Zen On Dirt


Leave a comment

Into Te Anau, riding local trails, and towels!

Apparently I’m an early riser in the hut community. I feel like I’m always the first one ready to get up and see what’s out the window. You’d think that when people go to bed at 9:30, as seems to be the standard ‘hut bedtime’ (unless you’re a 16 year old girl on a school trip, then all bets are off), then people would start to move before 7am. Nope. I don’t think my 6am rustlings are appreciated, so I work real hard to lay as still as possible.

We rolled away from the hut, saying good-bye to the French on the way. They were fun. It was a great hut night.

20161205-122858.jpg

Without the heinous wind of the day before, the ride along the highway was downright pleasant. It would have been a slog yesterday, but with fresh legs and a fresh new day, it was enjoyable pedaling. Plus, it was early enough that all of the campervans hadn’t woken up yet.

20161205-122946.jpg

We took a long-cut into Te Anau simply because it got us off the highway and made the ride a little more interesting. What was a ‘green circle’ on Trailforks, our go-to map for mountain bike trails, had Scott and I both dabbing multiple times.

20161205-123024.jpg

That’s a New Zealand green circle for you. (It was basically a rutted and muddy in spots two-track, but the tracks were often deeper than they looked, so switching between them to avoid mud led to some interesting maneuvering.)

Our first stop in Te Anau was a cafe for a late breakfast. We’ve gotten into the habit of splitting the traditional New Zealand Big Brekkie. Seriously, Brekkie is a word here. I love it here. It works well because there are two of everything, eggs, hashbrown patties, sausages, bacon, toast, and even the roasted tomato is cut in two. It’s great for people who aren’t very good at sharing.

20161205-123057.jpg
Should be amended: New Zealand, period, is different. Allow for extra time.

Next up: Mountain biking! We knew there was a little mountain bike park north of town, so we rode loaded bikes up there, mostly to see if there was any possibility of camping that direction.

There wasn’t, the park was on private land, but it did lead to an hour’s worth of entertainment after we ditched bags in the bush.

20161205-123204.jpg

There was even a Mr Bean car built into one of the trails. Scott rode over it three times, because, well, it was cool.

20161205-123232.jpg

Back to town.

The south to scope out the start of the Kepler track.

And back to town where we’ve ended up at the nicest hostel we’ve been at since this trip started. They gave us towels to shower with! I haven’t used a real towel since leaving the States. It was pure luxury. It’s sort of nice doing without basic amenities for a while. I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited to dry my hair after a long shower…brushing it…well, that always sucks after a week+ in a braid.

Anyhow. Te Anau. Neat little place. We have all day tomorrow to wander around, and with glow worm caves in the area, I think I know what we’re going to do.


1 Comment

Focus and Intentions

It was sometime about a year and a half ago that my good friend Sarah asked me what was next in my life. I was done racing. I had zero desire to try to put together stupid-hard bikepacking routes like the CDT, where did I see myself going and doing?

I have no idea, I admitted.

Have you thought about international travel? She asked

I explained that it wasn’t super high on my list mostly because I just wanted to play in mountains and I didn’t see a huge reason to drop a large sum of money on a plane ticket to other mountains in other countries when I had amazing ones in my backyard.

Maybe I’ve reached my personal lifetime limit of hardcore bikepacking (or at least am getting close to it), maybe that since we live outside of towns with the Scamp, I no longer feel the need to use bikepacking as an escape from people and civilization, maybe I’m just getting old, but I’m becoming less interested in massive backcountry undertakings and far more interested in the people around me and meeting people who do things differently.

And that has definitely shined through brightly this trip.

We shared breakfast with the couple from Invercargill in the small hut. They knew the area well, and we were able to get several key pieces of information about our route for the day from them. Local knowledge is the best.

20161204-112347.jpg

As they made their final preparations for leaving, we headed for a hike up a nearby hill overlooking the lake.

Some Lord of the Rings scenes were filmed here, and the locations are marked by a ring on our road map. It’s funny. We saw the jewelry shop that made The Ring in Nelson…they had to make something like 40 copies of it in various sizes for different scenes.

