Monday, January 21, 2013

Driving Around Cyclists - My Two Cents

As a general rule, I do my best to avoid opinion pieces on my blog... My opinion is just that... And some people would agree, and some would disagree... However, I feel the rule can be broken to discuss a matter that affects us all as cyclists. In fact, even if you aren't a cyclist, it affects your partner, friends, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, and your children who ride a bike, or who may one day like to try it. How would you feel to receive the news that a family member, or a close friend of yours had been killed in a cycle accident? And on the flip side, how would you feel to hear that a family member, or a close friend had been responsible for the death of another human being?

The other week, as I was riding my bike between Wanaka and Cardrona, I found myself placed in a rather unpleasant situation. There was a cyclist on the other side of the road, and two cars going around him, then another car behind them that decided to overtake the lot of them (two cars and a cyclist) on my side of the road whilst he was oncoming to me. The car passed me, heading in the opposite direction, on my side of the road with possibly a mere 50cm between me and their hunk of metal car. They were travelling fast enough that by the time I turned around to get the number plate, they were just about out of sight, and upon ringing the police communications centre (*555 for those of you who don't know it), the brief flash I got of his number plate turned out to not match the description of the car.. Bummer. The cyclist on the other side of the road was equally as horrified at this driver's dangerous antics. Whilst I was horrified, and quite shaken, I must say it didn't surprise me, and it's not the first time it has happened.

A few days later, I heard the news of a young cycling legend, Burry Stander, who was tragically hit by a Taxi and killed while he was cycling. And only a couple of weeks ago, I remember opening a news website to see a disturbing picture of a car with a completely caved in windscreen and a part of a cyclist's helmet still embedded in the windscreen. The driver had hit a cyclist at full speed, causing horrendous injuries to the rider. The driver was unhurt. I'm still not sure if the cyclist survived or not... The news article said he was in a critical condition, but it was obviously not considered important enough for the site to report back on.

I'm pretty sure that in all of the above cases, that the person driving the car had no intention of killing another human being... Which is actually even more scary than thinking it was done on purpose... The culture surrounding driver behavior around cyclists in New Zealand is out of control (and yes, granted, Burry Stander was killed in South Africa, but it still serves as a timely reminder of the importance of driver care around cyclists). I cycle on the road, and I do my best to be a considerate road user. I stick to the edge of the road, I signal to let people know what I am doing, if there is not a lot of room and a car is waiting, I will wave them through as soon as I can see a safe gap for them to do so. I also agree that there are some cyclists who are extremely inconsiderate. I too, find it frustrating when I am driving and cyclists ride two abreast and hold up traffic (just for the record, we are legally entitled to do so... Whether it is considerate or not is a completely different matter). I don't find it frustrating enough, though, to risk injuring or killing someone.

A friend of mine, Norm Douglas, recently made this exact post on his Facebook wall, and I hope Norm doesn't mind me copying it here because really, I couldn't say it any better myself:

"To my non cycling friends and to all my other friends,

 I know cyclists can get in the way sometimes and I know that we are often "lycra clad" morons. And yes I know we should "pay ya bloody rego" and yes we probably do need a good feed and a beer and yes we know you think we don't deserve to share the road.

We know this... but please remember this:

If you as a driver of a vehicle that can weigh many tonnes... if you make a mistake around a cyclist... YOU CAN KILL US.

Let me say that slowly... YOU ... CAN ... KILL ... CYCLISTS ... WITH ... YOUR ... CAR.

Just imagine how life would be AFTER you kill a "dickhead" cyclist who doesn't deserve to be on the road. Imagine the guilt for the rest of your life ... imagine knowing that you have killed another human, someones husband/wife, daughter/son, friend/colleague.

PLEASE be careful on the roads. Please."

I have said on many occasions now that possibly one of the only worthwhile projects our current New Zealand Government has engaged in is the New Zealand Cycleways Project (my political standings and views are not up for discussion here on this blog... Let it be suffice for me to say I think the cycleways project was a great idea and has been a worthwhile and beneficial accomplishment). I suppose from a political viewpoint, the government has realised that cycling brings huge benefits to the community, to people's well-being, and to tourism and the economy in general. The thing I find perplexing about the project is this... Has there not being a portion of budget set aside for driver education??? I mean, here we are, telling people what a fantastic place New Zealand is to cycle in... We have these great trails and amazing landscapes and friendly people, but not at any point do we see the need to teach people driving cars how to behave safely around cyclists??? It blows my mind that it appears to have been completely unthought of.

There are no ads on TV, or on the radio, or in the newspapers... There are no questions (or very few) on it in the theoretical test that people have to take to get their license... It certainly isn't part of the practical test to gain your license... So where do drivers learn what is safe to do around cyclists? Do they realise that if they pass too close, a gust of wind could blow a cyclist straight under their wheels? Has someone told them that they don't HAVE to pass a cyclist immediately if it is not safe, or if they can't see the road ahead... That it is OK to slow down and wait behind the cyclist? I am yet to be made aware of any driver who has killed a cyclist being tried in court on the correct charge... When was the last time we heard of someone going to jail for seriously injuring or killing a cyclist? If you kill someone, but don't mean to kill them, that's manslaughter right? My thoughts are, that to make New Zealand the cycling mecca that we are trying to sell the world, there needs to be driver awareness campaigns, laws surrounding the passing distance between a car and a cyclist, and tough penalties for those who injure or kill cyclists with their car. Someone needs to finally be held accountable for their actions and made an example of... Because at the moment, there are people who feel free to terrorise cyclists... And they get away with it.

