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On the road in New Zealand by bicycle.
Epic Fails

Two Screws and a Life's Dream

  • Merlin Gröber
  • October 7, 2019
Credits cover image: Merlin Gröber

By bicycle through New Zealand. This is the life's dream of our author. He never made it. But he got close. What happened in between? Falling down, getting up again, restarting, changing plans, changing goals - a journey like the year 2020.

My life's dream ended in a ditch on the other side of the world. Two small screws and my pride were to blame. But one thing at a time. My life's dream: to cycle around New Zealand. For a year. After my civilian service I had saved enough money, I flew to the other end of the world and bought a mountain bike. It cost almost 2000 Euros including saddlebags, tent, stove and everything else you need to survive alone in the middle of nowhere. After that I was broke.

The problem began with the bicycle. The frame was made from aluminium, luggage rack and screws were made from steel. Bicycle experts know: That's not a good combination. But at the time I was not yet a bicycle expert. The second problem is that anyone who wants to fulfil a lifelong dream needs money. My entire savings had been spent on the bike, I had to work on the move. So I packed things into my saddlebags that have no place on a carrier: fine leather shoes, laptop, shirts, jeans, work clothes. I wanted to be prepared for any job that was offered to me.

Packed bike before the tour
Steel touring bikes are suitable for long bike trips. I got myself an aluminum mountain bike - a bad decision
Image credit: Merlin Gröber / Merlin Gröber

For a month I planned and packed, drew routes in diaries and wrote lists of sights I wanted to visit. In 11 months I wanted to ride 7200 kilometers and overcome 65,000 metres in altitude. On November 25, 2011, a cloudy morning in New Zealand's spring, the time had come: I jumped onto the saddle and started cycling towards my life's dream. On the drive through the hilly landscape of the North Island, past small farms and endless sandy beaches, I could feel the freedom. Again and again the sun flashed between the clouds, a flock of songbirds flew beside me for a while. Then there was a bang, my handlebars vibrated. With a rattleing noise my bike came to a halt. Dismount, check it out. Then the horror: The screw that holds the frame and luggage rack together was broken.

Threesomeness: Tent, bicycle and me
My mountain bike, my tent and me. For a year I wanted to cycle around New Zealand - 7200 kilometers. I managed 140 kilometers of it.
Image credit: Merlin Gröber / Merlin Gröber

I Stopped on the Highway with a Broken Wheel and Shattered Dreams.

With my pocket knife I took the broken screw out of the thread and started to tie the luggage rack to the frame with duct tape and string. "With this I'll make it to the next village, I will be able to find new screws there", I murmured to myself and packed my pocket knife. At that moment a pick-up truck stopped, an old New Zealander got out and inquired about my problem. "No worries, we'll get it done," he said, took me to his home and repaired the damage. Then we had dinner. The next morning I cycled on. After 60 kilometers: bang, rattle, standstill. I stopped on the highway with a broken wheel and shattered dreams.

Broken luggage rack on the mountain bike
Not a good combination: On the first day the steel screw in the aluminium frame of my bike broke
Image credit: Merlin Gröber / Merlin Gröber

"Hey, buddy, you need some help?" - half a dozen bearded motorcyclists in leather suits stopped next to me. One by one they inspected my mountain bike, then they arranged a ride for me to New Plymouth, the next town. "If you make it to Wellington, get in touch with us," they said, giving me their addresses and racing away on their bikes. I never made it as far as Wellington, my tour ended in New Plymouth: The threads in the aluminium frame of the mountain bike were torn out on both sides, the luggage rack was gone, the frame was gone. It's a total loss. I sold my bike - or what was left of it - and signed up in a hotel restaurant. I spent the year in New Zealand. Without bike. I have kept my life's dream until today.