Monday, February 9, 2009

2/9/2009 - The Tallest Road in New Zealand

I am in serious mode for today. Up at 5:00AM. I've already almost completely packed other than the sleeping bag. Tires are tested. I have figured out that eggs seem to give me the most long-lasting energy, so cook up 6 scrambled eggs, 4 pieces of toast, and two servings of yoghurt in addition to the 1 liter of milk. It is still dark, but the twilight is finally up enough to head out with the use of my blinking rear light and super-visible vest (Thanks, Sara and Nick!)

IMGP1665.JPG Go time, baby. Gonna be a climb.

The sun starts spreading over the horizon as my leg warm up. The sunrise is spectacular as I start up the valley.

IMGP1668.JPGI hate power lines.

Despite going on a slight to moderate uphill at this stage, I still average 12mph. Good sleep and 6 eggs seem to be the answer. I guess the rest day may have something to do with it, too.

IMGP1669.JPGI get very confused looks from sheep everywhere I go. They were all looking in different directions until they caught sight of me.

After 10-11 miles, I come into Cardrona, an old mining town. It has the single cleanest public restroom I have seen in New Zealand. They also kept the tiny town looking like it did in the late 1800s during the gold rush here with regards to store fronts and such. Pretty cool.

The uncool part is that Cardrona is when it is supposed to get steep. It is 8:00AM. The clouds are coming in. Time to get going.

IMGP1670.JPGI scoff.

IMGP1671.JPGThe scenery is almost Arizona-ish. I feel like I am on a tour of the "A" states in the US with the Alaska-like terrain yesterday.

After a few more miles, I am up to about 2400 feet from Wanaka's 1000 foot elevation when I started. Then it angles up.

Frankly, it is no Haast, but it is steep and long. The legs are in "diesel engine" mode and keep pace with my breathing pretty well. I get a lot of encouragement from passing cars, too, which is nice.

IMGP1672.JPGChippendale's called. They want their vest back.

At last, I can start to see the top. I have beaten the Crown Range Road.

IMGP1674.JPG3506 feet of elevation, over 1100 feet higher than any other climb I have done.

IMGP1675.JPGTop of New Zealand. It is really exhilarating. Warm breeze, no rain as of yet, and the views are amazing.

IMGP1676.JPGHere's a bit of history for you. I couldn't be bothered to read it.

IMGP1683.JPGThis is going to be fun.

IMGP1678.JPGLooking out toward Queenstown, the furthest off spot you can see.

After a little rest here, I start down. It doesn't take long for my eyes to be streaming, but it is very fun.

IMGP1684.JPGYou can see the road below, which is the elevation that I will be at soon.

IMGP1685.JPGLooking toward Queenstown, about halfway down.

IMGP1686.JPGThe road get twisty towards the bottom. Gets almost dizzy when you make those 180 degree turns.

IMGP1687.JPGFor some reason, they put this sign up at the very bottom of the twisty, dangerous hill. It's the first exclamation point I've seen on a sign. I test my brakes at least twice, just to be sure.

IMGP1688.JPGIt's just 10 miles from the bottom of the hill to Queenstown, into a headwind, but I make it at last. It's only 11:30AM. It's a good feeling. I can think of many days in my teens where I wasn't even close to waking up at that time.

At last, in Queenstown. It is what you expect - boisterous, full of more tourists than permanent residents. But it is also clean, with plenty of restaurants and gift shops. I set up camp at the cheapest campground in town at NZ$18 per night. Not bad, actually. The shower is fantastic.

End up wandering the downtown for awhile, and see someone carrying a pizza box. Done and done. Fine the Hell Pizza outlet and pick up a double pepperoni. Even though Kiwis don't know what real pepperoni is, it is still good in its canadian bacon-y way.

I am using the time to update the blog, as I have been falling down on the job. Also do some e-mails - Kris and Erik should be tandem biking their way in tomorrow, and we are planning catching back up then. Looking forward to seeing them!

