Saturday, January 17, 2009

1/17/2008 - More than Mt. Maunganui on a Bike

Yet another fantastic day this morning. Way too much sun for the one postage-stamp sized cloud. I go through the usual morning routine, except that I REALLY cram in the breakfast - 6 eggs, scrambled, on 4 pieces of toast with a liter of milk. I am packed, but will need the energy - a cursory glance at one of my books show today to be flat for 12km, then uphill almost constantly for the remainder of the way to Rotorua. Sometimes, I should just not look.

Off I go. With all of that breakfast energy and the initial slightly rolling terrain, I average a seriously good (for me) 15mph. Come into Te Puke, where I cannot resist this picture.

IMGP1339.JPGThe Te Puke Food Hut - where meat is NEVER well-done.

The highway soon turns inland, and the real work begins. It's initially a nice, easy grade, and I run at about 10-12mph. Still working off breakfast energy.

Before long, the road engineers show their true cruel colors and slowly steepen the grade until it is at its steepest toward the top. Still nothing like Piha, for which I am very glad, and no rest breaks are needed - just water breaks.

IMGP1340.JPGFrom palm trees to pines. This is about 600 feet up from where I was this morning. There are lots of little flowers in this picture that didn't come out well, sorry.

The constant grade lasts for, literally, hours as the slow miles pass. I sweat out 4 liters of my water under the unblocked sun, as well. There are a couple of downhills, one that is a kilometer long, but they are immediately followed by more hill climbing. It takes literally hours to finally hit the top.

IMGP1341.JPGClose to the top at last.

At the top, it is still 12 miles of ups and downs to Rotarua. My speed is down significantly from 15mph this morning to about 9-10 now - legs burn even with easy cycling. Wheeeeeee! I love vacation!

IMGP1343.JPGPassing Lake Rotoiti, getting close to Rotorua.

IMGP1345.JPGAnother view of Lake Rotoiti. These hills are getting tiresome. But the views are great.

Roll into a campground at last around 3:30PM, five and a half hours after starting. 47 miles total today.

I am completely out of energy by the time I get camp up, but shower and take a short (30 min) nap in the tent with a light breeze passing through. Soon bike into town (about 2 miles further on). Check out some restaurants, but my energy requirements need instant food, and cheap would be nice. Hello Burger King. I order everything on the menu (it felt like) and put it down like a champ. Free refills are the bomb.

Make it back to camp and am now sitting outside under the sunset typing this blog.

IMGP1347.JPGTaken before sunset, but it's sunset as I type this. Just lower the light a bit in your mind and tint it red.

I am really going to crash tonight. Got to check the weather - forecast from a few days ago is warning about big storms tomorrow, may call "uncle" and relax. We shall see. Planning is not my forte on this trip.

1/16/2008 - Repairs

Ah. What can I do? My bike is in for repairs, leaving me unfortunately stranded in one of the most popular summer destinations in New Zealand. Fate, how you mock me!

Up early, finishing out the last of my muesli with banana and coffee.

IMGP1319.JPG Part of a well-balanced breakfast and proof that I do actually eat fruits and vegetables here.

It is, of course, sunny and delightful. I am to pick up my bike at around noon, giving me some time to read and figure out what delights Mt. Maunganui has in store. In fact, it has a mountain, which will be part of what I do today - a hike/run to the top sounds good, followed by a dip in the ocean and maybe laying on the sand. I also will be talking to David Nixon, the head of the Masterton clinic where I will be working starting in March, but that is not until around 8:30PM.

I end up at the bike shop on time and pick up my bike. The young guy there appears to have done a really nice job - has trued both wheels, replaced and adjusted the brakes, re-indexed the rear derailleur (which ended up requiring adjusting the derailleur hanger), and tightened up several parts of the bike that North Shore Avanti apparently missed. He also added the missing bolt to the brakes, a key part of keeping them working. All of that was less than NZ$100, even with parts.

As soon as I take it for a test ride, though, I find that the chain slips, something it has been doing off and on when I really put some torque on the crank. The guys there took the time to try replacing the rear chain and cassette (rear gears) and rode with me to see what it was doing. Finally figured out it was the middle front gear which has worn enough that the chain slips. (This happened yesterday when I tried to power ahead of a semi truck in some construction and the chain just slipped completely, with the resultant shock causing my GPS to break off and hit the pavement. The truck driver was great, stopped completely and allowed me to pick it up before continuing on his way with a wave, but could have been a bad thing.)