It might sound preachy, but I certainly don't look forward to receiving a phone call to say a friend of mine has been hit and injured, or killed, by a car while they are enjoying their time on the bike. I would also never wish it upon my own family or friends that they would receive a similar call because the same had happened to me.

To put it in very very simple terms, stay at least 1.5m away from a cyclist when you pass them, and if conditions don't allow you to do that, then wait, and don't pass... It's really that simple. I'm not saying that cyclists always get it right... Some cyclists, I'm sure, are very naughty and inconsiderate on the road (as are some drivers), but it doesn't mean we all deserve to live in constant fear of dying every time we head out on the bike, and realistically, the consequences of a cyclist's own bad behavior will be their own undoing. "Buzzing" cyclists by driving past really close because they pissed you off, spitting at them out your car window, throwing bottles at them, and abusing them is downright dangerous and simply not on.

I love it when I go out for a ride, and a car slows down behind me because they can't pass, then as soon as I can, I pull over, and wave them past... Then they give me a friendly toot... And I give them a little wave, and we all carry on with our day. It might sound so corny, but it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside because it is exactly the way it should be. So if you're reading this, and you cycle, I ask that you follow the rules, and be courteous on the road, not only for your own safety, but for the benefit of driver/rider relationships in general... And if you are not a cyclist and you are reading this, I hope it makes sense to you why it is so important that you are patient on the roads and give cyclists the space they require to get home safely... Don't risk ruining a family's life, and your own life, for the sake of a couple of seconds delay.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Spice of Life - A Blog With No Bikes...

I've enjoyed these holidays for a number of reasons... First and foremost, I obviously had the opportunity to ride my bike... Secondly, I had the opportunity to spend time with my beloved partner and her adventure-loving family (and her rather cute nephew)... And thirdly, because I did a bunch of cool things I wouldn't usually do. It is said that variety is the spice of life... To be honest, I thought the spice of life was bikes, but the wise person who said the former may just be on to something...
I'll start this blog by issuing a blunt warning... There are no bikes in this write-up... I know, I know... It was hard to do... And it doesn't mean that I love my bike(s) any less, but it just looks like I'm going to have to find more hours in the day, and more days in the week to do some other stuff that I have been missing for a long time now. Bikes weren't always the centre of my universe... There were times when I went canyoning, rock climbing, hiking, kayaking and rogaining, and I think these holidays have really demonstrated to me how much I miss some of that stuff. It's also been a fairly blunt wake-up call that my social skills revolve around my ability to find someone else in a crowd of people willing to talk about bikes... Partaking in a variety of activities not only gives me the opportunity to cross-train, but also equips me with the ability to engage a whole new group of people in a social environment... Or maybe I'm just trying to find excuses as to why I enjoyed some activities that didn't involve bicycles...

Alright, here goes for the confession... So I did some hiking/running and enjoyed it... There, I said it... PHEW!

In fact, I did it on more than one occasion. Our first foray on foot was early in the trip, when my partner and I did a little half day hike up the Rob Roy Glacier Track in Mt Aspiring National Park. The track entailed a rather stiff climb followed by stunning views of Rob Roy Glacier and some close encounters with a couple of cheeky Kea birds... We did this hike the day before our Mavora Lakes trip (what better way to cure the DOMS than riding 130km over the following two days???)

We also ventured onto the first section of the Motutapu hike for an afternoon, crossing from farmland into the stunning Stack Conservation area, a slice of paradise nestled beneath a native canopy with crystal clear rivers and waterfalls running through it. It was also on this day that we saw a farmer in his natural habitat... It isn't until this happens that you realise just how lucky we are to have access granted across the land that these people own... Something that we should never take for granted or abuse.

My hiking trip of note, though, was only a few days ago. I mentioned in a previous post that my partner's parents are pretty keen outdoor enthusiasts... And her mum in particular enjoys the odd off-road marathon. Aside from scouring maps, the other way I plot my adventures is staring wistfully into the hills, looking at tracks and roads that are etched into the hillside, salivating at the thought of conquering a huge climb, or seeing the view from that section of trail. Mount Roy sits unassumingly across the other side of the valley from where we were staying... Every morning at breakfast, it taunted me, and begged me to climb it... But there was that one barrier... NO BIKES. I was also aware of a route which traversed the range from the summit of Mount Roy, across to the summit of Mount Alpha, and then down into Cardrona Valley. It seemed like a formidable challenge, and whilst my partner wasn't really interested, her mum was as keen as mustard to head out with a new hiking buddy for the day.

