One of the best reasons to study abroad in New Zealand is the long break that students get in the middle of each semester. Two weeks is standard, but spring break here at the University of Canterbury is three weeks, and it’s going on now.
Back when I had a girlfriend in California, the plan had been to fly home and visit her. After we broke up last month, it took me a long time to decide what to do with my already purchased plane tickets.
My first thought was to fly home and stay with my parents instead. They would have been happy to have me, and I had reason to visit. Besides getting to see family and friends, I could have finally replaced my lost driver license, something that has been a limiting factor here in New Zealand.
Going home would have been the safe, familiar choice. That’s why I gravitated toward it initially. But as the days passed and the time for a decision drew nearer, I realized what a missed opportunity that would be.
The comforts of home can wait. This is probably the only time in my life I will have three weeks’ vacation in New Zealand, and there’s still so much of this spectacular country I haven’t seen. With only hours to spare, I cancelled my plane tickets for a partial refund.
By the time you read this, I will be on a thousand-mile road trip with my German flatmate, Marius. I’m lucky that he recently bought a camper van for this purpose, and that he hadn’t yet found a travel companion.
Ordinarily, I would feel the need to meticulously plan for a trip like this, a trait I get from my dad and that was reinforced during my four years in the Marine Corps. For this trip, however, I think it’s important that I not overthink it. This semester, I’m learning to accept that it’s impossible to plan for everything. Even if it were possible, I’m not sure that I’d want to. Proper preparation reduces the risks involved, but it also takes away from the fun and adventure. Knowing what’s going to be around every corner makes for a sterile experience.
I credit my cycling for teaching me this life lesson. Despite a pair of recent rainstorms, I’ve now put 400 miles on my bicycle. I’m closing in on my goal of riding through every square kilometer of Christchurch and its suburbs. I carefully plan each ride to cover as much new ground as possible, but once I’m out on the road, I allow myself to detour if I see something interesting. Whether I’m on the predetermined route or wandering impulsively, I find that my best memories are unplanned.
In downtown Christchurch, Cranmer Square is covered with crosses bearing the names of the thousands of Canterbury residents who died in World War I. It’s part of a nationwide effort to commemorate the fallen on the War’s 100th anniversary.
Christchurch is home to a couple of wizards. I first saw them at a Waitangi Day celebration in February. Here they are again, this time enjoying afternoon tea on New Regents Street. The large sculpture across the street is one example of the hundreds of works of public art around the city.
Looking west toward the Avon River from Cashel Street in downtown Christchurch. From left to right: a bike share program (free for the first 30 minutes), the Bridge of Remembrance war memorial, and a public ping pong table (paddles and balls included).
This week I rode 12 miles to the next town north of Christchurch, Kaiapoi (population 10,200). I crossed the main bridge in town just in time to snap a photo of this kayaker on the Kaiapoi River.
My favorite things about Kaiapoi were the pedestrian bridges across the Kaiapoi River, which connected miles of paved paths along the tops of the river banks.
The 2010/2011 earthquakes liquefied floodplains in and around Christchurch, including land in Kaiapoi (pictured here). About 10,000 houses were condemned and demolished, leaving behind only the streets and the driveways. There is much debate over how to repurpose this “red zone,” but nothing has been done yet.
For example, roadwork often forces me to deviate from my route, but I love the challenge of having to find a way around it. The most creative solution I once found was to carry my bike through an adjacent cemetery, then squeeze through a fence to get back on track.
On another ride, I was passed by a portable building that was being towed by a slow-moving car. I sprinted to catch up, then drafted behind it, coasting for several hundred meters before it turned off the road.
One day, riding back from the farmlands north of the city, my route was cut off by a flooded road. Rather than turn around, I decided to pedal through the shin-deep water. It was unpleasant at the time, but it makes me smile to think back on it now.
Not all cycling surprises are fun ones. Here I had to ride through a puddle the size of a pond. My shoes got soaked, but it was worth it, because I was way out in the country. Turning around would have added six miles to my ride.
The best rides have multiple surprises. A couple Sundays ago I stumbled upon an old outdoor cycling track. There was no one around, so I took it for a spin! Then, back on the road, miles later, I chased after a convoy of classic cars until I found the show where they were gathering.
On a recent ride, I detoured through Denton Park, where I discovered this velodrome. Originally built for the 1974 Commonwealth Games, it is now open to the public. Zooming around its steeply banked curves was nerve-wracking, but fun!
Back on the road after leaving the Denton Park velodrome, I noticed I was being passed by dozens of classic cars. I chased after them for more than a mile trying to find out where they were going. Just when I was about to give up and turn around, I discovered a meeting of the Canterbury Branch Vintage Car Club.
All these unexpected encounters have happened in the few weeks since my last blog post. Just like the improvements to my social life I wrote about then, again I am learning to embrace uncertain situations for the new experiences they offer.
The fun part about cycling through an unfamiliar city is that I never know what I’ll find. This middle-class neighborhood has a street with my name on it!
A friend invited me to try the high ropes course at Adrenaline Forest. We made it all the way to the highest platforms!
Wanting to be more relaxed and accepting of the unknown is what convinced me to spend my break in New Zealand, and it’s the same approach Marius and I have agreed to have on our road trip. We have a general plan, but nothing is set in stone. We’ll figure out the details as we go! For the first time in a long time, that suits me just fine. I’m finally learning to let go.