Return to NZ (part1)

From dry desert warmth,

to warm island humidity. We parked the Scamp and hopped a plane around the world. Again.

We hadn’t really been planning on it, but as the days got shorter and the Scamp looked smaller and smaller the choice became clear: we are fortunate to have few encumbrances and we love so much about New Zealand. It made sense.

I’m not sure if it was warmer when we got on the plane or when we got off — both places were in the upper 80’s, despite it being after Thanksgiving.

The previous year’s trip featured much precipitation. So, we thought we’d skip Novemeber this year and hit the drier months of December and January.

The photo above is one of only a handful of storms that grazed us in those months. November had been dry too. That’s what we get for having expectations.

The plan was still to base off our mountain bikes. It’s a simple, lightweight and semi-carefree way to travel. This time we’d focus a little more on foot adventures, using the bikes to travel about the south island.

We had a rough idea of:

– hanging out with Indie dog and her lovely humans in Christchurch
– taking a shuttle to Hanmer Springs because the pavement ride was a one time affair last year
– riding the St. James trail and Rainbow road to the town of St. Arnaud

That was the extent of our “planning” if you can even call it that.

Last year a local in Hanmer had told us of a free hot pool a short detour off the St. James. That little nugget was more than enough to put it at the top of our list. Hot springs bikepacking!

It didn’t hurt we’d also heard it was “sweet as” bikepacking trail.

The first of the NZ “Great Rides.”

A co-worker of our friends was concerned that we’d be in trouble on the St. James due to the high temperatures. “They’ll never make it.”

The heat did get to us, particularly on the last hike-a-bike, but we LOVED the St. James with its singletrack, primitive conditions and great camping/huts.

“It’s a Kiwi!” I did exclaim that last year when I saw a hedgehog like this one, but this go ’round I’m a (slightly) less dumb American tourist.

Near the Anne hut, we met a rather large group of Kiwis (i.e. people, not the bird) going hut-packing. The last in the group lingered a while and we struck up a conversation. Slowly he let slip that he was planning to ride the Tour Aotearoa (the closest thing NZ has to Tour Divide). He followed up that he was tracking the event as well.

“Wait, what? What’s your name?”


“I’m Scott Morris from Trackleaders,” I said, reaching out to shake his hand.

It was a funny place and time to meet up — both out bikepacking and adventuring. Luckily neither of us are cuthroat businessmen, so we continued talking the ups and downs of the tracking world. I think we both just want to make a living doing something we enjoy and have an interest in, and there’s room for the both of us.

After some confusion we were told (on the phone) that we were “good as gold” to hop over the CLOSED gates on the Rainbow Road and cross that beautiful piece of land. It’s a fine gravel route, following clear rivers, and the only people we encountered were either fishing or kayaking.

I wish there were more routes in NZ like the St. James + Rainbow. I suppose more are coming as the country continues to invest in “Great Rides.”

Hot bike touring = jump in the cold glacial lakes.

And begin the bike touring diet. Cannot get enough food! Especially can’t carry enough.

Layers. Nelson Lakes National Park.

We got a hostel for a little work. Eszter writing and me tending a tracker or two. Luckily December is my off season, but there were still a couple of events and always emails.

We ditched the bikes in the bush near the trailhead, and commenced a 3-day hut trip (aka tramp).

First hut had a dock, several kind and interesting fishermen, and eels that lived under the dock. The eels can be upwards of 80 years old. Eszter is being still to try to sneak some glimpses.

A Scot joined us for the scramble up Mt. Angeles, one of the highest points around and the highest we’d yet been in NZ. We were pretty stoked to be climbing an off-trail mountain.

NZ alpine is just as dreamy as it looks in the fotos. Just as dreamy as being above treeline in the Western US. But 8,000 feet lower, so there’s tons of air.

Tons of air, and usually really bad weather. Not so for us. We pinched ourselves at the clear day and lack of storm threat — our experience last year taught us these days are precious, and indeed they are.

The building on the lake was our second hut of the trip, which we shared with a mix of international folks. The huts don’t provide much beyond shelter, a mattress and water. But that means you can go light — no tent or sleeping pad!

Dream walking, it is. We closed the loop, fetched the bikes, went swimming again, ate a couple of “Big Breakfasts” (LOVE LOVE LOVE the all day breakfast so common in NZ, it’s a bike-tourist’s dream).

Then we debated our options.

This is one of those points where, as I sit writing this months later, I can see the error of our ways. We were tired after 10 days of adventuring, riding and tramping. It was hot out.

But, but, the weather was sunny! We have to take advantage of it! We’ll rest the next time it rains for 4 days straight. The days are long! The trail ahead calls loudly — new territory awaits!

We aren’t invincible. Sometimes a little rest can go a long ways, and this is one of the points where we probably should have just sit by the lake and chilled out. Easy to say that now.

Instead we pedaled on and camped at one of the free sites you can find on the NZ camping app. All those vehicles are people camping — mostly europeans living out of their vehicles.

Some locals walked through the free campsite with their dogs in the morning.

“It’s disgusting, isn’t it?”

“Yees, they are destroying our native bush!”

(No, farming and clear cutting have destroyed the native bush, not campervans)

Eszter tried to be friendly (we were the only ones awake) and play with their dogs, but they would have none of it. Complain to the council for allowing free camping on your walking trail in a tiny little parking lot — not to the people stuck with it.

It was funny. Prejudice even in the most otherwise friendly of places. We try not to camp in the obvious overrun campervan spots, but when you travel by bike there sometimes isn’t any other choice.

(I do sympathize with the locals whose little park is not being destroyed but is over-crowded with campers)

Oh there are great tastes, on the great taste trail!

Once again we didn’t stop for wine tasting, sadly, but we did enjoy some nice riding. And the “no hike-a-bike” sign makes me smile. (It’s actually a common NZ symbol for no motorcycles).

But we did ride on the beach this time.

And swim in the very warm ocean!

We ditched the bikes in Motueka, skipping another opportunity to rest, and lined up a boat ride out along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park. This is a popular tramp so we had to, gasp, carry our tent and sleeping bags.

We were a total junk show, with extra bags tied onto the outside of our Osprey packs, and a satchel of fruit and veges carried in the hand. We had much laughter at our own expense.