I must admit I was silently terrified the old girl was going to rip the legs off me... I was, after all, bike-fit and not walk-fit (this was the excuse I had prepared in my head). I nervously joked about her taking it easy on me as we began the 1200m climb straight out of the carpark towards the peak of Mount Roy. My fears were allayed relatively quickly... We hiked at about the same pace (although I'm sure she wasn't quite as sore as me in the following two or three days), and seemed to have the same competitive urges (that been, we didn't like being passed or having someone in front of us), which kept us both pretty honest. The company and conversation was great, and a fantastic way to take my mind off my burning legs as we battled the relentless climb to the top on a well-formed track, stunning views across Lake Wanaka constantly in sight.
A couple of hours later, we crested the summit of Mount Roy late in the morning of a blustery day. The clouds that were suspended against the blue sky provided a dramatic backdrop for the stellar views as we pulled on our jackets to keep warm as we tackled the Skyline traverse. The clouds threw this incredible shadow across the surface of the lake, clearly visible from all the way up on top of the mountain, and we could see the trail we had just walked up winding it's way back down the hill. It's funny how you look at a route from afar and it seems so straightforward (and generally rather flat)... This route was neither (although it did look like that from afar). We followed a rough poled route back down an exposed ridge, losing precious altitude that we would have to gain again as we neared Mount Alpha. It was amazing how the route swung from one side of the ridge to the next, alternating views between and endless mountain range and a stunning array of lakes and rivers. The route was incredibly steep in places, turning into a nervous, sketchy scramble on a couple of occasions, but it was fantastic... I loved it. I remember looking across from one high point and following the orange poles with my eyes into the distance, able to see the one lone pole that sat on the summit of Mount Alpha and cringing at the route we had to take to get there. It was slow, rewarding work.

We nestled on the other side of the summit of Mount Alpha, protected by the wind and basking in some sunshine that had decided to pop out from behind the clouds and grace us while we ate our sandwiches. No sooner had we finished our lunch break had the sun disappeared and the wind reared up across the mountain, making our trip across the ridge a little more hazardous and making me just a little nervous. We began descending on a well-formed track that was rough and rocky, and I couldn't help but think it would be the perfect opportunity for a heli-bike drop... The riding down this trail would have been completely wicked! Biking is actually permitted on the Skyline track, and I found myself frothing at the thought of having my bike with me right there and then (it also would have been a lot easier on the knees!!!). Asides from the last section of DOC land, where the trail was hideously overgrown, there was definitely merit for an up-and-back bike trip on the track, or a heli-bike drop for those less inclined to climb hills under their own steam.

Back to the walking though (because there are no bikes in this blog)... As we descended off the mountain, the air became significantly warmer, and we found ourselves protected from the wind again, and able to walk side by side where we could have a good chin-wag... The last 4-5km was a tad boring, descending a section of overgrown DOC land, and then crossing a farm on a seemingly unnecessarily long route, but we eventually popped out onto Cardrona Road, rang for our pickup, and were on our way home after a good, honest six and a half hour slog. All up, we did about 24km and 2000m of climbing! Not bad considering we were on foot! I spent the following three days in an inordinate amount of pain... I need to learn to do this more often, or not at all!!!

Let's face it... There are places we aren't allowed to ride our bikes... But there is no reason we have to miss out on that experience... Where a trail is dual use, a bike is definitely my preferred mode of transport, but there are some cool things to see where it is totally worth going in on foot. An adventure is an adventure and worth doing no matter how we get there (but I still love my bike)...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Exploring Wanaka - Millenium Track, Minaret Burn and Some Non-Cycling Stuff!

I was gutted when I had to go home early during the Yeti Tribe Gathering in October then saw the photos of their final day on the Millenium Track. So I had made sure it was on my bucket list for this trip. I had a spare two hours one evening before a family gathering and headed out with the intention of hitting up the delights of Sticky Forest again (a well worthwhile area for a bit of two-wheeled fun if you are after a quick blat in the forest in Wanaka), but as I headed out the driveway, had a change of heart and whizzed off in the opposite direction. I felt like riding something different and I reasoned with myself that the Millenium Track was an out-and-back, so I could turn around and make my way back in time for dinner.
It was a windy day, but the sun was shining. I set out along the edge of Lake Wanaka, hugging the shore until I found myself on a pleasantly-groomed piece of track. The Millenium Track sidles directly along the lake for about 17km between Wanaka and Glendu Bay, offering constantly breathtaking views of the lake, mountain and towns. It is not by any means technical, but with a few stiff climbs, a couple of fast, steep descents and the stunning views, you don't need an excuse to enjoy it. As I made my way along the track, I could see the track ahead of me, winding along the lake, benched into the edge of the hillside. As I made my way out to Glendu Bay, caution was thrown as I neared each corner (collisions with pedestrians are a BAD thing). It had been only a day or two since we had experienced some quite heavy rain and as I drew closer to the end of the track, it disappeared under the lake's surface, leaving me to either wade my way through the edge of the lake, or navigate an alternative route. In any case, I managed to make it all the way to Glendu Bay and back in time for dinner... Perfect!

