Back to Nepal

I have been looking forward to this trip ever since I got back from a trekking and climbing trip in Nepal’s Khumbu region last year with Lonnie Dupre and his friends Elias and Brigette de Marcos. Elias is the head climbing guide for Seattle based RMI and Brigette is a very strong mountaineer in her own right. I think most all of you know Lonnie and his amazing adventure accomplishments. Along the way I met a couple of biking guides who told me about biking the Annapurna Circuit. I was totally hooked. Annapurna was going to be on my plate for 2016. The classic climbing book “Annapurna” by Herzog was one of my early reads and left a lasting impression on me. Now I would be going there myself. With my bike!

In early January I sent out an invitation to my email list of bikers that I have traveled with over the years. For logistical reasons only seven (plus myself) could go. Any more would be difficult. I ended up with a very strong group; Michelle Gane and Chad Paynter from Australia, James Hodges and JR Patee from the US, Paul Fokker and Rien Lauwerijssen from Holland, and my great friend Bridget O’Meara from South Africa. Paul was recommended by biking friends. Bridget I have biked with in New Zealand and South Africa and the rest I know from a 4 and a half month biking trip doing the length of South America. Very solid group.

I landed in Kathmandu after a 36 hour travel which was marred only by a trying stop in Istanbul where they wouldn’t forward my luggage and bike through. I was very lucky to have four hours there or I never could have accomplished the transfer and re- ticketing with long lines and a laborious process. A little stressful. Our logistical conduit Nima was at the Kathmandu airport to meet both Rien and I and get us to the Hotel Marshyangdi in the Thamel section of the city where all the others would trickle in to meet. Rien and I had met in Istanbul for the last leg of our trip.

This year is the tenth running of an amazing bike race on the Annapurna Circuit called the Yak Attack. It’s billed as the highest bike race in the world and definitely one of the toughest if not the toughest. It follows the same route as ours. Not all of the sections all totally rideable including the Thorung Pass at 17,800 feet. There will be snow on the Pass. One has to carry the bike for 5 kilometers to the top of the pass and, depending on conditions, part of the way down as well. A link on the Yak Attack which Bridget had sent me led me to Neil Cottom, who has done the race four times and is here in Kathmandu for a fifth race. Neil has many great tips on his blog about the route including using a backpack to attach your bike to for hiking over the pass. Carrying our bikes over had had me concerned so I contacted Neil for more details. He produced a video for us which he posted on his blog showing each step to attach a bike upside down to a backpack. This also frees ones hands to use trekking poles for the steep high altitude climb. Fantastic. I wanted to thank Neil in person.

We met Neil in the bar of our hotel two nights ago. He is an effusive and highly personable Brit who is as in love with Nepal as he is with biking. He brought along Jenny, the owner of the best mountain bike shop in Nepal which is right around the corner from our Hotel. Chad and Michelle, Rien, JR, Bridget and myself joined the two of them for drinks and then dinner at the Black Olive (next door). It was truly a delightful evening with stories and laughter throughout. We will try to meet up with Neil again in Pokhara.

Yesterday we went on a shakedown ride with our biking guide Ganga through the crazy streets of smog filled Kathmandu to a Gompa high above the city. A Gompa is a Buddhist temple of monastery for the monks. I can’t begin to describe the wild ride through the city. Asian cities seem to have traffic rules known genetically only to Asians. We felt very lucky to get out of and then back through the city without any incidents or injuries. We also should have worn masks. The air is toxic. All appears fine, though, with the fitness of the riders and bikes both.

We had also made a trip to the main Stupa in the Bhoda section of town the day before. I am running out of time here but will try to describe these fascinating places in a later blog, I’m not sure if I can continue this blog due to the difficulties of finding Internet and charging places along the way since we will be tenting but will do my best.

Thanks for coming along on this section of the trip.