We walked barefoot a lot, in and out of the ocean. Because it’s novel to us non-coastal types. And because this coast is especially beautiful with its iron rich brown sugar sand.

I got stung by a bee, resulting in pretty solid forearm swelling. Eszter had a massive reaction to sand fly bites, or maybe something that bites in the sand. The bottoms of our feet got pretty torn up (duh).

In short, we sorely underestimated what is probably the easiest of the NZ Great Walks. And we got totally epic’d by it. Only we could pull that off.

Cleopatra’s pool, above, was a lovely cold and fresh water oasis that rejuvenated us enough to crawl the next several km’s to our next beach camp.

This night stands out among the whole trip. A gorgeous cove and our own personal beach. There were a couple of other campsites but no one else was there.

The sunset and sunrise, the soothe breathing of the planet in the waves, it was enough to erase a lot of epic and forget how foolish we’d been. It was worth it.

House-truck! The Kiwi’s were way ahead of the tiny house movement. Decades.

The beaches and ocean mesmerized us, but let’s face it, the deserts and mountains have our hearts.

We pedaled a day or two to a remote trailhead populated only by a weka and it’s little weka babies.

Good lord tracks in NZ are steep. I think STIL still applies (steeper than it looks). How it hasn’t turned into a giant erosive trench, I don’t know — there’s magic in these forests.

One of the best moments in NZ tramping is when you get your first glimpse of ‘the hut’ (meaning your destination hut). Glorious! Especially when it starts drizzling (waa hoo! 2nd rain of the trip).

The hut was the base for climbing Mt. Owen.

Mt Owen being a wilderness of karst limestone.

Like nothing I’ve ever seen.

I was entranced, and loving the exploring and new kind of “scrambling.”

From the top it was obvious how deep the wilderness was up here, and how lightly we had scratched the NZ surface. And it was obvious how tired we were.

We made our way down through the maze of deep chasms, giant blocks and steep flowery steps, all the while discussing what we knew was the right choice:

Stay in the hut another night! Take the afternoon off. Rest and take in what had been a visually stunning, hot and draining couple of weeks. How we scored two nights at this hut alone I’m not sure, but it helped push us towards making one of the first ‘smart’ decisions of the trip.

Would it be enough? Will our poor biketrampers get tired again? Will they get eaten alive by sandflies? Bivy in a sea of campervans? See wild and exotic New Zealand places? Shred the gnar in the bikeparks? Take another afternoon off? Stay tuned for part two.

New Zealand Part 4 – central sun, Wanaka, Mt. Cook and having to leave.

I think we reached the interior of New Zealand right as it finally became summer.

I can’t say we saw all that much of the friendly little fireball in the sky previous to this. But we were about to learn just how strong the NZ sun can be. I don’t know if it was the hole in the ozone layer (which is actually shrinking these days), the clear air, or just that our bodies were expecting winter, not summer. But the sun seemed to have a special intensity when it did shine and on bluebird days.

poppies! did these come from north america, or europe, or?

Heavily sunburnt kiwis and foreigners were a common sight. We slathered the sunscreen on thick.

Nonetheless, it was a good time to climb the ‘highest road in NZ’, the Nevis Rd. Steep climbing, open views and few vehicles, it was lovely. NZ doesn’t really have an off-road culture, of the type we are used to in the western US. ATVs seem to stick to the farms, while jeeps and 4x4s are rarely seen. It works out well for us sensitive bike tourist types.

Our destination for the night. Also the first hut we had to ourselves.

You too can stay here, for the low price of five New Zealand dollars (roughly $3 american). Oh, but you have to climb 4000 feet or so to get here.

Many of the huts have maps and DOC brochures relevant to the area. As we drank tea and kicked back in our luxury accommodations, it started to sound like we could stay high and ride ridgelines instead of dropping back to the valley floor as we’d planned.

Information on the tracks/roads was sparse. We didn’t know whether this was something people did, or whether it was a good idea, at all. Very few mountain bikers had signed the hut log, and a few of them mentioned being flown to ‘the top’ in a helicopter!

It was just a magic night, sleeping in our own little hut, perched high above New Zealand, out of the wind while dreaming of tomorrow’s unanticipated adventure.

Taking the adventure route was the correct choice. Some of the best riding of our trip, culminating here at ‘the obelisk.’

Though the gales were howling, the views and riding made them easier to ignore.

From the obelisk we again chose the adventure route, with very little beta. As we dropped off the ridgeline we could see tiny little Alexandra below, and it felt a little like the Manapouri powerline. We were ready to walk and scramble if needed.

Sometimes you win — the descent was ‘surprisingly rideable.’

We really liked Alexandra and the quasi-desert around it. The sun shone bright the whole time we were there.

Yet the trail ahead called even though it was a place we wanted to linger. It felt like a genuinely kiwi town, and everyone was kind. I suppose by genuinely kiwi I might only mean that it’s a town that isn’t really on the main tourist route, so we were surrounded by kiwis.

Thanks to one such kiwi, Geof, who we met at the coffee shop and is a past TD rider, we knew of a ‘rustic’ hut on our way north. This one is just for travelers and has been that way for some hundred years. We are travelers! The timing was just right and up this high the night had a chill, so the hut was welcome.

Singletrack! Sadly it seems that most true singletrack we encountered was more along the lines of a bike park or stacked loop system. That meant that with a some exceptions, they often couldn’t be a part of a thru-route.

Luckily Wanaka has all sorts of trails and every mode of recreation you can think of, including XC (as in covering country, not looping) trails.

We would ride along the banks of impossibly blue and raging Clutha river many times in our adventures around Wanaka.

Our goal was to ‘have christmas’ in Wanaka with Eszter’s brother and his girlfriend. It was a fantastic plan, and in fact the whole idea of being out of the USA for Christmas was brilliant as well. Besides the deep and thoughtful rejection of all forms of Christianity that I have settled on, my patience for the overblown consumerism and stress of ‘the holidays’ is pretty low.

Things were refreshingly laid back in NZ. We barely even knew the holidays were coming until right before, and no one gave us fake and patronizing holiday greetings for weeks leading up.

