Monday, 15 April 2013
1/ having had so little sleep I was in bed by 7 and set the alarm for 7 next morning. Yummy, I thought, a 12 hour eyelid inspection. I went out like a light and slept like the dead (where would we be without metaphors? Probably still using those silly old-fashioned metathrees I suppose). I was woken by a noise from outside and checked my watch....8:15. Bloody useless alarm I thought and quickly got dressed and threw my kit back in my bags. As I opened the door to head out I paused.....something just didn't see right. A more careful check of my watch confirmed a growing suspicion....it was 8:15 in the EVENING. I went back to bed.
2/ if you are a touring cyclist there is one thing you dread above all others and I did it this morning. That's right fellow bike riders, I cleaned my teeth with arse cream. It definitely isn't what 8 out 10 dentists would recommend but my bleeding gums are now healing nicely!
I am wittering from a bench on a shady Parisian avenue while sipping a tasty cold one (though the medicated taste in my mouth may take weeks to fade). I have done my 65 miles and now have some time to kill before catching the Eurostar home. So I now face a real dilemma - the Louvre or a couple more cold ones. Hmmm, now let me think....
Sunday, 14 April 2013
I will now go back to my podule and work out how to attach it to my bike.
PS the little boy also got a kiss from the waitress when he left....I'm off to google translate!
This started out as a ride for Rob and I (Bike Adventures' most senior management) plus John (our resident French speaker and annoyingly good cyclist for an old codger.....though clearly NOT management material as you will shortly see)
Rob dropped out before the start (terminal man flu) so John and I set out from the London Eye yesterday morning. Naturally I checked with John that he had a passport with him!
It was a miserable day. It rained and rained and when we arrived in Brighton we were both soaked through and shivering like crazy. To give you some idea just how cold I was - we left the pub we first tried because the coffee machine wasn't working. Yup, Steve was too cold for beer!!!
We eventually warmed up and got to the Newhaven ferry terminal where we changed into dry clothes and got ready for the short (ish) night crossing. Eventually it was time to board so we wheeled our bikes to the front of the queue, pushed in front of some cheese eaters (no, not Bob) and presented our passports. Well, to be exact, I presented my passport and John presented...........HIS WIFE'S.
So now you know why I am bored - nobody to talk to. A little tip for you - if you have cycled 70 miles in the wind and rain and must ride another 75 next day don't take a 4 hour night ferry crossing! I am very good at sleeping in moving things and I got about 2.5 hours....not enough.
Today the sun came out but the wind is still blowing a gale straight in my face so my 75 were hard work. But I made it to Beauvais from where this load of nonsense is being written.
I like to imagine the meeting at which the name of the hotel chain I am staying in was decided:
"Gentlemen, we have created a hotel that is very very cheap but strips every shred of glamour from travel. We have identified the smallest possible room configuration, the fewest possible amenities (none), and invented a special new cotton for the sheets that is both thin yet VERY scratchy. What shall we call this new marvel?"
"Erm, Cheap Shit Hotels are Us?" Said the intern.
"How about Easy Hotels, flippin it is you are or what innit? Said the Greek business coach.
"How about Premier Classe?" Said the guy who had already stuck an M3 badge on his BMW 316i.
Needless to say, M3 man won.
My hotel does absolutely nothing that it says on the tin! They even have a toothless old crone of a maid who uses her pass key to come in unannounced and stare at your cock.
Tomorrow, gay Paris. After seeing how the crone looked at my appendage I think gay is definitely the way forward.
I will go to sleep tonight wondering whether John also borrow his wife's underclothes and other personal items. Pillock!
Sunday, 24 February 2013
This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both of Us
Rather than meet Frank outside the Civic like a dating teenager I rode my bike back down to Bluff to meet him. He had spent a night on Stewart Island and was arriving back at Bluff on the 9am ferry. With the benefit of nearly twice as long as me for his ride he has been able to take the indirect route and even abandon the bike here and there for a bit of sightseeing. Despite the many differences in our timetables our experiences and impressions of NZ were remarkably similar. We had a good natter over coffee then rode back to Invercargill together and had lunch before shaking hands and going our separate ways. Frank is heading to Sydney for another 600 miles of riding in Oz on his way home, leaving me with a last day to kill in town.
Before leaving Bluff we got one final photo of the sign with the two of us together. I think, looking at the picture, it is obvious who skipped half an island :-(
My Favourite Things
Overall I would say that NZ lived up to my expectations. The scenery is, naturally, fantastic even though my itinerary precluded seeing many of the very best bits and the country has a wonderfully 'frontier' feel which reminded me very much of the middle bit of America. This is a country where nature has allowed the odd space for humans to flourish whereas most countries now seem to be the other way around.
