Friday, March 27, 2009

The joys and sorrows of having a cycling partner

John and me are cycling together for almost 2 months now and we get along surprisingly well despite the fact that he is a male and you can't leave him alone for 5 minutes and he will do something stupid like getting a puncture on his bike. But I have to admit that having a cycling partner makes things a lot easier:

- You save a lot of money (despite the fact that he keeps telling me that I cost him a fortune): You can buy food in bulk (did I mention our 3 course dinners?) and you can share accomodation costs (we had the poshest room ever the last two nights and between two people and the exchange rate it was still incredibly cheap).

- You can cook 3 course dinners. This is especially true if your cycling partner carries a petrol stove, 2 pots and 1 pan and you yourself only have to carry 1 titanium pot and a tiny little stove. The best is that this way you can still moan at him for being ultraheavy and still have 3 course dinners.

- You can cook anything you like and your cycling partner still eats it. John has the advantage of eating everything you set in front of him including chicken liver, parsnip and beetroot. He even volunteered to eat Sauerkraut!

- You are plenty warm at night especially due to the fact that he carries a 2 person 4 season tent that weighs about 1 ton while you carry an ultralight tarptent. If you smuggle yourself into his tent at night you can still moan at him for being ultraheavy, but keep yourself warm and dry at the same time in his tent. Very useful!

- You have someone to repair your bike in exchange for sewing repairs. Unfortunately, my bike never had a single problem since we are cycling together while his 40 kg of ultraheavy crap is constantly falling apart and needs to be repaired by me.

- You have someone you can nick food off - especially white chocolate John is extremely anal about. I am constantly being accused of eating too much of it which is all his fault because he is just not fast enough to eat it before me.

- You have someone you can blame it on if you get lost. The fact that John is not able to read any of his various maps without his glasses is extremely helpful there. But beware: Never give any new map to a male cycling partner - he will study it for hours whereas he never reads his guidebooks and therefore would miss all the museums and sights if you did not tell him.

- You have someone you can ditch doing the dishes on in exchange for cooking. He of course thinks that you are doing a big sacrifice for him by cooking for the two of you whereas you just love cooking and would never let get any screaming amateur like him near you food anyway. And I hate doing dishes!

- You can always moan at something when you have a cycling partner and get bored. Men usually do something stupid every 5 minutes so you don't have to look far to find something! In the worst case you can just misunderstand his so called British humour that no German would ever understand anyway. And I will never understand why he does not find feminist jokes funny!

PS: Despite what I have written so far I am really having a very good time with him and might eventually even develop a sense humour!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dunedin to Queenstown

Otago Rail Trail
After the heavy traffic all the way to Dunedin I was now looking forward to the Otago Central Rail Trail, an old railway now converted into a bike trail. I expected this trail to be popular, but I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of people on it. This is definitely New Zealand’s equivalent to the Danube bike trail in Europe. There was no car traffic, but hundreds of cyclists coming the other way shouting words of encouragement to me as we were going against the preferred direction. Beside too many cyclists the trail was very nice indeed: Beautiful scenery with river gorges, wide valleys and sweeping views. And of course no camping problems. And of course the food included new culinary highlights as I have become a specialist for making apple crumble on a camp stove. You need rolled oats for apple crumble and that leads to the annoying fact that we were also having porridge for breakfast for an entire week. There were so many apple trees along the trail that I had a hard time not to stop every five minutes. Unfortunately, there were only a few pear trees and no plums. Bummer!

Otago Rail Trail
As usual the weather was against us. Most of the time we had a very strong headwind and progress was slow again, but we are not in a hurry. Unfortunately the wind seems to come directly from the Antarctic and was freezing cold. Add a light drizzle to that and you have a perfect recipe for hypothermia.