My original intention, when enjoying my nightly map-examining session, was to ride the Millenium Track to Glendu Bay, pop out onto the Highway, then around into West Wanaka Road and onto the Minaret Burn Track (another dual-use DOC track). Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to link them up, but I did have the opportunity for a separate mission along the Minaret Burn track a week or so later.
I rather enjoy the fact that my partners parents are adventure bunnies, and I brought along my old rock climbing gear on the off-chance that we may have the opportunity to rock up some slabs (definitely slabs... My scrawny cyclist arms would be in no condition to climb anything steeper). Being on holiday, we had a lazy sleep-in then set off late morning. It's been a long time since I went rock climbing, and I still harbor memories of early morning starts, then driving out to the Blue Mountains to climb either in the searing heat or the freezing cold, stopping off at the Blackheath Bakery on the way to sample their fine food (I still don't know if I have ever found a bakery to top it), and then climbing until we had gaping bits of skin hanging off our fingers. In those days I could climb a grade 24 and my best onsite was a 23. These days, things were a little different. We arrived at Riverside crag (so named because of it's location next to the Motutapu River) around lunchtime, and were stoked to see that there were no other cars in sight... Looks like we had the place to ourselves! There was a reason for that, though, which became apparent as we stood in the blistering heat harnessing up and getting ready for our first route.

I was the one with the most lead-climbing experience (albeit from about eight or nine years ago), so I was up for first climb of the day. I clumsily fumbled my way up a grade 12, relieved to clip the top chains. It all came flooding back to me... The knots, the moves, the rules about which way to clip quickdraws, about tying bites in the rope before tying off at the top... I climbed with nowhere near the strength, confidence and prowess that I had all those years ago, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sarah and her Mum completed the climb on my top-rope, and then we moved on to the next. I chose a grade 14 in the book that had a little star next to it (apparently meaning it was a nice climb... And it was)... I moved up this one much more gracefully, then tied off and came down for Sarah's Mum to give it a go (I'm not sure if it was a good move or a bad to make her stay up there until she had completed the climb!)... I was keen to do more, but the heat of the day had made some of the holds higher up on the wall quite hot to touch, and the general consensus amongst my compadres was that they wanted a swim in the river... But we made the call to come back before I went home... The experience made me realise I miss climbing... Hopefully it might reignite my passion for rock... I'd love to start climbing again, and I reckon it would be easily fitted into my riding schedule... Variety is the spice of life after all, right??? (or is that "cycling is the spice of life"? It could be either).

We slid down the riverbank for a quick dip in the Motutapu, then it was time for some bike riding... I had put my bike in the car before we left, thinking it may be a good opportunity to hit up Minaret Burn and then ride home via the Millenium Track. I was dropped off at the start of Minaret Burn, and was on my way... It climbed steeply up the bluff and then undulated up and down along the edge of the bluff, occasionally dipping inland slightly to ease the gradient of the climb. The views were absolutely stunning... Even moreso than on the Millennium Track. It was more remote and there were less people around. The track then swung back inland and meandered down to Colquhouns Beach, which had been left awash with driftwood from the recent rain increasing the water level of the lake. I was unsure of how far along the track went (I didn't have my beloved maps or Magellan GPS with me), but I figured that when I reached the end of the trail, it would be rather obvious anyway.

The track deteriorated and descended to follow the edge of the lake, crossing a few rivers along the way. Each river crossing I negotiated got slightly deeper, and flowed just a bit faster. I suppose the snow melt and rain was somewhat responsible for this. I eventually came upon a river that I had reservations about crossing. It flowed quickly over the rocks, and from what I could deduce, was maybe about waist-deep for me. I vaguely recall, some time ago, a wise person telling me that the more "points of mobility" that were below water, the greater the risk you would be swept off your feet... And it seemed to make sense... Whilst I am known for me adventurous spirit, it doesn't mean I am reckless, and had I been with another person, I may have been more inclined to attempt the crossing, however, being by myself, I decided that today, this was my turnaround point... And it haunted me for days that I hadn't made my way right to the end of the track... I felt like I had missed out on something. In any case, the legs were still feeling flat after my super long adventure a few days beforehand and they were screaming at me on the climbs... I got back to the start of the track and called the WAAmbulance to collect me instead of riding all the way back into town... It ended up being a rather pleasant day out exploring and engaging in a fun array of activities... Climb, swim, bike... Maybe I should have squeezed a run or hike in there somewhere???

