Arizona Trail Race 2019 and beyond

start of the first Arizona Trail 300. 2006 with six riders and two finishers

 

I’m stepping down as the ‘unofficial’ race director of the AZTR. It’s always been a loosely organized and underground ‘event’, but still does carry with it some work and weight of responsibility. For a number of reasons it makes sense for me to move away from it and transition to new leadership.

That leadership is one John Schilling and I cannot imagine a better choice. I’m really pleased that he is up to the task and that the AZTR will live on. He’s got more stoke for the trail than anyone, and knows it better than anyone from a bikepacking perspective. Thanks for stepping up, John!

The new website is here:

http://aztrail.home.blog/

Please note that 2019 will be a transitional year. John is the new RD de facto but I’ll still be around. I’ll be involved with the tracking as well. There’s a new email address for questions, but please don’t expect a super quick response. John may also not be in attendance at the start, as his plans to ride the 300 are still a little up in the air. Either he or perhaps long time AZTR supporter and Tim McCabe will be on hand to pass out SPOT trackers, and maybe give the little spiel before starting.

I want to thank everyone that has been involved over the years. The Arizona Trail Association itself deserves most of the credit for the trail itself. The trail was the inspiration for the race, plain and simple. So many people have ridden and pushed their hearts out on the trail as a part of the event and the stories that have emerged from it have been beyond epic and beyond inspiring. I know that for me the AZT and all my adventures on it have been transformative in my life and oh-so-memorable.

Thanks everyone and here’s to 2019 and beyond!  I’ll be following along.

 

Scamp Life Video


Salsa sent film maker / photographer Sam Needham out to the Moab desert to follow us around for a few days. Sam is a skilled bike rider and hard worker. He did a fantastic job putting together this film about the Scamp and a glimpse into our life.

It’s been more than two and a half years of Scamp Life, and … so far so very good. It has its challenges, yes, but we are so fortunate to (still!) be both in places in our lives where this is not only possible but also the preferred way of life.

Will it last forever? I doubt it. But I have a feeling this time will always be looked back on with great fondness, for us.

Thanks to Kid, Salsa and Sam for putting together a nice little film.

The Scamp is now even featured on the 2018 splash screen for TF:



If you’re having issues with ‘downloading disabled’ in TF, its due to a major change in elevation server. Please download the latest version.

Return to NZ, part 2





Ahh, bikepacking in NZ. Quiet 2-tracky roads in deep forest and no wind.

Sometimes it is that good. Eszter lured me into not backtracking to town for food with the promise of this shortcut route,
which turned out like a dream.





When the dream ended, we still had nothing more than a kilo of oatmeal (porridge) in our bags. When we spied this sign, we thought
we were saved. Bikepacking signs are rare, so we always follow them.

We climbed a steep hill to the Huha farmstay. The owner offered us a not-so-cheap room.

“So, why does the sign say HuHa bikepackers?”

“Oh, is that sign still there? I think that’s from the previous owners.”

More than anything we were hoping to share bikepacking stories and meet some interesting folks. Instead we rolled on to a sandfly infested campsite just down the road. I borrowed a stove from our car camping neighbors so we could heat up the oats for dinner (a nice european couple, working in China and touring NZ paddleboarding). It was not so luxurious.





Friend! We pedaled some nice miles with Heather Rose.





Heather got us to go rafting down the Buller River out of Murchison. Last trip we’d ridden along the river and been impressed by it.

We spent most of our float in the river, swimming or floating down in our life vests. It was the correct strategy for a hot summer solistice day (Dec 21). Though “rest”, it was not.





No, duh.

Especially true on ‘push’ bike.





Following the TA route took us to the “Big River” hut, the first we’d stayed that is supplied with coal for heating.

The heavens smiled and rained on us, making the hut a little chilly and a fire welcome. Our first attempt at the fire whimpered out… you have to use a little wood to get it up to temp before throwing the coals on. Once those coals are going though…..





Nice boardwalk singletrack!





Duffy singletrack too!

Per usual, we underestimated the Big River track. Despite recent trailwork, it was still harder than expected for our ‘touring’ setups.





Blackball, NZ. 1080 is a poison that is dropped into the forest in an attempt to kill stoats and other introduced species that prey on native birds.





