Monday, April 30, 2007

The Title of this Post is Found Below

Early Morning Day 1 (Friday Apr 6)
Midnight came and went, classes ended 10 hours ago, but my head still throbbed from a week of cramming and jamming for finals and projects. It'd been nearly a week since I last pushed the road hound over a gap, but my neck and back were locked in pain from spending so much time peering into the depths of a computer screen or a text book.

Now it was over; the only worries I would have for the next week and a half hung in the sky and in two bulky bags on the back of my bike.

Day 1 (Friday Apr. 6)

Rakaiai Gorge

Not a bad place to be remembered, in true Kiwi fashion, miles from anywhere.

"Left the Flat at 11, winds stayed light and the sun strong. Still exhausted from the week, I passed out in a park in Darfield. The plains are flat and boring but once I made it to the foot hills the views started. Staying in Methven, the town is dead and everything is closed for the holiday. I've the hostel to myself, but it shouldn't matter much, I'm going to sleep"

Day 2 (Saturday Apr 7)

For the first few days I had no idea how to deal with the two bags. Every time I got somewhere my gear literally exploded. In the morning it took me 20-30 mins to eat breakfast, and the next hour and a half to pack, re pack, pack what I forgot, and then finally get my riding clothes on and go. I did get better as the trip went out, though I stuck with a two hour delay between wake up and ride time, no sense in spending the first hours on the bike re-tasting breakfast, yech.

Methven-Ashburton- (bus to Twizel) "Only one pic from today. Rode through heavy rains this morning to Ashburton. All the stock in the fields looked at me like I was some kind of nut. Caught the bus to Twizel with 10 minutes to spare, had to ride the three hours in my soaked riding clothes. No hostel here but for the same price I got a double room in 'chalet' to myself. Lots of boaters here."

Day 3 (Sunday Apr 8)

The long road to Mt Cook. This dominated my view the entire way up to the base of the mighty peak, it was tough having to ride in these conditions as you might imagine.

Lunch: Food always came where the road and my stomach dictated. Depending on what I last ate ( a real meal, or a few energy bars) I stopped every hour and a half to two hours. While my legs might have slowed down a bit when they needed food, I generally kept them pumping until I found a suitable place to stop, like the empty green grassy field with a view above.

With no more road to ride, I took off on foot, following in Narva's tracks from a few weeks earlier towards Mt. Sealy.

The thundering sound of collapsing ice provides the music of the mountains at the end of the valley. If watched long enough, or at the exact right time, it's possible to catch a glimpse of glaciation at work, as chunks of ice and rock the size of city buses tumbled hundreds of feet. The noise carried for miles.

Mt. Sefton's shadow

Tall reflections of Mt. Sefton at bushline

Where I've come from, and where I'm going, the valley leading to Cook. Whitehorse campground/car park is the large square lower left. Cook Village is partially shaded on the right, though some of the hotels are visible.

Dirty ice spilling out into the glacial puddle.

The last remaining light, disappearing behind Sefton. When the moon rose shortly after dark, the giant mountain became the biggest night light I've ever seen.

Sleeping under the stars.

Twizel-Mt Cook
"An entire day dominated by cook's massive figure, with the turquoise blue of lake Pukaki on my right shoulder. A super friendly middle-eastern student in a beat up sedan offered me a ride. A kind gesture, but, 'ARE YOU KIDDING?' I wouldn't trade a day of riding with scenery like this for the world. Stopped at Cook Village, everything is expectedly overpriced, except for the 2kilo slice of chocolate frosted carrot cake I had at the cafe. Pushed on a mile more to the true end of the road at Whitehorse campground/ car park. Locked my stuff in the three walled shelter Narv told me about, changed, and charged up the Mueller hut track. Pushed 1.5 hours to a small tarn just below bushline. Reckon I gained 2500-3000 foot elevation, steep track. Had to turn back for daylight and diner.
Bedding down under what looks to be a crystal clear night."

Day 4 (Monday Apr 9)

Sunrise on Sefton

My view for the entire ride from Mt. Cook back to Twizel.

Mt. Cook-Twizel-(bus to Wanaka)
"Tough time sleeping last night. Possums showed up shortly after dark. After sniffing me out they found my stuff in the shelter. Around 9:30 I was awoken from a near sleep by a jarring clatter, and running into the shelter I was greeted by a furry f#!k that'd jumped onto my stove and pot. Fortunately they must have been more interested in my smelly riding clothes than the food as it was all intact. Nonetheless I had to spend the rest of the night in the shelter to keep the little pricks out, though they continued to make a ruckus on the roof. I'm now 100% sold on NZ's possum eradication program.
Another beautiful day, awoke to a bright red Mt. Sefton. Easy ride back through the valley, dominated by Lake Pukaki's bright turquoise water and an amazing landscape. Reached Twizel with plenty of time to spare. Had lunch, and sat in the sun. Saw Nick and Jason from IES just before hopping on the bus to Wanaka. Same friendly driver, but a packed bus. Thankfully he either forgot, or decided not to charge me extra for taking the bike.
Wanaka is nearly unrecognizable. This is a major holiday for them and the town is packed, at least compared to what Megan, Narv and I saw a few weeks ago. Still nice to be in a familiar territory again. Achilles tendons are both killing me from the tramp and looks like tomorrow is going to be a big one."

