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“So you’ve done this before, right?”

This from a woman I met at one of many rest stops on the side of the road on the South Island of New Zealand, on the second day, between Ross (home of the giant, water-filled hole in the ground as well as the town closest to where the largest gold nugget in NZ was found) and Franz Joseph, of accessible glacier fame.

The words snaked their way towards me and I thought about it.


This what? Fail almost completely to plan a trip? Jump in with my eyes closed? Flown to the other side of the earth? Yeah, I guess.

Oh, she means the biking. Done this. This, being a multi-day, self-supported biketrip.

Well no.

I mean yes.

Well, actually, no.

I’ve biked long distances.
I’ve biked with gear.
I’ve biked on successive days.

But I’ve never biked longish distances on successive days with a bunch of gear.

So no. I hadn’t done “this” before. By then I think she’d dozed off or rolled up her window or wandered away, but I sat there thinking about what I’d done to prepare for the trip, which was, essentially, nothing.

But how nothing was it? I divide my semiprep into three categories. Physical, informational-NZ and informational-fitness.


I like to ride a bike. Like really, really like it. If I can choose between cycling and pretty much any other thing to do on a nice day that involves being outside, I’ll choose the bike. I enjoy spinning, and do a few classes a week. About two months before the trip I started also doing some legwork (weights n stuff), and one time took off with a whole bunch of gear to ride about 60 km mostly uphill to a friend’s beach house. I thought that was training, but really, it was more like practice since I only did it once. I have a long history of lengthy-but-slow bikerides, and have definitively determined that though I plod, I can plod pretty much indefinitely.


I bought a guide book. Bought it. With money and everything. And then I failed to look at it. I asked Paul Sullivan (who I work with at Matador, and like many others I work with there, I have never met) about his experiences cycling the South Island’s west coast about a year ago. I checked out a couple of message boards, like Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree, and googled “New Zealand Cycling” more than once. I also tortured myself with maps generated at, looking at hills and dales and mostly hills on a pretty little map on which it never rained and nobody ever got a flat.


I started to read Joe Friel’s book on bicycle training which is aimed at racers and got mashed into the bottom of a pile of books during the earthquake, else I would dig it out and quote from it directly. I got as far as figuring out my glycemic threshold, beyond which I burn up more glycogen than my body can replace (mine’s at about 167-172 beats per minute) (and this blabla means, if you keep below that threshold, you should not “hit the wall”), and also read this great quote that said, (paraphrasing), as an athlete, there is no stasis. You are always either training for an event, and getting into your best shape or steadily losing fitness.

And that was it. I tossed the book aside, closed my computer, ignored naysayers, strapped on the spandex and went. I could have been better informed (bring a sleepsheet and matches, even if you’re staying in backpackers’ etc), and possibly spent a tiny bit less money (join BBH or YHA and stay in their hostels and enjoy your discounts when you can), but I also would have had to be a different person than the person I am, and maybe that person (following me?) wouldn’t have been goofy enough to think up this trip in the first place, and would instead be running from monkeys or enjoying tropical fruit or enjoying fabulous cuisine by moonlight.

So had I done this before? Nope.

And would I do it again? In 167-172 beats of my healthy, active heart.

And with any luck, I’d have the good fortune to occasionally meet real cyclists like these who would slow down to share stories and joke around with me all day long.


ben with wanaka sign


austrian max, who adopted me for a day