Friday, November 6, 2009

The Glaciers (NZ part 11)

(NZ part 1 here)

We ride on the next day, make it to the town of Franz Joseph, where the glacier of the same name descends from the Southern Alps. The weather is good on our riding, surprising me after the forboding comments on the West Coast I have heard. We've had no rain and only minor headwinds as we approach a few of the major valleys hitting the coast. The winds drop down out of the Alps, funneled through the valleys, then spill out onto the plain we ride along. I wonder if this is an unusual weather pattern as most of the trees I see are knarled and shaped by a prevailing southwest wind. As we reach the valleys and turn more perpendicular to them, we ride the bikes leaned into the wind for fun, like children seeing if they will be held suspended in a gale, with outstretched arms and rain slickers flapping. After a bit of play, we notice that we are almost sailing along and can actually make impressive time once we have "come about" like this. Pedaling in the top gear is easy.

Franz Joseph is quite touristy, buses everywhere. I see the glacier as I ride down Highway 6 through town. We pedal further, and camp on the natural levees along the glacial outflow river, which flows along with quite a bit of melt and rain water. Even so, there is a huge, braided plain to fill before the water even touches the foot of these levees - actually lateral moraines created by the glacier when its terminus reached this far down.

We hit rain on our ride south from our Franz Joseph campsite. I don't mind much. Spending a day riding in the weather isn't like making a mad dash for cover in your dry clothes during a downpour. You are just in the elements. We continue south toward the other main glacier town, Fox Glacier. The hills between the two are some of the toughest for me thus far, probably 20 km of what seems like mostly uphill, then finally, a nice long downhill into the town of Fox Glacier, a bit smaller and slightly less touristy than Franz Joseph. It is hard to gauge which hills are hardest from memory, as there is often such a play between the mental and physical toughness of pushing forward on a long trip like this.

(Drying out in Fox Glacier - Photo Dan Cantrell)

We eat muffins and hot scones under a roof and allow our skin and shirts to dry out a little. I notice some tourist fresh off their bus tour giving us a bit of a once over, and feel proud of our perseverence under all conditions. We have hardly slept indoors since we started on our ride. Any good dirtbag traveler knows the looks we get. Studying our maps we pick our next stop. We rent hiking boots from Alpine Guides, restock on camp food, and bike out to the Copland Track trail head. By the time we reach the trail head, it is raining hard, and the sand flies are the worst we have seen them. We crawl into a hastily pitched tent after a quick dinner and a donated beer from some Hawaiians who have decided to skip the tramp (hike) and head north to Fox Glacier. I tell Dan if it's raining like this in the morning we should bail as well.

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