Sunday, 24 February 2019

The Spectacular Roads and Mazes of Spain

Another tour done and this one didn't exactly go to plan.  To be fair, only the first tour I did in Australia and my tour in England have gone exactly to plan, most of the tours I have done have had at least minor changes once I am in the reality of the situation.

My actual tour route. Slightly different than planned.
For this one, I significantly overestimated the mileage I could achieve in a day.  Perhaps I am getting old, but I think the main issue in this case was the difficulty of finding my way around.  Stopping to check maps, going the wrong way, and winding your way through mazes of roads takes a lot more time out of your day than you imagine.

One of the great benefits of having a very common name is that I often come across things like this.
Spain has to be one of the best places for cycling in the world; there are plenty of hills and mountains, stunning vistas, the weather is almost always sunny, and the roads are in great condition with very little traffic.

Great for cycling, definitely, but good for bicycle touring?  I'm not so sure about that.  If someone were to ask for my advice about cycling in Spain, I would advise them to fly over with their road bike and do day cycles, maybe hiring a car and finding a 100Km ride to do, then do something similar somewhere else on another day.

The reason for this is that there some wonderful roads, but getting from a to b on a bike over a period of days and weeks can be tricky in Spain.  The are a number of different kinds of roads here; APs, AVs, As, RMs, GLs, ALs, etc.  The first two seemed to always not allow cyclists on them, but the As and RMs also had times when they didn't allow cyclists, but the problem was that you didn't know until things started looking like a motorway or when a sign popped-up.  There didn't seem to be any hard and fast rules to it all.

Going down the side of these more major roads were service roads that looked very good at times, but would often deteriorate into rubble or just end altogether without warning.

My troubles with the roads were summed-up on the last day when I discovered that I could not legally enter Murcia International airport on the bike, despite two bicycle lanes appearing to lead right into the airport (at least on the map).

When I arrived I must have ridden on the road illegally to get going, not seeing any signs.  But on the way in, I saw the signs clearly so diverted down a service road with a bicycle path that led to the airport.  Having discovered that one bicycle path came to a dead end with a 2 metre-high fence, I tried to cycle around, only to discover that this fence stretched on seemingly endlessly.

Turning back, I tried the bicycle path on the other side, but the same thing, it ended at a very high fence.  The airport was in sight the whole time, but I just couldn't reach it.  Hopping onto the main road was not an option either as it was protected by yet another fence and a rather large gutter.  Fortunately, however, a tree had fallen on the fence and this acted like a bridge so I could cross the gutter (slightly precariously) with my bike and then lift it over the barrier.  Without that tree, I have no idea how I would have gotten into the airport.

Wild camping with the new tent.
I had another problem, and that was that I couldn't put my bike on the trains, which meant that my original plans to take the train to Seville and Cordoba was pretty much finished.  In the end, I just cycled to Granada via the coast and then circled back to my Dad's place in Los Alcazeres.

Even then, I had to take the bus between Guadix and Baza because I couldn't find a route that would accept my bicycle.

Troubles aside, when I was actually cycling, the roads and scenery were absolutely beautiful both on the coast and inland.  Despite the fact hills and mountains were everywhere, I found the gradients a lot less severe than New Zealand also, so no climbs were especially tough, particularly with less gear on the bike. The ease of wild camping was also very welcome.  Pretty much any area without houses or farms was easy to just turn off the road and find a nice sheltered place to camp.

It was a shame I couldn't go to Seville or Cordoba, but Granada was a truly beautiful city to spend a day resting and wandering around in.  A combination of Christian and Islamic architecture with the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  European cities are so beautiful, sometimes you forget it when you travel elsewhere in the world.  Australia and New Zealand have the natural wonders, but culturally, hardly anywhere in the world beats Europe.

The main attraction in Granada was Alhambra, a large Islamic fort set on top of a hill overlooking the whole city.  It was an impressive sight, and as usual, I was there early in the day to get in before all the crowds of tourists showed-up.  So early in fact, that I managed to beat the entrance fee as well, and sneaked in for a walk around the castle on my own as the sun rose across the city.  This was a great pick-me-up after the disappointment of not being able to carry out my original plans.