Buck

Sent from my iPad

Bluff

IMG_3749IMG_076710660111_1274945452520587_9057375816248394060_nIMG_3708March 18

We had two days of riding on the Otago Rail Trail. Like so many trails across the world, it is built on the remains of railway tracks which are no longer used for trains. Since the trains require that gradients have to be very low ( in other words pretty flat) the trails all have this feature. On the one hand this makes for easy cycling physically, but mentally it does seem to present a challenge. The generally straight design and lack of hills somehow make the K’s drag on even with beautiful scenery. The trail we were on had a good surface for riding so that was not slowing us down, in fact, we made good time. The first day was 94K’s on the trail – we all mentioned that the day dragged and we would be happy to get back to a little more variation. Weather was cool and cloudy. We are getting further and further south so cool weather is the norm, especially with a south wind but the next day with 60 K on the trail found us with temps rising to the upper 20’s C. Actually hot in the afternoon. It’s been all very small towns for us down here and I was sharing a cabin with Peter and Horst. All of us found our shelter from the heat there. One would think that we would be so happy for the sun and heat but it was just too much of a good thing.

The following day that would all change. It was warm in the morning but had been raining all night. The forecast was for more of the same all day. Lindsay’s info sheet, written months before, said Big Tough Day. 1650 meters of climbing and 128K’s distance. It turned out to be over 1900 m climbing. At this point in the trip we can handle that, though still tough, but what Lindsay couldn’t know about when he wrote this was the big south wind that really made those words prophetic. I was riding with Bridget and Q in the morning when the wind came bringing lashing cold rain. Though we all were dressed for the rain when we started, the cold wind was a whole other thing. My light raincoat is designed to breathe, thus not totally waterproof and the wind and rain took very little time to penetrate. Being wet is one thing but add temps down closer to freezing and a big head wind and it’s trouble. Q had trouble with his bike. First his derailer broke. Bridget and I were there then but he waved us on and since the truck was still behind us to help, we kept on biking. Q found that the hanger that the derailer mounts on was also bent from the torque he was applying which made it impossible to change gears so he converted to just a one speed bike. Very tough to move forward on a day with so much climbing when the mechanical advantage is gone. Q had gotten very cold in the process snd when his chain broke he struggled with frozen fingers to do anything. A farmer pulled up, pulled out his tools and helped Q work on the chain. The situation was just too tough so when Vince was able to get involved they brought Q the extra bike (kay’s) which was carried in the trailer. Even though most anyone else as cold and miserable as Q was at that time would have ridden in the car, Q peddled the rest on that miserable day on Kay’s bike.

Bridget and I rode with Horst and Michael until we stopped to add the little extra layers we carried. In that type of weather there is no waiting so they moved on as we did after getting a little more protection in our misery. The route was on gravel backroads so there was no town or cafe to pull into to get some relief. We just had to press on. Our feet and hands had little feeling and the fact that we were wet clear through in our upper layers made the wind’s effect even more telling. Hypothermia was creeping in when we finally rode into Balclutha. Bridget’s Garmin had stopped working and my paper instructions were completely soaked. We actually biked past the motel without knowing it and pulled the first cafe that we came to. The waitress was the only one there – no other customers – and she doted on us as we dripped and shook at the first table trying to separate the pages on my instructions without destroying them. Since we were past our motel, we had to try to decipher going backwards with the directions – our brains weren’t working well enough for that. The young waitress solved that by telling us exactly how to get there. After two hot chocolates and a shared piece of carrot cake we were off. Horst and Michael were the only other cyclists in and helped us to our rooms where they had brought our luggage. Heather and Rosie had not cycled that day and they brought us food. A long hot shower did the rest. Other cyclists came trickling in just as miserable but soon the stories were flowing and all was well once again. Good food helped too.

Why do we do this – put ourselves in this position? We all know going in that we are at the mercy of the weather. This is a group of friends riding together, not a commercial trip. There will be no hand holding but we do all work together to help each other out. None of us expects help. We have all done adventurous things, hard things, before and don’t panic. We know that we will get through it. We know how great that shower is going to feel, or, in other adventures, how warm the sleeping bag will be, or a campfire, or maybe just a simple shelter from the storm. There are big rewards in these types
of days. They are hard to explain to people who don’t take chances. You really can never appreciate just how much better – how great that simple meal will be until you’ve been without. Never know just him much better a warm blanket feels until you’ve really been cold. Would we have preferred that that cold South wind and blast of rain had not happened? Preferred that the sun was out and we were dry and happy. Of course. However, we know the risks and gladly accept them knowing we can deal with them as just part of life.