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

High Country Adventure Riding With Bike and Snow - Rock Peak and Roaring Meg Pack Tracks

After scouring various Topo maps of the Wanaka area in search of a suitable adventure, I settled on a route that began just off the road at the top of the Crown Range and sidled it's way up and into the distance. The map told me that the route looped out into the Pisa Range and then linked up to the Roaring Meg Pack Track descent, one I barely remember from a heli-trip years earlier. I love maps. Much to my partner's disgust, I can spend hours with maps spread across the floor, mapping courses, then re-mapping them when I find another trail to add. Sometimes, I spend so much time late into the night fantasising over the route I have plotted, that when I finally come to ride it, there is this bizarre link that automatically forms between the images I see, the things I feel, the experiences I have, and the map... Right now I could run my finger along the track that traverses the ridge up to the highpoint and show you exactly where the snowed-in road lay, and the magical rocky descent, and the strange aviation navigation equipment on the mountain peak. I could point out the spot where I felt lonely, or the exact moment a broad smile appeared on my face as I hammered down a descent, realising this was the most fun I'd had in ages.
So I set off at a very respectable hour. My partner's mum had very kindly offered to drop me off at the start of the track and pick me up at the end, but I insisted that the extra 25km each way from Wanaka to Cardrona would be good training (just quietly, it is a pretty boring stretch of road, but I really didn't expect my partner's family to shuttle me around for the sake of a mere 25km in each direction). The road ride on my mountain bike from Wanaka to the top of the Crown Range saddle took me about 2 hours, and apart from the final 2-3km, where the gradient pitched up a little more steeply, was a relatively mellow climb to about 1000m.It was then time to head off the road, away from the traffic and tarmac, and towards the real hills, the dirt... and the snow.
As I climbed Rock Peak track, the road disappeared into the distance, as did the stunning view of Queenstown which sat behind me. The climb was significant... Quite steep, unrelenting, rocky and loose. Occasionally, I would get some respite from the climb as the gradient eased and then pitched up again. Rock Peak became a very visible landmark in front of me, and before long, I arrived at an intersection with a sign pointing one way towards Tuohy's Gully, and the other towards the Rock Peak summit. I figured that I had come far enough that it would be silly not to climb the final 100m and see the summit, so I rode/hike-a-biked up the final steep section of track to the Rock Peak summit, 1530m above sea level to find an array of  aviation navigational equipment sitting atop the hill. One of the devices had a rather large sign on it that said "Navigation aid critical to aircraft safety". I thought it a little odd that such important equipment would be positioned in a place so easy to get to, and completely unfenced... But then reminded myself that I had just climbed another 600m off the road, to a place not accessible by vehicle, and realised that anyone interested in causing trouble would likely not be bothered with the grueling climb along the rough gravel road and would probably find an easier place to make their mischief. I nestled myself out of the wind, sheltered by a rock to enjoy my lunch with a view, watching planes float past as they came in to land at Queenstown Airport.
The previous day, a rather nasty front of weather had passed through to see in the New Year, and Wanaka and Queenstown had enjoyed (or endured) a large, unseasonal dump of snow down to about 900m. The hot Summer sun had melted the snow away to all but a few patches from what I could see, which was reassuring given my route had three more substantial peaks to traverse... Mount Allen, at 1492m, Quartz Knoll, at 1593m, and Queensberry Hill at 1581m. It was a relief to be out on my bike again, enjoying the outdoors after the previous couple of day's bad weather.After finishing my lunch, I descended Rock Peak, and continued on towards Tuohy's Gully. Credit really does have to be given here to DOC. Whilst I was carrying a map, I rarely needed it. Every intersection was signposted and marked. On a bit of a side note, too, another great thing about the Wanaka/Queenstown area is that most tracks are dual use (which encompasses the majority of tracks worth riding anyway), which makes for some exceptional back country trips by bike.
As I made my way further into the Pisa Range, the climbs became steeper, forcing me off the bike on occasion, but totally worth the effort. As I rounded the summit of Mount Allen, I was able to see across the range down into the valley where Wanaka lay. I doubt there are many opportunities in the area to enjoy views of both Queenstown and Wanaka. The wind howled around me, and the combination of climbing and descending meant I was in a constant state of indecision as to whether my jacket stayed on or off.
As I peered across the range, I could see a very visible line of snow which followed the ridge line up to the peak next closest to me. I remember thinking to myself "I really hope that isn't the road I am meant to be following". As I drew closer, I realised it was. Evidently, this side of the range didn't receive as much sun as the other, and the snow from the previous day had not yet melted... Furthermore, as I reached the snow, I noticed that it seemed to follow the lay of the road the whole way up (I guess that because the road has been built in such a way that it is protected from the elements, it also meant that the snow was protected from the elements as it lay on the road). Attempts to follow a line up the edge of the track, where the snow wasn't so thick, were occasionally successful, but often foiled by steep embankments off the edge of the road, or times when the snow would drift off to the side, drawing me 100-200m off the track before realising I had to cross the (often quite deep) snow drift to rejoin the track so I didn't become lost.
It was all a bit novel at first, and I spent some time taking photos and making snow angels, but it made climbing these final two peaks super hard work. The road was a metre deep in snow (deeper in some places), and as I climbed higher, I was forced to plow my way through the snow on a couple of occasions, sinking in up to my waist as I dragged my bike behind me. On one occasion, my legs went numb from the snow against my legs, and I wished I had spent less time mucking around in it lower down. Those things aside, though, it was stunning... And I was in no rush... But there was a certain degree of somberness surrounding me. I felt like I was miles away from anywhere, and as the wind howled across the peaks and the grey clouds skirted across the blue sky, it felt eerie been up there by myself. Like I wasn't supposed to be there... A distinct uneasiness that I tried to dismiss by basking in the pleasure of experience itself.
I was forced to descend most of Quartz Knoll on foot, too... Any opportunity I did get to ride was stopped short by my front wheel burying itself in a deep patch of snow. Finally I crested Queensberry Hill and started descending the other side. I was at about 1600m and there was little in the way of climbing from this point on. As I worked my way down the mountain, the snow gradually gave way to a slurry of mud created by snow melt and dirt, and the air started to warm up. The snow melt finally disappeared, laying in front of me about 1300m of dry, rocky descent to enjoy. The final rocky descent into Tuohy's Gully was great fun, and then on to the Roaring Meg Pack Track, which travels over rough, rocky steep DOC land and farmland to arrive in the Cardrona Valley. The Ninja chewed up the descent with ease as I glided over rocks, through gullies and rivers. It was, in all honesty, the most fun I'd had on my bike in a loooong time, and I couldn't wipe the smile off my face, nor dismiss the disappointment that washed over me when I finally popped back out onto the highway.