Once I had finished with Alhambra I explored the old quarter of the city, winding through the hilly streets and taking pictures of some of the quaintly beautiful architecture.

The afternoon before, I checked into my only paid accommodation of the whole tour.  At 35 Euros it was quite a luxury for me, especially with my own room.  I had intended to stay at a much cheaper hostel, but typically showed-up in Granada at the weekend and everywhere was full.  This did surprise me, though, as I wouldn't have expected the city to be busy with tourists during winter.

It was a great relief to have a shower and have my own comfortable bed and just be able to catch-up with the world for the evening.  When you cycle all day for consecutive days, you really earn your rest.

The way out of Granada towards a town called Guadix was some of the best cycling of the trip, with steady gradients into the mountains.  For this reason it was also popular with a lot of other cyclists; I have never seen so many in a day.  They were not of the touring kind, but bicycles outnumbered cars significantly all day.  As they all rode by me I was given quizzical looks, like why was I punishing myself by riding with all this gear up a mountain.

I managed to get up to about 1300m, a few hundred metres higher than any road in New Zealand, and passed many pretty villages on the way to an extremely chilly overnight camp next to tunnels drilled in the rock.  These tunnels were slightly mysterious, but over the other side of the valley I had noticed some houses that were actually part of the rock and mountainside.  I assume that I was camping next to a work in progress, as I saw a few of these kinds of houses in this area of Spain.

Some pleasant roads then followed on the way back to my Dad's place in Los Alcazeres, but on one section from Guadix to Baza the route planning was nigh on impossible.  The only way on the bike looked as if I would be doing an extra 100Km or more because the direct route was on a road I couldn't cycle on.  For this reason, I decided to hop on a bus for 60Km, which actually wasn't nearly as troublesome as I anticipated.

I got back to Los Alcazeres a day early, which I was very happy about so I was able to get some rest before the stressful business of packing up and going home.  It had been an eventful trip, much harder logistically than I had imagined, but it had been nice to take a break from the doom and gloom of a British winter and get some sunshine, which it was every single day.

I am thinking now of taking a break from the cycle touring, at least the conventional kind.  The plan is to move to New Zealand in 2020 and I have no plans for any more bike tours in 2019.  I am certainly thinking of other things though, like a return to some hiking and maybe some running.  Once in New Zealand, I am hoping to hit the trails on a new bike and perhaps do some bikepacking.  The adventures will definitely continue.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Southern Spain 10-Day Andalusia Tour Plan

It is always a bit sad when you finish an epic tour.  After about 4 months in New Zealand and over 5 months touring in Australia before that (not to mention 2 weeks touring in California), 2018 was quite a year of bicycle touring, and not one that I can imagine repeating again any time soon (I have to grow-up some day).  I was in dreamland, and with hours and hours of beautiful southern hemisphere sun with some idyllic scenery as a permanent backdrop, I had been spoiled.  That's why coming back to England in mid-Winter was a bit of a shock to the system.

One of the problems with England at this time of year is the lack of sun; it is dreary, cold, damp and dark pretty much every day.  With this in mind, then, I thought I needed a little break to one of the sunniest places in Europe.

Andalusia receives 325 days of sun every year, and being quite a bit further South with more hours of daylight, it seemed the logical destination for Winter in Europe.  Added to this, my Dad has an apartment in this area of the world, so this is a good base of operations for me to get myself sorted when I arrive and when I leave.  And finally, at £10 each way to fly there, I couldn't go wrong.

It's funny, Spain wasn't really an area of the world I had considered much for bicycle touring, but after some research, Andalusia appears to be a perfect destination.  Wide open spaces, little traffic, beautiful scenery, and impressive cultural stops with fascinating architecture abound along my proposed route.

I am definitely setting myself a challenging route with this one, in more ways than one.  Firstly, this will be the first tour I have done in a non-English speaking country, although with the amount of British holidaymakers that come here every summer, I expect there will at least be some people to help me out if I'm in a jam.  The route also includes some train journeys to enable me to fit more in, and with a network of unfamiliar roads, logistically this is a bit of a challenge.

