This is like a long post card to all of you. I've written a few real post cards but I can’t seem to keep it short and do any justice to everything that’s happened on this trip so far. I feel like they’re kind of a let down. I mean, post cards are great, just like any snail-mail is these days. Your name is on it, there are a few words, maybe a pretty picture or an artful drawing, and you can hold it in your hand — it’s an actual, tangible artifact, a piece of the place, even if it's small. But what can you really say in a postcard? There's no space. I read an article a bit ago about a famous author (David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas) who prints a short story in short bursts on Twitter. The whole story is told over several days (I believe it’s happening now). Anyway, postcards trying to tell about long eventful trips would be kind of like reading a story in twittering bursts, only slower and way more expensive on my end. And anyway, twitter is twitter.
So right now it’s a little after 4 in the morning. I’ve been awake for a couple of hours, couldn’t sleep at all. Maybe because there’s good strong coffee down here that I’m not metabolizing and it’s wrecking my sleep. Maybe it’s the business of this Full Moon/Super Moon/Blue Moon/Equinox/Etc., rocking the tides, pulling at life. Whatever the case.
I’m at a small desk by a window in an old house in Auckland, New Zealand. The part of town I’m staying in is called Westmere, which is a quiet neighborhood a mile or so west of the city center. The woman who owns the house is an aging hippy with an aristocratic sounding accent, at least that’s how it sounds to me. Her name’s Judy and her face gets long when she talks and she stares at you so hard you’d think her eyes might be bad. But they’re clear, her eyes are, and she’s not looking around to find you, but right into you, which is intense. She’s got a great big warm laugh, though, which makes you feel at home. She lives off part-time work and AirBnB guests like me. The house has lots of windows and natural wood and there’s a black cat named Lucky who eats lamb meat and sleeps on the floor in rectangles of sunlight.
Today is Friday, 2 October. In Portland it’s still Thursday, which really messes with how I think about you all at home. I’m twenty hours ahead of you Cascadians, which means you’re four hours later than me, but yesterday. Got it?
The first week of this trip was a rush of busy-ness. I was in Sydney, Australia for three days helping with an event and bike give-away. Then we came to Auckland to put on a similar event. The people who organized the event, The Team, consisted mainly of people from Portland who have an interest in attracting tourism to our town. I was included because I nominally represent the “maker scene” happening in Portland — an honest-to-goodness bicycle builder. Todd from Pedal Bike Tours was here, and Samantha from the Jupiter Hotel. Amanda represented the Department of Agriculture and Heather is from Travel Portland. Several others helped put the event together and added to it their particular knowledge base and specialty. All of them great people.
Beyond the events, or “activations,” as they were called, I had little to do but make sure the bikes were assembled. So I wandered around, went to a few yoga classes and generally enjoyed the life of a patron at a 5-star hotel. The Radisson in Sydney was rad. Rad Radisson. The breakfast buffet was out of control. Or maybe it was just me around that much good food. As an individual eater there was no way to put a dent into it. The food was so good and there were so many directions you could go, like the muesli, fruit and yogurt route, or the cold salad and cheese route, or smoothies, or custom made omelets, seven or eight types of meat, four types of fresh baked bread, two types of salmon (smoked and gravlax), scrambled eggs so fluffy they could have been whipped with air, pickled things, aged and salted things, fresh things. It was hard to get out of there without eating myself sick. But whatever, when the gourmet trough is open, you eat.
One other notable thing about staying in a hotel like the Radisson are the robes. Here’s a note I took on Radisson water-mark paper with a Radisson pen while wearing a robe:
The robes are blindingly, perfectly white, made from a dense, soft cotton that has been dryer fluffed and is somehow almost crisp on the hanger. But as soon as it’s taken down and draped over naked skin — skin which has been fragranced, it might be noted, by an herbal, all-natural, shower gel — the robe feels like a massage of clouds.
The robe’s collar is like that of a double breasted suit, except it is so thick it reminds one of the comfort and support of a neck pillow. Fresh out of the shower and squeaky-clean, there is a representation of oneself in the floor to ceiling bathroom mirror; Despite one’s pallor, one looks uncommonly fashionable, like one just stepped from the pages of a magazine that advertises ungodly expensive watches, gaudy museum-grade jewelry, perfect and ageless skin. Looking at one’s reflection, one turns from left to right looking for the best and most precisely photogenic perspective -- either tipping the chin low or lifting it high, one is caught in the radiant whiteness of the robe, which acts like a good photoshop job, erasing all niggling blemishes in a pampering of cotton.
There is really so much to be found in a robe.
Anyway, and again, there are just times you have to give in and enjoy what life brings.
By all accounts the events (activations) were successful. I talked with many people about Oregon and about the bikes. The people who won the bikes bounced around with excitement, inspiring envy in other onlookers. The word about Oregon is out. After the Auckland event came to a close, most everyone on The Team went their separate ways. I gave myself an extra week in New Zealand before going on to Western Australia. Also staying for some extra days was Samantha from the Jupiter Hotel, and Amanda from the Department of Agriculture. We decided to rent a car and go check out a beach on the west coast called Piha. On this trip, Samantha had an accident. Here’s the story, translated from my notes:
The car we rent is tiny and green, shaped like a tear drop. We call it the Tin Can. The Tin Can has a manual transmission and everything but the gas/brake/clutch pedals are reversed from what I’m used to. Steering wheel on the right, rear-view mirror and stick-shift on the left. Turn signal, right; windshield wipers, left. Whether you think about it or not, driving is a symphony of activities coordinated in a more or less fluid manner. After years of doing it it feels like second nature. Which way do you look when you come to an intersection? How near or far do you as a driver place yourself in relation to the centerline on the road? The biggest challenge in this mirrored mode is city driving, and in particular, down-shifting, signaling and turning in rapid succession. I keep flipping on the wipers instead of signaling and then coasting with the clutch pressed in trying to get my right brain to instruct my left hand to find a freaking gear while I’m visually mapping my surroundings to assess my speed and intended trajectory and if my grasp of these physics is about to put me in extreme and immediate danger. When everything is “normal” there’s so much we don’t have to think about. But this is just stressful.
