By Vanessa Gordon

I recently fell in love. Not with a person. I fell in love with a place. A place that is a familiar home. I have never lived in this place but by birth right and according to my passport it is a part of my identity it is a home away from my many other homes.

This magical place is called New Zealand. Love makes you do crazy things! And I will be the first to put my hand up and own that when I love , I love hard and I get all kinds of crazy!

This re kindled passion for a nation has me traveling back and forth to visit the shores of the long white cloud. It’s like I can't get enough I want to experience all that New Zealand has to offer.

Last week New Zealand offered a thirty kilometre bike ride through the country side just outside of Auckland. And I said yes! My bestie gave me a road bike a few months ago and it is honestly hand on heart the best gift anyone has ever given me. Truth be known, I have been battling with finding a happy place and cycling has been a huge part of my healing.

Cycling, dancing, running, writing and creating have all been my therapy.

When the offer came up to partake in an actual organised event and cycle with a group of experienced cyclists I did not hesitate. I often act first then think later. I said yes with such gusto, determination and conviction it was as though I was about to embark on an epic ride on a magic unicorn galloping down a rainbow slide. An opportunity I could not miss.

Last Sunday it was a chilly New Zealand morning I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to take on the world. I wheeled the carbon bicycle we hired for this special occasion through the hallway of my hotel, into the lift and through the lobby. I walked through the corridors of that property neck to ankle in lycra. The moisture-wicking material snug and tight in all the right places offering just the right amount of compression and padding to protect precious body parts. I owned it. I strutted my amazonian body with my head held high. Helmet and all!

And the adventure begins. The bestie at the wheel and me in the passenger seat taking in the sights and silently praying that today will be a good day. The confident unicorn rider had suddenly lost all confidence. I think I left it at the hotel’s breakfast buffet! So many thoughts running through my head. Maybe I shouldn't have had that last slice of cheese or the three wholemeal chocolate croissants. Did they just label them wholemeal so I would feel better about eating three in a row? Did I eat enough protein? Will the scrambled eggs sustain me for a thirty kilometre ride? These tights are really tight! What if they cut off all blood flow to my brain and I pass out? Oooh look sheep! Dear God what have I done?

Before I could protest and beg to go back to the hotel (back to the buffet breakfast) we were pulling into the Manukau Veteran’s Cycling Club in the lovely Ardmore. This was it! There was no turning back. All of sudden I lost my voice and the ability to walk. The butterflies fluttered uncontrollably in my gut. I stood in the club’s car park quietly freaking out.

Suddenly I hear my name “Vanessa! What are you doing ? Come fill in your paperwork!” It was the bestie beckoning me to sign my life away.

Wasn't it obvious what I was doing? I was planning my escape.

There was definitely no turning back now. I went in to sign the forms. I was greeted by the loveliest human being with the warmest smile and I felt an instant relief. It was one of the coordinators a lovely lady! She had this mesmerising Kiwi charm. I secretly wanted her to take me under her wing and embrace me. I wanted her to make me a cup of tea and let me bask in her presence while the real cyclists went out for the day.

Nope.That dream shattered when she quickly ushered me out after signing the relevant paper work I was told to get on ya bike girl!

I met the other cyclists in our group and they were all just as nice. They were happy folk. Everyone was happy. My fear subsided a little as I eased into the congregation and listened intently to the instructions. It was also at this point that I discovered my 30km ride was in fact a FIFTY TWO KILOMETRE RIDE!

Oh Lord give me strength. As we convoyed out of the safe confines of the club house my heart raced. There was definitely no turning back now. I pedalled and pondered. I gave myself little mental motivational speeches. You can do this! You can do this! Break a leg! No no no bad choice of words don’t break anything. You can do this!

I rode. The group were amazing they were encouraging and made me feel part of the team. I may have slowed team down but they still made feel accepted. I did at one stage about twelve kilometres into the ride bring the team to a grinding halt when my breaks seized. How I survived remains a mystery. I swear I should have been catapulted into the air and that would have ended my cycling career. Alas I survived. I rode some more.

I rode til I had to swallow my pride and bow out of the ride . At the fifteen kilometre mark I looked over at the bestie and I don't know what it was that gave it away. You see we can speak without words. I looked at him and he figured it out. It may have been my pale pasty face. Or maybe it was the tears of pain that gently rolled down my face or maybe he just knew that if we didn’t turn back now I’d miss my flight or I’d pass out on the Great South Road. He just knew. He’s good like that. He gets me. So we turned around and cycled the fifteen kilometres back to the club house. Technically I did do a 30km ride.

On my ride back I was a little calmer the fear went away. I could live in the moment and take in what was happening around me. I rode past rolling green hills. The air was crisp and clean. Everything was green I saw sheep. Lots of sheep. I want this in my life. I want to go on Sunday morning rides with the Manukau Veterans. I want to be able to finish the course to the end. I want green rolling hills in my backyard I want to breathe fresh crisp air. I want to have copious cups of tea with the lovely lady at the club house. I fell in love. I feel a comforting peace in this country. I want more. I love this place. And it’s as though it loves me back. It was then right there on the corner of Burnside Road and Papakura-Clevedon Road that I made a life changing decision it was time.

I want to come home.