Friday, October 30, 2009

The Odd Nut (NZ part 6)

(NZ part 1 here)

Having worked out a few of the kinks in our touring set-up, I am now feeling a bit better on the bike. Most noticeable is the weight I have managed to cut from the trailer - I had a collection of far too many books that I was planning on reading along the way, so I sent a handful of them home. Together Dan and I decided on which books to keep, so we would each have to carry fewer books, but would have access to others that we might want to read along the way. We also figured we would be able to pick up books at Backpackers or book shops along the way when we hit decent sized towns. I kept the Lonely Planet guide with me, along with a small collection of pleasure reading.

(As a side note, the books Dan and I had read and shared by the end of the trip included:
Blue Highways - William Least Heat-Moon
The Practice of the Wild - Gary Snyder
Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems - GS
The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are - Alan Watts
Endurance - Alfred Lansing
Touching the Void - Joe Simpson (way before the movie)
The Return of the King (while they were filming the movie in NZ by chance)
Angle of Repose - Wallace Stegner
Lonely Planet Guide to New Zealand

The new food bins on the trailers are working beautifully at this point to. We've been able to stock up on decent groceries in Blenhiem and pedal without worry much about where we will stop to camp for the night. We take a somewhat inland route toward Nelson, and get to relax a bit with lush scenery and only moderate traffic. As we approach Nelson, the road begins to drop back down to the water, and we revel in the views of Tazman Bay and the twisty asphalt. Just outside of Nelson, we find a campground, and decide all the amenities sound alright. We pedal around the loop, checking out sites and the various rigs people have set up. It seems Kiwis take there camping quite seriously.

We find a site and start to unpack, the tents go up, and we have a meal in the works quickly. As we are finishing our meal, we are greeted by a friendly, although a little scruffy looking chap who rides up on a bike. He sits with us for a while, chatting about all sorts of things, asking all about our bike setups, admiring the disk brakes on Dan's Cannondale and the fairly new tents we have. It sounds as if he has been essentially squatting at this campground for quite some time, and has been asked to pay up or hit the road by the management on a number of occasions, but it's not bothering him much. We share some chocolate with him, and he quickly rushes off, then returns with a large box of chocolates that he offers us samples from. He really is quite nice, but he is seeming to be a bit off. Once again he rushes off, this time to return with a large joint that he believes we have requested somehow. He is a bit put off when we politely decline his offering, and wanders off back toward his campsite grumbling a bit. We decide that we have indeed encountered the Odd Nut the travelers had referred to back in Molesworth.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Getting Sorted (NZ part 5)

(NZ part 1 here)

Early the next morning, probably while we were eating our bland oatmeal, Matt passed our cabin (the rack on the back of his bike had broken the night before on one of the downhills, and he had been forced to camp there on the side of the road). We get word from a road crew worker while we wait for a one lane bridge. He tells us Matt will be in Blenhiem, where we are headed, but we don't think we will make it there by the time he mentioned to the worker. We head on anyway, as we figure we will be able to get some spare parts in Blenhiem, work on the bikes a bit, and possibly reduce the loads in the trailers.

(The route marked on this section may not be right - we may have taken the route over Taylor Pass into Blenhiem)

We make it to Blenhiem, a medium sized town on the North/South route between Christchurch and the main ferry stop, Picton, without too much trouble, and I manage to find a replacement derailer mount for my borrowed bike at a outdoor shop. Dan finds a new Macpac sleeping bag that he will replace his summer weight bag with as it is really still spring here, and we expect to get up into the mountains again before too long. We spend the afternoon sifting through our gear and collect a pile of things to ship off along with Dan's sleeping bag - spare clothing, too many books, etc. - anything to help drop some of the 70 lbs from each of the trailers.

We also spend several hours trying to get the food storage system sorted. So far we have been simply taking our bag of groceries and slipping it into the larger BOB bag with all of our other gear. There seems to be several problems with this approach though. First of all, it is not particularly well organized in there - it is just one large duffel with all gear crammed into it. This makes us more inclined to just get basic, uninteresting food that we can pack without worrying. Second, the weight ends up higher than it needs to be with the duffel just getting taller and taller as we add food. And we just can't keep the Possums from trying to rip into the nylon duffels if they smell something good in there. We develop the food pods with supplies from a hardware store - plastic bins with tops that fit neatly on either side of the trailer wheel, a plastic cutting board shaped to act as platform for the bin, tons of zip-ties to hold the cutting board platforms to the trailer frame, some webbing straps with buckles to lash the tops on to the bins and keep the critters out, and finally, a few small pieces of foam egg crate to sit in the bottom of the bins and preserve our most fragile culinary cargo - tomatoes, avocados, kiwis, eggs. This would be the beginning of less bland meals on the road.

