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.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Another quick message. . .

Sorry for getting behind in the blog, I am just up to Tasmania but may not have internet for a week or so. There should be about 7 or 8 days of updates here. Cheers to everyone!

2/23/2009 - Ferry Nice

I sleep restlessly for some reason, despite a real bed. Nevertheless, I feel energized in the morning and get things set up so that I can keep my bike and trailer locked up at the hostel. It helped that I am from Alaska and the woman who was behind the counter has always wanted to go there.

I figure out the tram schedule, grab my single bag holding the stuff I can't replace, and cruise downtown.

Melbourne has already started to grow on me. There are a number of parks I have passed that have a lot of green, the houses are well-kept and very colonial (mostly brick with some solid woodworking). People are nice, responding to my obvious tourist questions with helpful tips and an Australian drawl.

I jump off the tram in the heart of the downtown after a 30 minute ride. Manage to find a post office where I send my passport over to Masterton (so they can get the work visa taken care of), then grab a super big breakfast at a local coffee shop and read the paper. Delightful. The coffee is good, and the bacon is one step closer to "real" bacon (it's still ham-like, but they at least make it sort of crispy).

I spend the day wandering around, pick up some particularly good seam sealer for my mattress, and look up info on Tasmania. Downtown Melbourne is much closer to an American city than a New Zealand city. Shops are numerous and mostly upscale, people are walking around in what is (I presume) the latest fashions, and most of the people here are from Melbourne, not all tourists like downtown Auckland seems to be. The streets are clean and the sidewalks are busy. I have noticed that cars here in Melbourne are much more like an American city, too - rather than the "well-loved" import cars in New Zealand, the bulk of the traffic here is four years old or newer. Lots more American cars, including Fords and Holdens (GM in Australia).

The size of things is more American, as well. Shops and buildings are just on a bigger scale for a larger population. Interestingly, I only see a few homeless people out. Not sure why that is.

I find some cool shops, including a very helpful outdoor store and a "backpacking light" store that introduced me to a super-lightweight pack built in New Zealand that is supposed to be one of the most comfortable on the market. I try it on and LOVE it. Now if I can only remember the name. . . It would make a perfect climbing or backcountry ski pack once I have money again.

IMGP1871.JPGDowntown Melbourne. This was one of the less-busy streets at a less-busy time of the morning. The city really feels energized.

IMGP1872.JPGSome random group doing a dance number on the street. I think they were selling fitness center passes or something, and if the mostly-male crowd was any indication, they were going to be successful.

After a quick lunch and some more wandering, I figure it's time to head back. I have a few miles to bicycle to the ferry terminal. The tram is as easy to navigate back as it was coming to the city center, and soon I have put my bike and trailer together and head off.

IMGP1873.JPGThe big, wide beaches of Melbourne. A lot more people here, believe it or not, than the New Zealand beaches.

IMGP1874.JPGA beautiful pathway runs for miles along the beaches. There is a separate path for cyclists and for people walking in much of it. It is well-groomed and popular with cyclists and beachwalkers, but not too popular. That is the ferry ("Spirit of Tasmania") in the background. It looks smaller than I was expecting, and, given the strong winds and waves, I wonder if this is going to be one of those occasions where I spend the night making offerings over the side to Neptune, god of the seas.

I cruise leisurely along with a fantastic tailwind reducing my exertion to "stomper" level. In no time, I am at the ferry terminal, actually an hour early. End up in line and go through their mini-customs. They take away the white gas I had bought downtown for the camp stove, but otherwise leave me alone. Still haven't seen Mom and Dad yet. The line starts moving on the ferry, and I figure I will find them there.

I get my bike well-anchored in a small, dingy room on the truck level of the ferry, and head up to check out the sleeping arrangements. We have "oceanview recliners" which turn out to be glorified airplane seats looking out of the back of the ship. I can be pretty sure I'm not going to get much sleep on THOSE babies.

