All posts by Tom & Amy

Random musings on Iceland

Gulfoss Falls with rainbow

In no particular order, here are some fun facts we learned during our week in Iceland. Isolation and constant freezing lead to some interesting cultural adaptations…

  • Dating Challenges: Iceland was first settled in the 800’s. Given the remoteness of the island there has historically been very little migration. As a result of 1300 years of isolation most of the 330,000 people who live here are related in some way.  Needless to say, that creates some awkward possibilities when selecting a possible life partner.

Leave it to the cell phone to find a solution – The Iceland incest prevention app. Users bump their phones together and the app tells them just how related they are.  It’s up to the user to decide if shagging their 3rd cousin twice removed is acceptable or not.

  • Names: Icelandic is not an easy language to understand. Think Elvish from Lord of the Rings. Complicating matters is that Icelanders don’t follow the normal rules when naming their children. Rather than passing down a surname from generation to generation, instead the surname is either the Mother or Father’s first name, followed with “son” or “dottir”. For example, the singer Bjork, probably Iceland’s most famous musician, is named “Bjork Guimandsdottir” because her Mother’s first name is Guimand. Just to complicate things further, the phone book lists people by their first name,
  • Icelanders believe in Elves and Trolls: Oh, they will deny it if asked, but they are unlikely to do anything to anger the hidden creatures. On the way back from one of our excursions the road inexplicably  made a small bend around a rock outcropping. It turns out that this rock formation is an Elf Church. The road crews were going to demolish this outcropping, but equipment kept breaking down and workers were routinely getting injured. Eventually they decided to appease the Elves and bend the road around this 10 meter section of rock.
  • No Santa Claus: Icelandic children don’t hear stories about Santa Claus. Instead, they hear about the Yule Lads. The 13 Yule Lads are basically mischievous little assholes who torment bad children in small ways. A new one comes out each day starting on December 12, and hangs around for two weeks. Each one has a particular fetish. For instance, Stufur likes to steal pans so he can eat the crust from them. Huroaskellir slams doors in the middle of the night. Kertasnikir steals candles from children. Oh the stories we tell our kids to make them behave…
  • Par-boiling the dead: The town of Selfoss, about 30 minutes from Reykjavik, has no cemeteries. Geothermal activity is everywhere in Iceland, and this town has a particularly high water table.  Buried corpses were essentially being cooked in their graves. A private church was built on a hilltop outside of town just so townspeople would have a place to bury the dead.
  • Viking form of government: The original Viking settlers were looking to escape the control of the King. They decided that there would be no ruler and invented a really unique form of government. Over their 1300 year history Iceland has never had a Monarch. Here’s what they did.

Once a year they held a gathering of clan elders. A giant party ensued in what became essentially the world’s first parliament. People would come to the council with grievances. Let’s say two neighboring clans had a dispute. Things escalated, and a blood feud was about to erupt. The leaders of the two clans would state their cases and the elders would make a decision.

Neither side was obligated to abide by the results. There was no national police force or army, so that meant there was no enforcement mechanism. So what compelled people to abide by the decisions? If a clan decided not to accept the decision that was their right. However, for the next seven years they were forbidden from bringing another case to the elders. For seven years all other tribes could act with impunity against this tribe.  Being outside of the protective umbrella for seven years was incentive enough for most tribes to comply.

  • Reykjavik is a small city: About 250,000 people live here (out of the total population of 330,000). The city wasn’t designed with tour buses in mind so the city has rules about where they can go. There are designated bus stops all over the place. Google “Reykjavik  bus stops” for a map. Ours is at the church two blocks away. When you book a tour or transport to/from the airport you will likely be dropped off at one of these spots. Be aware, Icelanders are PROMPT. If your excursion starts at 9:00 then you will be picked up between 8:30 and 9:00 at the bus stop. If you’re not there on time then it’s your loss.

                 

 

 

 

How to not go broke in Iceland

As our public service for the day we’d like to pass on some hard-earned (i.e. expensive) knowledge for any potential visitors to Iceland.

Iceland is expensive. Really expensive. Stupidly, insanely expensive. Did I mention that it’s expensive here?  As a general rule you can assume that pretty much everything you do or buy costs about twice as much as you would expect.  So here are a few ways to ease the pain.

