The Maximum is Not the Optimum: Kelly and Mal in New Zealand

The Maximum is Not the Optimum: Kelly and Mal in New Zealand
Words by Kelly Nowels, photos by Kelly and Mallory Nowels

“The maximum is not the optimum.” My buddy Chip likes to quote this Fabien Barel interview where the French downhill world champ waxes poetic about racing and life. Of course it’s all over my head, I mean this guy is a world champion, but it got me thinking and wanting to explore how optimum applies to bike touring.

Kelly and Mal in New Zealand-2

Mal and I have been drooling at the thought of a New Zealand trip for years. With winter approaching and knowing that we weren’t getting any younger (we totally are though), we started saving our vacation days and our pennies to make it happen.

Kelly and Mal in New Zealand

We sought the path of the optimum. We resisted the urge to maximize – to pack in more miles, more sightseeing, a faster pace, etc. etc. Instead we optimized for fun factor and quality time together. Keep it simple, unplug, ride bikes, and start the new year off right. Mal would get those base miles for road season and we could both take advantage of that whole summer in January thing, which turns out is pretty great.

Kelly and Mal in New Zealand

One of the special things about the southern island of New Zealand is the diversity of climates and topography that you can ride through on a relatively short tour. Alpine mountain passes, fjiords, glaciers, rainforests, and tropical coastlines were all on the menu and we would often finish a day’s ride and find ourselves in a totally different world than the one we had started in.

Instax Photo by Mallory

This was Mal’s first real bike tour of this kind and it was a blast introducing her to the lifestyle. Camp coffee in the morning, ride bikes every day, look for a grocery store in the afternoon, and find a place to sleep at night. We rode most days but weren’t opposed to occasionally booking a bus, train, or ferry to connect parts of the route that we found most interesting.

Kelly and Mal in New Zealand

All in all, we rode about 750 miles over mountains, through tunnels, on remote dirt roads and across plenty of Frodo-esque landscapes. It was a party – especially with the wine Mal was usually stashing in her panniers! We drank from the most crystal clear streams I’ve ever seen, swam in the lakes and rivers, made new friends, and accumulated more stories and memories than I have the time to tell here. Our spirits were indeed optimized and we’ve been scheming about how to get back there ever since.


Follow Kelly Nowels on Instagram and at his Website and follow Mallory on Instagram.