Ride Day 3 – Crown Range

“’Hard’ is what makes it great.”
Tom Hanks – A League of Their Own

 

In days of old, men would sit around the campfire telling stories of ancient battles against the elements. Hearing these stories, women would swoon, and children would pretend to be these heroes of old. Yeah, it was a day like that…

Even without Mother Nature’s help this was going to be an epic day. We rode from Queenstown to Wanaka, taking the less traveled route over the top of the Crown Range. This is one of the iconic cycling routes in New Zealand, featuring a switchbacking ascent, followed by a short flattish section, and closing with a lung-busting bit to the summit.

The New Zealand weather service had forecast morning rain until about 9:00 a.m., followed by clearing and a strong tailwind in the afternoon. Apparently the weather service here is about as reliable as it is back home: useful for 10 minutes of entertainment value on the nightly news.

We started from the condo in Queenstown with a steady rain. This was my first “opportunity” to try out the new rain jacket and paddle gloves I’d picked up here. They worked surprisingly well. Water still seeped in here and there, but the exertion from the cycling more than made up for the wetness and actually kept me quite comfortable.

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Our first bit out of town took us to Arrowtown, which lies at the base of the climb. I had been leading the group ( a rarity so far) but came to a turn and didn’t know which way to go. “Uphill” was the correct choice, but I stopped. Downshifting and attempting to get going again I managed to drop the chain and lodge it in between two of the front chainrings. No amount of futzing with it would get it unstuck so I had to walk the bike up the short hill. Fortunately we were in town and close to our first scheduled stop. Jos tried a trick with a piece of twine, pulling on the cable from underneath. That helped a bit, but eventually Terry had to loosen the chainring assembly with an allen wrench in order to provide enough clearance for the chain to come free. Having derailed the timeline with my navigation and shifting issues, I’m now on the hook for the first round of beers tonight.

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We rolled out of Arrowtown and shortly began the big climb. This was serious business, with grades ranging from 9% to 12% as we made our way along the switchbacks. The rain never let up, varying from one degree of sucky to another. Our awesome support crew of Agnes and Amy were waiting for us at the lookout point. So much for the views.

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We crested the last of the switchbacks and met up with the girls again. They did an incredible job today, finding places to park in pullouts along the way, having food and fluids when we needed them, and just providing friendly faces when it was time for a break.

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Feeling confident after conquering the switchbacks, we enjoyed the relative ease of the flat section leading up to the final push. And then the games began again. The temperature dropped to the point that we could see our breath in the rain. The pitch increased, reaching as much as 14% at points, while the rain continued its relentless pour.
About a kilometer from the summit I felt the siren call of a nature break. I hopped off the bike, found a bush and took care of business. While I was doing this I thought “I hope I don’t get arrested for indecent exposure”, but the cops would have needed a microscope to find the evidence.

Terry joined us at this last stop before the summit, having had to push his bike up the last bit. His cleat malfunctioned and he couldn’t clip his shoe back in. He fought with this the rest of the day, and ended up replacing his cleats after we made it back into town.
We made it to the summit of the Crown Range, the highest paved road in New Zealand, hearts pounding, thoroughly drenched, but in remarkably good spirits. Time for a quick photo op, and a chance to enjoy the “view”.

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So now it was time to enjoy the fruits of our labor – a mountain descent. Normally this would have been a brakes-free, bombs away freefall with speeds up to 50 mph, but with the bucketing rain it was really a little scary. We rode the brakes on the steep, winding descents and just held on. Jos pulled over and stopped, and figured out that his rear disk brake had locked up and his wheel wouldn’t turn. The disk was so hot that it couldn’t be touched, our 3rd mechanical issue of the day. He managed to get it free, but spent a couple of hours at the motel that night trying to remedy the problem.

We did have one last interesting stop on the way into town: Bradrona. Quite picturesque actually. This was a first for me. We all have to do our part for breast cancer awareness.

 

 

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Now you might think that all of this sounds like misery. Not for us; it was actually great fun. Doing battle with the elements, feeling your body working to its capacity, conquering big audacious goals, and sharing the experience with friends is about as life-affirming an activity as you’ll ever find.  At the end of it all we were wet, exhausted, and ready to do it all over again.

Ride day 1 – Bluff to Te Anau

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Three warriors at the start of battle!
As it ends up, my “ride 90 miles for the entire month of February” training plan turned out to be sub-optimal. Who would have guessed?

