Thursday, January 29, 2009

1/28/2009 - Nelson is Sunny, After All

An excellent morning for sleeping in as my bike is being worked on. I make it as long as 8:30AM, even though my sleeping pad has deflated completely. This has been a fairly recent development, but an irksome one. The chiropractic positions my back was forced into by the under-tent root this morning was not, I think, officially used by any chiropractor other than a sadistic one.

It is a relaxing morning. I don't have to be at the bike shop until noon. It's a very nice day, not clear blue skies but broken clouds. After breakfast, I wander down the mile and a half to the downtown, just to check it out more fully.

Like I mentioned, Nelson seems to radiate "happy" and "bustling" in a quaint way. I can't explain it much better than this - it is clean, well-kempt, has nifty brick crosswalks, and there are lots of people milling around. A plethora of accents adorn the air. Part of the street is blocked off completely for cars, and a guy belt out some reggae with his electric guitar at higher decibel levels than are probably necessary. This clashes style-wise with the two guys pounding out a beautiful, haunting sort of oil drum style instrument just two blocks away. It is leisurely.

IMGP1493.JPGDowntown Nelson. Somehow, I have cleverly managed to make this bustling town look ghost-town deserted. The actual cool vibe goes for multiple blocks in every direction.

IMGP1491.JPGRandomly come across the local tug-or-war championships in the street. After all, it is Wednesday.

I head to the I-Site to see what, if anything, I am missing. As it turns out, the good beaches are a ways away, so I can't work on my Welsh tan (as I like to call it, freckle pointillism). There are any number of full and half day cruises around the bay, but I am not ready to drop the cash - I'll be bicycling up toward some of those destinations anyway.

I wander back to the bike shop. The wheel has been replaced, no problems. I sell my old wheel for NZ$50, no doubt less than it's worth, but a lot more than I thought I would get. Excellent. Roll down on the bike and lock it up to wander the town some more.

IMGP1489.JPGThe old wheel with the broken spoke duct-taped to the next spoke.

IMGP1488.JPGAnd the new heavy-duty wheel (emphasis on the "heavy"), now making this bike approximately 80% new. This trip has been hard on it.

As it happens, the One Ring from the Lord of the Rings was made here in Nelson by one of the jewelers. That just demands a stop. The store itself is tiny, but definitely lets you know that their jewelry was worn by the glamourous people, meaning, apparently, hobbits.

IMGP1495.JPGA replica ring is definitely for sale (So much for "one ring to rule them all"). This particular version of the One Ring was apparently sized for a guy with a serious pituitary disorder. I could probably turn this into a choker collar.

IMGP1494.JPGThey also were selling lots more gaudy jewelry that loudly declares, with distinctive quality, "I probably still live with my mom".

IMGP1492.JPGAn incredible find - the ABBA gift book, "Your Favorite Group!" If you are a twenty through forty-something who thinks you are a dancing queen. This book store was pretty incredible, though. They seemed to live by the motto, "If it's in your grandmother's attic, it's probably here." Nothing like learning Tai-Chi from a book where the guy on the front cover rolls with a mullet. From 1965.

Head back and grab some lunch, read the paper (New Zealand is having a bit of a spat with Fiji right now), and hop on the bike. Have to grab some food for dinner.

I make it about two blocks when the rear tire explodes. Luckily, I am only three or four blocks from the bike shop, and so carry it there for them to figure out (as they put it together and pumped up the tube).

The guy that was working on the wheel is still in the learning stage, and had forgotten to put the inner tape around the inside of the hub, which led to the tube being pushed through the little holes for the spokes and causing the blowout. The tube is not repairable, which is too bad as it was my last puncture-resistant one. They replace it free with a "slime" one (just as good as puncture-resistant, the slime on the inside of the tire seals any small punctures). As the new guy pumps it up, it, too, explodes in a shower of green goo.

"That's the second one I've had do that today," he comments ruefully. "I've still got tinnitus from the first one."

