Saturday, February 7, 2009

2/5/2009 - Rest Days Are for Wusses

Wake up reasonably early. No rain, which is nice. I am in a determined mood, as the day will start almost immediately going uphill and windy. I am mentally prepared. Gassed up with bananas and muesli and coffee, it is soon time to push off.

IMGP1598.JPG Franz Josef, minus the cloudcover but plus the ultraviolet rays. Yes, I put on sunscreen.

Warm up the legs over about 5 miles, then start the climb. On the altitude map, it shows three very steep spikes, all in a row over 22km before Fox Glacier. They total about 2000 feet of elevation gain. Luckily, they are not as steep as I was led to believe.

IMGP1599.JPGThis is the very first part of what I get to go over today. You know how the camera adds 10 lbs? It also makes nasty hills look positively relaxed.

At about 700 sweat-inducing feet of climb, I end up at the end of a line of cars waiting for construction. Being one of the last ones there, when they finally get the "go" signal, they've already been waiting, but signal me through and give a bit of encouragement. I can feel my heart treading dangerously close to "rhumba on cocaine and Red Bull" (speed-wise only, people!) as I up my tempo through the uphill construction zone. They kindly hold off traffic until I make it through the kilometer.

IMGP1600.JPGBe prepared. I like mountains, and there is no cost to develop film in a digital camera.

IMGP1602.JPGBetween the first and second climb. Surprisingly, there were no sheep or cattle at ALL in this picture.

IMGP1603.JPGComing through the second climb. I like to call this "River, Mountain, and Cloud #955".

IMGP1604.JPGThe top of the final hill. I'm looking ahead (Quick lifesaving point: New Zealanders drive on the left, not the right).

After finishing off this spectacular run, I end up in Fox Glacier, a little town that seems to have built mostly on foreign currency. It is a big stop for a lot of tour buses, and once again, I am treated to the fast-moving lilt of French, Danish, German, and a series of wacky English accents.

IMGP1605.JPGLooking over the rugby field toward the glacier, which is not visible. Come to think of it, why did I put this one in?

I spent about an hour kicking back at a cafe with some hot food (fish burger and a Coke) to placate my barkin' dogs.

The big decision, then. I had planned to make this kind of a half day to rest, but Lake Paringa is only 40 miles away. The pure sugar and caffeine of Coke Classic decides for me - I am going for it.

On my way out of town, decide to take the road up to the Fox Glacier viewpoint. Who knows when I am going to see it again? It adds about 4 miles to the journey and I realize that this side trip is much less fun when dragging all my equipment along.

IMGP1611.JPGThis is me, fighting the Man.

IMGP1609.JPGThat's all of the glacial love you get for 4 miles of work. Next time, I'll just photoshop a postcard. Props out to the very nice ladies who took this picture for me, though.

Back on the road, I am looking for a spot that one of my favorite pictures of the 1985 trip was taken:

3998 Ryan with bike age 7 south of Fox GlacierAll I know about this picture is that it was taken "south of Fox". That leaves a lot of ground to cover. These socks cover a lot, as well. And are those shoes 'Roos?!

IMGP1617.JPGYeah, I'm not sure I got the spot right, either. And the camera is tilted. But YOU try to get a decent shot when you have 10 seconds to get 150 lbs of bike across a busy highway.

Actually, that last picture was take 4. You may enjoy evidence of just how difficult this was.

IMGP1613.JPGJuuuuust a bit slow. Though the world seems less tilty than the above picture.

IMGP1616.JPGJuuuuust about crushed. You can see me on the other side, just in front of the driver's scowl.

Finally come across the spot about 100 yards down that seems to be the actual spot that picture was taken, but there was nowhere to put the camera. Perhaps I will work some Photoshop magic someday.

IMGP1618.JPGGood enough for government work.

At this point, the road is fairly flat. No major hills from Fox all the way to Lake Paringa. Definitely start to feel the constant pedaling, though.

IMGP1621.JPGStopped to grab lunch #2 - can you believe that this scenery was all in the same day, and within cycling distance?

IMGP1622.JPGBack away from the beach, getting closer to the lake. Talk about an incredible day. Reminds me, mountain-wise, of some of Alaska.

At last, hit Lake Paringa. It has been a long day, and I waste no time putting up camp. As soon as that is done, I am into the water (in my bike shorts) to wash both the bike shorts and the day's grime (sunscreen, road dirt, Deet, and a healthy amount of sweat-related salt in combination could really stun the olfactory senses.) Given the recent difficulties with my "waterproof" camera and river pictures, there is no photographic evidence of this, which I am sure is an enormous relief to you all.