Obviously my FAVOURITE thing is Pies but I think I may have already mentioned that. Public loos and proper pubs have also been mentioned. Other random things that have taken my fancy:
Attitude - This is a 'no worries mate' country. People are very laid back but not in a lazy can't be arsed sort of way. Rules are definitely regarded as for the guidance of the wise and and there is very little petty jobsworthness.
Roads - I picked up a simple fold out map of South Island yesterday. It is about A3 size but that includes all the ads and other crap around the edge. Every single road that I have used is marked on this small map. One of the benefits of having so few roads is that you can afford to maintain them well and I have hardly seen a pothole since arriving. I have passed many road repair crews who seem to be repairing a surface that, in the UK, would be regarded as already near-perfect. My only small criticism is that they are very fond of the surfacing technique whereby you smear tar all over the road then chuck chippings over the top. The result, while smooth and grippy for a car, is very harsh vibration on a bike. Oh yes, most roads also have a fair shoulder in which cyclists can hide.
Food - with the notable exception of bacon, the food is very good. There is probably rather more emphasis on wrapping food in pastry than some would like but every meal I have eaten has been huge, well cooked and usually home made (I do mean made, not home microwaved). For those who like to see a lot of empty plate and smears of jus you probably want to go somewhere else but if you like big portions of freshly cooked food with plenty of carbs (if, for example, you are a cyclist) NZ should be high on your list.
Hostels - the YHA was very much as I remember them (a bit like boarding school) but the privately run hostels are great. Despite what I may have written previously the guests are mostly respectable and the accommodation is often more like a nice B&B. If you book ahead most have some non-dorm rooms and, for between £10 and £20 per person per night you can stay in reasonable comfort.
Kitchens - virtually anywhere you stay will provide an equipped kitchen for your use. This was true of every hostel, nearly every campsite and even in fairly up-market hotels. Not only do these make self-catering very easy without having to haul half a kitchen around with you, they tend to become the focal point for evening gathering and there is always a conversation to be had if you need company.
Obviously I would like to be able to carve a New Zealand notch on my cross bar but it wasn't to be. It was still a great experience and a lovely holiday and I think I have accomplished the important mission of understanding what could be offered to customers for a commercial trip in 2014.
I suppose actually there is one regret..........when I leave here The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More.
Saturday, 23 February 2013
This morning I was up and on the road just after 7 and planning on taking 4 hours to get to Invercargil, then legs permitting a further 2 to Bluff. As I was leaving I saw a couple of riders coming past, heads own and really motoring....so I tacked on the back. They were a couple of Belgians (even Belgians are OK once you get to know them) who were hell bent on getting to Invercargill to catch a flight. We took it in turns to punch a hole through the air and averaged 16. It was very flat (I mean flat in the true sense as used in the rest of the world) and the wind didn't really pick up until 10:00 and by that time we were almost there!
I felt so fresh that i threw my bags into the hostel and pressed on for Bluff, arriving at 11:45- about 2.5 hours earlier than expected.
Bluff itself is a dump but Stirling Point is another quiet, tasteful, litter-free site with the obligatory sign but, again, free of toothless slobs. There is also yet another spotless public loo right next to the sign, the last as you head south before the Antarctic Research Station.
I got my picture taken, then stole Frank's handshake with the Mayor. It seems that, as part of the publicity for Frank's charity fund-raising, a photo-opportunity with the Mayor had been arranged. When Frank was delayed a day getting his frame welded he missed the appointment. Well, it so happens that the mayor and his missus were at Stirling Point this morning (no idea why) so he shook my hand instead.
By the way, the Mayor of Invercargill appears to be David Guest.
So, I sort of made it, but obviously no medals this time. New Zealand will have to remain 'unfinished business' for now.
Apparently, Mrs Oakley feels that I am a little unkind to her son in my blog. I suppose the proper response to this is that she shouldn't have raised such a chump BUT, Beryl, you must understand that the teasing is just my way of showing affection. Now that I have tried an adventure without Knobby I can confirm that it rates a poor second. I don't know (yet) where the next trip will be but whenever/wherever it is I will do my utmost to drag his miserable faffing carcass with me!
I did a further 18 miles back to Invercargill (making 86 for the day) but cannot yet check into my hostel so I have purchased a six pack and am lying in the town park catching the sun and rehydrating. Most NZ towns have a public ordinance forbidding drinking in public so I may get a free bed in jail.
Assuming I don't get arrested I have a hot date tomorrow. Frank and I are meeting outside the Civic Theatre at noon - I hope he likes my frock.
Clouds in My Coffee
Having finished early I have lots of time to blog about all sorts of nonsense. I will tell you about some things I like about NZ tomorrow (did I mention that the pies are good?) but another thing (in addition to beer and bacon) to add to the dislikes.......coffee!