Day 5 (Tuesday Apr 10)

Outside Wanaka

Lake Hawea

Traffic, as a general rule, sucks, though I saw very little on the entire trip. Some people give you an entire lane (they usually have bike racks on their cars) others cut it close like rush hour on the Northway. Camper vans however, aside from making a whole heap or noise and fumes, seem to cut it the closest, and usually have a gaggle of angry frustrated motorists behind them. I despised the sheet aluminum behemoths that threatened to push me off the road through out the day. That was, at least, until I stopped to take a few photos at the top of a long climb along side Lake Hawea. A kiwi family touring around their homeland in a rented camper that had just passed me were enjoying the view as well. The father, and I presume driver, came over to chat, and offered to snap this photo of me. I had to realize, like it or not, that in their big bulky rigs, they were in a similar position as me. Just as I couldn't maneuver as quickly with the added bulk, nor could a camper. Who was I to demand that this father drive his family a little farther into the other lane on these twisty mountain roads, just so some damned bike tourist could be a little less peeved?

Choice spot for a snack

More of Lake Hawea. Dark storm clouds hung in the pass to the west.

The north end of the massive Lake Wanaka. The top photo faces the sunny east, while the lower looks towards a blustery south and Mt. Aspiring Park

Just outside Makaroa, looking into Mt. Aspriring Park. One of the hardest parts for me about the whole road touring deal was the constant desire to know what lay beyond. The trip from Wanaka to Haast had short and long hikes every which way. Some may have just been leg stretchers for weary motorists not worth a second glance, while others could have been once in a life time tramps, I'll never know...or at least not for now.

Haast Pass. This marked a massive land mark on my voayage between the dry eastern region and the soggy west coast. Though it started raining (and later I would find out snowing) I was estactic to begin decending.

This isn't New Coloradoland any more. If you haven't noticed, take a look at the first picture I posted from the day, to the one above. The gradual change in vegetation cover is somewhat apparent along the shores of Lake Hawea and Wanaka, but just outside of Makaroa the beech forests began, and from that point onward, carpeted all the surrounding hill sides. In the last two months I'd actually begun to forget what having a canopy and forested hill sides felt like.
"Holy hell I'm in Haast! Nine hours in the saddle over 140 k's, 60k/hr+ head winds that slowed me down to a walking pace on flats and climbs, I had to work for my descents. Oh, ya, and than there was the two hours of driving rain from 4-6 that made me dig as deep as ever to beat the dieing light and make it to this. I started at 9 as usual. I'm getting the hang of packing now and seem to be able to get things together in a much more reasonable amount of time. Pretty easy start through the grasslands outside Wanaka. Once I hit Lake Hawea, the wind bombed out of the cloudy west and didn't stop until I reached the beech forests just past Makaroa. The road along the shore of Lake Hawea climbed and descended incessantly. I finally pulled over the ridge to Lake Wanaka, where I faced less elevation change, but a stronger wind. Arrived in Makaroa just shy of 1. Hid from the wind in a cafe and had some lunch. I still wasn't even halfway and had no idea what lay ahead other than a bank of dark clouds. Pushed onwards up the gap when suddenly the beech forests wrapped around the road, protecting me from the angry wind god. What a relief, and a strange feeling, this may be the first green canopy I've ridden a road bike under since the beginning of last fall, wow. Pace increased and though it started to drizzle, I was all smiles when I crested the gap. Even 10 minutes later after blowing a flat on a miserable set of cattle bars (why are there cattle bars on a road in a rainforest?) I was still ecstatic. The short twisty decent through the new world felt surreal. Waterfalls spouted every which way off the surrounding ridges, and when the clouds lifted just a little, snow fields appeared on the higher slopes. Somewhere in that narrow canyon, I looked down at the gleaming blue rubber wheels, watched the water streaking along the down tubes, and saw the beauty of the machine that'd carried me thus far. The OCR earned its name, Rainy Adventure, or just Rain for short. Down on the Haast River flat the fog grew thick and exhaustion shoved me back out of my state of euphoria. I pushed on and on, not knowing how close I was, when about 4, the rain picked up. I tried to push harder, but a half hour later it was clear I was getting pretty close to E. Finally at 5, still pouring, and getting darker, I stuffed down two energy bars, got back in the saddle, and jammed as hard as I could for an hour straight. I don't remember much from that little power session, but about a quarter to 6 I came to the first sign I'd seen since the pass, marking the edge of Mt Aspiring Park. Fifteen minutes later I made it to what in other parts of the world would be called a hamlet, but here, is the township of Haast. I had 20 minutes of decent day light left. The hostel is packed. I've met a fellow tourer however. Tom, who just finished his masters in Environmental Sci. at UNH, has been touring around the South Island for the past 3 weeks. He started in Makaroa today, and so escaped the weather. We split diner, and talked for some time this evening. He's a cool guy and we seem to have a lot in common. Weather is looking questionable tomorrow, I'm beat."

