Arthur’s Pass and Craigeburn Forest

20 km mountain biking and lotsa driving

Despite the cautionary tale spun earlier about the rear spokes, we just couldn’t resist the chance to make a final mountain bike ride on the way to returning Chandra’s bike in Christchurch. So, we headed up toward Arthur’s Pass in heavy rain. We decided that if we could find a camping spot and if the weather cooperated we would try to crank the Craigeburn Ride also known as The Edge (see photo below!). I figured that if I had trouble with the spokes I could replace them in Christchurch once again and still roll the bike onto the ferry.

We pulled into the picnic area/campground at the base of the ride and found the familiar home feeling of a climbers’ ghetto – all chalk bags, crash pads, and shoes. A few mountain bikers were around too and we totally felt at home! We had a bunch of leftover food from Christmas that we unloaded on some appreciative climbers and crashed for the night ready to shred in the morning. The climb up to the ski area was really long, but the ride once on the edge was spectacular! There were definitely some sections in the scree that were sketchy with huge cliff-like dropoffs to the side, but in between the singletrack was sweet! I got stuck under a tree briefly, but no big thing.

The wheel held up, and the only bummer was that we missed a 3-km section called The Luge and instead backtracked a bit for our descent. All in all a killer ride and we were both stoked to get a final mountain ride in before returning Chandra’s rental bike and heading out to Akaroa for some sailing and visiting friends.

Christmas in Franz Josef with Matt and Lori

The drive down the West Coast was scenic, but not much to say about it. We made a quick stop at St. Arnaud for Chandra to see including a visit to the start of the Rainbow Road. Oh – and it’s cool that there are penguin crossing signs, and sometimes you have to share the one-lane bridges with trains!

We tried to go for a mountain bike ride at the Kaniere Water Race while camping at Lake Kaniere near Hokitika, but I broke spokes. Again. Now, though, I see a pattern. Both spokes broken were adjacent drive-side spokes and they popped when I made a rough shift going up a steep-ish spot. I realized, when I replaced them at the campground, that the issue is some badly distributed spoke tension – as I have broken spokes and had to true the rear wheel alot, I usually tighten rather than evenly distribute spoke tension, so over the 1600 km to date, the issue is overtightening. After fixing with my final remaining spare spokes, my new goal is not for this rear wheel to carry a loaded trailer. The new goal is for the rear wheel to be rollable to get my bike onto the ferry and the plane from Wellington to Auckland where I will box it up. Sad indeed…

At Franz Josef, it was awesome to meet up with Matt and Lori! We cooked for each other, hooked up a sick batch of belly pleaser (coconut, mango, rice, love) with mimosas for Christmas morning and headed out to the Patrick Point hike overlooking the Franz Josef glacier. It’s about a 20km return hike but the second half of it is seriously approaching fourth class (not so bad in exposure but seriously scrambley on very slippery rocks!). I think it was worth it though! Lori turned back a bit before the end but Matt and Chandra and I made the end of the trail, snapped a few photos, then hurried back to Lori so we could all descend together. Not a bad way to spend Christmas on the other side of the world!

Blenheim to Picton and by Car to Honeymoon Phase

Ah, although it may seem like we have been biking in the rain forever, the bike trip was nearly to an end as we had just the very short 33 km (17 miles) into Picton remaining.  We cranked that out Sunday morning  (again in the rain) and arrived in Picton by noon.  We changed into civies and stopped at Le Café (discovered by Sterling and Emi during their trip with a highly recommended vegetarian sandwich and free internet access).  From there, we sadly packed the bikes and trailer into a rented Subaru Legacy and headed for Nelson and eventually Kaiteriteri, which is where the “hardship” ended and the luxury (compliments of some extra spending money from David and Judy) began . . . can you say hot tub on a balcony overlooking the ocean?  NICE!!!  More on Kaiteriteri later . . .

