My Best Friends

I miss my best friends big time. Holidays usually just come and go for me but I realised recently I haven’t been home for Christmas in 3 years and it all kinda hit me. This post is for them.

My best friends are Roshin and Benny. We call ourselves the Magia Mountaineers because we used to go on these ridiculous excursions in the Great Outdoors and explore new territory like we some sort of woodland pirates. Every best friend trio needs a good name too! We’d hunt for gemstones, caves, and water features. We’d sing in our best karaoke voices while we walked. We let ourselves into each other’s houses. We had a weekly trivia night meetup. We danced in the dark to Outkast. It was a simpler time.

We were closer than the Three Musketeers the summer of 2012. That’s the year I moved to New York, got a boyfriend, and quit my job. Benny got married soon after. We all made our own lives in different cities and rarely came together for ‘walk and talks’. That makes me sad.

I have moments here when I wish they were around. I wish we could live in a giant house with wings for each of us. Or a cluster of homes nearby one another. I wish we could just catch up over beers and moan and groan about our bosses, friends, and crazy families.

It’s not as easy as getting on a plane for a couple of hours to meet up anymore. I have to make a journey for 14+ hours. And that’s just to get to LA. They both live in NY now which makes it easier but that feels worlds away some days.

Best friends aren’t easy to come by. I’ve made plenty of friends here. But these were lifelong peeps. And they get my American ways. We still email each other funny links, rap videos, and articles about stuff from our inside jokes. We can sometimes Google Hangout and chat or check in via Whats App. That’s not enough though. There’s a level of trust and understanding that comes with best friends that no one else in the world will replace.

I’ve each been thinking about the topic of trust a lot lately. Whether it involved new boyfriends, new friends, or colleagues, there really aren’t many people in our lives I trust as much as those three. Not even family sometimes.

Roshin was the woman who came to my house one day in 2010, found me after disappearing for 10 years and saved me from a sad, lonely life. Benny was the man who went to my mom’s house recently just to sit and have a chat with her about life things. Roshin was the one who encouraged me to leave Atlanta and explore NYC. Benny was my roadtrip buddy on holidays and my writing motivator.

Roshin and Benny, you two are the best friends I hope everyone gets a chance in life to have. I’d do anything for you. Please come see me way the hell down in New Zealand. I have a nice place now for you to visit.😉

Happy Christchurch-aversary to Me!

One year ago today, I arrived on the foamy shores of Christchurch. Well, I came by plane and I wasn’t entirely new to New Zealand. Some would argue that Christchurch is like no other place and I would agree. I planned on staying 90 days and stayed for an extra 275. Thank you Immigration NZ!

orange cat

Me, loving life in CHCH

In that amount of time, I’ve accomplished so much. Below is a list of those crazy happenings:

  1. Started a cycling social club called cycleCHCH. Here, I made friends who also loved bikes, riding, and parties. This year, I was gifted the cycle-powered cinema from Gap Filler along with RAD Bikes. Thru this club and with the help of Spark Bikes, brought proper bike parking to events such as TEDxCHCH.
  2. Speaking of RAD Bikes— I made a whole new family there. I learned so much and built two RAD bikes- one of which I took on my first cycle tour of the West Coast.
  3. I started a small press (fail!) and then started Tui Cold Brew, my latest venture. I’ve drank enough coffee for a lifetime.
  4. I found the best job on the planet as the Start-Up Activator at Ministry of Awesome. I’ve hosted many Coffee and Jams and been witness on the front line of epic growth in a budding city. Hosted Unreasonable Lab New Zealand – a 5-day business model accelerator.
  5. I spoke at Pecha Kucha to a crowd of nearly 600 people about the brief history of cycling in Christchurch. Public speaking is my jam!
  6. I learned how to surf and am now moving to the beach in a week. Life achievement unlocked!
  7. I managed to avoid snowboarding and skiing all year and put my bike on the snow. Another life goal achieved!
  8. I’ve been published in two magazines and managed to write nearly 100 articles on various mediums. My voice has been heard. Through that, I also tutored kids in creative writing and boosted my passion for literacy.
  9. I was in Wellington 3 times. Never made it to Auckland. Also touched The Catlins, Greymouth and Hokitika, Nelson, Hanmer Springs, Akaroa and all the Banks Peninsula, Kaikora, Queenstown, Wanaka, Aoraki/Mt. Cook, Twizel, Tekapo, Foxton, and Waikanae.
  10. Raced in the Giant 12-Hour, ventured up and down the Port Hills too many times, Bottle Lake-d and such. MTB was my thing this year! Hence the tear in my achilles.:)
  11. Established Cake Night, a weeknight event where friends gather ’round to eat cake and be merry. No further obligations required.

