Saturday, January 17, 2009

Back On The Saddle Again

You'd have to go back to 1993 for Louise and 1990 for Jeff to find a time either of us was off a bike for as long as we've been off this past few months. As we've explained, the roads on the North Island of NZ are a bit narrow and frequently shoulderless, tolerable when a road is reasonably flat and straight but waaaaay too dangerous when they're as twisty and hilly as North Island roads frequently were. Add to that a nationwide speed limit of 100 kph, which Kiwis often consider a starting point for how far they push down the accelerator, and -- well -- we joined them behind the wheel of a car, albeit at somewhat slower speeds.

But it's time to put two wheels back on the road, and we spent two days reassembling our bike from this mess of parts into the red tandem we know and love so well. Two days, because the box carrying the rear triangle of the frame was apparently dropped or hit, bending a part called the rear dropout. The rear wheel no longer fit into the rear dropout, but a visit to a Wellington bike shop solved that at a very reasonable cost of only $11 US.

In between reassembling the bike and numerous hours plotting our route and likely stopover points, we socialized with Dan and Gerard, our hosts at the Wellington Motel, which is actually an old home remodeled into several efficiency apartments. They were definitely in the top decile for affability among motel owners we've met. We spent even more time with Robert and Katrina and their teenage daughter Jessamy,
whom we befriended aboard the Volendam. The motel was next door to their town home, and we had some meals with them, watched real TV for a change in their living room, borrowed their computer to do research for the trip and to update the blog, and even went next door one night to borrow a little salad dressing when our calculation of dressing to salad ratios for the week's stay missed the mark and we had dry lettuce staring at us from an otherwise attractive dinner setting.

Two high points of our adventuring with them, pardon the pun, were a hike with Katrina and a drive with Rob, both to elevated portions of Wellington, of which there are many. The walk started with a cable car ride steeply uphill from downtown to the Botanical Garden, with its view of downtown, its hills and dells, and even more than a few flowers.

As we hiked along we looked down at two cruise ships,
our own beloved Volendam on the left and another boat, the Millennium, going head to head at the Wellington dock. From another spot on the trail we looked down to a large home that Katrina identified as Premier House, where the Prime Minister lives -- it's the home
in the center of the picture backed up to the greenbelt we're taking the picture from. Unfortunately for her, it brings back painful memories, not political but dental -- part of the home was her dentist's office a few decades back!

Robert is a car guy, so when Katrina and Jessamy took off for a girls' holiday, Robert took us for a drive. Good thing, we needed all his horsepower to get to Mt. Victoria, an impressive bit of hill right outside downtown.
We had to literally hang onto the railing at the lookout to get this photo. The next day we read in the papers that the wind was so fierce it shattered windows in downtown, forcing the closing of some major streets while they cleaned up the debris and made sure all the glass that wanted to come down had descended. Not for nothing is this town nicknamed "Windy Wellington." In fact, we almost got knocked off our feet last October when we stopped by as part of our cruise, the wind was even worse that day. Cyclists have a hard time of it here.

We went on to prove just that. Once the bike was successfully reassembled, of course we wanted to take it for a spin. Our first two attempts had to be shortened when the wind proved just too dangerous. Then on our last day here the weather gods all cooperated and we had a sunny unblustery ride all along the shore, from north of downtown where we're staying through downtown and out to where we could almost make out Antarctica, we knew it was out there with nothing else between us and it in that direction.
What we did make out was the boat we take tomorrow from Wellington, on the North Island, to Picton, on the South. The road followed the shore more or less at sea level for 35 km, and the route back gave us just one good workout for our climbing muscles as we completed a 46 km day.

Our route is very easy tomorrow, about 5 km of riding to the ferry and off, as we're staying in Picton. Day 2 is only marginally harder, 40 fairly flat km to a small town called Renwick. Then stuff hits the fan, as we have a 97 km day, 60 miles, with a climb of 727 m (about 2300') to a ski town in the Southern Alps, St. Arnaud. That's a do-able distance and climb for us, but with so little of a warm-up, we're a little apprehensive. But today felt good, it was great to be back on the saddles again. It should be just fine, and we have three days booked in St. Arnaud to do some hiking . . . or maybe just some recovering.

For the next 5 weeks, we plan to bike our way southward on the South Island, perhaps all the way to the bottom if things work out. We'll certainly make it to Queenstown, about 3/4 of the way down, but there is a stretch of road that sounds dangerous for which we need more info before we commit to going all the way to Invercargill. We'll no doubt be blogging you next from the wet West Coast of New Zealand!

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