Our West Coast Travels

February 15, 2009

Well, it’s been a while, and for that I apologize.  Since I last wrote, we followed a river down to the Tasman Sea and then turned south..  On the way down the west coast, we wandered along the beach, explored caves, stood next to glaciers, and hiked into the mountains.  Though the weather was less than wonderful, we had a great time.  In the last few days, we’ve crossed over the Southern Alps and have found some sunnier skies.

Skin is waterproof and you can only get so wet.  After five minutes of riding in the rain, your clothes reach a level of saturation that cannot be exceeded.  The wind, on the other hand, does not seem to have a similar limit.  While cycling from Alaska to Mexico, Noah and I argued about who had angered the weather gods and caused them to spite us with constant headwinds.  I now accept responsibility.  The gods were, and continue to be, angry with me, though I don’t know why.  I must apologize to both Noah and now Chris for placing them in this situation.  The winds have been in our face for a while.  At some point you realize that you won’t be setting any distance or speed records for the day and you just plod along.  That’s all you can do.

We’re currently taking a day off and exploring the scenic town of Wanaka.  It sits on a lake and is surrounded by mountains.  Spectacular.  When we’re on our bicycles, we are men on the move.  We put up big numbers and do stupid things.  (A few days back we tramped up the Copland Track to Welcome Flats Hut, which is nestled high in the mountains next to some wonderful hot springs.  The next day we hiked out the ten miles back to the road and then rode 62 miles down the coast to Haast.  Hiking 10 miles is a full day.  Cycling more than 60 miles is a full day.  Doing them both in one day is stupid.)  When we’re in town, however, we become “men of leisure, very European.”  We sit and sip coffee and read the paper.  It’s lovely.

We’re halfway through the trip.  From here we’ll head south and work our way over to Stewart Island.  We fly out of Auckland on March 23rd, so we’ll try to get back to the North Island by March 9th at the latest.  There are a few more place to explore up that way, but the South Island is wonderful, so we’ll spend much of our time here, seeing what we can and loving every minute.

If you have had any part in raising me or in educating me or might feel at all disappointed by me making bone-headed decisions, please skip this paragraph and proceed directly to the pictures.  If you are still reading, let me tell you, brakes are great.  They let you slow down and stay in control as you fly down steep, curvy mountainsides.  If you need to, you can even stop.  They’re amazing.  For a while now, perhaps extending all the way back to when I was riding in Utah many months ago, I’ve been riding without rear brakes.  The springs that force the pads off the wheel were defunct and I chose to disconnect them and rely on my front brakes.  While bombing down a hill into Fox Glacier, my front pads finally gave out.  My first time through Fox Glacier was brief.  The town is located on the side of a hill, so I rolled in, rolled through, and rolled out is quick succession.  After slowing to a halt on the roadside outside of town, I turned around and climbed back up the hill.  The next morning I changed my brake pads, front and rear, and was able to stop.  Amazing.  A few days later, we had breakfast with a bike mechanic from British Columbia.  After the meal, he looked at our bikes and tested my rear brakes.  Though I had changed the pads, I had failed to reconnect the cables.  He tore everything off the rear of the bike, pulled things apart, adjusted, loosened, tightened, tweaked, and fiddled with everything.  He enjoyed himself greatly and now I get to enjoy being able to use both sets of brakes.  This is why we buy people breakfast.  A bike tune-up and a bike pump for the cost of a plate of pancakes.  What a deal.  Anyway, brakes are amazing.

Here are the pictures of the last few days.  Enjoy.

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The coast north of Punakaiki.

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Exploring a cavern.

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Some oddly shaped islands .

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Trumpets are a type of ice cream cone that you can buy at gas stations.  The company was running a promotional campaign in which 1 in 6 caps won.  I won free ice cream cones in four of the five that I bought.  I was beating the odds left and right all the way from Ohope Beach down to Westport.  Amazing skill at choosing the winning cones.  And then I went to redeem one at a gas station north of Franz Josef.  The man smiled at me and told me the promotion had ended on February 1.  I’d waited too long!  Ah well, they’re good, but not good for you.  It’s probably for the best.

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Speaking of things that aren’t good for you, we now know that one gummy snake is equal to thirteen gummy bears.

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Yours truly standing in front of Franz Josef Glacier.

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The track up to Welcome Flats.

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Riding along the lake north of Haast.

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A lake north of Wanaka.

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We’re in New Zealand!  The home of kiwis!  The bird is from here.  The people are called “kiwis.”  The fruit, however, seems to come from Italy.  Unbelievable.

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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.

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

Crossing to the South Island.

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Hiking in Nelson Lakes National Park.

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

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Sunrise at Angelus Hut.

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Hiking along the ridge.  Simply magic.


Not in America

January 29, 2009

Let me tell you what’s wonderful about this place. What could it be, you wonder. Will he talk about the weather? the scenery? the people?

All of those are good guesses, but today I would like to talk about the joy that is socialized medicine. I’m sure there are problems and one of them is certainly the term “socialized,” but our interaction with medicine New Zealand-style was great. First of all, everyone is covered. Chris, who is not from New Zealand for those of you who don’t know Chris, was run off a gravel road by a crazy driver. That probably sounds worse than it was, but that’s the secret to good story telling. A little hyperbole here, an exaggerated fact there, and suddenly a peaceful ride along a dirt road becomes a harrowing experience.