I cruised the 25km home to Wanaka for a well-earned feast and a bath, stoked to have experienced another memorable adventure.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mavora Lakes - Stunning Scenery, Great Company and Sore Bums.

So, it's my first Christmas off in about 15 years (that's what happens when you get caught up in a career in retail!), and I really couldn't think of anything better to do with the time than go riding. Unlike my trip earlier in the year, though, I had to pay due consideration to accommodating the interests of my better half, Sarah, and somehow fitting time with her and with my beloved Ninja into the one trip. Sarah isn't really a mountain biker... Although she isn't NOT a rider, either (if that makes sense?). I had bought her an early Christmas present months ago... A nice new hardtail XC bike... And we had done the odd spot of riding together, but with her end of year exams, she hadn't been on the bike much of late.
When I first suggested the idea of us doing a "short" cycle tour together at some stage over the holidays, the original idea was to do the Otago Central Rail Trail... Plenty of accommodation along the way, nice scenery, short stages with good rests in between... But somewhere between then and our final plans, we shifted to the Mavora Lakes ride (dutifully guided by the Kennett Bros book "New Zealand Cycle Trails"). The Mavora Lakes ride starts in Queenstown with a trip across the lake on the old Steamship, the Earnslaw, to Walter Peak. You then ride about 60km to Mavora Lakes, camp the evening (or stay in one of the DOC huts), then ride through to Te Anau the next day (about 70km). If you look at the altitude profile of the ride, there is an ever-so-slight uphill gradient from Walter Peak to the Lakes, with one solid climb in the middle of the day. The following day is a downhill gradient that s so subtle that it pretty much feels flat. So it's entirely doable as an introduction to cycle touring... I knew that Sarah would make it just fine, but we had discussed previously that her lack of time on the bike of late would likely mean that she would end up with a rather sore bum. Her longest ride so far had been 17km, and here I was dragging her along on a 128km epic. I justified this misdemeanor by explaining to her than the riding would be much easier than riding in the forest at home... There wasn't as much climbing, we'd be taking it pretty slow and it wasn't technical like riding in the forest. I neglected to mention that this would be largely negated by the fact that the distance each day was nearly four times longer than she had ever ridden... And with the weight of a pack on her back.

So we packed up and set off on a beautiful sunny day a couple of days after Christmas. I set up the Ninja with the Freeload rack on the back (careful not to tighten the straps too tightly around my carbon stays for fear of crushing them, as I had learned from John Randal). On the rack was a twenty litre drybag stuffed full of my favorite lightweight kit... A tent (Vaude Power Lizard UL), a couple of sleeping bags, a couple of camping mats, cooker and a first aid kit. We then each had a backpack. Sarah carried her clothes and some spare bike bits and I carried my clothes and all our food. We also carried 3 litres of water in a bladder, and another water bottle on our bikes (it was going to be a hot couple of days!). I was stoked with how much gear I fitted in my Camelbak Octane 18X, and the little mesh outer pocket later proved useful for carrying nasty rubbish bits and pieces that you didn't want to put inside your backpack with everything else. I was also carrying a tow-rope which I had devised to tie to my saddle rails and then had a loop at the other end to lasso around the stem on Sarah's bike when required. We didn't get a chance to test it before we left, so I had no idea if it would work. I wanted to make sure that Sarah enjoyed the trip for a couple of reasons... Firstly, I do like the girl, and I didn't want her to have a miserable time. Secondly, I wanted her to join me on subsequent trips. And thirdly, I wasn't all that keen on returning home single... I truly think the best way to see the world is on two wheels under your own steam, and I wanted to show her that so she understood why I loved it so much.