20161204-112428.jpg

Anyhow. Back to the hut and the bikes and out the road back to the New Zealand Cycle Trail.

We had 20 miles of road before hitting the highway, and we covered it quick with the aid of a stiff tailwind. Finally, a Nor-easter doing us some good!

The couple from Invercargill, who we’d passed on the bikes, passed us back in their car as we were stopped for a snack on the side of the road and stopped to say a final farewell. They seemed impressed with our trip, saying that we were seeing more than the average New Zealander ever would.

20161204-112519.jpg
The biggest bull I’ve ever seen.

Tailwind turned to side wind once on the highway, and it was a pretty easy decision to pedal a 6km up a valley, on the Te Araroa trail (which happened to be a road) to a small hut. It was 2pm when we got there, and we didn’t think twice about calling it a day and staying the night.

20161204-112604.jpg

After a nap and a short walk up the trail, we received our hut neighbors for the night. One French guy, Nico, who’d left France for NZ 14 years ago and was now an official Kiwi, and a young french couple who were hitchhiking around the country and staying in huts. They’d done a fair bit of WOOFing, and were now just traveling before finding a boat to crew for to get off of NZ and back to Asia so that they could walk home to France.

As it turned out, they were both instrument makers, specializing in bowed and plucked string instruments, mostly guitars, ukus, cigar box guitars, etc. At some point, Eric pulled out his miniature guitar that he’d made and started playing.

He moved from songs from American artists to French song writers to his own work. He was downright amazing, and the guitar sounded like no other instrument I’ve ever heard. His girlfriend (?) joined in the singing, and even Nico joined in for some of the french songs.

I didn’t want it to end.

We all slowly got ready for bed as he played, laying in the semi-dark listening to the magic. I fell asleep with my heart full of love for the world, for the people we meet traveling, for people doing things just a little bit differently.

Why do I travel by bike these days? For days like this one. Where you get to spend time with people who are far different than you are. Where the unexpected human interactions far overshadow the actual act of pedaling.


1 Comment

Boats, friends, mountains, and huts

I have to say, I’ve never started a bikepack with a boat ride. But there’s a first time for everything, and I think it’s fair to say that the boat ride was the smoothest, both literally and figuratively, mode of transport we’ve tried so far.

20161204-005656.jpg

24 hours ago, we didn’t really have a plan of what we wanted to do. We knew that it was time to move on from Queenstown, but where to go? But after a wander into the Department of Conservation Office netted us two nights on huts on the Kepler Track, the one Great Walk that I had been told not to miss under any circumstances, and a plan to take a New Zealand Cycle trail to get there, we were set to go. Sometimes things just fall into place when you let them.

We spent a leisurely morning wrapping up loose ends on the Internet, drinking coffee, making fun of my brother, and grocery shopping before heading over to the 1pm boat that would take us to the other side of the lake and the start of our route.

20161204-005740.jpg

Donkey Bike has never been on a boat before, it was excited as I was. Mostly a tourist cruise, we definitely didn’t take a straight line to our destination. But who’s in a hurry?

Once dropped off, we watched the boat chug away, and we were on our own at a farm station in the middle of nowhere. Time to pedal.

20161204-005819.jpg

I’ve come to love NZ Cycle Tracks. The Molesworth-Muster route, our first ride here was one, the Old Ghost Road was one, and now this one – beautiful roads through beautiful country.

20161204-010047.jpg

We ran into Andrea again, the bike tourist from Oz who we’d met in Hanmer and again in Queenstown. She was off having adventures on the Routeburn track while we were on the Greenstone Caples route. She’s always a fun one to talk to.

20161204-005856.jpg

There was only one major climb of the day of less than 1,000 feet, and we even had a tailwind for a few miles of the route. Of course, it soon turned headwind-esque, because, really, we’re still in New Zealand.

