Zen On Dirt


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A Year of Scamplife

It’s been a year since we moved into the Scamp for our long-term road trip. Ok, that’s not fair, it’ll be a year next weekend, but right now I have a rainy morning in Tucson at a coffee shop with good internet, so a bit of reflection is in order.

Working on the road and traveling had been a dream of mind since my good friends Bama and Tanesha bought a 32-foot Airstream to live in. I was smitten with the giant tube of aluminum and spent the next several years in a combination of ogling various trailers, living out of cars, minivans, temporary rentals before the circumstances finally lined up to buy the Scamp.

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Learning Scamplife at Gilbert Ray campground outside of Tucson a year ago. Still a favorite spot.

Scott and I both work by looking into a computer screen and could do so anywhere where we were connected to the internet. Phone tethering technology had finally gotten to the point where relying on cellular data was feasible. And probably most importantly, we’d lost the house that we’d been renting out in the winters in Tucson because the landlord decided that she wanted full-year renters.

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We were in the Moab area for six weeks. We camped alone only a handful of nights. We’ll be back this spring.

So we bought the Scamp and got rid of as much of our stuff as we could. For full disclosure – we both have some boxes of stuff at our parents’ house. We have a few bikes hanging out in Winter Park. I still have my backcountry ski gear should the urge ever hit again. 

But we got rid of pretty much everything. The 13-foot Scamp has inside dimensions of 10x6x6 ft, a two-burner stove, a propane-powered mini-fridge, a propane powered heater, lights, a set of bunk beds that can be converted into a couch that we use as shelving, and a bed that turns into a table.

We have one bike each. A bin of cooking stuff. My favorite cast iron pan. Two bins of bikepacking/camping stuff. A bin of clothing each. And a Soda Stream for fizzy water. Yes. We have a Soda Stream and use it nearly every day.

Sparse. But perfect. We love it.

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Mighty Scamp!

I’ve always tried to live simply and the Scamp embodies the simplicity while still maintaining a level of comfort that I enjoy. Every item we have underwent a rigorous assessment: Is it worth the weight and space?

But we have everything we need, and in a world that is being destroyed by over consumption, it feels good to enjoy having little. Every time we ponder buying something new, we think about what we’d get rid of in order to make room, so we tend to buy very little. We notice much more of what we consume since our electricity/internet/water are limited. We have to find places to get rid of our rubbish, so we try to produce as little of it as possible. There’s a level of awareness in this existence that I don’t get when living in a house.

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I do apparently have a shoe problem.

This small and simple living has endless advantages in my mind. For one, it doesn’t cost a lot. Sure, before we got our second solar panel, we ran our battery down in the forests of the North Kaibab Plateau and had to pay $36 for a night at an RV park because Tour Divide was starting and Scott needed his computer, and sometimes we pay for camping in order to be in a National Park, and we’ll pay for Forest Service camping as needed (but hey, I’d rather support the National Parks and Forest Service than a bank giving me a loan). And of course, there’s our propane bill which amounts to about $12 a month. But we have no mortgage payment or rent. We’re not paying interest in car loans. We have no debt and a healthy savings. We are also very lucky to both be healthy. I never take that one for granted.

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Kaibab Plateau. Not so great for solar power.

We’ve spent the past year traveling to all of our favorite places in the southwest. From Tucson to the Grand Canyon to Moab to Bryce Canyons to Winter Park to Salida to Moab to the Grand Canyon and back to Tucson.

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Transfer days are always exciting. The Sportsvan does good.

We’ve seen and adventured and made memories with far more people that we would have if we’d stayed in one spot. Since the loss of the existence of a stable social circle was one of my big fears when starting this experiment, I can’t believe how much I feel like my social experience has been enhanced. We place ourselves into areas of annual pilgrimage, Moab in the Spring, Salida in the summer, Tucson in the winter, and we make it a priority to see the people who are there right then. Instead of having regular relationships with people who we see often, we have much more intense encounters with people because we known that we’re just souls passing through, and we’ve got to make the most of the time we have together. I think I prefer it that way. At least for now.

I’m sure we’ll settle down someday.

