Monday, March 31, 2014

Rest Day in Richmond/Nelson

I decided to hike the Abel Tasman coastal trail while I am in the area. This meant that today was dedicated to planning. Lorene and Brent are very gracious hosts and are letting me stay tonight and Wednesday night again once I'm back from the hike. They are also lending me a backpack and a set of shoes to walk in, and letting me store my bike and panniers at their place. They are so awesome!

Of course, planning didn't take the whole day, so I went and checked out the World of Wearable Art museum. WOW was started 25 years ago - and one of Brent's aunts is one of the founders! Crazy. The costumes these people create are simply astounding. 

I wasn't allowed to take pictures in the art museum, but cameras were allowed in the other part, the Classic Cars museum. I'm not a big car person but I did find a few interesting, such as the Delorian:

This little 60's German precursor to the Smart Car:

And of course, the Ford Model T. My grandmother drove through the Wild West in one of these when she was a child. 

I checked out the town of Nelson. It's a cute little town. They have free workout machines at the beach, which I thought was interesting:

I also checked out the church steps and the cathedral. 

Not sure what this was, but I thought it was interesting. It caught my eye on the way into town yesterday.

I had cycled into Nelson so I cycled back to have dinner with Lorene and Brent at their home in Richmond. The sky provided a nice view for the ride back. Which is good, because the ride is 12km one way. I always end up biking a bit even on my rest days. 24km! 

Tomorrow will be my first day completely, 100% off the bike. I wonder if it will feel like part of me is missing, or if I'll be glad for the break? Only time will tell! I'll be off in Abel Tasman National Park for a day and a half. Should be good fun. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Day 31: Picton to Richmond

March 30th 2014
Distance cycled: 118 km
Total distance to date: 1821 km

Set my personal record today! 118km. It took me 10 hours to get from Picton to Richmond (with some rest stops built in, of course, and a coffee break). It was a grueling, crazy, amazing day!

The day started off in the campsite kitchen, where I made myself some oatmeal and instant coffee. I also opened the fridge to find that someone had taken my lunch! I had made a curry the night before so I'd have something to eat today. Well, hopefully that person needed it more than I did. That, or it's too spicy for them and they choke on it and break out in hives.  

I left Picton at 10 (still not so great at getting up early) and started up the hills that I had conquered the night before. As soon as I glided down the other side of the 2nd hill, I came across a campsite. And another. And another. Man! If I had only kept going last night, I could have had a plethora of camping options. Probably cheaper, too, and free of curry thieves. So the combination of both that and the lost lunch were an irksome start to my day. Fortunately, the views of Queen Charlotte Sound cheered me up:

I pedaled through forest, through farmland, and past a bunch of cyclists doing a triathlon before I finally arrived at the fishing village of Havelock. 

Not much to see here, but apparently it's the green-lipped mussel capital of the world, so I had to stop and buy a mussel fritter, which was greasy and delicious. There were plenty of caf├ęs but my guidebook said the one in the next town was particularly good, so I promised myself a coffee break there. 

The next place, Pelorus Bridge, was little more than a swimming hole. The cafe there was filled with wet children and they all wanted ice cream. So getting my coffee took forever. But I needed to eat my (backup) lunch anyway, so I started in on my hodgepodge picnic as I waited for my coffee. 

The next 54km after Pelorus Bridge (and actually the 18km leading up to it as well) were all on Highway 6. I wore my yellow vest and put my towel, which is also fluorescent yellow, on the back of my bike so as to increase my visibility. I didn't want to get hit by the steady stream of cars, many of them which were towing boats, going back home after Sunday outings on the water. Luckily, not many big trucks were out since it was the weekend. 

This stretch was really tough. Many places had little to no shoulder. I was being passed by vehicles going 100kph, with most drivers being courteous but a few just not giving me enough space for comfort. There were two big saddles to conquer, totaling over 600m of climbing in all. I felt myself running out of puff on the second uphill and quickly stopped to scarf down half a cheese scone and some mixed nuts. I was beginning to think I might not make it to Richmond before sundown.