20161204-005937.jpg

All in all, beautiful cruising until we turned off at South Lake Mavora and headed north, past the smoothly graded road, past the campsite with the group of Coloradoans in their camper van, through the massive puddles, and through the sandy and gravelly lake front of North Mavora Lake.

20161204-010016.jpg

It was slow going, but as the valley opened up, our jaws dropped. This place continues to amaze me, every single day.

20161204-010145.jpg

We’re shacked up at Carey’s Hut, right on the lake with beautiful views of mountains on all sides. We’re sharing it with a couple from Invercargill down south who are section hiking the Te Araroa, the long trail of the island who proved to be great dinner partners. They’d spent time visiting the US, touring through AZ and UT, and we had a fun time comparing NZ to the US. We decided that people in both places don’t get out to explore their backyards enough.

20161204-010217.jpg

It made me miss my deserts and canyons a little bit. A lot bit. But it is amazing here, and with a solid weather forecast for the next several days, I can’t wait to see what we find.


1 Comment

NZ Tramping: Greenstone and Caples Tracks amazingness

Tramping (New Zealand-ese for backpacking or hiking) seems to be an incredibly popular pastime in this country. As far as I can tell, aside from the immediate in-town touristy things that the country offers, tramping is one of the biggest tourist attractions that the country touts. The entire island is covered in huts ranging from deluxe with gas stoves to sheds with straw floors. Most of them are managed by the Department of Conservation, which will sell you an unlimited 6-month hut pass, excluding the huts on the Great Walks, for $90NZ. That amounts to less than $70US.

Since I knew I wanted to do some tramping, and since we’d already used one of the huts without paying when we got stuck in the downpour on the Wakamarina track earlier, I pretty easily talked Scott into buying a pair of the passes for us. I like supporting organizations that do cool things. It would take 6 hut visits to pay it off.

I’d gotten the suggestion to do the Greenstone-Caples loop from the mountain biker on the Old Ghost Road, and we had just enough time to squeeze it in before Scott needed to be back on the Internet, so we threw some logistics together and went.

Day 1

At camp, the bikes went into the bush, along with our tent, sleeping pads, and extra junk that seems to accumulate when we stay in a town too long. We were limited to our 22L Osprey Talons, day-packs at their finest. Yet we managed to fit sleeping bags, warm clothes, rain gear, our stove and pots, and two nights worth of food into them. Hut tramping is awesome. It also helps that you have to carry next to no water here as water seems to shoot out of the sides of mountains everywhere.

Andras and Vanessa had offered to drive us out to the trailhead near the town of Glenorchy, north of Queenstown, in Yeti, the 1993 camper van.

Things actually went pretty well for the first 45 minutes…right up until Andras pulled over on the side of the road in the bushes and announced a scenery break. This would have made more sense 50 meters earlier when there was an actual overlook.

20161201-141046.jpg

Then steam started coming out from under the front seats and everyone jumped out of the van. Andras seemed unconcerned. “She’s done this before. It’s just overheating. I just add more water to the radiator when it cools down.”

He lifted up the front passenger seat to reveal the engine, and we watched the steam hiss out from the overheated engine.

“Let’s make coffee. I love living in my van!”

20161201-141128.jpg

Once cool, we emptied most of our water into the radiator and drove on. We were 5 km down a dirt road when the van overheated again. We let it cool down and made it another km. This wasn’t going to work, and Scott thought that water without antifreeze wasn’t going to get us anywhere. So we dumped all of our remaining water into the radiator and hightailed it back to Glenorchy to the mechanic who didn’t have any antifreeze. “Just fill it with water,” he said, so we did. And got back on the road.

Yeti made it to the first creek ford on the road, just a few km’s down from where we’d turned around before. Yeti wasn’t going to make it past the ford, so Scott and I quickly grabbed our packs, wished them good luck, and headed down the road for a 10km road walk.

20161201-141206.jpg

Luckily, a van filled with 13 year old girls on a school trip picked us up halfway in and gave us a ride to the trailhead. It was 4:30 by the time we started hiking, we’d left Queenstown at 10:30. Nothing that goes smoothly makes for a good story?