Pedaler’s Rest to Blenheim in the RAIN ;-)

60 km

After a restful night where the wind blew itself into a frenzy until it eventually wearied itself and rested, we continued on northward through more rain (but not wind!) towards Blenheim.  The hills were a bit more steep and numerous than we had anticipated (although perhaps the cold rain made them seem that way), but we persevered through the rains and the hills (and I got a flat) and edged into NZ’s famous Marlborough country, with the sheep giving way to grapes growing in their ruler straight lines.  We pulled into Blenheim at about quarter to one, soaking wet and looking a bit bedraggled.  Mike quickly and efficiently located a warm dry room at a backpacker place called The Grapevine, had the woman there book us on a wine tour van, and we threw off our wet biking clothes, jumped into a hot (but quick) shower, and were on our way to wine country by a quarter past one . . . and, of course, the sun came out.

m!ke’s two cents:  Touring with Chandra is so much different tan touring on my own.  I found some advantages to being on my own in the month prior to Chandra’s arrival, but they pale in comparison to how we work together.  Bad conditions are a perfect example.  I can be quite a lightweight when the weather gets foul.  I can handle whatever gets thrown at me, but I tend to get a bit whiney.  I think Chandra was thinking the whine tour was replacing a wine tour as I got grouchy about being totally soaked going over hills bigger than I thought they would be. Luckily she’s tough and one quick pointing out about my humbug attitude snapped me out of it. As our friend coach said in Alaska, you can’t hate the rainy days.  You can like the sunny days better, but you have to like the rainy days too.  Does this contradict what I said before about unnecessary suffering? Perhaps.  But a slight shift in attitude turned what was kind of les Miz. into another fun experience.  We didn’t have to try and dry off in a tent, and the sun came out anyway. The ride over the last mountains of our cycling travels together, dripping with rain (but without wind!!!) will remain in my memory.  Fun times….

Riding from Kaikoura to Pedaler’s Rest

80 km

The next morning, Friday, December 19th, we headed north on Highway 1, leaving Kaikoura behind us and with Picton a couple hundred kms and couple days ride ahead of us.  I’ll let Mike write about the details of the day, which included some hills, a fair amount of rain, and a little wind (luckily, we left early in the morning to try to avoid as much as possible), a couple of broken spokes, and a slog through gravel and a strong cross wind to a beautiful little protected enclave, designed specifically to satisfy the needs of weary bikers (including one GREAT shower), called Peddler’s’ Rest.

m!ke’s notes on the day:

We took off under a threateningly cloudy grey sky with forecast of “severely heavy rain.”  I had set up this part of our riding with short days in case Chandra was jet-lagged (she was not!) so we were prepared for a potential grunt-fest up the coast.  Besides, we had been warned by many people (but tellingly not Brian whose advice I trust above pretty much anyone else on matters bicycle in NZ) that the wind would be howling and the Kaikoura range would provide little or no shelter.

Our reward for braving the potential storms? A totally gorgeous day along the coast (like RIGHT along the water!) all day seeing and hearing seals, passing crayfish (really rock lobster) shacks along the way, and a generally allaround blissful ride.  No wind.  No rain.

Toward the end of the day, I hit a pothole and broke two rear spokes (more on spoke issues later) on the drive side.  It was a bit of a drag to pull off the cassette and change two more spokes on the roadside, but with kind weather we were making good time and the break was nice anyway.

Soon after the spoke repairs, we reached the end of the shelter of the Kaikoura range from the Northwesterlies that were ripping through and I felt like I hit a wall going downhill as I was cruising at around 40 kph and was slowed to 10 kph in an instant as I hit the wall of wind.  It only lasted for 10 km or so, but as Chandra said, at Pedaler’s rest, it continued to howl like a gale and the sky kept darkening provided foreshadow for the next day.  but….Pedaler’s rest was a blissful retreat.  It’s not run by cyclists – just an entrepreneurial farming couple with a smart use of the old shearer’s shed on their land.  They are located at the perfect place to stop for cyclists on the coast, 1.5 km off the main road (so quiet and secure) and the shed is utilitarian and absolutely perfect for what touring cyclists need right then.

So, a restful night was met by rain in the morning….

Chandra and m!ke take a rest day in Kaikoura

19 km

Thursday, December 18th (Happy Birthday Chonan!) was our very sunny rest day in Kairkoura, which we spent hiking around the Kaikoura Peninsula and inefficiently going shopping for food (four visits to three different stores), before coming back to the Top Ten Holiday Park for some Dan Jackson inspired “Sea Creature Stew.”  (See pic, yes, there are banana prawns, mussels, and salmon packed in there!)

