Coming to you live from Ann Arbor

August 29, 2009

I’m here.  I’ve been here for a few days now and the excitment of exploring a new city is beginning to wear off.

The first major disappointment came last night.  I went to a bar to watch some pre-season football.  I had a burger, had a beer, had a pretty good time until the guy next to me lit up a cigarette.  This struck me as both offensive and unusual.  Then the fact that I thought it was unusual struck me as unusual.  That Maine and Vermont (and any number of other states) have banned smoking in restaurants and bars is wonderful, but it makes the shock of traveling to other states all the more abrupt.

I could feel the smoke on my skin.  It’s soaked into the shirt I was wearing.  Had the Patriots not won, the whole evening would have been a dud.

Now I just need to find a non-smoking bar in the area.  Maybe Canada.


Starting Back Up

June 15, 2009

This blog started out as a convenient way to share pictures and stories from my travels to New Zealand.  Chris and I rambled around on our bicycles for a good bit until it was time to come home.  Unsurprisingly, the trip back was not quite as interesting and the urgency to post detailed accounts of our time in LAX was minimal.  However, a brief account of the trip back to the United States doesn’t seem to outlandish, so here we go…

We slept in a parking lot the night before we flew out of Auckland.  The next morning was spent packing up our bikes, washing the car, delivering Chris and the bikes to the airport, being pulled over by the police, returning the rental car, taking a shuttle to the airport, standing in line forever, being bumped from one flight to the next, flying to Fiji, eating a pizza, flying to LAX, eating some sushi, flying to Boston, driving to Chestnut Hill, discovering the battery in my car had died, jump-starting my car, driving to visit Sam, discovering my car battery had not charged up, jump-starting my car, driving to visit Caitlin, donating blood, discovering my car battery had not charged, jump-starting my car, driving around Boston for 45 minutes, eating lunch, discovering my car battery had charged, driving to Dresden.  At some point the day we left Auckland turned into the next day and maybe the day after that as well.  It was 50 hours from Auckland to Dresden, a long day to say the least.  That seems to be enough of that.

Since then, I have visited friends around New England, been a substitute teacher, seen Niagara Falls, enrolled in the University of Michigan, led a hiking trip, attended a few graduations, ridden my bike a good bit, and generally enjoyed myself.  Vermont is a pretty nice place to watch summer roll in.  I have a good pile of books and not much else to do.

Twice in the last week, I have been asked about the future of this blog.  Since this was exactly two more times than in the previous four months, it seemed like a coincidence worth noting.  I’m happy to keep rambling, so if you’re happy to keep reading, we’ll make it work.  My mornings tend to revolve around eating eggs and toast and reading the paper.  It seems unlikely that I will write everyday, but there’s a good chance that I’ll post something three or four times a week.  That said, this counts as one for this week, so don’t complain if you only get two more before this time next Monday.

I guess that’s as surly a “Welcome Back” message as I can muster, so we’ll let it go at that and hope that you all have more important things to be doing than wasting your time reading this.

And I don’t know when I’ll be back again…

March 22, 2009

Well, this is it.  My last post from New Zealand.  We’ve had a wonderful time exploring and we’ve learned all sorts of things about this great world we live in.  We rented a car, packed up our bikes and bags, and headed north.  In the nine weeks we were cycling, we covered 4000 kilometers; in the four days we were driving, we covered 1000 kilometers.  Cars are awesome and you can go far without working very hard.  I can’t really remember all the places we drove to (and that’s a problem with cars, you see more than your brain can really process), but two that require mention are Bay of Islands and Ninety Mile Beach.  Other adventures of this past week include driving on the beach, off-roading through sheep fields, watching an air show from the cheap seats, going to the zoo, and watching the sun set over Auckland.  You will have to wait for pictures of these as I’m writing this post from an internet cafe and left my camera in the car.  Sorry.

We would be remiss to leave without giving thanks to the people of New Zealand in general for the kindness they showed to us and extra thanks to the individuals who helped us along the way.  So here we go…

Thanks to Martin and Cecily in Tauranga, Jenifer in Havelock North, John and Jane in Wellington, and Gemma in Christchurch.  Thanks to all the kind souls who gave us rides.  Thanks to everyone who helped us learn the local terms without mocking us too much (if you want a pitcher of beer, ask for a “jug”).  Thanks to our fellow travelers with whom we crossed paths again and again, especially the Aussie boys and the Canadian girls.  And a special, and life saving, thanks to the three surfers who rescued our car after we got it stuck on the beach with the tide quickly rising.