  • AirBnB rooms are about half the price of hotels. We have a lovely private apartment all to ourselves with its own kitchen . The Hallgrimskirkja church in the center of town is two blocks away so we’re close to everything. This is one of the more expensive AirBnb’s and it is $140 a night. The Fleabag Inn motel is about $300 a night.
  • Do NOT take a taxi from the airport into town. It’s about a 40 minute ride and cost us $170. Ouch. There are airport shuttles you can book in advance that cost about $30 per person.  They won’t probably drop you at your residence , but it’ll be close enough. Check out the bus stop locations. You’ll specify which one when you make the reservation. We have one 2 blocks from our place. The stops are all over the town and one will undoubtedly be close to your rental.
  • Food is CRAZY expensive. If you don’t mind doing a little cooking while on vacation then go to one of the local grocery stores and pick up some supplies.  Avoid the green 10 11 stores. Instead try Bonus, with the piggy as an emblem, or Krambuo, which is kind of like a 7-11. You can get eggs, milk, soup, and all sorts of supplies.
  • This goes for your tours as well. Most of the excursions include a lunch stop at one of the sites. A simple lunch for two can easily cost $70, so pack a sandwich and a soda.
  • Alcohol is also wickedly expensive. A cocktail at a local pub can easily be $22. A draft beer is usually at least $10. If you want alcohol in your room you’ll have to visit the state-owned liquor stores called Vinbuoin. They close at 7, and there are only a couple of them, but this should be much cheaper than restaurants and pubs.
  • Most every visitor takes tours. They’re terrific. However, with a rental car you can visit many of the locations for free, or for much reduced costs. In particular, Blue Lagoon has a big parking lot. You still have to pay to enter, but you control your schedule. Gulfoss Falls, Thingvillir National Park,  the Geysers, and many others are free to visit. You just have to be willing to drive in Iceland.
  • Book your tours well in advance (Thanks Amy!) . They sell out well before you get here.
  • A 3-4 day stay is probably long enough unless you  have specific goals in mind. Reykjavik is a little town and there’s not a ton to do outside of sightseeing

 

 

 

Wilburrrr

 

All growth comes from outside your comfort zone…

I checked another item off my bucket list, and Amy got reacquainted with an old passion. We rode Icelandic horses today on a delightful tour. And only one potential disaster, narrowly avoided.

To be honest, I’ve been hesitant about horseback riding. Never having been around horses as a kid, and knowing nothing about it, getting on the back of a large animal and hoping it doesn’t throw you to the ground is pretty intimidating.

Our host was an engaging, funny woman who has been running her  company, Islenski Hesturinn (easy for me to say!) for about 7 years. She caters to first-timers, and the Icelandic horse is probably an ideal first-timers ride. They are remarkably mellow, and short, squat beasts. As our tour guide for the Games of Thrones put it, mostly tongue in cheek, “Don’t call them ponies, they’re not fuckin’ ponies”! Icelanders take their horses very seriously.

We had a quite-detailed training presentation where she went through the ways of controlling our horses: How to turn, where to hold the bridal, how to get on and off, plan B if something goes wrong, etc. It all made sense at the time, and mostly worked other than one episode which I’ll get to later.

We went out and met our horses. Mine was named Gauwk II. Amy’s was Gymir. See the photos above. By the way, more are coming. Taking photos while riding is not a good idea, so our host took them for us. It takes awhile for her to upload them though, so we’ll have to wait.

She was very careful about assigning horses to riders. Since Amy was an experienced rider she got a former show horse that was highly receptive to her commands. Mine was pretty mellow, acting basically how a horse would act after drinking a glass of wine. Which suited me just fine. When she asked about my riding experience I said I was going to tell her something that she’d probably never heard before. I’ve ridden an Elephant and a Camel, but I’ve never been on a horse . I’m so special. Not so much as it turns out. She’s heard that before, including a guy who had also ridden a pig but hadn’t been on a horse. I guess I’m not so special.

I was helped up onto the saddle and immediately thought “oh shit, what have I done!” I’m on the back of a large animal and basically have no idea what I’m doing. Fortunately Gauwk was used to moronic newbies and pretty much just followed along after his friends.

