Good as Gold (as the Kiwis Say): S.T.

Hi Everyone,
As you may or may not be aware just last week I left for a three month stay in New Zealand. When weighing out the winter training options (I have signed with Colavita once again) a warm place to ride my bike in the southern hemisphere was irresistible.  A teammate of mine from last season offered an invitiation to stay with her and her boyfriend in a little town called Cambridge about an hour and a half southeast of Auckland.  Though quiet, it has turned into an unlikely hotspot for athletes of all varieties.  For years the area was known as an equestrian center but now it also boasts itself as home base for the National rowing team and many top cyclists including New Zealand's national hero, Sarah Ulmer. Sarah holds speed records on the track, won a gold medal or two, and has countless international wins.  She has her own line of bikes and sport clothing and amongst many, many public campaigns is the face of McDonalds down here.  It bodes well that this country should have a female cyclist as one of their biggest celebrities.  Though really, it's hard to point to one aspect of New Zealand that is not to be loved. 
This last week I have been busy settling in and getting myself orientated with the town and its surroundings so that when it is time to start the real training I will be ready.  I have found a gym and a good offering of yoga classes.  In addition to that, I spent the weekend road tripping with my new roommates to the very southern tip of the North Island.  They had business to attend to down there and I tagged along happy to have an opportunity to see more of the country.  In 6 hours the landscape never stayed the same for more than 20 minutes.  We drove past green valleys full of sheep and cattle, through tropical forests, past snow capped volcanoes and arid desert plains.  Nearer our destination in a town outside Wellington, the island looked very much like Northern California without all of the development.
Jeff and Meshy, my hosts here, were making the trip to visit family friends who have a 21 year-old son with testicular cancer which has spread to the liver and lymph nodes.  While they were  visiting with Luke and his parents I was going to stay in a hostel and do my own thing.  Unfortunately the hostel was closed down when we arrived and there was no other option but to go with them to their friends' home.  It was awkward at first because I had no desire to impose on a family who was in the midst of such a difficult situation and the family, I don't think, felt like entertaining some American when their son was about to come home from the hospital after his first round of chemotherapy.  I was having some serious doubts about my situation, wishing that instead of traveling I was at home where it was safe from the discomfort of such situations when Luke walked in the door.  At 19 Luke earned his way onto a Division 1 pro team in France.  I was told that he was always quite thin which helped make him the phenomenal climber he was but when I met him he was as skeletal as I think a human can get and still be able to stand up and walk around.  Shortly after coming home he showed me a poster of himself from one of those criteriums that the pros go to just after they have finished the Tour de France (I forget the name) and there Luke is with Thor Hushold fighting for his wheel and George Hincapie elbow to elbow with him.  It was pretty amazing. That night we had a lovely meal with the family where everyone suspended their worries and concerns for a few hours. I had the honor of representing every last citizen of the United States and took a thorough beating for every stupid American thing that any of them had ever witnessed.  I was happy to be a diversion and even more glad to have a second day and night with them before heading back up to Cambridge.  The morning we left everyone woke up at 4:30am to watch the All Blacks, New Zealand's professional rugby team, play England.  I guess it is tradition in NZ to wake up at whatever time their beloved rugby team is playing wherever they are in the world and listen to the game on the radio or watch it on tv. The early wake up wasn't so bad because I've been waking up at least that early since I arrived and the continous play of the game with only one commercial break at half time kept it exciting.  The fact that some of the players do things like model underwear in their spare time made it a bit more captivating as well.
It's quite possible that within a week or two Meshy and I will do a fun ride around here.  Evidently races like we are accustomed to in the states are rare.  Instead, everything is promoted as a fun ride with a huge entry fee and no prize money.  Despite that lots of pros and elite cyclists show up and have a full on race of their own. Afterwards there tend to be raffles or spot prizes that anyone who entered the ride is eligible to win. I hope to spend the first part of December touring around the country by bike.  I'm working on my itinerary now so if anyone has been to New Zealand I would welcome suggestions for places that are not to be missed.  Hope all is well and take care!

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