The next day was a cruiser day of just 74K and was listed on Lindsay’s sheet as only 600+ meters of climbing. It turned out to be twice that amount of climbing but still damn easy compared to a lot of our days. I rode very easily and just enjoyed the day. We ended up just beyond a small village in a resort where we were treated to a really nice dinner that evening and breakfast the next morning. It was a good day for all as was our last day cycling on this trip. The ride to Bluff at the bottom of New Zealand was really enjoyable. We were greeted by a blue bird day with perfect temps for biking. On this last day I wanted to ride with Lee and Scott. We were joined by Rosie, Heather and Trish. Bridget was riding with her old friend Vince. Peter and Greg usually brought up rear every day – only Vince and Lindsay were behind them in their roles as Tail Gunners for any problems that might have occurred. Peter told me that Greg and he had devised a secret plan for the last ride. They were going to leave at 710 am knowing that everyone else was waiting for the 830 breakfast provided by the resort. With that 2 hour plus lead they hoped to be the first ones in on the final ride. Of course, they hadn’t counted on Q – he flew along the course because he had been asked to do some chores on the trailer as Vince and Lindsay had other projects to finish. But Q was the only one to pass Peter and Greg since the rest of us were moving along comfortably and just enjoying ourselves. When our group got to the lunch truck Kay passed on a message from Peter. “Buck, sorry to miss you at lunch.” – a not so subtle dig at me for always being gone by the time he would normally get to lunch. We all had a big laugh but as I pedaled along that afternoon I started thinking that it would be fun to throw it into gear and try to catch those two. Scott and I were taking turns leading the girls into the head wind but with about 20K to go I decided to sprint on out and see what might happen. I pushed hard those last K’s – biking anywhere from 29K/hr to 45K. In other words as fast as I could ride but as I approached Bluff and they hadn’t come into view I knew it was fruitless, It was fun to see them cycle so well on this day and to see Peter so happy not just about this day but also about the accomplishment of biking through all these difficult days as well as the easier ones on this 3000K plus ride.

It has been a real pleasure to ride with this group. Of course, as in any group of people of this size (about 20) there was some drama, a few people who complicated life unnecessarily, and a very few who didn’t get along. Overall, though, it was a group, especially those who did the whole ride, who formed a strong bond and a smooth operating team. I can’t say enough about the organization of the trip by Lindsay with so much help from Vince. Those two have been friends for forty years and are very bright capable people who also have the personalities that make things fun for all around them. I have been very lucky to be a part of this.

Having Scott and Lee along has also been a real blessing for me. Those of you reading this blog who know them easily understand what I am talking about. Just really fine solid friends who are such a pleasure to be around. They fit right in with the group as I knew they would. Neither had ever done a trip like this before – the distances, hardships, and time on the bikes were new to them. Scott was already a strong rider but for Lee biking has never been a big part of her activities. She was a real trouper – despite an early problem with chafing from time in the saddle, she became a really good rider on this trip. Not just getting stronger physically but also getting over the hump on letting go on the downhills which is a real challenge for any inexperienced rider. Lee is a super athlete in so many ways and now she can proudly say that she is a cyclist. I couldn’t be happier.

Although i made many new friends in the last few weeks, I would have to single out Peter as a real special kind of guy. He is like a big lovable teddy bear. Peter was my roommate for much of the time and I really came to appreciate the bubbly enthusiasm he brought to each day – his laughter is infectious and even though these days were often really hard for him, he came in with a big smile and no complaints. A family man, he called his wife and kids every day, sharing the days events with the pride and joy that he deserved to share. I have to say thanks to Peter here in this blog for making the experience so much better..

Bridget is also a very wonderful new friend who made my life here so much better just by being here. Also a roommate (until we gained two more women on the South Island and the numbers didn’t work unless the girls were together) we bonded quite early in the trip and shared most of our time together. She is loved by all here with her graceful personality and adventurous soul. She is also a very strong cyclist who has had many different adventure activities over the years (climbing, paragliding, running,etc.) executed on a high level which have given her that confidence and can do attitude. Though she lives in South Africa, I know that we will do more things together in the coming years. She’s really been a special treat for me to be around.

OK, enough accolades. Oh, I guess you who have been reading regularly know about Q and what a stand-up guy he is. He really has been.

Thanks for coming along on this adventure. I will try to add some photos as I get into Queenstown and have some internet and time.