Our instructor told us that there are 5 possible gaits a horse can take, and one called the Tolt that is unique to this breed of horse. If we lean back in the saddle and spread our feet wide in the stirrups the horse trots in a way that has almost no bounce.  Only one leg at a time touches the ground. I could definitely tell the difference between a Tolt and a Trot since the Trot involves lots of bouncing and related spinal-cord and testicle injuries.

After a few minutes in the saddle I started getting comfortable. Gauwk mostly just followed the horse in front. Making him turn right and left seemed to work fine. Accelerating and stopping were a bit more of a challenge, but he only occasionally bumped into another horse or banged my leg on a fence or rock.

The course we followed was geologically stunning, carved out by boiling pits of water after a volcanic eruption. Large red oxidized lava formations, moss-covered rocks, winding trails, geothermal vents, and expansive views made for a scenic wonderland.

We stopped so our guide could take individual photos of each of us. When my turn came I easily maneuvered Gauwk up to the photo spot, and afterwards returned him to the group. “I got this” I thought. Well, maybe, or maybe not so much…

Shortly thereafter we all regrouped again and our guide asked us to ride single-file and stay to the left side of the trail as there was a narrow section up ahead. I was bunched up with some other riders, and on the far right side of the trail. I tried to pull Gauwk to the left, but something went wrong. I don’t exactly know what. My right foot slipped out of the stirrup, the horse jerked his head from side to side, we went straight right, and stopped on the edge of a steep drop-off that would have resulted in a 30 foot tumbling descent on lava rock. Not fun.

There were several audible gasps as everyone immediately stopped. One of the guides turned around, and I could tell from the look on her face that we “had a situation”. I completely froze. I tried to get my foot back in the stirrup but couldn’t find it, and each attempt only seemed to make things dicier. After a couple of anxious moments I said “I’m about to get off this horse”. Fortunately Gauwk had no interest in tumbling off a cliff either. We stood there on the edge of the drop-off until one of the assistants told me to pull the reins to the left. Once away from the abyss we were able to get situated again and the ride continued. My heart came down out of my throat, but any excess confidence I might have had was now tempered by the reality that I don’t actually know what the heck I’m doing.

We continued on and finished the rest of the ride without incident. Even with my scary episode it was really enjoyable. Amy absolutely loved her horse, and was able to gallop ahead a few times. Once we got the horses back to the pen, and the saddles and bits were removed, the horses put on a final show for us. It was play time for them, rolling around in  the mud and grooming each other.  Really fun stuff. We’re a little sore after using muscles that aren’t used to this kind of activity, but all-in-all I think I’d try it again.

Ride day 12: Motueka to Fairwell Spit

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Champagne for the victors!

Well done! The epic New Zealand cycling adventure draws to a close. We arrived at Fairwell Spit, the northernmost point on the South Island, after yet another amazing experience on the roads.

Today had a little of everything: The 3rd of New Zealand’s iconic climbs, a free-fall descent, more beautiful countryside, and finally a celebration on the beach at the end of the road.

Our rollout from Matueka took us past some of the flood damage. Fortunately the river had receeded some. Most of the damage was pretty minor. Here is a local apple orchard with the crops underwater.

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Flooding from the storms

Soon enough we started the ascent up the Takaka Pass, rated as the #3 most scenic road in New Zealand. It’s not a torturous climb, but it is pretty relentless with grades in the 5-8% range most of the way and a couple of steep pitches thrown in. The views get increasingly nice the higher you climb.

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Enjoying the climb
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The Tasman Bay down below where we started

After a couple of photo opportunities along the way we found ourselves at the summit. Jos’s wife Lynn just happened to be coming by as we were at the summit so we talked her into taking a group photo for us. We were sweating like crazy here and decided to add some layers for the descent.

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Summiting the last of our 3 iconic climbs

The descent was a screamer affair, with very few curves and mostly excellent pavement. You could just let the wheels fly. Our destination was the valley below, reached in the matter of a few kilometers.

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Looking forward to descending into the valley below!

After regrouping at the bottom of the climb the hard work for the day was essentially done. We had about 60 km left, with a few rollers and a couple of steep pitches, but for the most part we just enjoyed our last few hours on the bikes.

