American transplants Sarah and Zeph Wadsworth first came to my attention when they wandered into a Welly bike shop asking to keep an eye out for some stolen bikes and a load of riding gear. Not the best introduction to New Zealand for them, but being the super-affable people they are they realised that not all Kiwis are bike-stealing lowlife and decided to follow their hearts and dreams anyway. They became an integral part of the Wellington off-road community and were always going to be missed when they decided to head south for Wanaka. I’m sure they’re just as well-liked down there too. Especially if Sarah is baking everyone her awesome cookies, muesli and other goodies that you read about in Spoke’s ‘Stuffed’ pages…
Who is Zeph (in 5 words)
S: Brilliant. Chill. Fun.Creative. Patient. Generous. (She says he deserves 6 words at least.)
Who is Sarah (in 7 words)
Z: Caring. Amazing chef (1 word he says). Inspiring. Adventurous. Imaginative. Beautiful. Gracious.
Why NZ? Live your life like an experiment! And, with no regrets. We kept coming across people in the States who had major regrets for not following their hearts and making a deliberate choice regarding where they live. And while we liked where we were from in California, some part of us knew it wasn’t the best fit for us. We had fallen in love with NZ while on holiday and with Z’s citizenship (his mum was from Waikanae), we knew we had a choice that not everyone gets. NZ pulled at us for a lot of things we value in our lives – open and friendly people (obviously not the ones who stole our mountain bikes and all our belongings when we first moved over but that can happen anywhere), super fresh food, understated excellence in many areas, accessibility to the outdoors, and insane singletrack to be explored. Plus, our families encouraged us to explore and reminded us that we could always return if it didn’t work out. Needless to say, when we went home to visit after a year of being here, many had lost bets that we would return home in 6 months!
Why Welly? It was a tie initially between Welly and Wanaka and we chose Welly because we didn’t know many people and thought it would be a good home base to get jobs and get sorted. Z’s Godfather (the Godfather), Graeme, is a Wellington native and he is one of our favorite people so to be near him was incentive as well. (The coffee scene probably helped Z’s motivation too). Turns out the combination of trails (and ongoing trail building), the food, and the people in Welly rocked our world in the best of ways. Friends for life came from Welly and a forever longing for Moore Wilson’s wherever we go.
Why Wanaka? The mountains. And, all that comes with the mountains, from fly-fishing to endless mountain biking, to tramping, to snowboarding, to exploring and learning more mountaineering. There really is no limit when you find the right spot for your home base. This is the place both of us had (independently) been wanting for a long time. So, when we first heard of Wanaka, from participants in the Alpine Epic when we first came over, we were intrigued (they were also the happiest/healthiest lot of people we had come across before). When we visited it the first time, we just felt it. We kept coming back to visit, kept accruing friends here, got married here last year at Station Park, kept dreaming of a life in Wanaka. Finding Wanaka, was the real reason we moved to NZ.
What’s the story behind the Alpine Epic 2010?
Funny as it may sound, we needed a deadline to make sure we would move down here. Deadlines work!
How did you get into the mountain bike scene?
S: It started for me when my my mum got a new partner who was really into mountain biking, when I was about 16. Until then I had just been riding a mountain bike on the pavement! He has a unique style in that he didn’t encourage me to ride, but included me to go on rides with them in the dirt. Then, I gravitated toward the dirt and couldn’t get enough of it. That year, I found the solitude I love with riding alone in the bush and the fun of singletrack, while finding myself doodling and daydreaming about how to clean a new section of rock garden. I seem to have the personality that likes a lot of challenge- even on quite a subconscious level- so I started riding more and more and couldn’t get enough of it. I decided the same year that I wanted to represent the USA at the World Championships and set that as a goal, with no doubts of how it was going to happen. It did, and it remains one of my fondest memories of mountain biking. Cycling has been a constant in my life since then, but mountain biking has always been the passion. I quit (serious) racing/training because I wanted a long-term relationship with mountain biking and didn’t want to get fried on it. I can still be coerced into a race, especially if it is someplace special that is only open for that one event. That is a special treat! I love exploring on my mountain bike and I love the peace and quiet that comes to my mind when riding and I am forever grateful for what my body endures!