I was raised in a world where coffee was terribly simple. There were two types (with milk or without), it was made in seconds by pouring hot water over granules and it came in a proper mug. Then Starbucks ruined everything; in my opinion failure to pay tax is the least of their crimes. I regret to say that poncey coffee has taken over NZ in a big way. Everywhere you go there is a stupid language involving long flat whites and suchlike. But the worst thing is that they go through a great pantomime involving grinding beans and fitting filters and releasing steam that takes about a week. Eventually you get a coffee but it is often lukewarm, served in a thimble and costs about £3. All I want is a £1.50 mug of Nescafe!!!!
I'll Tumble 4ya
Yesterday was the second anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake. There were the inevitable moving services of remembrance but for me the shock was the footage of the devastation, both at the time and still 2 years later. I recall seeing remarkably little coverage in the UK at the time, or maybe I just didn't pay attention. Yet they give 5 minutes on the main breakfast new to the death of Richard Bryers.
I met a couple from Christchurch about a week ago. They said that they still get aftershocks and these are more frightening than the quake....because now they know what can happen.
Anyway, enough of this bollocks, I need to drink beer and watch out for the cops!
Friday, 22 February 2013
I have no idea what is going on with my knee! Last night it felt as if it was royaly buggered and any movement of the knee joint brought tears to my eyes. This morning it was more or less right as rain - still a bit sore but perfectly use-able. This necessitated a quick re-setting of my brain as I was mentally adjusted to a nice lazy day sitting in the bus. Instead I got on my bike and did the ride to Lumsden. The ride was typically NZ - apparently flat according to the elevation profile but actually up and down like a whore's drawers. Once I cleared the bottom of Lake Wakatipu (I don't mean that I dredged the lake, just that the first part of the ride followed the edge of the lake) things settled down and the road was through a very broad flat valley and pretty manageable.
Thanks to my 6:30 start I was all done by 2:30.
I've Got Ewe Babe
It's OK, I have found the sheep. They are all huddling down in the bottom few miles of South Island; every field is full of them. I saw on the news last night that the drought is so bad here that farmers may soon have to sell sheep because the grazing is now too poor to sustain the entire flocks. So, by my reckoning this might mean some tasty cut-price NZ lamb in the shops in a few weeks....you heard it here first!
By the way, I am perfectly aware that there is a song simply called Sheep but the obvious ones are not always the best.
In The Middle of The Night
My hostel last night was sub-divided into 2-bedroom 'apartments'. I had a room to myself and my neighbour was a very dodgy Swiss guy called Fritz (no, REALLY). After his shower, Fritz insisted on wandering around the lounge in a towel a little smaller than a pocket handkerchief. It was SO small that it didn't actually meet at the side when wrapped round his waist. I am not sure whether this was meant to be some sort of 'come on' or whether that is just how things are done in the land of triangular chocolate but it wasn't very nice.....I went to bed.
However, this is not the last of my tale of old men in small towels. At about 12:00 I got up for a pee and, since this required crossing the shared hallway, I did a Fritz. It is a pity that I didn't tuck my room key into the waist of the towel.
So, it is midnight, I am locked out of my room, the hostel office is closed and I am wearing a towel. Bugger. I tried all the obvious things: picking the lock, forcing a window, putting my shoulder to the door but, sadly, they know how to build a door in NZ.
Eventually, on a very small sign on the outside of the front door to the hostel I found an emergency contact number.
This was great but:
1/ my phone is in my room
2/ I am now not just locked out of my room but of the hostel too. Access is by numerical code and the code is.........on the key fob.
To cut a long story slightly shorter, I was rescued by two Germans returning from a night of drinking (and probably plotting the 4th Reich). They let me back into the hostel and lent me a phone to call the hostel warden who was really pleased that I had called but grudgingly turned up and let me back into my room.
Never have I been so glad to be a leaving somewhere before dawn under cover of darkness.
The Final Countdown
Assuming I don't loose the use of any more limbs and am not arrested for public indecency, I have an easy 50 miles of slightly downhill to do tomorrow. This will deliver me to Invercargill, one of the southern most cities in the world, with 2 days to spare. On one of these I need to ride to Bluff which is the most southerly habitation on NZ, so qualifies as the end-point in the same way that John O'Groats qualifies in the UK (technically Dunnet Head is the 'top' of Scotland but everyone cycles to John O'Groats). Somewhere, either in Invercargill or Bluff, I hope to meet Frank and let him tease me about skipping half an island.
Thursday, 21 February 2013
I decided that the Crown Range would have to wait and set off on the longer route which turned out to be a mistake. Instead of doing one big 3000 foot climb I probably did 60 little 100 foot climbs. It hurt. A lot. I made miserably slow progress and the 70 miles took almost 10 hours.