Next, I would like to thank Wolf Larson.  Though you may be a fictional character, you brought so much to this trip.  You taught us to seize the day, to stand on our own legs, and to face into the wind.  Most of all, however, you taught us to squash the yeastiness of life.  Our travels would have been lessened without your wisdom.

Lastly, I would like to offer a huge thanks to Chris.  It was a wonderful trip and I greatly enjoyed sharing this experience with you.  You never gave up and fought through every challenge I could throw at you.  On our second day, you happily biked 65 miles and ended with a two mile climb up a steep hill.  No complaints.  On the second to last day of riding, you found your second wind as the sun was setting and kept the legs spinning into the night as we climbed up and over any number of hills.  Champion.  We toured caves, climbed an ice wall, explored beaches, drank coffee, relaxed, worked hard, slept on the side of the road, hiked into the woods and up into the glaciers, swam in calm bays, took ferries, saw a tiger, laughed at sheep, and ate ice cream.  Oh, and we biked a good bit as well.  It’s been a blast.  Good on ya mate.

Now it’s back to the States.  Actually, now it’s off to find some dinner, go to the movies, drive to the airport, sleep in the parking lot, pack up our boxes, return the car, catch a shuttle back to the airport, check in, fly to Fiji, regret not being able to go to the beach, fly to Los Angeles, hang out for eight hours, fly to Boston, and then drive to Maine.

The trip may be over but the adventures continue.

Peace, New Zealand, we’re out of here.

The End is Near

March 17, 2009

We’ve arrived back in Auckland.  When we flew into  New Zealand, we arrived late at night and set out the next morning without visiting the city.  We knew that it was a city and that we didn’t want to bike through it.  As we gradually found our way out of the suburban sprawl, we quickly decided that when we came back at the end of our journey, it would be by bus.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We left Christchurch and took the ferry from Picton to Wellington and then took a bus up to Taupo.  We’d skipped over the middle part of the North Island earlier, so it was nice to have some time to explore. South of Taupo, outside of Turangi, we climbed up into the mountains.  The Tongariro Crossing is a beautiful track across a chain of three volcanic peaks.  These snow-capped mountains look down majestically over Lake Taupo, but from below you would not begin to imagine the sights along the trail: volcanic craters, golden fields, emerald colored lakes, wisps of steam rising out of hot springs.  Or so we’re told.  The day we crossed was cloudy and windy.  Patches of clear sky would roll through, every now and again, and we would be blessed with truly wondrous sights of the surrounding peaks.  For the most part, however, it was a lovely walk in the clouds.

From Turangi, we headed west to towards New Plymouth. We traveled along the Forgotten World Highway.  As the name implies, this is a piece of New Zealand that, inaccessable due to endless rolling hills and muddy roads, was slow to develope and was forgotten by the rest of the country.  The highway itself was not fully sealed until the 1980s and “fully sealed” doesn’t even apply as there is a 13 km stretch of gravel as the road passes through a gorge. There were six decently high saddles to climb up and over and any number of other bluffs and hills that kept us pedaling, even a tunnel to spice things up a bit.  The first night on this road found us camped beside a river and the second found us perched high on a hillside overlooking the fields below.  Two wonderful nights and a lovely piece of riding to end our trip.

Then it was into New Plymouth, back to the land of people, and on up to Auckland.  We’ll rent a car tomorrow to head further north and do a bit of exploring curteousy of an internal combustion engine. What a novel idea.

You’ll be hearing from me before we leave the island for good and at that time I’ll pass on my some last thoughts on this adventure, as well as many thanks to all the people who have helped up along the way. For now you will have to content yourself with some pictures of remarkable scenery.


Seals along the coast ride up to Picton.


The ferry ride from Picton back to Wellington.


A pleasant farewell to our time on the South Island.


A hidden thermal valley north of Taupo.


Huka Falls, also north of Taupo.


The crater atop the Tongariro Crossing.


Pretty mountain peaks emerging from the clouds.


The beautifully folded hills along the Forgotten World Highway.


The sun rising over a fog-filled valley.


Mount Taranaki,  south of New Plymouth.  This conical, volcanic peak looks down over the west coast and the Tasman Sea.

Goodbye to the South Island

March 8, 2009

We’ve rested and relaxed and recuperated in Christchurch  for the last three days.  Three whole days without packing up our tents, loading our bikes, and rolling down the road.  Luxury.  This afternoon we’ll take a ferry back to Wellington and the end of the trip will be in sight.

Our basic procedure upon arriving in town seems to be to lose any motivation to be active and sit still for as long as we can.  We move a lot most days, so this approach to resting is understandable.  We’ve caught up on the news, watched Will Smith save the world in Independence Day, eaten tasty pizzas, and generally grown as soft as we could in 72 hours.  That’s the recap for our time in Christchurch.  The recap for the trip from Dunedin to Christchurch is, however, a competely different matter.