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A roadside shoe collection

About 10 km from the finish we rounded a corner and caught our first sight of the sea. Fairwell Spit is created by the tides and wind reaching the top of the island. The sand essentially wrapps itself like a finger over the top of the island, providing a natural harbor for Golden Bay.  There was a lovely symmetry to the start and end of the ride, with ocean smells and breezes providing the sensory environment.

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First sight of the sea

We reached the end of the paved road, but that wasn’t quite the end of the story. We rode another km up a bumpy gravel bit, reaching a restaurant on the top of a little hill. We took some photos, declared victory, and then decided we had to go down to the beach after all.

More photos and a bottle of champagne later we had officially declared victory this time!

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It always seems a little strange packing the bikes at the end of an adventure like this. It never quite seems real that we’re actually finished. We did decide to do a little more celebrating though.

We headed to the Mussel Inn on the way into town. This place has a beer crafted using a recipe from Captain Cook himself. One of the local plants adds the spice to this beer. Very refreshing!

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Enjoying a well-deserved beer

A well-earned rest day followed, with a leisurely breakfast, some gift shopping, a long nap, and a wonderful celebratory dinner to share some war stories from the trip and just revel in our excellent adventure.

I’ve used the word “epic” a lot while describing our adventures, but only because it’s the most fitting word. The scenery, the environment, the friendship, the support from our gals, and Jos’s unbelievable organizational skills and attention detail led to an experience that we will all treasure for the rest of our days.

Ride day 11: The Penultimate ride, Murcheson to Motueka

Yesterday’s rains continued all night and into the morning. The forecast called for mid-morning clearing, so once again we suited up and headed out into the rain. We wouldn’t find out until after the ride just how severe the storms had been.

Five inches of rain fell in 4 hours. Franz Josef, our destination five days ago (with the space-age public toilet), is in a state of emergency. The river flooded its banks, the city’s water supply is cut off, and one of the motels had to be evacuated. Motueka, our current rest stop, flooded overnight. They received about 5 inches of rain in a few hours and the Motueka River (pictures later) overflowed its banks.

Given all that, we’ve been extraordinarily lucky. We changed the routes on a couple of days, and yesterday we cut the ride short. Other than that the only ill effects we’ve had have been from riding in wet cycling shorts. If our schedule had changed a day here or there things could have been very different.

So we headed out this morning, ignorant of all that was going on around us, and grumbled / joked about another soggy day. About 20 km in the rain stopped, the sun shone magnificently, and we had beautiful weather for the rest of the day.

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We headed up a long, pretty mellow climb, and then hit the grunting portion of the day – a 3 km goat hill with a beautiful panoramic view. This was the lunch spot for the day and we just hung out talking to a Canadian couple, enjoying the views, and drying completely out.

Today is the day before Easter weekend so there was a fair amount of truck traffic on the road. One logging truck in particular, followed by a convoy of cars, came rolling through on a tight section of road so I intentionally rode into a ditch just to avoid a possible incident. No harm, no foul…

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We had a coffee stop further up the road and Jos ran into a cousin he hadn’t seen in a couple of years. It’s a small world down here. Yesterday Terry bumped into a cyclist he had ridden with on a trip from Paris to Istanbul.

 

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From here all the way in to town we rode on lightly traveled bucolic roads. At one point I decided to just ride by myself for a while, watching the river rush by, listening to the sounds, and having a Zen-like moment on the bicycle. These kinds of moments are magical, and while they don’t happen very often, when happenstance presents them I try to take full advantage. No pictures here, I just lived in the moment.

We regrouped and rode in the rest of the way on a road described by a friend of Jos and Terry’s and being the nicest road in New Zealand. I have no way of assessing the validity of that opinion, but it really was nice.

 

Click me — Video of the tree tunnel

The river really was raging along. Here are a couple of pictures along the way.

 

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Tomorrow wraps up the cycling adventure!

Ride day 10: Charleston to Murcheson

Two days in a row was a bit much to ask for. Today’s forecast called for rainfall of up to an inch an hour, along with wind gusts of up to 60 km / h. Time to revise our plans. The bad stuff was scheduled for late morning, and growing worse as we travelled inland along our planned route, so we decided to stay along to coast to the town of Westport, and detoured to a couple of stops along the way. Our planned 110 km with tons of climbing turned into a relaxing 45 km.