I honestly feel like I could go on but I won’t. Because it all makes me want to nap. It’s been a crazy year– one I never thought in my wildest dreams would come true. Phew!

Coffee Insight

I know a lot about coffee. It wasn’t until recently I realised how much I really knew. I attended a friendly coffee tasting one Sunday afternoon and ended up sharing all my knowledge to a captivated (and caffeinated) audience. They loved it and it kinda clicked that I was one who knew the most.

We brought our 1 lb. roaster, cupping supplies, gold filter, Yirgacheffe green beans, and coffee notebook. Eyes lit up as we unpacked our supplies and entered into “our zone”. We probably went into WAY too much detail about tasting notes, altitude of coffee trees, bean size and all. Everyone said, “You should open a cafe!” I’ve heard that before. I rolled my eyes and explained, “Cafes are hard work. I just want to make good coffee and talk to people about it.” Hmm… there was something there.

As you may have read from previous posts, we spent a decent amount of our time diving into the coffee culture. There is so much to learn! We’ve trained with master roasters, taken barista courses, toured roasters and cafes the world over, lived in many coffee-hungry cities and probably had enough coffee for two lifetimes. All without really taking it all that serious because, well… because we just loved it.

My partner and I drove home from the party hopped up on caffeine. But something else was happening. We’ve had these talks before– we’d dreamt up the decor of the cafe we’d start by the sea. We have an expensive wishlist of green beans from all over the world we want to buy. We have nearly one of every coffee making contraption. We’ve prototyped designs of logos and business names. But something was different this time. It’s almost like we didn’t have to say a word. We arrived home– I made the website, he did the research on bottles. We made a batch and brought it to the masses the next morning.

 

Today, we hosted our first free tasting of Tui Cold Brew coffee at a local coworking space. The people love it and they want more. Validation!

Watch this space!

The Catlins

During the long weekend (thanks to Labour Day), we took what felt like our first proper holiday in awhile. Proper holiday is defined (by me) as:

  1. At least a 3 hour drive,
  2. Paying for accommodation,
  3. and disconnecting from the world

So that’s what we did. We set off for the far corners of the Earth: The Catlins. Based on my findings in this Lonely Planet article, I wanted to surf the good stuff the South Island had to offer. Purakaunui Bay is really for those really keen, awesome, skilled surfers though.

We stayed at a lovely little surf school in Curio Bay. Nick, our host, has a gypsy caravan kitted out for guests right off the bay. This famous bay is known for dolphins. However, we arrived during the colder part of the year and only saw sea lions and blue penguins. I say only because I was counting on the damn dolphins!

Curio Bay is also home to the most amazing cafe and gallery: The Lost Gypsy Gallery. For the curious and those wanting to tinker with cool, hand-wound objects, this place will blow your mind. We went twice because it’s that awesome!

The Catlins, as I mentioned, is at the bottom of the Earth. It’s where the Pacific Ocean stops and the Southern Ocean (the one connected to Antartica) begins. That’s far. And it’s cold. But we had beautiful weather that weekend. We also experienced all the weather while out surfing, including rain and heavy winds.

We did a few walks and saw some waterfalls. There are endless things to do down there if you are interested in exotic landscape and mind-blowing bays. Nugget Point reminded me a bit of the Oregon coast, with it’s poking rock formations that Oregonians call haystacks.

It was well worth the 7-hour drive (with stops in Timaru, Oamaru, and Dunedin) from Christchurch. It’s so wild and wondrous and the perfect escape for the surf-inclined-curious-kind, like us.

Little River Rail Trail

Little River Rail Trail is a former railway line between Hornby and Little River, New Zealand. It’s one of three NZ Cycle Trails in Canterbury. It can be done in one day. Door to door, from Phillipstown, it was 72km. Plan accordingly.

Little River Rail Trail has several stops and parking areas in between so you don’t have to do the entire trail like we did. I would advise, if anything, start it as close to Lincoln as possible. The bit from Hornby to Lincoln is trash. Maybe a cute stop in Prembleton is worth it but otherwise, skip ahead.

Aside from the industrial zones and tacky “trail” along the rail at the beginning, once you’re on the trail, it’s beautiful. The flat surfaces, gravel of course, follows small creeks and farmland, through the Canterbury Plains with ease. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a tailwind both ways. We were not so lucky. But bearing witness to the sweeping plains along the way is spectacular. You venture through heaps of sheep parties and cow herds as if you and your bike belong in the flats with the rest of them. Try not to get insulted, as I do, when sheep run away from you as you whizz by. And try not to inhale too hard when there’s loads of cows.