Things turned around when I finally finished the second saddle. A long, winding descent was a change from the straightaways, which is always good for cyclists since it forces motorists to slow down. I was going so fast that only one car caught up with me anyway. It was really fun and made all the better knowing I had cycled all that way. In no time at all, I was out of the mountains and headed into Nelson.

Of course it was getting later and later, and I was worried my WS hosts in Richmond might think I wasn't coming. So I texted them to say I was still on my way. They told me dinner would be there for me and to pedal pedal pedal! That I did, but I had to stop to take in some of the amazing coastal scenery:

Truly stunning. This was all enhanced by wonderful bike trails that start 6km outside of Nelson and go all the entire 12km to Richmond, mostly off-road and all paved. This was great as it gave me the beautiful views of the sunset without the fear of being mowed down by a car in the gathering dusk. It was a great last 18km, made all the better by a warm welcome from my WS hosts Lorene and Brent. True to their word, dinner was on the table. I got to visit with their 2 kids and Brent's parents as I ate a delicious dinner of BBQ chicken and beef with grilled veggies and rice, with a dessert of homemade lemon cake and cookies n'cream ice cream. 

So that was my personal record-breaking day. Makes up for taking 2 days off, doesn't it? But I actually may take another 2 days off from the bike to walk the Abel Tasman track, which is only 40km from here. It's supposed to be beautiful and comes highly recommended from everyone I've talked to. Plus I need to find the time to rebook my flights - they are all messed up and they won't be getting any cheaper the longer I wait. ah, logistics, you wily beast. 

Unintentional Rest Day: Wellington to Picton

Today was going to involve 35km of biking (not including the pedaling I did to get to the Wellington ferry terminal from Julie and Thomas' house). The plan was to get off the ferry in Picton around 5pm and bike to the fishing village of Havelock. Or at least start out and find somewhere to camp along the way. 

Well, that didn't happen. For one, the ferry arrived late. Secondly, there was a sign along the road from Picton stating "No Camping - Next 33 km", even though my guidebook listed a place about 10km out of town. And thirdly, there were two long hills to climb on the way out. I got to the top of the second one before I conceded that I wouldn't make it to Havelock, so I should turn back and camp at Picton. Which is what I did. 

Bonuses of turning back: I got to coast down the giant hill that I had just climbed. I got to see downtown Picton again. And I had time to snap a few pics. 

The ferry ride itself was ok. There are two different companies that operate passenger ferries on the Cook Straight. Since I'd taken the Interislander with my sister before, I decided to take the other one, Bluebridge. They had free wifi so I spent most of the ride on the internet. But I did manage to snap a few photos. 

So really, today was a rest day, with the exception of a bit of mountain biking I did with Thomas after breakfast before I left for the ferry. I took Julie's bike out and Thomas coached me (I'd never mountain biked before). He had wanted to go the night before at 10pm but I'm glad I waited until daylight for my first experience. It was scary enough without the darkness! I'm glad I tried it though - even though I fell over. 

Camping in Picton is overpriced. I am paying $20 for a tent site! But after staying with WS hosts for the last several nights, I suppose I am very spoiled. Time to see if the weather is warm enough for tenting!

Rest Day in Wellington

March 28th 2014
Distance cycled: 20 km
Total distance to date: 1703 km

Today I had a day off in Wellington. I took my time leaving Susan's house in Stokes Valley. At noon I finally rolled out of her driveway and started down the Hutt River Trail towards Lower Hutt to visit the Dowes Museum.

The Dowes was quite quaint and very quiet compared to Te Papa. They had a Jimi Hendrix piece called "Are You Experienced Yet?" which I liked since it reminded me of home (both Seattle and Berlin, for different reasons).

They also apparently have a robot that guards the local aquifer, but I couldn't find it. 

The final 15km or so into the Wellington city center were uninspired, as the bike trail was sandwiched between the railway line and the highway. But it did provide views of the harbor.  

I met Julie, my host for the evening, outside of Te Papa. We rode along the waterfront towards her place. It was an outstanding ride, flat until the very end when we had to climb a steep hill to get to her house about 100m up. The view from her house was fantastic!

