It was the best of climbs. It was the worst of climbs. If Dickens were a cyclist he’d have been inspired on today’s ride. We entered Glacier National Park from Polebridge. The ranger and also the owner of the North Fork Hostel we stayed at last night told us that the dirt road we planned to ride down to get to our campsite at Fish Creek was closed due to flooding. We frowned. But, he said, we could still use the road as long as we didn’t mind getting our feet wet fording the flooded area. We smiled. We love getting our feet wet. It’s sort of been a theme of this trip even though we’ve yet to ride in the rain.
With Polebridge about 40 miles away, we were in no hurry to leave the comfort of our cabin. Our first task was to summit Whitefish Divide. It sounds hard but the grade going up was long and mellow. The descent was even better. It was also mellow, so we could turn our attention to the creeks below to try to spot any bears searching for food. We still haven't seen a bear. I may go my whole life not seeing a bear in the wild. Carrie thinks I'm jinxed, and she's happy about it. She'd rather not see any bears.
After our epic voyage yesterday, we needed a day off the saddle. Plus, it was Carrie’s 30th birthday. We started the day off right by going to the best and only cafe in Eureka for some good old American comfort food. The eggs, hash browns, and pancakes were delicious.
After a grocery run, we made our way down the road about 8 miles to the Grave Creek Cabins. We timed it just right because as soon as we arrived it started drizzling. Each cozy cabin has the essentials for a good day off: a comfy bed, a shower, a fridge, a microwave, Internet access, and a great porch, where we spent most of the day reading and relaxing.
After a thoroughly enjoyable ride yesterday through some beautiful scenery, we were eager to get another taste today. We broke camp around 8:00am, early for us, to beat the midday heat and, unbeknownst to us, to see some large wildlife.
The ride started off on a regraded forest road that roughly followed the Flathead River downstream. When we turned away from the river, things got interesting. There we were minding our own business, cruising down a forest road when on our right we heard the snap of some dry branches.
Today we were ready to enter the wilds of British Columbia. We were headed to the Flathead Valley. The Flathead Valley was recently made off limits to mining and other energy industries, which means that it's been relatively untouched by human development, which means that the valley is an unfiltered example of Canada before whitey showed up.
After a long day yesterday, we planned for today as a rest day, which meant riding about 30 mainly pavement miles between two mining towns. The day started off right with a steady climb to a coal mining plant. At the top we chatted with some young miners on their break. They were curious why they see cyclists up this way so often, so I showed one of them our Adventure Cycling map of the route. Apparently a unicyclist had just passed through the other day. Now that’s nuts.
Being our longest planned day of the trip you’d think we’d get an early start, but it felt too good to sleep in and take it slow in the morning. We had 50 dirt miles ahead of us but didn’t get rolling until about 10:30am.
Today’s ride started with two beg-for-mercy, please-no-more killer climbs. Walking our bikes was an option but then you’d have to battle with swarms of little vampires.
We awoke at what I thought was an early hour, but a check with the iPad said 8:30am. I probably slept a good 14 hours!
Upon breaking down camp, two cyclists rolled by and stopped to say hi. They had started their journey in southern Colorado and were only 20 miles from the end. They told us that they were charged by a mother grizzly bear who was protecting her cubs. Lucky for them mama didn’t execute the attack. She must have realized that a pair of bike weenies are no threat to even a young cub.
After sleeping in and taking care of a couple things in town, we finally set off for what we came to do: to ride our bikes down Adventure Cycling’s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. The route stretches from Banff to Antelope Wells, NM, at the border of Mexico. That’s a long way. If we had the time off, we may have planned to ride the whole route, but we chose to take two weeks to ride from Banff to Whitefish, MT, with a side trip to Glacier National Park thrown in to give our saddle-weary bums a break.
After a shuttle to our local airport, two plane rides to get to Calgary, and another shuttle to our hostel in Banff, we finally got to say, “We made it!” Because we started the whole traveling circus at 3:00am though, we arrived in Banff at around 2:30pm, exhausted and excited, but with plenty of time to buy some provisions and to do some sightseeing.
We took at trip with Adventure Cycling around the Grand Canyon. Here are some photos. Some day I may add a story.
Carrie has recently come to the conclusion that I’m lucky. Yes, it’s true I’ve never broken a bone or been given a speeding ticket or even been mauled by a dog, but I’ve had my fare share of bad luck. I’ve been robbed in Mexico and I’ve recently acquired painful knee problems that have kept me off my bike for several months. It’s hard to deny, however, how lucky we were during our four-day trip to Zion National Park.
It’s 11:30 p.m. Carrie and I have long ago slipped into our sleeping bags, our bellies warm from rehydrated minestrone soup, our eyelids relaxed and heavy. The wind has died down. The grass around our tent moves softly. What a perfect time to sleep.
