Zen On Dirt

Focus and Intentions

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It was sometime about a year and a half ago that my good friend Sarah asked me what was next in my life. I was done racing. I had zero desire to try to put together stupid-hard bikepacking routes like the CDT, where did I see myself going and doing?

I have no idea, I admitted.

Have you thought about international travel? She asked

I explained that it wasn’t super high on my list mostly because I just wanted to play in mountains and I didn’t see a huge reason to drop a large sum of money on a plane ticket to other mountains in other countries when I had amazing ones in my backyard.

Maybe I’ve reached my personal lifetime limit of hardcore bikepacking (or at least am getting close to it), maybe that since we live outside of towns with the Scamp, I no longer feel the need to use bikepacking as an escape from people and civilization, maybe I’m just getting old, but I’m becoming less interested in massive backcountry undertakings and far more interested in the people around me and meeting people who do things differently.

And that has definitely shined through brightly this trip.

We shared breakfast with the couple from Invercargill in the small hut. They knew the area well, and we were able to get several key pieces of information about our route for the day from them. Local knowledge is the best.

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As they made their final preparations for leaving, we headed for a hike up a nearby hill overlooking the lake.

Some Lord of the Rings scenes were filmed here, and the locations are marked by a ring on our road map. It’s funny. We saw the jewelry shop that made The Ring in Nelson…they had to make something like 40 copies of it in various sizes for different scenes.

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Anyhow. Back to the hut and the bikes and out the road back to the New Zealand Cycle Trail.

We had 20 miles of road before hitting the highway, and we covered it quick with the aid of a stiff tailwind. Finally, a Nor-easter doing us some good!

The couple from Invercargill, who we’d passed on the bikes, passed us back in their car as we were stopped for a snack on the side of the road and stopped to say a final farewell. They seemed impressed with our trip, saying that we were seeing more than the average New Zealander ever would.

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The biggest bull I’ve ever seen.

Tailwind turned to side wind once on the highway, and it was a pretty easy decision to pedal a 6km up a valley, on the Te Araroa trail (which happened to be a road) to a small hut. It was 2pm when we got there, and we didn’t think twice about calling it a day and staying the night.

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After a nap and a short walk up the trail, we received our hut neighbors for the night. One French guy, Nico, who’d left France for NZ 14 years ago and was now an official Kiwi, and a young french couple who were hitchhiking around the country and staying in huts. They’d done a fair bit of WOOFing, and were now just traveling before finding a boat to crew for to get off of NZ and back to Asia so that they could walk home to France.

As it turned out, they were both instrument makers, specializing in bowed and plucked string instruments, mostly guitars, ukus, cigar box guitars, etc. At some point, Eric pulled out his miniature guitar that he’d made and started playing.

He moved from songs from American artists to French song writers to his own work. He was downright amazing, and the guitar sounded like no other instrument I’ve ever heard. His girlfriend (?) joined in the singing, and even Nico joined in for some of the french songs.

I didn’t want it to end.

We all slowly got ready for bed as he played, laying in the semi-dark listening to the magic. I fell asleep with my heart full of love for the world, for the people we meet traveling, for people doing things just a little bit differently.

Why do I travel by bike these days? For days like this one. Where you get to spend time with people who are far different than you are. Where the unexpected human interactions far overshadow the actual act of pedaling.

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