If I was worried that I might miss seeing my parents, I was gravely mistaken. I return below to pick up my fleece and I see, from across the cargo bay, a giant yellow monstrosity that has "McWilliams" written all over it.

It is fantastic seeing my parents here, and it's made even more fun by their obvious pride at this crazy contraption.

The Trike is built by Greenspeed here in Melbourne. It is basically a tandem recumbent. In addition to their usual tandem recumbent, they have customized a "surrey top" that sports a flexible 62-watt solar panel. Why such an elaborate energy setup? It has a massive lithium-ion battery that powers a 500-watt motor "for uphills". I am skeptical about how well this will work, but interested anyway.

IMGP1877.JPGMy poor, elderly parents behind what I have dubbed the "Geria-trike" tandem recumbant tricycle.

It takes a while to get all of the equipment worked out and the Geria-trike strapped to the ship. Soon enough, though, we head up for a celebratory dinner in the ferry restaurant.

I know it sounds a little strange to say, but I am actually excited to travel with my parents. At the risk of sounding like a weird homeschooled kid, my parents are, at the very least, interesting to hang out with, and at the most very fun. They like doing things a little differently as evidenced by the above photo. Let's face it, they are the instruments that shaped me into what I am today. I don't think either one of them would accept responsibility for any interest in video games.

Dinner itself is much fancier than I am used to. As a matter of fact, the nicest place I have eaten out during the last several months was the Fergburger in Queenstown. Sadly, a close second would probably be Burger King.

IMG_2030.JPGCheck out the guns.

It is amazing to have your own person who just gets you things you ask for - our waitress was very nice, got things out promptly, and answered with an emphatic "yes!" when my dad asked if you were supposed to tip in this country.

Those of you that know my dad will understand. Those of you who don't can probably begin to fathom a bit of his general psyche.

Fantastic dinner, and we discussed our plans for the trip. Dad has been working like crazy, taking on hours that border on insane. He needs to relax, and getting out and away from people will certainly help that. Mom also likes getting away from the crowds and loves seeing lots of animals. We come up with a game plan. No definite goals other than to have fun. We will not try to make it any certain distance, just to get to some interesting places. We'll probably spend quite a bit of time in the northeast corner of Tasmania, which is beautiful but is more remote and has the least tourists.

The wine and food soon hit. Mom and Dad had been up packing the night before they left, had an 18-our flight, and then had spent all day at Greenspeed getting their Geria-trike up and running. I think they could have slept on the solid steel vehicle deck. Actually, Dad might have preferred it so that he could "keep an eye on the rig".

Seriously, we were all pretty bushed. I stayed up a bit, but was soon out as well.

It was around midnight when I was awoken by one of the staff. "I think you may have the wrong seat, mate," he said. I had taken a seat closer to my parentals that had seemed to be empty, but apparently had been taken. Moving back to my seat, I found that I couldn't get to sleep easily and so tossed and turned.

Tomorrow should be interesting. We are coming into Devonport (a larger town on the north side of Tasmania) at about 7AM. Planning to head for a national park to camp on the maiden voyage of the Geria-trike.

A quick note about the name "Geria-trike". My parents are not old, and certainly do things that people half their age don't often do (like ocean kayaking for a month at a time, mountain biking, camping for long periods of time in the bush, rafting class IV rivers by themselves, the list goes on). My mom refers to my dad and herself as "your ancient parents" or "your old parentals", and so I feel that the term "geria-trike" is simply working with that theme. In other words, there is only affection in the term.

2/22/2009 - From a Country of 4 Million to a City of 4 Million

The big day has finally come. I am up early as usual, even without my Scottish alarm clock. It takes me some time to finish the last of the packing and to cover my bike and trailer in plastic as required by the New Zealand Air regulations. It's actually not that hard to do.

Kayra and Kevin come by around 11:00AM. They have kindly agreed to drop me by the airport and to pick me up when I return. They are going to use Zod for the next three weeks while they look for a car.

