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New Zealand Blog Entry #3

Dec 26 2017

South Island

Things I have noticed:

  • Words that sound the same: lift- left, peace-piss, wrist-rest, beast, best
  • Hot and cold-water knobs on opposite sides, and even more distressing, shower handles that freeze you when you turn them in a direction that would lead you to believe you will receive more hot water.
  • Every power outlet also has a switch associated with it, so it takes an extra step for kids to electrocute themselves with a fork. But then again, the size and heft of the plug itself make me wonder if I should be standing on a rubber mat whenever I plug something in.
  • Salad is eaten after the main course is finished and space on your plate is available
  • Roads that are two-way, but one and a half lanes wide and with allowable on street parking (most of the side streets of Wellington)
  • The non-existence of ice cubes, I don’t get it, the recipe is pretty simple.
  • Toilets where the pool of water is first of all a teeny tiny target, and more importantly in a location where human anatomy precludes the deposition of turds into said pool. Possibly designed by someone with a monopoly on the toilet brush concession.
  • I have not been able to discern if the water swirls in an opposite direction, because due to the retarded design, the force of the flushing water is just less than the flow of Hukka falls, and you have to stand the fuck back. Note: do not flush while sitting or it is a really nasty bidet… pretty much an anti-bidet.
  • Odd things for breakfast on a ferry crossing, like chicken curry, beef burritos and lasagna.

Things for which I have no explanation at all:

  • A sign advertising livestock psychology services? WTF??
  • A road sign with a blue disk with a red border and X through the middle when coming into a town, meaning… don’t even think about doing anything here?
  • White or yellow triangles painted on the roadway at seemingly random intervals with the top pointing randomly either left or right, but never straight ahead: Possibly locations where people have died due to the road being too damn skinny?
  • Why in God’s name would you even consider putting beets, and carrots on a hamburger

The ferry crossing was uneventful, which is pretty much what you want to experience out in the middle of the ocean. The final part of the route was up through the Queen Charlotte straight and the mountains on the north side hold one of the more famous ride/treks. I may look into doing it on my way back, since it was barely even discernable due to the driving rain and fog as we entered Picton harbor. It is supposed to be incredible, but also very difficult to get good conditions for the entire 3-day ride.

Up in Taupo on one of the shuttle drives, Jonny mentioned that all of the place names were changed in the early 90’s to Maori place names for the land forms. Which suddenly made sense since when I was here in the 1980’s I don’t remember so many places that started with a W. This led me to thinking… what would I do if an oppressive colonial government came to me and said, “Hey we are really sorry that we took over your country, and forced you out of the stone age, but to make it up to you we want to change all the names back to what you were using before we showed up, so would you mind writing them all down?” I bet these guys got together and said “Let’s tell them that every place name starts with a W, and let’s tell them that ‘Wh’ is pronounced ‘fuck’ that will screw them up for years” it certainly makes many places unpronounceable in polite company, or at least accounts for the large percentage of people here who look like they are blushing.

Nelson Dec 26-29th

I am coming to realize that there are a couple broad categories of riding that I need to keep in mind. There is going out “mountain biking”, where the primary purpose is the riding itself. The trail, the surface it consists of, the grade of the climbs and any technical features, and the quality of the descents, their length, obstacles, turns, features etc. The landscape can enter into these rides and enhance the experience exponentially, but landscape is not as important of a factor as the trail and the feeling of the bike moving efficiently and beautifully along the trail are paramount. The mountain bike parks here would broadly fit into this category, and yet so too would some of the better thought out cross country rides like the W2K.

The other category would be “riding your mountain bike” where the purpose is to use your bike to get out onto the landscape. Riding your bike vs. slowly plodding along on foot allows greater amounts of terrain to be covered in a limited period of time, and the landscape itself is the purpose for being out there.  In these types of rides the mountain bike is simply one means of several that facilitates your being in a place on wheels where other people are on their feet, horses, motorbikes etc.… These trails may be wonderful rides and provide a beautiful flowing experience, but generally that would be the exception and not the rule, the trail today was a perfect example.

Able Tasman

Along the northern coast of the South Island this national park is better known for walking treks along the coast, and a good look at a map would show a very mountainous and densely forested interior that probably has a few spots where no human has ever stepped. Normally mountain biking is as forbidden an activity in national parks in New Zealand as in the states, but this particular area is an old logging area that was not included in the park, and so biking is permitted. Unfortunately, I discovered sheep are permitted as well, and though I understand that the number of sheep exceed that of humans on this island, the primacy of their population does not make riding through their shit any less unpleasant, though in fairness I guess I am riding through their bathroom. I rode a brief evening trail when I arrived that passed through pastures, and then across a creek several times before diving into the forest for a couple clicks. The woods here are already way different than the jungle of the North Island. It is more open to begin with and yet nearly every square inch of “ground” is covered by a thick blanket of moss, which also grows up the trunks so it looks like the entire forest is erupting out of a moss carpet. The riding was short and left me looking forward to the longer trails.