We marveled at how empty the Wanaka area was (and the trails — this photo is from Roy’s Peak).

The crowds did come. After Christmas the place blew up with kiwis ‘on holiday.’ It hadn’t really occurred to us that it would be a camping holiday, but it makes perfect sense. It’s summer and school is out! Camping for Christmas, or Christmas in the summer, what a great idea!

There was a holiday park just outside town that swelled to 2000 people, all camping in the kiwi style with caravans and big canvas tents. It was so cool, and something to see.

We took advantage of being on bike and found secluded spots outside of town.

For Christmas, we went hiking. Mt. Aspiring National Park.

The Rob Roy glacier and associated ‘scene’ defies description. One of the most complex and stunning places we visited, by far.

Andras and Vanessa had to head back to Queenstown, but we continued on into the park, amazingly by bike! The first 10km is a grassy two track that almost everyone walks and no one drives. For some incredible reason, it’s open to bikes!

This gave us a slight advantage in getting up higher with our day.

It seems the red huts are the truly alpine ones. I’d like to visit more red huts…

Liverpool hut was a little scrambly to get to, in a uniquely New Zealand way. Roots make good ladders and hand holds, it’s true.

Riding the national park ‘two track’ back out. The weather called for major wind and rain, to come, otherwise we would have surely stayed at the red hut.

Instead we spent a semi-restful night, then woke up to what appeared to be massive tailwinds. Indeed, it was nuclear.

Free ride back to town. Get drenched a little. Dry off at holiday park with 2000 kiwis…

The crash on the beach in the sun after it clears out. Lovely.

Wanaka sunset.

“Don’t worry honey, it’s a shortcut.” It was an ambitious day ride, but we wanted to see what Grandview had to offer. This shortcut behind farms didn’t have anything to offer other than scratchy plants and no tread. Win some, lose some, we abandoned.

We figured hike-a-bike is easier unloaded.

So let’s have Scott do the math and wholly underestimate the mileage. I might have called it 60 miles and it was more like 80.

You know, pretty average. Par for the course for us.

Views were worth it. The sun beat us down and water ran alarmingly low.

A killer downhill, made even better by the surprise appearance of a clear and cold spring, right on the side of the trail. Salvation!

We were wrecked, but our time was starting to run short. We had some highway to ride and were leery of the traffic. So we planned to get up super early.

The fly in that ointment was that it was new years. We camped in a free spot not near any civilization, with a handful of campervans that were dead silent…. until midnight. Then it rained and they went inside. And it stopped raining, and even though the new year was more than an hour old, screaming and banging things resumed.

Ah, well. We got up early anyway, forded the river to avoid a backtrack, and beat traffic and wind over the pass.

The wind caught up with us on a dirt road up the Ahuriri Valley, where we hoped to reach a hut for the night. 30 mph headwinds had other plans for us. Even though Ez is much more resilient to wind than I am, for some reason I was content to plug out the 10 or 15 miles at 2-3 mph. I admit it didn’t really make sense. After an hour and a half we flipped it.

Due to that detour we got flagged down on the highway by none other than Scott and Jo, who live in Christchurch and are bikepackers. That was a fortunate meeting!

We hopped on the “Alps 2 Ocean” cycle route in the town of Omarama, which was my favorite placename to purposely pronounce incorrectly.

There was some purpose built grade 3 singletrack on this one, somewhat to the chagrin of a few folks we met on touring bikes. Hey, you can always walk… we do it all the time!

The high mountain platter! One of the best meals we had.

We turned off the cycle trail for an out/back to a hut up another stunning glacially carved valley. At the hut we were joined by some college aged kiwis from Christchurch who were very new to tramping. It was fun to see all the little things they fretted over, but the card and role playing type games we played with them were even more fun. And then went to bed at a reasonable hour. They may have been new to tramping but someone had taught them good hut etiquette.

Another hut win and good people we would have never met otherwise.

Back at the lodge for a second high mountain platter the next day (yes, it was that good) the place was inundated by all sorts of folks riding the route. Some on e-bikes, mostly unloaded, all seeming to love it. Go NZ cycle trails!

Purpose built cycling gates… just a little too narrow for poor Donkey (nickname for Eszter’s bike).

These canals are part of a power generating scheme, and also used to hatch salmon. Apparently it’s legal to pull any escapees out of the canal.

We didn’t have time to stay in the town of Twizel. Mt. Cook and free camping to the north called us.

Though Cook was an out/back (or in/out as they say in NZ) for us, mostly on highway, as we watched the sun set on it from camp, we had no choice but to get up early and try to beat the campervans.

It worked. The last few kms are on a gravel bike path, as the steep walls and glacier falls pull you in.

As with national parks in the USA, you need to leave the bikes behind in order to actually see the place.

Pretty darn nice camping in a very informal site for a national park. Having a bike meant we could get a bit further out from the vehicles, and access to the cook shelters was fantastic for the morning and when it rained.

We stuck to the main touristy hikes, and while they were busy, it wasn’t that much by national park standards.

This trail is pretty much a giant staircase. There was some quality suffering going on, but it seemed like most people were making it.

Kiwis love their signs, and many are humorous to us. “… may be prone to kea damage.”

We could have stayed longer, but our time was running out. We rode until sunset, trying to get as much of the pavement done in the evening. Just as we needed to camp a tiny piece of DOC land presented itself — the Pukaki Climbing Boulders! Perfect. A 5 min hike-a-bike took us to this stunning campsite, and just enough off the road. One of our best sites.

Back to cyclotour mode, to finish up the Alps to Ocean in the opposite direction.

We hit Lake Tekapo where our dirt route ran out, and so did our time. Time to make preparations to leave country, sadly.

Time to savor the last flat whites and cheese scones. We could have easily stayed up to the 3 month no-visa limit, but work season was about to ramp up for me, and internet access had proven challenging throughout. We took a bus back to Christchurch.

A flightless bird is the logo for NZ’s air force. Love it.

We had one more task, which was to see an actual kiwi (bird), even if was just in a zoo. We did that in Christchurch, and then were kindly hosted by Scott and Jo, whom we had met a few weeks earlier on the road.