Back over the massive hill to Wellington we go, then all the way through the city. I actually like Wellington as a city in the short time I have seen it. It is rugged and mountainous and required some inventive thinking or pure stubbornness or maybe a little of both to plant a city here. We end up going through two tunnels within the city to finally approach the airport. The winds are gusting like crazy today, making Zod lurch like a college student on a Friday night.

After discussing Zod's finer points and care ("Yeah, it leaks oil - here's how you put more in") I head off with my bike and trailer to the main counter.

I am going to totally plug New Zealand Air here. They made getting these oversize bags across to Melbourne into a very easy undertaking. It cost NZ$110 for the additional weight, which was less than I was expecting.

The security check was quick and easy, too. No shoe x-rays for the first time in a long time.

Grabbed some quick food before the flight, and eventually made it on board. This is really where Air New Zealand made points with me. Each seat was obviously new, clean, and had its own LCD touch screen. Every one had a full spectrum of games, movies, music, and TV shows that were all FREE. Literally hundreds of hours of programming. You could even play multiplayer games against people in other seats.

Needless to say, my techie-drawn brain was kept well amused.

Dinner came along eventually, and that, too, was top-notch. Thai chicken and salad and dessert. The cabin crew was very friendly and helpful, as well.

Overall, it was one of the most pleasant flights I have ever been on.

Alas, it ended eventually as we landed in Melbourne. The lower we got, the more apprehensive I got. All I could see was brownish grass and reddish dirt. The area around Melbourne appears pretty flat, overall. It looked like a desert. At this point, it has been only about 10 days since recent wildfires made international news, killing over 200 people in the worst national disaster Australia has ever had. They have been going through a drought, and Melbourne is in the middle of it.

I found out later that Melbourne has a lot more green than it initially looked, just so you know, and usually has a lot of green grass and other niceties in non-drought conditions. That's good, considering that my initial impressions were closer to my impressions of some of the Navajo Indian reservations back home.

Customs took very little time, and were easy to work with. They had to spray off my cycling shoes to assure no grass seeds came in to contaminate the country. This made me laugh a bit inside, considering that this was the country that introduced cane toads, indirectly leading to the world's funniest nature documentary. Look up "cane toads" in Wikipedia or Google to get a good idea of just how complicated the ecosystem is and how idiotic we are at predicting it.

I managed to find a shuttle that would drop me right at the X-Base hostel in south Melbourne. It only cost AUS$15 and they had a trailer for the bike and bike trailer. Excellent! I managed to catch the very last one of the day, assisted by a guy who was coming back from holiday but who worked for the shuttle company.

IMGP1870.JPGOn the shuttle. Those blocky mountains in the background are called "skyscrapers".

I checked into the X-Base hostel around 7:30. They are a chain of hostels catering to the "more refined" backpackers (usually the younger ones with money who want to party a lot). The only room they had left was a double by itself, but they gave it to me for a single price. They even had a spot to lock my bike and trailer up.

I'm not feeling up to scratch, stomach-wise, and so grab a bit of food at a Subway and head for bed around 10PM. I meet up with my parentals around 6PM tomorrow at the ferry terminal just before we all head to Tasmania. I think I will go downtown and explore things, maybe look for a sleeping mat that doesn't collapse under pressure like the head of a Hurricane Katrina disaster relief agency.

2/21/2009 - How Do You Prepare for Kangaroos?

Today will be a really short blog. I leave tomorrow for Melbourne, Australia where I will meet my parents. From there we are going to jump on the overnight ferry to Tasmania and will then bicycle/tricycle (you'll understand in later blogs) the island.

I planned on sleeping in this morning, but the National I Love Scottish Bagpipe Music Festival decided to start tromping around right underneath my window at about 8:00AM. Every time a marching band seemed to move off into the distance, allowing me to drowse a bit, a new one would start with gusto right underneath my window again. It was like a mobile hangover. The screeches and drums finally beat me into submission at 9AM and I got up.

Spent much of the day just getting ready for the trip. I found an apartment (really nice spot out of town and close to the mountains) which is separated from the main house of Anne and her husband. She is one of the nurse educators in the clinic.