(Relaxing at our next site with food storage sorted - Photo Dan Cantrell)

Molesworth (NZ part 4)

(NZ part 1 here)

We spend the night camped near the historic cob buildings built early on in the conversion of the area into agriculture. The previous day we had met a Kiwi named Matt, who is on a break from conservation work and riding a bike through Molesworth on a slightly different route than us. So we have his company at the campsite, and spend a good part of the evening talking, listening to music (Dan has his Backpacker guitar), and envying Matt's back country cooking skills. When not out on riding adventures, Matt works to maintain the population of one of the native parrots, the flightless Kakapo. New Zealand's birds evolved in a unique environment - one with no native land mammals - and since the arrival of Europeans here, introduced predator populations have exploded and severely impact the native species, possibly the Kakapo the most. Matt works with a group relocated to a small island in the hopes of protecting their ground nests from the introduced predators on main land New Zealand.

In the morning I get to work on the bike, trying to make sure that everything will hold together for another day of rough riding and hopefully until we reach a town with supplies. I patch the damaged trailer tube from the day before and hope that I won't need to try to put it back on. And we examine the derailer mount for a while - it currently affords me a few gears, but if I snap it while trying to fix it, I'll have none - before deciding to try to bend it back to shape. We manage to get it close enough to original that I can get into all gears with a little encouragement. Success! We hit the road perhaps an hour behind our new friend Matt, not sure how far the various repairs will last. I feel like a bit of a rag-tag riding partner, but Dan doesn't seem to be bothered by the adversities.

We make good time as we gradually begin to drop out of the highest part of our route. Again we ride valleys to passes, to long downhills, to valleys again, but the downhills are longer than the climbs, and we are following the valleys more. We stop to look at a map on one of the passes and a Land Cruiser with a Kiwi family from the North Island pulls up for a chat. The are all very friendly and curious about our trip. They figure we good get good wet headed down the West Coast (annual rainfall 27M, yes meters, in some areas - that's almost 90 feet!). But overall they think New Zealand is a pretty good, safe place to travel. "Meet a lot of good people aside from the odd nut." This puts me in high spirits.

Shortly after that stop we have dropped enough elevation to slip out from under the clouds and rain. I ride up another pass on my own (Dan will always be in better shape than me, I'm convinced) and look out over an incredible gorge to the East, that of the Awatere River I believe. The downhill is a reward as it keeps going and going and the sun gets stronger and stronger. We start to see houses along the side of the road again, and we talk about all the kinds of foods we'd be in mood for. Matt's dinner the night before had put us to shame, and left us with the thought that we had better figure out a way to carry good food.

As luck would have it, we come to what is referred to as Camden on our maps, although I see only one house. It is marked as a Backpacker (hostel), so we hope they might have candy bars or something of the sort. But the owner, Shelly, insists we check out what she has prepared for lunch and we can not say no - homemade Lasagna served as 6 inch by 6 inch slabs, with a fresh from her garden salad on the side, followed by home made chocolate chip ice cream with fresh raspberries, meringue and whipped cream. After we eat we lay on the grass in the sun outside Shelly's little cottage. We talk of staying right where we are, but realize it would likely leave us broke, fat, and with little ambition to do anything but stay on as lawn boys in Camden.

With a full tank, we make it another 30 km, down an incredible stretch of paved down hill, really letting it do, to another Backpacker. Jackie sets us up with some mutton steaks, bread, salad, and fruit to fix for dinner, and shows us a small white cottage on that is ours for the evening. She occasionally hosts guests on their huge sheep farm, looking North over the broad Awatere valley, with another one of it's gorges of to our East, cut through gravel deposits here. It has been a great fuel day for us, but also one of the longest days of the trip so far with a broken bike. We feel good and sleep well. (~80 km)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hanmer Springs and off track (NZ part 3)

(NZ part 1 here)

In the morning we eat, pack, and get back on the road. Over the course of the day, the weather deteriorates until it is raining hard. I just accept that I will be wet for the day and pedal on. Our route takes us through more rolling land, with the interior mountains appearing out of the clouds from time to time, closer as the day progresses. We climb more as we get closer to the mountains, and pass through two major river gorges. At the top of the second, we ride over a single lane bridge several hundred feet above the water. Just upstream of the gorge is a remnant rock, standing alone in the center of the river, and upstream of it the river is calm and wanders across a large plain between us and the interior mountains.

We ride down into the plain through more driving rain. Although I don't really mind being wet, it is starting to get cold. A short ride takes us into the town of Hanmer Springs, and some relief. We ride directly to the sulfur hot springs - fairly developed public pools, clean and white paint everywhere, but not overdone. I soak in the 40 degree plus heat of the various pools, and quietly celebrate as the sun leaps out and the clouds slip off the mountains to our west and head out over the valley.

Hanmer Springs has an official campground, that we opt for - bathrooms, a level pitch spot, and clothes lines all sound nice before we head off into the back country. We are unsure how remote the road through Molesworth Station will be, but we've been told there is really very little for a couple of days. So far, our trailers have worked well. Our packing has improved and I can feel the bike handle better with the load as low as possible in the trailer. But Molesworth will be our first really rough terrain test. And we have been fairly free from food raiders until now, although we have already seen numerous Possum fatalities along the road.