And that was only from the street. Inside was even better. I'd never leave home if I lived in her house. On a clear day you can see the South Island! The drawback is that it is very, very windy up there. Wellington is apparently a very Windy City. 

Julie's partner Thomas came home and we shared a home cooked meal of curry with roti bread and rice. I was delighted since I'd been craving Indian food all day. They had me show them my route through the North Island on a map which was a nice way to cap off my tour there. I am done with the whole island! I can hardly believe it. They are both avid mountain bikers and have done many of the same rides in the North Island as I have. They also did a 22-month tour through much of the world, including North and South America, Europe, and Asia. So inspiring!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day 30: Martinborough to Stokes Valley (Upper Hutt)

March 27th 2014
Distance cycled: 66 km
Total distance to date: 1683 km

I said goodbye to Ed after morning coffee and breakfast and started towards Featherston. 

My book said this stretch was Grade 5, for expert riders, but I found it easy. However, I cannot ride Grade 3 mountain bike trails. Clearly they need two different scales, one for road riders and one for mountain bikers. 

I continued on my way to the Rimutaka Cycle Trail. 

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I felt guilty for taking it so easy the last few days. This trail swept all that away. 

It was a long slog up to the summit on a gravel cycle path. Along the way, I sweated my butt off and got a front flat. Working hard again!

There was also a gully that forced me to dismount and walk. It was so steep on both sides that I was barely able to get the loaded bike across. Plus I had to cross the stream without getting too wet or letting the bike fall over in the river. Definitely a challenge. 

There were several tunnels that I had to go through, the longest of which was 600 meters. That one was kind of scary, even though I had my headlamp. 

I sang to myself as I biked through the long tunnel, partially to hear the echo of my voice and partially to distract myself from the claustrophobia. It took about 5 minutes to bike but felt much longer. 

When I finally emerged on the other end, I found I was at the summit. There was a nice park/picnic area there, much unlike anything on the other side of the trail from where I'd just come. I also found a Dutch man named Eric who was also cycle touring the country. He was the only other person I'd seen on the trail. I stopped to eat a late lunch (it was after 4pm) and chatted with him for a bit. We informed each other about the different sides of the trail, since we were headed in opposite directions. I told him about the gully. He told me about the trail barriers. I assumed they were squeeze barriers like the ones I'd seen on other trails and at the start to this trail. Nope!

These barriers were too narrow to squeeze by, too low to go under. The first one had just enough room on the far side of the gate to get by. The second one did not and I was preparing myself to have to strip everything off the bike when a guy from the other side of the barrier approached and offered to help me lift it over. 

"It's heavy," I said. 

"No worries," he replied. He also had a bike and a rifle since he was headed to the shooting range that was along the bike trail. A guy with a bike and a gun can certainly lift a 35-kilo bike-plus-gear setup. Otherwise he's not a MAN. 

Once I cleared the 2nd barrier, I rode a stretch of road filled with the worst potholes I'd seen in New Zealand. This road led to the highway. The cycle signs led up a side road, which I took, but I hesitated at the turnoff to the trail because of yet another barrier. And the trail was gravel. I knew the highway would be more direct, but busy with traffic. After a few moments' contemplation, I headed for the highway.

Best. Choice. Ever. The entire 2km stretch was downhill and had a decent shoulder. By the time I reached the end of the descent, there were signs again for the cycle path. Rad!

Partially on the cycle path, partially on the highway, I meandered my way to Upper Hutt, where I stopped to message my WS host. I couldn't remember if I'd told her an arrival time but it was already 6:30 and the sun was getting close to setting. Plus she has kids so I wanted to make sure I got there before their bedtime. I found a main road that paralleled the highway, had a nice bike lane, and took it into Stokes Valley, past a strange police blockade that was stopping all the cars but waved me through.

