Archive for February, 2007

The Next Few Weeks

Monday, February 26th, 2007

For the next few weeks Jamie and I will just be regular tourists – no cycling until we reach Thailand. That’s almost three weeks away…a long time with no bikes!

First we’ll see a bit more of New Zealand sans bicycle. We ended our trip on the southern part of the South Island in Dunedin. While in Dunedin we visited the steepest street in the world – the average gradient of the hill is 1 in 3.41, and the steepest section is 1 in 2.86! We hiked to the top but didn’t attempt the hill on bicycles, although Jamie claimed “I could easily ride up this hill on my racing bike.” Sure Jamie, sure. We had a lot of fun watching an old clunker of a van try to make it up the hill. They got a running start, revved their engine, and took off. About halfway up we saw them run out of steam and chug to a stop. They were forced to back up into a driveway to turn around. Everyone watching from the bottom of the hill was laughing hysterically – we all though the van was going to pitch over sideways and come rolling down the hill during this maneuver. As we hiked past the resting van on our way to the top it smelled strongly of burning rubber – some sort of critical inner part had met its demise, I’m sure.

Jamie standing on the steepest part of the hill:

During the next two weeks we’ll make our way back to Auckland via bus, train, and ferry in time for our flight to Singapore on March 8th. Right now we are in Christchurch enjoying all the cultural activities here. Next, we’ve got a four day stop in Wellington where we’ll visit Jamie’s friend Taisuke & work on getting a 60 day Thai visa. We’ve already applied for our Cambodia visas, which you can do online – very convenient! Here are our lovely visa pictures:

We arrive in Singapore early on the morning of March 9th where we will gather our baggage, get through customs, and then make our way to my friend Jennifer’s house. We’ll only get to hang out with Jennifer for one day before she leaves for her vacation in Cabo San Lucas. Bad timing on our part, but she’s been generous enough to let us stay at her place while she’s busy laying in the sun in Mexico. We’re super excited about this because it means we’ll have the perfect place to take a break from traveling, fix our gear, make some improvements to the website, take care of various travel-chores, and explore Singapore. (Thanks again Jennifer!)

After a week in Singapore, on March 17th, we’ll catch a cheap flight to Phuket, Thailand. We purchased our tickets through Jet Star – they were only $32 Singapore dollars each, which is about $18 US. What a bargain! As we finalized the purchase, however, a bunch of extra surcharges and fuel fees were added to the price of the tickets bringing them up to $100 Singapore dollars each. That’s only about $60 US though, so we’re not complaining.

Once in Phuket we’ll begin cycling east and north, eventually entering Cambodia on its western border with Thailand. We don’t have a specific route planned yet; we’ll work on that in Singapore. If anyone has any Thailand cycling experience and has route suggestions, send them our way! After Cambodia, it’s on to Laos and Vietnam!


Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Today we lost one of the members of our party. My beard. It was a hard decision, but his lack of pedaling ability and knack for disgusting Sarah outweighed his ability to keep my face warm, so we decided to part ways.

Here is a little photo montage of the good times we had together.

Mugshot-esque photo for documentary purposes:

Sharing an ice cream cone:

Absorbing a little New Zealand history together:

Basking in the sun and taking in the scenery:

Side shot to display extraordinary puffiness:

Beard + gobs of sunscreen = great times

Impending doom at the Barber Shop:

R.I.P Beard…

Last Day of Cycling in New Zealand

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Today was another milestone for us. The last full day of cycling in New Zealand! We have arrived in Dunedin and our odometer reads 2347.0km. What a ride!

Today proved to be another difficult day of steep hills. We also added in a little gravel to mix things up.

That may have been a mistake because our 700×32 road tires were slipping all over the place when things got really steep and Sarah was suggesting we take a bus into town, instead of “riding the last miserable mile.”

But, we stuck it out and eventually made it to a nice road along the coast that led us right into the city centre of Dunedin. We passed a little shop that was selling whitebait and decided to finally try it. It was served in a patty of fried egg.

The verdict? It doesn’t taste like anything! We could have been eating plain ol’ eggs and wouldn’t have known the difference.

Now, take a look at this picture and wager a guess on why Sarah has such a wide grin on her face.