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Kait puts her feet up after a full moon-lit overnight Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim crossing of the Grand Canyon with me. We were on our way to Tucson. Kait on her way to Australia. Flexibility was key in making this one happen.

But when it comes down to it, what have I missed about “regular” living? Sometimes it would be really nice to lay down on a bed while Scott needs the table to work. If the weather is dismal, it sure would be nice to have more space to move around inside. I would love to be more involved in community activities that require a longer term commitment than I can offer. I’d love to have a garden and a dog (or two) and a cat and chickens. I’d love to have a property on a long trail and act as a trail angel. An oven to bake bread would be amazing.

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Back in Southern AZ for the winter, where sunsets are platinum and the coyotes sing us to sleep.

But here’s my thought: Someday I’ll have all of those things (or at least some of them), and when that time comes, I’ll appreciate them all the more. A house and property ownership won’t be something that we fall into, it’ll be something that we choose.

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Every sunset it a cause for a pause in life and a moment of celebration and appreciation. 

But for now, as plans for spring season in Moab are starting to take shape, I’m pretty excited to have the set up we have right now. It’s not a life for everyone, but it’s the life we’ve chosen and made work with some level of grace. And I love that.


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Reintegration after a month back

The full moon came and went a few nights ago. We watched it from our Scamp site near Picket Post Mountain just east of Superior on the Arizona Trail. I’m not particularly good at knowing the date, or often what day it actually is, so I measure the passage of time by the size of the moon in the sky. And the passage of the full moon means we’ve been back from New Zealand for just about a month.

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Wow.

I’ve always struggled with reintegration after a big trip or big event. The whole ‘the higher you fly, the farther you fall’ idea. And trust me, I was flying high throughout most of New Zealand. I freakin’ loved New Zealand. I loved our trip. I loved the food. I loved the people we met.

But as it turns out, I’m polyamorous.  I really love the desert and Tucson too. And the food here – how I missed bottomless diner coffee and tortillas made with lard.

And after a full month here, and most people in this Great US of A would agree, a trying month on many levels, I haven’t fallen. I’ve spent some time thinking about why this is because I’d like to integrate these lessons into my life as I move forward on this path of being human.

I, historically, am prone to depression in the winter months when I have no big plans on the horizon and have just come back from something big, exhausting, and semi-epic. Scott and I actually made a half-assed bet, sometime riding through NZ, that when we returned home, I’d struggle.

But it hasn’t happened.

So here are some of my theories on my newfound enjoyment of days when traditionally I’ve wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear.

1)We live in a Scamp and have minimal stuff.

After 28 hours of travel, Lee picked us up at the Tucson airport and brought us back to the Scamp that he’d brought back from its storage spot in Tubac. Everything was exactly where we’d left it (not that we could remember where everything was, but we found stuff eventually), and we hooked it up to the van and towed it out to Gilbert Ray campground, one of our favorite spots.

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The past several years, when we’ve come back from summer adventures, we’ve moved into a house and had to deal with a shed full of stuff that somehow we believed we needed. There was the unpacking, the dusting off of crap, the wondering of why we needed so much stuff if we’d just spent the summer not missing any of it.

Stuff is stupid. Stuff weighs me down. I love our 360 cubic feet of Scamp and every useful item in it.

We spent almost a week at Gilbert Ray, charging our dead battery and playing on the nearby trails.

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2)The weather went to shit, which was really funny.

Every time it was cold in NZ, which was often, we joked about changing our tickets to go back to Tucson. So the joke really was on us when after three days of good weather, it started to rain.

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The crummy weather, to me, was actually funny. And it made me feel like I wasn’t really missing out of much while we recovered from travel and a big final two weeks in NZ. One of the big triggers of my sadness is if I don’t feel like I’m making the most of the days and opportunities I’ve been given.

When the weather is shit and work is plentiful, I can putter along quite happily making money and not going out to do big things. I knew I needed to recover, the weather facilitated the process.

3) I have awesome friends in Tucson, and there was all sorts of stuff going on all of the time.

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Wendi had a birthday, so we celebrated with whiskey and bikes. Starr Pass is chock full of new trails, and they got rid of the three horrid dips that I dreaded having to ride every time I went out there.

