Used and abused

March 23, 2011

I think it’s time to get myself a new pair of riding shoes. I’ve got my money’s worth from these.

This is my friend Roei. I met him during my South Island ride. He’s near the end of a 64,000km round-the-world adventure.

He’s seen some amazing things and met some very interesting people along the way, to be expected when travelling through six continents and 39 countries on a bicycle.

You can follow his journey on his blog and read my story in The Aucklander here.

Roei is riding the length of New Zealand with his friend Etamar. They arrived in Auckland last week and stayed a couple of nights at mine before making their way up to Cape Reinga.

To talk to them about their home – Israel – is to have an eye-opening insight into how complex Middle Eastern tensions are. These two young men show a wisdom and understanding (although they say they’re no experts on the politics) beyond their age. Speaking to them made me realise how lucky we are to live in the relative peace of New Zealand. I think this is easy to take for granted.

Roei and Etamar seem resigned (perhaps realistic is a better word?) but certainly not cynical that there will be a World War III in their lifetimes and that their country will be involved. Although quite possible, the idea still scares me. Roei recalled an interesting saying that I’ve never heard before:

“We don’t know what weapons will be used in World War III, but we do know World War IV will be fought with sticks.”

Just watched Britain’s Missing Top Model on TVNZ’s new youth-orientated channel called U.

I stumbled across the show while channel surfing and left it on for a few moments expecting to be at the worst disgusted and at best disappointed. Turns out I watched the whole show without feeling either. I was surprised at how well the show was edited and how effectively it opens a window into a world seldom seen, particularly in the able-bodied mainstream world.

It indirectly tells the girls’ stories with just the right amount of sensitivity so as to not come across as condescending. This said, since I have no real firsthand experience of disability is my judgement fair or even valid, and how different is it from someone who has experience with disability or is disabled? Coming to think of it, I suspect this is a major theme throughout the show itself, transcending the contestants to include the judges, guests and photographers.

It’s refreshing to watch a show like this tackle complex issues like identity, normality and femininity. I’m not a particular fan of the original franchise (though I’m not the target market) but have seen enough to compare them with Britain’s Missing Top Model. It’s interesting that a spinoff is better than the original, something quite unusual, internet memes excluded. If subsequent episodes follow the same tack as the first episode it’s sure to be worth watching.

Complexity within the show aside, it has an added dimension of making the viewer (well myself at least) question and evaluate my existing beliefs and prejudices, if even for a moment. I found myself grappling with similar issues raised in the show. Should the winner be visibly disabled? Does it matter? Why does it matter? Should it matter? The judges deal with these very questions. It’s refreshing, though demanding, to watch television that engages with you in a more dynamic and active way.

All this said, I am left with a nagging question: how telling is it that there is not a single visibly disabled person in any other reality competition show, and would it even be possible for a show’s producers to include a disabled person in a ‘normal’ show without stoking the accusatory fire of being branded with exploiting shock value and tokenism? I have many questions, but fewer answers.

The show’s Friday evening slot means many of the channel’s target market are out doing their thing. I believe it repeats around midday on Saturdays which is a suitable slot for hangover viewing, though the content might be a bit amiss because of this. Google tells me the show’s almost three years old already so I’m way behind in this commentary. Well it’s new to me, at least.

Side note: Melenie Parkes’ review makes some great points that differ from mine. She’s more scathing of the show. Perhaps I’m being far too charitable to a show that’s just as exploitative and voyeuristic as any other reality TV show, if not more so.

South Island photos

March 8, 2011

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Tour de South Island

March 4, 2011

It’s been a week now since I arrived home from my tour of the central north of the South Island.

The trip was fantastic, and the hardest thing I have ever done. I covered 450km in 6 days of riding on my trusty Team Miyata with little more than a backpack. Part challenge, part adventure, part holiday - this trip has taught me a lot about myself in just 12 days.

I met some wonderful people in the places I visited, particularly in and around the several backpackers I stayed at. Without fail each person I met would tell me I was crazy after they realised that I was riding  a track bike and that this meant one gear, no freewheel and no brakes.

Many doubted my ability to complete my trip, some going as far as to say jovially that I was going to kill myself. Thrown into their mix of advice and commentary was also a hearty amount of “good on ya, bro!” sentiment.

Beyond their initial disbelief, many seemed genuinely amazed that someone would do what I was doing, or that anybody would actually come up with such an idea to start with. Hearing all these different things, coupled with the actuality of the challenge I faced, meant I went through the gamut of emotions, from fear, terror and anxiety, to triumph, happiness and fulfillment. All this in little under two weeks.

But on to the riding itself, it was bloody hard, my entire body felt the pains of riding on average 75km each day with a 12kg pack. Some hills were impossibly steep to climb, or descend for that matter. This meant I found myself walking many stretches at a time. This was the case through the steepest sections of Arthur’s Pass and Lewis Pass which meant solid hours of walking to reach ridable hills.

But the pain and sweat was worth it when I reached my planned destinations each day. A strong sense of achievement mixed with a healthy dose of sheer exhaustion. I live in a  beautiful country which feels very untouched when you get out of the main centres, if you can ignore the fact you’re travelling along a winding man-made snake that is our state highways.

Once at altitude I drank water from streams and waterfalls flowing alongside the road. The best water I’ve ever tasted; crisp and refreshingly cool.

Being out in it with nothing but your own will and muscles to carry you along to your destination is an awesome feeling. It’s why I love bicycles and track bikes in particular. It’s just you and the bike in its purest form. There’s simply no better way to see the world in my mind. I’ve lived in Auckland for 10 years now and it’s taken that long to visit the South Island. I like what I see and I’d love to go back and see more of it in the near future.

There’s no point in telling people where they should and shouldn’t go because everyone’s tastes are different, but Arthur’s Pass and the route through to Greymouth and the West Coast narrowly comes in as my favourite area on this trip. I have hundreds of photos to go through. I’ll be posting some up soon which will describe what I saw better than any of my words can.

For the observant wondering how this route doesn’t add up to more than 450km, you’re spot on. The total round trip was 600km but for two stretches I relied on diesel power to get me where I needed to go. I caught the TranzAlpine from Springfield to Arthur’s Pass and a bus from Reefton to Maruia Junction. This meant I had the better part of the whole day to spend in the surroundings of Arthur’s Pass and Maruia. All other legs relied on my own two legs, and a dose of craziness, as they say.