It tumbles down hillsides and cliffs in great torrents. It seeps and erupts from the ground steaming mad. It falls from the sky casually and with indifference. It houses the cod, the salmon, the whale. It is impossible to ignore how important water is to Iceland.
The name Iceland doesn’t evoke thoughts of ease and comfort and, well, warmth, which is what many people look for in a vacation destination. But since Carrie and I are young and stupid, we thought we might as well give Iceland a shot before we graduate to more senior activities, like playing shuffleboard on a Caribbean cruise or pinocle in wheelchairs with people we’re not sure we recognize. That sounds a lot scarier than Iceland. Who cares if it can snow in summer. Who cares if hurricane-force winds sweep the land as regularly as the sun shines in California.
On DAYS 83-85 we hung out in the small town of Nelson, which has two claims to fame: it is the geographical center of the country and home to New Zealand’s best weather patterns.
As our trip winds down, Carrie and I have been talking about different places we’d like to live if we ever moved to New Zealand. We both agreed that we’d want to be near an urban area just for the sake of larger job options. Wanaka was a clear favorite until we spent time in Nelson.
Although we arrived in Motueka under sunny skies on April 25 (DAY 75), the weather quickly soured. That night a steady flow of rain started and didn’t let up until mid-afternoon on DAY 76. More rain was forecasted for the next day and a half so Carrie and I decided to wait out the bad weather before setting off on our planned kayak adventure.
Not much of note happened the past four days since the last post. From Westport we left under a darkening sky on DAY 72 to follow the Buller River upstream to Lyell the campground, which used to be Lyell the town, which disappeared after New Zealand’s gold rush boom went bust around the turn of last century. The only thing left of the town is a gravel road and a small cemetery, oh and swarms of sandflies.
Due to the relative isolation of the towns on the west coast thanks to the Southern Alps, it often seems Carrie and I have stepped back in time. Internet access is more of a tourist myth, ATMs are scarce, and water heaters at our motorcamp in Hokitika were coal-powered. Black, sooty smoke swirled in the air above our tent making me think of London in the 19th Century. I could feel my lungs shrink in fear.
After a day of cycling in the rain, Carrie and I spent DAY 62 in Fox Glacier seeing the sights and taking it easy. We visited Lake Matheson, the most photographed lake in New Zealand, and visited the terminal face of the great Fox Glacier, which was a sight to behold. The huge river of ice ends abruptly with 90-foot cliffs of unstable frozen water. Although there are safety ropes in place well away from the terminal face, stupid tourists occasionally decide to walk right up to the ice for a feel only to get crushed by falling chunks.
Feeling a little defeated after failing to hitch a ride to Mt. Aspiring National Park the day before, Carrie and I decided to move on from Wanaka. So on Easter (DAY 58) we cycled further west to a village called Makarora. The crisp and clear morning (we woke with ice on our panniers) became a sunny and warm day, which made the ride around lakes Hawea and Wanaka all the better. Our official last ride in the mountainous Otago region, we were sad we’d soon be leaving the area behind for the west coast, but that’s all part of touring.
At some point I wanted to compare the three walking tracks we’ve done so far, but then I thought that might be dull. Instead I just want to mention how underrated the Hump Ridge Track seems to be. The huts are a bit pricey at NZ$45 a night but the accommodation includes free porridge in the morning, communal cooking utensils and dinnerware and a nice soft pillow to sleep on. Compare that with the “Great Walk” huts that go for NZ$40, which lack all of the above but include crowded bunkrooms.
We’ve got a lot of ground to cover in this post, so I’ll just jump right in:
After sitting in a car for the past few days visiting the Milford Sound (DAYS 41-43), Carrie and I were both eager to be active again. This is one of the real pleasures of cycle touring; you get to see the sights and you feel great/exhausted/hungry at the end of the day. We returned to Queenstown again for what seemed to be the millionth time and hatched our plans how to get to the lakeside village of Te Anau to start the Kepler Track.
Since the last post, Carrie and I have been on a number of fantastic adventures. The first was a four-day hike into the New Zealand backcountry on the Rees-Dart Track. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of our hike because I didn’t want to lug the camera. The idea was to bring only what was essential because my knees have a history of giving me trouble on long walks.
Since leaving Christchurch, we’ve been headed southwest for the tourist mecca of the south island called Queenstown. Between Queenstown and Christchurch is New Zealand’s highest mountain range, known as the Southern Alps, which divides the island into a distinct east and west.
On arriving in Fairlie on DAY 29, Mar. 9, we were one step closer to crossing the alps. Our ride from Geraldine to Fairlie started marvelously, the first 35km being some of the best riding we’ve done so far on our trip, what with the smooth pavement, slight tailwind, mellow rolling hills, mild temperature, and best of all, FEW CARS.