IMGP1867.JPGKitchen, bathroom, and living room of my soon-to-be abode.

IMGP1868.JPGAnd the upstairs single bedroom, complete with amnesia-inducing roof supports. Suspect that I will just have to put on a helmet every time I go upstairs, but. . .

IMGP1869.JPG. . . The view from here (shown in this picture from the end of the driveway) is worth the risk.

I was invited over for some dinner by Tracey and her son, Riley (who is tons of fun and spent much of the time working on a dam in his sandbox). Headed back to the apartment around 7:30 and rearranged all of my stuff one last time. Kayra and Kevin are going to give Zod a good home for awhile as they are looking for a car, so that is taken care of. I also move my excess stuff into the new apartment. It doesn't seem like much, but all of this managed to use up the day.

I crash out for one more night in the big downtown apartment and prepare mentally for the flight to Melbourne tomorrow. Going to be fun!

2/20/2009 - Masterton

I do another leisurely morning today, including laundry. My guess is that, in my quest to save money, time, and soap, my clothes have been slowly developing a "funk" that I am used to but people in enclosed spaces may not be.

Soon enough, I am testing Zod's endurance again up the major hill from Wellington to Masterton. As usual, the van manages to make it despite being passed by every vehicle including the New Zealand equivalent of Geo Metros.

IMGP1866.JPG Looking back from the top of the hill. In the distance is the park where they filmed Rivendell from the Lord of the Rings.

Once over the hill, things flatten out considerably. It takes about an hour and a half total to go from the campground to the Masterton city limits.

I show up for a surprise visit at the clinic, grab lunch with David and Caroline Nixon (the head of the clinic), and get paperwork done. David kindly offers me the big apartment as Kylie and her family have finished there at the clinic and are now traveling again. Not bad!

Today's entry will be short, as I'm betting that no one wants to hear where I put "line 23b subtracted from the sum of lines 12a and 12b" or how many deductions I am taking. It is federal tax day for me, and I spend quite a while tracking down W2s and other forms for my taxes. Riveting.

It is definitely nice to have a place of my own. Though I am used to sharing bathrooms and showers and campsites and tables, I suddenly realize that not having to worry about all that is refreshing. I can set my own schedule without reference to check out times or cleaning times or traffic or closing hours. It is so strange that traveling can sometimes be more regimented than being in one place.

Kayra and Kevin have invited me over for dinner so that I can forget all of the tax fun. I make it over around 7PM, and I get to meet her husband, Kevin (who had been working away for a month when I last came through). Tracey, a mutual friend of Kayra, Kevin, and I, also made it over. We put down some wine with dinner, then headed over to a local pub to see how the beer tasted.

Belinda, the pharmacist at the clinic, and Adam, the podiatrist at the clinic, just happened to stop by as well - all in all, a really fun group and make me even more excited about working there.

The weirdest thing about the bar was that the drinking age is 18 here. As 11PM rolled around, boys and girls (they just look too YOUNG to call them anything else) make it in to eye the opposite sex, all dressed up for the occasion. I think we were not mentally put in the category of the "geriatric group", which was fine by me. Also, a limo kept driving up to the bar dropping people off and picking them up, really pushing my definition of a small-town taxi. Weird.

I called "uncle" around midnight, and headed back to the apartment. My plan is to sleep in tomorrow (Saturday) and finish all of my preparations for Tasmania, as I'm leaving on Sunday for the real Down Under.

I sleep on the couch as I do not want to mess up the clean linens and so on. Will be getting up early to start work on my taxes. I could use the refund for sure.

2/19/2009 - Back in the North Again

I am awake earlier than usual today. I have a date with the Picton Interislander ferry at 2PM, and I am not sure how long it will take to drive there. Now that I have a semi-permanent bed in the back, camp is easy to pick up and soon I head off for the store.

Or I would, except that the starter doesn't turn over at all.

