An old flame once told me he wouldn’t mind dying on a snow covered mountaintop whilst hiking the back country and scouting the best lines on his snowboard. I didn’t get it. How someone could be willing to throw his life away on something so frivolous as snowboarding, for life is a fragile gift and coming to terms with that fact is beautiful and frightening all at once. Our lives are merely breaths in the lungs of the universe and if we’re lucky, we might get to live one that’s balanced somewhere between subliminal experiences and finding comfort with friends and family, but it’s certainly not guaranteed.

But…. Then I met my mountain bike and suddenly I understood the reason why he said those things. It was because of how fragile life is–experiencing your poetry makes it all worth the risk. If every step falls in sync with the tune of your existence, then somehow the world stops spinning and you feel as if all is right. I can now fathom that comment with full respect for its gravitas because I pondered the question myself on a recent trip to New Zealand: is the risk worth it?

Born and raised in Santa Cruz California, I grew up under the assumption that when it rains, people don’t ride. Good Mountain Bikers were caretakers of trail, not the reckless few who destroy the fun and trails for everyone, so imagine my disappointment when I found out that the forecast for my trip to New Zealand predicted rain…every…single… day.  I had pre-booked my rental bike in Rotorua, agonizing the sting of the weather forecast even further.

Upon arrival, I asked the bike shop manager about being allowed to ride given the weather predictions. But something about his response surprised me and brightened my spirits. He looked at me incredulously as if I were speaking another language. Reason being, they have magic dirt.

Santa Cruz may have invented one of the most coveted mountain bikes of all time, but New Zealand may have perfected it the sport–just with their dirt. Those trails will forever live in my memory as perfectly carved odes to a mountain biker, complementing the versatility of the bike itself. The ground is perfect: absorbent, puddle-less, and textured, making it hard for riders who brave the rain to cause damage to the flawless trails and hard for the nervous nellies who brake too hard on berms to cause the ever so annoying bumpy ride.

The tropical Te Whakarewarewa forest was like something out of a dream that left me feeling overwhelmed with awe and admiration –the towering redwood trees reminded me of home, but the exotic silver fern hovered over me allowing sneak peeks at spectacular views through rain soaked glasses. I found myself stopping far too often to take photos and take it all in. I don’t think there was ever a moment where my smile faded. Even when my tires lost traction on the first day and I slammed my chin into the ground, easing myself up only to look down at three carved gashes into my ankle. The crank of my rented Trance did a gorgeous job releasing the blood, yet I still thought, “What a beautiful place to be injured and sitting on the side of a trail!”

These trails called for no obnoxious obligatory bells around corners, just flow and stoke. They were all one way and marked like a ski resort owned by Vail–no way to get lost. The only worry that plagued me was the question, was it all worth it? The risk, the injury, and so far away from home? My answer, HELL YES!

At the top!
First Bike selfie in NZ–again it’s raining and the dirt is magically puddle-less