IMGP1623.JPGMoonrise. I sleep better in my tent knowing that the chance of a werewolf attack is very low.

IMGP1624.JPGThe setting sun. It is sleepy time for me.

Dinner is cold again - Why does PB&J never get old? Weird. Spend the requisite 15 minutes in senseless black fly killing, then crash out. Tomorrow's goal is the base of the nastiest climb of the entire trip - Haast Pass. Another 60 miles.

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.

Friday, February 6, 2009

2/3/2009 - Continuing my Unofficial Tour of New Zealand Bike Shops

I actually DID get up relatively early the next morning. It is go time, and I have a fairly long day ahead (about 60 miles). As I start to push my bike, I notice something. The back wheel does not freely spin. Hmmm - I am pretty sure that "spinning" is high on the official list of "Things that Wheels Do". I leave my stuff at the backpacker's (Duke's is very nice and lets me put it back in the locked room again) to re-visit the fine young man who did the work yesterday. He is, indeed, back, but there is another guy there today as well.

At least we are on the same page today - he agrees that it should be spinning. After about an hour, with some consulting with the older guy in the shop, I head out. And immediately return, as it goes back to its prior state after a block.

Return again, and this time they REALLY get into the guts of the hub. The problem, as it turns out, is that the splines holding the gears are loose. They tighten it down, true the wheel, and off I go with my new axle.

The day is not the bright, happy, fairytale day, but more of a gray premonition.

IMGP1558.JPG"Greymouth" as only the sky can tell it.

The ride is nice and flat at this stage, and I make incredible time. I take back all of the negative comments about the bike shop I made yesterday. I am doing 17mph on the flats, and it feels great.

IMGP1559.JPGA shared train/road bridge. There were a lot of various dangerous crevasses and whatnot due to the complexities of having both run the same spot - there weren't even any train lights or gates. Darwin rules, baby. This sign seems to warn you by saying, "Don't ride a bike without a front wheel into a hole or you will leap forward and transform into a dog." It really does speak the international language of "What?"

Looking back, I think that a really good night's sleep at Duke's Backpacker may have been more the reason for my morning burst of speed. Suddenly, about 15 miles in, I feel a sudden deceleration and the rear wheel locks up. Getting just a bit too used to this sensation, I am out of my clips in no time. The culprit? You guessed it, the rear axle again. Twisted off, this time.

IMGP1560.JPGThe offending part. Or, at least, most of it - the rest was ejected somewhere in the last 100 meters. The disappointment in my face has less to do with the breakdown and more to do with the excellent rhythm that I had going for me this morning, now broken as well.

Nothing to do but hitch again. I really work the puppy dog look this time, a poor, lost soul who is NOT going to knife you, just needs a quick ride. . .

Yet again, it takes only 15 minutes. My hero of the day is a "reformed cyclist" who used to be overweight and depressed, but started biking as a way to cope with both. He now cycles at least once a day, has lost an incredible amount of weight, and owns two service centers (one in Hokitika, one in Greymouth). Really nice guy, we get on very well and he drops me by the bike shop. In Hokitika - I figure there is no gain in going backwards, plus Tenderfoot the Wondermechanic has not done me any favors back in Greymouth.

This new bike shop is actually the local fishing/hunting/bike/swimming/running/fixit shop. The proprietor is an older man in the back, and is obviously busy. I leave my wheel in his hopefully capable hands, and he asks me to return "later" to pick it up. I get to visit scenic Hokitika with my time, actually a very nice little town despite the gray of the day.

IMGP1561.JPGLook under his right hand and you will see where someone has spelled the town's name in driftwood. His left leg is made of driftwood as well. Actually a little creepy in a "hippy Terminator" sort of way.

IMGP1563.JPGIt was also a day of art, where people make the best artwork they can out of whatever has washed up on the beach. This was one of my favorites, though I'm a bit stuck on the symbolism other than the overly-concrete "don't step in any obvious mantraps on the beach, or you will end up upside-down and on display."

