Hawkes Bay NZ Water trail

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hobart Tasmania

Flying from the Gold Coast, in the daily flooding rain downpour, to Melbourne, then Melbourne to breezy, super Southern Hemisphere sunny Hobart , next stop Antartica, was a bit rough. It's the holidays, so the planes are packed with more toddlers in the "terrible twos' age bracket than I've seen for some time. The queues at check in for JetStar, Qantas' cheap subsidiary, remind you why you get the fares cheap. They were beyond ridiculous. But it seems that Australians are a stoic lot. After a good hour of lining up, no one was having a screaming counter pounding meltdown, which is what I'd expect to witness back home in the US. I was so tempted to apply my fists to the counter after my endless wait.

Once in Tazzie, beyond the cute beagles, the drug-and-contraband-fruit sniffer dogs at the airport, I got into a dinky rental car, and whizzed off to Richmond, to the pure luxury of a B&B called Cornwall Cottages. I'm used to driving on the left by now. It's a lovely place, set between a raspberry orchard and a vineyard, with a gorgeous view of a lake, rolling tree-covered hills and an interesting looking radio telescope. The air is clear down here, so star gazing must be exceptional at times.

Today I'm hanging out on Hobart's wharf-front, at the Taste of Tasmania weeklong food and wine-fueled blowout. Everyone is there, including the local bike advocacy group, which has a booth where you can sign a petition to get a bike lane installed on a major Hobart road, and pick up a "Leave 1.5 metres" bumper sticker. Back home in Washington State, we still don't have a 3-foot rule, and these folks are asking for 5. Hope they get it. Tasmania looks like a great place to ride, but the roads are rolling, narrow and seem to have no shoulders at all. Outside the Tourism information center in Hobart I chatted with a long distance touring cyclist I'd seen riding into town over the Tasman bridge. He's come from 6 weeks in New Zealand, and he told me the drivers over there are a bit of a challenge. Yikes. Can't worry about that today.

The Taste is really something: booths selling everything from oysters on the half shell to panna cotta, in vanilla, chocolate, raspberry, passionfruit and leatherwood honey flavors. Strangely, the most popular booth appears to be one selling deep-fried Huon Valley mushrooms. These "treats" are dipped in tempura batter, and served in various quantities. There are many lines of customers at least 6 people deep at the counter. Why the locals are going crazy for the most basic type of supermarket mushroom, is utterly beyond me. I've heard that Tasmania is the only place in the world able to domesticate the truffle. No signs of those here, though. I'm not sure I want to try them. I've already had enough grease for a lifetime, as I ate crumbed trevella, a fish with large white flakes, and a mountain of french fries last night for dinner.

The Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race ended yesterday, but there are two other races in progress: Melbourne to Hobart and Launceston to Hobart as well. I watched a bunch of lobster-red-faced guys wearing red coveralls pour off one of the boats as it docked. I presume they were headed to the nearest pub. As always, the Tasman Sea and/or Bass Strait, have been one big vomit-fest, with several boats pulling out after some sailors got washed overboard. The things people do for fun...

Tomorrow, I'm going to hit the wine trail and sample some of Tasmania's pinots. Life is so tough.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunny Christmas Down Under

The bike and I made it safely to Brisbane Airport. The bike box got a
bit bashed up in transit, but as far as I can tell everything that
belongs to the bike is still inside. Today is my final day in
Queensland, where I spent time with family on what should have been the bright, sunny and hot Gold Coast. Unfortunately, it's been a downpour every day
since I got here. Torrential rain, all the rivers and streams are
flooding, and lots of birds and animals that normally live in the
rainforest seem to be heading, two by two, down to the coast.

The only good thing about the rain is that it's warm. Very warm. It's
so humid here, so it's not so bad walking around in the rain. I've
seen a few of the green tree frogs that are the State's national

Riding a bike here is impossible. Still, the surfers are out, as
always, riding the small waves at the beach. Lots of sodden families
trying gamely to picnic at the beach and make the best of it.

Tomorrow I fly to Hobart, for what I hope is warmer and drier
Tasmanian weather. Looks like El Nino in this part of the world is as
weather crazy as back in Seattle.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Riding with Reindeer [folding bike to Finland]

I'm almost finished Robert Goldstein's Riding with Reindeer, his funny and well written account of his 2007 solo ride, on a Bike Friday, through Finland to Lapland and arctic Norway. His work's the most accurate account I've read, so far, about what it's like to do solo touring. A good companion read as I've been putting together my solo New Zealand "baby bike" ride.

I'm hoping I don't get to deal with as many mosquitoes as Robert did, and that the rainy weather I get is a lot less than he got. I'd like to ride with this guy sometime. He's got a good attitude. Makes me want to ride in Finland sometime, myself.

But first, land of the Kiwis.