But physically too, this route will test me.  With 10 days on the go, I will have only one day off the bike, and when I'm on the bike I will have to do approximately 130-140Km a day to get back in time for my return flight.  Challenging on mainly flat terrain, but this is a hilly and mountainous trip, something I had not really realised about this part of the world.  There are some big climbs here - higher than in New Zealand in fact - up in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  For some reason though, since I have been back in the UK, I feel really up for a physical challenge again.

The first section taking up to Granada in the Sierra Nevada mountains after coming down the coast of southern Spain.

Towards the end of the tour I will be ascending to an altitude of about 1750m, just a little shy of the highest road I have ever ridden, which was in the Australian Alps on my Christmas tour in 2015.  But before that I will rise several times over the ten days to over 1000m.  Technically, I could have a go at ascending the highest road in Europe in this tour, the Pico de Valeta which goes up to about 3300m, however with it being Winter it is likely the road will be blocked with snow, not to mention mighty cold.  Instead I will be heading up to Granada on the Goat Path Road, the Carretera de la Cabra, supposedly one of the most scenic roads in this region.

Leg 2 from Granada to Seville via Rhonda
The process of planning a tour is always a fascinating one.  First I think of a place I want to go, then I look at the weather conditions at the time of year and see if it is feasible, then I check out what I might be able to see en route, and then I don't think of anything until a couple of weeks beforehand.  Once the reality of the tour dawns on me, then I plan in more detail and all of a sudden the few famous places I was interested in seeing seem almost insignificant to the route and the journey to get there itself.  I am more enthralled by the journey than the destinations.

Leg 3 on the train from Seville to Jaen via Cordoba.
So I had a few key areas I wanted to visit, which were Granada, Rhonda, Seville, and Cordoba.  Then it was a question of linking it all together in a tour for about ten days.  This was tricky seeing as this route was about 1500Km on the map, but as always when you ride the tour in reality, longer when you factor-in detours and the greater distances you cover using the more minor roads.  All in all, this tour could not be done in ten days on the bike, that's why I will take the train between Seville and Jaen, cutting roughly 500Km off.  Still a stretch, but doable.

The final and toughest leg of the tour back to Los Alcazeres.

The last leg of the trip back to Los Alcazeres should be the hardest, but I should have adapted physically by then.  With the covering of so many kilometres in a short period of time, this tour should be quite a challenge, but unlike in New Zealand I should be travelling quite a bit lighter.  No computer, no squash rackets, less clothing, and no big backpack, so hopefully the bike will be a bit easier to crank up those climbs.

I have been to Spain many times in my youth, but I don't think I have ever ventured out of a beach resort, so this will be a completely different experience and a much more authentic look at Spain, her terrain and her culture.  It promises to be a intriguing mini Winter adventure and another great short tour outside of Australasia.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Te Anau - Milford Sound - Te Anau - Queenstown - End of Tour!

So the home stretch of the tour and the New Zealand weather saved the worst for last, but seeing as I was so ahead of schedule, it wasn't much of a problem.  I did have a fair amount of sitting and waiting in Te Anau though, which funnily enough, is exactly what I had to do here 2 years ago.

I've spent more time in Te Anau than any other place in New Zealand and this is mainly because it rains a hell of a lot there.  2 years ago, I waited for 2 days to find a weather window to cycle into Milford Sound.  Then after I came back, I had to wait 3 more days for a weather window to do some kayaking in Doubtful Sound.  This time around I managed to have no time waiting to cycle into Milford Sound, but then because of work and 5 consecutive days of rain, I had 5 days to sit it out.

Rare clear skies over Lake Te Anau
Last time I was in Te Anau, though, I was there a month earlier in October and this made booking into a hostel pretty easy.  This time, however, I was in Te Anau in mid-November, and what a difference that made.  It was about twice as busy, which meant no chance of finding an affordable bed inside, so that meant I had to rough it in a campsite in the tent.

The tent has held-up remarkably well considering I have stayed in it most days over the last 8 months or so, and it kept me warm, dry, and comfortable in the relentless rain showers.  On my first night in Queenstown, sadly, one of my poles snapped.  I did a bit of a repair job and it managed to still stand, although it was a bit of a slanty shanty.

