Day 43: Auckland, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

October 8, 2014

Day 43: Auckland, NZ

We wake up just before 6 a.m. feeling rested and refreshed and ready to spend two-and-a-half months experiencing that New Zealand has to offer.

Team Hawthorne 1, Jet Lag 0.

Actually, we're not quite ready to head out into farm country and the mountains. Even though we had a week to prepare in Los Angeles, we still have a lot of details to wrap up before we leave Auckland behind for good. As we walk around the city and try to take in everything we see, we're flush with questions. Is it okay to jaywalk? Do they smoke more here? Do they walk on the left side of the sidewalk? Do they have as many dogs here as in the U.S.? We see a sign advertising massage and escorts and wonder, Are escorts legal here? We also see a little girl with her middle finger raised at her brother; is this offensive or is she just pointing up at something? And what is Vegemite made out of, really?

Bee hives in the middle of Auckland's central city park.
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But what stands out most of all isn't what's different but what's the same. At first it's kind of surprising, like, Oh, hey, there's a Starbucks, there's a McDonalds. Then we keep seeing American brand names everywhere, from Pita Pit to EconoLodge, Crowne Plaza, Burger King, Ernst and Young, and of all things Icebreaker, which is a Portland-based clothing company where all of the shirts and sweaters and hats are made out of wool sheared from New Zealand sheep.

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After eating American-style burritos from a Mexican-themed restaurant that wouldn't be out of place in any major city in the U.S. — because we are adventurous, but not yet that adventurous — we spend the morning and afternoon setting ourselves up with a mobile phone plan and buying an adapter for the Scream mask-shaped electrical outlets they have in both New Zealand and Australia.

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Then we hang out in the beautiful and thoughtfully designed Central Library, where we look over books full of pictures of New Zealand and compare their locations to a road atlas and a cyclists guidebook to figure out where we want to go over the next ten weeks. We didn't spend more than an hour considering any of this before we left Portland because there wasn't time. But as with our last-minute decision to build our bikes at the airport and ride into town, I think the combination of open minds and a complete lack of planning will make for a less predictable and far more interesting ride in the end.

Extensive trip planning.
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In another moment of weakness that I might not admit to if Kristen wasn't around, in the evening I walk about ten blocks from the backpackers and find myself at KFC. Unlike stateside places like this, it surrounds food of questionable quality with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, sliding glass doors, faux leather on its booth benches, marble floors, sleek wooden chairs that look like they're from Sweden, the bass of modern pop music thumping from the speakers, modern-looking recessed light fixtures, and palm trees standing watch outside. For what seems like far too much money, I get chicken that isn't crispy, fries instead of potato wedges, a bread roll instead of a buttery biscuit, and a tub of mashed potatoes of gravy. All of them are about two-thirds the size of what you'd find in America.

It's the recurring theme of the day: the general structures of life here in Auckland are familiar and not so different from home, but the specifics all feel slightly off.

KFC and National Geographic magazine. This is how Team Hawthorne operates.
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The wireless internet in our room runs so slow that it might as well not work at all, which is a problem because we still have half a dozen things to finish up before we leave Auckland tomorrow morning. First among these is figuring out something that resembles a safe route out of the city, but with no internet and no maps of proper bicycle routes it's next to impossible. In the end, we can't even check one item off our list. And when we look around the room what we see is a disaster, with everything either laying on the floor or sitting wherever it landed when we tossed it into the panniers at the airport. Then there's the fact that my front brake still doesn't work.

If your city doesn't have a giant phallic-looking tower standing watch over everything, it's not a real city.
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Somehow, even though we've ridden all of seventeen miles in the last week and a half, the feelings of being rushed and stressed and perpetually behind on everything that have been my companions since somewhere north of San Francisco almost three weeks ago are still with me. I never expected this to be a flawless trip, free of difficult moments and hardships and frustration, but as I lay awake in bed staring up at the shallow dents in the ceiling I find myself wishing that I could wave my hands and at once make all of those things disappear. I want this trip to feel more like a reward to be savored and less like a burden to be overcome, which is where it's been sitting for far too long now.

I hope that feeling gets here, and soon.

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