Pike Place Market Seattle farewell for a few months

Today's typically Jeckell and Hyde Seattle winter weather. Difficult to ride on those cobblestones, but the Market is packed with holiday shoppers. Still, it's always amazing to think that I'll be heading to a summer down under. First to Queensland for Christmas with my family, then off to New Zealand to start my first folding bike tour. Wm the conquerer is snugly packed in its d-i-y transport, and should be under the 50 lb weight limit. The next time it will see the light of day will be Auckland on January 8.

I will spend 2-3 weeks riding on the North Island, with visits to Tongariro National Park and Mt Taranaki, then to Wellington. Riding will be alternated with folding the bike and boarding an intercity bus to cover long and/or dangerous sections that don't suit a bike with only 6 gears. On the South Island, I hope to do some loops out of Nelson,visit the Malborough wine region, and up to Golden Bay, and do some kayaking near the Abel Tasman National Park. After that I will head to Christchurch, via Kaikoura. The next stage is still fuzzy: either down the east coast via Dunedin or down the west coast, ultimate goal of Queenstown, with more hiking and some touring down to Milford Sound. I will return to Christchurch and head over to Akarora for more hiking. I will leave from Christchurch in early March.

This trip is much less structured, as I've learned that cycle touring demands you throw out your planned itinerary after the first week and roll with the punches.

It's a new adventure.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Off season riding how to's

Riding a bike in winter is the test that separates the committed from the fair weather cyclists. Yesterday Seattle experienced a "pineapple express". We got soaked by over 2 inches of rain. There's been a few landslides but today it was warm and sunny from around 11am to 2pm. Sure, the ground is soggy but riding after a downpour is sweet. Here is my tourer Sir Gulliver parked by Larsen's Bakery, a local Seattle gem. they're doing a roaring trade in their famous Kringle a pretzel shaped puff pastry and almond paste treat. If you keep your bike oiled and inflated, you can grab a ride at moment's notice. Great for the spirit in dark days of winter.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Across America by Bicycle/Alice and Bobbi's Summer on Wheels

I just finished a 2010 book about 3,600 mile cross country ride from Oregon to Maine by two retirees. The authors Alice Honeywell and Bobbi Montgomery did not mention the year of their trip anywhere in the narrative, but I finally figured out it was 2003. The book's tone gave it away: old fashioned with a lot of comments about safety on the road. They followed an Adventure Cycling route, which even back in 2003 was hardly unknown. Still, they carried bear spray and seriously considered taking a firearm along. Apparently one woman talked the other out of the gun idea. Good for her.

I wouldn't even think of packing either item on any of my solo riding. The bear spray would have been next to useless, unless one of the riders always carried it in an easy-to-reach pocket at all times. Digging around in a handlebar bag when dealing with a charging bear? Don't even think you'd have the presence of mind to make it work. Also, I've read somewhere that bear spray can act as an attractant, not a deterrent. Hmm. Neither of these women were from the western US, so perhaps they can be forgiven for not knowing how useless having bear spray really was.

And, as for a firearm idea, well, why the hell go down that road? It troubled me as I turned the pages to keep reading about how many people asked these gals if they were afraid, and several sections of the book do attest to these riders' unease with some of the strangers they met. Yet, the writers have nothing but praise about nearly everyone they met along the way: all the 'trail angels' who offered advice, company, a car or truck ride over a tough section, a seat at their table, or a free bed for the night.

Hmm. I rode in France, alone, this past summer, and the idea of packing any sort of weaponry did not cross my mind for one second. You don't have to naive, thinking everyone you meet is going to be perfect, and you need to be street smart, but I doubt I'd ever offer any assistance to rider I met that I thought was packing heat along with their bike tools.

I put this paranoia down to the timing of the trip. 2003 wasn't all that long after September 11, 2001, and the whole country was still on edge. Thank goodness those days are behind us.

I am leaving next week for Australia to spend Christmas with my mother. After that, I'm off to New Zealand for a little over 2 months to do some more riding, on my folding bike. The only challenging wildlife I expect to meet are the crafty kea parrots, and they tend to hang out in the mountains. I will be packing my commonsense, and leaving the weaponry at home.

I've been doing some test riding with a loaded bike. The photo is of William the Conqueror and the kit I'm planning to take.

I'll write about the proposed route in a later post.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

David Byrne of Talking Heads and bike riding

I recently finished a great book by David Byrne, who I’d only known as the distinctive lead singer in the group Talking Heads. The 2009 book, Bicycle Diaries, is an intelligent chronicle of David’s observations on history, art, music, the urban landscape, fashion, globalization, with a good dose of thoughts of how cycling enriches one’s life in interesting cities. He pedals in some major cities of the world: Berlin, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Manila, Sydney, London, San Francisco and New York.

David uses a folding bike, which is why I first picked up this book. Lots of food for thought as I plan my coming two month bike trip to New Zealand early in 2011. Here’s the folding bike, William the Conqueror, that I will use for my next tour. I am planning a variant of a fully loaded bike tour. Wm is designed for large city urban commuting in a place without a lot of hills. I'm going to New Zealand, which is rural open road riding with plenty of hills. It will be a "trip" for sure.

David’s website is www.davidbyrne.com