Once you get to a small station called Motukarara, you’re able to whip out your trusty activity guide and learn heaps about the historic station. It’s a great spot for lunch and a rest. From Motukarara, follow the trail to Kaituna Quarry, alongside Lake Elsmere. Beware! Flies (unnamed) hover on the banks of the lake during early Spring (and maybe other times too but I’m not going to find out). Not just a few flies, entire swarms of them that you can’t avoid. We covered ourselves head to toe to get through the dust. Aside from the flies, the best part about this part are the birds. They’re everywhere. Again, use your trusty activity sheet to identify (and draw) a few.

After Kaituna Quarry, you begin to get closer to the hillside and can detour into a beach called Birdlings Flat. This is about 2km off the trail but well worth the trip… especially after the fly incident. Birdlings Flat is a massive beachfront known for it’s gem and rock beaches. I love hunting on the beach for stuff so it was hard for me to only take one stone home, an agate. Take some time to enjoy the sounds of the waves crashing against the smooth pebbles and flowing back into the big ocean.

It began to rain at Birdlings Flat so we hopped on our bikes to get to our accommodation in Little River, roughly 12 km from that point. We’d been lucky enough to have spent the entire trip chasing the rain storms, and nearly missing some heavy rains. On the way to Little River, things got muddy as we’d just missed another rainfall. Beware the slippery bridges (the ones cows and sheep can’t cross) when wet. We followed Lake Forsyth along and stared up into the cliff face on the left hand side. The track comes closer to the road at this point and the noise picks up. We pedal into Little River and celebrated our epic day at a cafe for pies, salads and smoothies.

At around 4pm, with our bellies full, we trotted up toward our stay for the night. If you’ve never heard of a Pure Pod, your mind will be blown. It’s a completely enclosed, all glass house in the middle on nowhere in the Banks Peninsula. The closest township is Little River and that’s all I’m going to say about it’s location because that’s the beauty of it. It’s incredible how isolated it is on the hillside of the Okuti Valley (Okay, I’ve said too much!). I highly recommend it for anyone (or couple– very romantic!) who wants to get away and seriously disconnect from the grid. If you order the tasting platter too, you will be set for the overnight stay with heaps of local cheeses, breads, and various nibbles.

Staying in a glass house is amazing! It was a cloudy evening but to watch the moon peak through the clouds, venture across the sky and hear the rain on all sides of us was truly magical. You have an amazing view of the lake that melts your mind. You can’t really do anything up there except read, talk, think, and listen to nature tunes. It’s heaven for those tired of the city noise (aka innovation… or as the locals call it, construction).

This is a trip I highly recommend. Easy, long but well worth the payoff and treasure at the end.

West Coast Wilderness Trail: Part 3

Finally, Day 3 of the tour! It’s been a long journey. Thanks for sticking with me. Day 1 and Day 2 can only be described as awesome adventures. 

wcw day 3

Day 3 begins at Cowboy’s Paradise, at the top of the Arahura Valley. I woke up awfully sore from the long ride yesterday and slightly anxious about the descent with a slight tear in my ACL. During continental breakfast, I did some stretching and enjoyed the sunrise over the hills behind the property. Each time I’ve started the day’s trip, it was either less of a momentous occasion than I expected OR I got so far and had to turn back for something. Today, I clipped my panniers on and bid the owners farewell. I mounted the bike and the owner exclaimed, “You forgot to sign the guest book!”. I gently put my bike down and dismounted to sign the beloved guest book. Instead of signing, I drew pictures of the mountains and the valley, horses and sheep, and signed my name at the bottom with the date.

The owner explained that the rest of the trail would be downhill (except for this one spot) so I’d be fine coasting in to Hokitika at the hour I was to catch the shuttle back to Greymouth. He even shared an urban legend of a man who was able to go to Hokitika without even pedaling once. Doubtful, but fun to hear that my trip would be an easy one. I sped off, down switchbacks and bumps of cow poo, screeching my brakes and disturbing the peace. Mountain biking is fun! Mountain biking with loaded panniers and dirty brakes and tyres is not. The owner greeted me at the bottom while he was busy herding cows from paddock to paddock. A long, flat road was ahead, littered with more cow poo. To either side of me were groups of baby lambs, following closely to their momma sheep. The bird sounds were more pronounced. I soon realized, this was a very isolated part of New Zealand and I got a ting of nerves as I pedaled faster through the fields.  I saw the 1 hill approaching and sped up. I only got so far before I had to dismount and push my bike. This was THE ONLY TIME I did that the entire trip. I was disappointed but more concerned that it would slow down my time. At the top of the hill, you descend again into the Kaniere Water Race area (hand dug in 1875!).

wcw day 3 water

The amount of water features on this day was stunning. The Kaniere water was crystal clear. The waterway was nestled in the forest, a nice break from the sun, and had lots of crossings. It was, I presume, where mining was done, so the waterways were raised and located on either side of the trail. It was quite magical to witness and flow alongside the water into Hokitika. I won’t lie though, pedaling is required.

