin at the north of the island, in Picton, and generally cycle a clockwise route, finishing back in Picton.  The North Island represents more of a challenge route wise because I will begin in the south of the island in Wellington and finish in the north at Auckland.  It is my wish to see as much of New Zealand as is possible, so this means some zig-zagging across the county, from east to west and west to east.  As the North Island is more densely populated, this also means more cities and town and the infrastructure that is necessary to support them.  This means that the roads will be larger and busier than in the South Island.  I'll finesse the route a little more, so that I make use of as many minor roads as possible.

One of the problems of this kind of tour in New Zealand is the relative sparseness of major population centres.  I'll need to ensure that I have adequate food and water for my journey, so my plan is to pass through one major population centre every day or every other day, so that I can stock up at a grocery store or supermarket.  In terms of ensuring adequate water supplies, in the event of emergencies, I will call in on farms and any houses that I spot along the way and ask for a top up from the kitchen tap.  If I'm honest, one of my main criteria for passing through towns will be to stop for a coffee at a cafe, catch some internet access, and perhaps a bit of chat with the locals.

This is my route for the North Island as it now stands.  As before, the route is marked in blue and the red numbers indicate each leg of the tour.

 Andy's Great New Zealand Cycle Tour - North Island

There we have it.  Route planning is now complete.  Now I need to focus on what clothes I will require, what equipment is needed, to think about nutrition on the road, about the practicalities of camping and cycling, what type of shoe/pedal combination I should wear for the ride, should I take a laptop or just an iPhone..? I am sure there are a host of other items that I need to cover before I embark on this journey.  The most important thing though, is that I do begin it, because once I begin, I know that I will see it through to the end.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A Heart That Withers

This evening, one single thought came into my mind and with that thought, I opened my heart, let whatever was there flow out from within.  My soul released, to reveal my true self.

A Heart That Withers
Time to give up
Walk away
You got me
I get it now
Mirror in the bathroom
There I stand
I laugh
Seriously funny
You could not make it up
Could you?
Did He?
The Big Guy
Make it up
Made it happen
And if he did
To watch me suffer
See me cry
To wrestle with conflicted
Emotions of the heart
Better to end it
Leave it be
There on the floor
Where I'll lay
When it's over
Before it began
To save me from this
All this
And the question
Why me?
For what purpose?
Show me a ray
My garden withers
Drops of water
But none for the soil
Only my cheek
As another dream
Shatters on the floor
Glass fragments
Take one
Blood on the palm
Cuts the heart
Fly like a bird

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Great New Zealand Cycle Tour - South Island Route

New Zealand.  Why does this country hold such a spell over me?  Even before New Zealand was transformed into a living, breathing, version of Tolkien's Middle Earth, it already held great allure for me.  As a child, I avidly watched Hunter's Gold and Children Of Fire Mountain, two TV serials that were filmed in New Zealand, and that were shown on the BBC during school holidays.  New Zealand, a country of two islands on the other side of the world from England, about as far away as it was possible to be without leaving this planet.  A country of such contrasting geological landscapes and the tattooed faces of the Maori.

After vacationing in New Zealand three weeks in 2004 and enrolling as a full time university student in 2007, I now find myself soon to return once more, this time on my first grand cycle tour.  The prospect feels me with excitement, trepidation and some anxiety.  How will it feel to return to this land that I love so much?  A land on which I turned my back in 2010, to leave in search of other adventures.  Will it feel like a home coming, or will I feel alien, the place and the people that I know having moved on and changed?  The very thought of going back fills me with emotion.  The thought that came to me, as I type this post was one of home.  Home.  There is a concept that is wholly unfamiliar to me.

With my cycle tour, I am not just cycling south to north, nor north to south.  It is my aim to visit all places, to criss-cross each of the islands, discovering as much of New Zealand as is possible from on the back of a bicycle saddle.  There are many places that I am yet to visit, many sights that my eyes yearn to see, and here is my chance, once and for all, to know this country intimately.