After a nice lunch and reading the paper, I return around 1:15PM. He hasn't even looked at it yet. Out again, I do some grocery shopping and return. This time, he has taken it apart, and formally proven what I had surmised - the last shop screwed it up. The true axle is too far on one side, certain nuts are too tight, and the dust cap is on wrong. This time, I hang around. By then end of things, he has removed the entire set of bearings, cleaned and set them, and re-greased and repaired the hub properly. It is just about 4PM when everything is back on the bike. NZ$48. Ah, well, at least I'm not paying gas money by biking.

It is about 35 miles to my planned target for the night. I decide to go for it, as it doesn't get dark until about 8:30PM.

IMGP1564.JPGJust out of Hokitika. Trivia question: Which direction do the winds typically blow? Show your work.

IMGP1566.JPGFurther on, as I get into trees. It really is pleasant at this point as some of the clouds have broken up. Traffic is nice and light, too.

The sun comes out, and I finally need sunscreen again. It is soon quite hot, and I enjoy any shade that crosses the road.

IMGP1567.JPGBack out of the trees, back to the cattle and sheep.

Somewhere along the way, the clouds reconvene and decide to spit some rain down. Nothing heavy, though, and it actually feels nice and cool. Before long, I arrive at Lake Ianthe at a DOC campsite (read: cheap, with pit toilets). The lake is amazing looking as I descend toward the actual campground.

IMGP1568.JPGLake Ianthe, as it turns out, the gateway to Black Fly Land.

Right as I pull in, it starts showering again, but I manage to avoid major puddles in the tent.

IMGP1570.JPGHoods are making a comeback.

Grab some dinner (again, as I left my stove in Masterton, it was PB&J) and crash for the night. My goal tomorrow is Franz Josef Glacier, another 60 miles.

Monday, February 2, 2009

2/2/2009 - Cheating My Way to Greymouth

Slept in to 7AM today. By the time I am up, Don is out to work, but will be back around 10AM. I work on the blog a bit and catch the last few e-mails, fold laundry, and eat an easy breakfast.

Don comes back as planned, and we pack everything in the car and go to retrieve my bike (as the bus I am taking is not the Intercity, so it stops at a different place). He drops me off, we say farewells, and he returns to his day. It has been a really great time with both him and with Kerrie, truly a high point for the trip.

IMGP1553.JPG Don and their family dog, whose name just escaped me. I would like to interject a quick story - when Don and his wife were tramping through deep snow and it kept getting deeper, the poor dog couldn't keep up and they had to resort to tossing him forward into the snow, then fighting forward, finding him, and repeating. His description of the look the dog kept giving him was priceless.

I board the bus with all of my gear, no problems. It costs NZ$40 for the 105km trip.

It turns out to be beautiful. The road undulates along the rugged coast, and it is a fantastic day. I click a few pictures, but bus pictures are never as good as still pictures.

IMGP1556.JPGMy old nemesis, power lines.

I really notice the ups and downs of this particular stretch, and have to admit that it would have been a long day.

IMGP1557.JPGCruising along the coast in my sweet ride. No knee pain today, other than that caused by the very small distance between seats. This particular bus was not set up for people that are 6'6".

We pull into Greymouth, and the trailer behind the bus regurgitates all of my stuff. I put the bike back together and head for the bike shop.

The bike shop is another Avanti place. The only guy who is there is about 18 years old, and I get a distinctive feeling of inexperience, though he was very nice. He did, however, have a long axle, and we were able to get that on without problems. He adjusted my rear cassette (which I was a little nervous about, given his frequent pauses while putting it back together and, once, putting a larger gear on top of a smaller one that even I could see was not correct). Between the two of us, however, we were able to adjust the derailleur and get it shifting properly (after I tested it) and it was running smoothly by the time I left. I did, however, notice a small wobble in the rear wheel. He felt it "wasn't a big deal", but seemed rather shocked that I was going to be taking this another 900km. I decided that he probably was not the ideal guy to take care of this problem - will hope to make it to Queenstown, which has a glut of bike shops, before this wobble worsens. At least all the spokes are intact.

Head to the Duke's Hostel, which is close by. Decide to continue the trend of a bed for the night and splurge on a single. It is an old building right in downtown Greymouth, run by a very friendly Israeli couple. They have soup on the burner every night at 7PM, and toast and jam every morning at 8AM. There is free tea and coffee all the time. It is very clean, and they have a locked room for the bike.

My room is very comfortable, well-worn but clean. Testing the bed, I end up crashing out for about two hours before heading to the grocery store. I am going to really take it easy today and save energy for the next part of the trip. I make some pasta tuna surprise and finish catching up on all of the blogs and everything I missed on the internet.

