D is for Discount… and Disaster!

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20/02/08
Catchy title, don’t you think? Don’t worry too much though, the disaster wasn’t catastrophic, but it was certainly frustrating. Of course, you’ll have to read more of the post to find out what I’m talking about, as I don’t want to give it away just yet 😉 Today marked my return to the road by bike after a week of not cycling! Hard to believe isn’t it? Well, at least I was still quite active with my time, and had a very enjoyable time in Queenstown staying with Julia and Mark. Thanks a ton guys, it was awesome, especially our Valentines’ threesome! Ha ha. Get your head out of the gutters people, we just went out on the town and called it that. Anyway, I’m sure you’re all anxious to hear what my day had in store for me, aren’t you? My route today took me from Queenstown to a place called Mavora Lakes. Yeah, go ahead, try to find it on Google maps. I know it’s there, but I’m not sure it’ll show you a road. Luckily, you can see my route on the map if you care to, check out the pictures, and read on for more.

To start with, the road I chose to use to get to Te Anau is only accessed by taking a passenger boat, the TSS Earnslaw, or Ernie as the locals call him. Ernie is a coal-fired steamer ship that sails on Lake Wakatipu. So, it would be a touristy / historic beginning to my day. Ernie was built the same year as the Titanic, but is still going strong. First sailing is at 10am, so I had a bit of time before heading down in the morning. Luckily, I was only going about 55km down the road from the other side, rather than try to make it all the way to Te Anau. Turns out that was a good thing.

When I got to the wharf, I was very surprised to see a veritable armada of bicycles already there. How odd. A couple days ago I checked in there, and they told me there was no need to book a spot, as there’s always room. However, I was definitely worried now. I was doubly worried when the ticket lady told me there was no more room for bikes. D’oh! That’s when a kind fellow stepped up and said I was with their group of 12. As it turns out, they had booked in advance for 12, but had only 11, so they had one spot for me. Sweet. And the sweetest part? I got in on their group discount, so I paid under 30NZD rather than 34NZD for me and Epicus (yup, finally gave my bike a name. The total book title will be “Steve, Epicus, and the Nomad Kid”.) I happily wheeled my gear onto the already crowded boat. In the end, they also let another group of cyclists on, so there were literally bikes everywhere. Ours were crowded into the ‘museum’ section of the boat, AKA the bow compartment.

10 sharp, and we hit the water at full steam ahead. Literally. I watched the poor bloke below in the engine room shoveling coal to get the steam up. Nutty. Very hot job by the looks of things. Also watched the engineer running around fiddling with knobs and valves here and there. Quite neat I suppose, as they’re doing it exactly the same way as they have for the past 90+ years. I even got in on the little tour that they were giving during our short 1 hour trip and learned a bit more about the boat. Queen Elizabeth has been on it, as well as President Clinton and Hillary. Neato. Before too long, we were docking at Walter Peak, and wheeling our bikes off the boat to hit the road.

The road? Well, a gravel back road that avoids all the stinkin’ tour buses that head from Queenstown to Milford Sound and the highway. There was no traffic on this road. Then again, it wasn’t much of a road either. The first couple kilometers were hell. The road was apparently being graded, so there was a thick layer of various sized rocks all over the place, making biking very tough. I had to stop to re-tightened a trailer wheel on the way. I started out with the group of touring cyclists, but was fairly soon on my own. Another Swiss couple were also cycling alone, and they were close to me for a while, but I lost them as well. It’s not that I was rushing, I was just going my normal pace. Groups are always slower. At one point, I passed the grader, and this was a welcome thing, as from then on, the road was much easier to navigate, although it was still definitely slower than pavement.

I biked on and on, weaving my way around the bigger rocks and taking in the scenery all around me of mountains, lakes, gorges, etc. etc. It was definitely a very cool road, and I felt for a while like I was in the Altiplano of Argentina or something, as I had to climb a big hill (230m in 3km), and at the top, I was at over 700m, but there was this huge plain before me that stretched off for ever. It was after this climb that I started realizing that I was almost out of water, and still had a long way to go. Did I mention it was a bloody hot day? No clouds, and the incredibly hot NZ sun beating down on me. It didn’t help that I was staring down a seemingly endless straight gravel road off into the horizon that I knew I’d be following.

Luckily, the road went slightly downhill, and I had a tailwind, so I made the best of it, and sucked it up and kept going. This carried on for quite some time, and I knew that I’d be fine, and make it to the campsites before collapsing, but I was definitely a bit dehydrated. And that’s when my little disaster struck. I was just pedaling along the gravel, bouncing around, when all of a sudden, the trailer lurched, and I was thrown off the bike. Looking back, I saw immediately the problem. I was down a wheel!! Yup, my left wheel had completely come off the trailer in mid ride. Damn. Guess I’ll have to fix that. Well, actually, I already have by the time you read this. The problem was a result of my previous trailer flipping instances. Actually, earlier in this day, I forgot to mention that I actually flipped the trailer two other times and fell off the bike too 🙂 I was trying to get onto a horse track that looked smoother than the road, but it was up a bank, and my approach angle was wrong, so the trailer flipped. Ironically, on my attempt to get back on the road, the same thing happened but in reverse. My ego and inner thigh were a bit bruised, but at least no one saw. No doubt that didn’t help my wheel situation, nor did it help my precious banana chocolate-chip muffins which were unfortunately crushed.

Anyway, once the wheel was re-installed, I was very relieved in another 5 minutes to be at the turnoff for the campsite. Unfortunately, the campsites were spread over many kilometers, and even worse to me at the time was the fact that the camp self-registration box was all the way at the back of the park, meaning I had to keep biking further than I wanted to. Oh well. I guess that’s the life of a traveling cyclist, right? On the bright side, the best camping spots were deeper in the park anyway. The first spot I checked out lacked running water, and the lake access there was very muddy, making swimming hard. My new spot is great. I have running water across the lane, the washroom (well, long drop toilet) quite close, and I’m close to the boat ramp, so I was able to go for a refreshing swim and cleanup before setting my nylon house.

I’m taking a risk tonight, as I’ve set up the tent without the fly. This is a risk for a couple reasons. First, it’s probably going to be friggin cold tonight since I’m in a valley at some altitude. Secondly, I’m not sure what the forecast is, but if it’s rain, I’m pooched! However, on the plus side, I have amazing views from the inside of the mountains to my right, and in the morning, I won’t have a wet tent to contend with, only a slightly damp groundsheet. It also means I can pack up quicker, which is a plus, as once again, the sandfly population at this park is also quite remarkable. Meaning, it’s insanity. I’m happy to just sit here, take in the views around me, and write this post for you guys. However, it’s starting to get chilly now, so I’ll sign off, and slide into my silk cocoon for the night. After all, it’s getting dangerously close to 9pm, the cyclists’ bedtime! Ha ha. Take care all, and I’ll check in again from Te Anau.

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