This afternoon, I was able to complete my route planning for the South Island section of my tour.  My plan is to travel from Auckland by train down to Wellington, and then travel across the Cook Strait by ferry to Picton.  It is in Picton that my cycle tour will commence.  There are two main reasons for beginning in the South island rather than the North Island.  The first is that my cycle tour will start at the beginning of February, which is towards the end of the summer in New Zealand.  The South Island will be affected by falling temperatures and a deterioration in the weather more quickly than further north.  It makes a lot of sense therefore, to begin in the south and head north as summer fades to autumn.  The second reason is that the South Island is far less populated than the North Island (1 million vs. 3 million inhabitants) and is much more rural in nature.  This means that the roads will be far less busy and will offer me the chance to become acquainted not only with my bike, panniers and tent, but also with the practicalities of cycle touring away from busy and dangerous roads.

My South Island route complete, I estimate 38 days of cycling to cover a combined distance of around 3,650km or 2,268 miles.  I cannot work out whether I view this as aggressive or too easy.  I am prone to cycle fast wherever I go and push as hard as I am able for as long as I am able.  Recently, I cycled a round trip of 48kms in a time of around 1 hour 45 minutes, under the heat and humidity of the Costa Rican sun, and on a heavy mountain bike.  It would seem reasonable to me, to be able to cycle around 100kms per day, with a heavily laden touring bike.  I want to take it at a leisurely pace and I also know that my trusty friend Google Maps, does not take into account changes in elevation, which I know will be of considerable importance in the mountainous South Island.  I plan on stopping regularly for coffee (trim flat white) and to take photographs of the scenery and other interesting objects and people.  If I find I have miscalculated, then it is fairly easy to adjust the timings, and keep to the same route.

This is my route map for the South Island.  My route is marked in blue, and I added each of the 38 legs of the journey with red numbering.

Andy's Great New Zealand Cycle Tour - South Island Route Map

For the most part, the route is generally clockwise in nature.  After Hokitika, I plan to cut across from west to east, back to Christchurch, and then cut across again to the west.  This allows me to take in some of the spectacular scenery of the South Alps mountain ranges and traverse some of the passes.  Looking at this route map gets me rather excited, I have to tell you.

So, there we have it.  South Island is planned out and now I have to begin planning the route around the North Island.  Oh, and there's also that one very small and incidental matter to organise as well, the bike!

It Is Not Only About You

There are times when we find ourselves in a situation that has us completely dumbfounded by what has happened.  There is a natural tendency to look inwards for the answers and to hold firm to the belief that what has gone wrong, must be of our own doing.  Was it something that I said?  Was it something that I did?  Is it the way that I look?  These questions run through our minds as we try to figure out what has occurred.  This is exactly what happened to Beth.    

Beth's Story
Beth placed her phone back on the coffee table, the one that she had purchased from a second hand store several years ago and was made to look like it had been painstakingly hand crafted by a member of a far off indigenous tribe, when in reality, it was probably mass produced in China, by the same pair of hands that turned out hundreds of identical items each week.  The coffee table that is, not the phone.  Beth was bemused to say the least.  The conversation had not gone the way she had planned, the way she had heard it when she had played it out minutes earlier in her head.  Then everything had made sense, now, nothing made sense and as she lingered on those thoughts some more, the feelings of sadness, hurt and frustration grew.

It had all started so positively.  In fact, Beth had been blown away completely by Michael. They had met in a bar one evening, chatted, exchanged numbers, met up for a coffee one afternoon and had subsequently begun seeing each other.  Countless messages had been exchanged, back and forth, forth and back, like a game of electronic ping pong.  They spoke on the phone in the evenings, shared jokes, told each other about their day, and after a few dates, it seemed to Beth that they were growing close.  It had all been a whirlwind she had to admit.  Never before had she met someone with whom she felt such an affinity.  Someone with whom she shared so many common interests and hobbies, political views, religious views, a love of the out doors and nature, music, TV, films, books, someone who said exactly what she was thinking the moment before she could speak those same words.  It was the discussions on old movies that they had seen that she enjoyed the very most.  Beth never thought that she would find someone who liked to watch old black and white movies, and enjoyed spending afternoons in an independent movie theatre.  At one point while they had spoken, she had almost let out a gasp of pain, finding that she was pinching her own arm, believing that this was all too good to be true.  And now, it was.