NOT AGAIN! What is going on?! I walk down to a gas station and purchase some good jumper cables as it seems like they will be used more than the actual battery in the van. A guy is kind enough to jump-start me, and off I go. Given the questionable nature of starting this thing, I come to the conclusion that I will follow the big rig philosophy of just keeping it on all the time until I can find a spot in Picton that they will definitely be able to jump it or exchange the battery. I am worried that it is the alternator, which is a much more expensive proposition.

It stays on while picking up breakfast at the grocery store and does just fine. I stop at a rest area outside of town that is right next to the beach and eat breakfast with the sound of ocean waves overpowering the diesel engine noise. Some sea lions had arranged themselves in with the rocks and were meticulously practicing their "play dead" routine.

IMGP1864.JPGOne of these things is not like the others. . .

IMGP1865.JPGI had just missed the explosive part of the wave crashing thing, which is too bad as it really is amazing to see. You can feel it, too, as the vibration carries to the rocks under your feet.

After two hours of driving, the fuel gauge began to needle toward "empty", but this corresponded with coming into Picton (where the ferry leaves) and I was able to pull up to a gas station that had a shop. I left the van on and went in to talk to them. After being referred to the mechanic, he came back and checked the battery showing that the alternator was, in fact, charging. It should be OK to turn off. Vastly relieved, I proceeded to fill up with diesel. A big semi truck came impatiently in in front of me about that time, waiting for my spot. You know that feeling of surety that things aren't going to go right? I had one of those right before I turned the key, and the feeling was borne out. Not a click and the door lights barely came on. Gah. The guy from inside helped me push Zod backwards as the big truck driver rolled his eyes.

It came to me in a flash, though. Suddenly, the surety that things weren't going to work became a surety that I knew what the problem was. Opening the battery cover, I adjusted the negative terminal, turned the key, and it started in a second. The terminal is loose causing an intermittent connection.

I have enough time before the ferry to visit a local auto electrician. For a ridiculous NZ$40, he puts a new terminal on the battery, and Zod starts perfectly just in time to head for the ferry.

This ferry trip is pretty unremarkable. This midafternoon journey doesn't have the drama or interesting shadows and colors of the evening trip coming from the north to the south. I spend my time working on the blog instead of doing much looking, and I am sad to say that I did not take a single picture of this crossing.

Back on the north island, I start the trip back to Masterton. The last time I made it, it was by train from Masterton to Wellington. I leave the ferry and head that direction, but find a small and cheap campground just out of town (NZ$12) that I stop at. I want to see the trip over to Masterton in the daylight as it is beautiful. Plus, it's steep and probably would be smarter to have more people around in case Zod decides to show me another mechanical misadventure.

It is relaxing and anonymous there as I make up some vegetarian tofu-and-rice Indian food. I will have to eat some McDonald's or something to regain some masculinity over the next few days.

2/18/2009 - Some Seriously Rocky Coastline

I snooze a bit this morning. It is another clear day, and as I look out my curtained window to see why it is so bright, I get this:

IMGP1848.JPG It's either some sort of miracle occurring or the sun has just come over the horizon and is also reflecting off of the lake at the same time. I see this spot for the next 15 minutes until my eyes recover.

Breakfast is down by the lake, basking in the slowly-developing warmth as I wake up.

IMGP1850.JPGMorning over Lake Tekapo. I feel pretty sure that, if there were a road over that mountain, I would not be biking it.

IMGP1852.JPGThis is the kind of half-awake state where coffee would be the only perfect cure. Alas, I left my stove back in Masterton, so unless I take my coffee cold with random microbes and amoeba, I will just tough it out.

Soon enough, I am off again. It feels like a lazy day, and I find a left turn leading to the Mt. John Observatory. It has just opened (as it is 9:00). Why not? Might as well test out Zod this morning. The narrow paved road heads steeply and picturesquely around Mt John (not much of a mountain, really, more of a big lump) until I've gained just over 1,000 feet. At that point, I can see the curious domes of several telescopes arranged around the summit. There is a parking lot, as well as a cafe. Who knew? I am the second one there.