Alas, that is the last tube that has any puncture-resistant ability that they have in stock. He puts a regular tube in instead. Everything is ready to go when I notice that he has put the tire on backwards (it is meant to rotate in only one direction). Looking as deflated as the recent tire and with green goo still decorating his face and shirt, he starts over again, and this time all is well.

To make it up to me, they give me a free bike evaluation (to check that the geometries are set up properly for touring) - the guy who does this is very knowledgeable and helps me adjust my pedals to hopefully improve my knee pain. He recommends putting the seat back by about a centimeter or two as well, but my weirdo moon saddle won't accommodate that much movement. Will keep it in mind - would have to buy a whole new seatpost. At last, I am off.

After all that, I do some internetting and head back to camp. I have a mission to repair my sleeping pad.

After about an hour of soaking the mat and putting it underwater with only a sink to work with, I identify 6 tiny punctures. Let it dry out and patch them with a little adhesive. That should do it.

Cook up some pasta/tuna surprise, and finally turn in. Planning on either Motueka (30mi)or Quinney's Bush Camp (65 miles) tomorrow. My knee will tell.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

1/27/2009 - More Fun with Broken Spokes

My watch alarm went off much too early this morning. A 15-minute snooze was definitely on the menu, and then put away camp while eating muesli. Off by 7:30. It is going to be a long day with some pretty serious climbs - 70 miles to Nelson and about 2400 feet of climb overall. The positive? It's supposed to rain on me as well. No, wait - That's the negative and the reason I am off so early, as the rain is forecast for the afternoon. The positive is that it is a beautiful ride.

IMGP1476.JPG I have just climbed out of Picton - Looking out at the fjords. Norway is for sucks.

Managed to get a picture from the same location that my dad took a picture back in 1985:

3941 Picton DockThe 1985 version of Picton. It doesn't look a whole lot different than today's ride:

IMGP1474.JPG. . . Just more concrete.

The ride to Havelock is spectacular. This is the route I took with Sara and Nick waaay back in 2004.

IMGP1478.JPGThis picture is for Sara Hampson, who became greener than the green-shelled mussels Nick and I ate in Havelock on that trip. As a group, we may have put down a bit of wine the night before. If you look at the curviness of the road, you can understand.

IMGP1479.JPGLooking over the bay. No rainclouds yet.

IMGP1481.JPGFor some reason, I keep wanting to put an exclamation point at the end of this word, turning this into some prophetic sign.

3957 Havelock HostelHavelock, circa 1985. I went right through Havelock without stopping this time, but this was the hostel we stayed at there..

IMGP1482.JPGHavelock today. With some nicely-placed flowers, if I do say so myself.

I have found it interesting that you tend to run into the same people over and over. I stopped for some water in Havelock and a guy in a car that I had seen way back in Auckland stopped to talk. But not for long - the rain is coming!

IMGP1484.JPGBeautiful river just before the first of the big climbs today. People were swimming and floating the river on innertubes. Very placid.

3958 Pelorus RiverAnd exactly the same as it was in 1985. I didn't know I had a picture like this, and yet the exact same one came up. Genetics, people - there must be a gene that governs photos.

IMGP1486.JPGVery interesting vines eating up this pine - reminds me of African ants taking down a predator, only in super slow-mo.

The two major climbs in this trip seem much easier than previous climbs. I guess all that epo must be doing the trick.

On the downside, though, I hear a clicking and weird screeeetch as I start to descend the first 800 ft hill. Stopping, I find that I have broken yet another spoke and bent the rear wheel yet again. The bent part of the wheel now rubs the brake every time it comes around, basically making it harder to pedal. Plus, now there is greater strain on the other spokes. Just 30 miles to go. . . broken spoke. . . rain on the way. . . Sky looks ominous. . . Oh, baby, it's a tension filled ride. All I need is Jack Bauer and a nuclear weapon to make this a truly tension-filled episode. I keep getting images of my head of the entire wheel disintegrating while I am at full speed next to one of the many steep cliffs. A slow-mo cutaway, and then I envision grabbing a vine or something and swinging to safety. Or is that my Tarzan fantasy? I get confused.

The longer climb goes well, and I rely mostly on the front brake on the excellent 7km coast down. It's almost flat as I roll into Nelson, dry, at about 3PM. No need for Jack Bauer at all.