Blackball has it right. 4 hours is plenty.

They got their start fighting for a 30 minute lunch. Seems preposterous now that the miners were only given a 15 minute break. Maybe in 100 years it’ll seem preposterous to work 8-10 hours a day as people do now?





Blackball is on the Westcoast, in the rain forest.

We climbed a lovely trail, semi-loaded, to stay in the hut at treeline. Little did we know the DoC trail crew was there setting up the hut for a massive trail construction effort.

They were ever so kind and fun to talk to. And ever so easy to make fun of.

At some point late at night I asked why the generator was running (while we sat laughing around the table under dim candle light). The trail boss sheepishly admitted he was charging his phone (!). A generator for one phone.

Top priority was to make a flat spot for the BBQ that, sadly, hadn’t been flown up yet.





We continued up onto the “tops”.

A glorious ridgeline towering over the ocean to our left. To have clear weather up here is rare.





We appreciated the day and all we had, even as the going was slow and arduous.

Our new trail crew friends have been building high-grade “great walk” quality trail all along this ridge that we stumble-plucked our way through on this day.





“Pretty average” trail conditions. This was the good part of the trail.





Not as easy as it looks.

Near the car park the track gets semi-rideable. We came upon a fossicker looking for gold in the creek.

“So how was it?”

“That was some good bush-bashing. The track is in pretty bad shape up there. We’re pretty glad to see the car park.”

Hand outstretched, “Ahhh, WELCOME TO NEW ZEALAND!”

It felt good to put a bit of a proper adventure ride in our back pockets. It isn’t really what we’re aiming for on these trips, but we are bikepackers, dammit, so bikepacking we must, even if it means hours of dragging our bikes for just a wee payoff.

We hit the only store in Blackball because it was fish and chips night.

The owners might be the grumpiest couple in the entire South Island. No matter what subject you might bring up, they’d have something negative to say. It was truly something to behold, and quite entertaining.

After gorging on fish and chips I selected a few more snacks and took them to the register.

“Ooooh, big spender!”

“Uh?”

“You people usually don’t have any money.”

(You people? What does she mean… Americans? White people? Computer Programmers? Oh, bike tourists!)

“You usually just come in here waving a water bottle, ooohh, give me some water!!” (she made a hilarious mocking face while holding up a bottle, one that I will never forget).

“But you give it to them, right?”

(Long pause, thinking)…. “oh, yes, we aren’t so heartless that we wouldn’t give them water, but they could at least buy something!”

….

We pitched our tent at the community center for the right well price of $10 NZ ($7 US). Here we met the DJ for Blackball’s very own radio station. He was a sweet old man, but perhaps the slowest talker in the entire South Island. The introduction to a tune would take several minutes, followed by another minute of silence before the LP (yes, a record player!) would engage.

“Tonight… we have … some special guests….. A couple of YANKEE DOODLES!”

“Ah, yes, my name is Scott Morris and I’m a Yankee Doodle. We have a couple mountain bikes and we spent the day thrashing about the tops, connecting the Croesus and Moonlight Tracks….”

I proceeded to fumble through the story.

“…thanks to Blackball for the hospitality and for the lovely community center for travelers to camp at. We like it here.”

It was true, we really did like Blackball.





Greymouth wasn’t as kind to us. We’ve squeezed our bikes onto full buses before, but this one had more luggage per person than usual, so we were out of luck. There’s no guarantee they’ll take us with bikes, and we knew that going in.

Still, it was a frustrating hour spent waiting and trying to figure out what was going on.

A flat white (coffee) was needed before plan B could be conjured. The barista asked,

“How is the day?”

“Not bad, but we just got kicked off our bus.”

She handed us some free wifi vouchers with our coffees. Sometimes a small act of kindness can go a long way. I try to remember that and be on the giving side of such a small kindness whenever I can.





Free camping on the beach was a good consolation.





No penguins though. Just distant dolphins and maybe whales.





We were pretty stoked with our impromptu beach camp. Little did we know the next night would top it — an impromptu rain forest camp surrounded by glow worms!

These little guys ‘fish’ for insects with their sticky lines, attracting them by bio-luminescence.