20161201-141240.jpg

The 12km to the hut went easily, and we rolled in long before dark to a beautifully situated building filled with 16-year old school girls and boys who were on a school trip. Observations: School trips in NZ are cooler than school trips in the US and 16-year old mixed gender groups have an amazing capacity to make constant and loud noise. If it wasn’t so impressive, it might have been annoying.

Day 2

It was raining when we got up. If I were to write a book about our travels in NZ, I would call it “And then it rained”. Scott was skeptical about undertaking a 40km walk to the next hut in the rain, something about not wanting to suffer for no good reason if we weren’t going to be able to see anything anyways, but the weather forecast had said clearing after heavy morning showers, and I insisted that we not make a decision until after we’d eaten breakfast and packed.

20161201-141318.jpg

This was a good thing because it had stopped raining by the time we were ready to go, and I quietly followed Scott to the trail, letting him make the decision on whether to go up the trail, or to do a smaller tramp in a different area. I did a secret little happy dance when he pointed in the direction we were originally planning on going.

20161201-141352.jpg

Light rain and wind 30 minutes in had us both questioning our decision, but then the rainbows came out, followed shortly by full sun, and we knew that we’d made a good choice. Finally, we were getting lucky with the weather! Could it be?

20161201-141438.jpg

We rejoiced in the full(ish) sun, the lack of wind…even boggy trail with water past our ankles couldn’t get us down.

20161201-141521.jpg

Before long, we were at McKeller Hut, which is where most people stop for the day, but for us, it was merely an almost halfway point. We weren’t going to catch our shuttle back to Queenstown if we stayed there.

20161201-141814.jpg

But it was a great place to make a sandwich, perform a boil-up for afternoon coffee, and watch it rain, because, well, it was raining again. Bugger.

20161201-141554.jpg

We marched on, with a time forecast (they measure trails in time here, not distances, and they’re actually pretty dead on) of 6-7 hours to the next hut. With a 1:30 departure, we hoped to arrive before 8pm. Which is fine, because it’s light past 10 here.

20161201-141643.jpg

Of course, the high point of the track was socked in and raining.

20161201-141739.jpg

But there were signs of mountains in the distance. We sang happy songs asking for the fine spells to come back as we plunged into the valley.

20161201-141714.jpg

We ran into the group of girls who’d given us a ride to the trailhead 45 minutes down from the high point. They’d missed the private deer stalker hut they were supposed to stay in that night and had hiked “ages” past where it was. All things considered, they were in good spirits and probably only overshot their hut by an hour and a half of hiking….whoops?

20161201-141855.jpg

When we got to the hut, it was packed. 23 out of the 24 bunks were taken as the Routeburn, one of the Great Walks in the same mountain range had closed due to the snow last week, and all of the displaced trampers had come over to do Greenstone Caples. I personally thought that the heaps of people were fun. Lots of different stories to listen to, and we were pretty much the last ones to go to bed at 9:45. Scott took a spare mattress to the kitchen along side two even later arrivals, and I took the last bunk.

I’m getting pretty good at passing out in broad daylight.

Day 3

I could tell something was special when I crawled out of the top bunk, the first one moving in the morning. It was all I could do to contain a squeal when I looked out the giant hut windows from the kitchen.

The sun was out! It was lighting up the mountains in full force! Halleluja!!! I immediately went and woke Scott up, ‘You have to see this!’

20161201-141951.jpg

The clear skies led to low temperatures, and we were even able to enjoy a cup of coffee outside with the hut warden, who was a gal from Grand Junction, before the sandflies woke up and started swarming. With only 9km to go before our noon shuttle pickup, we had all of the time in the world, so we soaked up the view for all it was worth before starting down the trail, bidding the mountains goodbye.

20161201-141921.jpg

Even with a late start, we had time for a sandwich and a boil-up for coffee in the parking lot before the shuttle showed up. The driver, who verged maybe a little bit on the cray-cray side of life, got us back to Queenstown in 90 minutes, a far cry from the six hours it took us on the way out on the Andras-non-Express.

