Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If this is your first time to the blog. . .

Thanks for checking it out! Still finishing the info on the last part of the trip (into Tasmania). If you are interested in checking things out from the start, click here: First day of cycling in New Zealand

I am working on the last portion of Tasmania and will catch everyone up on living in New Zealand and Tasmania as soon as possible. I have time right now as I am still awaiting visa approval to work in Tasmania - please, try not to feel too bad for me having time off down under.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

2/25/2009 - Shortcuts Sometimes Take Longer

Up reasonably early with a small "puff" of dust that had collected on my sleeping bag. The one advantage of this Aussie groundcovering is that it is relatively soft, making my repeatedly-flat sleeping pad more comfortable than usual.

Cool wallaby-related note: My mom woke up early in the morning and looked out their tent to see a big wallaby looking back in at her. Probably much creepier in the moonlight than the Disney-esque vibe it first engenders.

This really was the first day that my parentals could truly feel like they were on vacation, I think. The morning came on slowly with coffee and semi-dusty eggs cooked on one of the solid metal outdoor grills. Coffee was downed liberally.

IMG_2068.JPGElectric outdoor barbecue. The trick is avoiding putting your eggs on the parts with the unknown black goo.

IMG_2061.JPG "I sell you towel cheap!"

This leads me to a fun fact about my parents. They do not (and have never) drunk alcohol with any great consistency, have never used drugs of any kind, and gamble $5 max in Las Vegas. Why avoid all of these vices? All of their "vice receptors" have been specially fine-tuned for caffeine - perhaps I should rename it Coffeine. For as long as I can remember, my parents have had to imbibe coffee in the morning. It did not matter where we were - camping in the Aleutians, cycling in England, driving through Kansas (actually, I'm pretty glad they drank coffee on those drives), sheep hunting in Alaska. . . No matter how remote, no matter if the trip had to be so weight-conscious that every other bristle on a toothbrush was clipped off and shoelaces shortened to stubs, filters and fresh coffee and additional water and fuel HAD to be along. God save you if you accidentally brought instant coffee, too - I shiver at the thought. Thinking that age may have tempered their habits, I suggested picking up some nice, light, cheap instant coffee while in Devonport and immediately felt the wrath of the addicted. If the beans weren't specially hand-picked by El Presidente of Ecuador, shipped by air freight overnight, then roasted over the coals of less worthy coffee beans and fresh-ground into hermetically-sealed bags, it might as well be filtered sewage from the local Indian food restaurant.

I may be exaggerating the above, but, trust me, not as much as you think.

This is actually not a complaint. I have developed an enjoyment of a morning cuppa joe as well. The difference is that I will buy a Costco Mega-Tin of ground coffee that lasts me for over a month and be perfectly happy. I can always ferret out the nearby coffee snobs by the inadvertant cringe when they see me pouring Coffeemate and Splenda into my mug of Folgers.

The upshot of all that is we had a very nice hike with our coffee out to the ocean.

IMGP1907.JPGEyes. . . watering. . . sun. . . so. . . bright. . .

IMG_2065.JPGJust Mom and I. The smiles are courtesy of the Jamaican Blue Mountains.

IMGP1910.JPGWallaby tracks (note where the tail drags).

Once again, it took a serious amount of time for everything to be packed up. As a matter of fact, we grabbed a bit of lunch before setting out for the day.

IMG_2071.JPGI have brought out the solar panel again in an attempt at making friends with Al Gore.

As we pored over the map, it became clear that we needn't retrace the 7km back to the main highway - there is a nice road that cuts directly over to the top of the valley. It's only about 25km long. Easy.

Retroactive rule for shortcuts: If the GPS maps around a shortcut despite all efforts to direct the route, be suspicious. Especially if the road doesn't appear on the GPS map at all.

After a comfortable few kilometers, we hit the turnoff. Within 50 yards, it went from pavement to gravel. Hmmm. Oh, well - that should limit the traffic. And, for a gravel road, it's solid.

Unfortunately, this road had a lot in common with a stereotypical "golddigger", i.e. well-maintained at first but develops "potholes" and "riffles" and "sand" from "lazy graders" at about the point you can't easily turn back. On second thought, perhaps I should rethink that simile.