Three days ago, it had all stopped.  Abruptly, suddenly and for no apparent reason that Beth could fathom.  It was as if Michael had simply evaporated, or been abducted by aliens in the middle of the night, replaced by a cardboard cut out replica.  The voice was the same but it was now hollow, distant, devoid of any emotion.  She had asked him if anything was wrong, "No", he had replied, "Of course not. Stop being so paranoid."  But Beth could not help it.  She replayed in her head the conversations that they had together, she went back over the times they had met, and she looked for some indication, some clue that things were about to go wrong.  There was nothing.  She wondered what she had said to him to make this happen, and she sat quietly on her sofa, staring at the phone on that stupid, cheap, replica coffee table, and she began to curse her ill-luck, to wonder why this always happened to her, and to ask herself over and over, what it was that she had done wrong?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I've found myself in similar situations in the past.  Someone that I was building a relationship with either inexplicably backed away from me and became distant, or she just broke things off all together.  Each time it happened, I suffered in the same way.  I questioned myself, I searched for words that I might have said that could have caused some offense or could have been misconstrued.  I looked back over my actions and behaviours and tried to find in them anything that could have been misinterpreted or misunderstood.  I asked myself what it was that I had done to cause yet another good relationship prospect, to be flushed away down the tubes?

The answer to that question was nothing, absolutely nothing.  It was never about me.  My lack of self-esteem and low self-confidence had me utterly convinced that the fault was of my own making.  Each time I met someone new, I placed them on a pedestal and held them up as a paragon of virtue and goodness.  I idolised them and I was unable to see any of their faults.  For whatever reasons, I blinded myself to the truth, I didn't want to see it, I didn't want to recognise it or to accept it, because to do so, would be to destroy my picture postcard, perfect image of the person that had shown interest in me.  I made the problem about me because I could not believe that my idol could in some way not be perfect.  It had to be about me, something I had done or not done, it had to be my fault.

The truth is, that it was never about me.  In fact, I had no right to make it about me.  I had never thought about it in this way before, until I was riding a bus this morning and the thoughts started coming to me.  As I gazed out of the window, looking across the rural Costa Rican countryside, it occurred to me that I had been self-centred, imagining that the entire universe evolved around me.  At these times, I had completely forgotten that there was another person involved, another actor in the play of our relationship.  A person who had her own unique set of issues and psychological problems.  What right did I have to assume that I was the only one? 

The mistake that I made over and over, was to make it about me.  By doing that, I tried to set things right, I worked hard to figure out the other person, I psychoanalysed them, looking for reasons behind their behaviour and by doing so, I sought to find ways in which I could make a difference.  I kept coming at them, I continually asked questions and probed for answers, I said things in a way that would try to provoke some kind of response, I pushed and demanded their time and attention, I desperately wanted things to be the way they were before.  The more I pushed, the more distant they became and to counteract that, I pushed harder.  It became a vicious cycle with only one outcome - something had to break and that would eventually be me.

If only I could have seen that it was not about me.  How could I not see that what I was giving was goodness and that all I had to give was nothing other than my true self?  Not some aspect of myself that I thought the other person would like and enjoy.  If I did that, if I was honest and tried hard, then what person would not want to be with me?  Of course, when it comes to affairs of the heart, there is no logic, there is no rhyme nor reason, it is always just is how it is.  From giving myself honestly and truly, if a problem was to occur, then it would become apparent that the problem was not created by my actions.  And if it was?  Then clearly that person on which I was giving my affection and attention was neither suitable for me, nor were they worthy of me.  Then, I would be able to walk away, knowing that I tried and that there was nothing more that I could do.  That is what I should have done, that is what I failed to do.

This might seem blatantly obvious, but what I have come to finally realise, is that no one is better than anyone else.  There is no pedestal on which to place another.  Everyone has faults and weaknesses.  Every single person is flawed and less than perfect.  I know that I am, so why has it taken me so long to understand and see that of other people?  I know that answer, it lies in many of the other blog posts that I have written.  The simple logic is that if I am flawed, if I suffer from psychological problems and afflictions, then so too does everyone else, to some degree.