Stop by the I-site and find a local bike shop and campground. Set up camp and swing by the Avanti dealer - After talking it over with them, I feel like it is time for a new rear wheel. I am going to keep breaking spokes at this rate, and by the time I keep repairing them, I will have spent a new wheel's worth of money. My wheel has radial spokes, great for weight but not so strong. I am going to put on a touring wheel instead.

Seriously, I am going to have a fully new bike by the end of this trip. Sigh. It won't be ready until noon tomorrow, so I am going to stay in Nelson an extra day. Anyway, it is a really neat town. It's busy, well-kept, and kind of upscale. Looks over into mountains and it's the gateway into the Abel-Tasman natl park. I would like to see it in the sun.

Do some internetting, and the rain hits as I start walking the mile and a half back to the campground. Duck into New World Grocery for food, and the downpour begins. Luckily, by the time I have everything, it has been downgraded from "hurricane" to "sprinkle". Simple dinner, and now watching some TV as it keeps raining outside. Will sleep in if possible tomorrow, that will be nice.

Monday, January 26, 2009

1/26/2009 - South Island, Ho!

Busy day today - still not sleeping well, up early with the light, Weet-Bix and fruit (apples, kiwis, and bananas) for some morning energy along with instant coffee doctored up properly.

Work this morning to free up some weight and bulk in the bike trailer. I have decided that the stove is unnecessary as I have not used it yet, as most of my meals are either cold or I have use of a kitchen. Also drop off some clothes that I don't use much, a notebook, a book or two, etc. I suddenly feel like my bike is going to be Ferrari-fast. This is important as the trip from Picton to Nelson has some seriously steep hills.

Have a very nice meeting in the morning with David where we hammer out the details of my employment (starting March 16). Even have some time to play with Ollie (pronounced oh-lee, not aw-lee) who is a freaking genius child, counting to 20, knows all his letters, and beats me at chess, Trivial Pursuit, and three-card monte. I OWN him at arm wrestling, though. Loves to read and put on this hat which struck me as hilarious - the caption appeared in my head as soon as he did it.


Repacked the trailer and panniers and said my sad farewells. It has been a great visit - I really do feel like family. Headed for the train, which leaves at 3:40PM. My left trailer tire is almost completely flat - has a very slow leak, either I didn't fix it properly or there is a second leak, but it takes 24 hours for the pressure to drop below 20PSI (from normal 40PSI).

Train station is less than a mile away, and it takes very little time to toss the bike and trailer on. I snuggle down into one of the seats at a table and work on this blogging thing (there are power outlets under the table!)

The train starts off without any trouble, and the landscape passes by quickly - still not used to non-bike speeds. We slowly approach the mountains before hitting a very long tunnel through them.

IMGP1438.JPGBicycling New Zealand is so HARD!

IMGP1441.JPGLooking toward the mountains. Specifically, toward Rivendell from the Lord of the Rings movies. I am sort of guessing at that, but this SHOULD be right.

Come into Wellington without a hitch. This city of about 350,000 people is nicely hilly, and, by my recollection, really clean. The train station isn't so clean, but that's typical of train stations, not Wellington.

Toss the bike off, put the front wheel on, hitch up the trailer, and start cruising the 1.7 miles to the ferry station. I have about 30 minutes before I am supposed to be fully checked in.

I will avoid any stress or worry you may have about my making it to the ferry by saying, simply, that I made it in good time. No jumping on as it was leaving or anything. Biking on the sidewalk helped a bit, as the traffic was mostly gridlocked.

Walked my bike onto the ferry promptly and tied it to the side of the deck.

IMGP1473.JPGMy sweet ride tied down on the ferry.

Hopped up to the upper levels to grab some food and find a seat with a view. The ferry itself is the Interislander, and it's one of their older ships - rust and signs of water damage are notable, but it is overall clean and there are PLENTY of seats with a view. Snap some pics of Wellington as the big vessel thrums to life and chugs away.

IMGP1446.JPGDowntown Wellington. I don't think the haze is smog, but I am not totally sure of that.