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Heather and Jeff from Fairbanks came down for their week in the desert. Alexis was in town for 9+ days. We all went on a massive group ride that actually kept moving fairly well for being nine people strong.

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Tuesday night girls’ rides were resurrected. Though they seem to have devolved into ‘Let’s ride bikes for a little bit, go get burritos, and then soak in the hot tub for longer that we rode bikes for.’ And I’m totally stoked on the new development.

4) We’ve stayed on the move without really leaving Tucson.

I’m not good at being in one spot. But I also know that I need time during the year to recenter and recharge. We’ve developed a routine of spending a week camped on the outskirts of Tucson in our various favorite spots, and then returning to our in-town campsite (which comes fully equipped with four dogs and a new kitty to love on) in order to run town errands, eat Seis burritos, and hang out with friends. After a few nights in town, we’re ready to head out to someplace new.

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We headed out to Willow Springs for some cold weather camping (the Scamp was 32 degrees one morning, it took 15 minutes of heater time to get it up to 50) and for me to race the Oracle Rumble 50k. I’d signed up for the running race a week prior because it was on one of my favorite sections of the Arizona Trail from the Freeman water cache to Oracle State Park. And really, I could totes pull a 50k out of my ass after nearly three months of minimal running.

And I did. The first 20 miles were great. The last 12…well, let’s just say there was some struggling and bargains of ‘If you run to the next course marker, then you can walk until the following one.’ Still, I finished in six hours and change and was pretty happy with the effort.

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There was an Antelope Peak make-up ride the next day, so a bunch of PHX folks came down to say Hi. Shannon and Sam also came up and conned me into riding a lap of the 24-Hour course. Good idea? Probably not, but it was nice to get out and spin the legs after my night of moaning and groaning from soreness.

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Kurt came up for a couple of nights of camping, and we got in a final ride with Alexis before she had to point back north to snowy Utah. This ride hurt. That 50k apparently caused some damage to the energy levels. Totes worth it.

We headed back to Tucson for our weekly recharge.

5) I’m learning to appreciate each situation for what it is.

I’m no scholar of enlightenment or the search for happiness, but I’m a firm believer in working really hard to appreciate the good in each situation. Sure, Tucson is a big city by my standards, the traffic can be trying when attempting to get anywhere, and the Ghetto Bird police helicopter seems to fly every night, but the people are fantastic, it’s amazingly diverse, and there’s no shortage of good food to taste.

And 10 minutes of human-powered effort from the Genser Trailhead puts you deep into Tucson Mountain Park and you can forget there’s a big city just over the horizon.

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No place is ideal. The Scamp has let me embrace the fact that I don’t have to call any one place home, I can appreciate each place for what it has and forgive it for what it doesn’t.

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Tucson has Cat Mountain, a beautifully rubbly scramble that lets you survey everything that is around.

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It also has Agua Caliente Hill, which provides as good of a kick in the ass as any big mountain in Colorado. Think you’re fit? Think again.

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And then there’s that whole sunset thing…New Zealand didn’t have sunsets like these.

I can’t say that it’s been all rainbows and unicorns since we’ve been back. I’ve had my fits of grumpies, but all in all, the days are getting longer, the temperatures are getting warmer, and things are looking up.

And while a part of me is surprised at this smooth reintegration, there’s a part of me that isn’t. #Scamplife has allowed me to exist in a manner that feeds my soul, keeps me engaged, and surrounds me with beauty. The temporary nature of our time in Tucson makes me appreciate it for all of it’s amazingness and put a high priority on spending time with the people who are important to me.

Some combination of all that, makes me happy. I love the desert. (And I love New Zealand, too.)

 

 


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Christchurch, wonderful hosts, Indie the dog, and leaving NZ

I would love to write some deep and insightful post about our time in NZ, now that we’re officially out of NZ and in Australia, en route to home in Tucson, but the 3:15 wakeup call to nearly miss our plane compounded by some quality beers last night isn’t really encouraging, ummm, deep emotional insight. Pretty much my brain can process: Where’s the next coffee, and when we can get on the next plane to sleep, but not much past that.