The first port of call was Milford Sound.  Now, I had cycled in and out of Milford Sound before, so I was exploring ways I could get in there without expending so much effort.  The reason I was going again (not that you need another reason for wanting to go to this beautiful place twice) was to scuba dive there, as it seemed a pretty awesome place for a dive and to keep my skills updated.

In the end, of course, I ended-up just cycling in.  The other options were to catch a shuttle bus, which was too expensive, or to hitchhike.  The second option might seem a good idea, as Milford Sound is a dead end; there is only one road in and out.  However, when I thought about it, I felt a bit guilty and I didn't want to be a fifth wheel on someone's trip of a lifetime into the Sound.

Luckily, I managed to find a naughty wild camping spot not far from the Sound after the long cycle in and up to the Homer tunnel.  Although I was chuffed to not have to pay for camping, I did have to spend the night with thousands of sandflies, possibly the only downside of going to Milford Sound.  I had to be up early for the dive, which was scheduled to depart at 8am.

I got up super-early and wanted to head to the Sound for a spot of breakfast with a view undisturbed by tourists.  I was joined by two curious kea, who as usual, were very interested in my bike.

I don't look cool, I know.  But wait til you see the one of me underwater.
Getting prepared for the dive was quite something.  The water was a chilly 11 degrees Celsius; I can't dry suit dive, so I had to wear a very thick wetsuit, with a hood, socks, boots, and two vests underneath.  Getting into wetsuits isn't easy at the best of times, let alone when they are so thick.  They did keep me nice and warm throughout the day though, which was the important thing.

The boat was much smaller than I had imagined, and I was joined by only 4 other divers, so the trip was very personal, which made it seem extra-special.  The diving itself was really interesting.  Not only was it different to the usual warm-water, coral reef dives, but because of the uniqueness of the environment and the protected nature of the waters, it made for a some very special and unusual marine life.

That little fish was quite interested in me and spent a couple of minutes staring into my eyes.

Because of the high rock walls of the mountains in Milford Sound, it creates a much darker environment underwater than normal in relatively shallow conditions.  This means Milford Sound is one of the best places in the world to see deep water species of fish and coral at more shallow depths accessible to divers.  Black coral dominates the underwater landscape of Milford Sound, which reminded me very much of Christmas, as the coral is actually white when it is alive, but goes black when it dies.

Animal species spotted on the day included; octopus, loads of huge crayfish (protected in these waters, so they grew to mammoth proportions), 1 metre-long dog sharks, and a plethora of weird and interesting fish, one of which checked me out closely on the first dive down.

Right in the middle of the picture, two little fiordland penguins at the top of the rocks checking out what is going on.
The action wasn't only underwater; on the boat we were lucky enough to spot a family of fiordland penguins watching us from the shore.  Having missed the penguins of Curio Bay, I was delighted to finally get a look at some, even if it was from some distance.  There were plenty of seals hanging around on the rocks also.

The wetsuits did their job, but things were still pretty cold once out of the water on the boat, so between dives we were sent out on a mini expedition to one of the Sound's many waterfalls.  This first required a short swim to shore in our extremely buoyant wetsuits, so buoyant that it was hard to do any swimming stroke except for a doggy paddle.  Then all it took was a short walk through the bush to get to the waterfall.  There was one German chap on the trip with us who had a very expensive-looking underwater casing for his camera so he took some shots of the group under the waterfall.  To be honest though, the guy was a little strange, so even though he promised to email the picture on, I won't hold my breath.

Having cycled all the way in, I was sure someone would be able to give me a lift out.  It is much harder to cycle out of Milford Sound because the gradient is much steeper, and with the previous experience of this 2 years ago, I saw no reason to do it again.  Unfortunately, though, no one could do it, so I had to suffer the steep 2-hour climb out.

