Day 44: Auckland, NZ - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

October 9, 2014

Day 44: Auckland, NZ

Even though we want nothing more than to hop on our bikes, leave Auckland and its suburbs behind, and crank out into the country, we still have so much route planning and other loose ends to tie up that it's impossible for that to happen today.

The first order of business is to get my wonky front brake cable sorted out, and then also have the cable in the back tightened, because the cable has stretched itself dramatically as a result of the death grip I've had to put on the lever every time I've gone down one of Auckland's many steep hills. Having the brakes fixed turns out to be simple enough. What's tougher is listening to the guy at the bike shop respond to me when I tell him that we're headed south toward Wellington and then continuing on to the South Island.

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"Oh, be veeeery careful," he says, with a sigh and a concerned look on his face. "There's a lotta traffic in Auckland, and a lotta the drivers don't take too well to cyclists riding on their roads."

I tell him that we experienced a bit of that on our ride into the city from the airport, that even the roads shown on Google Maps as safe for cycling were busy and narrow and free of other bikes.

"I've never been in such a large city and seen so few cyclists or bike lanes," I tell him. "It's been a big surprise."

"You know, there's actually a lot of us around here," he says. "Us roadies are out in force between like 5:30 and 7:30 in the morning before the cars come out. We're everywhere. But yeah, during the day you're not gonna see much of us, because of all of the cars and trucks, you know. And with the cycling lanes, well, the city, they're trying. But how hard..." and he trails off.

He goes on to give me advice about how best to escape Auckland, but with almost no knowledge of the places he's talking about, and no map to reference, it's a lot of me saying yeah and sure and okay with a serious look on my face while knowing that I'll only remember bits and pieces of it when we try and piece together a route tonight.

Power lunch made in the park.
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In the early afternoon we leave the comfort of a coffee shop with the goal of heading across downtown and reaching our hotel. We only have to travel a couple of miles, but it turns out to feel like five times as much. We start by traveling down sidewalks and across a plaza before cranking up a short hill that leads to a quiet road that almost at once becomes a very busy road when it's joined by an off ramp from the motorway. Moments later the road drops down and then immediately goes back up at about a ten percent grade, which feels like so much more because our legs aren't warmed up and we've ridden only twenty miles since we cranked into Los Angeles two weeks ago. When at last we reach the top of the hill, short of breath and with lungs burning and knees aching, we find the road, which Google Maps identifies as bike friendly, to be a one-way street that's three lanes wide and jammed with cars hauling ass to points west. That makes it about as bike friendly as a motorhome mirror to the back of the head.

This doesn't look promising.
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Because we'd like to avoid serious bodily trauma until we've at least seen some epic New Zealand mountains, we set out on an alternate route. It curves down a steep hill and then at once turns right and begins another climb up a street that feels to our weak and stiff legs like a wall. Our reward for reaching the top is a choice between riding so close to parked cars that we run the risk of getting doored, or heading out into the traffic lane and being sideswiped by a pita delivery van. The final few blocks to our hotel involve more time spent breathing in the fumes of the idling buses in front of us than pedaling.

From the comfort of our exhaust-free room we try to figure out a safe route out of Auckland. I'm not sure we've ever before wanted anything so badly. But what we want does not exist. Even if we manage to jog our way south through neighborhoods, we'd eventually run into a series of major roads with no way to cross them other than riding on sidewalks, sometimes for more than a mile. And even if we somehow accomplish that with our safety and sanity intact, we would reach the suburbs and find ourselves dead-ended by housing developments and funneled onto busy, shoulderless highways and motorways.

Power dinner made in the sink.
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We spend hours poring over all possible options. At one point Kristen goes to the lobby to look for a street map. There she starts to talk with one of the hotel employees about where we're headed.

"Let me give you some advice: rent a car," the woman tells her. "The drivers here are all terrible. You're better off just driving to the spots you want to see and then cycling when you get there. And besides, you'd spend all your time riding up hills in the rain and the wind anyway."

She becomes roughly the thirty-eighth person to have given us some variation on this advice in the last two days.

In a moment of exasperation I wonder if it's possible to catch a train out of the city and save ourselves from the aggravation and danger that lies in wait. Soon we learn that yes, we can. For the modest cost of eight dollars each and an hour sitting in a warm and comfortable rail car we can leave the craziness behind and start our New Zealand riding only a few miles from the countryside. There's no need to debate.

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In the evening we walk around the central part of the city, where the skies remain overcast but free of rain, while the wind blows cold from off the Tasman Sea to the west. Heading across a park we look out from below the branches of trees that are hundreds of years old and see thick groups of condo towers and the kind of tall office buildings that house multinational communication, accounting, and consulting firms. If we'd started to forget that bicycle touring and large metropolitan cities don't mix, Auckland has provided us with the clearest possible reminder.

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Cows and forests and mountains, we are coming.

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