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Day 61 – Getting my groove back

I left Masterton via the scenic route heading towards the east cape. The books describe this as a practically abandoned country road. Funny that it felt like I was back on the South Island.

I was feeling a lot better on the bike today than I was yesterday. Legs still feel surprisingly sore from walking my bike up/down the Rimutaka but they didn't bother me while pedaling so all was well.

I started feeling a little weird at some point when I realized it had been 8 hours since I had spoken a word to anything other than a sheep. This was a really lonely road I was on. Oh well, I was enjoying the time to think so I kept pushing on towards my goal of a free domain camp at the first town I would see today, a whopping 90km away from camp!

About 6km away from my goal I spot another cyclist, I notice he is rocking rear Arkel panniers as well so we stop to chat about gear. Evan, a Canadian, has got the bigger GT-54's but they are still pretty similar. We had a lot in common on our set ups, as a whole. He was heading to a farm hostel I recently passed so we wound up parting ways.

I get to town and head into the pub. If I'm cooking at camp I at least need to get water so figure I'd get a beer before asking. Wound up getting another monstrous fork-and-knife-sized kiwi burger to go with it. Now that's a good way to keep the good mood rolling.

When I finish I step outside and see Evan. He and two other cyclists took the shuttle in from the hostel. I go back in for another drink with them. Turns out Evan is a web developer as well and the cyclists he was with were actual kiwis, which is still a rare thing for my trip. After our drinks they take the shuttle back to their hostel and I head down the road to pitch my tent for free at the domain.


Day 60 – Not feeling it on New Year’s Eve

Yesterday's stiff climb up the Rimutaka's, walking my bike down the other side in heavy wind and having to hitch hike left me sore in new places and emotionally drained today. I took breaks when I found nice spots in towns, which on the north island is apparently super common, and by 3pm I had moved hardly 35km. I had made it to Masterton and decided I'd camp here. I wanted to relax and recharge, and this seemed like a nice place to do that.

So far the north island seems pretty similar to the south, with the big exception of population. As I've talked about before, I often went entire days of riding to get from camp to the next town with food. Today in my measly ride I saw 3 towns (counting Masterton) that, by comparison to my last two months, were pretty large towns. Big enough for a library and a McDonald's!

I walked back to town to maybe hit up a bar for New Year's Eve. The place was pretty dead, so I went back to reading, and I'm not just saying that because my mom reads this!


Day 59 – Meh (leaving Wellington)

Wellington has been getting some blow over from a hurricane, or something like that, and has been incredibly windy during my time there. Flags make cracking noises, sign posts creak and make unhappy sounds and the noise of wind beating against the buildings can be heard inside. So to play it safe I caught a train this morning to Upper Hutt, the northern suburb, to avoid riding in heavy city traffic in crazy winds.

Seemed to work except when I got there it was pouring. Found a library to check the weather and seemed it should let up soon so I hung out. A couple hours later I started to think the weather report was full of crap.

I rain-suit up and hit the road. Not long into my ride I have the crazy Rimutaka hill that I start to work my way up. The higher I go, the heavier the wind gets. Now, I've gotten rather accustomed to the wind, but this was just bananas. The road twists and winds as it carves its way up 600 meters and every bend the wind changes and seems to be entirely random. This makes it hard to deal with and getting surprised by a cross wind as you make a turn with a canyon to your left side is a bit unnerving.

About .5km from the peak I get hit by a gust out of nowhere and am shoved off the road into the ditch. I stay standing but am thoroughly shaken up and decide it's time to walk it. Wind keeps getting heavier and even walking is occasionally a challenge. Cars seem unhappy when I stop in the road to fight to stay upright.

I get over the top and it's not any better, looks like I just killed my legs to get to walk down a hill. The first 150m of elevation loss seems to be dropping the wind as well so I get back on my bike. Stupid. I'm riding my brakes and keeping speed in control in case any wind hits but out of nowhere I get slammed with a monster tail wind as I'm approaching a sharp turn. I mash my brakes trying to slow down enough to make the turn and completely fail. As soon as I let go of the brakes to start cornering I'm shot back up to speed and, uh, make tactical use of the guard rail. I wind up sliding into it and clinging to it for a bit as I can't manage to get off my bike in the wind.