Finally, as it was about to get dark to the point of needing bike lights, I arrived at my host's house, a little brown house on a hill with a pointy roof. I climbed up the steepest driveway I'd ever seen - so steep that I'm nervous about getting the bike down it again tomorrow!! I was greeted by two girls aged 8 and 10 and their dog, who was barking excitedly. Susan came to the door and let me in. She is an awesome punky Kiwi in her mid-forties, totally not what I was expecting. She and her partner have this amazing house which is decked out in all sorts of cool 70's animal knickknacks and has 4 levels, all connected by a spiral staircase. It's like Peewee's Playhouse in here. I LOVE IT. I wish it were my house.

Susan made dinner, which was a cornucopia of whatever she could find in the fridge. We had sweet corn on the cob, beans, potato wedges with hummus and homemade pesto, shredded cheese with sliced green onion. It was chaotically delicious.

Susan and her partner refer to me as their couch surfer, which is OK with me. They haven't gotten any requests through CS in the last 3 years. I'm their first WS guest but Susan hates the website's name and plus they just really like couch surfing. 

I want to be these people when I grow up. 

Day 29: Masterton to Martinborough

March 26th 2014
Distance cycled: 50 km
Total distance to date: 1617 km

After a leisurely morning at George's house with lots and lots of coffee, I finally set out for Martinborough.

I feel like I might be taking it a bit too easy, only doing ~50km a day. But it allows me to relax as I ride, knowing that I have plenty of time to hey to the next destination. And it allows wiggle room for setbacks, like mechanical issues, or in today's case, a livestock roadblock:

Anyway, it was a beautiful day, if not a little windy for my taste. Fall is definitely in the air here in New Zealand!

My WS hosts tonight, Ed and Vicki, are totally rad orchestra people. Ed plays French horn and Vicki plays double bass. They both played in the NZSO (New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) for many years. A documentary about the orchestra's 2011 European tour was on TV and we watched it with Ed and Vicki providing live behind-the-scenes commentary. I was just tickled to witness it and catch glimpses of them on screen. Ed is also from Washington State (Spokane) and did the STP last year so we had lots of stuff to talk about. He showed me around the village of Martinborough and we had a beer together, then he made spaghetti bolognese and salad for Vicki and me. I am so happy to get to meet such interesting and hospitable people.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Day 28: Alfredton to Masterton

March 25th 2014
Distance cycled: 47 km
Total distance to date: 1567 km

Ok, so today was gonna be a big day. 95km! I got up, made my oatmeal, packed and left camp by 9:30am. Good! Then I rode 47km through scenic farmland along country backroads to Masterton. Awesome! I was there by 12:30pm. I called the Warm Showers host who I had meant to stay with the night before but hadn't made it in time. Wanted to see if I could at least meet him for lunch.

George invited me over for lunch, fed me, gave me coffee and a wifi password, showed me the double bed and bathroom which would be mine if I chose to stay, told me of a dinner his friends were throwing that I was welcome to join that evening, then left for the afternoon to do some work in Wellington. 

Well, you can guess what happened. 

So yeah. I took the afternoon off and relaxed at George's house. We ate dinner at Jan and John's house, a wonderful meal with wonderful company. I am full of lamb and roasted potatoes and spoiled to be inside while a storm rages on outside, glad to have a bed instead of having to be in a tent. Life is too good sometimes!!!

One side note to fans of Flight of the Conchords: Jemaine Clement grew up in this very town. One of my fellow dinner guests had even gone to school with him. Crazy! I got very excited about this. Perhaps a little too excited. People ask me "Why New Zealand?" and I have a lot of answers to that but I'm usually too embarrassed to admit that FOTC is one of them. 

Tomorrow I'll probably stay in Martinborough (only 50km away) with the retired symphony members and then see what my hosts in Wellington are like. It'll be a slow roll into town. Taking my sweet time. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Day 27: Palmerston North to Alfredton

March 24th 2014
Distance cycled: 67 km
Total distance to date: 1520 km

It took me forever this morning to leave Palmy. I quite like it. It's a pleasant place. But also I'm just slow to get going in the morning. 