After about 30 minutes of cycling, it became more and more important to treat every downhill with kid gloves given the beating both my bike and myself were taking from the ripples in the road and the potholes. If not noticed in time, I was shaken like an overly-separated can of paint. This would be immediately followed by a quick check of the spokes, which surely had to be broken, and a silent promise to go slower. The Geriatrike fared better with its shorter (and consequently tougher) spokes. I fell behind a little.

That did not last long. The dirt track began to climb. Hmmm, we thought. Interesting. It didn't look like any significant climb on the map.

Soon enough, we had to face facts: This was not going to be a jolly little Sunday pedal by the beach. This was going to be a grinding climb on dirt, soft sand, and frequent irregular holes.

Not only that, but there seemed to be something wrong with the Geriatrike motor. It was working on pavement, but somewhere along the dirt road a quick twist of the throttle resulted in no power whatsoever. This meant winching speed again.

I would bike ahead in small sections of hill and wait to make sure that Mom and Dad made it up. After all, this is a new machine and there were occasional cars along.

IMGP1912.JPGThis was a particularly good stretch of road coming up the hill. Just so you know, this is a picture, not video, though it is difficult to discern the two at the Geriatrike pace.

Finally, after one particularly steep portion, I did not see their bobbing orange flag by the time I should have. Returning down the hill, I found the trike by the side of the road and Mom and Dad out examining it.

IMG_2074.JPGThink fast, Junior Engineers - What is wrong with this picture?

As it turns out, the chain had started slipping due to it being too loose. It took some time, but we were able to tighten things up appropriately.

IMG_2078.JPGEnded up moving this gear forward just a smidge to tighten things up. It was not as complicated as my confused expression seems to indicate.

At last, the slow progression began again. The weather cooperated, giving some sunshine and a good temp around 75 degrees that was very welcome.

At last, I reached the top. Based on my recent experience, I felt that I had time to take a little hike (like, for example, a retrace of the Lewis and Clark expedition) before worrying about the Geriatrike's arrival.

IMGP1915.JPGA happy little pathway, one of many alongside the road, surely hiding the many Australian poisonous snakes and spiders.

IMGP1916.JPGThe view out of the trees from the top of the climb, over 1,000 feet up. It's an interesting mix of mostly temperate trees with just a hint of the tropics. If you look closely, you can pick out the steam released by my parents as they sweated up the hill.

IMGP1918.JPGNational Geographic probably is not looking to hire me based on this picture. Trust me, though - there just was not a good spot to shoot a picture out toward the mountains.

Eventually, the Geriatrike crawled its way to the top. I need to give some credit where it's due. Despite the long and slow ascent without any motorized assistance, neither Mom nor Dad had anything but smiles at the top. Not once was there a word of complaint. This would be tested further by the end of the day.

Down the other side we went. With gravity now firmly in control, the Geriatrike became the Charging Yellow Locomotive of Doom. They were able to go much faster than I yet again thanks to the roughness of the road. Both of us actually stopped several times to let the brakes cool down. I timed it by the brake smell.

Things started becoming easier as the descent continued, and I was able to be close behind them. It was around that time that I noticed the Geriatrike's trailer slamming its front onto the ground every time they hit a reasonable bump.

Soon enough, Dad pulled over for another reason. There was a new funny noise, and the geriatrike had become very difficult to pedal suddenly.

The culprit was found to be a bolt holding on a gear used to redirect the drive chain. With a bit of ingenious bolt rotation 180 degrees (which moved the gear away from the bar it was actively chewing into) and switching the arm of the trailer to the other side, about an hour passed.

IMG_2086.JPGThis is like a rehash of the first half of my trip as I was slowly bulletproofing my bike.

If you are keeping score at this stage, you will realize that we are now getting into the late afternoon after all of the repairs and the grueling hill climb. We were able to get back on the road at about 5PM. We decided to revise our plans and head for Beaconsville, which has a backpacker's hostel.

IMGP1921.JPGBack on the road again. My forward scouting position allowed me to get this shot of the Geriatrike crawling to the top of yet another hill. That blob ahead of them is either the reflection of the sun or the poltergeist of broken bikes that has apparently moved from my bike to theirs.