We eventually made it into Queenstown with a short delay. On the very last km’s John had a puncture. I was riding in front of him and when he did not show up after a quarter of an hour I got really worry mostly due to the fact that he is usually going downhill at 70 km/h which I think is a perfect recipe for getting yourself killed. I cycled back to look for him almost expecting to have to scrape him from the road. And I did not even know where to send his remnants to... Luckily I found him working on a puncture next to the road. You can’t leave a man alone for a second - as soon as you turn your back to them they will do something stupid. Knock on wood: I have not had any further bike problems yet after my flat tyre in Western Australia.

Cycling into Queenstown
Queenstown is a dreadful place - it is fun capital of New Zealand, instant gratification guaranteed. You can spend a fortune here with bungy jumping, jet boating, white water rafting and the like. The town is full of adventure types and flash packers - which leads to a dizzying array of accommodation and restaurants. We ended up in one of these flash cafes ordering moussaka for dinner - the amount of food we received was not even enough to serve as a starter for normal people not to mention as a main course for cyclists. Of course I could not keep my mouth shut and I complained about it to the waitress - and to my great surprise I received another, albeit small portion of moussaka on the house! I must admit that John is always sending me ahead when it comes to food: The other day we went to an AYCE buffet where you were only allowed one helping and John send me to get his one helping as well. You claimed that I would come back with much more food than him - he would be too embarrassed to pile up huge amounts of food on his plate whereas I do not have any problems with that.

Sunset on Otago Rail Trail
The biggest event in Queenstown was John’s birthday, but I have to explain this a bit. John’s birthday is on October 12th and like me he had had a crappy birthday then with no one around to congratulate him and the worst possible weather. So we had decided earlier on the re-celebrate our birthdays on a more convenient date and he chose March 21st. I love this sort of celebrations and spend days on planning the event and thinking of presents. Due to his puncture we arrived pretty late in Queenstown so I had to do all my birthday shopping in one hours - but that is chicken shit for an efficient German like me!

Most of John’s 40 kg of ultra heavy cycling crap is held together by elastic bands which he is very anal about. Unfortunately these things tend to break which seems to really ruin his day. So as first present I gave him a huge packet of rubber bands that even he will not be able to break during the rest of his trip.

Terminus of Otago Rail Trail
John wears a whole shebang of necklaces around his neck - everything from Muslim prayer beads, leather bands and the key to his bike padlock, but he did not have a cross. He was always looking for one but I was quite sure that he is way too frugal to buy one. As you can never leave a man alone without him doing something stupid I felt he needed some extra protection and therefore he has now Allah and Jesus peacefully dangling from his neck together.

The last present was purely selfish. John is totally useless when it comes to sewing and so far I have already been repairing his tent, his stuff sack and God knows what else. On top of all that his wash bag was now falling apart - no decent ultra lighter would carry a wash bag but you cannot talk any sense into these cyclists. In order to avoid having to sew his wash bag I just gave him a new and very small one - hopefully the size will force him to reduce gear!

My 2nd birthday will be next - I am already getting excited now! I want to celebrate mine on the North Island where there are thermal springs to soak in on a rest day!

We will cycle around the National Parks now and slowly move northward as the weather is turning colder and colder every day. The weather forecast for tonight predicted frost…..

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The long way to Dunedin

John and me are planning on cycling around New Zealand now. Due to weather we will first do a loop around the South Island and then move on to the North Island.

Dunedin Cathedral
After spending a couple of days in Christchurch we decided to move on to Dunedin. One of the reasons for that is one of John's hobbies: Bell ringing. No German would have ever heard of it and indeed it is a very British thing. You have to picture the following: Early on a Sunday morning some very distinguished looking older and younger gentlemen (some wearing socks up to their knees combined with shorts that are held up by a belt shortly under their chin) congregate in a bell tower to do the Sunday mass ringing. They stand around in a circle each holding on to a bell rope looking very solemn. One shouts a command and then the ringing starts. The ringing follows a certain pattern (the aforementioned command) and sometimes they fuck it up. Not that I would hear any difference, but apparently you need a lot of practice to get it right. The whole thing is so popular, that there is bell ringing tourism - like John wanting to ring all the bells in NZ. The bells have to be hung in a certain way to do that, so there aren't that many churches available for that. He claims that there are 6,000 bell ringing places in the UK as opposed to only 8 in NZ. It is pure irony that we eventually arrived in Dunedin punctually on Sunday only to find out that this week's bell ringing had been cancelled.