IMGP1448.JPGDinner is SO served. Tuna fish sandwich, ham and lettuce wrap, and fries all washed down with a Diet Coke. Exactly what the doctor ordered just prior to making a crossing that may make you seasick - frankly, I do not want to see or smell the result when these items are mixed up. But they were delicious.

IMGP1449.JPGLooking out this direction, there are a lot of miles before anything remotely resembling dry land can be found.

Find a seat next to a window and kill time for a bit. This part of the journey is not as interesting as the last hour or so when we'll be cruising through the fjords.

At last, we pass the first rock I have seen of the South Island.

IMGP1450.JPGLooks steeper than I would like.

As the three-hour tour continues (just TRY to get the Gilligan's Island theme out of your head now, I dare you), the sun drops slowly behind the mountains. My last 45 minutes is spent standing outside, just drinking in the sunset. It is well worth the goosebumps from the cool ocean breeze. I take way too many shots of the surrounding area, so will show just a few:

IMGP1453.JPGEarly in the fjords.

IMGP1460.JPGSun slowly dropping.

IMGP1466.JPGStarting to come into Picton - I hiked out to this point when I was in New Zealand in 2004:

IMG_1835Snout Point in 2004 - I took the above picture roughly from the very left side of this picture but 4 years later. Whoa.

IMGP1469.JPGGetting red. . .

IMGP1471.JPGJackpot. Sunset over Picton, about 15 minutes before we came in.

IMGP1468.JPGThe giant metropolis of Picton is at the lights that are far forward in the bottom part of the picture.

By the time I roll my bike off of the ferry, it is 9:15PM. Bike in the twilight to the close-by Top 10 Holiday park and put up a quick camp. Time to get to bed - it is going to be a very long one tomorrow, including a 1200 and an 800 foot climb. G'night, all!

1/25/2009 - The Return of the Vannamans

Did not sleep well but up early enough for some Weet-Bix and fruit, my new favorite breakfast delight, though not as much as usual. The morning was taken up by a very nice tour of Masterton and the surrounding area by Tracey. Toured the hospital, train station, close to the park (again), and then the tour-de-force. As it turns out, Peter Jackson (director/producer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, and on the short list of the upcoming vote for the Most Celebrated Living New Zealander now that Sir Edmund Hilary has died) lives in a house about 5 miles outside of Masterton. Oh yes, I have now been there.

IMGP1429.JPGKind of have to do a Where's Waldo here - there is a turret sticking out of the forest behind me - see if you can find it. That would be Peter Jackson's house.

IMGP1430.JPGThe gates to Pete's house. Many hobbits labored hundreds of hours to build this wall. They are buried under the wall, or so the rumor (that I just made up) goes. That would explain why I haven't seen a single hobbit yet on this trip.

IMGP1431.JPGPeter Jackson's neighbors, about 200 yards and maybe a millenium from his house (judging by the turrets). There are grazing sheep and horses right across from it.

IMGP1432.JPGOut in the country around Masterton. The pictures never seem to do it justice. This is wine country.

After the very kind tour, I took a run to help clear my head, managing to get lost in the park, in a cemetery no less. Picked up some provisions at the local food area.

The Vannamans returned, which was great. Kipp and Kylie and Ollie (their almost-two year old) along with Kipp and Kayra's parents. Suddenly, the massive apartment is not quite as massive.

I know them mostly through Kylie, who was an intern when I was a senior resident back in residency. She was the one that all the senior residents breathed sighs of relief when they got her as their intern during our hospitalist months - she was fantastic. This is her first job out of residency. They quite enjoy New Zealand in general and plan to stay for the near future.

It really is a pleasant evening that I needed as we all get caught up again.

Stupidly, I did not take pictures of the family. I will redeem myself by pimping their blog when I can find the address so you can go check their adventures out for yourselves. They had just spent time in the Nelson area of the South Island, and loved it. Pictures are amazing.

The feeling of being treated like family continued with the addition of Kylie, Kipp, Ollie, and Kipp's parents. We all talk and chat like it hasn't been 2 or so years since I have seen them. It is really wonderful.