But, a final entry about our last two days in Christchurch, which were amazing.

When Scott and I first flew into ChCh, we were so overwhelmed and jetlagged that instead of staying and exploring the city, we did what we know how to do best, we pedaled. We were excited to come back and see the place, even if only for a few days.

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We had an immensely generous offer from Scott Emmons, to be referred to here as MultisportScott, and his wife Jo to stay with them in ChCh. They were the ones who’d chased us down on our way to Omarama. They organize the Kiwi Brevet and both he and Jo are members of the rad community of bikepackers.

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Our plan was to eat our way through ChCh on the way to their house on the other end of the city. Our first stop was frenchfries and a flat white at the gorgeous botanical gardens in the city.

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I particularly loved the center rose garden. Reminded me of my grandparents’ houses in Budapest.

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The whole garden was filled with color and people wandering around enjoying the day.

From there, we went to the Lucky Ninja food cart in front of the cathedral in the center of town. The sheer destruction from the earthquake in 2011 was still apparent. Empty lots, condemned buildings covered in graffiti, the cathedral half collapsed. The grayness of the day led to a very glum atmosphere, somber. Sad.

The population of ChCh dropped from 500,000 to 300,000 after the quakes, and it sounds like building has been slow but steady, and at least Jo and MSScott seemed to think that the city would be amazing after the rebuilt.

Our next stop was the Re:Start Mall, which is an outdoor space where all the shops are made out of shipping containers. I think it was a big part of getting downtown ChCh back into business. Lots of neat little shops, a coffee shop for another flat white, buskers, lots of people. It was definitely a happy place.

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We ended up running into Jo on our way to their house, so we got a guided tour in, which was awesome. We rode by a giant concrete stadium, unsafe to use, that sat lonely and sad. Step by step, I guess. Earthquakes are scary.

We all took Indie the Heeler on a walk on the trails in their neighborhood. Their house is backed up against the Banks Peninsula, and there are both walking and mountain bike trails nearby.

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After a night spent in a bed, the first since Athol two+ weeks ago, we faced our last full day in NZ. We delayed the cleaning and packing of bikes by visiting MSScott at his place of employment, where they all take a 10:30 tea break together. Lunch is on your own there, but work stops during morning tea. I dig it.

We met Scott’s “adventure ride” doppelgänger, Dave Mitchell, who told us that NZ has the best adventure riding in the world. He also had Scott’s selective memory about hike-a-bike levels. This scares me, but we promised to be in touch when we came back. Sounds like he knew of lots of neat connections between places….if you were okay with the occasional bike carry.

And then on to packing.

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Indie helped. She also stole our tape several times to aid in the process.

MSScott and Jo went far above the call of being amazing hosts by offering to drive us to the airport in the morning for our 6:15 flight. Having a quiet place to pack bikes and to not have to worry about getting a shuttle made the entire process of getting ready to leave so much more bearable. Hopefully we can return the favor someday.

The line for check-in was already heinously long when we got there two hours early, and then we had to repack the bikes because they were both a kilo too heavy, which left us sprinting for our plane, which actually didn’t board on time. We did get to watch the bikes get loaded, so we know that they at least made it to Melbourne, where we are now waiting for our connection.

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Soon, home. I’m trying to convince Scott that we should just escape the airport in LA and ride down to the Baja Divide, but I think rest will be good and Tucson is awesome. It’s a big world to explore…and I need some sleep.

I’m sure more will come from this trip once we’re back in the States. NZ is a special place filled with amazing people. I can’t wait to go back.


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Back to Christchurch to see kiwi birds…and to begin preparations for leaving

We’re back at the same holiday park in Christchurch where we spent our first night in the country. It feels a little bit like coming home, full circle, end of trip. It feels familiar after two months of unfamiliarity. We chose this park two months ago because it was 3km from the airport. This time around, we chose it because it was 5km from a wildlife sanctuary that had kiwi birds.

It feels good to be back here, a fitting end to the trip, even though we still have two days to explore Christchurch. It feels like we accomplished what we set out to do, which was to ride bikes, go hiking, eat good food, and meet neat people, and see a kiwi bird, which we got to do today. Anything extra that we see or do in Christchurch is just frosting on what was a delicious cake of two months in NZ.