Closer to town, roughly 15km out, you meet the road again. You follow it into Hokitika, through neighborhoods, and back out onto the main highway. The trail ends on the path headed out on the Hokitika River, very uneventful. You have to navigate your way back into town at which point, I broke down in tears. My first bike tour was done. Just like that. I achieved what I set out to do. I finished. I completed something. And I lived to tell about it. I still needed to get to the iSite (where I bought a West Coast Wilderness Trail t-shirt– fresh out of the box and I was the first in the world to own one!) and catch a shuttle (and break my bike down into parts, practically) back to Greymouth. This part of my journey was a haze. I was on cloud 9 about having a goal, planning a trip, and doing what I said I would do. Achievement unlocked.

In Greymouth, I plopped my bike back on the train and slept nearly the whole way back. It was a busy Sunday return trip to Christchurch. Upon arrival, the weather was wet, the cold had set in and I was exhausted. I rode my bike back home from the station and collapsed on the floor. I can’t even remember if I had dinner that night. If you ever get the chance to venture out to the West Coast, I reckon I did it the best way possible.

IMG_20150816_110103

Here are links to the trail and all the info you need to make your adventure as memorable as mine:

West Coast Wilderness Trail site: http://www.westcoastwildernesstrail.co.nz/

NZ Cycle Trail site about West Coast track: http://nzcycletrail.com/trails/west-coast-wilderness-trail/

West Coast weather info: http://www.metservice.com/rural/westland

West Coast Wilderness Trail: Part 2

We begin Part 2 of the West Coast Wilderness Trail on Day 2, and in the same location as Day 1, Greymouth. The epic drama leading up to today can be found here

wwc day2

I woke up on Day 2 feeling less defeated and deflated. I walked to town to pick up my bike from Scott at Coll Sports World (the hero from yesterday’s epic adventure). It was fitted with a brand-new rear MTB tyre and I was confident of double booking it to my destination: Cowboy’s Paradise. After the shop, I mounted my steed and headed to the exact same starting point from yesterday. The sun was shining, my sunscreen was on thick, and I was revived. I was reminded that “All the best journeys have a bumpy start”.

I rode back over the gravel tracks I started on, cursing slightly the puncture that slowed me down on Day 1. I looked up and saw the amazing coastline and ignored my drifting mind. Right alongside the airport strip, I looked up and saw a couple riding my way on their folding bikes. I recognised the man in the front. Go figure. All the way out on the wilderness trail on the West Coast was a bike buddy from Christchurch. David Hawke and his wife were traveling along the coast, in reverse order that I was going. They were headed to the train station to go back home. We stopped for a chat and offered advice on the tracks ahead. I was eager to get on with my journey so we separated ways. No time for coffee!

Kumara was 30km from where I stood. I still hadn’t made it to the spot where my journey ended yesterday. I was anxious to see the 12km marker and zoom past it. Along the way, I crept out of the jungle-like trail onto the tracks alongside the farmland. It was littered with cows, horses, and lots of birds. The track is far enough inland, away from the road, you can truly enjoy the nature tunes. I stopped to take a photo. I stopped a lot. How can you not when the ride looks like this?

bikecow

I was finally on new track and headed toward Kumara. I crossed river after river. The trail juts inland and through private property and rarely puts you bridge steelon the road with cars. I crossed the Taramakau River on a one-way bridge with train tracks. Let me repeat that. I rode on a one-way bridge with train tracks. This was so scary because I was holding up the traffic on what felt like the longest bridge ever while I was busy dodging getting stuck in the train tracks. It wasn’t like I had room to move aside. I was hoping the cars on the other side could see me and wouldn’t start their crossing. I really should have read what cyclists should do on one-way bridges like that. It was a surprise!

wwc forestI think one of the coolest things about this track is how often the scenery changes. One minute you’re riding alongside the ocean, the next you’re in the forest, then next you’re riding along a lake charging into the mountains. Soon enough, I was back in the woods. It was a nice break from the sun. I can’t imagine how hot it would get in the Summer. I was also overloaded because I brought lots of rain and cold weather layers. They all came off and were stuffed into my small panniers. There were a few draw bridges before getting to Kumara. By then, I was ready for the day’s first coffee and a BIG lunch.