She just climbed her last hill in New Zealand! It’s literally all down hill from here baby!

On arriving in Dunedin, we decided to have a celebratory dinner of one of our favorite meals of New Zealand: bacon, avocado, tomato, and cole slaw sandwiches. Our take on the BLT. Add in a six pack of beer and some Cadbury’s chocolate and you have a meal fit for a king.


A Difficult Day

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

Today seemed like one of the toughest we’ve had so far. We got to endure rain, depressing gray weather, cold winds, and lots of hills.

As we ate breakfast it started to rain. No worries, we just brewed an extra cup of coffee and chatted with some interesting New Zealanders while we waited and hoped for the rain to stop. It slowed down to a drizzle so we hurried outside to get everything packed up. After that was taken care of we hopped on our bikes and started off into the gray mist. Within five minutes we were climbing a never ending hill. It wasn’t too bad, though, we had just started out and had plenty of energy! At the top we stopped and did a short hike through coastal rainforest to see a beautiful three tiered waterfall.

The coastal rainforest really felt like a jungle, except it was cold:

One of the waterfall tiers:

After the waterfall hike we spent 30 kms and a few hours climbing up and down lots and lots of hills. The rain kept on coming – mist, drizzle, showers – the whole time. We stopped for a lunch break in the small town of Owaka. This was a very unusual lunch because we didn’t have peanut butter sandwiches! OMG! Instead we had muesli and yogurt purchased from the Owaka grocery store. Unfortunately we didn’t enjoy eating the muesli very much because as we ate we had to huddle on a picnic table in a parking lot, in the rain and wind, as our sweat dried to freezing ice droplets (almost). We ate as fast as humanly possible and then jumped back on our bikes to avoid hypothermia!

We spent a few more hours riding up and down some more “gently rolling and undulating hills”, as our guidebook calls them. Around 4pm we reached one of the larger towns in the South, Balclutha. We knew this was a large farming community and we could definitely tell as we rode into town. We passed several stockyards packed solidly full of sheep who were waiting in line to be slaughtered, processed, and the resulting sheep product loaded onto the waiting trains to be whisked away. It smelled a lot like dog food for a few miles and I admit I felt a little sorry for the sheep – they were so clueless!

We decided to continue on for another 22 kms past Balclutha to make it a little closer to our final destination – Dunedin – so that our ride tomorrow isn’t too tough. This had the unfortunate effect of making today’s ride very tough. At the end of Balclutha we started climbing up the very hilly highway along with millions of speeding cars and semi trucks. At the top of each hill you could see quite far into the distance – far enough to see the next two giant hills and their valleys you’d be climbing through. There was absolutely no flat ground anywhere. To top it all off, traffic was horrendously busy. We’ve gotten too used to the deserted highways and slow paced travelers over the past few weeks. Big trucks crammed with sheep, diary tankers, trucks hauling boats, and obnoxious speeding teenagers blew by us like we were standing still. In fact, we were basically standing still as our pace was slowed to a measly 5 km/hr on the steep hills.

A warning to watch out for high winds. This picture is not very beautiful, but neither was our day:

We finally reached the tiny town of Milton where we’d decided to stop for the night. We set up the tent in a frenzy because the rain was starting again. Ack! The rest of the evening was spent in the warm dry kitchen at the Holiday Park. Tomorrow is our last day of riding in New Zealand – neither of us can believe it!

Close Encounters of the Penguin Kind

Monday, February 19th, 2007

Well, not really. But we did manage a sighting of the rarest penguin in the world in the wild. Here he is, a Yellow-Eyed Penguin. Can you spot him?

He was returning to his nest at sunset to feed his chick after spending all day fishing out in the ocean. These penguins can dives to depths of up to 160m to catch fish out at sea. It was really neat to see him swim up to the beach astonishingly quickly and then waddle awkwardly as soon as he got on dry land.

We spotted the penguins at Curio Bay, which has been the gem of the Southern Scenic Route so far. Up to now, we have had quite a few days that only a duck could love down here on the southern coast. The weather has been extremely gray and wet and the scenery has been endless fields of sheep. Not what we were expecting on the “scenic route!”

