Monday, February 9, 2009

2/7/2009 - Haasta la Vista, Baby

Up again at a reasonable hour. Once again, I outwit the pinhead-size brains of the black flies by eating my muesli, bananas, and usual liter of milk in the tent. My best trick is to only unzip part of the bottom of the tent door so I can grab my milk (sitting in the vestibule - figure milk can last 48 hours without going bad) with few or no black flies coming back in. It's a little gross as the bodies of hundreds of these things litter the floor of the tent, product of several nights of work.

Consequently, they are not happy when I finally emerge from my damp cocoon of safety dressed in full raingear for defense against their little bites. It has rained overnight, so I am sure they are in an even fouler mood than usual.

IMGP1636.JPG Black flies seeking my tender virgin flesh. I have been taunting them all night. This is what happens if you are alone for too long. By the way, if they haven't already, I would like a Nobel awarded to the inventor of mosquito netting.

Pack up camp hurriedly. Interestingly, I am camped right where, in 1985, I learned a very good lesson. We had camped about 5 miles back from here, and were preparing to take on Haast Pass. The entire family had been preparing for this for days, as we had been warned that it was really steep and nasty. it had reached legendary level in my head. For breakfast that morning, dad had tried his hand at making one of our staples, a hot cereal called "cremota". He had burned it badly, resulting in a substance that smelled absolutely repulsive. It was this that was queasily churning in my stomach as we stopped at the spot I am currently camped for a final rest and water before the big climb. Rain and fog chilled everyone.

There was a small pickup that pulled in, one of the road maintenance ones . A very crusty-looking older man stepped out of the truck. He had many lines and wrinkles about his face, but I noticed that the laugh lines were not well-used. He had a scowling look that clearly stated, "I don't want any of your BS" to the world at large. Not a man to cross. Why had he pulled in? Had we done something wrong? Our campsite the night before had not, technically, been in a campground. . .

He strode up to dad, stopped, and asked, "Want a ride to the top?" without a change of his facial expression.

Don't judge a book by its cover.

Dad accepted, and we packed into his tiny pickup with the bikes in the back and the bike trailer attached to the truck hitch.

4036 loaded up for Haast PassOur savior in 1985. Don't think we kept his name, but he has been held in reverence by our family ever since. When mom asked, in a concerned voice, if he would get in trouble with his boss for doing this instead of working, he replied in the same gruff voice, "I AM the boss!"

Bringing things back to the present, here is that same spot:

IMGP1639.JPGThe copse of trees have grown in the 25 years since we were last here. I waited here for awhile, but no random trucks stopped by to save me the thigh burn of Haast Pass.

I even drank a Red Bull this morning. It gives you wings, which I will need. Not sure this is the best idea, as my stomach is now sloshing around milk, muesli, bananas, and some random granola bars as well. I suspect that the Red Bull is in the process of curdling that bolus of fun. Ah, well.

I push off. Though gray, the day is turning out to be interesting to watch. Tendrils of low-hanging cloud spirit around the waists of the mountains, slipping quickly between valleys and ridges. It takes my mind off the upcoming steep.

IMGP1638.JPGLooking back toward the non-steep parts of yesterday's ride. This would make a cooler video as all of the clouds are actually in very visible motion.

It's an easy angle for about 5 miles until I hit the Gates of Haast, a magnificent glacial stream.

IMGP1640.JPGWhen there's whitewater, there's angle. Ah, well.

Immediately past the bridge over the Gates of Haast, the road takes a decidedly vertical disposition. I am just getting into a rhythm for that sudden steep when the angle worsens again. Looking ahead, I see a right turn around one of the ridges. Ah, good, usually there is a slightly flatter part just past turns like that. Playing on this mental game, Haast Pass instead makes it steeper AGAIN just past the turn for about 400 meters, to the point that my front wheel keeps popping up as I pedal.

This little mind game continues for about 1000 feet of elevation. There really feels like a bit of a venomous nastiness to this hill. I decided, halfway up, that "Haast" would make a really good name for an evil Nazi or a Bond villain.

IMGP1641.JPGIn the middle of one of the steeper portions. I think the camera caught me in an exhausted eye twitch.

Thank goodness for a 5-km stretch of just mild uphill. Coming up on this, it looked like it was actually downhill due to the slope I had just been on. It was, however, a relatively easy climb for these 5-km.