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Yesterday morning started as I described in the previous blog post – with the realization that we’d gotten off by a day and now had two and a half days in Lake Tekapo, which would have been great if it was sunny and beach weather, but it wasn’t. It was also at 2,000 feet, which meant that nights were cold.

So we altered our Master Plan by altering our bus ticket by 24 hours. Let’s spend a day in Christchurch and go see the botanical gardens, and kiwi birds, and the big cathedral. Let’s do something completely out of the norm for us, let’s be city people for a day!

Lucky for us, they’d only had the more expensive ‘flex fares’ left when we’d bought our bus tickets, so we could change them for free. Yay for paying an idiot tax? I guess?

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We pulled the classic dirtbag move in bad weather of hanging out in a coffee shop/restaurant and continually ordering more small things to keep our presence acceptable. As late as 7:30, we went all in and bought a full-on dinner to buy us another of hour next to the fire. It was worth every penny.

It was a 10 minute ride to free camping, and we found ourselves a secluded spot in the pines. It felt just like Colorado camping.

We returned to the same coffee shop in the morning to wait for our bus. Like I said, free and unlimited internet, you have our business.

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As we waited to board the bus, bikes in pieces and tied up nice and small, we ended up talking to a Danish couple who’d just arrived. We gave them a bunch of places to see, places to eat, and I gave them my Good-Bye Sandfly bug repellant. Yes, we told them, they are as bad as they’re made out to be.

It felt good to be able to pass on advice on camping, the cycle trails, and different roads and places to avoid.

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Airforce mascot is the flightless kiwi. Yeees.

The bus ride was painless. The driver was funny. I’m going to miss Kiwi humor. He didn’t charge us extra for the bikes, which means four more flat whites in our budget. Or two more flat whites with scones. I’m going to miss flat whites and cheese scones.

We got off the bus at the airport, not because we’re flying out now, but because it was the nearest stop to the wildlife sanctuary that had Kiwi birds. While we’ve heard them in the wild, seeing one in the wild is amazingly hard to do…and we really wanted to see a Kiwi.

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The sanctuary was awesome! They had all sorts of birds, wallabies, rare pig and chicken breeds, donkeys, keas, and of course, kiwis.

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Since they are nocturnal birds, they had them in a dark enclosure lit by red lights. We watched two of them foraging and being territorial for a while. What a goofy, goofy bird.

I’m super glad we got to see them.

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Kea!

And then, back to the holiday park that we knew. The kitchens been remodeled, but otherwise, it’s the same music playing, same airplanes flying overhead, same random mishmash of people, but this time including other cyclotourists. It’s good to be back.


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Master Plans, Alps 2 Ocean greatness, day confusualment, and Lake Tekapo

I find it funny that last night, when I was catching up on writing blog posts (a combination of a freezing night and a late night had me skipping writing two nights in a row…which means catch-up when I do finally get a warm and extended space to write), I wrote something about always having a Master Plan, just not always, or ever, following it to a T.

Our plan was to ride to Lake Tekapo yesterday, spend today lounging on the beach and letting Scott work (tracking season is gearing up…so home we must go because Internet here doesn’t quite cut it), and then hop on a bus to Christchurch tomorrow for final prep to getting on a plane.

When we got to Lake Tekapo yesterday, we pondered changing our bus ticket to a day earlier…there’s not much to this place besides a bunch of people stopping for lunch on their way to Mt Cook or other places down south. But whatever, a day hanging out here wouldn’t be too bad, there is a pretty lake, after all.

And then we woke up this morning and realized that we’re a day off. We have two and a half days here before our bus picks us up.

I guess at least we weren’t off in the other direction. It’s hard to complain about having an extra day, but we’ve definitely sort of run the energy rope out this past 10 days and now sort of feel like we should do something else with our newfound 24 hours. But the only way out of here is on a main highway, or back the way we came…so we’re definitely feeling a little bit of stuckness. And…tired. We are tired.

Something will happen, it always does. Even if it’s two days worth of drinking coffee and lounging by the lake.