We arrived at Walter Peak on the first boat across and sorted out all our gear... I re-tied the drybag on my rack so it didn't drag on my rear wheel and then we were off. It was surprising just how quickly we seemed to leave the madness of the tourist season behind us. As they all surged off the ship and onto the shores at Walter Peak, we disappeared up the road amongst nothing more than the cows, the sheep and the mountains that towered over us on one side and the lake that shimmered on the other. It was a super hot day and we just meandered along at a civil pace. I'd stop and take photos, then ride back up to Sarah. There were a couple of other groups out, apparently doing the same trip... One of them had a support vehicle carrying all their gear for them (cheating, as far as I am concerned!), and the other group was a couple of older guys... One on a foldable bike, and both carrying quite a bit of gear. Sarah and I had done exceedingly well to travel so light. The ride was so pleasant. As we cruised along and took in the stunning scenery, stopping along the way to enjoy snacks and sandwiches (Camembert cheese and cucumber makes a surprisingly good mix on fresh ciabatta!). We followed a gentle climb around the edge of lake Wakatipu until we ran into the Von River, then sidled along the river up the valley towards our destination with nothing more eventful than a rather large, scary-looking bull that was blocking our path at one point. With some gentle persuasion, we carefully cycled our way around the lovely bull, joking that the farmer probably puts his biggest, meanest-looking, but lovliest bull on that road purposely to freak out cyclists.

We crossed our first ford  at the same time the two other guys caught up to us. It was about this time that Sarah also first complained that her bum was a bit sore (not great news when we had only gone about 20km). Our pace had been pretty cruisy, and my thoughts were that the slower we were, the longer Sarah's bum would be on a saddle and the more it would hurt, so I thought that now was the time to try out our towing contraption (and to crack out the Butt Butter), and hopefully get us to our destination a little quicker. The small loop went through my saddle rails and threaded back through the rope, which then ran along the top of the dry bag at the back and looped over Sarah's handlebars to nestle around her stem and tow her along from the centre of her bars... It worked an absolute treat, and as we passed a gorgeous little stone cottage on the side of the road where the boys were having their lunch, I can only imagine how unusual it must have looked to see this tiny little girl carrying the load and towing her partner along.

Before long, we reached the foot of what was to be our only climb of note throughout the whole trip... The road wound it's way rather steeply up around the mountain in what was approximately a 250m climb. Not really too tough in normal circumstances, but was a good hard slog with a load on and Sarah in tow, as well as a number of stock trucks making their way past us on the narrow, dusty road. It took us a while to get into the rhythm of how to stop and start with Sarah on tow... It pretty much meant that I was in charge of forward pace and steering, and Sarah was in charge of any stopping or breaking that happened. Starting again after stopping usually involved me track-standing on my bike whilst yelling out "Ready? All good? Have I got you?" about three times before riding off, worried that I would either entangle the rope in one of our wheels, or drag Sarah's bike off on her before she was ready. Surprisingly, we did pretty well, and I only remember one occasion when we tangled the rope in my back wheel.

We stopped about three quarters of the way up the climb to have lunch, at a stunning vantage point that looked straight back down the valley with the river winding through it and the mountains surrounding and standing guard. It was stunning... This is why we ride bikes!!! The top of the climb saw us enter another huge valley with a relatively flat, undulating road winding through it. The whole ride had been quite exposed to the elements, and this section was no exception. The barren basin held the heat and funneled the headwind straight at me. It was just after our lovely little climb that Sarah got her first introduction to the world of self-photography... I was dead-set on getting a photo of us together, me towing Sarah along... And it took five or six attempts with my Gorillapod and my camera on 10sec timer to get an acceptable shot (camera manufacturers... Can we please have a 30sec timer option???). Finally, we were on our way again, with Sarah already well on her way to using the entire pot of chamois cream. We were making pretty quick work of the distance, but the basin we were riding through was so vast, it seemed to be taking forever. I took great pleasure in stopping and pinpointing where we were on the map, much to Sarah's disgust (she doesn't really share my map fetish).

We hadn't seen many other people the whole day, which was lovely... It seemed like we were in a world of our own (far away from Queenstown's tourist crowds!). Towards the other edge of the basin, though,we passed another cycle tourist heading in the opposite direction. We exchanged friendly "hellos" and then about a minute later, he pulled up alongside me. His name was Peter. He was from North America and apparently rather impressed by our towing setup. I was secretly stoked that someone had seen my towing contraption and was impressed with my incredible towing powers. Peter was doing his first solo tour through NZ, starting in Christchurch and making his way all the way down to Mavora Lakes so far. I was envious... I can't think of many things I would rather do than spend an undetermined amount of time just traveling around on my bike, seeing amazing places and meeting new people. I offered up a hot shower and a place to stay if he happened to find his way to Rotorua and he mentioned an organisation called Warm Showers. Warm Showers ( is a reciprocal hospitality website for cycle tourists... Looks like a good thing to get into, and once I get home, I'll be sure to sign up myself. It would be so cool to have cycle tourists drop by, spend a night, and tell some good stories! Peter took some photos of our little towing setup and then turned around and headed on his way.

Not long after, we could see huge clumps of trees rearing up in front of us, and before too long, we could see the Mavora Lakes turnoff right in front of us... It was like a mirage, where the desolate basin we were riding through entered a lush forest bordered by crystal clear lakes with beautiful blue waters. We registered at the campers registration and paid our fees and then continued on until we came across the first camping area at the northern tip of South Mavora Lake. To be honest, we should have continued on and checked out the larger camping area about 2-3km up the road, but Sarah was tired, and there was a cosy little spot in the bush on the edge of the lake where we were able to pitch the tent, have a feed, a dip in the lake and chill out for a bit.

