Sunday, February 22, 2009

2/15/2009 - Other People's Problems

Par for the course, my patented early-morning wake up device (the lack of air in the air mattress) brought me to full attention by 7AM. Too early, but what can I do. It seems a bit brisk out of the sleeping bag, and opening my tent flap gave me a pretty good clue as to why.

IMGP1806.JPG Cubs must've won the World Series.

It's the middle of summer, and here I am wondering if I have an ice scraper.

It is absolutely still, partly due to the lack of wind this morning but mostly due to the lack of motivation in my fellow campers at this DOC site, who are all still snuggled down in their tents. I decide to follow their example for another hour or so.

IMGP1807.JPGTransformed. No clouds, no frost. Was I in the right hemisphere an hour ago?!

Tents are put away, breakfast is had, and we prepare to head out on the road. One fine point, though: I forgot to mention in yesterday's entry that, after turning Zod off, I tried to restart it to move a short distance. Barely a crank. Luckily I had found some fellow campers with a jumper cable and the willingness to spend some time out of their chemical-induced haze to kindly jump start my van this morning.

Once they had awoken, we were able to connect things easily. It turned over a bit more, but not enough to start.

Another couple was willing to try their car as well. Same results. I think I stifled a sigh as I realized that my 10 trouble-free days on my bike were coming back, karma-like, to get me.

As I prepared to hitch the 50km back into Te Anau, the people in the car (who were both American) offered to drive me. This was particularly nice because they weren't even headed back to Te Anau. I accepted with no problems.

I had a funny feeling that I had met the pink-haired woman before. As we started chatting, she mentioned working in Motueka. It turns out she was one of the people from the Happy Apple Backpacker's, the place that was (up to recently) owned by the Waldin's (the people who took us in in 1985 near Rotorua). It was a very fun time talking with them both. I also found out that the Chilean lady I did an informal consult on at the Happy Apple Backpacker's for pelvic pain did just fine. Good to get some feedback. She is considering running a backpacker's place and has been working with the new owners of the Happy Apple and appears to be becoming rapidly indispensable.

While they went for coffee, I headed to the local shop at a close-by gas station in Te Anau. The kind lady behind the counter referred me to the back where the mechanic was. He turned out to be a very jovial fellow and was immediately helpful. I was not sure which exact battery I needed, but we came up with one based on one of his manuals. After pulling it off the shelf, he looked thoughtful for a moment and said, "Well, if you have trouble getting this battery to fit, you'll need jumper cables." He pulled out a pair from his truck and handed them to me. "And do you have a spanner?" As I did not, he spent about 5 minutes looking before providing me with an adjustable wrench to help remove the often-difficult bolts on the terminals. When I asked how much it was, he gave me a price, but then fixed me with a searching look and said, "You've got an honest face. Just pay for it when you come back by to drop off the cable and the wrench, in case the battery doesn't fit."


IMGP1808.JPGYet another very-helpful Kiwi, named Jock. I feel that his outfit really compliments his name for some reason. I suspect he fights crime when the sun goes down.

After collecting my new friends (and paying for their gas as a thank-you), we headed back to the campsite, and I connected the battery via the cables (as the battery is placed is about the most ridiculous spot imaginable in Zod), and . . Same thing. No start.

We re-hook the battery to the other car again, with their engine going. Not only did my van not start, but right after hooking up the battery, their radiator sprang a nasty leak, sending a jet of green antifreeze back into the engine compartment. It was an old car with a rusty radiator that they had bought for about NZ$700, so it wasn't a surprise, but now THEY were in trouble.

Luckily, Zod came to me with an unused bottle of Radiator Stop-Leak and additional antifreeze. While their engine cooled down, I decided to try one more time with the new battery, spending the time to put it in the Godforsaken little cubbyhole and connecting the terminals directly to it.

Zod stormed to life with nary a blink.

Hallelujah! Life was looking good. We put in the radiator stop leak and new antifreeze/water, and started their car. All good, not a leak. They elected to head to Milford despite their questionable engine, and we followed them for 10km or so to make sure all was well before finally turning back around and heading to Te Anau for the second time that day.

Long story short, I did indeed return to the shop. As I thought, when tested, the old battery was shot. We exchanged the one he had given me for a bigger one, putting me NZ$250 back but returning some peace-of-mind. At last, we were off for Invercargill.

Stopped for lunch at a fantastic picnic area high above the plains and a dam. Mid-lunch, a rented motorhome driven by a young couple pulled in. I walked up to them to tell them that they had a flat right rear tire as they had not noticed. The guy got a combination pained/panicked expression on his face. Erik and I offered to change the tire for him, and he gratefully accepted.

An hour later, substantially dirtier than we had been prior, we waved them off and took off again.

IMGP1809.JPGErik and Kris in Zod, with the recently-fixed motorhome in the background. Not shown: My face when the big motorhome slid forward on the gravel off of the jack while I was getting it off the ground. Luckily the wheel was still in place, so I still have all of my important limbs.

The drive was relaxing. The hills definitely were slow going in Zod's current shape (not unlike my first day of biking), but required no energy output from any of us, so it felt great.

IMGP1810.JPGThe sausage capital. I don't know, I've been to a few clubs that could give them a run for their money. . .

Around 7:30PM, we rolled into Invercargill. It is too late to try the Bluff ride today, but we'll do it tomorrow. Interestingly, the hostess for the park saw the bikes and suggested we check out the Velodrome that is there as they are doing bike races tonight.

We set up camp quickly and book our way to the Velodrome. We've heard of it before - it is the nicest velodrome in New Zealand, and one of the nicest in the southern hemisphere.

Some of you are no doubt wondering what a velodrome is. Pictures are coming up and really explain it better, but, in short, it is to bicycling what the Indianapolis 500 is for car racing. A bunch of bikes going around in a circle, really fast. The track is banked really steeply, 40-50 degrees at the steepest part. You cannot go slower than about 20mph on the steepest part of the track or you fall. The bikes used are single-speed suckers and weight a fraction of what I have.

We pull up into the parking lot and notice a lot of people leaving. As we start walking, a lady stops us and says,"Are you the two tall Americans that were interested in seeing the Velodrome?" As it turns out, we are. She is the sister of the campground hostess, and had just been texted that we were on our way. Their father is the one that managed to get this built, after 60 years of struggling.

He is there as well, an older man who still bikes and who is one of the most famous bike coaches in New Zealand. We get caught up in the excitement, and they give us an impromptu tour.

IMGP1812.JPGThe velodrome. It is 250 meters around, indoors, and is all wood. It is really impressive to see.

IMGP1813.JPGThe man who made it all happen. "LT" are his initials, but for the life of me I cannot remember his name.

Unfortunately, the races just ended, but we check out the entire building, even under the track, and find all of the memorabilia posted around the track - lots of pictures of LT when he used to race competitively.

IMGP1817.JPGThe picture really says it all. I was crushed to discover that their was a home improvement fair the next day, completely changing the meaning of this sign. Could have been pretty embarrassing to show up in my trademark tearaway bike shorts.

This ends up taking a wonderful hour and a half. Once we have exhausted the building, they say good-bye and we return to camp for another nice vegetarian dinner and some sleep.

Plan is to bike to Bluff and back tomorrow, my last planned bike in New Zealand and completing my bike to what is considered the southernmost spot in New Zealand. Then, a drive to Dunedin where Kris and Erik will start their biking again.

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