I don’t know how I don’t have a picture of them, or the ‘wee scenic wander’ we took by their house, or of Indie the heeler cross, our favorite NZ dog. It was a lovely quick visit to Christchurch and an easy transition to traveling back to the states.

We left quite satisfied with our time, falling in love with many things about New Zealand, and definitely feeling like there was plenty more to go and see. The thought of returning every year in Dec/Jan certainly was discussed.

As the days grew short this year (2017) and the Scamp seemed to grow smaller and smaller, the choice became clear — pack up the bikes and head back! So here we are, as I write this, about to launch again for more kiwi adventures.

Thanks for reading, cheers!

New Zealand (part 3) – Fjordlands, South Coast, and too much wind

We rolled south from Te Anau, on the outskirts of Fjordlands national park. The pedal down was beautiful, including this lovely beach.

TopoFusion users might recognize this photo, which became 2017’s splash screen on the Pro version of the software. TopoFusion is on sale this weekend, for Small Biz Saturday through Cyber Monday, too…

So many cool rocks in the world. Ez loves to collect.

We paid a few bucks to have a local bloke ferry us across the river. Apparently I say my name incorrectly, because no matter how many times I said it, or how I tried to enunciate it, he couldn’t understand me. Finally he got it and I thought back to the couple we met from Invercargil. Down south the Kiwi accent is a little bit Scottish, and there is definitely a Scottish way to say “Scott”. I didn’t really think there were too many ways to pronounce my name, but I was wrong!

On the other side were tramping trails and a hut we wanted to stay at.

NZ is a geologically young place, which shows in the steepness and unstable nature of the mountains. These trees, soil and grass were curiously melting off the hill, seemingly before our eyes.

A beach walk along lake Manipouri was called for. As the night attempted to descend (long days!) more and more people started to show up at the hut. We naively thought it would be empty since you can only access it by water. A tramping club was the bulk of the group and they were quite interesting to talk to. We got a little beta on DOC camping and other rules.

They got a huge fire going on the beach (we didn’t realize that was legal) and though we all got many sandfly bites, it was a special evening. A japanese musician played us some tunes, and one in the tramping club got so worked up over Trump getting elected he had to take a walk to cool off. It was hilarious, and quite the night.

Always take the boat ride. This was generally a return trip ride, but they’ll sell you a one way ticket because there is a sneaky way to exit on a bike and not a boat.

Always take the free coffee.

We didn’t see any mice on the road over to the Doubtful Sound. With no bears or large mammals, critters aren’t much of a worry in NZ.

A hefty climb (unloaded since it’s out/back) took us to a stunning and misty view of Doubtful.

Then it was time to retrieve our luggage from the bush and commence a massive climb out of the valley and up to ‘the tops.’

Why is there a road in this ridiculously steep and beautiful country? Certainly a dubious place for what was a pretty decent road.

Pylons! Lake Manipouri generates power through giant underground tunnel, something I’d never heard of. The water ends up in the Doubtful Sound, which is 10km away, dropping 750 feet on the way.

The problem? See where I’m taking the photo from? And where the next pylons are? Yeah, there’s no road. They didn’t need to build it, instead using a huuuuuge run of cable between pylons.

No problem, have bikes, will carry. I would really like to know who the first mountain bikers were that saw this connection and decided it was a good idea to attempt. Kindred spirits of mine, surely.

Navigating a steep section just on the edge of a slip. Loaded bikes were not ideal, but not so bad either.

Success, road base again! What a beautiful connection.

We spent another couple days riding out of there and camping in what felt like an incredibly remote area.

When we finally emerged back on pavement the wind was absolutely ripping. Any indecision about which way we were going was over.

Done and dusted, wind at our backs, we took the free ride to Tuatapere.

My Redpoint had been given the name “Sausage” earlier in the trip, so I had to. Tuatapere may have been the sausage capital, but we sure loved the town, or rather the quirky holiday park we spent a few nights at. They had incredible food, good wifi and lots of room.

Somehow I talked Eszter into doing the Humpridge Track, which we had seen advertised all over the south island. We were able to book one night at the fancy hut and use our hut pass for the second. There was apparently no other way to see it (without paying a night and supporting the trust of the trail).

This sketchy swingbridge said it was damaged and had been downgraded from ‘max 4 people’ to ‘max 1 person’.

Tramping on the beach? Yes please.

Despite the luxury billing on this tramp, the climb is no joke! It worked us over good.

I’ve always been fascinated by places you can stay that don’t have roads, and this was by far the fanciest one I’ve seen. Everything is helicoptered in. The ‘hut’ is perched just at treeline, in quite a spot.

Coastal alpine. Stunning. This is the day hike you can do above the hut.

The Luxury hut thing doesn’t seem to be working out for them. They could sleep 48, but there were only four of us so we almost had the place to ourselves. The dad and daughter from Australia that we shared it with were quite fun, even if the daughter had trouble understanding us!

As we sat in the dining room, looking out the huge window, the wind started blowing columns of snow in. It was something to see, and assuaged our guilt at splurging on ‘luxury’ just a slight bit.

South coast forest, wow.

Our next night was anything but luxury — it was in this little schoolhouse. It was the only building that remained after a boomtown logging operation went bust 100 years or so ago. We had walked on the line and over trestles that had briefly transported trees out of the bush.

Somehow we crammed 30 or 40 people, many in their teens, into that little ‘hut.’ The bulk of them were a christian school group. The best part was when they played a highly censored version of Cards against Humanity. Quite entertaining, and with earplugs we slept well.

Hey look, a photo of both of us, how rare.

Endless entertainment as the waves crashed into rocks and cliffs. We looked for dolphins and penguins, only seeing the former.

Thick bush along the coastline. Beautiful.

We retrieved our bikes from said thick bush at the end of the track and commenced a long and somewhat ill-advised ride back north. We wanted to make it to Wanaka to spend Christmas with Eszter’s brother. But no good routes were really presenting themselves. Just lots of pavement on farm roads.

sheeps! so many sheeps!

Normally that wouldn’t be so bad, and indeed most of the roads we found for the next several days were low traffic.

But… the wind. We’d ridden it south after Manipouri, but now were paying the piper trying to get back north. Grass pollen had started to be an issue for both of us. Too much time spent out in the wind.