Day 6 (Wednesday Apr 11)

The nail in the coffin

Sunset in Haast
"Holed up in Haast. Woke up to dark skies. Ate breakfast slowly, legs still hurt, not feeling the ride. Tom came in for breakfast a little after 7:30, declared after 15 minutes he was definitely not riding. Still not sure myself, I kept looking at the elevation profiles and distances for the west coast and Arthur’s Pass. I was trying to determine the course of the next week in less than 30 minutes, and I definitely wasn't firing on all cylinders. Rumble-rumble in came the thunder. That was the last nail in the coffin. I wasn't going to do a 120k day in this condition in this weather. I still wanted to make progress, so I called the shuttle and asked them to make a stop in Haast. Spent the morning chilling with Tom, listening to the patter of the rain fade on the roof of the sky-lit atrium. Noon came, went to catch the shuttle. Waited, waited, fed the sand flies, finally the shuttle shows up, going the other way... I guess I didn't hear the woman on the phone right, she said quarter to twelve, not after. Dumb struck I stuck out a thumb. Ten minutes and even fewer cars went by. I looked at the clearing skies. 'Fuck man!' I said aloud. More quietly I thought 'I wanted to do a bike ride, I don't want to drive this coast. I've already seen Arthur’s Pass; I can do it any weekend I like with no bags. I should take my time riding to Greymouth.' So that's the plan. I'm going to take it easy going up the coast, make sure I see what I want to, and catch a shuttle over Arthur’s Pass.
I wheeled the bike back to the hostel and paid for another night. Tom and I split diner again and enjoyed the company of a group of American students studying in the North Island. We shared a room, and ended up staying up pretty late talking with three grad students studying at Uni in Chch."

Day 7 (Thursday Apr 12)
Tom, maybe a little too excited on Haast Beach.

In the middle of no-where was this tiny salmon farm. Bet you can guess what I had for lunch. (The fish pictured are actually trout and escapees hanging around looking for a free meal. As their size suggests, they come along quite often.

A rare white heron hangs around along the shores.

In all my previous pictures I tried to hide the road. On a hike or mountain bike ride, I try to leave behind anything human. Not until this point did I begin to realize that I couldn't deny what was so integral to my journey. That aside, for much of the trip, the road was the only obvious human impression I saw.

Bruce Bay: With roads in mind, this is the most beautiful stretch of road I've ever ridden, without exaggeration. The photo might not be that impressive, but the feeling I had as the Tasman Sea beat the shore along side, while a tailwind pushed me along, was like nothing I've ever felt on any stretch of road. I don't feel like I'm really explaining the sensation very well, but I don't know if I can, that might just be it.
Haast-Fox Township
"The rest day paid off. Tom and I pedaled off under clear skies. The air here is so rich, it’s almost too much. Pulsating in with the surf of the Tasman, wet air is infused with oxygen from the lush vegetation.
Tom and I hung together for about an hour, but eventually a few steep climbs separated us. His heavy load and lower gear range cause us to ride at different paces. He did catch up when I stopped for a snack at two hours. After that we had to go our separate ways, I had much farther to push today.
The land is almost completely uninhabited, backing my feeling of having wandered across some lost pocket of the world. It took three and a half hours of riding before I came across a settlement, which consisted of maybe half as many buildings as Haast, I think that would mean 6. The rest of the afternoon brought more towering snow clad peaks and emptiness. I reached the Fox Glacier Township around 4. It’s pretty quiet, consisting of only a couple bars and hotels plus the hostel. Rain set in not long after I got in, but looks good to blow off before morning.
I met two tourers staying here tonight. They're both about middle aged retired guides. I talked to one, Bruce, for a while. He's worked for various outdoor companies including Outward-bound. It was interesting to listen to someone who's lived the life I might like to. At this point he's done traveling around and wants to find work with an Environmental firm. The two are doing a ride that started at the southern tip of the South Island and will take them to the Northlands in the North Island."