The cost for a new front chain ring is more, unfortunately, but was definitely worth it. After many thanks for all their time (it took about two hours with shifting parts off and on the bike and testing it), I ride off with a practically new bike. Seriously, the thing has more than 50% new parts since it broke up in Kaitaia.

Back to camp for a quick change and to grab my day pack, leave my important stuff with the campground host, and head out the 3 miles or so to Mt. Maunganui.

The town goes from residential (where I am staying) to total holiday resort town, with wide avenues and white sand beaches, moderately pounding surf, a few highrises, and lots of shops.

IMGP1321.JPGComing into Mt. Maunganui (the holiday part of the town). I am wearing entirely too many clothes by the apparent beach standards.

I find the trail up the mountain (practically a highway by Alaska standards), lock up my bike, and head out.

IMGP1323.JPGI think this trail is actually bigger than the road my GPS tried to take me on a few days ago. This is getting toward the top.

Weather is definitely on the muggy side, but tolerable. The summit is at about the height of the Butte near Palmer, Alaska - from now on to be known as Mt. Butte.

IMGP1326.JPGWho am I? Hint: Add a crown of thorns. I really need to hit the weights.

Despite me making fun of the term "mountain" in this case, the views really were spectacular.

IMGP1327.JPGLooking toward Tauranga, about 7km away or so. The tide is really moving - the sailboats are trying to head against the tide and are basically at a standstill.

IMGP1324.JPGThe town of Mt. Maunganui, a tourist's wet dream according to the travel guides.

Back down the path, running when it is not too steep. It's so hot - what can I possibly do? Ah, yes.

IMGP1331.JPGYet another knock to my Alaska friends, currently kickin' it in -15 deg weather - the water is warm and fantastic.

IMGP1330.JPGAlso perfect for body surfing, even though this picture looks more like I am disembodied head surfing.

Wander the beach for awhile and talk to a guy by a bunch of volleyball nets. He and several other Californians are here for international beach volleyball competitions tomorrow. They are all practicing on the beach. Hard life.

IMGP1336.JPGI took this picture purely to educate and inform. Hard bodies and skimpy bikinis had NOTHING to do with this.

Eventually, wash off at the beach shower and make my way back to camp after picking up dinner.

IMGP1337.JPGA chill bike ride through the wide, slow avenues along the beach. Made slightly more dangerous by my attempts at picture taking while riding.

Make up some Turkish flatbread and stew. About halfway through, the people next o me invite me over. Really nice people, and lively. I am plied with prawns and champagne, and we all kick back and talk. There is a definite interest in art, and I get to brag on my mom a bit. They end up showing some great work.

IMGP1338.JPGJill (on the left) is the founding member of sandywalkers, which is an organization dedicated to keeping highrises out of nice beaches. Check it out at - she did the picture of the penguin there.

I would stay later, but 8:30 rolls around and I need to talk to David, so off I go. After a long and excellent conversation (I am quite excited about working there in Masterton) I finally turn in. Tomorrow, am headed to Rotorua, between 45 and 50 miles away. But with a tuned-up bike.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Another quick note. . .

For some freaky reason, when I uploaded the blog it put them out of order. Just click on the dates to the right of the page to see them in order. Sorry!

1/13/2009 - My Snazzy New Whip

Up at a reasonable time today, but I am excited. I finally get my bike back, but not until 3PM. Do the usual morning stuff, do some packing, and head off toward downtown Auckland for some lunch and to trade in some novels as I've finished the last two. I get a Discovery Pass, which allows me full travel on any ferry, train, or bus in the city (other than the ferries going to the various islands around Auckland). It's only NZ$13, a sweet deal for everything I would be using it for.

I also met an Australian cyclist who introduced himself as Mad Max. He is 59 years old and is a marathon river kayaker (competing in the international Masters race in 6 month's time in Australia). He is a total kick-in-the-pants. Says that long-distance river kayaking is about 60% legs, which allows him to jump straight into cycling without having to pass the training stage first.