Living in the Moment

IMG_0740IMG_0745IMG_0752IMG_0750March 12

I have been biking now for about seven weeks or so. As I have mentioned earlier in this blog, I really don’t think about the end of the trip. I have been able to totally get into the simple rhythm of this life. It seems like it will just last forever – I guess that’s not really the best description. I know that it will end but it just doesn’t enter my mind. I’m really living as close to being just in the moment as i can. Greg remarked earlier in the trip that I was the most relaxed unstressed person here. I will say this; I don’t watch television, read the news (except some sports which is a whole other topic) , look at anything related to my business, or enter the days rides with anything expectations. Being out of my daily home routine also seems to make the days seem longer and more full. Adventure does that for you. I know that I am very lucky to be able to do this now.

One of my fellow cyclists, Horst from Germany, does not have an end date. He quit his job as a manager in a German company which makes components for automobiles because he has decided that he wants more from his life than he was finding. Though well-paid and financially secure, he finds that not enough. The material things were not making him happy. This cycling trip is the start of a new life for him and so has no end. He has left his home, emptied his closets and given those things away thus paring his clothing down to his cycling and traveling needs that fit into his two bags. When we get back to Queenstown and get ready to fly back to our respective homes, Horst will be taking only those items that fit into two panniers on his bike and working his way up the East coast of this beautiful country. All that doesn’t fit will be given away. He has plans to go to Bali and other locations in Malaysia than maybe up to Thailand but these are vague and flexible thoughts. He is 54 – in thirteen more years he would qualify for a nice life pension in Germany. His only concern now is to find more fulfillment in his life.

I have never been on a trip without and end date and travel plans for home. I really don’t know how that would feel. But it does sound like a great adventure.

Our day off in Queenstown was a busy one. This little city sits on Lake Wakatipu, the third largest lake in New Zealand and is surrounded by mountains. It is simply gorgeous. After I finished my breakfast I heard that Vince was driving back up to Arrowtown for a coffee and breakfast in that cute little town that had been so welcome the day before when we were so wet and cold. Well, I’m cycling daily, I can eat another breakfast, so I jumped aboard with the other six bikers for the 20 K trip up there. French toast and good conversation, then Vince and Kay went shopping for an hour and the rest of us dispersed with the idea of meeting back at the car. Q, Bridget and i found a nice path along the river which took us to a little historic site where the Chinese had made their homes while working in the gold mines in the 1800’s. A few of the simple huts still remained. Some of the orchards that they had planted were also still there in new generations and it made for a lovely walk. Vince, Kay and John had reservations for a jet boat ride along the Shotover River in Glenorchy on the other side of Lake Wakatipu for 130 pm so we decided to ride along, then borrow the car to find a good hiking path while they were on their three hour adventure. So, ten minutes after getting back to Queenstown we piled back into the car for the wonderful ride along the 50K winding coastline to Glenorchy. The scenery was stunning. Michael, Horst, Bridget and I then took off in the car for the hour long ride up the Rees Valley road to a steep hiking trail leading to the site of the Invincible Mine – an old gold mine site dating back to 1862. On this end of the lake, two large mountain ranges emerged with Mount Earnslaw being the dominate snow capped peak, The view just kept improving as we worked our way up to the mine site. There were a number of artifacts remaining, including parts of the ore crusher and the water wheel which powered that unit. As usual when viewing such remote difficult sites, we tried to imagine just how difficult this life must have been. We met the others at the car and enjoyed the great ride taking us back to Queenstown.

The area around Glenorchy and Lake Wakatipu were the sites for the Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings movies. That may help you imagine just what a beautiful outdoor area we have been spending our time in.

Today we had a great ride from Queenstown down to Clyde along a gravel bike path which took us beside the Gibbston River gorge. It may be the most enjoyable bike path I have followed. We moved along numerous vineyards and up and down the sides of the gorge. A really nice suspension bridge over the gorge was a highlight as was a bungy jumping site on a bridge over the gorge. I was traveling with Q and Bridget – we stopped to watch a couple of jumpers. While not for me, I can imagine the rush of flying down towards the rushing swirling waters below with just a rope device between you and death. I took a couple of photos of jumpers with my phone and later wished I had used my camera as I caught one of them just leaping off the platform but the shutter speed didn’t allow for a clean clear image. Q left us after lunch to ride a rough track over the top of the mountain ridge into Clyde. Since it required wider tires than I had and suspension to be enjoyable, Bridget and I followed the main road down to the small historic mining village of Clyde.