Well now that my heart is pounding and my life flashed before my eyes I get back to walking, but it's not long before even that is a stupid idea. I lay my bike on the ground in the shoulder and cling to a sign pole as I try to hitch hike. Lots of concerned faces as the wind bursts threaten to blow me away but nobody in anything big enough to hold a bike stops. Many people stop to ask if I'm alright or if I need mechanical help, which was pretty cool. But I felt like a loser when I said no I'm fine, the bike is fine, I just can't ride down this hill. I was in a really bad spot because cars going the right direction didn't have enough visibility of me to stop in time. Most of the questions about my well being were cars coming the other way.

I don't ask myself why I'm doing this anymore, I think I got that one figured out by now, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about calling it quits and going home. Bicycle touring is great, I think far more people should consider it, even if they aren't cyclists at all but sometimes I think you need to lack a little bit of sanity to get on okay for extended trips. I could have turned around when the wind started getting bad on the other side of the hill. Should have started trying to hitch hike long before I did, when I was at a much better place to be seen and hadn't had a fun run in with the guard rail.

About an hour into my sitting there on the shoulder, with a handful of people stopping that I thought were going to pick me up, someone finally offers a lift down. A nice farmer tells me he will take me to Featherton, just past the bottom of the hill, before he turns off the highway. I throw my bike and gear in the back of his truck and off we go. My first attempt (and success) at hitchhiking. I later checked the Pedallers' Paradise description of this hill and it says to be cautious as “winds can be strong up there!” Yup.

We get to town and the bulk of the wind is gone. All that remains is a moderate tailwind! I decide to head to the next town because well I finally have favorable wind and clear skies so I'm gonna do some enjoyable cycling today, dammit. I pedal easily for the 15km to Greytown and pitch my tent at the domain. What a crazy day.


Days 57 & 58 – Wellington

From Picton I caught the ferry to Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand. It was about a three hour boat ride, in which I discovered I get sea sick. For the beginning and end it runs along the coast and is very scenic but for the middle, where you can see nothing but water, I decided to stay warm inside the boat and read. Didn't take long until I thought I might lose my breakfast and went back outside which fixed it.

Goodbye Picton
In front of the queue to get off the ferry

Wellington really isn't a huge city, something like 350k population, but the central business district is rather compact and surrounded by housing so it gives it a very lively and busy feeling.

Prior to showing up I asked on reddit (/r/wellington) for tips on what to do in town. A couple people even wanted to get beers so shortly after settling in at the hostel I met up with Leo, a born and raised Wellingtoner… uh, Wellingtonite? Anyway, Leo gave me the grand tour of the city (which as I said isn't that big) and we grabbed some beers. He caught a bus home around 11pm and I grabbed some late night food thinking it was about bed time.

Then I get a text from another Redditor, Craig (@craighamnett), saying his friends and him were going to a bar near my hostel. Well back out I go. I met up with him (a guy from England), his girlfriend (from Scotland), and another couple (from Memphis) and we wound up drinking until quite late. Craig is actually a front end developer here, which I thought was pretty cool. Talking to the four of them about how they all work and live here was a little inspiring and a tempting case was made for looking to do dev work here for a little while.

Was pretty awesome meeting up with a couple redditors, overall reddit has been the source of some good times here and a good resource for information on both bicycle touring and New Zealand.

So today I woke up feeling a little rough and headed to the McDonald's next door for some post-drinking greasy breakfast. After that I started following the other advice on the reddit post by checking out the city gallery, old bank arcade, Te Pepa museum and various parks and streets. Largely retracing roads Leo showed me yesterday.

Te Papa was one of the highlights of Wellington for sure. I was a giant national museum full of stuff like Maori history, history of the wildlife here and even a giant squid. I spent a few hours there and still feel like I rushed through it.

