Feel the Fear, and do it anyway

We are in Rotorua, on the North Island, about 3 hours south of Auckland. While this city is not quite the extreme adventure destination of Queenstown on the South Island, Rotorua is still a major tourist attraction. A geothermal wonder, the city has great activities and food to keep every variety of tourist busy for a few days. The smell of hydrogen sulphide (i.e., rottten eggs) permeates the air and natural steam rises from sewer vents, mud pools, and rock crevices. Several geothermal parks are scattered throughout the area and Maori culture is evident everywhere, with a living village and historical sites.

Yesterday, we decided to visit the Redwood Forest walk- a series of board walkways suspended up in the trees between the redwoods. Redwood trees grow very fast in the New Zealand climate, and are magnificent. We went twice, once in the late afternoon when we caught the natural light show, and then came back to see the lantern light show after dark, which was magical. At 10 pm at night we were suspended in the dark in a forest, walking between lantern sculptures that light up parts of the forest floor.

However, before all that we decided to do a typical New Zealand adventure-tourist-activity, namely mountain biking.

I really love biking, and have enjoyed renting bikes in a number of places we have visited. My husband and I can easily bike 30 miles in a day, and love the freedom of setting our own pace, viewing a destination outside a car, and getting exercise all at the same time. “Normal” biking feels wonderful- mountain biking, however, feels very much like downhill skiing, i.e. a near-death experience. Doing a high ropes course in Montreal had a similar feel to it. It looks like fun, you pay a lot of money to do it ( so dammit- you should be enjoying yourself), and everyone seems to think it’s awesome. Meanwhile, I have to be honest, I am terrified half of the time, although I think that’s part of the reason people like doing the edgier sports- the sports where there is a reasonable chance you will get hurt. Some people like being scared.

Just as I was convincing myself that I wasn’t doing too bad- slow, yes, but I was able to stay on the track- two people in their late sixties went zooming by me. Keep in mind that New Zealand is a country where small children laughingly play in freezing lake water. Everyone seems to own a wet suit so they can go in the icy ocean, even though there is a good chance they know someone who was eaten by a great white. Our kayak tour guides the other night were barefoot, standing on course gravel and rocks, and really just t-shirts in the cold evening air. It’s a country where people say “Harden the f*** up” and mean it.

We have done a trail in northern Wisconsin that has a rather steep hill on it, and I don’t think I have ever rode down that hill- all I can see is the loose gravel at the bottom of the incline, and I dismount and walk it. So I will admit I am a total lightweight when it comes to any possibility of falling. My husband and daughter assured me we were only doing a grade two course- it will be easy. No big hills (lie #1) and totally safe (lie #2). Only 2.7 km. While they biked ahead, screaming with delight, I had visions of falling off the bike and breaking my neck. A medical school friend of my husband was literally blown off of a mountain while biking- and he was supposedly an expert. Probably not the thing to be thinking about while on the course. At any rate, I survived mountain biking (obviously) and I was very proud of myself- I did almost all the hills, except that one real steep one with the curve at the bottom. And I enjoyed myself despite all the terror I initially felt. If we go again, I hope to graduate from doing the kid’s circuit!

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