The Beautiful Outdoors

IMG_3654IMG_3656IMG_3661IMG_3675IMG_3670March 11

The trip to Wanaka from Frans Joseph Glacier started out cold and overcast. I was tired after these several tough cycling days without a rest. Even Q had been complaining that his legs were dead. Terry was up early and wanted to ride with us so we took off at a fairly brisjk pace, then Bridget dropped off saying she wanted a slower pace. As we rode along I told Terry that I was tired and needed to ride on my own but agreed to move on together until we reached the big climb of the day, then he and Q should just push ahead together and I would tap along. The scenery was great, we had moved back into the rainforest which is so beautiful here on the South Island.

We had 141K’s with over 1600 meters of climbing. All you can do with that much climbing when you are tired is just slowly grind away on the pedals and let time get you up and over the slopes. Q and Terry waited at lunch for me and Bridget came into view not long after I get there. We continued on to the nice little outdoor town of Wanaka where we had a day off. The town lies on the banks of Lake Wanaka and is surrounded by large mountains. There are 4 ski resorts in the area plus a cross country ski area. We had pedaled past the rainforest – these mountains are mostly bare leading me to wonder about the effects of wind on the winter skiing. One of the areas still had quite a bit of snow up high. On our free day some of us hopped into the two vehicles and drove the 22K up to Cardrona to the famous hotel there for drinks and lunch. It was a lovely spot. The hotel dated from 1863 and had retained the old flavor of its bygone days. I took photos of the 1926 Chevrolet converted into a makeshift pickup and a very old cute little tricycle sitting in a shed behind the old hotel. We sat in the sun and enjoyed our meal and the chance to relax. It was a nice day here.

I’m finding it difficult to keep up this blog. We are a very social group. When we are done riding for the day there is always plenty of mingling and exploring to be done. The wine club, dinners and our early bed time haven’t left me much alone time for reflection on the day’s ride, people, and my own thoughts while traveling on the bike. This is not a complaint in any way- just letting you know why you’re not hearing much from me.

Our ride to Queenstown was a big day for all of us. It was not far – just 74K – but what a ride. The mornings are now quite cool. In the low 40’s. Today we were crossing a pass and Lindsay had warned us of big winds on top with rapidly dropping temps. We wouldn’t have a lunch truck because the roadway down the other side of the pass was too steep to pull our trailer down safely. The vehicles were taking a different route. Q, Bridget and I headed out back towards the old hotel we had visited the previous day with ominous rain clouds just ahead. Michael and Horst also joined us. The rain was moving along ahead and seemed to be dissipating before we reached it. We were thanking our lucky stars as the K’s passed by and we climbed up and around these big hills leading to the pass. Life changed very suddenly when we reached the top, however, and were hit head-on by sheets of cold rain driven hard by the big wind. It was a long steep cold drop down the other side. The rain penetrated my light raincoat like it wasn’t even there. My hands were numb riding the brakes in a desperate effort to slow down the freezing effects of this relentless blast downhill. Finally our Garmins indicated a turn onto a gravel side road. None of us could see very well with glasses dotted with rainwater. A short time after entering our new track, Q turned back remembering that Heather, who was behind us, had no Garmin and would probably miss the turn. Michael, Bridget and I waited but found ourselves too cold not to keep moving. The gravel track became a steep muddy downhill – my back wheel slid along the ruts at one point and I had to catch myself with my right hand to keep from following the bike into the mud. We were all shivering when we caught up to Scott, Lee, Wayne and Trish who had left before us this morning. We only had a short ride from there into the cute little town of Arrowtown where we dripped on into a nice little cafe. Two cups of hot drinks and a big breakfast restored us and the sun’s appearance in the clearing sky made the rest of the day really delightfull. Weather changes fast and often down here. Even the big headwind that met us on our ride into Queenstown did little to affect our buoyant spirits.

Q had waited for Heather and got her onto the gravel track but she took a bad spill coming down the muddy downhill. He ended up carrying both bikes all the way down the hill and pulling her along through the headwinds directly into Queenstown. Q is quite a guy.

I’ll have to finish later as it’s time for breakfast and another ride.

The West Coast

IMG_0697IMG_0704IMG_0707IMG_0713March 6

One of the best rides one could have was from Hanmer Springs to Reefton. I took only a couple of photos – the heavily forested ride through and over the mountains was so beautiful and flowed so nicely on the bike that I decided that this day was devoted solely to the ride. It was solely for me – for all of us cyclists. It was a fabulous day.

