Of course, all days of Alleykat’s holidays are amazing, however, during our NZ tour there were a number of special days that I feel I can remember in great detail – right down to how many deep breaths were needed to settle nerves, which variety of expletives was garbled together in both excitement and astonishment, and the number of times Alee and I looked at each other and burst into vivid conversation complete with arm-spanning gestures in order to re-live these experiences together.
The day of the jump
Day 7: Tauranga – ‘rest day’
We awoke and did some washing after faffing about trying to work out the day. We got through to Tauranga Tandem Skydiving, with the help of the loveliness of Jeni – the campsite manager lady. She is a sweet, no-nonsense woman, she also helped us previously in settling into our ‘bike-campers-only’ campsite. Upon reflection, these skydiving vouchers are the best present I have ever bought, ever! So after not too much delay, we’re booked in for 3:30 today.
‘The Med’ for breakfast, actually second breakfast for Alee, but that’s not entirely unusual. We ordered from the menu but lovingly admired the cabinet from afar, too too many choices! We both had blueberry buttermilk pancakes with caramelised banana, maple syrup and muscapone, yum! As usual, our food was accompanied by a surrounding of pushy seagulls. We toured around Tauranga on foot for a while, then cycled over to Mt Manganui, found Kittyhawk Way in the airport and checked in for diving out of a plane. There seems to be a lot of requirements before being thrown willingly from an aircraft, including a weigh-in and signing waivers about releasing the company and instructors of responsibility for serious injury or y’know, death. This was all a little over-exciting so both Alee and I had a nervous pre-flight pee and clearly peed away all the nerves! Not even a skerrick of worry or heart-jumping-out-of-chest-or-throat feeling left!
And we’re on! Iain, my cute Scottish instructor and tandem jumper strapped me straight into my harness, no jumpsuit required on account of the extremely beautiful weather… yes! As he pulled and tightened and adjusted various straps and clips and buckles he told me about The Three Things to Remember:
ONE: When landing, have your feet right up, hands under your knees, legs out straight like an acute angle. The landing can “cause damage, serious damage” Iain tells me.
TWO: ‘Banana’ position on exiting the plane
THREE: Hold on to the stirrups/straps/hand-holds as we jump, put arms out once I’m tapped on the shoulder and told (surprisingly enough) “arms out!”
“We’re jumping first” I was informed. OK…I guess! There was lots of preparatory video-making, interviews and building rapport with Iain and Tiger (Alee’s instructor) and then suddenly we’re taking off in a rather shoddy dingy dodgy but totally fricken awesome little plane with barely enough room for us all. Quite close and intimate, really. Slowly, slowly, noisily, noisily, we’re climbing to 10,000 feet… excitement building, not the nerves though, the whole free-fall into the sky thing was just so well done – there were so many distractions and Alleykat were just really eager beavers, not scaredy-cats! There was anticipation on our smiling faces and adrenaline pumping through our veins, metabolising in our cells, thumping with the drum of our hearts…
The door was open… ready… BANANA!!!!
Sky diving for the wiiiiiin!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Parachuting is mean as! Just like I imagine flying would feel like. So incredible and free. Steering, cruising, flying, landing, bum grazing along the rough carpet of scrubs, grass and dirt, slightly regretting the uniform choice of short shorts – they may not have been the most intelligent, despite being very cute!
Upon returning regretfully to the ground (complete with can-we-do-it-again? looks plastered to our smiling faces) we watched our videos. I was initially reluctant to do so, I thought it would just be embarrassing, what with my mouth flapping around in the breeze as I free-fell at the speed of gravity… but Iain was like “don’t worry about it, you’ll want to watch, trust me” in his cute Scottish accent. And I’m glad I did invest that trust: with Blink 182 playing in the background, perfect, what a thing to watch, what a way to end the experience – by re-living it! We were still on the edges of our seats as Alee’s & Tiger’s video played with much more intense music, so cool! The spectacle was completed with a slideshow of our ‘exit’ and ‘fall’ photos. In typical noob fashion, we decided on purchasing my photos and Alee’s video as a $160 package… the boss wasn’t there so we got a sweet mix and match deal.
…Aaaaarrgh! I want to do it again. NOW! But I kinda want Iain to be there, he was my “first” after all.
The rest of this day was filled with climbing Mt Manganui, working on our tan lines, watching paragliders glide in the sky and boats in the sea (whilst on top of the mountain), working on our tan lines, following the fastest marathon runner (running on the road) home and working on our tan lines.