NOTE FROM m!ke – the sea creature stew was tear (of joy) creating and I could not have been more stoked.  Especially since we missed the fish and chips we were seeking earlier in the day!

Day 2 of the Chandra & m!ke show

96 km  Waiau to Paia Point (south of Kaikoura)

Wednesday, December 17th saw us ride the remainder of the inner road, leaving the Hamner Range and entering into the Kaikoura range.  It rained.  I don’t much mind biking in the rain.  I would ask for rain, but if it rains and you are biking, there isn’t much you can do about it but keep going and hope that you will eventually find a big lodge in the middle of nowhere with a warm fireplace and a good cup of coffee.   Hey, it happened on the Big Trip as we were riding through Yellowstone, so a girl can dream (pray), can’t she?  And you know, there is a biking god, because lo and behold . . .  there at the top of Lyford pass was exactly that!  A big ski lodge with a big stone fireplace where we stripped of as much wet stuff as would be publicly acceptable, and warmed up over a cup of joe and a generous (read, HUGE) slice of carrot cake and waited for the rain to stop.  Eventually, it did, so we hopped back on the bikes (which caused the rain to start falling again) and rode down hill towards Kaikoura.
Now, just because I said that I don’t mind riding in the rain, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make me tired, and the second and third days are usually the hardest days of any trip (legs getting used to going around, butt getting used to being in the seat for hours, etc).  And there were more hills again to go up (and down).  But we eventually, made it to the Kaikoura coast, where we stopped again for some fresh provisions and Mike had a discussion with the store keeper as to whether or not I was “dead.”  Mike assured her that I was not (I was simply conserving energy), and got some beta that there was a holiday park just a little further south.
Now, after all the many days and hours that Mike and I have spent biking, we read each other very well.  He knew I was tired, but (more importantly), I knew that when he slowed (but did not stop) at the holiday park, sussed out the fleet of rented caravans packed like sardines into the small camp ground with a run down mini-golf course in the front, and only slowly came to a stop a good six feet past the turn in, and said, “What do you think? Keeping going?”, well, I knew that there was nothing that would make Mike stop at such a place (but for the absolutely insistence of the woman we loved).  And so, I did the only thing a respectable wife-of-Mike would do (besides, I wasn’t staying at that place either no matter how tired I was), and replied, “You think that there are any hills between here and that place Lee recommended at little further south?”  Mike said that he didn’t think so (it doesn’t matter if there are actually hills between one place and another, all one has to do is convince yourself that there aren’t sufficiently so that you can decide to continue on.  If it turns out later that there are hills, there’s nothing to do at that point but climb up them to your destination), and so we continued on a couple more miles (no hills) along the coast, through some small tunnels, until we happened upon the recommended Paia Point, which was much less crowded and vastly more scenic, especially the next morning at sun up (see pic).

Riding with Chandra!

Well . . . . I haven’t been very good about blogging.   In fact, I haven’t blogged at all since I arrived.  So for those of you (maybe just mom and dad) out there that have been dying of anticipation as to what we have been doing since I arrived in Christchurch two weeks ago, I apologize.  But, frankly, we have been too busy biking up and down hills, getting rained on, putting on sun screen, drinking wine, kayaking, gorging on fish and chips, bathing in hot springs, hiking, drinking flat whites in little cafes, laughing, cooking, eating, sailing, splurging, and watching seals, penguins and dolphins to sit down inside and blog about all of it.   We did take a fair number of pictures of everything so eventually the full story will be told.
Here’s just the recap summary.