It’s a temperate rain forest, but camping in it was pretty interesting. Moist and plants everywhere.

We wandered the forest finding denser and denser pockets of glowing bugs. It was pure magic.





Could the glow worm forest be topped? Yes. We got a hostel room due to a west coast rain storm (that did bring moisture most of the day). Our timing as perfect. It was Christmas Eve and the guests are treated to a feast!

We chatted with Czechs, Germans, Israelis, Indians, Chinese and some kiwis too. There was beer and wine, and … Christmas crackers (those dorky things you pull apart and have a little toy inside), commonwealth style. It was a pretty special international Christmas.





Back tramping. The rata (red flowering beech trees) were strong this summer.





Destination: backcountry hot springs… with a hut nearby.

The secret to this soak was to hit it mid-morning, when the sand flies are nearly absent and the other hut guests are already hiking back to the car park.





Another bus (riding the west coast highway during high season isn’t an experience I need in my life) took us to Wanaka to meet up with Heather again, and…





Indie pup!





Plus her owners, Scott and Jo. Look — we did a regular, reasonable, fun mountainbike ride!





Scott texted us: “Having a cruisy morning. Is it heaving there? Should be there in the arvo.” God I love kiwispeak.

New Years-ish camping and hanging out with these van-lifers. We were hoping some of the coolness that is van life would rub off on us.





Indie gets her own door to the trails.





Ah the crown range road. I don’t know what we were thinking riding this road on New Year’s morning. And on day 3 of the Rhythm and Alps festival. We got going early-ish, but there was no such thing as early enough.

The TA route took us off it mid-descent, onto lovely quiet dirt into Arrowtown.

Then we made the mistake of camping outside Queenstown, in a secret spot that I guess isn’t so secret. A couple of cars pulled in after dark, one parking the front wheel a few feet from our tent. Once they finally got settled it was…. four episodes of “Friends” on their laptop at full volume. Occasionally they’d adjust the laptop, which was resting on the steering wheel, sending a lovely honk right at our ear drums. They’d laugh and giggle at that.

We had ear plugs (standard NZ equipment) but it was a funny night with minimal sleep.





Our next mistake was leaving Queenstown midday to ride out of the chaos and to Glenorchy. It felt ‘cool’ as we sat by the lake and the breeze ripped into us. It was anything but cool riding the highway out of town.

Beautiful, yes, and luckily there was a cold lake to jump into.

Multiple swims wasn’t enough. After a shiver inducing jump in the lake we’d still overheat in 2 minutes of riding in the sun. My avid brakes had that warranty issue where the plunger swells and activates the caliper… making the lever very firm and adding a strong bit of braking resistance.





The ride was a low point of the trip for me, but we got food in Glenorchy, enjoyed a more chill atmosphere and found a sweet free campsite with views of glacial mountains.





The next day I rallied for the main purpose we’d headed this way, and something we didn’t get to last year — running the Routeburn Track.

We hit the high point above the saddle on the route, squeaking in a good fjordlands weather window… glimpsing Milford Sound and the coast.





In hindsight, we should have chilled and waited for another good weather window (there were many) but at the time we knew the weather is different in this part of NZ and couldn’t believe we’d have weeks and weeks of more sun, pretty much no matter where we went.





Yeah, it was starting to dawn on us that we were tired.





falcon, new NZ bird!

But did we rest? Not really. We did decide to switch to a little different mode, though. The bike touring parts of the trip had been the hardest, or least enjoyable. Perhaps mostly due to my low tolerance for busy roads, and heat. But nonetheless we always seemed to not put a priority on the touring sections. It was just our way to get around, but we kept underestimating it and kept going into it tired from previous adventures.





So we based out of Glenorchy. There was plenty to do, free camping, huts, an almost passable grocery store and …. a cheap hostel with the best internet we’d found yet! First trip was a ‘hut-pack’ bike ride up to nearby huts used for Scheelite mining.





We pushed bikes up to the lovely McIntosh hut. Ez left hers inside and I unloaded mine. There was a giant mountain to climb!