It’s a questionable beginning, but fortunately we make it out of town and drive to Piha without serious incident. At Piha we walk, climb rocks, watch the surfers, the waves, the sky. Samantha, Amanda and I get to know each other. We talk about work, the housing market in Portland, New Zealand agriculture, hotels, food. We wear hats and sunglasses and the sun feels very intense. People say there’s a big hole in the ozone layer down here and I believe them. The air temperature isn’t all that warm, but the sun sizzles our bare skin.
After a few hours at Piha we drive back up and out of the bay into lush green forest. We stop at a parking area beside a trailhead and walk into the forest. Trails here are called tracks, and hiking is called trekking. But we are only walking. Walking in the woods. We wind around the track looking at the weird and unfamiliar foliage. After less than a mile the track comes to a T. There’s an outhouse and a couple of directional signs. The uphill direction is restricted. The downhill track says it leads to a reservoir. None of it seems very interesting. Samantha, Amanda and I talk about what to do. We’re from Oregon, we reason, we’ve seen a million reservoirs. Samantha goes into the outhouse. Amanda and I look down the track.
Samantha squawks. Oh my god, you guys, I just dropped my phone in the toilet!
Amanda and I look at each other.
Oh no, you guys, I can’t believe this. Samantha steps out. It’s so deep, she says.
Amanda steps off the trail and tugs at a long branch.
There’s no way, Samantha says. It’s way too far down.
Are you sure? Let me look, I say. I enter the outhouse. Yes, it’s deep. A big stinking black hole. I hold my breath and use my phone as a flashlight, clutching it like it might be greased. Ten feet down perched on a pile of waste and wadded TP is an iPhone 5s, white case, screen dark, facing up at me. There is no way.
I snap a photo (not shown here, for obvious reasons. If you really must see the photo, email me).
Outside the shitter we stand in a little triangle. I’m not smiling. I'm really not smiling.
Well, shit! I say.
Exactly! says Amanda.
There’s nothing to be done.
I don’t want to see a reservoir, says Samantha. We walk back down the track to the Tin Can.
The next day Amanda left for Vietnam to help organize an event where a famous Vietnamese chef is cooking 100 pounds of potatoes with Governor Kate Brown. I forget why. Something to do with food; money; publicity; good relations. On our trip to Piha I learned from Amanda that New Zealand’s largest export is dairy products mostly headed to China. Who knew?
I picked Samantha up early the following day and we drove the Tin Can to Coromandel, a large peninsula east of Auckland. We stayed mostly along the coastline and then cut through the interior of the Coromandel Forest. We ate “world renowned” fish & chips, wandered through a butterfly sanctuary, walked the sand at Hot Water Beach and hiked down to Cathedral Cove. It was a big day of driving with many stops at many sites. We arrived back to Auckland at nearly 10 pm. The next day we met Corey and his wife Karen, both of whom were key organizers with The Team. They live here in Auckland, in Browns Bay. Corey took us down to the bay to play around on his paddle board and surf-ski. The water is still pretty cold, but the sun is hot and we had a good time trying to find our balance on these tippy vessels.
I brought a bicycle with me on this trip. So far it's just been luggage, a big box to carry around. Of course I forgot to bring a helmet, and there is a helmet law here for cyclists. Luckily I was able to borrow one from Corey. Yesterday I went on my first real bike ride of this trip. I rode down to the ferry, and went across to Devonport, then rode up and down, up and down, along the coast and through the six bays to arrive again at Browns Bay to meet Corey. We ate sushi and then rode out of town and up to a ridge into mostly rural land. It felt a lot like riding along Skyline Drive above Portland, with rolling hills, winding roads, some big houses, climbs & descents, trees and clearings that gave periodic views of the distant countryside. Between the strong winds off the sea and all the climbing, I could see how a person would get in shape if they rode here much. Corey and I did a sort of a loop and parted ways. I was pretty tired by the time I arrived back at the ferry.
Everyone says I’ve been pretty lucky with the weather, but today is very windy and rainy, so I’m taking the day off to read and write this post. Rather than scrawl out a bunch of post cards that’ll only tell bits of the story, I thought I’d go at it head on. I’ve got a couple more days here in Auckland, and then I’m off to Fremantle in Western Australia. That’ll be the beginning of the next big adventure on this trip, and will put me back to work as a bicycle frame builder. I’m looking forward to meeting Jesse Searls and sharing what knowledge I have to teach him the craft.
If you’ve made it this far in reading this post, I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself. I’ll be taking notes and writing more in the coming weeks. As they say here New Zealand, in the Maori language, kia kaha, which means “stay strong,” or “stand strong.” You've got to say it from deep in your gut. It’s meant as an affirmation, to inspire. So, farewell, and