The town of Lumsden allows free camping in the town park. So cool. And we were ready to get on the ‘Round the Mountains’ cycle route, back on dirt, the next day!

But… the wind. We set up our tent on the lee side of the train, which was the only thing giving shelter in the park. That worked pretty well until 1 or 2 AM when the direction shifted ever so much, and we had the classic ‘tent to the face’ type of situation on our hands. Our solution, since it wasn’t cold or storming, was to take down the tent and simply sleep on it. That worked, but it was a miserable night.

We noticed cracks in a few places on our tent poles the next day. Tape, yeah, tape should take care of that right?

Round the Mountains was a relief to rejoin, especially when we got to ride *inside* hedges. Much of the farmland in NZ has planned hedges of trees, so we’d seen them everywhere. When oriented correctly they provide good wind blocks, but this was the first time we got to go inside them!

Round the Mountains is an NZ cycle trail, and the time/effort/money that went into it shows. This was only one of many giant bridges on the route. A little accommodation we stayed at (indoors, out of the pollen and wind!) even had a cute children’s book written about riding the route.

It’s cool when you have routes just for you (touring cyclists). We really love and appreciate the NZ cycle trail program.

From Round the Mountain we transitioned into the more central part of the South Island, which is drier and almost desert-like in places. As it became summer, the weather also improved. It was time to ride high and head on to Wanaka!

New Zealand (part 2) Queenstown, Greenstone, Kepler Tracks

Queenstown. Adventure capital of NZ. It’s a funny place, and also a beautiful one.

Kaitlyn was resting and getting her knee checked out while we did shorter day trips.

Including the bike park. We had pretty capable bikes, so why not?

Deluxe accommodation in Queenstown. The grass was just barely wide enough for our tiny tent. Being outside was somewhat preferable to the ‘partying’ that was going on inside the hostel. Flexibility, make due with what you can.

Now these are accommodations! We met up with Andras, Eszter’s brother, and he showed us his secret camp spot above town. Somehow we crammed five people and four bikes into Yeti, his campervan. And we all returned to the campervan when it rained.

A Thanksgiving feast was prepared, with the Remarkables (jagged mountain range) and a rainbow as the background. Life was pretty darn good.

Mountainbiking with Andras, near his campsite. Stunning mountains and being more interior they aren’t completely covered in rain forest. Thus far we’d spent a lot of time in the trees, where us westerners that are addicted to endless views tend to get ancy.

Kaitlyn’s knee checked out OK, but it needed rest. They found a free place to stay in nearby Wanaka, while we set our sights on a nearby ‘Tramp.’

The Greenstone Caples track! Hut passes were secured. Optimistic readings of the forecast were made (i.e. Eszter read it optimistically and convinced me to go for it). Somehow we talked Andras into giving us a ride out to the trailhead, which was on a dirt road. And that dirt road had several yellow signs with exclamation points on them.

Often an exclamation point means a ford on a dirt road. These were deep ones. He let us out and we started the 10km trek to the trailhead. About halfway a van full of middle school girls picked us up. Wahoo!

It was our first exposure to popular ‘tramping’ with huts that often fill up.

Huts may be full, but the track is generally empty. And generally beautiful. And this one was very wet. We were often crossing water, or walking in bogs, or just generally walking in water.

Favorite NZ bird? The fantail.

We discovered that if we stay in huts we can easily carry 3 days of food in our Osprey packs.

Walking through deeply carved glacial valleys, past thousands of waterfalls, we also discovered what we already suspected: to see some of the best stuff (e.g. national parks), we needed to ditch the bikes and get out on foot.

Errr, get out on boat! The best way to continue south to the Fjordlands and our next tramp was to take a 40 minute boat ride to the start of the ‘Around the Mountains’ cycle route.

Free coffee in hand, sitting on bean bags on the deck, yes we felt like we were winning at life. Any time you can take a boat ride on a bike trip, you probably should.

The route on the other side of the lake felt remote and surrounded by unfamiliar mountains. Just what we like.

A 10km diversion along the shoreline of the next major lake took us to a hut. We had the hut pass and were determined to use it as much as we could.

We shared this hut with an older couple from Invercargill. They were ever so kind and fun to talk to as well. We’d ask them a question and they’d respond, “Ahhh, yeeeees.” They were old-school trampers, carrying giant packs, sub-freezing sleeping bags and giant billies (water pots). They must have boiled 10L of water while we were there — stove on the entire time.

A steep and overgrown climb above the hut let us survey the area. Whooeeee.

Next up, another hut, along the Te Araroa trail (the long distance route across both islands). A young french couple joined us, pulling out their instruments to serenade us to sleep with original and folky french songs. It was just magic, and we were beginning to see the magic of the hut system.

In Te Anau, we had reservations for two nights on the famous Kepler Track (tramp). But a little bit of time to kill until those ‘sniped’ (last minute) reservations were ready.

Local mountainbiking trails were on the docket, including a jump over a ‘mini’ (mr. bean car) that had been junked on the hillside.

And birds! This is a Kaka, one of the mountain parrots with whom we’d start to get to know soon enough. These are hilariously mischievous birds, and stunningly beautiful, too.

Rainbow Chicken! Also know as Takahe, these guys are seriously endangered. It’s amazing such flightless birds survived the (not all that recent) invasion of homo sapiens.

We ditched our bikes in the bush and began the rather massive ascent to the Luxmore hut. The Kepler Track is a ‘great walk’ and thus is pretty popular.

We reached the hut with time to spare. Despite the gales about the tops, we ventured out to climb Luxmore peak. The next day was forecast to be nothing but cloud and rain, so we wanted to see the views while we could.

Being us, the ridgeline return called to us more than a track return the way we’d came. It was a fun ridge and then open tussocks back to the hut.

We dallied in the hut the next day, putting together a puzzle with ‘grumpy magoo’ (as we called him) from San Francisco. I think the fact that he had to stay in a hut grumped him out more than the weather. Who likes a roof when it’s pissing rain out?

I do! I do!

There was a limestone cave nearby, so we went to check that out before setting off down the track.

