In Queenstown we stayed with Adam, who I met on my adventure across America in 2011, and who knew Luke from the same trip and before. Everyone got accustomed to living indoors—albeit sleeping on the floor of the garage—all too quickly. The initial plan had been to use Queenstown as a base for trips to the rest of the South Island. But New Year followed Christmas without us having gone further than Wanaka, 70km away, and the only nights not spent in the garage were when someone or another didn’t make it back from town.
Queenstown is a fairly isolated place, established after the discovery of gold in the surrounding mountains. Once the gold was exhausted the town’s primary industry became tourism, especially mountain bikers in the summer and snowboarders in the winter. This puts a youthful skew on the demographic.
I felt—as I was—the oldest on the trip. I spent my time cooking, reading, watching films, and exploring the walking tracks nearby and in the surrounding mountains. The alternative, getting wasted and sleeping half the day away, was not what I came to New Zealand for. I felt trapped, partly by a knee injury but overarchingly by the divergence in ambition between me and the rest of the group.
There were good days. We had some adventures, and always with a spectacular backdrop. The better part of their time, unfortunately, was consumed by what I thought were the worst parts of the place. I begrudge no-one their fun, but my trips around Australia and Europe were what they were out of a willingness to live cheaply and keep moving.
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The longer we stayed in Queenstown the more evident it became that I needed to extricate myself from the situation. I began to plan a cycle touring adventure across the USA. It would start in California and end in Texas, as my trip three years ago had done. I dreamed of deserts and mountains, of wordlessly pedalling the days away toward some vast horizon. I occupied myself studying monthly temperature averages and plotting routes.
The first step I took towards leaving was to sell my BMX. My interest in riding had been slipping over the years but it had dropped off completely by the time we got to Queenstown. It still wasn’t an easy decision; I have BMX to thank for teaching me how to travel like this. There is a thread that runs from now to Radley racetrack road trips, age 15 in the back of someone’s van, but now is not then. BMX has experienced enormous progression in the 14 years I’ve been riding. Perhaps it has regressed as well by becoming more heterogeneous, more saturated. That has little bearing on why I quit. From those early road and train trips to moving away from home then moving to London BMX always seemed to promise the most adventure possible in the circumstances. In New Zealand BMX was the reason to not move on; I was prevented from having, in the other ways I’ve since found, as much adventure as I’d like.
The ultimate factor was the risk, which only increased the less capable I became. After sliding down the road at 40mph after a vicious speed wobble (my second major crash of the trip) and the ensuing time spent recovering I was done. A couple of weeks later I took the first chance I got to sell my bike.
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I think that people’s willingness to host travellers is predicated, to some degree, on vicariousness. It brings adventure into their lives. If the adventure is gone then the goodwill can, understandably, go with it. So after six weeks of living in the garage our welcome was outstayed, something which I regret very much to do. The rest of the group moved to sleeping in the woods and the car. They had neither the money to continue travelling, nor the immediate means of earning it anywhere but Queenstown. I began the transition to travelling alone.