IMGP1425.JPGThis is their apartment. It has four bedrooms and a massive central area with connected kitchen. Could pretty much play full-press rugby in this place as long as you had non-sliding socks.

IMGP1426.JPGView from the window looking out over the nearby mountains. They look really far away in the pic, but are actually close-by.

The sunset is amazing.

IMGP1433.JPGOne of those sky-on-fire kind of sunsets. Wow. If this were a war-torn area, you might think you were looking toward ground zero.

Get to bed at a reasonable hour. Am planning to head out tomorrow to land in Picton, signaling the end of my North Island travels and the start of the South Island.

1/24/2009 - Good Day, Then a Bad Day.

The day started out quite nicely, waking up slowly on a fantastic bed; Weet-Bix and fresh fruit; relaxing. The plan had been to do some hiking today, but those plans evaporated like a puddle in the heat (around 90-some degrees Fahrenheit today). No problems there.

Met up with Kayra for an excellent lunch involving the skyscraping "Kiwi Burger". Little known fact: Burgers here almost universally come with big slabs of beets on them, and the waitress apologized profusely as they were out of them. Though not bad, you've gotta admit that burgers were not meant for squishy purple vegetables (just slimy green slabs of pickle, thanks).

IMGP1409.JPGI promise I am not yelling at the Leaning Tower of Burger. This is simply to illustrate mouth-span vs burger height. The ratio is not looking good.

You will be proud to know that I finished the whole thing off without a fork. or other modern implements.

Took it easy in the park for the afternoon, finding more delights that Masterton has to offer and getting pictures of the places that I had neglected on my walk before.

IMGP1412.JPGThis is where they filmed the opening to every Disney movie ever made, I think.

IMGP1413.JPGSome random kids cruising down the flying fox. Somehow, despite a lack of warning signs, they survived to go around again.

IMGP1411.JPGCircuit bike race - they cruised around about a 2km track over and over again. Interestingly, none of them had a bike trailer, and there was a distinct lack of tents or panniers, so I do not consider them REAL bicyclists.

Toward the end of my walk, I noticed the miniature train that I had only seen at a distance before. There is only one word to describe this thing: EPIC. There are two people there and their day is winding down. They are part of the miniature railroad club and run this on a volunteer basis.

IMGP1414.JPGI have grown to massive proportions on New Zealand milk and fruit as evidenced by this size comparison to a full-size train. HULK SMASH!

It doesn't take much arm twisting to convince me to jump on after talking a bit to the people.


The little 5-year-old inside of me was jumping up and down by this point. I paid the NZ$1 to ride with the other children and their parents. I figured that if I scrunched down enough, no one would notice that I didn't have a small child in my lap.

To better explain the next 5 minutes of my life, I would like you to envision me as an overexcited five-year-old explaining things right after coming off the train, as it was a struggle to keep this from spilling out audibly to the nearby parents.

"So I got to ride the train and the conductor let me sit on the conductor seat and then I got to sit on the second car and then the conductor tooted the horn and it was LOUD! And then the train started going and it went through a tunnel and he tooted the horn again and it was LOUDER! And we went real fast and we passed some ducks and I waved to the ducks but they didn't do anything and then the train crossing bell was dinging and we KEPT GOING! And I almost hit a tree branch but I didn't and we scared some birds and went through the tunnel again and it was scary 'cuz it had some spider webs! And then we went around again and that was all we were supposed to do but the conductor WENT AROUND THREE TIMES and usually you only get to go two times around so I got to go extra and the tunnel was loud again and the ducks still didn't care and we were going so fast you could feel the wind on your face. And then we stopped and it was SO COOL!"

All this showed on my face, I think, but the assorted parents were kind enough not to mention it or call child services.

IMGP1421.JPGMy inner 5-year-old, goofy smile intact.

Wandered back to the apartment and did some relaxing. I will spare the details of the late afternoon and evening as this was when the day turned very somber and unhappy for personal reasons, made worse by the fact that these reasons were completely my fault. I will leave it at that for purposes of the blog and try to keep my future posts light as per usual.