Most of the day was spent above bushline, walking in the rain. It was disappointing to not see the views we knew were there. The mystery of the place pulled us in, instead, as we only got glimpses here and there. We looked at plants and finer details.

It’s the fjordlands, and a rainforest, you know. A sunny day is a blessing.

At the lower hut there was also much to explore. A short hike took us to a magnificent waterfall. We discovered a scribble in one of the books in the hut mentioning glow worms nearby.

Darkness didn’t fall until 10pm, so everyone else was going to bed in the hut when we ventured out.

We heard Kiwis calling and stamping in the darkness. And we found and were able to photograph glow worms, too. What a place this is.

A rowdy group of Keas (mountain parrots) decided to wake everyone in the hut up at 5am. It was getting light out and I think they’d learned that if they make a racket, dumb tourists like us will rouse and they will have some entertainment. Silly Keas.

We were out of sniper hut reservations and facing a bit of a long walk back to our bikes. At the far point of the circuit, we decided why not hike back along the ridgetops, hoping that the weather forecast written on the chalkboard in the hut came true:

“Becoming fine…. EVERYWHERE!”

(Everywhere? Everywhere! I like the sound of that).

It was pure clouds as we climbed several thousand feet back up to bushline, somewhat dubiously of the chalkboard and hut warden’s prediction.

But then… hints of light.

We were climbing out of the clouds, and they were lifting!

All that had been hidden the day before was revealing itself.

It was a magic ridgline walk.

Hi Keas! I bet you’d like some rubber from our shoes or some of our food.

Topping off water, Fjordlands style. You don’t really worry about going thirsty here.

Yay, tramping! Our bikes were waiting for us back in the bush. We decided we really liked the mode of bike touring between tramps, then getting out on foot for a few days.

So then, what was next?

New Zealand (part 1) Molesworth, Earthquakes, Ghost Road

We’re flying back to New Zealand in just a few days. That means I’m more than a year behind here. So it’s time to recount a little of our visit to those lovely little islands in the southern hemisphere.

We’re going back this year because we love New Zealand — the landscapes, the people, the birds, the place. We’re also going back because we love daylight, and the northern hemisphere is running short on that. The little Scamp trailer is quite dandy and all, but when the sun goes down at 5pm, 360 cubic feet of space for two people is… a little tight. Beyond all that we’re also going because we can. We can park our van and trailer, leaving behind minimal stuff and almost no expenses. To not take advantage of such ease of multi-month travel would be a little sad. And finally, it’s the (much deserved) off-season for There aren’t that many events to track in Dec/Jan (hallelujah!), so it’s my best time to travel because much of the rest of the year I have to remained pretty connected.

I really can’t wait to get back there, for so many reasons. This time we’ll have a better idea what we are getting into and how to operate.

photo by Lee Blackwell

Versus here, leaving Tucson bright eyed and bushy tailed, we were pretty clueless.

Eszter likes to give me grief for ‘over-researching’ things, but in this case there is no grief to give. We went in pretty blind — having no real plan other than to see what opportunities presented themselves and try to keep our expectations reasonable and low.

We found a place to camp near the Christchurch airport for night 1. That worked out and was as far as we had planned the trip.

Hanmer Springs has hot springs! And there’s a long cycletour dirt route called the Molesworth from there. I’m not even sure how Eszter found these things out the next morning, but I went so far as to verify the route was open, and suddenly we were off, riding bikes on the *wrong* side of the road, heading out of the city.

We navigated by Eszter’s NZ camping app, and a little bit on my GPS. I was worried that the roads would be busy/unsafe, and I was… mostly correct.

Flexibility. I didn’t have too many preconceived notions of NZ, but one thing I’d heard repeatedly was how everyone sees the country by ‘campervan’ and that camping is easy. That’s only somewhat true. We had much to learn and definitely a few challenges finding places to legally camp by bike. Sometimes the only option was holiday parks, which are similar to a KOA in the states, though they vary widely and have a lot more personality. This park (above) had rail cars you could rent out, and a library in a car, too.

“Don’t worry honey, it’s a shortcut.” Actually this was an attempt to avoid the many dairy trucks on the highway just parallel to it. I hopped over several trees before being rightly vetoed.

We made Hanmer safely. I acquired curved silver bar-ends from the outdoorsy shop there. I think they’d been on the shelf for at least 20 years and definitely made me smile as I rode so many miles with a similar pair.

We soaked until late. Had some interesting conversations with locals. Marveled at the long days. Rode out in the rain to start the Molesworth. Part of this plan was we needed to make the town of Blenheim in two days in order to meet Kurt and Kaitlyn. We were somewhat unnecessarily rushing things, but at least it gave us a direction.

The Molesworth was beautiful. Stunning. Completely free of traffic.

YES. This is what we came to NZ for.

Carrot bird! They have carrots for beaks. And they swooped us somewhat aggressively. It was so neat being in a foreign landscape with new plants, birds and geology.

Even the sky was foreign. One of the most interesting things for me was how I was confused by the sun’s location. I didn’t realize how much my sense of direction depended on the sun being in the southern part of the sky! Being summer in NZ, it was very much to the north, but that part of the software in my brain was obviously subconscious. I’d have to override it with the logical/thinking part of my brain… which when you’re riding a bike isn’t that easy to do.

Even stranger was that the moon looked wrong. It just looked plain wrong. It took me a few clear days to put my finger on it. But, indeed it is illuminated in a reflected or opposite way compared to the northern hemisphere. Again, it was my subconscious that was telling me it was a moon that I didn’t recognize or that didn’t look right.

Improvising a thank-you note when we could find no writing instrument in the entire house.

Most people who have traveled by bike have had the following experience.

It’s getting late. You’re tired. The chill of the night is starting to come on. You don’t have any clue where you’re going to lay your head. The previous hours of riding haven’t provided anything promising (in our case it was mostly private-looking farm land). This is a special kind of anxiety that only people traveling in a lightweight and human-powered mode can relate to, I think.

Often, you travel by cozy looking houses, maybe with the lights on or smoke puffing out of the chimney. As hardcore as you may be, and as prepared as you may be, there’s still a part of you that longs for comfort. A part that wishes someone would magically come out of that cozy house and invite you in.