Kumara has a population of roughly 300 people. It’s a former gold mining town. I ate at the newly restored Theatre Royal. I mentally compared it to the newly restored Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch (listen/watch my talk there about the Brief History of Cycling in Christchurch here). It was so quaint and quiet. I rode up and down the main street in nearly two minutes. I ate my pie and salad and stretched in the sun. I knew the next leg involved some uphills (on gravel, my archenemy) and was a bit longer than the first leg (37km). There are markers along the trail for you to count along, like a game. I’d find myself yelling the number each time I passed one (25 KILOMETERS GO ME! or F*CKING 67! as was the case later that day).

reservoir

Sometimes when you veer off the trail (as I did when I stopped for lunch), you have to back track a bit to find the orange signs that lead you back to the trail. I rode through a few side streets and quiet neighborhoods in Kumara before the ride along the Kapitea Reservoir. The clouds covered the sun a little and the trail followed the length of the long reservoir. It was spectacularly framed by the Southern Alps, covered in snow. Kapitea met the Kumara Reservoir before changing scenes back into the forest again. Here is where the uphill began. I met a few other riders, enjoying their downhill, as I trudged up and up and up, slowly. I’m proud to say I never once got off my bike to push it. If anything, I stopped to take pictures.:) I was headed to the highest peak of the trip (which by Christchurch standards is small potatoes.). My mantra upwards was, “I eat climbs like this for breakfast!” and gently thanked my training on the Port Hills of Canterbury. This is also where I cried from a slight tear in my achilles. I slipped changing a gear and my achilles hasn’t been the same since.

arahura valleycowgirl catarina

After the peak, there was small, fun descent through various switchbacks in the Arahura Valley. You finally descend upon the most random town in New Zealand, Cowboy’s Paradise. The story goes, the owner loves the Wild West. He has recreated a small town, including a saloon, gun shooting range, and accommodation to reenact the movies. There was a swinging door and beer waiting for me. I stepped back in time and fully immersed myself in the time travel. Who doesn’t want to enjoy the end of a 67km ride with cowboy hats and a huge feast?! Oh, and there was rugby on the tv. Kiwis can’t live too far away from their beloved rugby. I brought out the wine bottle I lugged up the tracks that day and shared it with an amazing dinner with two other guests from Christchurch (headed the opposite direction) and settled in for the night.

Day 3 adventures to be continued…

West Coast Wilderness Trail: Part 1

As far as cycle touring in New Zealand goes, the West Coast Wilderness Trail may be the easiest track around. Granted, I haven’t done them all but I chose the simplest on the map that I’ve never been near. I’ve also never ridden a rail trail which I hear is fairly simple and flat. Keep in mind, flat terrain doesn’t always make it easier. There could be rain, mosquitoes, and punctures!

I chose to venture off to New Zealand’s West Coast (not the be confused with the west coast of the North Island) to christen my bike (see previous post about the build). I chose the West Coast because it meant I wouldn’t have to tote my bike on a ferry or plane. I could take the train over the mountains and sit peacefully in observance as the snowcaps passed me by. AND it would only require a long weekend. From Greymouth to Hokitika (the remainder of the trail down to Ross is incomplete until October 2015) is roughly 100km. Easy! Not really, I’m just trying to sound tough. I was eager to hit the road and I knew that before the heatwave arrives, I needed to get out there. That, and the threat of mosquito season was terrifying.

bike book quote

Like any good cycle tourist (ew! not the “T” word), I watched the weather everyday leading up to the week of my trip. By Monday, all signs were ‘go” and I booked the train and shuttle. Then I thought long and hard about the biggest decision: what am I gonna wear? The West Coast has a reputation (as does the rest of New Zealand) for weather that will change at the drop of a hat. I have two panniers, neither of which would hold enough clothes (mostly rain gear) and a tent to make it one of those kind of adventures. So camping was out of the question. I’d simply pack for the cold, rain, sun, heat, wind, snow situations I would most likely encounter and book nice accommodations with heaters and warm showers (Speaking of warm showers, have you heard about the website? Well, it doesn’t work in remote place like Kumara or Cowboy’s Paradise. So don’t bother). I chucked in some fruit, topped up my cash and hit the road.