There was also lots of free wifi to be had in town and I got sucked in for a little bit looking at my Tumblr and FB feeds. Then I got hungry so I had a meal at Burger King, which I regretted later as I climbed up the big hills out of town. But you can get a full meal deal there for 5 bucks! I have to stop doing that though. It's not proper nutrition and my body doesn't really run well on it. Definitely the wrong fuel for a cycle tour. That hill out of town was killer and enough to convince me that BK cheeseburgers are not gonna cut it. 

Outside the BK was this little pup. 

It made me think of my friend Michael's blog project, A Lone Woof. I stopped to pet it. A lady came out to check on the dog and told me she was just the foster mom, that the dog was up for adoption. OMG! I wanted this little guy so badly. Maybe I could get a basket, mount it to the bike, take the dog with me on the road... Poor thing would probably hate that!

I had my first really scary moment today where I thought I was going to get hurt. My chain slipped off the chainring when downshifting and suddenly I was spinning my pedals without moving forward on a hill. Of course my feet were still clipped in. I nearly fell over but managed to unclip one foot before I tipped. Man, that was close! And of course a pickup truck was coming up the road so I could have gotten hit or run over. Won't let that happen again! 

I cycled from about 1pm to shortly before 7pm. I was still 47km from my goal since it took me all morning to leave Palmy. But doing 110km in one day would have been a stretch anyway. So instead, I bunked down in Alfredton for the night. 

The campsite here is the old town domain. There is an old run-down kitchen and tennis court, but the place appears to have been overtaken by sheep. And a wild peacock came along to say hi, too. 

The only other campers are a retired couple from the South Island, Ray and Rona. They are in their motorhome and I am in my "wee tent", as Ray calls it. 

Tomorrow I'll do the 47km to Masterton, then decide if I want to stop there for the night or continue on to Martinborough. Both places have WS hosts that said they would host me. I am edging towards blasting on through so I can set myself a new daily record (97km) and participate in choir practice with the hosts in Martinborough. They are retired symphony professionals!

Day 26: Apiti to Palmerston North

March 23rd 2014
Distance cycled: 78 km
Total distance to date: 1453 km

Apiti might as well have been a ghost town. I didn't see a soul the entire morning even through it took me 2 hours to pack up camp. The rest of the day was like that too. Really remote, beautiful countryside. 

I did come across a tearoom/farm about 2 hours into my ride. It was called the Pilgrim's Rest, which of course reminded me of the camino.

I ordered my first Devonshire tea - a farm scone with whipped cream, farm-grown raspberry jam and an entire French press of coffee for myself:

I was in heaven. I chatted with the owner, Margaret, as she prepared the food for me and then proceeded to feed some scones out the window to her pet deer. His name was Chicken. He was 24 years old, deaf and blind, and Margaret had raised him since she found him abandoned by his mother as a baby. 

The ride to Palmerston North was mostly downhill and I had a tailwind, so I practically flew the last few kilometers into town. I veered off the main highway to catch the river trail into the city. Man, what a great trail! Reminded me of the Burke-Gilman. My guidebook said it would be gravel but thankfully it was paved. It was Sunday so plenty of people were out cycling or walking their dogs. (None of them are in my pictures, though. Trust me, they were there... or they are all vampires.)

On the way into town, I saw eggs on sale out of a microwave. Awesome. I've seen microwaves used as mailboxes and have decided I'm going to do that someday too. 

My hosts in Palmy (as the Kiwis say) were Pamela, a librarian and her husband Andrew, who runs his own business doing sports event timing. Interesting career! We had a proper feast for dinner along with their son Graem and his girlfriend Georgia. Leg of lamb, roasted kumara, sourdough bread, delicious salad with an amazing vinaigrette, followed by a homemade vanilla custard with pears and quince sauce. It was so perfect and I felt like the guest of honor at Thanksgiving. I also had my own room with my own bed and access to the family's wifi. It's going to be difficult to pay it forward when the hospitality is so astoundingly good!! I've got hosts lined up for nearly the rest of my stay on the North Island, which is only 5 more nights. Can't believe I'll have the entire island behind me soon!