Anyway, he fell on his hand about a week ago and has lost most of the strength. Some of you will think this is serious and tragic. It’s not. It’s hilarious. I get to watch him struggle with a fork, struggle with the zipper on his shirt, struggle to brake safely as we descend steep hills. Hilarious. Okay, maybe the last one is a bit serious, but bikes have two sets of brakes for a reason.

We were trying to take a bus to Wellington today, but there was no space for our bikes which was really a deal-breaker. Instead we wandered on down the block to a building labeled The Doctors. I’ll let you guess what was inside. We went to the desk, described what had happened, and three minutes later Chris was sitting in an examination room.

The whole cost? Twenty-five dollars (and those are New Zealand dollars, it was $13 American).

For the curious ones among you, he has strained his lateral tendons and may have inflamed some of the nerves in his arm. If it’s not better in six weeks, we’ll find another clinic and he’ll be taking care of for twelve dollars. Amazing.

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Chris laughing at his bill and the entire experience.

The woman we were staying with described the wonders of socialized medicine and reasonable pension plans and all things New Zealand. All I could think about was how much it all cost and how it was paid for. She seemed to anticipate my question and explained “Of course it helps when you’re not paying to build nuclear weapons and fight illegal wars.” There it is. As a country, the United States has chosen war and destruction over education, medicine, science, and infrastructure. What a choice.

This is why travel is important. It allows you to see other systems, meet other people, and experience the roads not taken. It makes you a better citizen of the world and of your community. The world is a big place and you should always try to see more of it than you have. And there the lesson ends.


Good Dog

January 28, 2009

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You’ll be missed, Duncan.  You were wonderful.


Rest and relaxation

January 28, 2009

Biking is great, but relaxing is also great. I get the first one (I wouldn’t be on a second bicycle tour if I didn’t think it was great), and I’m slowly beginning to get the second one. Relaxing is important, and it’s important for a number of reasons: a) you’re body, contrary to what I’ve stated elsewhere, is not a machine that will keep going forever, b) not doing something actually helps you enjoy doing something, c) there’s something about smelling roses and that seems to require stopping.

Yesterday we took a bus from Wairoa to Napier. It felt a bit like cheating until Chris said “I came here to have an adventure and bike around, but I also came here to enjoy myself.” What a novel concept.

On top of that, everyone we talked with said we should avoid riding on this stretch of road. It was windy and it was hilly and it didn’t have much of a shoulder and it was crowded with army convoys, logging truck, and one speeding inter-city bus. Taking the bus was absolutely the right call.

We got off the bus in Napier, quickly assembled our bikes, and were on our way to Havelock North. A friend of a friend offered to let us stay in her cottage for as long as we wanted. I’m not sure what our expectations were, but they were certainly surpassed. The cottage and house are surrounded by gardens and there is a stream with a waterfall in the backyard. It’s wonderful. We’ll take a day off here to relax our legs are plot our next adventures.

There is something nice about going to sleep in the same place you wake up. I suppose that’s why people don’t typically move around day after day after day. It’s nice to be grounded. Anyway… here are some more pictures of New Zealand. Enjoy.

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We walked along Ocean Beach, a stretch of empty sand that extended for miles and miles. The people in the distance (yes, they’re really there) constitute the “large crowds” that were taking over the beach.

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A pleasant path among “The Bush.” All of New Zealand was covered in forest like this just 150 years ago. It is daunting to imagine the work that went into clearing the many hillsides we’ve biked by.


Tim and Chris Explore New Zealand

January 25, 2009

Here it is! The first posting! I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get things together, but what with the bicycling and all, my computer time has been limited. For those of you playing along at home, we flew into Auckland and, after assembling our bikes, were off towards Coromandel Peninsula. Then it was down to Rotorua and then around the East Cape to Gisborne. Everything has been going well. We’ve had wonderful luck with the weather: mostly sunny, not too windy, cool morning and evenings. It’s nice to be on the road again. My legs were getting twitchy and now they’re happy to be moving, albeit around and around in small circles. Camping is great and soft beds are over-rated. At the end of a day of riding, face-planting into a sleeping bag is just fine. Traveling with everything you need, knowing where it is at all times, it’s the best. I’m not sure what that says about my personality, but there it is. All in all, it’s nice to be on the road again.
For those of you just waiting for the pictures, here you go. I promise more stories will follow in the days to come, but I feel bad that I’ve failed to deliver on the promises of pictures so far. Sorry.

Oh, and the pictures seem to be in reverse-chronological order, but I’ve been having a terrible time getting them up at all and my internet time is quickly running out, so you’ll have to forgive me this once.

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Day break at Tolaga Bay

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After setting up our tents at Tolaga Bay.

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Chris rides towards construction.

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The coast along the East Cape.

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A lovely day for a sail on Lake Rotoiti.

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A family of black swans.

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An amazingly British bowling green at Lake Rotorua.

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The coast riding south from Orere Point west of Coromandel Peninsula.

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A sheep-covered hillside in Wharekawa.


Hello world!

January 25, 2009

Welcome to the fascinating world of Tim Whittemore.