He is riding an 80's era steel bike that he found on the side of the road. He put some new components on it and it works great for his two-week cycling escapades. He is finishing his trip, as his plane is leaving tomorrow for Australia again.

Very fun guy to talk to, and it is a very enjoyable morning spent discussing just about everything.


Mel Gibson has NOTHING on the real Mad Max. He is depicted in the above photo without the typical radioactive ruin and destruction.

I end up making it to the North Shore Avanti dealer right at 3PM, and the bike is indeed ready. The total price? Less than expected, but still steep - NZ$1600. Ouch. On the plus side, though. . .


. . . I have a bike now with some flash. The frame is upgraded from the "comp" model to the "pro" model, which I am sure gives me an additional 15mph or so. At least, it LOOKS like it's faster, what with it being Ferrari red.



Ride the bike down to the ferry terminal (about 7 miles) and hop on.


Coca-Cola owes me for this shot.


The new bike, settling in with its new, tiny friends on the ferry.

Hop on the train from downtown Auckland, and it is only the $1 fee to take it all the way to Manakau City - just 30 minute ride (bus is 60 min).

Talk some more to Max. He mentions that, back in the '70s, he was in the US and was brought in to one of the bodybuilding championships that starred, who else, Arnold himself. He was trained in the poses, and stepped out on stage - lily-white and tiny - as a joke in the middle of the competition. I want you to go check out the picture of Mad Max above one more time with this story in mind. Made Arnold laugh, and he ended out the day hanging out with Arnold and the rest of the massive crowd. Says he was a really genuine guy. Go Arnie.

I spend the last of my evening packing, then crash around 11PM. Tomorrow, I am off, finally.

1/12/2009 - Answers at Last!!

Wake up early, breakfast, etc. Kris and Erik are gone already, planning to hug the coastline. May meet up with them down the line as we are taking a similar route.

Call the bike shop. They still have not heard from the distributor and agree that we'll just go ahead and build the new bike (using the components from the old one) and refund any money that the distributor agrees is under warranty.


They will get the bike up and running by 3PM tomorrow. No big. I have discovered from another camper (Peter, up here helping his daughter move) that the big botanical gardens for the city is just about a mile away. Excellent!

I end up going for a mid-distance run, and check out the train station (also about a mile away) for schedules as I am planning on using it tomorrow - bikes can ride on the train for just NZ$1. Perfect!


I like this picture. It again illustrates the more self-sufficient nature of New Zealand - when you walk across to the platform, it is YOU that gets to watch for trains. No pedestrian overpass here!!

Head back to the camp and pick up my bag. Time to check out the botanical gardens. Easy walk, and suddenly I am in the forest. Can't see buildings or high-rises, just plants and broad, well-kempt lawns. Flowers in areas of the landscape, but there are a number of hills and it is impossible to get an idea of the size of the place without walking it.


Welcome to the city of Auckland?


This looks more botanical-y. They were also very fragrant.


A very small area of the more well-kempt part of the forests. Other areas are left to natural plant life for New Zealand.

I end up grabbing lunch at a small cafe on one side of the botanical garden, then taking a sweet, sweet pastry out to one of the lawns and do some medical readin'.


I feel a long way from code blues and defibrillators right now, but, dammit, I will be all over the Kiwi ATLS book!

After about 90 minutes of this, it's time for more wandering. I work to follow a long trail that is supposed to take me around the edge of the park, but after about 2km, I find an interesting dirt path leading north out of the park.


Totally Ansel Adams. If he worked in color. And was into point-and-shoot digital cameras. And had ever visited New Zealand. And maybe after he had a small stroke that took out some parts of the brain that regulate "talent".


The path was labeled "lookout". It turns out to be a popular running track, though probably not as popular as the one labeled "flat and easy".

The paths wind about for quite a while, heading up in elevation. Eventually, broke free of the trees and went WAY away from the botanical gardens. Well, when in Rome. . .


Big tree tunnel, but minus something important. . .


Oh, wait, there I am.

The path ends up at a really tall grassy knoll, the highest elevation in the area.


Yeah, I said it. The grassy knoll. Kennedys beware.

The fascinating thing about this was that taking a picture from the top of the knoll toward the West produces this picture. . .



But taking the picture toward the East shows a very different pic. . .