I rode from my house to the train station. Actually, my partner offered to drop me off in the car and I refused. I was too damn proud to start the big adventure in a car. So we rode our bikes together. He claimed he wanted to see the train station for himself. I think he was more nervous about the trip than I was. I checked in, gave my obligatory speech about where I’m from, why my accent isn’t like the ticketing agent’s and got my boarding pass. We walked to the luggage dock, I slapped a bright yellow bag tag to my bike and handed my life into the hands of the nicest man ever. He, like many, was SHOCKED I’d be traveling ALONE to the West Coast with my bike AND at this time of year. Calm down people, I’ve planned for this all along!

I said bye and boarded the train with my helmet and panniers, quickly realizing not a single soul on the train had a helmet. Off we went, charging toward the mountains. Several stops, a couple of coffees, but mostly me, my tunes and the giant view out of my window. We traversed river after river and the views switched back and forth from one side of the train car to the other. The further inland we rode, the better the view became and in a flash, you were at the foothills of some of the most magnificent mountains on Earth: the Southern Alps. And just like the name says, it’s like the Alps (although I’ve never been, this is  a Google-Images-supported-statement) but in the Southern Hemisphere. There are no words to describe the scene though– only EPIC. Trains are the forgotten transport that I highly recommend. I’m not a huge fan of driving. Being the co-pilot is one thing, but everything passes you by if you’re the driver. And trains take you places cars can’t go.

I left on a Friday morning, a relatively low traffic day in the winter for train travelers. I arrived in Greymouth around 1:30pm, ahead of schedule. I knew I had roughly 30km ride ahead to get to Kumara Junction and the rain was rolling in quickly. Despite the looming ugly weather, I wanted to see a bit of Greymouth. I rode up and down the main street, quickly window shopping from my two-wheeler. I stopped for a coffee and Dp1, a quirky cafe serving C4 coffee. I downed my flat white and headed up the ramp to the official start of the track. It felt like this moment, given all I’ve dreamt about, would feel more amazing, but it wasn’t. I was alone on the gravel track thinking, God I hate gravel, and pedaled into the headwind. The storm was rolling in.

wcw trail start

Dp1 coffee greymouth

The start of the track runs about 7km out of the town, onto the coastal path and then cuts into the forest. I stopped (as I recall, there were LOTS of stops) to peek at the ocean. It was my first time seeing the violent, massive waves of the West Coast and I was in awe of the stormy current crashing into the pier. I snapped a few photos and zipped up my rain jacket. It was like pedaling through the jungle, surrounded by ferns and palms, coupled with humidity that fogs up your sunglasses. I stopped about 5km in to put waterproofing covers on my bags. That’s when I heard the dreaded hole that would ruin Day 1. Ssssssss… like a damn snake in my wheel. I hopped back on and quickly pedaled to a rest stop/cafe and out of the rain. Upon inspection, I could see the tyre has a nasty hole through it. Not just a puncture in a tube but a gaping hole. Alas, I kept pedaling thinking I’d stop again, pump it some and repair the whole thing in Kumara. Bad move.

greymouth bike stop

12km in, the rain slowed and I stopped to pull out my pump and give my tyre a boost. It was one of those small hand pumps for road bikes and the nozzle needed to be shifted around to fit my french valve. I managed to reverse the parts in the pump but not correctly for my valve. One press onto the valve and I went flat for the day. I sat on the side of the road, literally halfway between my start and the day’s destination and flipped a coin (in my head. I don’t actually carry coins while cycling). The nearest farmhouse looked abandoned so I began my long walk back to civilization. I tried sticking my thumb out to hitchhike but no one likes picking up muddy, rain cyclists AND their bikes. The trail itself is off-road, into the bush a bit so I hopped back in and walked to the nearest i-Site shelter. This spot wasn’t manned by anyone but had lots of ads and billboards of local hotels and services to call. I called a few spots and everyone sent me to another place for help. I finally reached the Top 10 local camper park and they sent someone to pick me up.

They were so nice to come out and rescue me. I’d done my best not to cry too hard. I was so sad I only made it 12km before considering giving up. I stayed at the motel that night ($99 for a hot shower and single bed). I ate a HUGE plate of spaghetti and meatballs at the local pub. And I rang the local bike shop, who made a house-call to pick up my bike and have it ready by morning. Kudos to you Greymouth. Despite wanting to get on with my trip, you said ‘nah’. I had to stay the night but I met some of the kindest people who turned my horrible start into a fresh beginning. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the West Coast Wilderness Trail.