When we experience the occasional sunbreak, we are overjoyed. Here is Sarah soaking up the rays. I believe we experienced a downpour immediately after this photo was taken.

As we arrived in Curio Bay, the clouds finally disappeared and we dried off. The final stretch of road to the bay was extremely hilly and windy, but beautiful. We planned for this week to be a recovery week, but the hills have made that impossible. It is mile after mile of rolling hills down here.

Our first stop was at the local museum at the bay, where they love to stuff Stoats and Possums and arrange them in aggressive poses next to dead fawns. They really do hate these little pests around here.

Curio Bay is famous for its 180 million year old stand of petrified tree stumps and logs from the Jurassic Period. I thought this was pretty interesting, but Sarah and a couple of other New Zealanders we met described this as “Eh.”

Right next to Curio Bay is Porpoise Bay, which is famous for the group of Hectors Dolphins (the rarest dolphins in the world!) that inhabits the bay during the summer. They hang out in the shallow water with the swimmers, kayakers, and surfers and they even surf the waves themselves! They aren’t fed by humans, so scientists are still trying to figure out why they live so close to shore. Sarah and I swam around for a bit, but we never got closer than 15 feet to them. They may have been a bit put off by our body odor? Here I am spotting them in the surf.

Tomorrow we will continue on the scenic route towards Dunedin, enjoying the hills, views, and sheep along the way.

Stats from Week 7 (02.12.2007 – 02.18.2007)
Mossburn – Fortrose
5 days cycling, 2 days resting

333.93km (55.65 km / cycling day)
18 hours, 23 minutes, 36 seconds in the saddle

NZ$488.42 ($NZ69.77 / day)

Roaring Forties

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

Guess where we are? The southernmost and westernmost city in New Zealand – Invercargill! We are at 46°24’36″S, 168°22’12″E and luckily we are traveling East along the southern coast of New Zealand so the roaring forties are working to our advantage. We currently have 15 hours of light in which to cycle from dawn to dusk in Invercargill.

Here I am having a delicious peanut butter sandwich on a mountain side.

On the way southward the landscape transitioned from the mountains of Fiordland National Park to rolling farmland. Here we are in the transition zone with the Fiordland mountains in the background and millions of sheep along the road.

We stopped off at Lake Manapouri along the edge of Fiordland National Park – it is known as one of New Zealand’s most beautiful!

I attempt to fix my helmet-hair for a glamour shot:

I almost forgot to retrieve my helmet from the beach. Luckily Jamie noticed it was missing before we started off again:

Jamie, also known as ‘Mr. Safety’, found some exciting road side treasures recently. Two neon orange flags that must have fallen off passing trucks! Our bikes are now equipped with orange safety flags in the back to help lazy motorists spot us. My Safety flag is plain old neon orange, but Jamie’s is a bit more exciting. It warns: “Don’t Spread Waterweed!”

As we’ve been making our way south the weather has been getting colder and windier. It is easy to imagine the breeze is coming straight from Antarctica! We can hardly believe how close we are. The weather has also been gray and misty-rainy for the past few days which means our pictures aren’t turning out quite as well as usual. This photo of a cute cow is pretty good though!

I walk on an historic suspension bridge built in 1899 in the town of Clifden:

We found a free camping spot in the small town of Tuatapere. We like to save money by free camping, but when the weather is bad it is not very fun to cook your breakfast while sitting outside on the wet ground. We experimented with cooking our oatmeal from inside the tent. Don’t worry, Mr. Safety was very rigorous in his inspections to insure we didn’t burn the tent down or asphyxiate ourselves!

Jamie was very excited about this picture he took of himself in a mirror alongside the road. If you look closely you can see him, but the misty gray weather foiled his plans for winning any photo contests:

We reach the southern coast at last!

Every once in a great while we see gigantic bulls in fields on the side of the road. Usually we see lots of boring steers, so we get very excited about the novelty of a new type of farm animal. You would not believe how HUGE these things are. The one was the size of a small car and had to have weighed at least 2000 lbs. Look at the giant hole he dug in the ground next to him.

The winds on the southern coast are very strong. It was an interesting sight to turn around and look back at the last few kilometers and realize that every living growing thing was so warped by the wind.