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The Rameka track

When I left Taupo one of the last questions I had for Jonny was, what he would recommend in the southern part of the island. His response of “well unfortunately you have set the bar pretty high” should have been a bigger clue than I took it for at the time, meaning that I may struggle to beat those experiences. I had high hopes for the Rameka track, as it runs into a national park, and several Nelson  locals directed me out that way, but perhaps just to get me out of their shop.

One thing that living and riding in the desert does not prepare you for is tree roots. We have plenty of rocks, lots of cactus, and even a version of soil, but few trees and fewer roots. These particular roots were covered with moss, slime, and water, and pretty much covered every square foot of the trail.  Angle these bad boys in every conceivable direction and range them in size from a pencil, to an anaconda and mountain biking suddenly becomes a game of Russian roulette with a greased pig.  The trail slowly descended through numerous stream crossings then up the other side, and now the roots made just a wee bit of room for big slimy/mossy/slickery limestone boulders that thankfully were not sharp because I fell over into veritable nests of them. After descending about a thousand feet and falling over more times than I can recall, I decided that I did not really want to play anymore, and began the climb back to the trail junction. I would like to say that this trail taught me new skills, and a new outlook on possible surfaces to ride on, but in truth it was pretty hateful, and by the end I was wishing for a forest fire.

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I turned onto a loop trail that added about 6 miles onto the ride back to the parking thinking that it couldn’t be any worse… but this was not the day to start another ride with that as the standard because when you build a trail straight down a hillside in an environment where it rains a lot, the water is going to adopt your trail and create a trench right down the middle. In and of itself this wouldn’t be terrible, but water has a tendency to change its mind all the time, and once you get into the trench and it then makes a right turn beyond the ability of your wheel to handle, your body mass tends to continue while the bike remains behind, and this generally sucks for you. Once the trench warfare reached its version of Versailles, the alleged trail began a series of turns through meadows of trees that were cut down a hundred years ago. I feel bad complaining, but if your going to make a “trail” there should be more involved than nailing some orange plastic triangles to some trees and fence posts and then let the bikers create the trail through the waist high-grass. In fairness there were some pretty cool sections where they used fallen logs as trail liners and filled the space between with gravel, and the views were impressive, but in the end, I decided that I would rather be back in the van having a beer, so I found a junction to the sheep shit trail from the day before and had a couple of beers and a nap before going back to Nelson.

I found Nelson to be a nice town, with a lot of tattoos, nose rings, flannel and Hitler haircuts, thus, a bit more of a hipster vibe than any place I have been up to now. While not as bad as hippies (at least they aren’t whiney unemployed socialists) it makes no sense to me to place value on obscure uniqueness and then express it by conforming to the exact same standards of dress, hairstyle, body art and adornment that every other member of your tribe have adopted.  I also find a lot of hyperbole in hipster-ism, where things that are outside of the mainstream are suddenly elevated to exalted status expressly due to their mediocrity, and banality. It should more accurately be called spinster-ism.

The Old Ghost road

The story is that a couple of dudes got this idea to resurrect a long-abandoned trail (and nothing more than a trail idea) through the gold mining mountains of the northwestern part of the South Island. I love the concept that once an idea is born, it sometimes takes on a life of its own, or in this case takes over the life of it progenitors. Apparently, these guys worked on the trail for years, slowly improving it from something that was barely hike-able to barely bike-able, and then concurrent with the governmental push to create a nation-wide mountain bike Mecca, the big money of the government came in, along with hundreds of volunteer’s labors, and made it ride-able for more than just the zealots. It is also really cool to realize how many things in life that are successful, depend on luck and timing at some critical juncture of their development, and this trail is certainly an example of that concept.