I am taking as many ibruprofen as medical science permits and have bought a big sack of ice and all I can do now is hope for a miracle. The alternative is a bus to Invercargill, not quite the way I hoped to finish but this trip is already a bust as an end-to-end attempt so I'll just see what the morning brings.
Last night's stop (Wanaka) was a nice little town. Very touristy but quite up-market with lots of nice bars, cafes and restaurants. Queenstown, in contrast, is tacky and horrid. It is THE centre in Southland for backpackers, hippies, gap year wastrels and other types that really need to get a job. I have personally lowered the average age in town by 10 years. Having arrived at 6pm I grabbed my ice and some food and retreated to my hostel where I splashed out on a single room so as not to inflict my pathetic whimpering on others.
So, a few things about NZ that I have been meaning to tell you:
Bacon - it is rubbish...even worse than Merican bacon. I don't think I have seen a single pig since I arrived so they probably don't get much practice. Much as a like the Kiwis you really can't trust a people that can't do bacon.
Lawn Bowls - based on my observation the national sport of the Kiwi is not rugby but Lawn Bowls. When building a town here the priority seems to be: 1/ pie shop (or just 'shop' as it is known here). 2/ magnificent public loos. 3/ bowling green. 4/ maybe a house or two.
i Sites - these are tourist info offices and can be found in most towns. They are a marvel. Not only are the staff cheerful, polite and often pretty (even the girls) but they really know their stuff. But the best bit is that you can book everything right there. Need a room? a seat on bus? a helicopter flight up the glacier? rental car? ticket to Mars? They do not take commission so give good impartial advice and you can walk out with all your travel needs sorted. I called in upon arrival to check about a bus to Invercargill and was told that they won't carry my bike. I cried so they called a local transport firm and tentatively negotiated for them to ship my bike for me.
Tomorrow I must be up and ready at 6 so I can check if the knee will play ball. If yes then I can get the miles done; if no then I can drop my bike at the transport depot and catch the bus.
The picture was taken on the approach to Queenstown, when I finally knew I would make it!
Wednesday, 20 February 2013
Kings of The Wild Frontier
Greg maintained his drinking spree throughout the evening and was last seen wandering around the bar bouncing off things that didn't move out of the way fast enough. This morning, much to my surprise, he emerged from his tent in full Mick Dundee outfit ready for a day in the bush. I thought perhaps I had misjudged him but then saw him loading his rucksack with 6 packs.
Over dinner I enjoyed a quite couple of hours in the bar chatting with an ex commercial hot air balloon pilot from Suffolk. He was also playing bushman, using the camp as a base for 3 day wilderness walks. We were getting along fine until he pointed out that Bluff is not actually the most southerly point on mainland NZ. Bastard!
It seems it wasn't Greg who demolished the power pole but a motorcyclist who either fell asleep or decided to commit suicide in a spectacular fashion. I rode past the shiny new pole this morning and gave him a moments silence.
I have been meaning to mention: when camping my nocturnal pee is an opportunity to marvel at the Southern night skies. With no air or light pollution I had expected to see many more stars than usual but what I was not prepared for was their size. I have no idea why but there are countless thousands of HUGE and intensely bright stars. This star gazing tends to result in wet feet :-(
My first reaction on arriving in NZ was 'jeez it's expensive' but this is somewhat misleading. Some things are very expensive while others are not. For example:
- petrol is about £1.20 per litre, quite a bit cheaper than the UK
- meals in pubs etc are good value given the size of the portions. Last night I had a huge gammon steak with eggs and chips for ten quid
- yet food in shops seems expensive, take my £4 tin of corned beef! To buy the ingredients to make a meal seems to cost about the same as buying a ready cooked meal in a pub....go figure!
- essentials (beer) is quite expensive. A 'pint' in a pub (about three quarters of a real pint) is about £4 but if you buy a jug this comes down hugely. In one bar a jug that contained about 2.5 'pints' was £6 but a single pint was £4.
- Campsites and hostels are very inexpensive and even hotel rooms are good value, whereas motels seem to be regarded as the pinnacle of accommodation and are quite pricey.
During the night the wind picked up to the point where all I could think about was what direction was it blowing in. Bizarrely, the second I got up this morning the wind dropped. It was still blowing somewhat and it proved to be from a vaguely beneficial direction and today was very lovely. This valley must rank amongst the most beautiful on South Island and I cycled along singing to whatever tunes Shuffle served up. I got a few odd looks but only from sheep.
Top Of The World
I am in Wanaka, a busy tourist town. Tomorrow I must ride to Queenstown, either 110k along the main road or 65 over the Crown mountain range on the highest highway in NZ. I may live to regret it but I am going up.
Tuesday, 19 February 2013
This was the first song that Shuffle served up. Brought a lump to my throat.
Plenty more songs later.