Plan on just chilling for the rest of the evening, maybe get up really early if I can get to sleep early as well. If the scenery is anything like today, I should have some great pictures. Assuming I don't jump in any rivers between now and then.

2/1/2009 - I Meet the Coolest People When I Break Down

This morning was interesting. Did the usual to get camp packed away tightly in my bike trailer, but was sitting down to breakfast and was joined by a couple of guys. One of them, as it turns out, was a mountaineer and did search and rescue. He spent time in Antarctica taking expeditions out with dog sleds. He is very modest about this, but has obviously done a LOT in his lifetime, including some first ascents of Chilean mountains. His knees are worn out, so, somewhere in his 60s, he has turned to (What else?) whitewater kayaking. What a cool guy.

Anyway, after my morning coffee (instant, using the instant hot water in the kitchen), I head out again. By the graph of elevation in my New Zealand bicycling book, I should be able to mostly coast to Westport, 60 miles away.


I am getting ahead of myself, though. When I turn on my camera to take my first picture of the day, I notice something odd - the screen doesn't turn on. I take a picture, anyway, hoping it works, and then bail out the battery and the SD card. Sure enough, water from my cavorting in the river last night has managed to get into my waterproof camera. Pentax will be hearing from me. I leave the camera open to dry before I try it with power again.

IMGP1550.JPGThis is, unfortunately, the entirety of my pictures through beautiful Buller Gorge today. This is Murchison, at the upper end of the gorge and about 400 yards from where I camped.

IMGP1543.JPGForgot to put this picture in from last night - this is another angle from Murchison, showing the clear cutting that goes on all over New Zealand. They treat a lot of forests more like fields, harvesting wood and the replanting. Alas, it causes a lot of the mountains to look like Britney Spears during a crazy phase.

Anyway, into the gorge I head. The clouds look ominous and the blue sky from yesterday (see the above picture) have definitely disappeared. The downward slope of elevation denoted in my book turns, in reality, into a series of climbs and drops, most of them quite steep. The view is worth it as I follow the river and get a look at some of the whitewater that the kayakers crave.

Hours later, I stop for lunch. The sun has broken through a hole in the gloom, but ahead is a particularly dark area beyond one of the climbs. Need energy for this one.

It is about a mile after lunch, halfway up a moderately-steep hill, that I feel a wrench of the rear wheel and the bike shudders to a stop. I barely have time to pop my feet out of the clips, and cut my right ankle on the chainring. It is not obvious initially what is wrong, but the wheel just won't move. After popping off the panniers and trailer, I finally see the problem: The new wheel came with a new axle, which was too short to also hold on the trailer connector. The nut has stripped the thread on the axle and has fallen off. I find it just about 10 feet back.

It will not stay on, either, due to the loss of the threads. I don't have another, and it is not rideable in this state. With a sigh and a look at the impending storm, I push the bike, trailer, and panniers up to the top of the hill and start hitching. I brighten a bit as I realize once again that this is just part of the fun of the trip.

I had no idea how right I would be.

The road is fairly quiet here, so cars come every 4-5 minutes in the direction I want to go. It only takes 15 minutes before someone stops, actually two cars. A guy pulls up and says, "Need some help?" (Keep in mind that I had not even tried thumbing this car as I thought it would be too small to fit everything in). I explain my situation, and he immediately says, "No problem, I can give you a ride." Not quite understanding, and thinking that there was no way we were going to fit all my stuff in his car, I ask, "Is there a safe place to put the bike?"

His response is one of the best of the trip.

"Yeah. In the car. It's a police car, and I'm a police officer."

Such was my introduction to Don Abbey, an absolutely wonderful policeman from Westport (my goal for the day). Belatedly, I see the hidden police lights (it is an undercover car, I wasn't totally a moron.)

A second car pulls up behind him, a white station wagon. Behind the wheel is Kerrie, a good friend of Don's and cut of the same kind cloth. They are coming back from a conference in Christchurch. Before I can even greet her, she is already starting to load things into the station wagon. With the seat down, it takes no time to pack it all in. I hop in with Kerrie, and off we go.

Kerrie is great fun to talk to. She is a sports organizer for the schools, but also is a kindergarten teacher. She was born and raised in Westport, and loves it there. She says that the great part of Westport is the people, as they tend to be very friendly, as well as its closeness to the mountains and the ocean/beaches. As we finish the 20 mile journey into Westport, her thoughts are belied by her waving to about 4 different people as we go, including one of her teenage daughters going the other way.