It's done countrified!

Felt like standing on a major dividing line. I know what direction I would want to head. Again, I am not a city boy. But, camp is West, so West I go.

End up grabbing another movie. They have a 3D movie theater showing Bolt (the animated one about the puppy). No excuses this time. The 3D thing actually works pretty well, but loses some frame rate on fast-paced scenes.


Just call me McCool.

Headed back to camp for a bit of sleep. I've run about 3 miles, then walked (with about 20 lbs) for another 6 or 7. Planned out the best way to get the bike here tomorrow.


Looking up toward the grassy knoll, where I took those pictures from.

1/15/2009 - Taurangahoy!

I woke to the sound of two guys making no attempt to keep their voices low who were wandering around my camp around 6:30AM. Their voices dwindle, then they return in a short while. Eventually, I hear and feel my tent getting shaken.

"Hey, mate!" I hear. I respond with something inane but cheerful - better to be positive if I'm going to be kicked out or fined.

"You left your camera outside here. Lucky it's still around. Here, I'll just slide it under for you." Sure enough, my overnight bag (that looks like a camera bag) comes underneath the fly. I thank him, and the two guys move on. I don't even get to see them.

IMGP1311.JPGMy little corner of the rest area. It even had bathrooms and running water.

Now that my early morning front-door wake up call has occurred, I set about putting away camp. My goal is Tauranga today, just over 50 miles away. I should get a nice, early start. Pull the trailer over - and immediately notice that the left tire is flat. Sigh. It takes about 45 minutes to repair, mostly due to the tiny hole that was impossible to see, resulting in several trips to the river to put it underwater and look for bubbles.

IMGP1310.JPGNot quite up to the recommended PSI.

Off I go at last. Legs are doing well, and the Karangahaki Gorge is easier than I thought it would be. Beautiful, too, though for some reason I didn't take a picture.

Pushed through to Waihi, but held off on heading to Waihi Beach (another 12 or 14 km out of my way). Waihi Beach in 1985 was a nice place where we camped for 2 days to do some beach frolicking.

3850 Bowentown Motorcamp BeachThis is 1985's version of Waihi Beach, which I did not visit this time. One of those two kids was the smaller version of me.

Continue on through the village. Sun is really beating down, and without a random annoyed person to spit water on me, I am really hot. Go through all 4 liters of water after about 30 miles. Stop in a little town called Katikati - a delightful little village with a heaven-sent Subway. I still think that Subway is about the best deal you can get on food, period. I spend an enjoyable 45 minutes utterly destroying a foot long roast beef double meat sub, and refill my water bottles. The guy at the counter was amazingly friendly, and refilled it for me from the back where the water was nice and cool. He also snuck in an extra cookie for me that I didn't find until later. Cool.

Wish I had taken a picture of this place, it was very idyllic.

Moved on, though. It was about 25 miles to my goal in Tauranga, and I had to get to the bike shop before they closed. The road from Katikati to Tauranga turned out to have more in common with a roller coaster than a road. I dreaded going down a hill because I knew that there would be another steep upgrade every time. By the time I rolled into Tauranga, I had dropped another 3 liters from my water supply.

Tauranga is a very pleasant city, called "the closest thing to the Riviera in New Zealand" by Lonely Planet. I stop by the I-Site (information) and found out that they have an Avanti/Specialized bike shop in Mt. Manganui, the town right next to Tauranga. Off I go again, this time across the bay on a railway footbridge.

IMGP1316.JPGLooking back toward Tauranga. Your guess is as good as mine with regards to what the graffiti says in the background - definitely a "D" for spraypaintmanship.

IMGP1312.JPGLooking north across the bay to Mt. Manganui. Yes, Alaskan friends, that little hill counts as a mountain here.

Finally pull into the Avanti shop. The guy is very friendly, takes a quick look over the bike, and we come up with the following things to fix:

  • Replace the brake pads (I blame this on going down into Piha that first day)

  • Rear wheel is out-of-round and needs to be straightened (noticed by Mad Max as he was pushing my bike)

  • Put a screw in to hold one of the brakes (apparently forgotten by North Shore Avanti)

  • Re-index the derailleur

He also is going to take a careful look at the bike to see if anything else needs attention. It will be tomorrow at lunch before I can pick it up. No big, I want to explore the area anyway. He even loans me a single speed bike to get me around while he is working on mine.