Our first stop was at Cape Foulwind, named by the famous Captain Cook. He chose the name either after difficult seas and winds prevented him from landing, or from the aftereffects of his first-ever steak burrito. The historical records are a bit unclear.

The girls met us there and we went for a nature walk along the bluffs, enjoying the views and exploring the plant life along the way.

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My photographer doing her thing

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After our tour of the area we hopped back on the bikes and rode to a seal colony down the way. The lookout point is located high above the rookery. Looking down we initially couldn’t see anything, but after awhile the seals became apparent. Their color blended in so naturally with the rocks that they were difficult to spot.

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View from the lookout

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Zoomed way in

The rain started in earnest as we were loading back into the van. Having timed the rain almost perfectly we headed into the town off Westport for lunch and a little sightseeing.  Finally we headed along the Buller River on the road we had hoped to ride. It’s a shame we couldn’t ride it as it would have been beautiful on a sunny day.

Tomorrow’s forecast  looks better, with a dicey bit in the morning and sun in the afternoon. Two riding days left!

Ride day 9 – Hokatiki to Charleston, cruising along the beach

Mother Nature smiled upon us today. That bright yellow orb in the sky finally showed itself, leading to absolutely marvelous views as rode North along the coast.

Yesterday was a really nice rest day, with bacon and eggs for breakfast, hair solon sessions for the ladies, a trip to the local gold mining museum for the boys, a nice nap, and basically a lot of time to recover from 6 consecutive days of riding. We spent some time at a local jade shop. In a small-world coincidence, the jade carver is the brother of Jos’s brother in law. We found a couple of nice pieces of jewelry made from local New Zealand jade right here in Hokitika.

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Packing the van

Today brought a more significant ride challenge: 112 km with over 1,000 meters of climbing, most of it at the end of the day. The scenery more than made up for any tired legs though. We found a couple of lighter moments during the day.

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Goofiness on the road

 

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Terry on the railroad bridge

 

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Uhhh, fill in your own tag line…

Most of the day we rode along the coast, with views that would make Big Sur jealous. If we had to pick a day for sunshine, this was a great choice.

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Pancake Rocks was the highlight of the day. We took an extended break at this spot, going for a walk on an incredible rock formation jutting out into the ocean. The pancake rock formation is a bit of a geological oddity. Nobody really knows how the formations happened. At high tide blow holes shoot through the rocks. It’s really quite stunning, and with the sunshine and the company it was even nicer.

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We stayed at a roadside motel run by a lady who is either extremely nice or really lonely. Maybe both. She talked our ears off, gave us tons of free stuff, and plied Amy with free champagne.

Shortly before sunset Jos, Amy and I went down to the local beach and took sunset pictures.

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Finally, we stumbled upon a 19th century graveyard. We wandered around after dark under a full moon. Freddie Kruger never showed his face, but I think we got lucky.

 

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Thoughts on the Westlands

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Crossing over the Haast Pass we officially arrived in the Westlands, the Western coast of the South Island here in New Zealand. To say it’s a different sort of place would be an understatement. I’m pretty sure I’m not tough enough to live here.

The region averages 70 – 100 inches of rain a year. Seattle or Porlandiers might not mind it, but you have to love the wet. The entire region is home to only 32,000 people, so if you want to get away from it all or drop off the radar entirely, this is the place to be.

Sandflies, or midgies as the locals call them, are everywhere. The size of a tiny gnat, these devil-spawn bite incessantly, leaving welts on any exposed skin. Interestingly though, it’s only the females that bite. The males are content to spend their days sucking on nectar and maybe hoping for a little action. The females make life miserable for anyone not wearing full-length clothing. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere, although I’m failing to understand it at the moment. Abel Tasman was the first white man to visit here in 1642. The Maori canoed out to greet him and promptly killed 6 of his men. I think the Maori were taking out their aggressions after a particularly rough night with the sandflies.

Given the sparseness of the population, things like internet or cell service are dicey at best. We take our 4G connectivity for granted, but down here cellular connectivity only exists in a couple of towns. Wi-fi is spotty and typically charged by the megabyte. We rarely have connectivity solid enough to do much useful.