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We had a fairly straightforward day of pedaling yesterday, except for the wind.

Our campsite in daylight was even better than in evening twilight. We definitely dawdled away the morning, knowing that the cafe down the road didn’t open until 9am.

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Motivation

Cups of coffee one and two were had on a big boulder.

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Coffee #3 was from the cafe on the shore of Lake Pukaki.

Then it was on to more Alps to Ocean. We ran into a family touring with four kids who were packing up camp. They had two more kids who were older, but they’d toured with all eight family members before. They hauled trailers, and the kids seemed to be pretty stoked. Lots of people out on these cycle trails, which is awesome.

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The full force of the wind didn’t hit until we climbed to the top of Lake Tekapo Power Station 2. A bunch of lakes here are connected by a giant hydro power “scheme” and we got to follow the canal all the way up to Lake Tekapo Power Station 1. There was also a salmon farm in the the middle of the canal where the flowing water provided the fish with fresh water at all times and kept them swimming. The marketing material said this was good for the salmon meat.

We had some at Lake Ohau earlier, it was delicious.

Anyhow, the crosswind was, intense.

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At the sole highway crossing, we saw a van with four loaded bikes gathered around it. We stopped to talk, slowly working out that there were a couple from Holland touring, and then a couple from Pagosa Springs, CO, touring on Salsa Fargos there, and they’d randomly started to talk to a Kiwi couple who were touring around in their van.

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We were immediately offered coffee (#4) and yummies and spent some lovely time talking to everyone.

From there, it was a fairly short pedal into Lake Tekapo. I would love to find a way to make entrances into town more graceful, but somehow they always end up stressful. With no public showers or laundry, and the prospect of a bus ride soon, we eventually gave up on other options and paid for a night at the local Holiday Park in order to have access to their facilities.

It was an expensive shower and laundry…but beggars, especially stinky beggars who haven’t showered or done laundry in over a week, can’t be choosers.

I always have this dream of ending a trip on a big magnificent high note with celebration…this wasn’t quite it. The reality of it is, end of trips are usually accompanied by complete exhaustion…so maybe I should embrace the fact that I can barely keep my eyes open today and say ‘Job well done.’

But I guess we have an extra 24 hours and a second chance to do it better should we decide to go further. And they’re forecasting rain this afternoon, so maybe it’s better that we get to hang out in a town, even if it is a silly one.


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A Day in Mt Cook National Park

Oooh-eee, last night was cold. We woke up to a solid layer of frost all over everything. I knew this was happening before getting out of the tent because of the painful toes that I started experiencing long before the sun wanted to come up. Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to keep my feet warm…but probably not. Too much damage to the little tootsies over too many years. C’est la vie. I love you little tootsies.

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Our master plan (we always have a plan, we just rarely stick to it) was to go to the DOC office as soon as they opened in order to file our intentions to going out to the three bunk Ball Glacier Hut. At 8:45 when we finally rode over, 15 minutes after opening, we found that another group of three had already spoken for the bunks. Drat.

Win some. Lose some.

We went to a different cafe, this one in the fancy-pants hotel to get a coffee and make a new Master Plan. The day was beautiful, the day was young, the opportunities were endless.

And we happen to be opportunists.

The wind forecast for the next day looks terrible for trying to ride out from the park. The rain forecast for the following morning also looked dire. But there, there in a four hour window late in the afternoon this afternoon, the wind shifted for a few hours, going down valley.

When opportunities present themselves…

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But first, there was hiking to do in the form of 2,200 wooden steps up to the Sealy Tarns. They love their steep-ass trails here, and I love going up them.

We could have gone higher to the Mueller Hut for lunch, but we were pretty happy with the half-way view. We lounged in the sun, willing a giant block of ice that was precariously perched on the glacier across the valley to fall and make a big boom. It didn’t, but we saw some smaller pieces of ice fall and make still significant booms.

Glaciers are cool.

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Next up was a ‘charge stuff up and do internet-y’ stuff break at the fancy cafe. I’ve never really thought about getting a dynamo hub for charging before this trip…but I’m starting to see the appeal. I’d love to see my iPad at over 50% charge…but that may be a pipe dream that won’t be fulfilled till we get home. It seems like most cafes in NZ make a point of not having power outlets, and doling out Internet usage in 50mb vouchers in order to keep people from sitting around for ever and taking up tables.