If and when things go wrong, do not make the mistake of assuming it is something that you have done, nor something that you can necessarily fix.  Every person needs to have the time and the space to figure things out for themselves and to resolve their issues.  Of course, it would be preferable if they were to do that before they entered into a relationship, but unfortunately, that is not how life works.  If is through our close relationships with others, that we are often able to see ourselves.

When someone alters their behaviour towards you, if they grow cold and begin to distance themselves, do not make the assumption that it is you.  You are not the centre of the universe, despite what you might like to believe.  If you have been your true self, then the relationship was never meant to work, there is an incompatibility that you will never be able to overcome, unless the other person fixes themselves, or they come to you and talk about their problems, involving you directly, seeking answers and help, so that you may work it out together.  Let that person go and if you are able, give them time and space, don't crowd them, don't fuss after them.  If it persists, then it is time to let go of them completely and to move on.  There is nothing more that you can do.  Open your heart and let them fly free.  Let them figure themselves out.  And when your heart is open, who knows what just might flutter back in?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That weekend, Beth caught the 5:15pm showing of Harvey on the Sunday afternoon.  It had long been her favourite movie and she could not believe that the Regency House Cinema was having a James Stewart special that day.  As she laughed along hysterically to the antics of a grown man who could see a mysterious giant talking pooka, and she revelled in the feel good factor of the old film, she felt a wave of freshness and relief wash through her.  This is what she loved to do, and if Michael was too dumb and wrapped up in himself and whatever issues he had going on, then so be it.  She really didn't need that or him!  Beth left the theatre, a broad grin still across her face, and as rummaged in her purse for her bus ticket, she walked straight into the back of a man standing on the sidewalk.  As the man turned around, Beth found herself looking up and falling into the deepest eyes that she had ever seen.  "Hi", she said but a different thought spun through her mind, Michael?  Michael who?

Friday, 1 November 2013

The Wind Of Change

The wind listened intently.  It so loved to hear the moon and the sun arguing, as they constantly did, over which was the best.  As it listened, it could hear the moon talking.

"I'm telling you Sun, people look at me and they always see something different. It depends on the how I'm feeling.  There are some evenings when I only want to show a small slither of myself, or perhaps I'll put out half of my face and keep the other half shrouded in darkness to create intrigue.  And then some nights, I show everything and light up the world below with my radiant happiness."

"Oh Moon, you are so foolish!", laughed the Sun, as it thought of the Moon's stupidity.

"Well, well...", flustered the Moon, "...and just how do you change Sun? You're always burning full and bright.  You're the constant, boring ever presence!"

The sun sighed at the foolishness of the moon.  "Oh my dear friend.  It is I who brings subtle change by my movements.  When I am furthest away from the Earth, it is I who brings the long dark, cold of winter and the gloom to the hearts of all people.  It is I, who chooses when to usher in the buds of spring and new life, and to bring the joy and hope.  It is I, the glorious Sun, who brings the heat of summer, the long, seemingly endless days at the beach, when the hearts of the people begin to dream of far away places.  And it is I also, who begins the end of all things by moving slowly away again.  I am change!"

The Sun beamed more brightly at that moment, secure in the knowledge that once again, it had beaten the moon.  The moon fell silent and decided that coming night it could not show its face, and would keep it hidden behind the clouds.   The wind smiled a knowing smile and blew on.  It knew that it was only the wind who truly created change.  It was the wind that brought the hints and smells of the oceans, the deserts, the mountains, and of far off places, that began the dreams, and that sowed the seeds of change in the hearts of the people.  And for those few, those courageous few that dared, the wind touched their hearts, and set their feet to walking their one true path.

The wind blew harder that day and gusted around and about, touching more hearts than usual, such was its joy at knowing that once more, it was stronger than the sun and the moon.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Today, I want to write about change, or rather, the change that I am bringing to my own life.  For a long time, there is a dream that I have held in my heart, it is a dream that erupts and bursts forth every time that I am sitting on the saddle of a bicycle, pounding my legs up and down, becoming lost in a rhythm of my own making.  I've read books by people who have done it, I've seen for myself people out on the road, as I have driven by in a car, wishing more than anything that I could exchange my comfortable air-conditioned environment, for their saddle, and earlier this year, I met someone who was undertaking the very adventure of which I have dreamed.  That dream is to make an epic cycle tour of some far off place.  The bicycle, the road and me, joined in a trinity of my own making.