After spending the last week exploring the sights in Wellington and traveling down the East coast of the South island, we finally started the purported purpose of the trip. We started today with a photo op at Sterling Point in the town of Bluff, the southernmost outpost of civilization on the South island. We met a guy there would had just finished an 18 day unsupported ride from the Northern tip of the North Island to here. His Mom met him there while we were taking our photos at the start. It was nice to share the experience with him, and a good send-off to the trip. The weather was almost stereotypically New Zealand: cloud cover, a bit of wind and the occasional fine, misty drizzle. Given our multiple layers of clothing it was actually quite nice.

Other than a quick tune-up ride at Jos’s house, this was my first attempt at riding on the left side of the road. A bit surprisingly, this turned out to be a non-issue. We navigated traffic circles, made the occasional right turn, and had no traffic issues whatsoever. This being our first ride, Jos made the unfortunate discovery that he had left his cycling shoes at home in Wellington. We made an unscheduled stop at a bike shop in Invergargill, met the girls at a coffee shop for a quick hello, and were back on the road.

I realized pretty quickly that Terry is in great shape. Spending the winter in Phoenix and cycling 4-5 times a week has its advantages. I’d see him start to wind up and then it was time to hold on. This will be a recurring theme for the remainder of the trip. At lunch I gave him the moniker of “Big Piston”.

Today was the only flat day of the trip. The views started with ocean and coastal scenery, migrated to rural farmland, and eventually ended up in the shadows of the mountains. Sheep, as expected, were everywhere. Terry had a lot of fun barking at the sheep, although the big Merino sheep (which produce Merino wool) didn’t seem to care so much.

We met up with the girls again at our lunch stop. I thought this would be a coffee shop where we might get a muffin or something. Wow, this place rocked. We had fish & chips that were absolutely world-class, along with the rib-sticking coffee that we’ve had all along the way. It’s been really wonderful having the ladies along to share the adventure and help out, and Agnes has become quite competent at driving on the wrong side of the road.

The spritsy  weather continued through lunch and a bit afterward, leading eventually to sunny skies for the last 1/3 of the day. We had a mild headwind most of the day. By the time we finished we’d covered 136 km, or about 84 miles. That is 34 miles longer than my longest ride since October. And it showed. I held on OK through the lunch stop, and for about 20 miles after that, and then the wheels started coming off. Terry and Jos were really patient with me, and basically nursed me home over the last 45 km. Man, I hate being THAT GUY. I suppose someone has to be the weak link. We’ll see if things improve over the next several rides.

As we neared the end of the ride I went into full-on bonk mode. There was just nothing left in the tank. Terry hung with me and made sure I made it back safely while Jos went ahead and prepped the car. I stumbled into the store at the end of the ride, found Amy, and slumped onto a couch. She’s seen me tired at the end of rides before, but this was the first time she’s seen me completely trashed like this. My heart was just pounding after what would normally be minimal exertion over the last few miles. I was essentially useless while the guys packed the bikes onto the car, and really didn’t have any energy until after dinner that night.

I’m hopeful that things will improve after a couple more days in the saddle. Tomorrow is a rest day where we’ll visit Milford Sound, then we bike to Queenstown, have another rest day, and then ride 6 days in a row. Regardless of my relative cycling prowess, the trip will continue to be epic.

A smorgasbord of delights

Jos led us on an incredibly varied expedition today, covering as wide an array of terrain as we’ve ever experienced in one day. Here was today’s itnierary:

  • We started inland at Lake Tekapo, following a river through a series of hydroelectric dams
  • We got a brief glimpse of the ever cloud-covered Mt. Cook from the shore of Lake Pukaki
  • Drove to the ocean and played around the amazing Moeraki Boulders
  • Had lunch at Fleur’s Place, apparently a renowned seafood place know to foodies world-wide
  • Drove to Dunedin farther down the coast to see the Octagon Square in the center of town
  • And finally drove to Owaka at the far Southern tip of New Zealand.

Here are a few shots to capture some of the moments.