Day 8 (Friday Apr 13)
The tourist entrance to the base of the Fox Glacier (not the way I went)

dirt road in the rain forest
waterfall in the rain forest
giant rain forest tree
another water fall in the rain forest
Giant glacier in the rainforest...WAIT, WHAT!?
If you want to pay mad cash, you can get a guided hike to the instable base and explore the ice caves, or pay for a heli ride farther up and land on the glacier. John and Bruce tipped me off on an hour and a half long hike at the end of a dirt road on the other side of the Fox River to see the best of both worlds...for free.
From the road to Franz Joseph
Hmm, that peak looks familiar.
Mt Cook, still gorgeous from this side of the island.
To the Franz Joseph Glacier.

Sunset in Whataroa

Fox Township-Whataroa
"This is what I came to NZ for! I woke up per usual, but instead of throwing my packed bags on the bike, I stuck them in the hostel's store room, lashed my shoes to the rack, and headed up towards the hike Bruce told me about last night. Heading up the dirt road towards the glacier, I couldn't get over it. Here I was, riding though a rain forest, and below me swept the mighty fox glacier. From the end of the road I hiked 45 minutes up a side valley, hopping across the torrents of a glacial stream, to reach an overlook of the glacier. Unbelievable. When people asked me before I left why I chose NZ, this was usually the reason I gave. I want to see diverse environments, and this is one of the only places in the world where you can walk from a rainforest and see a glacier in 20 minutes. Unfortunately, helicopters and planes buzzed overhead so frequently it felt like a war zone.
Pedaled out of the township just after lunch. Three tough climbs followed by twisty descents brought me to the beginning of the Franz Joseph Glacier Road. Great views of the backside of Mt Cook. I passed by John and Bruce not long after at the beginning of the road to Okarito. I really wanted to stay down there on the beach, I was pretty sure Tom said he'd be staying there, and not a single cloud drifted through the sky, but this coast was tricky with its weather, and I really didn't want to get caught in the rain in only a biv-sac.
I carried on to Whataroa. The three grad students Tom and I shared a room with, plus I guess one more that must have been in a different room, drove by as well. They'd actually passed me twice during the day but since I didn't see them leave Haast I didn't recognize their car when they honked. They'd just seen Tom in Okarito doing the same thing, looking for a place to stay. They were moving on to Punakaki.

Day 9 (Saturday Apr 14)

Vermont! All the green, combined with the slow rolling hills and pastoral scenery of the coastal valleys sometimes made me believe I was somewhere in the Champlain Valley, so long as I cropped the towering snow clad peaks from my line of vision...

Fetch Dog.

Not a bad view. The hostel on the Kakapotahi River, an old church beautifully restored, could probably do better as a b&b, but serving as a hostel probably pays the bills. Nonetheless, it was more like staying in a house than a hostel.
Sunset on the Kakapotahi
"Early day, maybe 60K tops. Not as many views, but comfortable. Staying in a funky converted church on a river south of Ross. Very laid back, except for this one crazy Quebecois lady, whatever. The owners are gone, so they have a Scottish guy and his German girlfriend taking care of the place. Two of his buddies are taking up residency here for the time being as well. They're both straight up blasts from this place's past. Instead of panning for gold however, they spend their days wandering the bush swamps hand harvesting sphagnum moss. They're paid just like the miners, by the dry ounce, and most of what they make ends up in a glass at the end of the day. They must being doing alright, they were more than eager to share drinks for an open ear. I get the feeling these guys harvest a little more than moss too, just try and figure out what else grows really well in damp warm forests. Either way they were both good company."

Day 10 (Sunday Apr 15)
The end of the road
No journal entry from today, thoughts unclear. Camera stayed tucked in the bag, clouds covered the surrounding peaks.

Day 11 (Monday Apr 16)
The Greymouth harbor

Coal is still king in this land.
(bus) Greymouth-Chch
"Back in Chch now. I can't believe the ride is over. It was so funny, all along the road to Greymouth I kept telling myself, it’s about to end it’s about to end. It wasn't until 2 in the afternoon when I came to the sign at the edge of Greymouth that I realized my ride was really over. I near slammed to a stop, unclicked my pedals, and in total disbelief said aloud, 'it’s over.' It was part shock, part question, but in the end, I knew that while I was due for a rest day, I didn't actually want to stop riding. I still don't, and I'd rather that instead of heading up to Cass for the next few days to do field work, I was going to continue my ride.
Tom was on the shuttle ride back over the pass. He'd stopped in Hokitikka. I might have done the same if I'd known what Greymouth was going to be like. Regardless, it was nice to have good company on the ride back over. He's spending the next three weeks traveling around the country with his girl friend, before heading back out on the road. I'm hoping our paths cross again."
Next Up, break part two, Rarotonga
(I swear I'll keep it to a reasonable size)