I hole up in a campground in Mt. Manganui, nice place, clean. The owner is a rather humorless man but runs a tight ship. By the time I get all settled in, it's dinner time. I decide to get a little "wild and crazy" and make up the last of my pasta with some fresh melted cheese and butter (purely for the protein, you understand.)

IMGP1317.JPGMmmmmm. Cheesy.

Alas, I am without salt or pepper, but it was still good. Do some reading, work on the blog, talk to a few people (the housekeeper is very nice). One of the people I met had just been in Rotorua where 9 cars (including his) had been broken into with a slim jim. Luckily, they only lost a bit of cash, but other people lost considerably more and the thieves weren't caught. Ah, well - at least a slim jim won't get into my tent.

Finally crash around 11PM. At this point, unsure if I am going to hope for the best and try for Rotorua (assuming my bike will be done on time) or relax for a day and explore.

Picture 7The trip so far (just the biking part of it) - I am down where that big flag is in Tauranga. Auckland (where I started again 2 days ago) is by where it says "North Shore City".

1/14/2008 - I AM BACK, BABY!

Am actually really excited this morning. Hop out of bed at 5:45AM, have to eat breakfast and put away camp and make it the mile to the train - plan is to take the 7:45 train south to Pukekohe which will bypass the serious traffic and is only 10 miles from Pokeno, where we started our trip in 1985.


This is how I know I have been here waaaaaay too long.

I am driven. Everything is put away. Everything is packed. The panniers are on the bike. I hook up the trailer. . .

No, wait. I DON'T hook up the trailer. Because the little piece of aluminum that connects the trailer to the rear axle of my bike is not there. It is in North Shore, Auckland, about 30km away, at the Avanti dealer who forgot that it went on this particular bike.


Seriously sad face.

The funny sound I heard at that point was my heart dropping directly into my size 14s.

Recovered after a minute and made alternate plans. Mad Max offered to watch my bike and have the holiday park people hold on to it once they came into the office (as he was going to catch a plane). I, meanwhile, head toward North Shore. While waiting for the shop to open, grab coffee and breakfast. By 10:00, I have taken the bus all the way up to the bike shop. I misread the bus schedule and waste 40 minutes waiting for a nonexistent bus. It takes approximately 3 minutes at the bike shop before I head off again with my tiny piece of aluminum.

Mad Max is still there at 11:00 when I make it back. I'm a little frustrated - the trains don't run to Pukekohe this late, so I head to a town (Papakura) that is further away from Pokeno, but should get me around traffic.


On the train platform, smile is back. The weather helps.

It is about noon when I finally jump on the pedals.


Finally have started just after noon. No, this was not taken in a blonde forest, that's just my copious arm hair.

Luckily, the day is prime Broken clouds give me equal amounts of sunshine and shade, and the terrain (at first) is easy, rolling hills.


Perfect cycling day. Even though I'm starting late.

I just follow the GPS, which I have programmed to take me to Pokeno, the town where we started our journey in 1985 and the start of Highway 2. It is avoiding the expressway, which is off limits to bikes.

Hit a couple of MAJOR steep hills on the backroads here, and it is at this point that I notice that my nice, new derailleur will not give me my lowest gear. This leads to some painful hill work and a new annoyance at the North Shore Avanti guys (who, overall, have actually done a lot for me, even with this).

At this point, I would like to to give a quick rendition of the last 2 miles to Pokeno, based on the GPS point of view versus the reality of the situation.

GPS: Turn left onto road.

Reality GPS: Pass the correct road while going too fast down a hill. Try to turn around and get into your low gear. Barely catch yourself from falling over as you forget to unclip your shoes from the pedals and cut your leg with the large front gear on the bike. Head back uphill and turn down the correct road. Realize that the reason you missed the turn was because the "road" is a twin set of gravel ruts.


This is the road my GPS told me to go on.

GPS: Continue on road to Highway 2 and Pokeno.

Reality GPS: Head down a hill on the gravel ruts. Stop suddenly in a wash of gravel as you come up to a set of unkempt farmer's fields and a "Do Not Enter" sign on a deserted water treatment plant. Curse once, loudly, as you realize that the road has ended completely. Consider pushing bike and trailer through fields for a mile or so.