IMGP1854.JPGZod, in an aggressive stance on the top of Mt. John. Pretend not to notice the giant dents in the side and the peeling stickers.

The cafe is very pleasant. Two guys staff it and are nice even beyond the usual for New Zealand. I do find out, however, that one is selling collected albums of his photos of the region, which may explain some of this. I sit in the sun and read Bill Bryson's "A Brief History of Everything" (I think I have the title right) which is laying on a table here. I only get through a chapter or two, but will have to get the whole thing. I crack up once or twice to the worried looks of other people.

I head out as more and more people make their way into the cafe. It is becoming quite busy. The view from up here is religious, though, and I can't go without a panorama.

IMGP1855.JPGThis is what happens when you allow the camera to automatically stitch pictures together. Not bad, though.

As I pass the town of Lake Tekapo, driving mode sets in. My first goal today is Christchurch, just to get a feel for the place.

The road back through toward Christchurch is similar to the way in, though with more tiny hamlets sprinkled in. The area is rugged as grassland gives way to forest and then farmland again.

It takes a few hours before I notice that the traffic is really picking up. By this point, the area is flat, and Zod is not needing to work nearly as hard as usual. Skyscrapers loom as I stop to get my bearings.

Christchurch is, I think, the third largest city in New Zealand (can't be bothered to actually check, as being third versus fourth best just isn't that interesting a figure to know). It is on the coast and the city and area around it is flat as a pancake. This eventually gives way to the mountains I have just traveled through, though. It is big on bicycling around here due to the flats.

I mostly find it to be just busy. The buildings are older and most are kept up well, though. There is lots of culture, arts, and other things that I could probably care less about. I find a park and, with the help of the GPS, manage to pass by it several times before discovering a place to park.

A note about this: Parking spots appear to be similar to small, defenseless countries, and every driver seems to be 1939 Germany. Everything is well-occupied. I put lots of Zod-related hydrocarbons in the air driving around looking for a spot just to pull over at one point. I finally found my area in a dedicated parking lot deep in the park.

This was good, as it let me see what the planners of this city did with all the parking spots: Turned it into some prime park. It really is nice, with sort of a Central P{ark vibe to it. Lots of little walkways, lakes, ducks, and people sleeping in the sun (probably a significantly smaller percentage doing this permanently than in Central Park by their clothes). I sit down and do a bit of blogging and lunch at a picnic table.

IMGP1856.JPGThis is all of Christchurch you are going to see in this blog. Just wasn't that impressed overall, but then I GUESS there could be more to see than random driving for an hour followed by 20 minutes sitting in the park. In the background is my solar panel charging my extra battery that I use to keep my camera, ipod, and computer up charged up.

As nothing seemed to grip me about this city, I decided to move on to Kaikoura, and shortly find the motorway. This roughly follows the coast, but is mostly flat. As it gets more rural and I get closer to Kaikoura, the coastline becomes more and more jagged both in its overall outline and the details of its surface. Rocks are black and sharp, and the each ocean wave explodes like a slow-motion water balloon on them. Not only that but occasionally the sea lions make themselves seen. This does not seem to be on purpose. As a matter of fact, they do their utmost to appear to be big rocks on the beach, usually only moving to slowly flap a fin. What a life!

IMGP1857.JPGTaken right off of the highway. Rock silhouettes frame rocky beaches looking over islands of rocks. The Flintstones would settle in just fine here.

IMGP1858.JPGMore rugged-y coastline, getting closer to Kaikoura. The beaches are empty.

Finally roll into Kaikoura toward late afternoon. Do a bit of internetting before settling down in one of the caravan parks. It is crowded but quiet, with most of the people being older and more relaxed. Plus the view from there is fantastic.

IMGP1859.JPGIt's a little dark, but the flash in my digital camera just wouldn't illuminate the mountains well.

I had picked up a really thick twin-sized air mattress in Christchurch, so am looking forward to a real sleeping experience tonight despite the mattress only reaching to my calves.