We did have over 1650m of climbing which was mostly over by lunch time and then a huge flowing downhill that wound through the river valley surrounded by the mountains we had been cycling in all day. This forest was more like Colorado or maybe parts of Montana than anything we had previously experienced in New Zealand. We started out with Q, Bridget and I and then Terry joined us at lunch time. I think that the trip itself was so inspiring that we arrived before two in Reeftown on what should have been a tough day, feeling great.

The first thing we looked for was a shop with thick shakes. That has become our drink of choice when we first arrive. We have been getting in before our truck and trailer so we don’t have clothes to change into if we shower so a visit to the nearest cafe is our first order of business.

Even though this ride left us feeling great it still was very long and tough – one does get worn down by the challenge of several long days on the bike. The following day’s trip to Hokitika felt long to me. My legs were feeling a little dead. The course was 137km with almost no climbing. We reached the west coast and followed it down to town. It was not the inspiring day that the previous one had been and though we were in quite early, I was bushed. The afternoon had brought showers and we were all wet and a little cold when we arrived at our Pub/Bar/accomodations. We also had no clothes to change into so showers were out till the the truck came. This Pub had 18 beds and there are 21 of us. I plopped down in a room with two beds and promptly took a nap. When I awoke the bags had arrived and there was a que for the single shower room. It turned out that two people were to sleep on cots in the bar and another in a spare room off of the kitchen. This was an old time Pub with many sports trophies, country flags, photos of great athletes and, of course, the televisions showing the horse races and dog races that pub patrons were always placing bets on. A few of the regulars had shown up and there was really a colorful bunch in their favorite chairs. When I got out of the shower and into a place at a group table, an old beater car pulled up outside the door and in came a good old boy with white hair matted in all directions, a scruffy beard, dirty old white T-shirt and a couple of dogs looking in from the car window who looked just like him. It was great. He ordered a pitcher of beer for himself and got right into the flow of the bar conversation. They had to get their drinking in early as our hosts were closing the bar early to take care of dinner for all of us.

We took a walk downtown and were amazed at all the shops selling jade. We had traveled through several old gold mining and coal mining towns along the way but Jade was king here. Peter was looking for something for his granddaughters so Q and I tagged along in quite a few shops until I spotted a Smoothie shop and settled in to have one. The joke between us started a few towns ago when I ordered two beers for them and a smoothie for me. Just lucky Vince hadn’t been there for that one. A smoothie is not quite manly enough for Kiwis who like their beer. We didn’t find anything for the grandkids but did find a spot for those two to enjoy a local brew.

Today we traveled 134K’s along what would have been a fabulous ride through the mountains to Frans Josef Glacier. The whole day was shrouded in fog and low hanging clouds which obscured everything down to about 100 feet. Rain followed us all day and we were pretty damn wet when we arrived. Again, we had no clothes to change into but we did find heaters in all of our rooms which warmed us up quickly. A barbecue was planned for six which gave us time to wander downtown in a place dominated by helicopter trips up to the Frans Josef Glaciers. We would’t have been able to see much today even if we wanted to go there but a couple of busloads of Chinese tourists were wandering around this little town unable to get to the glacier.

I found a smoothie and then headed home to enjoy the barbecue headed by Wayne and Scott’s skills as chefs.

South Island

IMG_0669IMG_3610IMG_3616IMG_0683March 3

Much has been happening since I last posted on this blog.

We were up early on a cool morning in Wellington after a wonderful group dinner party at Vince’s home the night before. Spiny Lobsters and venison were the highlight of a wonderful dinner. Vince and Lindsay both dive for these lobsters which they refer to as prawns and Vince’s son Michael had shot the Red Deer. Delicious! What a great dinner. We started the party at 4pm since we were getting up early to catch the ferry to Picton on the South Island. A three and a half hour ferry ride would await us from the Wellington terminal.