Why now?  If you believe that a moment will come, when all the stars are in magical alignment, when every single event culminates at exactly the right time and place, creating for you the perfect opportunity, then I'm sorry to inform you that you could not be more wrong.  There is never a right time to begin a dream.  The time becomes the right time when you choose to make it the right time.  You can spend all of your life waiting for the perfect moment to arrive, it never will.  There will always be some task that needs to be done, a perceived loyalty to a job that you cannot quit, a commitment to a family member or a friend, you'll tell yourself that you need to save more money first, that you need more preparation time, that you'll do it next year.  You won't.  This will continue on and on until one day, as you wake up and lie on your bed feeling the old age in your bones, you will know that it is too late, that the moment is gone and has become lost forever.  To achieve a dream takes one single moment of... well what exactly?

Foolhardiness, idiocy, stupidity, bravery, courage, and strength.  All of these traits combine at a given point in time, at a single moment when your future life hangs in the balance.  At that one instant, you have a simple choice to make: do, or do not.  What this comes down to is whether you will choose to let your dream go on only ever being a dream, existing only in your mind, or whether you will seize upon the moment, and begin to turn that dream into a living reality.  There is no secret, no mystical formula, nothing special that distinguishes those of us who follow our dreams from those that do not.  It is a fallacy to believe that we are any different to those that do not pursue their dreams.  We are just the people that act, that see the opportunity and take it, because we understand the consequences of not doing so, and we fear to live a life full of what might have been.

Out of no where, an opportunity came to me, and for whatever reason, I was presented with a chance to do something else.  I knew the moment that it came, that I would take it.  There was no hesitancy, no moment of doubt, no questions that needed to be asked.  As with all of life, one thing inevitably leads to another. Imagine for a moment a room with a single door.  You can choose to open that door and step through it into whatever that awaits you on the the other side, or you can remain safe and secure within the four walls of the room, looking at the door and always wondering.  At the moment that you open the door and take that first step through to the other side, you discover an infinite number of possibilities.  Once you step outside, you give yourself the chance for anything to happen.  And it does.

After the initial decision was made to leave Costa Rica behind, to say goodbye to these rich shores that have been so good to me, that have given me some of the most amazing and incredible moments of my life, I found that I could at last make another of my dreams a reality.  At the beginning of December, I will make a long overdue journey back to England, to visit my family and to catch up with old friends, before I head off again in January, bound for the shores of New Zealand.  It will be in New Zealand that I will put into motion my dream of cycle touring.  What better place is there for my first foray into this new adventure, than a country that I know well, that has a modern infrastructure, speaks the same language (well mostly), and that offers miles of open roads and some of the most beautiful and stunning scenery on the planet?  I personally can think of no where better.

It will not be my first time to New Zealand.  I first went for a whistle stop, three week vacation in June 2004, touring both North and South Islands by car.  It was my first ever solo venture, a trial run of sorts to test myself and my abilities to travel alone.  I returned in January 2007, this time as an international student, enrolled on a degree program at Victoria University of Wellington.  I graduated in February 2010, and left New Zealand in April that same year, in pursuit of a different opportunity and dream.  New Zealand is in my blood and I am extremely happy to be returning there, this time to see so much more of that amazing country, at the slow pace from a saddle of a bicycle.

The winds of change blow.  When they do, it is for you to decide whether to act on their calling, or whether you will let them pass you by.  Dreams will always remain dreams unless you seize on the opportunities that come your way.  From one opportunity seized, others too will come.  This is the law of favourability, as the universe is kind to those that seek to turn their dreams into reality.  Once you are out there, walking on a path of your own making, your eyes and heart are truly open to life, and as such, further opportunities will come your way.  When the wind blows answer its call, take that step and allow change to wash over you.