Friday, December 05, 2008

A Reason Not to Bike Tour (or Travel)

The idea of a bike touring is great. You are in touch with your surroundings and perhaps pursuing a life dream. If I do it here in New Zealand, there will be a catch. I'll be doing the whole thing solo. That will open up a wave of random encounters on the road, but may also leave part of me unfulfilled. A part of me that I've felt only an old friend can fill. This same but was what almost kept me from traveling at all. I miss my people back home. I'm not nearly as homesick for the place as I am for the people. Fifteen months of e-mails just doesn't have the same quality as one laugh or one hug.

"Lonely people back in town. I saw it in the supermarket and at the Laundromat and when we checked out from the motel. These pickup campers through the redwoods, full of lonely retired people looking at trees on their way to look at the ocean. You catch it in the first fraction of a glance from a new face - that searching look - and then it's gone.

We see much more of this loneliness now. It's paradoxical that where people are the most closely crowded in the big coastal cities in the East and West, the loneliness is the greatest. Back where people were so spread out in western Oregon and Idaho and Montana and the Dakotas you'd think the loneliness would have been greater, but we didn't see it so much.

The explanation, I suppose, is that the physical distance between people has nothing to do with the loneliness. It's psychic distance, and in Montana and Idaho the physical distances are big but the psychic distances between people are small, and here it's reversed.

It's the primary America we're in. It hit the night before last in Prineville Junction and it's been with us ever since. There's this primary America of freeways and jet flights and TV and movie spectaculars. And people caught up in this primary America seem to go through huge portions of their lives without much consciousness of what's immediately around them. The media have convinced them that what's right about them is unimportant. And that's why their lonely. You see it in their faces. First the little flicker of searching, and then when they look at you, you're just a kind of object. You don't count. You're not what they're looking for. You're not on TV.

But in the secondary America we've been through of back roads and Chinaman's ditches, and Appaloosa horses, and sweeping mountain ranges, and meditative thoughts, and kids with pinecones and bumblebees and open sky above us mile after mile after mile, all through that, what was real, what was around us dominated. And so there wasn't much feeling of loneliness. That's the way it must have been a hundred or two hundred years ago. Hardly any people and hardly any loneliness. I'm undoubtedly overgeneralizing, but if the proper qualifications were introduced it would be true.

Technology is blamed for a lot of this loneliness, since the loneliness is certainly associated with the newer technological devices - TV, jets, freeways, and so on - but I hope it's been made plain that the real even isn't the objects of technology but the tendency of technology to isolate people into lonely attitudes of objectivity." -
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

As I walked around Queenstown last week, this passage evoked loneliness in me. I don't think of the loneliness while doing solo trips in the wilderness or on the road. I think of it when I settle into town for a couple days. I see friends laughing with each other and realize what I am missing. In a Queenstown internet cafe, we were packed in so close together that corporate America's cubicle farms were put to shame. We were all calling or e-mailing friends in far off places when all the people we need to stave off loneliness were right there around us. Sometimes we reach across the divide. Sometimes we don't. I know that I'm a little shy to initiate since leaving the Ice. That tendency is slowly fading, but not quick enough. All of my social needs should probably be able to be met by what is around me if I just take the time to look for it here and choose to make it happen. It is time to shed the last of my Ice baggage.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Reasons to Bike Tour (or Travel)

I just finished up a great book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. In it, the author and his son take a motorcycle trip across country. The author's musings struck home more often than not, especially as I decide whether or not I'm going to head out on a bike tour. Two specific musings capture the idea of why I'm considering a bike tour.

This first one explains why I would choose to bike tour instead of just renting a car and driving around the rest of the South Island that I haven't seen.

"You see things vacationing on a [cycle] in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through the car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and tough it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness."

This second passage talks about a fear of mine. I've always worked for corporate America and it has worked well for me. I've enjoyed the challenges presented to me and the perks have been great too. However, I also see some of the guys who have been there a very long time and aren't happy. I have a fear of becoming like one of those guys who keeps trudging to work just because it is what they 'should' do and not what they want to do. Now, extend that idea to life in general. It hasn't happened yet and I don't want it to.

"I watch the cars go by for a while on the highway. Something lonely about them. Not lonely - worse. Nothing. Like the attendant's expression when he filled the tank. Nothing. A nothing curb, but some nothing gravel, at a nothing intersection, going nowhere.

Something about the car drivers too. They look just like the gasoline attendant, staring straight ahead in some private trance of their own. I haven't seen that ... since Sylvia noticed it the first day [while watching rush hour traffic]. They all look like they're in a funeral procession.