Bags were all down into the bike trailer by 6 am – Lindsay then gave us instructions for both the bike ride to the terminal and the process of getting our bikes aboard. As soon as we had enough light we were off. Wellington has a lot of big winds and the Cook Strait, which we are crossing, is known for the accompanying big seas so we were prepared for a rough crossing. The winds had switched to the south the day before, dropping the temperature, but keeping the swells small, though an area where the seas meet was sure to be very windy. We weren’t disappointed. A few of us spent most of the ride on the upper deck to try to get some good photos. However, as we got close to the South Islands we could see the swirling waters approaching and suddenly a huge wind hit us. I stayed on the deck as long as I could stand it but finally retreated inside to stay warm. Few photos of the rugged shoreline would be taken this day. The big ferry handled this turbulence with ease, however, and we off-loaded in Picton and headed off on our bikes for the short (28K) ride to our night’s home in Blenheim.

Blenheim, and the whole surrounding Marlborough area, is noted as the best of several different wine regions in New Zealand. Our ride through this area to St. Arnaud led us past vineyard after vineyard. The surrounding mountains provided a scenic backdrop. Scott, Lee, Q, Bridget and myself rode together to lunch and Terry joined us for the rest of the way. St. Arnaud is a small village in among big mountains. We arrived too early to get into our rooms so I wandered down a pathway behind the hotel to a stunning mountain lake – Lake Rotoiti. It was gorgeous. This region has ski hills, mountain bike trails and great trout fishing. There is still snow on some of the mountains here. The sun had come out and we all enjoyed basking in it after our cool morning ride. Life was pretty good.

Lindsay had written on our next day’s route info – BIG TOUGH DAY. It was a gravel road trip with lots of climbing (1700m) and wild country. When Lee saw the profile of the ride on Terry’s Garmin she just said, “Oh My God!” She promptly took a photo of it and posted it on Facebook. The climb on the Garmin looked so steep that we would have to drag our bikes and clambor hand over hand then slide down the other side. Of course, having experienced these compressed Garmin profiles before we knew better. But it was to be a very steep pedal on our bikes. Q, Bridget and myself took off ahead on the rough dirt track off of the paved approach country lane. We had a lot of little stream crossings during this day and on one of the early ones Q hit a boulder and went down. It was a cool morning and getting wet wasn’t in one’s best interests. It was the last we saw Q until we reached Hanmer Springs. He took off fast to stay warm. The rising sun did its job so he didn’t stay cold long. Bridget and I really enjoyed this remote ride up the valley and into the mountains. There were a number of gates to stop, open and pass through along the way as well as a stop at the only little abode we would see all day to pay a woman collecting money to pass through her section. It was only $2 for cyclists but 4-wheel drive vehicles had to fork over $25. We did see a handful of fisherman plying the streams with their flies but really nobody else along this very rugged stretch. We stopped for a few photos but a major high power line weaving its way along the same course left us with few unadulterated shots. We had been walking through the streams pushing or carrying our bikes but when we came to what appeared to be an easy shallow crossing I stayed on the bike (foolishly). Just about to pedal out on the far side I hit a hole and a boulder and over I went. Landing on my side in the water I instantly remembered my camera in a small pouch on the frame of my bike so I pushed the bike upwards away from the drink then scrambled up myself. Dragging both myself and the bike up the bank, I opened the pouch and to my great relief, found the precious camera dry and happy. Pulling my phone out of my back biking jersey pocket, I was amazed to find that dry too.
Pretty damn lucky. The sun dried all but my shoes out in no time. No more pedaling through these little streams.

It was a big long push up up to the top of the pass. Our feeling was that the work was now over so we plopped down in the soft mounded grass to eat our sandwiches and enjoy the views. Oh, how wrong we were. The 45 remaining K’s were on a miserable washboard of a track with big rocks and loose gravel that shook every bone in our bodies. It was a tribute to the makers of these bicycles that they can withstand such abuse. We would weave our way along the roadway always looking for a line that would give us some relief from this corrugation. But there was no real escape. What a relief to find ourselves finally in the beautiful mountain town of Hanmer Springs. We sat in our chairs with first a beer and then a soothing thick shake as we waited for the others to arrive. The wine club finally had enough members to convene and the stories flowed. Everyone was sore and tired but jubilant to be here in such a refreshing comfortable setting. The best things in life are those that are well earned.

Peter and Greg finally arrived after over 12 hours of riding. Peter had had 4 flats and a fall on the gravel road but yet was so chipper and happy to have gotten through this day. He was rightfully proud as he headed into the shower. Bridget, Q and I had had a great dinner earlier and now Peter was now off for the same.