The spot we had chosen for our tent was on a slight hill, but we figured that if we pitched it downhill (with our feet down the hill) then we should be fine. We then spent the entire night with our sleeping bags sliding off our mats and depositing our weary bodies at the bottom of the tent. Other than that, though, the spot was beautiful. I had generously offered to carry a small bottle of wine with us which we drank as the sun was setting. We dipped our bodies in the cold water in the lake, which ended up being incredibly refreshing after a day on the bike (and a convenient way to wash our only set of clothes seeing as we were traveling so light!), and ate pasta cooked on my pocket rocket (the Bunsen burner for campers...). It was truly stunning... The two other guys we had seen earlier in the day arrived some time after us and set up camp nearby. They were surprised how light we were traveling considering we had all our camping gear with us, but I suppose that is the thing with cycle touring... If you want luxury, you have to be willing to carry it!!!

The thing I find bizarre when staying in the mountains down south is that the sun disappears long before it actually sets, casting an eerie, dull light across the early evening. We stayed up long enough to watch the sun disappear behind the hills and then climbed into our beds, Sarah using her amazing ninja swatting skills to successfully prevent sandflies and mosquitoes entering our tent. I was surprised at how soundly we slept, waking up only on a couple of occasions to hear possums mating, the neighboring tent's fat dog hunting for scraps and then once to go to the toilet. I remember climbing out of the tent and thinking how bright it was, then stumbling half-awake to the edge of the lake to see a full moon casting a stunning reflection across the completely still lake... It was magic... Surprisingly, I went back to sleep for four hours after that, waking up about 7am to the stunning reflection of the mountains upon the lake.

After a quick breakfast, a cuppa and packing our stuff back down into nothing to attach to our bikes (it really is amazing how little you can get away with carrying on these trips), we mounted our bikes again to continue on our way... Not wanting to miss out on any of the spectacle, I insisted that we take a short trip further north to check out the other lake, to which Sarah reluctantly agreed. I'd love to do this trip again, but camp up for two or three nights and explore the area a bit more... There are dozens of walking trails to check out in the vicinity of the lakes, and it's a beautiful spot. I knew Sarah was keen to get moving, so we didn't venture too far before heading back to the main road to continue on our way to Te Anau. I think Sarah was a bit over the trip by now, and probably largely because it isn't very comfortable to have to sit on a bike seat when your bum is already sore... I just wanted to get her to Te Anau as soon as possible.

To be honest, I didn't enjoy the second day as much as the first... The increasing number of cars meant we were getting closer to civilisation again and whilst the scenery was very pleasant, it wasnt'quite so much as the previous day. The extra weight of carrying a pack on my shoulders was also starting to make my saddle a little uncomfortable, too (mental note... pack as much as possible onto the bike and avoid using backpacks). I put Sarah on tow pretty much from the start of the day and we were chewing through the miles pretty quickly, knocking out a good 30km in under 2 hours. It was all looking pretty rosy until we reached our next turnoff which said "Te Anau 45km". I knew Sarah was pretty gutted with how much further she had to sit on that damn saddle, and to be honest, I was surprised we still had that far to go... But there wasn't much we could do about it other than push on. We knew the last 30km or so was on the main highway and would probably be slightly less rough on the body than the gravel roads, so when we reached the highway, it was a bit of a milestone for the day. It meant, though, that we had to contend with traffic, and I wasn't sure if I was entirely comfortable with towing Sarah along a main road with crazy holiday drivers zipping by, so we took the tow rope off for the first 5km or so.

We both wanted lunch, but I was hoping for a slightly more pleasant vista than merely the edge of the road. In my quest to find a nice rest area, we rode past two or three perfectly nice spots with shade and ended up having to settle for an overgrown strip on the side of the highway, in the sun, next to some road kill... Perfect... Not long after this, I decided to put the tow rope back on Sarah... I think we both just wanted to get to Te Anau, and had it been on a pleasant, country backroad, it might have been a different story, but the highway was becoming a bit of a drag, so we jumped back into tow mode and headed for home, Sarah's underpants hung over her handlebars in the hope to dry them before we arrived.

We finally reached Te Anau, three and a half hours before our bus back to Queenstown. We found a good pie shop (very important), a good ice cream shop (important again) and an ordinary coffee shop (two out of three ain't bad). We also found, to our delight, a lovely, clean public shower facility and the guy who worked there was so lovely and accommodating, even letting us put our bikes inside where he watched them for us while we had a shower... It was absolute bliss! And probably much to the benefit of other bus passengers who had to sit near us on the trip back to Queenstown. My concerns at getting the bikes on the bus were allayed when we had the most super nice bus driver (who was also a biker) who carefully loaded our bikes on board and then dropped us off nice and close to our car at Frankton.

Another stunning trip under my belt, and whilst I haven't had the guts to ask Sarah whether she will join me for another bike trip any time soon, I'm hopeful she may forget about the bum chafe and allow me to drag her along (literally) on another ride sometime in the future...