It is only about 400 km from Christchurch to Dunedin and the terrain is more or less flat thought that we could easily do it in 4 days. We could not have been more wrong! Day one passed rather uneventfully: Too much traffic coming out of Christchurch, but nice warm weather and no wind. This changed on day two: There was a dramatic temperature drop in the evening and very strong wind came up - and of course they were blowing the wrong direction. So far we already had had strong head winds but they never lasted longer than one day, so I was not worried. Unfortunately, things got worse on day three. Strong headwind all day long. I ended up cycling in three layers plus gloves plus warm socks. It felt like freezing and on top of all that it started to rain. We had another short day, but surely the wind would not last......

But it did and day four had the worst wind I ever experienced when cycling. It got so strong that we had to get off our bikes every 10 minutes in order not to get blown away (and I am not exaggerating here!). For lunch break we sought shelter in a garage on the way and we politely asked for permission to do that. Immediately we were invited into the house, given hot tea (what a treat!) and were told everything we ever wanted to know about dairy farming. When we left they even gave us three enormous pork chops as a farewell present. This would have never happened in Germany. It took us over an hour to cycle the next 5 km due to wind and the situation got outright dangerous back on the major highway. Due to strong sidewinds we were constantly running a risk of being blown off the road by a gale or by a truck passing by so we had another short day and camped early. When we asked for water we were again invited to stay at peoples' house - New Zealanders are incredibly friendly and hospitable!

We thought we would eventually make it to Dunedin on day five but no such luck: The wind continued blowing like hell and we had to stop short of Dunedin with me being totally shattered and fed up. But that night we had pork chops for dinner and that cheered me up immediately!

Steepest street
In case you were wondering: We made it into Dunedin on day six! We celebrated by staying in a leopard themed Bed & Breakfast place - very fancy. I just want to add that the wind stopped immediately as soon as we arrived in Dunedin.... Dunedin is proud to have the world's steepest street, but after all that hard cycling I could not be bothered to cycle it - neither up nor down. But I must say that I have never thought of a normal residential street as a tourist attraction.

So far cycling in NZ has not been that great: Lots of traffic, bad wind and mostly monotonous scenery, but now we are heading inland and things are hopefully improving.

Preparing apple crumble
But I definitely cannot complain about the food. I must admit that I did John very wrong when we first met. He is carrying 2 pots, 1 pan, 1 set of cutlery, 1 cutting board and 1 wooden spoon for cooking. I thought that this is absolutely nuts and was doubting his mental health. Now I came to the conclusion that we actually do not have enough stuff: I was tempted to buy a spatula (lightweight plastic and collapsible of course), a grater and 2 plastic plates.... Now that my ambition is awakened our dinners become more and more extravagant. The other day we had pork chops with silver beets in sour cream souce followed by stewed apples with raisins and cream. Next I will be working on apple crumble. Luckily John lets me do the cooking and volunteers to do the dishes afterwards - very good job sharing. And he never complains about the food! How will I ever be able to get back to ultralight hiking? I better don't think about it now.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

New Zealand

Christchurch Cathedral
 After I had discovered how luxurious cycling can be and that I will probably be back in Australia next year, I decided to go on to New Zealand and cycle around there with John. Figuring out all the flights was a logistical nightmare, but to my great surprise I could change my Air New Zealand ticket for only a very little fee.

So right now I am in Christchurch, NZ and will cycle around here for 7 weeks. My stay in Japan will be very short then (just 3 weeks), but the exchange rate is not very good for me anyways. The Japanese Yen against the Euro is at a 13-year- high right now, so that's not the best time to travel there anyway.

Canterbury Museum, Christchurch
I have mixed feelings about cycling in New Zealand: I wanted to stay a shorter time, but I could not get any earlier flight out. The weather might not cooperate; we will be cycling well into fall. And I might not get along with my cycling partner John. So far the weather is really good here and New Zealanders are pretty nice, so maybe things will work out.