Also at Te Papa was the Game Masters exhibit that, unlike everything else, wasn't free. I wound up forking over to go.

The exhibit was centered around the designers responsible for the video games in our lives. For each one there were arcades, consoles or computers setup to play a selection of their games as well as information about them and art work or planning notes from their games. This was the first gaming I've done in 2 months!

From here I mostly just wandered town for a while, had dinner and relaxed. Wellington stands as probably the best city/town/etc that I've been in here. Small enough to be able to enjoy but big enough to keep it interesting. Set alongside the coast with mountains in the background give it good scenery. From what it seems, it also has a large percentage of internationals and surprisingly few kiwis, at least from what I could gather from Craig and his friends. If I were to stay anywhere I've seen so far, it would be here.


Day 56 – Final ride of the South Island

All that remained for my time on the South Island was a short 55km to Picton, the city from which the ferry departs. Felt a little sad to be leaving the island, but am excited for the change.

James had another tube blow within minutes of pulling out this morning. He had neglected to patch the one that punctured yesterday so we walked back to the picnic tables by camp and he went to work patching two tubes.

It didn't seem like the tire was holding up well, even with the boot. The hole was right on the spot of the s-shaped bend I mentioned yesterday and the tire was very worn to begin with. After the flats were mended, we set off again but unfortunately about 15km later the tire had slowly gone flat. James pumped it up and we continued but it went flat much more quickly this time. When we stopped we discovered that the road had worn through the tire fabric as well as the boot. Doesn't seem to be any way we are going to be able to get his bike in rideable shape to make it to Picton.

We decided it would be best for James to hitch the remainder and for me to ride it alone, as getting a ride for one bike would be easier than two. It was insisted that I ride on from this point because even the extra person present would make trying to hitch pointless. I wanted to stick around and wait but finally conceded and left a man behind.

James managed to catch a lift to the next town, where he found the only shop selling bicycle gear to have nothing but 26″ tires, so nothing for is 700c road wheels. From there, he took a bus the remaining way to Picton.

I continued riding through what was possibly one of the best rides I've had here. I took the winding and beautifully scenic route from Havelock to Picton alongside Queen Charlotte Sound.

When I made it to Picton I was saddened to find out the YHA here is an affiliate, and that means the cyclist discount does not apply. Instead I pitched my tent at an awesome little hostel called Jugglers' Rest. Got a warm shower, a cozy place to read and watched some people throw fire around at night.


Day 55 – Boxing Day here, Christmas at home

The Christmas break I gave myself had to end. I was feeling pretty reluctant about this, actually. I quite liked Nelson and had a strong feeling that I wanted to linger but I couldn't really put my finger on why.

I slept in a bit (wow do I really like beds), packed up and wasn't out of my room until 10am. Skyped my family as it was just after they had Christmas lunch and had the iPad passed around to everyone, it was even used to show me the pile of food I was currently missing out on.

Eventually I hit the road. James and I joined back up for a couple days as I decided to cut another bit off my South Island adventure. I decided to not take the out-and-back side trip to the golden bay. I'm sure it would have been pretty cool but I have been wanting to move on to the North Island. I know it's busy and much more highly populated but two months on this small island and I'm looking for a change.

The ride out of Nelson was on another bike path, just as beautiful as the one I road in on. I'm quite fond of the Olentangy trail back in Columbus but it doesn't compare to a path along the coast.

The day started out with a good bit of head wind and given the heat I was actually a little sad when it left. We had a couple rough passes to make and by the end of the second I was definitely feeling the heat. I'd finished all three water bottles and most of my one liter water bag. Stopped at a dairy to get them filled up and wound up buying ice cream. A big cone is pretty much perfect you're stuck in the heat on the saddle.

We'd made decent time and decided we'd try to get to Havelock, which is only about 35km from the center of Picton. Unfortunately not too much longer into the ride James had a tube blow. When he started to work on it he noticed a spot with a hole in the tire and some threading sticking out. I gave him one of my Park Tools tire boots to hopefully keep it in check until he makes it to Wellington.