MTB Madness (ah, alliteration)
Day 12: Rotorua: MTB day
The famed mountain biking here is one of the main reasons we are in Rotorua! We woke early-ish, definitely not as bright and chirpy and embracing-of-the-day as we’d planned…ate an ever-nutritious breakfast of coco pops, and then ambled down to the bike shop. Made it there by 10:30, rather than the 9AM starting time we’d envisioned, and were alighted upon by a perky Jo and Dave who set us up on Kona Cindercones and off we rode.
We took the long way round to the start of the trails, had to navigate around various fenced-off portions of parkland and manoeuvre ourselves around dogs who were determined to bite holes in our sidewalls and generally massacre me to death – or at least threaten to do so. Is it just me or do angry dogs seem scarier when one is on a bike? Then, suddenly we were dog-free and there, and what a place! Lots of enthusiastic riders were making their way towards a clearing that looked like the entrance – we had a map, but it was all a little confusing, so along with following riders who looked like they knew where they were going, Alee came to the rescue because apparently, he knows where he’s going even if he doesn’t (really – it’s uncanny) and we found billions of long and short and hard and easy trails and tracks and hills and sections to ride up and down and sideways. It was magic.
Alee smashed some of the trails to bits including a downhill run complete with berms and jumps and the like, beating all of the downhillers, leaving their mouths open like shocked ‘O’s on their faces, while I rode my little heart out up a bloody big hill. On some of the trails, we saw other people. On one specifically, not a particularly difficult one (well, they were all pretty hard for me, as a total first-time-on-a-mountain-bike noob!) we saw a sweet little family including two little blonde girls who couldn’t have been older than about five or six, riding little pink MTBs wearing little pink helmets and simply loving life. There were more families and people about – it made me feel like this was definitely something I could do. A good attitude leads to having a good time.
We did a couple of trails that Mat Gray told us to do including ‘Be Rude Not To’ and ‘Split Enz’, these were flowy and tacky and extremely fun! My hip hurt me like a bastard through a lot of the day – I felt really bad that Alee wasn’t going to be able to ride as much as he would have liked, which added to my frustration at not being skilled enough to ride all of the trails and not having the physical capacity (due to pain and inexperience) to do them. But I was glad we got to do the recommended trails and that Alee was able to hoon about and ride a couple of extras around the hills. Finally, after hurtling down (with me more inching my way) the last trail of the day, we realised the time (unfortunately we did have to be back by about 3:30 as we had to pick up a rental car for tomorrow before 4) and scarpered back to Bike Vegas.
We ran (well, Alee ran, I ran/walked/limped/ran) to the Car Rental place which was about 2km away from Bike Vegas where we’d delivered the bikes. 4pm on the dot was the arrival time, yes we are very impressive and time-capable when we really really have to be. Immediately after picking up the little white Mazda 2, we drove to the Food Store Okere Falls where we’d stopped on the way into Rotorua on our bikes. We ate and drank many delicious things on the 50km round trip. Funny it didn’t seem that far from here to Rotorua on our way in, maybe because we knew we were close, I’m not sure. The way the mind works on the bike is perhaps that of a higher being – kind of lucid, kind of dreamy, kind of aware and complete.
Things I have learned about MTBing
1. Mountain biking is worth every minute of scrambling up and around hills – both for the scrambling itself and the descents and the general amazing amounts of fun one experiences.
2. If you are riding with someone who is exponentially more experienced and more skilled than you, don’t try to follow their gear ratios, it is too hard and too confusing!
3. Keep your pedals level as often as possible.
4. When you’re riding up hills and little peaks and over little bumps, as much as you might want to, DON’T BRAKE! You’ll end up stuffing up any ‘flow’ you may have been getting and you might end up getting back-ended by another rider!
5. Time is relative when MTBing, don’t expect to stick to any kind of schedule. For example, when you are riding up a hill, it will feel as though you’ve been pedalling and pushing for at least an hour…20 minutes may have past, possibly less. Or when you are riding around a big park (like Rotorua) or around lots of different trails, don’t plan a time you want to get back at. Fun makes time pass so fast and you will be out at least an hour more than you planned, probably closer to two or more!
6. Embodying the character known as ‘SwearEngine’ is a good alternative to being a pussy and not riding. Ride and Swear and Swear and Ride.
7. Some older ladies are pretty impressive and could easily out-ride a lot of young whipper-snappers.
8. I wanna go again soon, please!
9. When you’re new, riding any trail can feel like this:
when you’re actually looking more like this: