Monthly Archives: February 2015

Fresh Air and Comfortable Campsites


These cattle remind me of home.

I’m sitting in a TV/reading room at a campground in Methvan, New Zealand. On the wall to my left is a large wood-burning stove and the door to a kitchen. On the opposite wall is a large, old plasma television with DVD player and X-box. To the left of the TV are several large book cases with rows of well-read books and stacks magazines with torn and ragged spines. Worn recliners and sofas form a U shape in front of the television. Near the back of the room where I’m typing are several large tables and long benches. I could be at any of a large number of ski lodges where we’ve passed great evenings after a fun day on the slopes. In other words, I’m content and comfortable.

The only other person in the room is a 19 year old backpacker from Germany. He recently graduated from high school and set off to hike from the most northern to the most souther tip of New Zealand. He’s a wonderful conversationalists and, I suspect, craving conversation as much as me.

Eric, after giving up on stupid television shows, just headed out to our tent to read and sleep.

I, on the other hand, am energized from the excitement of being in NZ. I’m also a bit nostalgic for home. From the wide-open spaces, the pine scented forests, the just-sheered sheep, the grazing beef cattle, the piles of hay stacked and ready for winter, the cool weather crops of lettuce and cabbage filling squares of farmland like patches of a quilt, and the mountain tops dotted with pines and rock remind me of Western Colorado, Eastern Washington, and parts of California without the thousands of miles of distance in between.

Both Eric and I have commented that going from the heat, noise, stress of navigating SE Asia to the cold, quiet, and solitude of long stretches of highway in New Zealand is taking some getting used to. The first day, after I got over the beauty of the first couple of farms, I felt a little bored. The long straight roads seemed harder mentally than physically. Not having to be so focused on the road and traffic as we were 100% of the time in SE Asia allowed my brain drift to autopilot on one hand and then antsy to get to our destination on the other.

One thing that is really surprising me is how much we’re enjoying camping. Eric has always liked to camp but I’d really just gone along because the kids were content and occupied at campgrounds giving me precious time to read when they were younger.

But, twenty years later, I, too, am happy with this camping set up. The equipment seems more comfortable and warmer than I remember 20 years ago. And, having a kitchen and lounge area, like many of the New Zealand campgrounds do, makes camping almost a better option than a hotel for me because there is space to move around, people to chat with, and the option to make food that we like.

Of course, all this happiness may be influenced by the fall nice weather, flat campsite, and easy access to a local pub for beer and dinner. We’ll see how I feel if we have prolonged rain, wind, and/or snow.

Preparing for a New Cycle Touring Experience

Shopping finished. Sightseeing at Brighton Beach.

After almost five months of heat and humidity, hotels, and plenty of street food in SE Asia, we’ve spent the past several days preparing for a different type of cycling experience: cooler temperature and wind, camping, and cooking in New Zealand.

Adjusting for the cooler temperatures, in my humble opinion, is priority number one. For someone who loves winter and skiing as much as I do, I hate being cold about as much. I keep hand warmers, down coats, wool hats, and snow boots in my car back in the States for most of the year. Thank goodness for Merino wool long underwear stores at the Sydney airport. I put our 8-hour layover there to good use: shopping for base layers.

And thank goodness, I did. By the time we got to our motel in Christ Church at 2:30 am, my toes were numb and my nose was cold. I pulled off the wrappers and dressed myself in my new wool base layers and socks and crawled into bed. Of course I woke about two hours later in a pool of sweat, obviously over compensating for the “cold”, but at least I survived the first night in a building that calls a 18-inch box on the wall a “heater” for the house.

Just to paint the picture of adjusting from 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity to 60 degrees and very little humidity, I’m wearing wool even during the day, while most of the local New Zealanders are still wearing shorts and t-shirts. It’s going to take a few days for my body to adjust.

Getting ready to camp was next. Yes, we already have the tent. Yes, I’ve carried the Big Agnes for 6500 kilometers and never used it. And, yes, the fact that we’ve never used it helped us clear the New Zealand customs in record time. (Random fact: on the news last they night some agricultural inspectors found four fruit flies – apparently New Zealanders don’t usually have fruit flies – which has caused a quarantine on that particular farm and lots of spraying and some compensation to the farmer for his lost crops, so the protection from foreign pests might explain why they don’t want tent muck from SE Asia.)

The irony of carrying the tent is that we didn’t have sleeping bags or pads so, as I explained to our kids, if they ever actually saw pictures of me sleeping in a tent in SE Asia, they knew we had had lots of trouble on that day’s ride. But, here in beautiful New Zealand, it appears that everyone camps. As a matter of fact, I met 3 women my age today who, after learning about our cycle tour, asked if I had a “hottie.” My blank stare told them “no.” They explained that they handle cold nights in NZ by filling a “hottie” with the hot water after they’ve drunk their last cup of tea at the camp site and putting the “hottie” in their sleeping bag to keep them warm. Note to self, stop by a apothecary before leaving town next tomorrow.