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The crew hoping to catch one last glimpse of Mt. Cook
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Shopping and coffee in front of the Steampunk engine
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The remarkable Meoraki Boulders, spherical boulders emerging from the beach

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Somebody loves me…

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Traveling along the shoreline

 

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Amy signing the wall at Fleur’s Place
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Robert Burns, Scottish poet and author of Auld Lang Syne

Christchurch

In February of 2011 the city of Christchurch was struck by a devastating earthquake. Their experience is a cautionary tale for those of us living in the San Francisco area. A magnitude 7.1 quake had hit in 2010, causing relatively little damage. The 2011 quake was smaller in magnitude, but the frequency of the shock waves was much higher, resulting in far greater damage. Over 8,000 buildings in the downtown area were red-tagged.

The sheer volume of rubble is difficult to comprehend. The debris in Christchurch was twenty times the city’s annual rubbish volume. Five years on, the rubble is largely cleaned up, but large sections of the city are empty lots, buildings everywhere are condemned and still waiting for demolition, and major landmarks are damaged beyond repair.

 

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Christchurch cathedral – The spire collapsed and the church may have to be demolished
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One of many such buildings in the downtown area
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185 chairs — A memorial to all 185 people who died in the quake

The rebuilding is now well underway, with several fascinating examples of turning lemons into lemonade. Cranes and the sounds of construction fill the air. The cathedral has been replaced, at least temporarily, with the “Cardboard Cathedral”, a structure supported by giant cardboard columns as you can see below. It has an airy, beautiful feel to it and is expected to last at least 50 years.

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For weeks after the quake the downtown area was off-limits to all but emergency personnel. Retail space was non-existent, so Re: START was created. This is an open-air mall created with shipping containers. Stores are located in re-purposed containers, and public art displays fill the area.

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Amy having fun with the kitty

 

The city is we20160308_093241ll on its way back. The recovery continues. But for those of us living in earthquake country, it’s a reminder to create a proper disaster kit and to be prepared to be self-sufficient when the time comes.

Kia Ora!

Kia Ora! (pronounced Key-ora)

This is the national greeting here in New Zealand, basically meaning hello, and said in such a gracious manner that we can’t help but like everyone we meet. We’re kicking off a truly epic four week adventure here, hoping to mix in the best that New Zealand has to offer in nature, sightseeing, cycling, and friendship. We’re off to a great start.

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Wellington Cable Car – The most photographed sight in town

We flew in on a 13-hour nonstop from SFO (boy are our arms tired…) , with a connecting flight to our current home in Wellington. We met up with our friends Terry and Agnes along the way, and met out host Jos shortly after landing in Wellington. Jos has taken on the truly heroic job of planning this entire trip. He has arranged for all of the accommodations, figured out the best cycling routes, planned most of the activities, and is acting as our host for this entire expedition. We felt right at home with him the instant we met.

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Panoramic shot of Wellington from a lookout above the city

Flying from SFO we lost an entire day. We left on the evening of the 3rd and arrived on the morning of the 5th, meaning that March 4th never existed. The good news though is that we’ll get to re-live March 30th on the way home, landing before we took off.

Jos led us on a walking tour of Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. There is an absolutely lovely park about 2 blocks from his house. After walking through there we eventually ended up downtown, wandered around the harbor, visited the WW1 / Gallipoli museum, and then returned to Jos’s house where he and his wife made dinner and spent the night sharing stories. It was a surprisingly productive and entertaining first day.

I’ve (Tom) taken a very different approach to this trip than I normally do. Typically I manage and obsess over each little detail. This time I’ve just trusted in the fates, and on Jos’s good judgement. Having a local do the planning is such a a big win. Amy and I are clearly not experts on New Zealand culture or geography so we’re just going with the flow. This is liberating and a little intimidating at the same time, but it feels like the right way to go.

Our plan is to stay here in Wellington for another day and a half, then take a ferry to the South island. We’ll rent a car and make our way down the East coast of the South island. After reaching the very southern tip of the island, Terry, Jos and I will cycle up the West coast, going through Fjordland and Milford Sound, Queenstown, Fox Glacier, and whatever other scenic wonders we find along the way. Finally, we’ll cross back to the North island where we say goodbye to Jos, then drive with Terry and Agnes back to Auckalnd over the the next few days before finally returning home.

One final note for today: We’ve started a new blog here to capture our various adventures. It’ll evolve over the next days and weeks so pardon the dust as the construction continues.

So please, follow along as we embark on this journey. We read all of the comments and love the feedback we get along the way.

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One Life, Many Adventures!!!