The bike shop in Westport is closed (as it is a Sunday), and tomorrow is a Westport holiday, so it won't be open then, either. She tries several friends that are "bike fanatics" to see if they can help, but no one is home. We meet up with Don, and come up with a plan. There is a good bike shop in Greymouth (which would have been my next day's ride), and the bus runs daily there. Perfect. Don and Kerrie take me to the Intercity bus station, and confirm the time at 11:00AM. When I ask if I can leave the nonfunctioning bike and one of the panniers at the station with them, they almost jump to help. I am not sure if it was just that the guys were really helpful, or if Don is just well known.

Kerrie drops me by the I-Site, where I can pick up my ticket (as the bus station is also a gas station, so there was no one who could do tickets on a Sunday). I will stay at a hostel tonight and head for the bus in the morning. Or so I thought.

After thanking both of them, off they went, and I picked up my bus ticket. As I start heading for the hostel (just a block away), Kerrie comes zooming up next to me again. "Hey! I just talked to Don. How would you like to stay the night at his place?"


I agree, of course, and pile the remainder of my stuff in the car again. We head to Don's house, a very nice place with an excellent yard and a very cute dog, and offload my gear. Don is almost apologetic - "I didn't even think to ask when you were there". As Kerrie leaves, she tells us both that dinner would be at 6:30 at her house.


I end up in the room recently vacated by Helen, Don's daughter (also known as "Tazzy", like the tasmanian devil, as she is apparently full of energy and positivity), as she has returned to school. We sit down for a "cuppa" and relax for a bit.

I find out that Don has been in New Zealand for about 20 years, a transplant from Britain where he was a police officer as well. He got tired of the "single man' game" of anti-terrorism and came to New Zealand, newly married to a Kiwi. She is a physio, but is not here today. Don is very energetic but thoughtful at the same time, very fun to chat with. He offers his internet, and I try to catch up on e-mails before dinner. We head to Kerrie's (yes, Mom, I brought a bottle of wine and some ice cream!) for more great conversation in addition to roasted chicken, potatoes/yams, broccoli, and wine and beer. Best dinner in quite a while, and a huge step up from PB&J. We are joined by Kerrie's two teenage daughters as well who were lots of fun. We eventually got into a discussion of accents, all trying different ones, but they all seemed to find southern accents the most funny to listen to. Interesting.

I lost track of time, but eventually it started to get late. Don and I headed back home, but not before I tried my camera - it now works. Thanks again, Kerrie, if you are reading this.

IMGP1552.JPGKerrie and her super-energetic dog, who will retrieve a stick until she drops (which would probably be around 2011 judging by her activity levels.) Very sweet.

Don and I have another cuppa, and I learn a lot about northern Ireland back when the bombings were occurring. Very interesting to hear the impressions of someone who was actually there. We also discuss his current job, which revolves a lot around working with troubled youths. He is very energetic and positive despite the often difficult situations he is put in - he and I share a feeling that most of the kids described as "troubled" are worth the time to help, and I get the feeling that he is very good at his job.

We head to bed eventually, and I won't lie - sleeping in a real bed is heaven after the magically disappearing air mattress. I'm out like a light.

Sorry for the lack of pics today - now that my camera is working, I can go back to snapping like crazy.

1/31/2009 - A Kayaker's Paradise

Drowsed a bit this morning - still getting used to the magically disappearing air mattress. But, before long, the bike calls and I get camp put together. Talk to a number of people this morning, all of whom are very lively and interested in the trip, especially when they see pictures of the old Quinney's. Finally, I am back on the road.

I have noticed that I am a pretty goal-oriented guy. Yesterday, with just the promise of a long, slow upwards grade, I was kind of bored; but, today, I have a goal - to get to the top of Hope Saddle, which is at about 2000 feet of elevation. After crossing over this, it is an overall long downhill all the way to Murchison (my goal for tonight) and then Westport. The carrot is set, so the mule starts pedaling (sorry for that weird mental image).

IMGP1536.JPGThe pre-Hope Saddle scenery. Shaping up to be a really nice day, or, as I call them, "days where I blister". Kidding, kidding - I put sunscreen on this morning.

