Saturday, February 7, 2009

2/4/2009 - Alaska Spoils Me Sometimes

I was awoken at the usual time by fairly serious rain. That seemed as good a reason as any to stay inside and sleep longer. When facing bad weather, I like to play chicken. Luckily, the clouds blinked first and the heavy rain abated into a totally manageable sprinkle. Ate breakfast inside today, more due to the black flies rather than the moisture.

Ah! I have not mentioned these sweet little things. I had noticed them prior to Lake Ianthe, but somewhere close to this lake I must have crossed some invisible border. I am now in Black Fly Land, and they rule. A black fly is also called a sand fly. It's smaller and fatter than a mosquito, but without that mosquito buzz. They are mindless bloodsucking machines, or at least the females are. They tend to come in clouds and really enjoy low altitudes. Certain people react a LOT to them, so their bites show up as either red or white bumps that can itch for days. Some of the cyclists I have met up with have these bumps all over their legs. The only defense is clothes or seriously high-percentage Deet. If you aren't developing leukemia, you aren't putting it on thickly enough.

Last night I spent 15 minutes killing all of the black flies that had managed to get into my tent in the short time I had the door open. Morning light showed the results of the massacre as literally about 150 or 200 little insect bodies spread over the floor of the tent and squished in the bug netting. The saving grace of these things is that they are dumb and slow.

Luckily, I don't react as badly as most, and the itching only lasts about a half-hour.

Anyway, get my sodden camp put away and start out for the day. Got a few smaller climbs today, the first coming immediately out of Lake Ianthe. It turns out to be a bit of a slog, but finally end up in the town of Harihari. A small cafe supplies some strong coffee, a liter of milk, and a muffin for some additional calories.

IMGP1571.JPGThe muffin was pretty good, enough that I took a picture of the cafe. Plus, they let me refill my water bottles here (the DOC campsites recommend treating any of the water you get there).

Off I go again. I really am looking forward to glacier country as this also means some really amazing scenery.

IMGP1572.JPGGetting closer to Franz Josef. Noting a lot of mountains, even if the clouds try to hide them.

The real treat of the day is Mount Hercules (which would make a great adult movie title). I actually remember this from 1985 - Dad had warned us about this particular climb, so I was a little on edge about it. I remember that, though steep, it wasn't that hard, and it finally gave me the confidence that I could take on any hill. Always before, I would worry that I would need to stop and push up or something like that.

IMGP1573.JPGThe start of the Mount Hercules climb. I actually remember this very spot from 1985. Just so you know, the tops of the trees there are definitely NOT the top fo the mountain.

Met three cyclists (all younger Kiwis) going the opposite way today - nice guys, they are doing a chunk of the south island in a week.

It's interesting, but I feel the same way about Mt. Hercules as I did back then. Made it all the way up some 800 feet with ease, and flew down the other side. Happy days.

IMGP1575.JPGLooking out from the bottom of the other side of Mt. Hercules. The gray is starting to clear up a bit.

Getting closer and closer to Franz Josef. It is mostly flat, rolling terrain with "false flats" where the road looks flat, but actually is gradually ascending or descending.

IMGP1576.JPGI know I'm getting close, now - the turquoise-blue means a glacial source.

At last, pull into Franz Josef. There is a Top 10 holiday park, and I take it - a nice shower is welcome tonight. The service at the desk it a bit robotic as compared to most Kiwi hospitality, but they are efficient and I have an entire lawn all my own.

After setting up camp, I feel the need to go check out the glacier. It is a 4-mile ride each way to get to it, and then some hiking additionally. There is plenty of light, however, and so off I go.

Riding suddenly without any weight on the bike is exhilarating. It feels like it might take off vertically if I'm not careful. The dirt road leading to the glacier hikes is fairly steep, but easy without weight. After locking up the bikes, off I go on some quick hikes.

IMGP1580.JPGIt's comin' right for us!

IMGP1587.JPGNifty fog effect of some of the surrounding mountains. Very Lord-of-the-Ringsish.

IMGP1590.JPGFreshly showered and in clean clothes. Mark this on your calendars.

IMGP1591.JPGGlacial rocks. I thought they looked kind of like one of the Mac backgrounds.

After throughly enjoying my new mode of transportation ("hiking"), I headed back to camp and did a bit of Internetting.

IMGP1595.JPGLet me introduce you to my mobile office.

Before long, the light failed and it was time to hit the hay. Luckily, I am sleeping on some derivative of hay - the lawn is pretty soft. Good thing considering the mattress will be out of air in 4 hours or so.

IMGP1596.JPGMy humble campsite. Took this without looking sticking the camera outside an open window. Don't know why that fact is relevant.

It's going to be a grunt tomorrow. The road distance betwen Franz Josef and Fox is only 22km, but the accumulated elevation is about 2200ft spread over 3 steep hills. Doesn't matter. I've beaten Mt. Hercules.

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