In other exciting news: Jamie’s beard is going to get shaved off very soon in preparation for visa photos needed to gain entry into southeast Asia! We can’t have him looking like a scary hippie when we’re asking for a tourist visa.

The town of Colac Bay is popular for surfing. Sam, we took a picture of this giant surfing statue for you:

In the town of Riverton we noticed this strange house. Look closely at the front of the house where the address usually goes. What kind of weirdo lives here?

Two Tears in a Bucket. Phuket.

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Sarah and I are resting today and we have spent most of the day preparing for our trip to Asia. We have decided to skip Australia because of time, money, and weather so we are going to fly directly from Auckland, NZ to Singapore on March 8th and begin bicycling through southeast Asia. We would like to avoid as much of the rainy season as possible in Asia and spending any time in Australia would guarantee that we completely miss the dry season there. Using the information on southeast Asia’s weather, we have decided our rough itinerary will be Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and then North Vietnam.

We have been trying to figure out which countries we need visas for and when/how/where to get them. The fact that we have to pay for internet access and that the embassy websites have limited information makes this a lot more difficult that it needs to be, so we have resorted to purchasing a calling card and phoning the US embassy in the countries directly. Getting our visas taken care of in the US may have been more convenient, but most visas are only valid for one to three months, so that was not an option for us. We’ll let you know how acquiring the visas this way turns out.

We have also been researching safety. The US State Department website does not recommend traveling in Malaysia or southern Thailand at this time due to various security issues. We have heard of and met several bicyclists who have traveled through these areas, so we called the respective embassies and their response was that the information on the website was up-to-date and official and that they could offer no other opinions. The official at the Thai embassy said that he was not allowed to give an opinion, but that we would be “taking a definite risk” by traveling through southern Thailand. The Malaysian official had the same stance on giving an opinion, but was a little more upbeat in characterizing it as “the same as traveling through Canada.”

So, we are considering flying directly from Singapore to Phuket to bypass the dangerous areas. A quick search on showed that there are tickets available for as little as $US50. Not a bad price for a little peace of mind! We are going to do a little more research and then make a final decision.

A Day in the Life of a Cycle Tourist: NZ

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

We’ve been on the road for six weeks in New Zealand and have fallen into a daily routine, which means I can finally write this “day in the life” post. I loved reading this stuff when planning our trip.

Wake up around 8am. So far we haven’t used alarms to wake up at a specific time because we haven’t been in a rush to get anywhere – no buses or trains to catch, all we have to do to start the day is hop on our bikes. The weather in New Zealand has been mild enough that we’re able to cycle during the hottest part of the day with few problems.

Cook and eat breakfast until 9am; includes dish washing. This always seems to take us an hour no matter what. It’s been fun to have breakfast together every day. When we worked at Microsoft we’d get up, get coffee from Uptown Espresso or Cafe Ladro for the drive to work, then go our separate ways. We almost always eat oatmeal or toast with peanut butter for breakfast. Eggs or muesli are usually treats on rest days.

Pack up tent, panniers, and load up the bikes until 10am. This always seems to take another hour unless it is raining – then we’re super fast. We have packing the tent down to a science. We want to enter a tent packing contest when we get back to the US. We grade each other on how well the tent is rolled & how easy it is to fit back into its bag each day. I got a very rare A+ the other day. You can only get that when you complete all steps with no help, and there is actually extra room when you put the tent back into its bag. Exciting!! We also shake the tent out each morning to get rid of dead sandflies, crumbs, grass, etc. We pick up the tent, hold it in the air sideways, and then walk around our site shaking the tent and singing “Westside walk it out”. Come on, you know that song don’t you?

Roll out around 10am. We sometimes sing the Ludacris song “Roll Out!” when we depart, but that usually only happens if it is a nice sunny day and we have a lot of energy.