When we find a coffee shop with both unlimited internet and power, we become loyal customers. Generally, the internet will still suck. Internet here really is 10 years behind the States, for better or worse.

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Anyhow, we pedaled down to the Tasman Glacier and did a little hike on our way out of the park. It’s the largest glacier in NZ and retreating rapidly, sadly. All of the glaciers are retreating rapidly.

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Finally, after much delay, it was time to pedal down the road. We knew we wouldn’t make it all the way to the end of Lake Pukaki, but we hoped to find some sort of camping along the way. It was a solid 7pm departure from the park.

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And the roads were empty! And the weather forecast had been right, the winds had shifted and were pushing us along solidly. Win. Big win. It was as enjoyable as any pavement could possibly be. When we got tired at looking at the giant lake ahead, all we had to do was look behind us to see the sunset golden light on Mt Cook.

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Things only started to look dire for finding camping near the end. We’d been bordered by private land for the last 10km, and it was starting to threaten to get darkish.

But I’d remembered a DOC land sign just a few kms from the lakes end. Could we make it? Of course we could. It’s light forever here.

After a short hike-a-bike up a trail off the highway, we found ourselves the most perfect campsite of this trip. A giant boulder to shelter us from the wind. Big views of Mt Cook. And pink clouds changing with the last of the light.

What a day. Turned out, not getting into that hut turned out just fine.


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Mt Cook: Perfection of rain avoidance timing

It was to be a 55km ride on pavement up to Mt Cook National Park. As a top tourist spot, we were worried about the level of traffic on the road. We were also worried about the level of wind, wind can be a real bummer around here.

We made a master plan of getting up early and beating the traffic. It’s very similar to National Park traffic in the States, get to where you’re going before 9am, you won’t see a soul.

So when we slept until 8, we were right on time with our plan. Or not.

On the plus side, now there really wasn’t a whole lot of reason to hurry, which is good, because we’ve definitely structured our trip around not hurrying whenever possible.

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The ride up actually wasn’t as painful as we thought it was going to be. We were blessed with a tailwind strong enough to make a difference, and traffic really wasn’t too bad. A few people passing too close and too fast for comfort, but I never felt an overwhelming need to panic.

The Alps to Ocean route is a bit of a bummer here. The actual route goes up the opposite side of Lake Pukaki, one of two glacier-fed lakes in NZ and thus incredibly blue, avoiding traffic. But, but there’s a catch. The catch is a massive glacial river that you have to cross between the park and the end of the road. $125 will get you a 1.5 minute helicopter ride with your bike across the offending river.

I’d rather spend $125 per person on scones and coffee, so highway it was.

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We had massive views of Mt Cook the whole way, and the day was clear enough to be able to oogle the mountain for the full three hours that it took us to get up there. Well, three hours plus the coffee break we took at the cafe halfway up.

Threatening clouds started to mass during the final few kms. When we got to the DOC office, it started to rain. What perfect timing.

Timing perfect for another cup of coffee at the cafe, followed by a fine spell that allowed us to pedal up to the campground with enough time to get into the shelter for the next round of showers.

Tea this time. And lunch.

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When the rain abated, it was time to go for a hike. We opted for the Hooker Valley and started out under grey and cloudy skies. Even when we got to the lake, the skies covered the peaks, but we could see blue skies coming up the valley, so we sat down to wait.

Boy oh boy, was it worth the wait. Mt Cook came out in full glory, the huge west (?) face looming above Hooker Lake and the glacier.

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The mountain towered over us the whole walk back, now that the skies were truly clearing for the night. It was funny that we’d walked the whole way up having no idea that it was there.

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We hung out in the cooking shelter for as long as we could. We knew it was going to be a cold night out. Having the shelter made it worth paying for camping, plus something about supporting National Parks. We’ve gone almost 2 weeks without paying for camping or lodging, so we’re pretty proud about that.

And to have the chance to camp in the shadow of giant glaciers? Well that’s pretty cool too.