After about 10 miles of slow uphills, the real climb starts. Cars weave around me as I move, turtle-like, up the increasingly steep hill over several kilometers. The really great news is that I had an epiphany this morning. While experimenting with ways to improve my knee pain, I realized that it did not hurt during steep climbs. Looking more at this, I realized that I angle my pelvis forward during steep climbs, which changes the angle of the IT band. Ergo little knee pain today as I simple rotate my pelvis when it starts to hurt. Bonus!

After a total of two hours of uphill pedaling, get to the last stretch of hill. They really try to hit you hard with the last bit by making it the steepest yet. My front wheel keeps coming off the ground, and I have to angle forward a LOT to keep it down, which (as noted above) is good for the knees.

Reach the saddle and stop for a picture.

IMGP1538.JPGThe pit stains tell the story of the morning's exertion. Yummy.

IMGP1539.JPGThis is exciting for me - the first snowy peak of the South Island. Glaciers come soon! At least if my bike can hold together long enough!

The ride down the other side of Hope Saddle is well worth the climb. Though the east side of this mountain range is mostly fields with a few smaller forests, the west side is pineriffic. I start dropping into a gorge, following the river. It is really beautiful.

IMGP1540.JPGA bike race was occurring on this stretch of road. I would like to say that the bike trailer and panniers were my handicap for being so damn good, but the tightly-packed groups of racers soon wiped this expression from my face as they blasted past. Ego officially knocked down a peg.

IMGP1542.JPGTry not to be shocked, but I have PB&J for lunch. It is pretty broiling at this point.

Despite being a further 50km from the saddle, it felt like no time getting to Murchison. The campground for the town turned out to be very nice, with extremely clean and new bathrooms (the halogen light over each individual shower along with the fan comes on when you step in the shower itself). Throw my tent down under the shade of the trees and look around.

The first thing I noticed was the abundance - no, the universality - of whitewater kayaks. Everyone had one, often more than one. After talking to a few people, it turns out that Murchison is the number one place in New Zealand to learn to kayak - it has class II and III water at this time of year, going to a max of class IV when it's really running. The river here is clear, wide, and deep. Along the campground, it is rapid-free, but there IS a rope swing and rocks to jump from. Lacking a kayak, I do the next best thing.

IMGP1545.JPGThis is what happens when you have an eight-year-old take the picture. Actually, not too bad. Highlights the red neck very well.

IMGP1549.JPGI caught, like, three feet of air there. (Anyone catch the reference?)

IMGP1544.JPGWater was warm and cleaned the road grime nicely. For my Alaskan friends right now, this is what water looks like when it's not solid.

I end up heading into down, sitting at a cafe, and reading the weekend newspaper. People are very concerned about stabbings this year. There are no gun fatalities noted.

Sidenote: I tried some "Mexican chicken nachos" at the cafe. As opposed to those of you enjoying Superbowl Sunday, my nachos were more nacho-esque, reminding me in some ways but, in general, beating my tastebuds senseless with a random assortment of unrelated flavors. Based on this experience, I have constructed what I think is an accurate recipe for New Zealand Mexican nachos:

1. Buy some chips. Make sure they are flavored rather than plain to add to the taste sensation that you are constructing. Maybe this is the place for lamb-flavored chips?

2. Buy chicken and sear in a lemony sauce.

3. Oops - forgot tomatoes at the store. Let's put a mushroom in instead because this particular customer HATES THEM.

4. Dump the chips into a big plate. Add LOTS of whitish cheese. No, we don't know what "nacho cheese" is here. (This is actually good).

5. Melt the cheese, then cover liberally with the chicken, mushrooms, and maybe some more cheese. Top it with some sort of sauce that is almost, but not completely, unlike salsa (apologies to Douglas Adams). A modified form of Italian dressing will due, but add some sugar to it. Make sure there is no spiciness to it whatsoever - wouldn't want to burn any part of the tongue that might miss out on this circus of flavors.

6. Add a dollop of sour cream on the top. By "dollop", I mean "shovelful".

7. Serve with a smile - and a really expensive Coca-Cola.

All right, I am sure that not all New Zealand nachos are this bad. Nachos being nachos, I of course finished everything (except the mushrooms). Wish I had taken a picture.

Back to camp, and relax for a bit before hitting the hay. Today was only about 40 miles, tomorrow will be just a shade over 60 miles. The good news is that it is all a slow downhill. (As I am typing this the next day, I know this is a dirty, dirty lie told by my bicycling book, but you'll learn more tomorrow.)