20161201-142024.jpg

We finished the trip the only way we desert rats knew how to, with tacos from the Taco Medic. With all due respect to all of the other tacos I’ve eaten in my life, these may be some of the best. At least in the top 3.

20161201-142052.jpg

We hunted down my brother, Vanessa gave us a ride back to the campsite, and we spent the afternoon lounging in the sun, which was still shining. As of this writing, 24 hours after that, it still hasn’t rained. It probably will tomorrow, but bloody hell, when it’s nice out here, there is nothing like it.


Leave a comment

Coffee and Bikes and New Zealand

My little brother lives in a van named Yeti. It’s a 1996 (or 1993, depending on which “official” document you consult) Toyota pop-top that he calls his palace.

And really, it is. He’s figured out how to make a comfortable existence in it, how to park it for free, where to get nearby internet, which campground to get water from, and all the various other bits and pieces needed for #vanlife to go smoothly. (of course, we watch him search for socks for 15 minutes in the morning and overfill his grey water tank, but he’s learning)

20161127-134956.jpg

It’s been fun to see his version of nomad life, especially in a foreign country, where you simply have to be even more flexible than if you were in your home. Different customs, culture, and different hoops to jump through – their Warrant of Fitness, which is their Emissions testing equivalent also required the vehicle to be in good working order…windshield included. That one cost my brother $400.

Either way, I was really excited to see how he was doing “life” from his van.

20161127-135037.jpg

We woke up to rain on the tent, which didn’t really let up till nearly 9am, when we all emerged from our sleeping enclosures for coffee and breakfast. No one was in any particular hurry. Andras had the day off. Vanessa didn’t have to be in work until later. Kait had an hour to pedal to try to hitch over to Wanaka. Kurt had a 50 mile paved pedal to meet her. Scott and I, well, we’re on vacation and making the most of it.

20161127-135107.jpg

Once K&K headed off and Vanessa went off to work, the remaining three of us headed to Arrowtown for pies and coffee. Andras claimed that their bakery was famous in the area for meat pies and people from Queenstown often made the drive for them.

He wasn’t kidding. They were delish.

Then down the street to his favorite coffee shop for a second cup of coffee and cheese puffs. Cheese puffs are amazing.

Arrowtown is a pretty neat little place. Apparently there’s a pretty hopping nightlife, which I doubt we’ll have the chance to see since we tend to go to bed, in the light, at 9:30.

20161127-135139.jpg

From there, to Franktown for Andras to do laundry. This would have been a sub one hour stop, except that Andras mistook a washer for a dryer, and double washed his clothes. At least they’re clean?

Motivation to ride was a little hard to come by that late in the day, seeing that it wasn’t particularly warm or not windy, but somehow we rallied to do an in-and-out (out and back) on the Moonlight Trail near our campsite.

It was fairly to mostly spectacular.

20161127-135214.jpg

We were all pretty excited to have motivated.

We headed back to camp late in the evening. When it’s light till 10, 8pm is still broad daylight and a perfectly acceptable dinner time. It’s pretty weird, the high today was probably in the high 40’s, so definitely not summer-like, but the days are so stinking long…and only getting longer. It definitely sort of messes with my head.

This place is funny. The food is delicious. Internet is a pain in the ass. The trails are divine. And it looks like it’s finally going to stop raining! At least rain of the all-day every-day variety. I’m excited to see what’s to come.


Leave a comment

Approaches to bike travel + a day in Queenstown

We met a bike tourist back in Hanmer Springs, what, three weeks ago now? An Australian, she’s doing a version of my dream type of a trip: Ride bikes places, go backpacking and hiking. But she’s doing it with a lot of weight and sticking to roads, so I’d change that.

Either way, we ran into her in Queenstown yesterday, she’d just arrived after bussing in, having to abandon the road after some broken spokes. We talked a bit about our travels, where we’d been, what we’d seen, the advantages and disadvantages of using bikepacking bags versus traditional touring panniers, and route planning.