The climb was brutal, but I had a big stroke of luck at the top.  Homer tunnel is patrolled by people during the day to make sure no one gets into trouble because of the conditions, and the steepness of the road can sometimes cause car engines to over-heat.  On the way out of the Sound, riding through Homer tunnel isn't really an option, as it would just take too long and you hold-up all the traffic.  For this reason, the staff offer cyclists a lift through using the bike rack on the back of their vehicle.

Homer tunnel control centre.
Luckily for me, I had hit the tunnel at the perfect time, just as they were going home for the day, so after I was given a lift through the tunnel, I was offered a lift further down the road also.  Knowing full-well that the next day's weather forecast was terrible, the offer of a lift all the way back to Te Anau was too good to resist.  It wouldn't have been a particularly hard cycle, but it would have been a miserably wet one the next day.

Back to Te Anau then, and I had some work to do for a couple of days.  The weather was diabolical for the next few days, but I had plenty of time to get to Queenstown, so although I was eager to get going, it wasn't a disaster.

With a bit of time on my hands, I managed to arrange a game of squash with a local player, ranked in the top 3 in the country at over 45 years old.  Up until the point of writing, I have not lost a match either on my tour of Australia or here in New Zealand, this is despite having hardly played for weeks on end at times.  I came closest to losing on this occasion, though.  I had played a supposedly higher level player in Dunedin, but he was a young guy who was very fit and just ran around and I just controlled the game no problem.  Shane (my opponent in Te Anau) was a different kettle of fish, an older, cannier, player with lots of holds and good racket work, which really tested my rusty movement and I fell 2 games to love down in no time.

I have come to learn that I am quite a disagreeable person; I really enjoy confrontation, especially in argument, and I am quite competitive.  I used to think this was born out of insecurity, I thought I should be above getting upset over losing, that it wasn't logical somehow or other things were more important, so I should have some perspective.  I have since learned that this is probably just a natural aspect of my personality; even when I was quite shy and quiet when I was younger, I never had a problem telling people when I thought they were wrong, and I fiercely came out of my shell in a sporting context.

With this in mind then, I was pretty motivated to keep my 100% record and wasn't treating this as a nice little friendly match with a local.  I kept things friendly off court, obviously, but played a few mind games with him by telling him that no one had beaten me yet, and there was no pressure on him.  I'm sure it made no difference, but it helped my psychology as I fought the urge to have a head explosion at moving around the court like Bambi on ice and just calmed-down with a steely determination to win.  I ended-up clawing it back and winning a hard fought match 3-2, 100% record still in tact, for now at least.

I was as stiff as a board the next day and could hardly move, so I guess it was sort of lucky it rained all day, forcing me to do nothing.  Squash must be one of the worst sports for muscle stiffness if you haven't played for a while; hips, lower back, and butt in particular were very sore, in a good way though, like you know you've worked hard.

I tried to sneak-in workouts where I could the following couple of days, running on the many trails in the area and doing some bodyweight exercises.

Finally the weather cleared and it was time for the final stretch of the trip, just 120Km into Queenstown via the very scenic route.  It was quite an adventurous and spectacular finish to another amazing bicycle tour of New Zealand.

Instead of taking the main road into Queenstown, I took the back roads, which first lead to the Mavora Lakes and then passed through pristine valleys with high mountains to Walter Peak on the opposite side of the lake to Queenstown.

It was a great ride and I took things nice and easy doing only 60K or so on both days, camping at Mavora Lake overnight, which was a stunning place to camp, although again inhabited by thousands of sandflies.

The first of two ford crossings.

At the Mavora Lakes I was joined by 3 other cycle tourers; a couple from Belgium and a girl from the UK, but who was living in Queenstown and had not long started her tour from Bluff to Cape Reinga.  Everyone was very nice and we enjoyed a nice chat in the evening and in the morning over some coffee.

The second ford crossing.
The Belgian couple were very friendly, and had cycled from Belgium to Turkey, then took a plane to Australia and cycled from Sydney to Melbourne.  They actually cycled the Barry Way, which I had done previously and was some of my favourite riding in Australia, so they quite enjoyed their short tour of Australia before coming to New Zealand.