Ride for 2-3 hours then break for lunch. We usually try to get half way to our destination before the lunch break and we also try to find a nice picnic table with a pretty view if possible! We almost always eat peanut butter and honey sandwiches for lunch. We have tried Clover, Rata, Kamahi, and Multi-Flora 10% Manuka honey. So far Jamie’s favorite is Rata and mine is Kamahi. Manuka honey, made from a local flowering tree, is extremely expensive because the hippie types believe it has medicinal properties. It is NZ$43 for 100% Manuka so we can only afford the 10% blend. We are going to be serious honey connoisseurs when we get back! If we’re lucky we get an orange, and then occasionally we have cottage cheese and tomatoes on crackers instead of the PB.

Ride for another 2-3 hours and arrive at our final destination. We usually stay at holiday parks or backpacker places that allow tents. We often plan to free camp but we can’t quite figure it out – the land always seems to be full of either farms & fences or super dense impenetrable forest.

When we get bored on the road we have a few tried and true ways to amuse ourselves:

  1. Jamie discusses, in great detail, how he’s going to “trick out his bike” when he gets home. This includes animated discussion on hubs, spokes, 29″ wheels, paint jobs with flames, and all imaginable bicycle accessories.
  2. We play a modified version of the $25,000 Pyramid game. Someone lists a bunch of seemingly random things that have one thing in common. The other person must guess what that one thing is. For example: Cheese, Grass, Teeth, Deck of Cards…. Things you can cut!!
  3. Sing really embarrassing songs. Recent favorites include all songs from Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and the Blue Corn Moon song from Pocahontas. Non-Disney titles include Wherever I May Roam (lyrics: where I lay my head is home, sung in a very deep and gravelly voice), Higher Ground (sung on hill climbs), and Where Have All the Cowboys Gone. Jamie likes to sing this one when he’s about to wash the dishes after dinner. He croons “I will wash the dishes, you go have a BEEEEEER.”
  4. Laugh at the cows that stop dead in their tracks with a piece of grass hanging out of their mouth to stare at us as we ride by. We stopped for a 15 minute water break and map consultation today and these cows stood motionless, staring at us, the entire time:

Set up tent, unload stuff we need from the panniers, and then take showers (if available).

Cook & eat dinner somewhere between 5-6pm. If we’re in a place with a grocery store we walk there and pick out something refrigerated for dinner. This is often a highlight of the day, as we are obsessed with food. If we’re not in a place with a grocery store we have rice, pasta, or cous cous paired with a canned protein of some sort (tuna or beans), and we add a vegetable if we’ve passed a store that sells veggies sometime during the day.

After dinner we usually retire to our tent. We read (with our headlamps on as it gets dark). I use a pannier filled with clothes to prop my head against for reading. Jamie writes down his precious stats for the day. He tracks daily mileage, time, average speed, start and end point, money spent, and finally reconciles our spending against the overall budget goals. The other day he told me it would be my turn to track all this once we get to Asia, but I know he loves it too dearly to give it up! We upload the photos we’ve taken during the day to the laptop and look at those. Then we sometimes write a journal entry, just like I’m doing now!

We usually get hungry again before we get tired so lately we’ve been eating another peanut butter sandwich before bed. I am anticipating that I will begin to despise peanut butter in the near future if we keep this up…

Our only clocks are on our bike computers so I’m not totally sure what time we go to sleep – I think it is usually around 10pm. We both usually wake up a few times during the night due to weird noises, noisy fellow campers, or being overheated in our sleeping bags.

The End. Stay tuned for “A Day in the Life… Asia!”

A brief note from Jamie:

Stats for Week 6 (02.05.2007 – 02.11.2007)
Haast to Mossburn

5 days cycling, 2 days resting
2 mountain passes
347.88km (69.58 / cycling day)
22 hours, 35 minutes, 12 seconds in the saddle

NZ$368.59 (NZ$52.66 / day)

A Southerly

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

Today we woke up in the morning and headed to Queenstown to do some sightseeing. Luckily, we found a bike path right along the edge of the lake that we could take right into the city centre instead of riding on the busy road. From the trail, we had some very nice views of the Remarkables.

We had heard a lot of negative opinions of Queenstown, but it didn’t seem too bad to us. We expected to see a lot of hyperactive 20-somethings carrying around cases of Mountain Dew and B.A.S.E. jumping off of street lights, but it was just a small touristy town with a lot of adrenaline activities near by. We can see why it is such a popular place, the scenery around the town is amazing. From some neighborhoods it looks like the Remarkables are right on top of you.

