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….)

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