This actually wasn't the first mechanical problem he had to deal with today either. Yesterday he had complained of a weird s-shape bend in his tire. When I took the wheel off to check the tube and tire I found a broken spoke that was, sadly, on the other side and unrelated to the tire issue. The bike shop he went to this morning charged him about $30nzd to replace the spoke and true the wheel. Told him the tire would get him to Hamilton (the end of his trip by bike), he was really reluctant about replacing it if he didn't absolutely need to. The gash happened on the same tire that had the bend so looks like he will be replacing it after all.

Not much further down the road we decided to call it quits at a nicer DoC site. $10nzd but a nice spot with showers and a good kitchen. James seemed pretty tired and stressed because of the tire issue so was wanting to get off the bike as soon as possible.


Day 54 – Christmas on the other side of the world

This was my first Christmas away from home. It was 80 degrees here so about as far from a white Christmas as I could imagine. I hung out with James some, good to at least see a friend on the holiday. I went to the beach and relaxed for a few hours. This seemed to be a popular thing to do on Christmas here, lots of families eating picnics there and people everywhere.

I came back and read outside for a while as I waited for my hostels potluck dinner to start. Ate a lot of good food and spent the night chatting with Adele and Erica from Australia. I love all the different perspective on work and travel I get from people abroad, especially when I'm at hostels. Camping is great; sleeping outside and being alone has definitely been enjoyable and the budget side of DoC sites and freedom camping really helps. The problem is these are pretty unsocial. I've had a lot of good conversations at hostels and I've only spent 4 nights in them. Low budget and long tours don't really work well with staying in these often, though.

So a friend, the beach, some good food and good conversation made for a pretty top notch Christmas, even if I am on the wrong side of the world from the family and friends I love and wish I could have spent the day with.


Day 53 – Christmas Eve

As usual with freedom camping I got started as soon as the sun pops into my tent. Today that meant I was on the road by 6:30am. Legs were not pleased to immediately climb up Spooner saddle, though.

I made a couple stops trying to kill time since I was going to be in town well before I could check in. Got a delicious muffin at a small bakery then a coffee at McDonald's. Still made it to Nelson before 10am but found a public library to keep myself entertained for a while. Ran into James there and we made plans for our time in Nelson.

I wandered around town for a while. Nelson is a pretty neat place. It's small enough that you can easily walk from one side to the other but was packed with character and full of cool shops, restaurants and pubs. Being Christmas Eve it was also jam packed with people during the day, presumably doing last minute shopping. The picture below was from much later when shops had closed up, though.

James and I cooked dinner together at my hostel. For our second Christmas dinner we splurged and bought sausages which brought the dinner cost up to $4nzd each which is still dirt cheap.

Later on we went to the cathedral to join the towns Christmas festivities. A bishop and a band lead a Christmas carol night that gathered a very large crowd. It was pretty good Christmas Eve.


Day 52 – Nelson or bust

After the 100km I put in yesterday I knew I could make it to Nelson for Christmas Eve. I had about 160km left and two days to do it, got it. I avoided the cold morning and got a late start which turned out to be a bit of a mistake as it was way too hot today for what I was doing.

I pedaled my way to St. Arnaud, 65km in, and was feeling pretty drained from the heat. I stopped to eat and get some ice cream, trying to decide if I'd continue on. It was already 5pm and I sort of wanted to just be done. Quitting here meant a 95km ride on Christmas Eve. The place I stopped had free wifi so I booked my hostel for Nelson since I knew for sure I'd be there. Decided if I was going to be on the other side of the world for the holidays I wanted to be packed in with a pile of others and not sleeping on the ground. Unfortunately though James' hostel was fully booked so I grabbed a bed at the YHA to make use of the cyclist discount.

I decide, reluctantly, that I'll keep riding. I didn't really intend to get far. Maybe 20km? Find somewhere soon to pitch my tent for free and call it quits.