We headed South out of town around noon and were instantly greeted by a strong southerly wind. As we were struggling to reach 10km per hour on flat ground, we realized it was going to be a long day. Then to add insult to injury, I got my first flat tire of the trip! Time to spend a little quality time with my friend the pump.

After a quick patch, we spent the next four hours riding along Lake Wakatipu with views of the lake and nearby mountains.

The wind never let up and at the end of the day we had average only 12.9kph. One of our slowest days ever! We decided to call it a day after only 50km in Kingston at the South end of the lake. Sarah asked a local old-timer if it was always this windy around here and he said yes, but the wind usually blows the other way. Hopefully we’ll have better luck tomorrow!

Highest Paved Road in New Zealand? Check.

Friday, February 9th, 2007

Today Sarah and I reached the literal high-point of our trip. We crossed the Crown Range on New Zealand’s highest paved road at 1076 meters.

The climb up was definitely the toughest we have done so far. Here is Sarah’s description of her experience:

We were ready for an 80 km day – 40 to the top of NZ’s highest paved road, then another 40 down. The first 30 km was an easy gradual climb. I was barely tired, which made me very nervous. I knew we’d have to climb all those record breaking meters soon. At 35 km the real hills began and the hot sun decided to come out from behind the clouds. I dislike hills + hot sun almost as much as I hate cold + wet weather! I struggled along in my granny gear for a few kilometers then decided to stop for a rest & drink. Jamie continued on ahead calling out “let’s keep going until we find some shade!” I knew this was wishful thinking – there were no trees, it was noon, he was dreaming.

After my rest & water I felt much better so I continued struggling along up the hill. I had to stand up (still in my granny gear, by the way) and grind on my pedals to get up one particularly steep curve. This extra exertion apparently did me in. About 500 feet of this and I had to flop off my bike again, panting like crazy. But this time I didn’t get my breath back after stopping – I just stood there panting and feeling miserable. Then my face got all numb and I almost passed out on the side of the road. Then I threw up my water. It was a quite a scene! After a few minutes of additional panting, I started pushing my bike up the rest of the hill. I pushed for about 20 minutes and enjoyed the faces of passing motorists. Usually on tough hills we get lots of thumbs ups and friendly honks. Not so when you’re pushing your bike. Instead I was treated to many slow shakes of the head & sad smiles, which I loosely interpret as “You poor bastard. What on earth were you thinking?”

Jamie came back looking for me on foot after he reached the summit, so he was able to join me for the last few meters. He even gallantly pushed my bike for me, but not before taking this lovely snapshot. I was yelling something like “Jamie, ONE is enough” right as he took this.

The climb started in Wanaka, one of the prettiest towns we have traveled through so far. We liked it there so much we stayed for three nights resting for the climb. Here is the sunset over the mountains and lake the night before we left.

The terrain of the climb was very strange. Lots of rounded peaks with grass and shrubs growing. The shrubs gave the hills a weird texture, making them loop like leopard print. Here are some images from the ascent.

From the top we could see Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, and our upcoming descent.

The descent was not fun. It was too steep and curvy for our tastes. Our ascent was 40km and the descent lost all that elevation in only 12km! It looked like a great road to climb up though. There was one section with steep switchbacks, a single lane, and beautiful views that looked like it was right out of the Tour de France.

We finally made it to the valley floor and tried to take a back road into Queenstown. After we had cycled 5km down it, we saw a sign saying it was closed ahead, so we decided to backtrack to the main route instead of risking getting lost. Sarah was worn out from her efforts on the climb (two mountain passes in one week!) at this point and was not happy.

As we neared Queenstown, traffic was pretty heavy and it was getting really windy, which didn’t make cycling very much fun. We did get our first view of the Remarkables mountain range which Queenstown is so famous for though.

We pulled into a holiday park on the edge of town and hung out in the kitchen all night eavesdropping on a pathological liar who was telling a fellow hiker of his multiple 100ft falls from mountain cliffs without injury. After such a fall, he would just find the nearest cold mountain stream and let its waters “heal” him. Yeah right! Welcome to Queenstown.