Anyway, back to shopping.After visiting many of the sporting good stores here in Christ Church, we now have lightweight (and, hopefully, VERY warm) sleeping bags and self-inflating pads. The hottie tip will certainly help.

Finally, we needed to think about cooking. A diet of meat pies and fish and chips, although tasty once in awhile, is not going to keep me satisfied for the entire trip. It seems that if we really want to enjoy the bounty of New Zealand produce and meat, cooking is in order. I’ve even cooked at our motel/apartment for the past two nights (yes, I still remember how) and enjoyed everything locally grown: corn on the cob, green beans,carrots, broccoli, potatoes, steak, butter…lots of butter, wine and beer.

Before today, I had envisioned cooking healthy food in the stunning settings of outdoor New Zealand while enjoying a beautiful sunset followed by a great sleep in our little tent. So, we bought a little, tiny backpacker stove that fits in the palm of Eric’s hand and is guaranteed to boil 1 liter of water in 3 minutes.

But, today, as I rode home to our motel/apartment from the supermarket with my bicycle laden with tonight’s fresh food and a bottle of beer (“laden” is the key word here – food is HEAVY), I realized that backpacker stove type dinners will have to be much simpler: pasta, rice, and soup, especially the dehydrated kind because they much lighter. Sure cooking everything on one tiny burner will take a long time, but what else will we have to do without internet. But the real problem will be cycling with the added weight of all the ingredients. I’m already breaking spokes on the back wheel.

I’m mulling all this over this evening as I sit in our motel/apartment. I know I’m excited about seeing the beautiful scenery of New Zealand. And, I’m convincing myself that camping is going to be the best part of the trip. In the meantime, I think I’ll veg in front of a TV and see how much “culture” I’ve missed in the past 3 or so years. (Last night’s episode of “Glee” had me pulling my jaw up off the ground and “State of Affairs”, a new show to me, has left me with more questions than answers….)

First Loves About New Zealand


Beautiful creek near downtown Christ Church
Beautiful creek near downtown Christ Church

Last night arriving with our boxed bicycles at the motel/apartment we’ve rented for four days, both Eric and I were so excited about being here that we tore open the boxes, assembled our bicycles, made plans for the following day and finally fell into bed at about 2:30 am. I felt like parents assembling new toys on Christmas Eve.

In spite of the horrible devastation from the earth quake of 2011, the spirit and pride of the city is evident. This "living' house is tribute to that spirit.
In spite of the horrible devastation from the earth quake of 2011, the spirit and pride of the city is evident. This “living’ house  near the Cathedral is tribute to that spirit.

We’ve been here in New Zealand less than 18 hours and the excitement has not worn off. As a matter of fact, I’m in love with this country.

However we are going through culture shock. Here are some things we’ve been missing but didn’t know how much until today.
Drinking tap water.
Dry bathroom floors and plumbing that we understand.
No toilet hoses.
Friendly help at the airport, bicycles shops and restaurants.
Bike lanes.
No stopped trucks backing up traffic in the only driving lane unloading plastic ware and chickens while talking on their cell phone and backing up the traffic for miles.
People stopping at red lights (although Eric misses the fun of running red lights with the locals)

I’ve definitely missed a good ale.

Hamburgers with edible lettuce
No motorscooters
No texting while driving
Wearing a jacket and long pants
Families with children at the bicycle shop
A large, outdoor BBQ grill with attached propane tank available for our use.
No trash on the street
Clean rivers
Fresh air – no foul smells
No dishwashing on the street
No derelict shop lots
Longer – sunset tonight at 8:37 making today 13 1/2 hours long.
No traffic driving the wrong way down the street
Roses gardens.
Large, green, clean, peaceful parks with no loud music blaring
No Freight liner trucks driving down main street at 100 km/hour while honking its horn to clear the road of pedestrians, chickens and motor scooters
Street lights that work.
Sidewalks that are wide enough to walk side by side.
Sidewalks with no holes, obstructions or parked vehicles blocking the way.
Sporting good stores everywhere

Old alongside new at Cathedral Square in Christ Church.
Old alongside new at Cathedral Square in Christ Church.

With our culture shock also comes sticker shock.

Gone are the days of our $5.00 dinners. Replacing them with very expensive – albeit very big – hamburgers should induce us to get our money’s worth by riding lots of kilometers/miles.

Javanese Listening Ears


This is a picture of a traditional Javanese couple on their wedding day. I know it’s their wedding day because the man is wearing the ceremonial Dr. Spockish ears. We learned about these ears on two occasions when we were in Jogyakarta, Indonesia; first at the palace where we were told the king wears the big ears when he is crowned or for other official ceremonies, and second when we were looking at pictures of a local professor’s wedding from 30 years ago.

The ears are symbolic. They represent being a good listener. The king vows to be a good listener to his people. The husband vows to be a good listener to his wife.

I’m convinced that most men need a pair of these Javanese ears to help them listen better. The pointy ears need a volume button controlled by the wife. And each of the ears need some kind of processor to help the man understand the innuendo behind his wife’s words.

