Fourth Time Lucky

It took a few goes, but I’ve done it – I’ve completed the Tongariro Crossing. Not that I was stopped by my own limitations before – it was always the weather. No such problems this weekend, with superb weather across the country for the long weekend. Clear skies, 25-28 degrees during the day, light winds – perfect. Taking advantage of the long weekend here, I took off early from work on Friday, and drove down to National Park. Howard’s Lodge provided both accommodation, and the shuttle service to and from the track.

The standard deal is to get dropped off at the start, then picked up at the end of the day at the other end. Trying to do it any other way with a couple of vehicles is just a major pain. It’s about a 19km walk one way, across the saddle between Nguarahoe (aka Mt Doom) and Tongariro. It covers a crazy range of scenery – alpine, volcanic, tussock, and ending with two miles through native bush. It was a long hot day, and busy on the track, with large groups moving through – but I was happy to be there. Check out the view from halfway:

Mt Doom

From there we had a clear view to Mt Taranaki – and surprisingly my phone was on the New Plymouth cell site, even though it was a very long way away. The second half was a long way downhill, and that can be pretty hard on the body. Harder on the muscles and joints, rather than the cardiovascular system.

By the time I got to the end I was pretty happy to sit down and relax – but Sunday was not for relaxing – I was off to ride the 42 Traverse (Hey! Look closely at the photo at that link – that’s me, my brother, sister, and brother-in-law! It’s from when we did it a few years ago. It also appears on some brochures in the area). It’s a pretty cool bike ride, mainly on 4WD forest tracks, often feeling quite out in the wilderness:

Echo Canyon Lookout

I don’t recall quite so much climbing last time, but there was heaps this time. Maybe it was just that it was much hotter this time – but it also meant that the swim at the end was much better:

River Swim

I was pretty tired at the end of the weekend, but not too bad – I think that the mix of activities was good, no real muscular or joint soreness. Now it’s diving this weekend!

Christmas at home

The Christmas just been was the first one that I have spent with my family in the last four years. The previous three Christmases had been spent in three different countries, usually with friends, but not with family. So it was a nice return to a more traditional Christmas. Especially since I really couldn’t say where I’ll be for the next three Christmases.

My Northern Hemisphere readers will have a different view of Christmas, and will no doubt think of it as strange that we celebrate Christmas in the middle of summer – long hot days and balmy evenings. But really, it’s not that much different to here. The routine here was similar to the usual, starting out with Dad’s Christmas lunch at the pub over the road from home. Years ago this started out as my father and a colleague having lunch together just before Christmas. He’d buy Al a jug, Al would shout him one, then they’d say righto, see you next year, and off they’d go on holiday.

Somewhere along the way that grew, and it seemed to become the de-facto Christmas function for the various self-employed tradesmen of Whangarei, and other assorted hangers-on (that would be the category I fit into). It became something of an institution. Nothing fancy, just KT bistro food. No big corporate budget either – if you were lucky Dad would shout you a jug. But every year, usually around about the last Friday before Christmas, the Kensington Tavern was the place to be for a seafood basket and a jug of Lion Red. Obviously I’d missed a few attendances over the last few years, but I wasn’t missing it this time.

The follow on from there is to go out on the town in Whangarei on Christmas Eve – many people around my age have moved away from Whangarei, to various points, and this is the one time of the year most of them are back. So there’s a good opportunity to catch up with people. Things have changed a bit though – most people around my age seem to have kids now, and not so many people are going out on the town. Ah well. At least I made it home by around 2:00am – my younger brother was a couple of hours later. This means that Christmas Day is a little bit slow – I had the one nap, I think Jackson went back to bed for at least three separate naps.

My older brother Cameron, along with his wife and children had also joined us in Whangarei. This of course meant kids in the house on Christmas Day – not what you want if you’re trying to sleep in a bit. But they were quite good, and we didn’t get up at too early an hour. The usual cooked breakfast, some bubbles, presents, and family friends visiting. Then off to visit some of the neighbours, followed by a rest in the afternoon, then a big dinner, including turkey. See? Not really that different to a Northern Hemisphere Christmas. Except that we went fishing and scallop diving on Boxing Day, not something one tends to do when one lives in Edinburgh.

There was one wrinkle to the Christmas Day celebrations – on Christmas Eve, we went to get the ham out of the beer fridge in the garage. Except it wasn’t there. Hang on, it was in there yesterday. And where’s the turkey that we had started defrosting? And the bottles of bubbly? What the…? Turned out someone had taken a turkey, most of a ham, a few bottles of wine, and a bucket to carry it in. On December 23rd. Bastards. Leaving one day to get some replacements, when almost every available turkey in town had been sold. A bit of running around, and Dad managed to track down the last two available turkeys – and paid suitably for them. But no matter, it all worked out well in the end.

One side note – the police came around that afternoon, to investigate, and took elimination fingerprints from me – it turns out that my fingerprints are quite faint, and don’t leave good clear prints at all. Perhaps a new career beckons for me?

More bikes, more biking

I know, it’s been ages since I’ve posted anything. Plenty of things to catch up with, but I’ll break that into a few posts. This one will just stick to bike-related stuff.

Prior to leaving NZ, I rode a Marin hardtail mountain bike for several years. On returning, I took up mountain biking again, and have been spending a lot of time on the trails. The bike’s been showing its age, and I’ve had to replace quite a few parts over the last few months. Due to the pricing structure of parts vs. buying a whole new bike, going for a full upgrade started looking like a better option.

The classic mountain biking thing is to start out with a hardtail, then upgrade to a full suspension bike (before later going to a singlespeed, then a 29 inch bike, but that’s another story). The NZ dollar has fallen dramatically in the last few months, and this has significantly driven up the prices in local currency. So there was a bit of thinking about whether I should go for a more expensive full suspension bike, and just how much did I want to spend. A few catalogues and trips to bike stores later, and I bought this from one of my local bike stores:

Giant Trance

A 2009 Giant Trance. Very nice setup, all SLX components, full suspension, weight pretty similar to my hardtail. I took it out for a ride around Woodhill that afternoon. Very different feel to the old bike – it just rode over obstacles on the track, with the rear wheel staying on the track, and not losing power. Flew down the trails, staying in control far better – this could be trouble though, as I’ll be tempted to ride much faster than perhaps is safe.

To that end, I went to a mountain bike skills clinic. Sure, I’ve done a bit of riding in my time – but I learnt a lot on this one day course. A large part of the day is getting your bike set up correctly – this alone was worth the entry fee. The skills covered are very fundamental, but they do go against the bad habits I’ve picked up over the years, and will take a bit of getting used to. Once I’ve got it right, I’ll be far more in control on the trails, and able to take on much more challenging terrain.

These new skills didn’t manage to prevent a rather spectacular crash though. I was riding through some long grass, and rode into a pothole obscured by the grass. I went into it, tipped over the bars, and because I was clipped in, the bike went over after me. Somewhere along the way something smashed into my thigh, and gave me a rather nasty gash. Good thing Gabby (the instructor) had a decent first aid kit with her…