When we suddenly hit the pavement again, it was like an opening of blue sky on a rainy day. The stars aligned, and, most of all, there were no more riffles. If those vibration-based weight loss machines of the 1950s actually worked, I estimate that I would have lost about 5 pounds from our little dirt road jaunt.

With darkness closing in behind us and the promise of a cooling beverage ahead, the pace quickened.

IMGP1922.JPGToday's attempt at an Ansel Adams-esque shot, though I don't think he did many pictures from the road using a point-and-shoot camera. Amateur.

The last of the sun's rays captured our exhausted but delighted (and dusty) faces as Beaconsville loomed. Soon enough, we had pulled up to stately old building with a pub in the bottom and the hotel on top. I paid for the rooms and we were able to fit both my bike and the Geriatrike in a stairwell inside the hotel, which satisfied my dad's somewhat paranoid concerns that someone was going to take off with the Geriatrike and sell it. This concern survived the entire trip despite the fact that even if two thieves pedaled as fast as they could all night and we didn't discover that it was gone until morning, they would broken down within about a 5km radius and in a giant, yellow tricycle with a solar panel on the roof which does not offer the kind of black market anonymnity as, for instance, the Space Shuttle.

We headed up to our large, 3 bed room that was quite comfortable. Everything was clean and the bathrooms had very nice showers. Beer on tap was made available as we unloaded, and down we headed to catch the end of dinner.

Interestingly, in the small hall downstairs, there were ballroom dance lessons going on. As soon as I walked through the door, I apparently became very much a wanted man. As seems to be usual with dance lessons, there was a paucity of male volunteers, and the friendly (and unabashed) lady leading the lessons was VERY excited. Did I dance? she asked. Before I could respond, mom began to highlight my ballroom dancing skills in an enthusiastic manner. I could see "Jackpot" appearing in the dance instructor's eyes in a comical Looney Tunes manner. She would not be put off despite dinner coming soon.

"Come in! We need another guy!"

In reality, I had done some ballroom dancing in college, but have not for years. At this point, a truly astute partner would dress for an evening on the dance floor in much the same manner as a police dog trainer, only with more toe protection and maybe lighter colors.

Nonetheless, I agreed.

IMG_2088.JPGThe look on my partner's face really demonstrates well what children with a broken toe exhibit as they walk in the ER. The look on my face mostly reflects that my dance step recall is now limited to the Electric Slide.

To my immense relief, I was catching the end of the class and so was only needed for 15 minutes. Actually, it was quite fun as everyone was extremely nice.

Dinner came about around the time the class ended. This really was what we needed, and we had the dining room to ourselves.

IMG_2092.JPGA high-class evening out in Beaconsville, where steak is topped with shrimp!

At last, bedtime. There would be no problems sleeping tonight. Tomorrow the plan is Launceston on one of the nicest cycling days of the trip.

Friday, March 20, 2009

2/24/2009 - The GeriaTrike Maiden Voyage

The ship dings out an alarm around at 6:00AM along with a message to wake everyone up. We come into Devonport at 7AM, and they want people ready. I groan, partly due to the loud wakeup call, but mostly due to the new and interesting shapes that my back has acquired in the last 6 hours. These "recliners" are masters of spine origami.

We pack up and head down to the vehicle deck. It takes probably an hour to load up the Geria-trike, whereas my stuff basically just snapped on my bike. I figure this will occur daily until my parentals figure out their system. [Note: I am actually writing this much later than the date listed. They do not figure out a system.]

At last, much to the relief of the truck drivers trying to get cargo off of the deck, we push off and I get to see the Geria-trike in action. Mom is still getting used to the clip-in pedals, but this is made much harder by the fact that one of the screws holding the clip in her shoe is missing. We'll have to find a bike shop to get the right one. Little did we know that this would be a sign - a premonition, if you will - of Things to Come.

IMGP1879.JPGThe Geria-trike freight train as we waited to clear customs. I also want to point out that the ankle pant straps I am wearing were my idea and I expect credit when they start appearing in Paris fashion runways.