Once in a while one gives a quick glance and then looks away expressionlessly, as if minding his own business, as if embarrassed that we might have noticed he was looking at us. I see it now because we've been away from it for a long time. The driving is different too. The cars seems to be moving at a steady maximum speed for in-town driving, as though they want to get somewhere, as though what's here right now is just something to get through. The drivers seem to be thinking about where they want to be rather than where they are.

I know what is it! We've arrived at the West Coast! We're all strangers again! Folks, I just forgot the biggest gumption trap of all. The funeral procession! The one everybody's in, this hyped-up, fuck-you, supermodern, ego style of life that thinks it owns this country. We've been out of it for so long I'd forgotten all about it.

We get into the stream of traffic going south and I can feel the hyped-up danger close in. I see in the mirror some bastard is tailgating me and won't pass. I move it up to seventy-five and he still hangs in there. Ninety-five and we pull away from him. I don't like this at all.

At Bend we stop and have supper in a modern restaurant in which people also come and go without looking at each other. The service is excellent, but impersonal."

Anyway, that is today's food for thought or more like food for bike touring. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I Want to Ride My Bicycle, I Want to Ride My Bike!

The view down to the water from the Port Hills.

One of the joys of my time in Antarctica has been the rediscovery of old loves. Last Tuesday(?), I finally went on a real bike ride. I've been using a bike around town for a couple weeks now, but I haven't been out for a long ride. On the nagging from a friend (Thanks, Betty!), I figured it was finally time to see Lyttelton and Sumner and the best way to do it was by bike.

Cass Bay(?)

I set out on my rigid GT Palomar with road tires on it. It isn't adjusted to my size and it isn't in the best condition, but it is absolutely great for getting around town and superb for being able to have a bike at all. After passing south through Christchurch, I started up Dyers Pass Road into Cashmere which is the long way over the Port Hills. This area reminded me of a more populated Lookout Mountain in Golden, CO. Unfortunately, they don't have Jamba Juice near the bottom here.

Lyttelton Harbor.

On the way up, I decided to take my shirt off to try and get some color back in my skin. I didn't realize it at the time, but that was going to be a mistake. Beyond that though, the slow ride up the hill was everything I wanted a bike ride to be - twisty turns, hard work, able to kick my butt, and spectacular scenery. When I got to the top, they had this old stone house, Sign of the Kiwi, serving up ice cream and cafe lunches. Who can resist ice cream on a hot day before an easy descent? Certainly not me.

Looking towards Evan's Pass.

After the descent, I followed the windy coastline over to Lyttelton. The harbor area wasn't any different than any other industrial harbor except that it is the last place that the cargo vessel heading to Antarctica stops each year before getting to McMurdo. I think it will be stopping there in just over a month.

Mountain biking!

After leaving Lyttelton, I headed up towards Evan's Pass and then got my first chance to mountain bike in almost fifteen months! It wasn't a very technical trail and that was just fine with me. I couldn't have handled anything technical. Any skills I had are really rusty. I have so much respect for the pioneers of mountain biking who didn't use shocks. I was bone rattled after this relatively basic trail.

Sumner Beach.

The mountain bike trail dropped me off in the town of Sumner. I headed over to the beach that I've heard B-Nelson talk about so many times to see what all the noise was about. When I got there and much to my surprise, I saw B-Nelson and Raja. B-Nelson had left Christchurch that morning. I had the impression he was heading towards Wanaka/Queenstown where I'd join him in a few days to go hiking. Rachel was supposed to be on her way to Hanmer Springs. Neither one of them made it and we all just happened to choose Sumner as our spot for the day. Apparently, we just can't get enough of each other. That is winterover bonding.

Me overlooking Lyttelton Harbor from the top of the Bridal Path.

After spending an hour at Sumner, I decided it was time to start my long ride home. I headed for another mountain bike trail a couple towns north. On the way, I found the gondola over the Port Hills. I've been wanting to do that for a couple months now and wouldn't have minded a lift since I was pretty beat anyway. Unfortunately, they don't allow bikes on it. I tried to ride the Bridal trail up to Summit Road, but had to walk part of it because I kept spinning out on the gravel (more forgotten mountain bike skills). At the top, I found more amazing views waiting.

Sumner beach on the right, Christchurch on the left.

Port Hills overlooking Christchurch.

After traversing the Summit Road back over to Dyers Pass Road where I originally came up and got ice cream, I dropped onto a mountain bike trail again. I started to remember how to ride technical sections and redid some to get them right if I messed them up the first time. You would have been proud, Lindsay.