Recover yourself, then perform a legal U-turn.

Slip your way up the gravel road. Curse Garmin as you check over the map and realize that it will take about 10 miles of biking to get to Pokeno by back roads that actually exist, even though the town is only about 2km away and in sight.

Find expressway. Illegally walk your bike the wrong way down the offramp as there is no onramp at this intersection. Illegally ride your bike the 800 meters along the expressway to the Pokeno intersection.

Turn left to Highway 2 and Pokeno.

Long story short, I made it to Pokeno.


This is roughly the same spot. . .

3842 Leaving Auckland at Pokeno

. . . as this picture, taken at Pokeno in 1985 just before we set off on that trip. The trees have grown up big time since then!

Started to bike, realizing that my planned journey totals about 65-70miles (not including the walking this morning) that will get me past Paeroa around dark, if I don't collapse first. My previous longest day was 57 miles, and I have not been riding for 2 weeks.

Despite this, I am feeling good. The day is still excellent and I have beaten the backroads to Pokeno.

At some point, I get spit on with liquid of some kind by a passing car, with no real explanation. Not sure what kind of liquid it was, but it was welcomed as the sun was out and I was HOT!

Start running out of energy when I see the sign for an orchard. This turned out to be the place where we first camped back in 1985.

3842 Start of cycling at PokenoGielen's orchard back in 1985.


The orchard, today

Back in 1985, we grabbed a bunch of random fruit here. Today, they have ripe plums - NZ$3 for a big bag. Sold! I talk to the guy running the place - they say that they inherited it in 1984, but he doesn't recall the name at that time. I eat about 9 of them right away and still have a 2/3 full bag. Deee-licious. Hope there is a bathroom near wherever I camp tonight.

Moving on. Hit rain for awhile, which drenches me, but then the squall is past and the sun and wind dry me off again. I use up all 4 liters of water I have and refill them at a cafe.

IMGP1301.JPGRandom picture while bicycling. Lots of ant-cows.

I closely watch the distance to Paeroa. I am in the zone for awhile, and there is only about 30km to Paeroa when a very kind lady flags me down.

"Hey! Do you want a ride? We can toss the bike and trailer in the back of the van," she says, smiling. Her name is Vianna (like "Dianna" but with a "V"). She has done this for several bicyclists and is heading to Tauranga (my goal for tomorrow evening). Somewhat due to the nice day, but mostly due to plain old stubbornness (I have decided that, despite all the misfortunes the day has thrown me, that I am going to make it to Karangahaki Gorge tonight), I kindly refuse her offer. We talk for a bit and then she zips off to Tauranga.

The last 10 miles were not fun. I was rapidly running out of water and calories, but mostly my legs were simply getting ready to give up the ghost. At last, around 7:45PM, I roll into Paeroa. I stop at a gas station there to pick up milk for the morning. That's the point I realized I was really calorie-deficient and a bit dehydrated - I almost couldn't make a normal sentence, and just couldn't THINK when I was asking the person at the counter about campgrounds and places to grab quick food. She gave me a funny look but was kind enough to give me some places to eat that were open late. Ate some quick energy and pushed to the downtown where I picked up a burger and fries (the only place left open). Started to feel better.

Pushed on past Paeroa. The campground should be about 5km beyond the town. Alas, it was also uphill. My legs were quite unhappy about this development, but made it the requisite distance with the help of some beautiful sky candy.

IMGP1303.JPGPaeroa. It is starting to get late.

I can see a lightning storm ahead, and hope that it pushes away rather than toward me. It would just suck to make it this far almost entirely dry only to pitch my tent in a downpour.

IMGP1305.JPGUnhappy-looking sky over where the campground should be. Small rainbow from the angle of the sun.

After all that, I pass the area the campground is supposed to be, but. . . No campground. After another km or so, pull over at a rest area. Ask two people about local campgrounds, but they do not know. That is it. I am at the end of the daylight and the end of energy. I pitch my tent in a secluded part of the rest area without a care. It does not downpour, and I crawl into my sleeping bag after locking up the bike and trailer and. . . crash.

IMGP1309.JPGJust before going to sleep. Pretty drained.