Well, for the first time, that actually happened to us. We stopped to pull water out of a small creek, hoping somewhat desperately we could find a little piece of ground to scratch out a night’s sleep on, somewhere in the next 10 minutes. I had looked at the little white house somewhat longingly. Then we noticed someone walking towards us. My first instinct was that we might be doing something wrong and they didn’t want us just below the road taking water.

Instead, it was a very kind kiwi, who invited us to stay in her empty cottage across the road. There wasn’t hot water, but it sure was cozy. It was a lovely welcome to the country.

And then it rained. That was a less lovely welcome to the country.

We met up with Kurt and Kaitlyn, and it was so great to see friends from the states, ready to ride — and hike-a-bike, too!

The route would have been quite fun and not all that epic had it not rained most of the time, or had the primary trail surface not been off camber roots.

A backcountry hut presented itself. The first of many for us, this one was much needed.

Somehow we survived the trail, despite Eszter only having one functional brake. We landed in “Sunny Nelson”, a town on the northern coast.

It was anything but sunny, and the holiday park was anything but cozy. There were varying levels of disgruntlement from all of us as the skies continued to let loose and the thought of more cold riding in the rain put the four of us mostly in-town and in-doors, which wasn’t really where we wanted to be.

Just as we were accepting this reality, a rather major earthquake rolled across the northern end of the south island. I was fast asleep when I heard the rattling doors and cupboards, thinking it was the college aged kids being dumb. Then I felt a new sensation — the entire ground beneath us rolling and shaking. There was much more of a wave component to it than I would have expected. Almost more regular and repeating like turbulence in an airplane, yet unpredictable too. Very little sound associated with it — just man made objects vibrating. We were in a very rickety hostel up on a steep hill so it wasn’t clear whether it was safer inside it or out. We didn’t have much time to think about it, though.

“That was fucking awesome!” one of our hostel neighbors exclaimed.

Yes, it was awesome that it stopped, for now, and that no one in the immediate area was hurt.

Most of us were still somewhat worried, but a girl from Chile yawned from a chair and complained, “great, now there are going to be aftershocks all night, I need some sleep.”

“Oh yes there are great tastes… on the great taste trail!”

Finally the forecast looked reasonable and we rolled out of trail on a neato little bike route.

Sadly we didn’t try any of the wine as we rolled by vineyards, but we did stop for a coffee and snack when the little sign on the trail showed a steaming cup of coffee with an arrow. That was a win.

St. Arnaud is the seat of Nelson Lakes National Park and quite the spot. We planned to wait out more rain there and allow me to work the Baja 1000 weekend with a roof and semi-stable internet.

The hostel in St. Arnaud fit the bill. There were many trails nearby. This one above was a pretty neato dayride I did inbetween coding and server-babying sessions.

I probably should have been prepping for the event to start, but with a bluebird day I couldn’t resist joining the girls for a ‘run’ above treeline. Must return and go further!

I had to resort to hitchhiking in order to catch back up with my friends after Baja went… well, about as well as it ever does. It’s a sinking ship from the beginning, and we just do our best to bail water to keep it afloat. We’ve always succeeded in this, but the challenge of being in another country, in a small hostel with intermittent internet, with a crappy laptop and a wedding about to take over the place… well, those were just some of the challenges that presented themselves.

When it was finally done and dusted, I gathered my gear, knowing there wasn’t enough time or daylight to ride, and set about to hitchhiking, with a bike.

A young couple from the UK picked me up and I rejoiced when I found Kurt and Kaitlyn in the next town, Murchison. Kurt picked up my bike, for some reason, and hefted it to see how heavy it was, or how it bounced or somesuch. When he did that I actually looked at the bike. “Oh no, there’s no seat bag! We have no tent.”

No shelter in NZ with these atmospheric conditions was a no-go. Various plans were hatched, then I inquired at the closest hostel. The American girl that was running the place was very kind, first offering to drive me back to fetch the tent. Then she just gave me the keys and asked if I’d driven on the left side of the road before.

“Nope, but I’m a fast learner.” Or so I told myself.

It was only mildly terrifying. But tent was retrieved, all were reunited and all was well!

Swing bridge! It was on the Old Ghost Road, which was the only route in the country we knew about beforehand.

Treeferns! Well graded and pleasant track.

The Ghost Road is really a trail, not a road, and it fulfills dreams made by miners of old. They had planned to create this dubious connection, over giant mountains on the west coast. The plans were later found and a ‘great walk’ style trail was envisioned. The timing was just right that the government wanted a ‘great ride’ cycle trail, and the Ghost Road has become a flagship great ride. The amount of money and sweat that has gone into this trail is just astounding. And we got to enjoy it all.

Tree ferns growing.

Proof that there were ‘fine spells’ on the tops. Or at least fine moments. I think I had made optimistic and wholly unfounded statements about such fine spells coming to be. In truth, this was probably the coldest night we spent in NZ.

Luckily we had plenty of comedy and general camaraderie to keep us warm. Particularly when Kurt complained that his ‘whisking arm’ was getting tired, as Kaitlyn had him helping prepare their dinner. Kurt is one of the strongest and most capable cyclists I know, but, you know, everyone’s whisking arm gets tired sometimes!

It was challenging to coordinate all four of us on the same page, in a different country, with many unknowns, and with no real set plan or goals. But I am glad that we put the effort into it, since we certainly did share some good times.

Such as the next day of riding, above treeline and through landscapes so mysterious they defy description.

After Ghost Lake the trail got nicely rowdy. Grade 4 as they call it in NZ.

Banked corners and markers every corner. It’s a different kind of trail.

And yet still, the place. The place.

I’ve seen some trail layout challenges and interesting solutions, but this was a new one. They needed to lose 1000 feet, and FAST. So, let’s just build stairs!

The trail is newly opened, and not quite finished. We rode/pushed through quite a bit of muck in the middle of the trail. The solution? Mostly gravel, I think. Surely some drainage. We also hit it after much rain.

“Cyclists dismount. Two person limit.” I love swingbridges.

Even more, I loved the emerald river we followed through a steep and impossibly beautiful gorge. This trail is the closest a mountain biker can come to paddling a remote canyon like this. Flowing.