Tiny little towns line the main road along the coast. Calling them one-horse towns would be optimistic. The horse ran away ages ago. Most bridges are one-lane, with traffic control basically done on the honor system.

And yet…the beauty of the place is simply astounding. One moment you’re in dense, lush rainforest. The next you’re on the ocean. Impossibly green mountains jut straight up from the valleys, giving views that would seem to only exist in a watercolor painting. The rainfall has made the local rivers come alive, with raging torrents one day and trickling streams the next.

Glaciers are viewable from the road (although the weather has yet to make that visible). Two of them can be visited by helicopter.

Milford Sound reflects the glacial impacts on the land. It or Doubtful Sound are not to be missed. It’s simply breathtaking.

Sheep are everywhere, with cattle filling in the remaining grazing land. They come right up to the fences alongside the road, at least until Terry barks at them and they run away.

There is a near-universal politeness to the people we meet, with odd locals adding in some flavor. The places we stay are quirky, reflecting the rough-hewn nature of the place. No Marriotts here, which is just fine. Every place we’ve stayed has it’s own charm and it’s own challenges, which seems entirely appropriate.

In our world of universal fast food, instant access to all of the world’s information, and the elimination of most of the challenges which defined life up until the last few decades, this place is a throwback –  To an era of struggle, hardship, and self-sufficiency. To trusting your neighbor (our current place didn’t bother with locking the doors). To being much more a part of nature rather than an occasional observer of it.

This has been a remarkable journey so far. I’m sure many more adventures await.

 

Ride days 6-8: All over the place

 

“It rained and rained and rained

The average fall was well maintained;

And when the tracks were simply bogs

It started raining cats and dogs.

After a drought of half an hour

We had a most refreshing shower;

And then; most curious thing of all

A gentle rain began to fall

Next day but one was fairly dry

Save for one deluge from the sky,

Which wetted the party to the skin

And then at last – the rain set in.”

  • Anonymous

 

After our picture-perfect weather climbing over the Haast Pass yesterday, Mother Nature decided to throw us a curve ball. A cyclone is swirling around the south Pacific, with a high pressure ridge on the East coast. The result is essentially a squeegee wringing water out of the cyclone all along the Westlands area where we are located.

Day 6: Haast to Fox Glacier

Necessity being the Mother of invention, we’ve had to revise our plans. The weather forecast for day 6 called for strong rain developing later in the day, along with beastly winds, so we decided to skip several miles in the beginning of the ride. It turned out to be an excellent idea. We started from the ocean lookout, having skipped a couple of major hills and about 2 hours of riding. A monster day became much more manageable.

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Lookout point, our new starting location

The lushness along the road is quite beautiful, with ferns and dense forest lining the road. Given the relative shortness of the day we weren’t forced to power through everything, and instead just kept up a modest, steady pace.

Click me – video of riding in the jungle

We had arranged to meet the van at the next beach location, quite a lovely spot. When we got there the group was feeling strong enough that we just carried on. Our bodies are all varying degrees of trashed, but at the same time we’re riding ourselves into shape. The strong rider varies from moment to moment, with each of us having good stretches  and other moments where we could use a nap.

 

 

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Jos enjoying the view

After arriving in the town of Fox Glacier we had hoped to take a helicopter ride up to the actual glacier. Unfortunately the copters were grounded, so I guess we’ll have to make a return trip for that experience. The rains showed up at dinner time, and got progressively stronger, making our decision to cut the ride short look wise in hindsight. We went to bed with the sound of increasing rain, not knowing what the next day would bring…

Day 7: Hokatika to Harahari

This section of New Zealand can receive over 300 inches of rain a year. It occasionally will receive a meter (39 inches) of rain in a day. This storm wasn’t that strong, but the national news weather forecast scale was red, the maximum setting. We took that seriously. Rain is forecast for the next several days.

Utterly torrential rain came pouring down during the night. Riding from Fox Glacier was simply not an option. The weather map showed drier conditions up the road in Hokatika, our destination 2 days hence. We decided to drive there, check out the weather, and decide on our plan.