And there is another frightening thing: My wonderful trip will end soon! I have only 2 1/2 months left before my rtw-ticket ends and I have to go back to Germany. But I am already planning my next trip....

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Melbourne to Adelaide

Benny and I
Our first stop was visiting an AT hiker friend of mine at Geelong: Benny or Daisy (the latter one being his trail name). Daisy and I had met on the AT where he had been a true advocate of hiking in Australia by giving me a 2 hour long presentation of hiking the Bibbulmun Track. And it has worked as I have hiked it now, too. At Benny's place we were treated with about the most luxurious meal I have had in a long time: Roast lamb with various sides. Benny's mom is a great cook and I got about 5 seconds....plus there was a delicious desert! Benny looked after us very well giving us directions how to get in and out of town.

12 Apostles
So the next day we were on the Great Ocean Road, which should be called Good Ocean Road. It was nice, but not overwhelming. The road is narrow and winding with a lot of tourist traffic, but fortunately tourists are not in a hurry so cycling was not too bad. We saw same very interesting rock formations out in the ocean, like the 12 apostles or London Bridge. I think they chose these names to attract tourists... The 12 apostles are one of the biggest Australian attractions, so I was a little bit overwhelmed by the size of the car park and the amount of tourists. Although the rock formations are quite impressive I still think the sight is a bit overrated.

In South Australia
We continued on to Adelaide passing and camping in Tower Hill Forest Reserve, that turned out to be a volcanoe crater. I was quite surprised to end up in a crater instead of on top of a hill. Unfortunately, I got real bad diarrhea when we got closer to Adelaide. I still continued cycling, but I was hardly able to eat anything and knowing me you can now assume that I was pretty sick. On the other hand John put on even more weight because he now had to eat my part of the dinner, too. He eventually convinced me to take some Immodium and the situation improved. And in Adelaide I was back to normal.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The joy of cycling or luxury bike tours are us

Getting water from a windmill
I ended up cycling all the way from Melbourne to Adelaide with John. The whole trip turned into a luxury tour - but I guess that is what happens if you cycle with a guy carrying a petrol stove and a kitchen sink.... Here is a typical day on the road with John: Around 7.30 am there is the first serious attempt to get out of the tent and have breakfast. John is addicted to coffee so he has to have a brew first. Breakfast consists of leftovers from last night, bread and cheese and jam and on one occasion even of bacon and eggs (I am not kidding you there!). After breakfast is devoured packing up start. I am usually done in less than half an hour, whereas John takes more than an hour to pack up all his crap. We are leaving camp later and later and I have to admit that on one occasion we left as late as 10 am. Gone are my hiker days where I was on the trail at first daylight!

Happy lunch break
We usually cycle around 100 km per day. The terrain between Melbourne and Adelaide is pretty flat, so 100 km is no problem if the wind is cooperating. We do not have much of a lunch break, but you don't really need that after bacon and eggs for breakfast and a 3-course dinner. The only big task is to find a super market and buy food for the evening. At 5 pm it is time to look for a campsite. We are always stealth camping and finding a site can be somewhat of an adventure. We always found something, but sometimes it is less than perfect. When hiking you are usually far away from roads, but cycling is different, so traffic noise can be a problem. Luckily, traffic here dies down at night - very useful if you are camped just 50 m from a road....

Brats for dinner
After setting up the tents the relax time starts when John has his first coffee and I am getting tea. Then comes the highlight of the day: dinner! Our dinners have become more and more elaborate and the hobby cook in me has come out. A typcial dinner starts with a soup as starter. We would then have barbecued fish or cangaroo or lamb or sausages with one or two side dishes followed by an extensive dessert like pineapple simmered in sweet condensed milk. It should come as no surprise that John has been putting on weight ever since he met me. All this is accompanied by various cups of coffee. Of course preparing a 3 course dinner takes quite a while so we are stopping earlier and earlier...BUT: Life is never been so luxurious on this trip!