We awoke to another tough weather day with a really tough start - the climb up out of Hanmer Springs, over Jollie's Pass, and into the Acheron Valley - to get into Molesworth Station. I ride granny gear for what seems like an eternity, with an anchor of a trailer pulling me back down the valley before finally reaching the end of the climb and a well deserved rest. Dan is already at the top, enjoying the view back down into the valley, and the more rugged peaks of the Boddington Range around us here on the Molesworth road. The road conditions aren't horrible, and I'm somewhat relieved that we aren't going completely off track so early in our acclimation to New Zealand.

(Molesworth hills)

Again we ride in the valleys, with large peaks on either side. The scenery and the rhythm of the ride lulls me. I daydream of what it looked like here before it came one of the largest farms in the country, and what it might look like in a hundred years from now. As we reach the headwaters of the rivers, we climb abruptly over passes, then coast down and back into long valleys. Isolated Pass, Isolated Flats. Before the pass I stop to change my drenched shirt - I realize I am spending more energy trying to dry the shirt with body heat than I am pedaling the bike. As I change, one of the few 4WDs I've seen stops, it seems just to inform me that I have quite a hill up ahead. Thanks.

I pedal onward, having to push the pike and trailer up a few sections that are too steep and loose to keep my momentum and traction. Finally I clear the up hill and crest the pass. I put on my raincoat and prepare for the downhill. Almost at the bottom I try to pedal again and realize I am going faster than my gearing. Around a corner and into the softer gravel in the center of the road. The trailer tire goes flat and I'm going to go in the ditch. Still at speed I try to steer back onto the road and the front tire slides out and I go for a tumble. I escape the ordeal with only a small tear in the raincoat, but the second trailer tire flat of the day means I've got no spare tubes so I'll have to do a patch, and the rear derailer mount has bent, so I've go only a few gears until I can get a chance to fiddle with things.

I get back on the bike and start to creep towards Molesworth. Then the rain stops, the sun comes out, and small songbirds start to flit all around the sides of the road, singing for the sun. Dan has a hot drink waiting when I hobble into the small cluster of historic buildings called Molesworth.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Riding Day 1 & 2 in New Zealand! (NZ part 2)

(NZ part 1 here)

It has been quite a long time since we set out from Christchurch on our adventure, but I can still remember the excitement I was filled with riding away from our hosts' house that first day. To me, being self-sufficient to that level is the ultimate thrill. Being far away from civilization is great, but traveling pared down for a long period of time, even if you are not in the wilderness, is invigorating in it's own way. (Of course, I quickly would realize that I could have pared down even more!)

As we started to pedal, we faced our first decision, "so Dan, what do you think - left, or right?" We felt like taking a left, so that was the decision that set in motion the next 3 months of our lives - pedaling our bikes counter-clockwise around the South Island of New Zealand.

We had picked up a set of AA maps (like AAA in the US), so using these we took our left and headed north toward the town of Kaiapoi on Route 1. This is the main north/south road in the area, and as a result was pretty busy. In general, the South Island did not seem particularly busy, but on heavily loaded bikes and with little to no extra roadway for bikes, we quickly tired of Route 1. We settled for just getting ourselves out of the main hub of Christchurch, and found a nice, quiet place to camp on the beach in Waikuku, looking out over Pegasus Bay and the Pacific Ocean. All the traveling had tired me out, but there was such an adventure ahead, I found it hard to sleep that first night. (total distance - maybe 25km?)

(Our trip route is highlighted on these maps, and if you click for the larger view you may be able to see a small X where we found camping each night.)

By the next day we had decided that we should get ourselves off of Route 1 as quickly as possible, and start to explore the back country of this amazing place. We had planned on heading up the east coast, staying close to the ocean and trying to take in some of the wildlife. We scrapped our plans to make Kaikora (I really wanted to try the swimming with wild dolphins there) when we came across a reference to a high country station (some types of farms are called stations in NZ) that had a jeep road through it. (Being from Vermont, we have a hard time passing up on anything that sounds kind of rugged and off the beaten path.)

We rode further up Route 1, almost to the town of Waipara, where we were able to turn left towards the interior mountains on Route 7. (I'm sure there were jokes about Rut-vegas thrown around at that point.) With the reduction in traffic, I started to relax and take in the rolling rural landscape, quite dry in this part of the island. The brown undulating hills created a quiet, sensuous atmosphere that slowly slipped past as I pedaled. The bike felt heavy and slow, and I felt challenged to keep up a decent pace. It was certainly amplified by the fact that my riding partner Dan is truly a top notch athlete. This is a guy who was practically raised on X-C skis and won numerous Junior Olympics when we were in high school. So even if I had been in good riding shape, Dan would have been riding faster than me. But I wasn't. So I enjoyed the scenery as Dan pulled further and further away from me.

Toward the end of a long real day of riding (actually trying to make some distance) we set our sights on Balmoral Forest, where we thought we might be able to set up camp. At the crest of a hill, I found Dan waiting for me to catch up. We out over the Huruni River valley and quickly decided this would be the spot to camp. Day two of real riding complete. (distance ~50km)

(camp on the Huruni - Photo Dan Cantrell)