Rain absolutely bucketed down during the morning drive, but Hokatika was dry when we got there. After a little retail therapy where I picked up a nice bike jersey and Agnes found a jade piece (Hokatika is the heart of the New Zealand jade industry) and a bit of lunch, we decided to try the trip in reverse. Rather than fight the 30 km/h headwinds we would have had, we now had a powerful ally in the wind.

We flew down the road, averaging 35 km/h for stretches and making epic time. After a short break in the town of Ross, where we met a local character who owned a bunch of motorcycles and drank beer for breakfast (and lectured Amy about smoking while sucking down another 24 oz beer) , we headed back out where we once again met up with the rain.

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The creek beds had been dry the day before

Our next stop was in a funky little restaurant / store place called Bushmans with a gigantic plastic sandfly mounted outside. Amy took a ton of pictures. Terry decided he’d had enough at that point and called it a day. He was soaked and developing hypothermia and made the sensible choice. Jos and I weren’t quite that bright so we carried on.

About 50 yards down the road the skied opened up again, and we got soaked the entire way back. Fortunately it was a pretty warm rain, and actually was fairly pleasant. We didn’t do any sightseeing though, cranking as fast as we could go. I hit 55 km/h on one rainy descent, probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but with Jos’s 28 mm tires the ride actually felt really steady, We got back to the hotel completely waterlogged, but with a good story to tell.

Day 8: Harihari to Franz Joseph Glacier

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Off for our 6th ride day in a row

Ride day 8 brought more of the same. The skies were threatening once again, but we decided to continue heading south to Franz Joseph glacier. It was only 63 km away and the skies were threatening so we basically made the day into a hammer-fest. That was great for about 45 km, and then my legs turned to jello. Jos led me in the rest of the way.

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We skipped the section between Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph Glacier, about 25 km of goat hills. Jos and I goofed on Terry and told him we should just continue on and ride this nasty bit. Needless to say, he wasn’t buying.

The town of Franz Joseph has some public toilets that are straight out of a science fiction movie. A robotic science fiction voice from 2001 a space odyssey says “ Welcome to Exeloo, please press button to close door. Your maximum use time is ten minutes.” , and then plays Star Trek music. Pretty entertaining.

We made a public display of ourselves changing out of wet riding gear in a park across the street from the restaurant where we went for lunch, and then drove back to Hokataki, where we finally have a rest day. We’ve ridden 6 days in a row, and 8 of the last 10, and are all ready for a nice day off.

 

 

Ride day 4 – Wanaka to Makarora

After yesterday’s epic battle we had a near perfect recovery ride today, 66 km (about 40 miles) along a beautiful stretch of road from the lakeside resort of Wanaka to a cabin in Makarora. Tailwinds assisted us virtually the entire way. The temps were cool but not cold. And the scenery was just otherworldly beautiful.

We followed the shoreline along the shores of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea virtually all day long, with rolling hills adding some excitement. On one steep downhill stretch I hit 72 km/h, a new speed record for me on this bike.

Given the short distance to cover, and the general trashed condition of our legs after yesterday’s struggles, we stopped several times along the way to just absorb the scenery.

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Coffee stop along the way

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Waterfall along the side of the road

We took a quick break at one point and saw a couple of riders with Paniers. It turns out that these two gals were from L.A and Fremont, were in the process of travelling around the world, and just decided on a whim to come to New Zealand and cycle around the South Island. They had never done a serious ride before!

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Panoramic view of Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka is 1,000 feet deep, with the bottom actually being below sea level. The dramatic scenery is a result of glacial action from the last ice age. As the glaciers retreated they carved out this incredible valley and left the lakes in place.

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The crew enjoying the views

We ended the day in Makarora, a place that is one stop short of a one-stop town. The location makes up for the lack of amenities. I sat by myself on the porch for quite awhile just enjoying the view, not thinking about anything or attempting to do anything other than enjoy the moment.

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A moment of Zen
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Sunset in the mountains

As we’ve done about half the nights so far, we (well, not me) made a fabulous dinner. Tonight’s delicacy was pot roast, veggies, and corn on the cob, followed by cheese cake for dessert. I’m not sure we’ll lose any weight after all this cycling, but I suppose it’s important to keep our strength up.

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Family fun time!