Going to kick back a bit tonight, but I am going for a Fergburger tomorrow. I will explain more in tomorrow's blog. Jon and Sally will understand.

2/8/2009 - Call Me a Wuss

Today will be a short entry, as I finally give in and take a rest day. Crown Ridge is going to be a seriously nasty hill, though I am told that it is not as steep as Haast. Need my legs. Spend the day Internetting, wandering the town, reading, and researching campervans (as I am planning to buy one to transport me back up to Wellington and to use it as my car for the next 6 months).

I only take one picture today as the moonrise is amazing.

IMGP1664.JPG I am in a cabin tonight to avoid werewolf attacks, as I am Team Edward (those of you that get that, I learned about it from one of my female teen patients who was wearing a t-shirt with that on it).

I end up going to bed early. The weather is looking bad for late morning, and I want to be able to check out the vistas from the top of Crown Ridge, the highest paved road in New Zealand.

To make up for the short post, I will add a few funky pictures that seemed like a good idea at the time. Enjoy!

IMGP1423.JPGThis is in Masterton. I SERIOUSLY wanted to see this, though I can only bring my air guitar A-game when Guns 'n' Roses comes on.

IMGP1508.JPGOK, what pedophilic vampire lover came up with this design?! I think I had nightmares that night.

IMGP1509.JPGI have no idea how I didn't lose groceries on the 2-mile trip from the store. In Motueka.

IMGP1649.JPGThis is part of the way up Haast Pass. Unless these cattle eat rocks and moss, there are NO cattle up here. And yet, I crossed two or three of these things. Another thought: Do they think that cattle can read?!

All right, enough of that. Tomorrow is a big day.

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.

2/6/2009 - Alaska or New Zealand?

Up reasonably early at Lake Paringa. Ate breakfast in the tent, then packed up per usual. It's another 65 miles to camp tonight, and there is one big climb today (Knight's Point).

IMGP1625.JPG Starting off from Lake Paringa. It's a little misty, but no major rains. Very piney scent.

The clouds start to lift further and further, and by the time Knight's Point comes up, there is no more mist. This climb turns out to be pretty steep, and adds insult to injury by giving me a nice, steep downhill for about 300 feet that I have to immediately climb back up again. It is a beautiful coastal view, though.

IMGP1626.JPGRugged Knight's Point. Looks like a perfect spot for pirate gold.

IMGP1629.JPGLooking out over the ocean. I've noticed that my hair has conformed to the holes in my helmet, resulting in sort of a Bart Simpson thing going on. Ay caramba!

IMGP1631.JPGSome seriously cool scrub trees forming a phalanx against the prevailing wind.

The clouds continue as I pull into the town of Haast. There won't anything with regards to stores between here and Wanaka (2 days away), so I select some important staples (perhaps some peanut butter and jelly and bread?) and some quick energy. Then I set out for the campground which is another 30 miles.

There is very little traffic, and what there is is almost exclusively tourists. As I move more inland, the mountains start to tower over me and the rainforest style really comes out. It looks a lot like some parts of Alaska, minus the risk of bear disembowelment.

IMGP1632.JPGJust coming into the mountains. I think my face says it all - it is like coming home.

IMGP1633.JPGLooking up into the mountains. I finally start to feel like I'm really away from people, and it is very relaxing.

At last, I pull into the DOC campground. I am the only tent, though 2 or 3 campervans are here as well. Given the few people, the black flies are ravenous and I have to fight through clouds of them to get my full raingear and Deet on. The tent goes up quickly and I make a quick dinner. It is getting late and so I head towards bed, but not before getting this next picture looking toward the opening valley (back the direction I came from).

IMGP1635.JPGThe air freshener companies have a long way to go to get this right. I would have stood here for longer in the fresh, clean breeze if I didn't keep sucking black flies up my nose.

Tomorrow is the most dreaded hill on the trip, perhaps in New Zealand. Haast Pass. I need my sleep tonight. The only thing that keeps me from it is an even longer black fly genocide than usual in the tent, but soon I am asleep.