Here’s today’s example:

Eric and I were riding on a motor scooter (our bikes were packed and ready for the airplane) in search of a post office. Eric was the attentive, focused driver and I was the navigator scanning left and right and noticing that oncoming motor scooters were wet with drivers hidden in colorful rain slickers indicating we were approaching a serious cloud burst. Several raindrops were beginning to tap on my helmut.

I spied Dunkin’ Donuts and remembered that Eric had mentioned he wanted a donut several days ago. That could be a delicious place to wait out a storm.

Me: Eric, could we pull into Dunking Donuts and wait for the rain to stop?

No answer. Eric kept driving. The pitter patter on my helmut was quickly changing to pounding and hammering.

Several coffee shops appeared ahead. Eric always says “yes” to a cup of coffee.

Me: How about stopping for a cup of coffee?

No answer. Eric is now maneuvering through large puddles. I’m trying to protect my purse, cell phone, and passports from the drenching rain.

Surely, he’ll pull over. Other drivers are stopping. We’re drenched. The rain is now pouring down in sheets.


Eric pulls into the parking lot, slams the bike into park, and hops off the bike…

Eric: What’s the problem?
Me: We’re getting drenched. We need to get out of the rain.
Eric: Well, you don’t have to be so bossy and loud.
Me: Well, you couldn’t hear me so I said it louder. We need to get out of the rain. Everything is getting ruined.
Eric: Well, you could have explained that you wanted to get out of the rain.
Me: But you couldn’t hear me.

If I could buy Eric some of those big ears we’d be dry and happy, and I’d get bonus points for being a good wife and remembering that he had been craving a donut. Volume control and innuendo. I rest my case.

N.B. In fairness to Eric, he was concentrating on being a good driver rather than multi-tasking.

Cleaning Our Bicycles for New Zealand

Eco-cleaning is like spring cleaning.

Degreaser and soap working their magic.
Degreaser and soap working their magic.

Here we are in this beautiful Bali, paradise some might say, and we’ve spent most of the time so far cleaning. As a matter of fact, I felt like I was back in my childhood home polishing silver or washing windows on the first beautiful day of spring and longing to go outside.

Here’s the deal. We are traveling to New Zealand with a layover in Australia and we’ve heard that passing through immigration can be tricky for those with soil encrusted shoes or clothes. As a matter of fact, we’ve been told that some people wearing shoes crusted with trekking mud and soil have had their shoes “cleaned” at the airport for the tune of $40/pair.

In order to save the embarrassment and fees associated with dirty shoes, panniers, and bicycles, we’ve spent most of the past 2 days cleaning the mud, grime, and asphalt off our supplies.

High pressure hose to wash off the grime.
High pressure hose to wash off the grime.

First we stopped by a shop for washing motorcycles. After some pantomime he understood that we wanted our bikes washed. Like a pro, he rolled them onto a motorcycle lift, flipped our bikes over, sprayed them with degreaser, used a high presser hose to take off most the grime, and then wiped everything dry including each spoke. His treatment was a good first step.

Then, back at the hotel we used the free hotel toothbrushes that Eric has been collecting and cut up another old t-shirts into rags to do the fine scrubbing. Getting off the dry tar spots was the trickiest.

Clean panniers drying in the hot sun.
Clean panniers drying in the hot sun.

The next step was to wash off our panniers and shoes. A few tablespoons of laundry detergent in a liter bottle of water with the top cut off to make a bucket was our “cleaner.” More brushing with a toothbrush and scrubbing with wet rags took off everything except the large piece of gum stuck on the bottom of one bag.

Another reason I like peanut butter.
Another reason I like peanut butter.
They look clean but smell is a different story.
They look clean but smell is a different story.

I was afraid to use solvent on the chewing gum because I thought it could damage my waterproof bag. But then I remembered the old peanut butter trick to remove gum from hair. Voila! Problem solved. Actually, I took care of another problem, the extra jar of peanut butter that was going to be tossed before flight because of weight.

After the bikes were cleaned, we took a taxi to a bicycle shop to pick up two bicycle boxes and to Carrefour for two boxes for our panniers.

By now it was 3:30 pm. We’d been at this “spring cleaning” since 9:00 am. The plan was to spend one final hour packing the boxes and be done leaving us time to be tourists on motorbikes that we were planning to rent.

Found the slow leak in the tube but never found the cause in the tire...
Found the slow leak in the tube but never found the cause in the tire…

But, because the bicycles were clean, it was a good time to find the slow leak in Eric’s back tire and replace a spoke on my back tire. These minor repairs led to more repairs and troubles which then meant we finally sealed the bicycle boxes at 7:00 pm – a good 10-hour day.

So, just in case you think we play all the time, today was “spring cleaning” day. And one task led to another and another. We have the good feeling of a “clean house” that we hope meets the Australia/NZ customs requirements but we haven’t seen any local sites.