Friday, January 31, 2014

Bicycling New Zealand: part 3 - John Cleese, eat your heart out...

We've made it nearly 700k to Wellington, our final destination in New Zealand. We had 2 options to get across the mountains to the West Coast, and we decided on a route that took us through the inland college town of Palmerston North. We've read that John Cleese famously said "if you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick." In response, PN named the town dump after him. Most people in NZ raised an eyebrow when we confessed our route, saying "Palmy! Don't go there, it's so boring!" Well, we stuck to our guns (we feared the Rimutakas! ) and you know what? Our best cycling was that week! We took back roads through Waipawa, cycled through a 6.3 earthquake, hit Dannevirk, then had a massive 80+k day into Palmy. Headwinds so strong, we couldn't stay on the bikes even on flat terrain. I'm not sure how we made it so far, creaking along the downhills at a meager 8k/hr, but we did it! After all the beautiful farmland, sheep, horses, cattle, bluffs, and the Manawatu Gorge, we collapsed at a friend's house...and a town never felt so good as Palmy did. A sparkling river, well-marked cycle trails, and gorgeous citrus trees greeted us. Eat your heart out John Cleese! We loved it. And we learned to trust our instincts. People get stuck in their ways you know? It felt like an old joke to poke fun at Palmy, but people really start to believe it. Then they don't know what they're missing.

Prior to that, we had a phenomenal time in Napier. Enjoyed a 3 1/2 hour winery gig where we pulled out a bunch of old tunes. Those "jukebox" gigs as we call them can be pretty fun. We both take risks that we wouldn't normally do at a proper listening show. I took a few meandering solos, trying to make Aimee laugh. It's a good time, cutting loose during a show. I've got to work harder and become a better player, so it will be easier to go off the rails and make for a more exciting performance. Listening to someone playing it safe is so boring, but I notice myself falling into that pattern often. I'll always prefer watching a player go for something great, even if they miss the mark. We had a lovely sold out house show in Napier that was less risky, but a far more emotional performance with such an attentive audience. I love how the show changes from night to night, keeps it interesting for both of us.

We played pool in a cool old bar in Dannevirk, and the bartender stayed open late to chat and serve us drinks. Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us" video came on the tv, and we stopped talking to watch and point out landmarks and acquaintances. She asked us, "does this make you homesick?", and it made both of us pause. My immediate reaction is "of course not!" But what is homesickness? I've been thinking of home a lot. Every garden I see makes me eager to get back and dig in the dirt. I constantly imagine detailing parts of the trip to our friends, describing what we saw and learned. But all this imagination doesn't mean that I'm having a bad time, or want to go home. I love traveling. I love learning new language, seeing new parts of the world, eating new food, meeting new people, hearing new music. But I do want to go home, eventually. It's one of the best parts about travel, knowing you get to come back and share all these fascinating experiences with people you love.

We've come to the end of the first third of this adventure, with our final show mere hours away...then off to Oz for another two months! I can't wait to tell you all about it! ~ Moe

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bicycling New Zealand: part 2 - Upside Down

The world can turn upside down, did you know that?  I've been staring at the moon, it's waxing gibbous in the opposite direction than I've seen my whole life. It's been creeping toward full, filling in to the right.  The sun moves right to left across the northern sky.  Water runs down the drain clockwise.  I've finally seen the Southern Cross, and Orion appears to be doing a cartwheel.  The night sky is quite a spectacle down here.

The tour had a sober beginning. A few nights ago in Auckland, we passed a blocks-long traffic accident. At the end of the scene, a white sheet covering a still body. We found out the next day that a cyclist had been hit by a truck and killed.
It's hard to explain the feelings that come after witnessing such tragedy. Fear, for one. Will I be killed as well? Will I watch Aimee get pulled under a truck? What happens when we die, anyway? Many of the songs on our new album revolve around the topic of well as true love, being true to self, and taking care of each other and the spaces we occupy.  But death has been on my mind, and it's been recently suggested to me that I should seek out a spiritual center, find some comfort in a higher power. I wonder, what spiritually grounds most of my friends? What do they think happens when we die? Why haven't I asked them? Am I being too macabre?

I ponder some of this as we cycle.  The cycling so far has been pretty great. Short days, less than 50k, with lots of beautiful rolling hills and only a little rain. We've played 2 incredible shows, explored a cave 60m underground while blackwater rafting, seen thousands of sheep (they all turn to look at us as we slowly creak by...we often call “whaaaaat are you staaaaaaring aaaat"), got sunburned, and had lots of laughs.  We've just completed a massive trek through the mountains from Lake Taupo to the Art Deco city of Napier.  We had a fantastic view of Mount Ngauruhoe (otherwise known as Mt. DOOM) as we cruised out of Taupo.  145k and 2 days later, we finished a steep 7k climb and finally descended into beautiful Napier, nestled at the edge of Hawkes Bay and the center of New Zealand wine country.  We've got some great shows lined up here, we'll report back on those soon.
I try and start each day feeling grateful for my life and all it's riches. When you see firsthand how quickly it can all end, it really brings urgency to the business of being happy, and kind. The world can turn upside down in a flash, you know?  Here's to enjoying these lives we have to the fullest.

~ Moe

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bicycling New Zealand: part 1 - Auckland

Ralph the ginger Tomcat is curled up inside my cardboard bike box, discarded in the sunny gravel driveway out here in Auckland.  You can see his feet in this photo.  Aims and I have decided to assemble the bicycles today, a beautiful morning on our second full day in New Zealand.  

What an amazing country so far!  I can't even begin to describe how wonderful our hosts Toby and Vic have been.  We were met at the airport by Vic, big smile on her face, waving a colorful sign declaring "MoZo!" as we wheeled out of customs.  We felt so cool!  Neither of us have ever been met with a sign at an airport before.

We've spent a lively few days meeting a bunch of musicians ("musos"), having great jams. Some nice mashups of trad tunes with Aims' snare backbeat gave me a few ideas.  I've been practicing my Maori pronunciations, though everyone here seems to have a slightly different accent, so it takes a bit to get it right.  Vic has been phenomenal in pointing out all the traditional names for every mountain, valley, plant, animal, you name it!

Auckland reminds me quite a bit of Seattle and the NW.  Beautiful, liberal and environmentally friendly. Mountains and oceans and bush all rolled together in one little area.  We took a spin through the Waitakere range to the west coast beaches and ended up in a huge cave.  Apparently the super fine, soft black sand has been slowly filling it up for the last couple hundred years, and the cave floor is now buried about 22ft below.   We hear tell it used to be a European community center, and that there is a kauri (a coniferous tree) dance floor under there!  Imagine that huge cave with an additional 20 feet of ceiling space...amazing!  We sat around playing a bit of music, the acoustics were so sweet.

First show of the tour is Wednesday night, got to get our sets together.  First up though, is a ride through the hills today, past Titirangi.  We've got to get our legs in shape after all this sitting around! Ralph disagrees, stretches his legs, and seems to say he'll meet us back at the house.