After blowing our budget out of the water in Christchurch, Carrie and I were ready to leave the city behind, which is really easy to do. Because there are only about 4 million Kiwis, half of whom live in Auckland, the rural landscape is never far away. On DAY 26, Carrie and I headed southwest for a town called Glentunnel, which is home to the nearest motorcamp and plenty of sheep farms.
After a lazy day in Kaikura, Carrie and I were ready to get back on our steeds and head south. Between Kaikura and the south island’s largest city Christchurch is a long expanse of road with few places to stay the night and little to see. Our first stop on DAY 22 was an inland town called Chevoit. On DAY 23 we continued to Waipara, a village surrounded by more wineries. On DAY 24 we made a half-day journey to the outskirts of Christchurch, where we holed up to plan our full-day tourist assault on the city on DAY 25.
Here we are at DAY 19, Feb. 27. I’ve been spending far too much time typing up our adventures. It’s been fun but a lot of work. Therefore, this update will be short on words and long on pictures.
On DAY 19 we headed south 60km to a hostel dedicated to cycling tourists called the Pedaller’s Rest. Because rain was in the air and lodging was cheap, Carrie and I splurged on a room with a bunk bed. Sleeping inside was a good idea because it rained a lot that night.
In three days we covered quite a lot of distance, thanks to the Intercity bus line.
On DAY 15 we left the serenity of the east cape for the burgeoning city (pop: 30,000) of Gisborne, where we splurged on a meal at an Indian Restaurant after having a scoop of ice cream. Dessert had to come first because the restaurant didn’t serve until 5:30pm and we were starving.
The next day we hopped on the bus for a brief 10-hour journey to Wellington, the southernmost capital city in the world and one of the windiest cities in the world.
On DAY 9, Feb. 17, Carrie and I were excited to leave Opotiki for the supposed deserted highway 35 that carries on all the way around the east cape down to Gisborne. Our goal was to reach the village of Te Kaha and the Te Kaha Lodge.
Well, the rumors were true. The cycling was unbelievable. Not only did the wind die off but the roads were nearly ours for the taking. We spent about 70km skirting the coast and its picturesque bays: Whituare, Whitianga, Omaio.
After a pleasant day off, Carrie and I set our sights on a town along the coast of the Bay of Plenty called Whakatane. It was going to be a long haul (DAY 7) at about 90km, but Carrie and I were well-rested and eager to leave the hustle and bustle of Rotorua.
Rotorua is named after the lake, which was named by the Maori, “roto” meaning lake and “rua” meaning two or second. There’s actually a series of lakes, all of which are craters from past volcanic activity. Aside from rumbling of an occasional semi truck, the first 60km of the ride were pleasurable.
The Denver Boot was created by John Denver in 1982 as an act of revenge against Billy Ray Cyrus, who stole his achy breaky heart. Soon after the vehicle disabling device swept American cities by storm. Meter maids across the country finally had the last laugh. It became such an institution in America that President Ronald Reagan named Denver a national monument, the only country singer (and man) to receive such an honor.
We’ve now officially started our journey. On Friday (officially DAY 1) we took the train part of the way out of Auckland proper to a town called Papatoetoe. In town we stocked up on groceries and had a nice lunch before launching off. Our destination was about 36km away at Omana Regional Park.
We set a modest goal for the first day just to test our sea legs and to get acquainted with riding on the left hand side. Our mantra for the day was “look right first, look right first”.
Today was our first complete day in New Zealand. But before I talk about that, I have to mention our experience the night before in the back yard of our Warm Showers hosts Cynthia and Marjo. While making our way to our tent, I heard a rustling in the tomato bush and saw something in the corner of my eye. I asked Carrie for her headlamp, thinking I’d find a big old rat nibbling on a juicy tomato. But it wasn’t a rat.
As our launch date approaches, Carrie and I have been frantically trying to ex out the items on our checklist: ‘Put all of our possessions in storage.’ Check. ‘Clean up the apartment to receive our full deposit.’ Check. ‘Go paperless on all bank and financial accounts.’ Check. ‘Give the post office our forwarding address.’ Ch, no wait didn’t I give you the business card with the address written on back? ‘No.’ Yes, I did. You weren’t paying attention were you? ‘I can’t remember.’ Last night, when you were looking at bicycles online. ‘Oh, THAT business card. I think I recycled it.’
For our honeymoon, Carrie and I wanted to do something special. We’d both been avid cyclists and backpackers, but we’d never tried to put the two together. When fantasizing about our honeymoon, we chose New Zealand as our destination because of the country’s vast backpacking options and its diverse landscape. We then had to figure out how to get around the country.