Eszter got ahead, unencumbered by carbon fiber and spokes, and we both took a wrong turn above the upper hut. I saw her up above, but did not see her cut back to the actual track we were supposed to take to Black Mountain. Since I didn’t have these tracks on my GPS basemap, or any other way to navigate, I hurried to try to catch up, but never caught glimpse of her again.





Eventually I dragged my bike and topped out at a magnificent peak… but not Black Mountain. Ez was nowhere to be found, but I left my bike and tried my bike shoes at traversing along the ridge for a while. No fresh prints. Neato scrambling, but, she must have disappeared!

As I descended I saw the track we should have been on and took it until we ran into each other. Chalk that up to failure to communicate (about staying together, navigating, expectations).





We stashed the bikes in town and took a shuttle back to Arrowtown… a tramp intruiged us and we had an ambitious ~week on foot planned.

For several miles we simply walked up this… river, or maybe creek. Pretty average.

Actually dang fun, and refreshing on a hot afternoon.





The climbing thus commenced on steep, narrow and barely existent track.





It was damned lovely. Just what we were looking for. Wide open spaces.





Super nice huts. We stayed in two just like this one, which was empty.





Exciting sidling. The Motatapu Track is not for anyone uncomfortable with exposure.





These little steps made themselves just by people walking on the grasses.

Straight down, straight back up.





That is a decidedly non-IMBA approved trail layout right there. 100% fall-line. Yet it works.

I’d hike Motatapu again.

We hit the end of the track just as the only car in the car park was dropping its passengers (trampers going the other direction) and heading out. Struck it just right — instant ride to Wanaka for resupply.





We had planned to complete the loop by tramping over Cascade Saddle in Aspiring Park, but the weather had us decide otherwise. Plan B was to hitch-hike a ways towards the Pisa range and head up to the Meg (pronouced Meeeeg) hut for a night. It doesn’t look like much, but it was a favorite stay. And… finally, a respite from the NZ sun.





The walk along the ‘tops’ of the Pisa range wasn’t filled with views, but the fog and moisture felt divine.

Somehow we managed to get sun burned through that layer of thick clouds. Only in NZ…





Back in Glenorchy, our foot and hitch-hike loop was complete. We picked up the bikes and again headed into the scheelite country, this time on a more rideable old track.





There is no shortage of elevation gain in NZ.





Storms! None reached us, having to cross the ‘barrier range’ from the west coast.





Scramble! Mt. Alaska was the big mountain above our hut this time. I took my bike as far as ‘reasonable’ then joined Ez on foot.





Whoooooooooo….





Down down down.





Tiny old mining shack. Lovely place to spend a night with a hell of a view. The cables hold the roof on…. or hold the hut from flying off the mountain (which has happened to a number of huts in NZ).





! Day use only? Bummer.





Descending to town was frigid in the morning — the only time we rode with all our layers we brought. Sadly it was a one day cool spell.





Ride to the tramp! We rode a fair bit of gravel, and then some tramping track, before ditching the bikes when the going got…





muddy. Poor Ez found a nasty deep mud hole.





We had yet to see a Kea, those mountain clowns, alpine parrots, perhaps smartest bird in the world. This steep climb led to Kea Basin… maybe, maybe, it would live up to its name?





No keas, but behold… a glorious amphitheater of glacier fed waterfalls. Beyond imagination, beyond belief.





Our next wee tramp took the imagination even further, as we climbed our way to the head of the Earnslaw glacier.





Keep getting closer…. is this real?





The tent, let’s set up the tent here!





The falls roared all night, but goodness gracious, what a place to wakeup.





For the route back we tried an ‘easy’ tramp, fighting through the bush to gain tree-line. Then struggling through speargrass (owie!) and slippery snow grass to gain the ridge, where the fun scrambling began. It was, as most thing are, harder than expected.





Going down! The tramp description said this was an easy slope to descend.





It was classic kiwi understatement. But we loved it.

I found this photo in the pub near the end of our stay in Glenorchy. That’s a scheelite miner creating a ‘track’. Possibly one we pushed our bikes up. It says so much that I love about NZ, encapsulates the attitude, toughness, beauty and at the same time, nuttiness of it all.

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?”

“Shane.”

“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, …. [Continue reading]

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 …. [Continue reading]

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 …. [Continue reading]

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

Moab.

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]