74 km

On Tuesday, December 16th, we got out of Christchurch with the bikes.  Mind you, we didn’t leave the city actually riding the bikes, but rather rode to the city centre, grabbed a lox bagel, and waited in the sunshine until the shuttle van came and picked us up–bikes, trailer and all.  The Canterbury Plains around Christchurch are flat and somewhat of a busy, boring ride, so we (being on vacation) skipped it and hitched a ride to the more scenic starting point of Waipara.  From there, we did get on the bikes (mine, a standard nothing special Trek 4300 rental and Mike’s faithful and much beat up upon Kona “Muni” (moon-nee)), fully loaded (which means, really that most of the heavy stuff was in Mike’s trailer, rather than my panniers) and hit the hills.  Day one of riding (mind you, I was just over 48 hours from arriving) consisted of 74 kms of riding up and down the inland road from Waipara to Waiau, which takes one through the inner and outer Hamner range.  Mike had warned me that there would be hills that first day, so I was mentally prepared (since the time for physically preparing was long past), but in actuality, the hills were neither long nor steep and the riding felt good.
We pulled into my first (not to be last) NZ “holiday park” which is a somewhat strange amalgamation of a KOA and campsite.  Waiau was a little hot town, burnt to a brown crisp, that reminded me very much of the T-34 stop in South Dakota on the Big Trip.   A quick walk into “town” to the 4-Square (smaller than a real store, larger than a Quik-Trip) to forage for a couple of vegetables . . . but rather than the PBR we had at T34, the 4 Square offered up some cold bubbly . . . so we took it up on the offer and toasted to a successful first day.

Days 25-26: Christchurch and Chandra Arrives!

So, Lee confirmed I could be insured on his car and then handed me the keys saying “keep left!” and, with directions to the airport, off I went to find Chandra. I must say, I’ve not been so excited about something in a long long time! I had really shifted my focus over the past few days to my meeting up with her and now, like a kid on Christmas morning, it was really going to happen! My cell phone rang and I heard my name over the PA all at the same time – somehow Chandra had passed me where I was waiting and I found her by the post office with her bags already and a smile on her face!

Besides being stoked about seeing each other and catching up, the goal of the day was to keep Chandra awake and entertained. So, we headed off to Sumner for killer fish and chips and coffee, then up to the Summit Road where I was mountain biking the day before to take in the views, have a little hike, and be psyched! Later in the evening, we made our way to Cath’s place in Lyttelton with a few friends and made burritos, had some local ber and wine, and around 10pm, while Chandra was still technically awake, it was certainly time to get the sleep groove going.

The next morning, we picked up Chandra’s rental bike and headed out to Lincoln Ventures (Cath’s workplace until the following day which was her last!) where I gave a talk and had lunch with some of the researchers out there. It was good to connect with folks in Canterbury and get a feel for the groundwater issues they are facing, as well as sharing my research with them. In the evening, Lee made a fabulous dinner of mussels with Champagne (yes, instead of white wine, we steamed the greenshell mussels in bubbly!) and we crashed out knowing in the morning would be the beginning of our riding together! So exciting!!

Days 23 – 24: Christchurch

50 km mountain biking in the Port Hills

After the experience of working on my bike in the wilderness with a broken chain, spoke issues, and then facing a southerly headwind (cold!) and rain for 140 km to Christchurch, I decided to take a shuttle into town, fix up the bike, and hopefully get some mountain biking in. Cath and Lee, who I joined on the Queen Charlotte Track were super kind in giving me places to stay and helping me with the logistics of being there, not to mention the opportunity to hang out with cool folks again! Cath also had arranged for me to give a talk at Lincoln Ventures where she was working on Monday, after picking up Chandra. It was to be a fun weekend with also some logistics and reuniting with Chandra after a month of solo riding to enter a new phase of travel!

After arriving on the shuttle, I went from the Cathedral Square directly to a bike shop seeking a new chain and (as I figured would be required as well) a new cassette. I replaced both in the Cathedral Square with a rotating audience of curious and enthusiastic tourists. Eventually, I made my way over to Lee’s place for dinner and crashed in Lyttelton for the evening. In the morning, I cranked up the bridle path from Lyttleton to the Summit Road of the Port Hills for a day of outrageous singletrack along the hills above Christchurch, meeting up with Lee about halfway through where we watched some crazy serious downhillers and then sent the Flying Nun which was ridiculously fun and more my speed of downhill action. We ended the day with a Christmas party at David Scott’s place (he’s a legendary hydrogeologist at Environment Canterbury) and then Lee and I made our way to his favourite English pub (The Twisted Hop) for cask ales pulled with a pump and enjoyed several before making our way back to his place. It was late, and the beer was plentiful, and in the morning, my first driving experience would be picking up Chandra at the airport!