We came to NZ with very little plan of where we wanted to go or what we wanted to see. Maybe I like being surprised, maybe I like seeing what the Universe presents me with.

Andrea said that she always planned out her entire route before arriving because she hated the uncertainty of not knowing what was coming up.

I love learning about different peoples’ approaches to the game. Old Ghost Road via huts, ultra lightweight bikepacking, road touring with four panniers and a BOB trailer, riding and hiking – I love seeing what creative energies people put into travel by bike.

Anyhow, because we don’t travel with a plan, we end up having to take Town Days where we figure out our next steps. We were waiting on doing this to see what the prognosis on Kait’s knee was, but it’s looking like there’s not going to be a lot of bike riding in the immediate future, so it was time to move onto option Q, or maybe W by now.

20161127-134226.jpg

So the morning was spent at our new favorite coffee shop researching some tramping routes, followed by the first real load of laundry we’ve done since the hostel in Nelson. While handwashing is awesome…there’s something special about machine laundered clothing, and putting on clothes warm from the dryer while changing out of the Laundry Uniforms of rain gear. Then a visit to the Spark store to try to get Scott’s phone working (failed again, Verizon, in this single case, sucks), then a visit to the Department of Conservation to look at maps and buy a 6-month pass for their hut system. It’ll take six hut visits to pay it off, and we’ve already used one of those.

We started the pedal back up the hill shortly after 5 towards Andras’ secret campsite. Luckily, he picked us up halfway because soon after, the skies unleashed torrential rain. We all had a cozy dinner in the van and watched the rain come down. At some point of time, even closed doors and music couldn’t drown out the drumming of droplets.

20161127-134306.jpg

We took a well-timed break in the rain to crawl into tents and listened to the steady drizzle throughout the night. We awoke to the surrounding peaks coated in snow, snowline just a few hundred feet above us in the distant peaks.

It is spring, after all. And man oh man, it’s beautiful out this morning.


Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Riding and Navajo Tacos

This Thanksgiving, I have to express a large amount of thanks to my brother, who last February, packed his bags, and with a year-long work visa, came to New Zealand for a year.

Without him here, there’s no way that we’d be here eating meat pies.

So I’m grateful that he made the leap of faith that NZ would be awesome and invited us along for the ride.

20161125-163915.jpg

After working a double shift the day before, Andras met us at our coffeeshop looking, well, looking like shit. That’s what happens when you go on a working binge to make a bunch of money for the next leg of travel and work a 16 hour day.

I bought him a coffee and two meat pies to try to get him looking a little more human. It must have worked because we were off pedaling shortly afterwards, bound for the 7-Mile trail system down the lake.

20161125-163954.jpg

We were told that we’d probably be bored by these trails, but I loved them. Based on the giggles and hoots and hollers that I heard from Scott and Andras up ahead, they weren’t bored either.

20161125-164026.jpg
Bald eagle ducks and ducklings

It was a sunny and beautiful day, and we were finally out for a reasonable day ride with beautiful views of the lake – a glorious way to celebrate Thanksgiving.

We rolled back into town to pick up Kurt and Kait, who’d received the diagnosis of ‘most likely sprained with nothing torn’ on her knee, piled five people and five bikes into the back of Andras’ camper van, and headed up the hill to his top secret campsite for Thanksgiving dinner.

20161125-164110.jpg

Since turkey isn’t really something that is easily found around here, we decided to make Navajo tacos instead, which we thought was an appropriate substitute. Lamb, squash, beans, and salsa. It was great.

20161125-164135.jpg
Read the description. Seriously.

The evening weather even had a few fine spells that allowed us to hang out outside, and when the rain really started to come down, we moved inside the van. #vanlife is awesome.

20161125-164249.jpg

I was feeling pretty lucky to be spending time in the shadow of the Remarkable Mountains, with good friends and even some family, enjoying the finer things in life. Good food, good wine, good beer, and for a few minutes, even a roof over my head.

20161125-164335.jpg