My first impression of the Geria-trike in motion is that Tasmanian devils had better not have developed a taste for human flesh, because there is no way we are going to outrun them. Recumbent cycles have the disadvantage that their riders cannot come out of the saddle to gain extra power. I will not mention the additional reduction of power that is directly proportional to age, as my parents are card-carrying members of the AARP and I do not want to anger them. No one wants to get on the wrong side of the AARP for fear of retribution mostly in the form of lobbying for increased penalization of trespass on lawns and more cane-shakings than you can shake a cane at.

IMG_2003My dad, circa 2004, sporting his AARP card and his version of a "rock-on!" hand signal, the execution of which proves that the AARP card is indeed his.

We come up against the classic "GPS versus good sense" direction argument, as the GPS seemed to be trying to send us right back on the boat again. Drivers in Tasmania will soon wish the same thing.

After winning the first bout with the GPS, we determine that we need to cross the river and head across the bridge. This is the first test of the Geriatrike, as it involves a steep uphill climb.

IMGP1881.JPGThis particular pace has been determined by Dad as "winching speed". This is an accurate statement. For those of you NOT into off-roading, this translates as "one-half walking speed".

They successfully pass their first test, and off we go to downtown Devonport.

IMGP1883.JPGDevonport: Home of the REAL "Bridge to Nowhere"

As we start to pull into the city center, I start to notice something. I am used to an occasional look or wave, but I am not used to the unabashed staring that the Geriatrike triggers. People slow down and kids are suctioned to car windows like bigger versions of Garfield dolls. Adults often pretend like they don't notice the trike until they think that they won't be noticed, at which point they swing around and stare as avidly as the kids. Mom and Dad are a mini-carnival and I look like the tagalong security detail.

Soon enough we arrive at a very lovely spot for breakfast, the Rosehip Cafe. It is now late enough that the cafe is empty, but the owners are present and turn out to be very nice people. I soon learn that the Geriatrike brings fame not only on the road but in opening conversations. We spend over an hour grabbing a fantastic (and big!) breakfast of sausage, eggs, tomatoes, toast, and bacon. Random people keep coming into the cafe and asking about the trike, starting more conversations. My guess is that we could erect a little fence around the Geriatrike and start charging money to see the "Amazing machine that runs on THREE WHEELS!! But not quickly!"

IMG_2035.JPGThe proprietors of the Rosehip Cafe along with my parents. Dad has struck a pose not unlike Vanilla Ice doing the "running man", for some reason. I think it's the pants.

At last, humming with our new sense of celebrity, we head for the store to pick up supplies (lots of fresh fruits and vegies), to the bike shop to grab some various-and-sundry parts (tires, screw for Mom's shoe clip, etc), and a visit to the information center (which takes longer than normal as Mom and Dad somehow get lost in this town of 25,000). By the time we are done, it is time for lunch. Looming over the information center is the staple of the American diet, McDonalds. It sucks us in like a fly to a bug zapper, and we use their free wireless internet as well (all the McDonalds here have them, an unexpected benefit in a state where internet is as pricy as the food).

Once again, the Geriatrike brings some interesting people, in this case Richard and Elizabeth Nelson. They actually come over to ask about Dad's "Alaska" bike shirt. As it turns out, Peter is from Sitka, Alaska and does a show on NPR via Sitka called "Encounters North" where he goes to interesting places in Alaska and discusses issues important to that area. You can check him out at Elizabeth teaches at the university in Sitka, doing creative writing courses.

IMG_2036.JPGRichard and Elizabeth, outdoor lovers extraordinaire, who also were drawn in by golden arches and promises of free Wifi. This photo appears to have been taken on the sly.

At last, we tear ourselves away from the bastion of American greed and start on our way. The plan is to head for a small national park that is 25 miles away.

Once again, the GPS gets in the way of good sense, but at last we find our way to the highway leading out of town. I don't know what you may expect with Tasmanian roads, but I was thinking "two-lane" and "rare Toyota land cruisers sharing lanes with kangaroos". What we got instead was a four-lane freeway with two-trailer semi trucks every other vehicle. The noise was devastating. Nice shoulder, though.

5km out of town, we found our first turnoff to a smaller road. Ahhhh. Though still with fairly frequent traffic, things improved. No shoulder, but the trucks were much less frequent. Plus, we now had roadkill to deal with. Now THAT'S Tasmania!

IMGP1885.JPGFinally on the smaller road. The figure in the background is my Mom, at the beck and call of a tiny bladder.