Challenge of the Year: Cycle Tour

Sometime around late May 2015, I decided my next bike build would be a touring bike. I had dreams of touring Southeast Asia by bike later this year and hanging out in remote locations with my bike chocka with panniers leaning against a palm tree or large boab tree. I began reading blogs of other touring cyclists and the awesome locales they ventured to. I’ve seen countless lists of ‘top cycle tours on Earth’ and mentally made a note of where to visit next. I dreamt of the clarity my rides would bring and the next novel I’d write on the road.

The longest I’d ever ridden was 60km (return) in Oregon (hills included). I figured this was something I could do at my own pace. Not that I love countless hours on the saddle but this was my freedom. Not only did I enjoy the challenge of going the distance, something massive transforms in my body when I get on a bike. I describe it as my happy place. But beyond that, it’s where my mind rests, where thoughts run wild and not in a crazy, scary way. I’m not able to jot notes and lists while I’m riding a bike. Thoughts come and go as they please and as soon as they appear, they’re gone. It’s also probably the only place I can talk aloud to myself and people won’t hear me.

So I visited RAD Bikes, as per my weekly volunteer duty, and my dream bike arrived that day. A yellow 1988 Scott Boulder was donated. Two in fact were donated that day. My buddy Pete set them aside to restore and when I told him I’d been looking for a frame, he was just as delighted to introduce me to this beauty.

1988 yellow scott boulder

This is an older MTB, pre-awesome sauce suspension. It’s specifically for touring. Go figure. It had sealed hubs, a braze on spoke holder, sweeping gaps between the down tube and the rear tyre for pannier and foot pedal clearance, funky elliptical crankset (so biopace 80’s design), adjustable brake levers for shorties, and the frame size was just right (difficult for smaller women like me to find). I bought the bike straight away and began stripping it and cleaning it up. Simply deconstructing the bike taught me a lot. Little did I know I was going to learn so much more about myself with this bike.

catarina in scarf

It took roughly four weeks to pull it apart, powder coat it bright green, and put it all back together again. The last thing i needed to do was put slick decals on it and I was ready to ride.

green 1988 scott boulder

I put it to the test June 30th. I was terrified of riding it up the Port Hills of Canterbury. I was so scared to take a bike I put together myself and see if it survived some steep and sticky situations. Good news, it did. Bad news, I needed new brakes. That was the last purchase I made before I took it on my first tour of the West Coast of New Zealand.

catarina decals

You Get What You Give

Moving to a new city is always hard. I took a big risk but some would say I did something right. Below is a record of how all the hard work and support from others kept me here.

you are here nzThis was my second trip to New Zealand but my first time to Christchurch. Naturally, I did a lot of research before I arrived to the city and it’s history as well as it’s current position in time. I watched documentaries about the earthquakes, I mapped out where to live, eat, and play. I read MJ Kaplan’s Fullbright paper about social enterprise in NZ. I wrote down a list of all the people to contact. I knew I had 90 days (the max time for an American tourist visa) to make the most of my one chance to get a job. Getting a job offer from someone while still living overseas is nearly impossible. I had the advantage of a partner who was already here (he arrived two months before me) and could help me in terms of scoping areas of interest: bike shops, cafes, restaurants. He found an apartment and set up before I arrived, making my transition into Christchurch relatively simple. It was pretty much the easiest entry to a new country anyone could ask for. His support was invaluable (more on that later).

chch diggersI arrived December 15, 2014, one day after nearly everything in the city shut down for a proper holiday break. I arrived eager to meet and greet people for coffee and network the shit out of the city but no one was around to hang out. I was disappointed and sat staring at a city at it’s worst: empty of life. It looked like an scene from the apocalypse: a city mid-rebuild and rubble around every corner. When the overcast clouds painted the sky, I was really regretting my decision. So we did what everyone else did and took off. We hit up the other awesome cities in the South Island and enjoyed a short break. This was perfect for me because when I came to NZ the first time last year, I didn’t get the opportunity to travel this far south. I saw Mt. Cook/Aoraki, Queenstown, Dunedin and most of the other stops along the way. Then I came back to Christchurch for another kiwi Christmas. My partner introduced me to a fellow American, Camia Young from XCHC. You see, my partner is a hyper networker and taught me TONS about how to do it right. He frequently sends out an email to contacts to tell them what he’s up to in hopes they want to collaborate or can connect him with other collaborators. That email led me to her. Her connection led to Nic, Harry, Barnaby and Brie: core people that helped me connect in a new city.