Unfortunately, the end of the Ghost Road was soured by Kaitlyn’s rapidly swelling knee. The future of the trip was unsure, and we all hoped that it would not be a serious injury. One thing was clear — she was done pedaling for the immediate future. We rested at the ‘holiday park’ in Seddonville, which was a converted schoolyard. We had the place to ourselves and really it was one of the best nights.

The best part was the guy behind the bar/hotel/restaurant, Graeme. We could mostly understand him, but his backwoods kiwi accent was thick. When another local walked into the bar and started conversing, it wasn’t clear to us they were speaking English, at all. We couldn’t pick out more than a word here or there. It was awesome.

“G’dayhowyagoinmate” all in one word and maybe two syllables.

I was assigned the task of calling Graeme from the schoolhouse in order to ask what the WiFi password was. What could possibly go wrong?

Kurt and Kaitlyn had less time on the island that we did, so we had bus tickets to whisk us down to Queenstown. You see, Kurt had spied a ‘super smooth’ trail in the mountains above Queenstown as they were flying in, and that promise of a trail was pulling him in like a magnet. It was good timing to spend some time on the bus, given Kaitlyn’s inability to ride and the promise of good doctors in a place larger than Seddonville.

Along the way the bus was kind enough to stop for some touristy diversions, such as the pancake rocks (above) which shoot out water when the tide is right.

We also overnighted at Franz Joseph glacier, for a short hike up to see the *RAPIDLY* decreasing mass of ice and snow. It’s pretty alarming to see how big it was just a decade ago.

We made Queenstown. Now to get the knee checked out, have Thanksgiving with Eszter’s brother who was working there and living in a campervan. Then, see where New Zealand takes us from there.

A summer in the Scamp, without a plan

What can one say about a summer spent in a Scamp? A summer lived without a plan?

Was it a worthwhile summer? Was time spent outside? With friends and family? Adventures had?

Without a plan it could go either way. Nothing might happen, a summer wasted.

climbing steep …. [Continue reading]

Living in Moab, Spring 2016


It’s always been a pilgrimage for me.

It’s always a been a good idea, too. It was the first truly good idea I remember having. And like all good ideas, it was stolen from someone else. My best friend in 3rd grade talked about taking mountain bikes to Moab, and how you …. [Continue reading]

Semi-rideable 14ers Story

Eszter and I are back in the Scamp after spending 9 weeks living off our bikes in New Zealand. It was such an experience, and we are already missing many things about those cool little islands at the bottom of the world.

More on that, hopefully soon, though Ez has done a fantastic …. [Continue reading]

Redpoints in the Gila

Salsa was launching a new bike, the Redpoint. The plan was to find some aggressive terrain for a 3 day bikepack. Tucson wasn’t the first choice, so Eszter and I were enlisted somewhat late in the game.

The challenge was to come up with a route that would showcase what Arizona has to offer, push …. [Continue reading]

Scamping in AZ

We moved ‘full time’ into our little Scamp trailer at the end of February, 2016. All our belongings fit in the van/trailer, and we were officially rent-free and on the road. Wahoo!

How would it go? What would we learn? What unexpected challenges would there be? What places would we visit, what trails would we …. [Continue reading]

Into the Scamp

We’ve been nomads for a while now. We seem to follow good weather and good adventures around the west, working on the computer in most places as we go.

In 2014, we lived off our bikes, traveling north on the Continental Divide Trail. We shipped our laptops to post offices along the way. Even they …. [Continue reading]

Grand Enchantment on the Safford Morenci Trail+

photo by Lee Blackwell

It started innocuously enough. Lee and I pedaled a graded dirt road into the Black Hills east of Safford.

The original idea was to recreate a memorable bikepack we did on a rather iconic section of the Grand Enchantment Trail some years back. We hiked our bikes a lot …. [Continue reading]

Emergency Gila Bikepack

It wasn’t going to happen otherwise. We had to do it, we had to declare an ’emergency’ and drop everything. We can’t let a beautiful spring season go by without a visit to the Gila Canyons and the Arizona Trail. We just can’t.

What was the emergency? The emergency was many fold:

We …. [Continue reading]

Return to Tucson

The first photo on this blog has been, for the last month, a photo of my green Lenzsport Mammoth. The bike was leaning against a ledge of that beautiful white rock on Gooseberry Mesa. Sadly that bike was stolen soon after we returned to Southern Arizona for the winter. It had seen many a mile, …. [Continue reading]

Adrenal fatigue in Southern Utah

Moab’s wind and rain brought us to Salt Lake. It was a good time to visit with my family — overcast and cold for several days. Very little temptation to go outside and play. We played inside, with nieces and nephews, instead. It was fun.

The skies began to clear over the west, and the …. [Continue reading]

To the desert!

At last the snows did come to the mountains. It piled up in a slushy mess, up high and on the roads down low. We were lucky to get out safely when we could.

The destination? Fruita / Grand Junction – the desert.

Eszter and two Bec(k)s were bikepacking the Kokopelli Trail …. [Continue reading]

Closing out the alpine season — with a binge and a bang.

The view from my ‘office’ was superb. Gold aspens, blue sky. Trails from the door. Easy access to the alpine. A cozy place to stay.

Why leave such paradise? Why jump back in the van and sleep in a tent for two weeks, working from campsites and libraries, constantly on the lookout for …. [Continue reading]

Feeding the addiction

bird nerd!

Our addiction to high places and to places where trees cannot grow, continues.

run! the storms are building!

Sometimes that just means getting in the car, driving up high, and walking for a few hours. (We were also hoping to catch a couple of CDT hikers and ‘perform’ some …. [Continue reading]

6 Million Trackleaders

I’ve been meaning to write this code for a while. It would dig through the trackleaders archive, and do a little counting. The results are a little staggering, at least to me.

That’s a lot of tracking, a lot of adventure covered. 6 million miles!

It started back in 2008 or 2009. …. [Continue reading]

A fleeting fall

We set up camp in the shadow of Mt. Shavano, and just outside of Salida. We needed a tiny bit of recovery after the 14ers and such, and Salida is the perfect place. We have friends to visit, there’s a friendly bike shop, a hot spring / rec center, and even my favorite …. [Continue reading]