Mountains for Breakfast, Freefall for Supper

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06/01/08
Hello everyone. Well, the day of PassiveSteve is over, and today it was back to donig some real work, as well as starting to do some of the real exciting stuff. Of course, I’m talking about the fact that I did a great skydive this afternoon, complete with a 45 second freefall, after hurling out of an airplane at 12,000 feet. Can you say sweet? Of course you can, and so did I! The jump was almost a bit of an afterthought in my day, but I’m awfully glad that I did it, in spite of the fact that it was anything but cheap! Before I finish the story of how I came to be crammed into a tiny airplane high above Taupo, let’s roll back the clock to this morning at Waikite Thermal pools campground, shall we? Check out the map and read on for more details.

After a rather difficult night trying to sleep in my tent, I awoke to find that my tent was quite soaked from dew. This was yet another learning experience for me down here. You see, it turns out that sleeping on the gound mere feet from an extremely hot thermal spring means there is a pretty big temperature difference between the ground and the air, which leads to a lot of dew. It took almost an hour of drying out to get the tent into a dry enough shape that I could put it away. I was also late getting to bed the night before on account of a van filled with 5 Frenchmen that showed up pretty late in the evening, and were just starting their barbecue at 10pm. This was about the time that Ralph and I were finally getting back from the hot pools.

Every night they drain the hot pools and allow them to refill naturally from the thermal springs. We hung around as they were being drained, and chatted with the people doing the pool maintenance. They actually don’t close the pools at all for the campers, and there aren’t even any night watchmen or anything, so we could basically just play around in all the empty pools all night if we wanted to. We did for a while just for kicks, as there was very little else to do. Oh yeah, and before that, we actually met a kiwi Olympic athlete. He was a track biker that competed in the 1998 Olympics in Korea. Pretty cool.

Anyway, back to my wet tent. I finally got it all dried out, and repacked and was ready to hit the road at pretty much 8:30. We left together, but didn’t stay together long. Ralph was headed to another thermal spot before heading to Taupo, whereas I was going directly, to poke around and make bookings. Well, just outside the camp, we were faced with a very difficult climb. It was very steep, and tough to get up. Ralph took off at his normal high pace, and it was the last I saw of him, although he later admitted it took a lot out of him too. I guess that’s what you get when you have to cross a mountain range first thing in the morning. The Paeora Range to be precise. Luckily, the rest of the day was mostly flat until the end, so I was able to do some active recovery, and had a decent ride, even though it was only a 60k day. I’m quite enjoying these shorter days.

I stopped for breakfast in a little town called Reperoa, where I noticed the sign / sculpture in the middle of a roundabout. It was the familiar forms of swimming, biking, and running. Ah yes, of course! I was actually on the Ironman New Zealand course, and would be for the majority of my ride. You see, it’s a double loop bike course from Taupo, so the 45km stretch I was riding was half the loop. It was pretty cool, plus I saw many riders on the road in training for that race. There were also road markings with the IM-dot symbol and distances so I always knew just how far I was from Taupo. It was a nice feeling. Although I likely won’t be doing the race, I can at least say that I biked the bike course. Neat-o! 🙂

Apart from these little things, the ride was a bit unremarkable. I guess I’ve gotten somewhat numb to rolling farmland, hills, and looming bigger hills on either side of me, not to mention the drivers around here. It was definitely a fine ride, but it’s starting to feel a bit like a work day now sometimes. Don’t get me wrong though, a bad day on the bike still beats a good day in the office by a long stretch! Arriving in Taupo, I found out that the back road that I had taken actually intersects my hostel quite handily, so rather than going to the tourist center or to get food, I decided to check in. I’m in a 3-bed dorm, which is nice, except that one of the roomies is a total mr. messy. Nice guy, just very messy. Oh well. At least I’ve got my little part of the room to myself as usual.

After cleaning up, I headed out to the tourist info center to scope out activities. The weather wasn’t too bad today, but called for more of the same, and maybe worse tomorrow. The combo I was searching for no longer exists, and the only closest one was almost 500NZD, and included a helicopter ride. I didn’t want to commit that sort of money if the weather wasn’t good, so decided to just book a skydive, and bike out to the other spots tomorrow to see if they would be interesting. There are also MTB trails, and a good hike close by, so I’ll have lots to choose from. While I was there, the lady asked if I wanted to go right away, and called a local drop zone. They would be by in 30 minutes to get me. I signed up, as the weather wasn’t too bad, and I didn’t want to miss my chance.

So there I was, on a yellow shuttle bus heading to the Taupo Tandem Skydiving club for my first-ever freefall and tandem dives. Not too shabby. I’d be heading up to 12,000ft, and have 45 seconds of freefall. Insanity. My jumpmaster was a fellow with over 9,000 jumps to his credit, and is a 2 time NZ champion diver. I felt pretty much like I was in good hands. The beauty of the tandem dive is that there is virtually no instruction, they just load us all like sardines into the airplane, and we take off. I was loaded last, and would be the first out, but since I’m so light (58kg today, according to them), I would have a long flight. Although nothing can compare to your first jump, it was still really amazing to do it again, especially getting to do some rolls, and watch the plane fly away as I fell to the earth at terminal velocity. The 45 seconds “flew” by so fast that before I knew it, we were under canopy. Andy was nice enough to hand me the controls, so I flew us around for a while, taking in all the great scenery. There was a bit of cloud canopy over ‘Mount Doom’ (Mount Tongariro), but we saw other nearby peaks, and the Lake itself was just gorgeous. I’m still smiling from the jump hours later, and purchased a 20NZD DVD of the day for fun, as it had a few shots of me, and showed what I saw from the air.

Blah blah blah. I think I’ve said enough for this post. Time for a Steinlager, and some chilling time. Tomorrow holds more adventure no doubt, and hopefully an Internet connection so that I can post this story 😉 Later y’alls!

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