As a result of the marvel that is the internet, your requests come to the folks here at with blinding speed and can be addressed at a speed that, though not equally blinding, is pretty quick.  The current wires seem to focus on the lack of coverage Chris is getting in these postings.  There’s a call for more pictures.  Are these calls coming from his multitudes of adoring fans?  Are they sent out by the foundering members of the “Chris Jackson Appreciation Association”?  No, they are not.  Were that the case, were these requests coming from other bloggers, I would not be so moved to act.  No, they come from a mother and so I must comply.  That they come from my mother is a bit of a sore subject.  She also wants to see more pictures of sheep.  I don’t want you to think that I’m jealous or hurt.  I did make the cut and she would like to see more pictures of me, but to know that her favorite son (sorry Sam) ranks below both his cousin and a large flock of sheep is a bit hard to stomach.  So it goes.

So, here we go. .. (Get it, a little parallelism between the two lines, with the “So” and the “goes”/”go”, it’s my little way of being clever, as is this obnoxious explanation)


As we were riding out of Dunedin, we passed a sign that caused us to take a short side trip to further squash the yeastiness of life.  The sign? “Baldwin Street – The Steepest Street in the World.”  We had heard about this on the way down the west coast, but passing it was unintentional.  Needless to say, we started up and up and up.  At the steepest, the road has a 38% grade.  Really quite steep.  I had to drop my rear bags off three quarters of the way up the hill.  Chris, with his lower gear set, had no problem powering to the top.  What a champion.


While in Dunedin, Chris got a nice new cycling jersey.


Located on the east coast, the Moeraki Boulders are unlike anything else in the area and anything else we’ve seen on other beaches.  If someone had requested more pictures of boulders in New Zealand, I’d be able to provide you with pictures of these.  As it, you’ll have to be satisfied with this picture of Chris.


Chris in his tent.  Yeah, it’s not the “Chris in action” shot that you were hoping for, but it’s a picture of Chris.


Though not a picture of Chris, this is further proof of his being a champion.  As we rode into Ashburton, Chris rolled off a curb and busted the wire bead that runs along the edge of his rear tire.  The tire developed a bulge, but he kept riding and made the distance.  The next morning, he was back on the bike and road another 50+ miles into Christchurch on a busted tire.  Not complaints, just determination.  Champion.  Earlier that day he had truly proven his champion-ness, but for reasons of appropriateness and discretion, that story cannot be shared publicly.  Let’s just say that I haven’t pushed myself as hard as Chris has pushed himself.  So that’s three times that Chris has beaten me.  So very ashamed.

And now for the sheep…img_2986





There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand and only 4 million people.  Surprisingly enough, this ratio of 10:1 is down greatly over the last few decades.  Not long ago, there were 80 million sheep and a mere 3 million people.  More than 25 sheep for every person.  Mind-numbing.


This is neither a picture of Chris nor a picture of sheep.  It is, however, the single most confusing traffic sign I have ever seen.  The intent is to convey that the road is curvy, passes over a railroad track, and drivers should be cautious of the four concealed side roads.  I’m not sure how else I would go about conveying this large amount of information.  I’m also not sure that I would be able to interpret all the information if I was passing the sign in a car rather than on a bicycle.  I have the luxury of time when it comes to decyphering such signs.  In a car, what with being worried about the curvy road, railroad tracks, and hidden side roads, I wouldn’t have time to focus on this sign.

Hello from Dunedin

March 2, 2009

Apparently I haven’t posted anything since Wanaka. Oops.  And the posts even have the dates on them, so you know exactly how long it has been.  Sorry.  So much has happened since then that a brief summary seems required.  So, here we go…

I turned 27. We rode over the highest paved road in New Zealand. We explored the gardens around Queenstown.  I jumped out of a plane.  We rode through the rain and wind to Te Anua. Chris got a flat tire and pushed his bike for 8 miles in the rain.  We took a bus to Milford Sound and then cruised around the fiord. We rode to the coast.  We took a ferry to Stewart Island.  We swam in Lee Bay.  I saw the motorcycle Burt Monro rode at Bonneville Salt Flats.  We saw a sea lion, a fossilized forest, and a yellow-eyed penguin.  We watched a triathlon and a field hockey game.  We rode to Dunedin.  I saw a castle.  We took a tour of the Speight’s Brewery.

I guess that sums it up. For those of you keeping track and planning future trips: see Wanaka, skip Queenstown, Milford Sound is a must, go to Stewart Island for more than a day, take trip through Curio Bay, see Dunedin.