Wild Coastline and Big Winds

IMG_0629IMG_0609IMG_0630IMG_0618IMG_0626Feb 27 and 28

Yesterday we all left together – we separated at about 23K’s into the ride. One group went with Vince on a Railway Trail trip along the side of a mountain on an old railroad bed and through a couple of tunnels – i went with the other group along the wild coast line heading towards Wellington. Both routes would be highly scenic but the coastal track required more technical mountain bike skills. There was a pretty good headwind as the ten of us with Lindsay moved along a small country road towards the rough track we would follow along the coast. Q and I took turns in the wind the first portion. However, this wind was nothing compared to what we would experience on the coastal track. The area we pedaled through is a gated park which is kept wild – there are still small cabins located along this 40K stretch but they are just small fishing shacks left over from another era. We gathered together just before we got on the rough trail to decide where we would stop to wait for all just in case someone were to fall and get injured. I soon discovered that the chances of that were quite high. Usually when I hear about a difficult trail it usually falls into my experience level as something pretty doable but when these Kiwis say that it’s difficult you need to perk up and listen. It was really rough. Sandy, yet mostly very rough rocky stretches with a lot of rock added where washouts had occurred the trail was constantly twisting up and down. In mountain biking momentum is your friend to get through the rocky stretches and to keep up enough speed to push through the sand as well. This was pretty technical for a bike like mine with narrower tires, no suspension and the short quick road handlebars which made it hard to keep maneuvering straight when bouncing from one rock pile to the next. All of us had to get off and push, especially through the deeper sand. I wanted to take photos but soon had to give that up as it took all of my concentration to keep the bike moving. The process of taking out my camera and getting it back into the bike case just took too long. I did manage to get a few shots.

Every chance the wind had to move down from the north and into our path it took full advantage of. It blew through the openings along the coastal bluffs and buffeted both us and our bikes. You just could not stay on the bike when the wind caught you with full force. The speed of that force was over 100Km/hr. At one point Horst and I got blown off our bikes simultaneously and into the sandpits behind us. We were pelted with sand through our helmets, into our faces, and down into our clothing. Everyone had sand everywhere before we finished this ride. When the wind forced you off of your bike you had better have a very firm grip on it or your bike would blow out of your hands. It was literally blown sideways from your hands. What a crazy day.

Yet it was beautiful along this rugged coast, the sun was out, and spirits remained high among us. We stopped in a small shelter for our lunch break and waited till everyone was accounted for then pushed on again. About 20K into our rough track the surface improved considerably. No move piles of sand in our path, it became similar to a rough gravel logging road. Now these I am very familiar with and my bike actually does very well. So do I. The last stretch became a real gravel road that in turn became paved and we were well on our way into the city of Wellington, capital of New Zealand. Following a twenty minute ferry ride, Lindsay navigated us through the city and down to the bay near the airport where our motel awaited us.

We had about an hour or so to shower before Lindsay’s daughters and Vince packed us up into their vehicles and off to Lindsay’s house we went. His home sits above Island Bay and has a magnificent view of the harbor below. It is a large multi-leveled home which takes full advantage of its steep setting to bring one along the layers of different uses of the structure. Lindsay and his wife, Barbara, have two lovely daughters and grandchildren (not sure how many) who made sure that we were all made welcome. We waited for all to arrive as both of the daughters had set up an official Maori welcome for us. The women of our group were to be the first to enter – if the men entered first it would designate a war party. A greeting both in English and Maori started the ceremony then we all took turns shaking a hand while lightly placing our noses and foreheads together with each of our four hosts individually and sharing a breath. A wonderful spread followed of several cuts of meat, salads, bread and appetizers. Of course, there was wine for all as well. What fun for us to all gather and enjoy the hospitality as well as stories of the day. Three kinds of desserts ended our culinary experience and we all departed fully sated and ready for bed.

We all have a day off today – I had breakfast with Lee and Scott, Peter, Sam and Marco at a wonderful busy little restaurant just a block or so down the beach. After cleaning my bike, I found a taxi to take me to a photo shop downtown to get a charger for my camera. I had brought the wrong charger with me, got a shop to charge it in Hobart but now needed to get it back in order before we take on the South Island tomorrow. Off we go to Vince’s house tonight for another group feast. Since we are leaving at 6 am for the big ferry we are starting at Vince’s at 4pm today.