I have forgotten to mention something. Despite being out of breath and feeling like my heart is going to explode inside my chest, despite the burning of my legs and their repeated requests to stop this stupid event and go get them a massage or risk them going on strike, I am floored by the beauty of this place. As I climb, I leave behind the clouds and the sun starts to peak weakly through ragged holes. By the time I make it to the flatter part, it is mostly sun. The terrain is changing, too. Apparently, this side of Haast gets roughly double the rain that the far side does.

IMGP1642.JPGStopped on the easier grade, looking back toward the Climb of Death and the cloud cover. You can follow the road down if you look hard enough.

IMGP1643.JPGDid I mention hidden waterfalls?

IMGP1644.JPGNot sure what I was going for here, but if it was for a washed-out look, then mission accomplished.

IMGP1647.JPGAHA! I finally get that "rolling stone gathers no moss" thing. Or something.

IMGP1645.JPGLooking forward toward the last 1-km steep climb. I can see unrestricted sunlight!

Finally made the final climb out and over Haast Pass. There is no doubt in my mind that this has been the toughest climb on the trip, and maybe in New Zealand.

IMGP1652.JPGSweaty, much?

4043 Dad at top of Haast PassDad, posing for a pic in this same spot in 1985. Minus the actual CLIMB.

Now for the candy. I only drop about 600 feet from here, as Wanaka is at 1000 feet elevation. It, also, is steep, but my trusty brakes keep speed at bay. It is only about 10 miles to Makarora from the top, where they have a cafe. Back in the previous trip here, we spent the night in Makarora in a really nice A-frame cabin (as it was raining something fierce by that time). I have great memories of that reprieve from camping. As I remember it, we even had a full fireplace.

I can't seem to find the A-frames, but I do stop for a quick lunch. I am on a high at this point, and am ready to push on. By Makarora, the clouds have broken up significantly so that I get 50/50 mix of sun and shade. Talk to a few people at the cafe, and then push off.

This is another of those cyclist nirvana days. For the first time in what seems like the entire trip, I get a consistent tailwind such that when I am going 20mph it is almost dead silent (as the wind is following at that same speed). It is eerie and delightful at the same time - I can pick out individual noises from animals easily at speed. Birds warble, the bike clicks along, and I feel fantastic.

It is much more barren and alpine-like on this side. The massive evergreens have given way to mostly low grasses, but I am surrounded by mountains and, soon enough, am snaking along the edge of Lake Wanaka as well.

IMGP1654.JPGLooking into one of the valleys to the right of the road. Where did the trees go?

IMGP1656.JPGLooking back over Lake Wanaka into the mountains. Looks very alpine and almost Alaskan.

IMGP1657.JPGMore Lake Wanaka. You can see the tailwind on the lake.

IMGP1658.JPGCrossed over to a different lake. Mountains are aplenty.

Managed to cross several more steep climbs, but nothing that lasted long. The last climb made me suddenly realize that I was running out of gas. Made it up to the turnoff for Wanaka, made the turn, and the kindly tailwind turned into a blistering headwind. By the time I slogged to a halt at the Wanaka campground, I was just spent. Total of about 60 miles again today, plus Haast.

Wanaka is very comfortable and relaxing. As close as it is to Queenstown, it is meant to be an alternative to the blistering action there.

IMGP1659.JPGWanaka. It is lawn-ful and the breeze is warm. Now all it needs is food.

I end up paying for a cabin rather than a tent site. I think a night on a bed without a magical disappearing pad would be better for recovery.

After dropping off my stuff (the cabins are a very reasonable NZ$40 per night, you use all the usual campground facilities), I go off in search of sustenance. Walking the half-mile to downtown is slower than usual. Finally see the universal sign for "calories", Subway. A foot-and-a-half of sub sandwich later (double meat, no less) and two cookies, I finally start to catch up to the calorie deficit.

IMGP1661.JPGThat's the look of gustatory satisfaction.

Catch up on some internetting that I have not been able to do over the last few days, and then hit the hay.

I have been thinking about it. There are two routes to Queenstown: a 70-mile route that is pretty flat and with a lot of traffic, or a really steep route over the highest paved road in New Zealand, but only 40 miles to Queenstown. I have decided that the Crown Ridge Road is going to happen, but I am going to have a rest day here in Wanaka first.

The bed feels sublime, but not for long as I am out for the count quickly.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.