Well, now that I’ve got you up to date, I feel permitted to pass on a selection of my thoughts and some fun facts that I’ve learned.  A) There are only two land mammals native to New Zealand, and they’re two types of bats, so I’m not sure they even count as land mammals.  B) Over the last few millions of years, every section of New Zealand has been under water at one time or another.  The result was a staggeringly diverse aviary.  And then the Maori came and brought dogs and rats.  And then the Europeans came and brought everything else.  The result: an aviary that, though still impressive, is no longer staggeringly diverse.  C) 80% of all species found in New Zealand are not found anywhere else on the planet.  D) Kevlar-lined tired are more expensive but worth the price.  Chris has had nine punctures to my one.  Worth the money.  Okay, so you get one thought and three facts, and the thought is probably a fact as well.

I guess I’ve delayed for long enough, and you’ve been a great audience, so here are the pictures you’ve all been waiting for:


The aptly named mirror lake on the roadside towards Milford Sound.


Milford Sound is, in fact, not as sound but a fiord.  A sound is shaped like a “V” and is formed as river cuts down into the bedrock.  A fiord is shaped like a “U” and is formed as the pressure of a glacier shaves down into the rock.  Fascinating, I know, but increasing the world’s knowledge is my duty.


A waterfall in the fiord that is three times taller than Niagara Falls.


As we rode south from Te Anua, the sun came out and the mountains became hills.  Of course, the wind remained in our face, but we got to chat with our shadows for a few minutes, so that was a nice change.


The end of a chess game on Stewart Island.  Chris was left with a king and all eight pawns, but I took the victory.  Not capturing a pawn was surprisingly difficult, especially when Chris found out what was going on and tried his best to sacrifice one.  Playing with large pieces (they turned out to be painted traffic cones) made us feel like kings of old, directing people across a large chessboard.


The scenic, calm, and amazingly clear Lee Bay.


Burt Munro rode this bike 193 miles per hour at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  “The World’s Fastest Indian” is a wonderful movie that tells his story.


Riding through the Catlins, the region between Invercargill and Dunedin, was wonderful.  The rolling hills are covered with sheep and cows.  It was nice to be close to the coast and look out to the ocean.


The Larnach Castle, the only castle in New Zealand, was constructed in 1871.  It’s not much of a castle, but come on, let’s call it one rather than “The Larnach Manor” or “The Larnach Mansion.”  I’m also not sure how many castles have been built in the last 140 years, so it may be the world’s youngest castle as well.


A collection of 300 bottles of Scotch.  I apparently don’t know much about whiskey regardless of the origin.  There are single malts and blends.  You apparently age it for twelve to twenty years.  People are willing to pay lots of money for small amounts.  That’s what I knew going in.  Well, not the part about the blends.  I figured there might be double malts, and that’s a common misunderstanding, but there aren’t.


A very large barrel at Speight’s Brewery.  The tour ended in the sampling room, as any proper tour should.  The beer was tasty and the tour educational.  All in all, a pleasant way to end our visit to Dunedin.  Tomorrow we’ll head north to Christchurch.  The next post will be from there, so you’ll only have to wait a few days.  Sorry again.

And now… The South Island

February 5, 2009

When we last left our heroes, they were taking advantage of New Zealand’s great health care system.  Since then, the dynamic duo has traveled south to Wellington, where they visited Te Papa (New Zealand’s answer to the Smithsonian) and learned about cricket, and then crossed to the South Island by ferry.  Since then the adventures have continued.

We landed in Picton and rode along a lovely/windy/hilly roady along the nothern coast to Nelson.  Chris has been having trouble with his tent poles and as we were looking for an outdoor store to find some new ones, we stumbled upon an information site that described the hiking around Nelson Lakes National Park.  We decided to take a break from cycling, slap on our backpacks, and head for the hills.

Traveling by bicycle is great, but in some ways it is just like traveling by car, only slower.  Maybe it’s even worse; although you see more because you travel more slowly, you are less likely to explore the side roads as they add more miles to your day.  By tramping off into the woods, you just see different things.  Oh, and New Zealand is amazing.

We hiked along a lake, climbed through the clouds onto a ridge, and spent the night in a beautiful hut.  The next day we headed out along the ridge back towards town and towards our bikes.  Now we’ve back in the saddle and moving towards the west coast.  Enjoy the pictures.


Chris dreams about alternate means of travel at Te Papa.img_2373

Crossing to the South Island.


Hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park.


A brief pause in the clouds as we head into the mountains.


Sunrise at Angelus Hut.


Hiking along the ridge.  Simply magic.