Flower New Zealand

I started at Lyell, which is basically the site of the ghost town (no structures, just artifacts) at one end of the trail, with the other end nearly 50 miles away (and 16,000 foot elevation change), at Sedonville near the coast.  Unlike the Timber trail on the North Island the distance of the ride is made feasible by several huts instead of a full-service lodge. Apparently, the difference is that with a hut, you bring your own food, and sleeping bag, and if you are mountain biking you have access to stove/fuel/cooking items (backpackers bring all their own supplies). This turns a normal mountain bike ride into a semi supported Bike-packing trip.  With limited web access, and even less patience with reservations, club memberships, user names and passwords I decided to just ride up as far as I could and then come back to the van when I had enough, and as this was the fourth day in a row of riding, I did not have any huge goals beyond just seeing what the trail was like.

One disadvantage of a second summer is the second summer of insects that go with it. Years of living in the desert have made me forget about the absolute horror of being committed to being outside (like teaching a survival class) and having to deal with literal clouds of insects, each one of which, with a suicidal desire for a share of my bodily fluids. We keep these on the inside for several good reasons… they stink, they are sticky, and we need them to function normally.  They call them sand flies here. We called them black flies in Maine, and we call the same basic species Cedar gnats back in Utah, but in reality, they are evil incarnate. It is said that Mosquitos have killed more human beings than all the wars combined, through the diseases that they spread (dengue and malaria being the worst) But at least mosquitos are surgical in both their approach and extraction, a bit of buzzing around then a hypodermic needle inserted, fluid taken and off they go. Mosquito bites are itchy because they inject an anti-clotting agent (as well as various viruses) into your skin so they can get the goods and piss off.  Black flies are different in the way that Freddy Krugger is different from your local red cross, they both get blood but with wildly different approaches.  Black (sand) flies have a set of serrated scissors for jaws, and once they land they begin to flay your flesh apart until the blood starts flowing which they take away to make more little horror machines, by the billions. All of this trauma leaves a welt the size and shape of a lentil on your skin, and they hurt and itch like mad for several days. I now remember why we never wore Chaco or Teva sandals in Maine, as I have so many bites on my feet at the moment that sleep is hard to come by. Strangely they don’t seem to like the woods as they did in Maine and so grassy places where I am prone to camping in the van are actually much worse than in the forest on a ride.

Knowing that going outside was going to be a lesson in misery, I spent an hour preparing everything in the bug free (ish) zone of the camper van. All I had to do once outside was put the front wheel into place and ride off into the woods where the flies didn’t go. I was covered head to toe for the dash into the woods as I jumped out and grabbed the bike, only to discover that the rear tire was flat. Ten purely hellish minutes later (and a few swear words) I rode into the woods across the swing bridge and up the Old Ghost road.

It is 18 km (10 miles) to the first hut at Lyell saddle and as every inch is uphill, I figured that it would make a decent turn around point, however once there it seemed a bit anti-climactic, just a junction in the forest. I mean the riding was a spectacular series of bends, narrow paths across rock slides, and open forest that is so steep, if you fell off and did not leave your bike behind they would never find you. As I still felt like I had some legs left I continued on upward, thinking I would go until I ran out of uphill or leg power, which ever came first. Shortly after the Lylle hut, the trail comes to the end of what is called the Dray road, with the remainder being handmade and in many places running across layered platforms of split logs then covered with gravel. These run for hundreds of yards where it looks like it would be too wet to have a dirt trail. Eventually I came to a couple benches at a lookout that seemed a likely spot for lunch and a turn around.  I had been playing leapfrog with a father and son on the way up, and as I finished lunch they arrived and while chatting, Jason mentioned that they were heading to “heavens door” before turning back. This was supposed to be “a couple of kilometers” further on, and how can I not want to know what heavens door is all about after all this climbing. It was an additional 4 kilometers or so and several hundred additional feet, but a totally amazing trail cut right across the side of an exposed mountainside, ending in a view that made every uphill inch worthwhile, and all in warm sunshine and no bugs. This made the name even more fitting, and as I turned to descend I realized that although I made it to heavens door, I got no further before turning my back on it.

The truly heavenly part of the day was the 26 kilometer (17 mile) downhill ride that followed. I have never had the opportunity to do such a long downhill ride, and I realized that it is a good thing I looked around and enjoyed the views on the way up, because I don’t think my eyes strayed from the (seemingly much skinnier) trail for more than a second over the next 2 hours it took to get back down to the van. I swallowed 3 bugs (protein) and took 2 breaks to let the feeling come back into my hands, and had just enough feeling in my fingertips to twist the top off of the cold IPA at the finish.

Further south.

Link to Todd’s New Zealand Photo’s:

https://1drv.ms/f/s!AtD6c7fsBXcOZ63ISzFV3UNszrs

 

 

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Mountain Bike New Zealand

More Proof that Todd is actually riding on his vacation, not just sipping Negro Modelo on the shore.