After about 20km and spotting lots of good camp spots I decide now its okay to quit. I'm close enough that Christmas Eve won't be rough. But, of course, the next 30km are fenced farm lands as far as the eye can see. Definitely nowhere to camp.

The guide mentions a church camp with minimum suggested donation fee ahead, so I figure I'll be fine when I get there. Turns out they've converted it into an expensive motorcamp and I'm not paying $20 to put my tent somewhere at 8:45pm.

It's getting late but it also mentions a DoC camp not too much further. When I get there, right at the base of the Spooner mountain pass, I don't see one. I do see a giant recreation park. Given its 9:30pm and the sun is setting I'm willing to be a little gutsy. I pitch my tent in the back corner of the park, hidden by shadow and a few trees but definitely still in view from some parts of the highway.

Total distance for the day: 122km.

Other cyclists often remark on the fact that I carry a tarp. It's some cheap $4nzd green tarp I bought at the Warehouse (the NZ Walmart equivalent). To make packing easy I strap my tent on the top of the rear rack and just roll that bag up in my tarp. I mention this because tonight at some point I am awakened by what sounds like an animal screaming right next to my tent. I sit in silence, it screams again and I listen intently for any noise of it moving or destroying my tent. Nothing. I wake up in the morning and find a small turd sitting in the middle of the tarp that's draped over my bike laying next to my tent. Yet another night that I'm particularly glad I lug that tarp around.


Day 51 – Alone on the road again

Without James getting up before me, it was hard to be motivated to get packing. I spent a while reading and socializing in the common area at the hostel I'd been tenting at. By the time I got rolling it was 10:30 and I realized the library was open now. Delayed again. Got on the road at 11:30. It's a shorter day, I told myself, 60km. I should stop listening to myself, that guy never knows what he's talking about.

I lamented more this morning about whether or not I should do the Rainbow track that runs from Hanmer Springs to St. Arnaud. 120km of gravel through completely remote areas. This would be perfect if it didn't have a few extremely rough hills. The worst being 500m climb in 6km on Jacks Pass. Between the weight and primarily road oriented tires, these kind of hills aren't exactly enjoyable. It also means I have to be lucky or put in huge days to be able to have Internet to Skype my family on Christmas (which I'd like to do early in the morning on the 26th New Zealand time).

So I decided to skip it. Not entirely sure what my plans are but I'm hoping to at least arrive in Nelson on Christmas Day. James will be there for the night of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so having dinner with him would be about the best way I could spend the holiday at this point, I think.

So shooting for Nelson on Christmas Day, I figured I'd DoC camp at Lyell around 60km out. Another hot, beautiful and moderately hilly day so I'm pretty tired by the time I make it to the DoC. I plop down to eat a snack and read before setting up my tent. Sand flies descend in quantities I haven't seen since Haast. I make my play in the battle by smearing skin melting 80% DEET on my legs and arms but now they are swarming my clothes. I end up getting bit on the face twice and throw in the towel. I'm not sitting in my hot tent, baked by the sun for 6 hours (its 4pm at this point) and I'm not getting devoured by sand flies (my legs already have enough unsightly red patches from them).

I decide I will ride until I find a place to freedom camp that isn't infested by sand flies. I actually didn't consider the fact that the road I've been on is cliff going up to the left and cliff going down to the right. Regardless, I explore over a dozen clearings, paths and roads in my search of somewhere to put my tent. I felt like I found piles of “almost” spots. Maybe I was being picky, but I found safe and hidden spots with giant rocks or very uneven ground and a few nice unused pathways but with all the good tent spots in clear view of the highway. A nice spot on the beach, but the only patch of rockless sand was the most visible place I've ever considered camping and had a few sets of fresh car tracks through it. This kept happening until about 40km later I hit Murchison which puts me at a metric century and 7pm. I've been sweating buckets today in the heat and am smeared with high strength sun cream and bug repellent. I decide I'm okay with forking out to pitch my tent at a motorcamp to get a shower tonight. Sand flies hadn't really let up at any point during the search so I'm also thankful to be able to write this from inside a building.