Forest mountain biking!

As I found my way back to Dyer's Pass Road, it was just after 5pm. On my way down the hill, I must have passed no less that fifty cyclists coming up the hill for their after work ride, which was, once again, very reminiscent of Lookout Mountain.

One thing that isn't very reminiscent of Lookout Mountain for me was my new sunburn. Apparently, my short attempt to get some color back in my skin so I wouldn't get so easily sunburned backfired because I got sunburnt. It hurt and it was going to hurt in a few days when I had to start carrying a pack on the trail. Dumb, dumb, dumb. The only good part about it is that I've never had a bike messenger bag tan before. That could be just ridiculous looking enough to be fun.

Bike messenger bag burn (photo by Raj-Dawg).

The most exciting part about this entire ride is that I've fallen in love with biking again. I was looking at leaving New Zealand, but now I'm seriously considering a bike tour down south and then back up the west coast before I head out. More on that coming.

Avalanche Peak in Arthur's Pass National Park

Waimakariri River Valley

After far too many days milling about in Christchurch, Eddie (delayed on his way to the Ice) suggested we head up to Arthur's Pass National Park for a hike. This sounded perfect because Brian and I were hoping to start a multi day hike from there anyway. Rachel, Brian, Eddie, and I piled into a rented car and headed up there. After a quick stop at the DOC office, Brian and I decided to skip our multi day hike on Harper's Pass. The rivers were up and rain was coming. Between the numerous river crossings getting our bottom halves wet and the rain getting our top halves wet, we were, as a whole, uninterested.

B-Nelson and Eddie take a break on our way up Avalanche Peak.

B-Nelson and Eddie coming up the steep slope.

I don't think I've ever been on a steeper trail in my life that the one up to Avalance Peak. It is no wonder Kiwis are so fit if they build all their day hike trails like the ones up Avalanche Peak. I wish I knew the distance of the trail. The total climb was 1096 meters, but if that was over twenty kilometers that isn't such a big deal. It wasn't though and it was a big deal. At some places, I don't think a ladder could have made the trail any steeper. We took a lot of breaks on our afternoon climb up the to the summit at 1833 meters and were rewarded with great views up and down the river valley. As the day progressed, some clouds rolled in, but it was still wonderful. I can't wait to get back up to that area again. That hike was incredibly rewarding for the amount of time put in.

B-Nelson and Rachel on their way up Avalanche Peak.

Eddie on the summit of Avalanche Peak.

A kea (mountain parrot).

The summit saddle to Avalanche Peak.

Great panoramic views.

Even more great views.

B-Nelson and me at the summit with the Crow Glacier in the background.

Random stuff

I haven't eaten meat in a while, do we advertise rump steak as rump steak? Is it sold as the hind quarter in the States?

In NZ, they don't have the letter Zee. They have the letter Zed. So if you wanted to direct someone to my most frequently used website here,, you'd tell them to visit Double you double you double you DOT doc DOT guv tee DOT en zed. I'm not sure if that phonetic spelling works, but focus on the zed. When I first heard, I couldn't figure it out. Do they do the same in England and Australia?

Kaikoura beach and mountain range.

I will never drive like a Kiwi. I just don't have the courage to whip around blind corners with such enthusiasm. Even the bus drivers go faster than I do. While on the way up to Ohakune, I realized that we had a guard rail. That was odd because I hadn't seen many before that. Certainly, the drop off warranted it in the States, but there were plenty of unguarded drop offs. Why this one? It just about then that I realized the guard rail had no chance of stopping a car, let alone a bus. It was made from thin wire and wooden posts. The only thing that rail was meant to do was to keep the sheep from wandering into the road. A couple minutes down the road, I saw a car crumpled up in the bottom of a ravine.

Ohakune maybe seeing a new trend in an evening outing, steak and internet!

Walking doesn't make sense to me here (and I'm not trying to chew bubblegum). In the US, we drive on the right and tend to walk on the right. The one major exception I can think of is shopping malls - all bets are off. In New Zealand, they drive on the left so I figured I'd walk on the left. It doesn't always work. I doubt that it even works half the time (neither does walking on the right). I don't know if they don't have that loose rule or if there are just so many resident foreigners and tourists walking the streets that there is no one way to walk. No matter the reason, I'm probably part of the problem.

The world's largest carrot statue at 30 feet resides in Ohakune (The actual world's largest carrot weighed 19 lbs.).