IMGP1887.JPGA little further on. The landscape is almost California-like, fairly arid, and hosts a lot of farmland. The warm environment accelerates the decay of the various woodland creatures that failed to find out why the chicken crossed the road.

IMG_2038.JPGMom's view from the back seat. If you've ever seen a true tandem bike, this is a serious improvement in scenery.

The riding itself was pleasant. In this area, the hills are small and rolling, fun to cruise. The sky is partly-cloudy and we get some cooler overcast in addition to the hotter sun-filled portions.

I have to make mention here of our pace. The Geriatrike is the pace setter as Mom and Dad are slower than my New Zealand-primed bike. Uphills would be at the aforementioned 1/2 walking speed, except for an intriguing feature of the trike: A motor. Yes, as soon as the concrete begins to slope upward, the motor comes on, and they average about 9mph up even the steep stuff. This is faster than I can go up the steepest hills, a bit of an ego reducer for me. There are some hiccups in the process of transitioning to this which they are working out and which I will illustrate in detail in later blog posts (as this one is getting a bit bloated).

Overall, we average 9-10mph. Actually, not bad for a first day on a new Geriatrike. We end up at a turnoff to an even smaller road leading to the national park. The park's name is a long random collection of consonants and so I will not even try to spell it here.

IMG_2044.JPGDad and I on the road to the national park. There but for the years go I. . .

The road turns to dirt (really, packed layers of dust) at its end as we pull into the park and pay for a night of camping. It is right at the northern coast of Tasmania and is right on the ocean. Bonus!

IMGP1892.JPGJust itching for a water buffalo to be standing in the middle of the road so I can try the Crocodile Dundee trick.

IMGP1893.JPGThe campground. A bit parched. I am silently hoping that we don't have to head over that mountain.

The campsites are not pretty. They, also, are a compressed fine dust that I expect will be found probably for weeks in my tent, and underwear for that matter. However, they do have some very nice covered picnic areas with grass around them. We make up some dinner as darkness sets in, and that is when a transformation occurs.

IMG_2051.JPGDinnertime around the Geriatrike. As per usual, it attracted the various campers over to figure out what is going on. They may also have been trying to find out which gypsy tribe we belonged to based on all the clothes and such hanging off the thing.

IMGP1894.JPGFrom the picnic tables. Not a bad end to a first day, but this is not the cool part.

As darkness begins to settle, the area around us comes quite literally alive. A curious "thump, thump, thump" close by brings my attention to the hopping of my first wallaby, basically a tiny kangaroo.

IMG_2057.JPG These things are much cuter with their internal organs intact rather than cooking to a delicate bouquet on a rural concrete road.

I get excited. The chance of a lifetime!

Well, maybe not. Soon enough, there are enough wallabys in the areas around us that, had they the inclination, they could have easily taken all of the campers for hostage and made off with our food. It is tons of fun to watch them, and their reactions are dulled by my bright headlamp, explaining the roadside wallaby collection.

IMG_2055.JPGI tried to keep my distance from the satanic wallabies. I suspect that there are direct-to-DVD movies in Australia exploring this.

From a distance, we notice a much more lumbering figure that is definitely NOT a wallaby. Using my well-honed wildlife photographer skills, I sneak up on this creature, amazed to see that it seems to be an evil scientist's dream - a cross between a bear and a wolverine. Except that it is in miniature, making it less useful for defending secret lairs or mountaintop labs.

IMGP1902.JPG A wombat. I thought that I was very clever sneaking this close to it, until I realized that it just plain didn't care that I was there even when the flashes kept going off, much like a well-behaved celebrity.

I found out later that these guys can suddenly change their mood and charge people that get too close. Luckily, I probably smelled bad enough after cycling all day that this guy decided getting any closer was not necessary.

IMGP1903.JPGThis wombat just chewed grass complacently until I left.

Needless to say, dinner was pretty fun.

IMGP1904.JPGA mom and baby wallaby, not fussed at all about a bright light and excited whispering.

By 9PM, we managed to get dinner cleaned up and the initial shock about the wallabies had diminished. It was time for bed. Tomorrow, planning on heading across a small mountain range to Beaconsville and beyond.