Z: I always remember riding my bike as a kid but in the early ‘90’s all my friends were getting into mountain biking in particular and it just kind of grew from there. I remember riding every day after school, finding local trails in Redding (Northern California) and finding fun local races to do was awesome. It was twofold as I realized I also really enjoyed the mechanical side of mountain bikes and could fix anything. First it was necessity to learn to fix my own bike and it just grew from there. I’ve always liked the aspect of riding with friends, being one of my favorite things, as well as enabling me to explore more and see parts of the world I would’ve have seen otherwise. In my Uni days the beer won and my mountain biking outings became more gravity-assisted. My cross country bike became a 50lb freeride bike until I broke my wrists- twice! At the same time I worked at the local bike shop, until I graduated and through a connection at the shop, was offered a mechanic position with the Luna Team to travel the circuit with them. In the 4 years I was with the team, it was always an honor to to be part of such an amazing team, with a vision that went beyond racing. Great experiences of traveling the world, working with amazing athletes, seeing new places, and exploring new trails. The only downside was that we worked long, hard days so most of the trails and country we saw, we could not ride as we were too busy! Thus, it ended up being a 4-year long reconnaissance trip!
Favorite place to ride
(In NZ) S: Backcountry singletrack- anywhere! Aside from that, anything that has good flow. Dean’s Bank is pretty good right now and when my mum was visiting, she and I rode it heaps and sounded like a couple of school girls coming down the berms without brakes. Lately, I’ve been really enjoying the drops and jumps at speed!
(Out of NZ) S: Rock gardens in our hometown in San Luis Obispo. Very arid and dry there with little to any dirt for the rocks to stick to. We did a great trail on our last visit called the What ? Trail and it looked like a giant waterfall of rocks. I loved it. Some combo of the 29r worked brilliant. Maybe I was just having a good day, but it was a lot of fun!
Where would you want to ride but haven’t yet?
S: Back country in Switzerland and Italy. Oh, Peru and parts of South America are now up there on the list! I’ve only seen pictures and it looks magic. Aside from that, discovering new trails around Queenstown/Wanaka is pretty fun in the meantime!
Z: Switzerland. Whistler. Definitely explore New Zealand’s trails more!
Zeph – You spent time working as one of the lead mechanics for the world’s #1 mtb team, the Luna Team, which happens to be all women, dream job?
Z: In reflection it was pretty sweet! There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that you don’t see like waiting for the team managers and the riders- a lot! Thus, a lot of hurry up to wait bits. But a lot of travel made me miss home and the fun I saw my friends having as time sped past while I was away. It was a great job indeed but am happy to have a homebase now.
S: Dream job… some combination of (food) writing and cooking in the outdoors. And being able to explore the world more and learn about other cultures (and their native foods). And helping others figure out their diet better so they can achieve whatever goals they have. I love cooking and from a recipe development/menu design aspect, so teaching people the enormous power eating the right foods (for each person’s specific requirements) is pretty rewarding.
One thing you’ve learned in the last 10 years:
Do what you love and life becomes your own heaven on earth (ie. life is too short to do something you hate or that sucks).
How would you describe your riding style:
S: Flowing (on good days), smooth (on good days), entertaining and random/organized chaos (all the time)
Z: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee! (Muhammed Ali quote)
All time favorite rider:
S: My favorite rider when I was racing was Gunn Rita Dahle – she is still amazing! Her fluidity and the fact she had a similar (non-waif) body type to mine and she was/is strong as hell. My mum’s hubby John, (who got me started on the mtb), is graceful like a cat on his mtb so he is one of my favorites to follow. Super smooth and so fun to watch. He can do wheelies for days on his road or mtb, up or down hills, etc. Aside from that, I really got into watching the World Cups on Red Bull TV this past year and it was awesome to watch Aaron Gwin. His speed and grace is unique, and, insane.
Z: Aaron Gwin is amazingly talented and fun to watch. Katerina Nash (from the Luna team) rides with so much heart and determination. Fabien Barel is most humble, down to earth downhiller I’ve ever met and insanely fast.
On a Saturday I like to get up and…
Head out early to explore! Sundays are for sleep ins (and Sarah’s insane brunches). And make Zeph a good coffee.