new year 2015Then New Year’s came and things weren’t working out. My partner wasn’t excited about being here either and we seriously considered ending it all and leaving. I purchased tickets to Electric Avenue music festival in hopes I’d get to stay and see some of NZ’s most popular acts (it was my understanding lots of musical acts ignore Christchurch on their tours so I scooped up early tickets). I also began getting involved in Lazy Sunday Cycle and RAD Bikes. I started a bike club (CycleCHCH) to socially bring the riders together and go on fun bike rides. I wanted Christchurch to be like a little Portland, my favorite US city. I was hell-bent on this notion that I carried on with life as normal despite not knowing whether I truly wanted to stay.

constructionThe week of January 13, 2015 felt like the first time business was back to normal in Christchurch after the holiday break. I went to my first Coffee & Jam at EPIC and networked with tons of people at Ministry of Awesome’s event. My partner stood up to introduce himself and offer some parts and tech toys for use from CPIT’s studio upgrade. The MC made a last call for shoutouts and I raised my hand. I stood up and made something up on the spot. I introduced myself a “Storyteller for Social Enterprises” as if it was a legit job title, I made a joke about being fresh in town and asked for work. That moment changed the course of everything.

I began feeling better about settling in Christchurch and had high hopes because I was connecting to more and more people. Everyone was so willing to help and connect me to the next person. I said yes to every event I was invited to and continued to network. I did the meetup thing, I volunteered at RAD and Acropolis. I talked to the latest Enspiral peeps. By this point, it was late January and I was halfway through a tourist visa with no job offer in hand. I began reaching out to people in other cities just in case. I had one foot in Christchurch and one back in the States. Then I got an email from Erica at Ministry of Awesome asking if I wanted to present at Coffee and Jam. They had a slot open last minute. The presentation was a little over two weeks away and I agreed. I had no idea what I would talk about  but I said yes.

chch grillzSummer events were in full-swing and we went to them all. Being out and about, seeing people and saying hi was paying off. It also kept my mind busy so I didn’t spend too much time focusing on the fact that I still had no job offer. There was plenty of pro-bono work I did in good faith but nothing was paying the bills. My savings were running dry quickly.

My partner found solace in his own personal projects at kiteboarding and windsurfing events while I was busy planning my bike club rides and networking. His family came to visit for two weeks. It was so nice to have family around. I missed my family dearly and his parents have always been supporters of what I did, as vague or bizarre as it seemed. As I prepped for my Coffee & Jam talk, his dad sat to listen to my pitch and give me feedback.

Electric Avenue music festival came around and we rocked out. Time was flying and I decided if something didn’t happen in the next week, after my presentation, then I was leaving. I would pack my things and never look back. I felt I’d given it my all. I met with EVERYONE, some twice, and I flat out asked for paid work. I value my time and I wasn’t being picky but I needed something that week. I spent Monday, February 9 perfecting my talk and presented the following day to a pretty big crowd at Coffee and Jam, including a huge group of UC students from the Christchurch 101 class. People asked great questions and set me up for success. I wasn’t expecting the amazing reception but it felt good. Afterwards, I took a deep breath and rode my bike home in tears. I had an interview the next day but I felt that I was as good as gone. I wanted to leave on top and not have another interview with someone who couldn’t pay me for valuable work.

I went to a Pecha Kucha event in Lyttelton and was inspired beyond belief. No one knew I was considering leaving Christchurch and their talks sparked another urge to stay. I went to the opening ceremony of the ICC Cricket World Cup and loved being around hundreds of people celebrating a lively city. It was a memorable night of performances. While I was enjoying these events, my inbox was blowing up with offers, meeting requests, and collaboration ideas. People had seen my talk (thanks to my partner for the YouTube post) and wanted to discuss jobs. Discussing jobs and getting an offer were two totally different things so I met with everyone and went in for the hard asks. I said if I didn’t have an offer within the week, I was forced to leave. At the end of the week, I had three.

I ended up taking a full-time position at the Ministry of Awesome and am thrilled to be settling here quite nicely. I felt an enormous amount of anxiety in the last three months, coming up with the decision to stay or go. Without the support of friends and family, I don’t think I could have ended up on top.

IMG_20150309_201404This was actually a very difficult post to write (and share). I’ve relived a hard time in my life. There were literally times when I didn’t want to be here anymore, when I couldn’t take it anymore, and when I had to pretend like everything was alright. It was ugly but I find it funny that just when you are ready to give up, something brings you back. And above everything else, I’ve had an incredible partner who came out of that dark place with me holding my hand. His partnership is also what’s helping me obtain a work visa to stay in Christchurch and fulfill my dream of doing meaningful work. But above all else, he hasn’t given up either and believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. It’s incredibly hard when the both of us were down but a true partnership doesn’t let you down in those hard times.

So I’m here. Let’s get to work!