I set off early the next day expecting to be caught-up by the English girl, who was traveling much lighter than me, and sure enough, after an hour or so we met at the first stream crossing.  After that we decided to cycle together for the rest of the way.  I just about managed to keep up, although I did bomb past her going downhill as the weight of my bike creates quite a lot of momentum.

Ronnie looking on to the Von Valley.
It was ironic that the only day of the whole tour that I rode with someone was the last.  It was great as Ronnie was good company and it was nice to get some pictures of me on the bike.  Once we got into Walter Peak, she crossed to Queenstown on the ferry and I went to a free campsite close to shore, which was absolutely stunning.  The two best campsites on tour were on the last two days.

Although the tour had officially ended, I now have plenty of time left in New Zealand.  After a few days in Queenstown, I will be joined by my wife, Eunji, for two weeks in the car and I will be revisiting some places and making sure I get to other parts I didn't reach this time around, especially the West coast of the South Island.

With a few days wait in Queenstown, I used the time to do some weight training, some sprints, hiking, and some trail running to wake up the legs that had adapted mainly to cycling for the past few months.  I was also keen to explore some of the back roads and trails of Queenstown and Arrowtown while I had some time.

Amazingly, over the last 8 months of touring on the bike, I have managed to do things almost exactly on budget.  My aim financially was to be able to fund the everyday expenses (food, accommodation, bike repairs and new parts, etc) of the tour by earning approximately $200 a week teaching English online.  At the end of the tours of Australia and New Zealand, I find myself about $50 to the good in this regard.  I accepted that expensive trips like scuba diving, whale watching, and other adventures would have to be funded out of my savings.  In Australia, I spent far more on these things, but in New Zealand it was only really 2 scuba dives at opposite ends of the country.  I will probably also do something with Eunji when she gets here too.

So that's me probably done with New Zealand on a touring bike.  I feel like I have explored this beautiful country extremely well now, although I can see myself at some time in the future coming back to do some shorter trips cycling the trails.  This trip was even better than the first and has definitely reinforced my affinity for this beautiful country.

The most amazing free campsite of the trip was on the last day.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Dunedin to Te Anau

Nugget Point
I had arrived in Dunedin, the hilly city, and boy did it live up to it's reputation.  Dunedin is actually home to the steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street, at a 35% gradient, and although I was not tempted to challenge myself by cycling up it (I wouldn't have got very far), I did manage to find plenty of other roads to test myself on.

Absolutely broken by the cycle into Dunedin, I settled into a hostel and just did nothing for the rest of the day, but managed to arrange a warmshowers host for the following two days.  Typically, their house was right on top of a steep hill.

The famous old railway station in Dunedin.
Kel and Sharon were marvelous hosts; they did seem to know exactly what I needed and what would make me feel comfortable.  They were both welcoming and sociable without being suffocating and it is fair to say that I really enjoyed my time with them.  I think they were rather used to meeting and hosting new people.  I especially appreciated being invited to Kel's parent's house for a big family dinner.  Such a family atmosphere is a rare thing for a solo bicycle tourist, and it was nice to get a glimpse into New Zealand family life.

My naked bike on Kel and Sharon's balcony.
Well-rested and well-fed, I planned to spend a couple of days in a campsite on the Otago Peninsula to do a bit of work and do a bit of exploring.  It took me about 2 hours to get there from the centre of Dunedin.

I wasn't sure what I thought about the Otago Peninsula.  It was very scenic, but was a little money-grubbing also.  Any possible attraction was monetised to an extortionate degree, which is a little unusual for New Zealand in my experience.  It reminded me of a famous bit of narration in the film Goodfellas; "Wanna go see the penguins, sea lions or albatrosses? F@#k you, pay me.", "Wanna look at the castle? "F@#k you, pay me."  "Wanna ride to the other side of the peninsula?  F@#k you, pay me."  Of course they weren't his exact words, but you get the idea.  On each occasion, the sums of money being asked were not insignificant either.

Sometimes I do think I am a cycling contradiction when it comes to the philosophy of money.  On the one hand, I have always been staunchly anti-work; and I don't mean that I think people shouldn't work hard, of course, cycle touring itself is hard work.  What I mean by this is sacrificing your soul in pursuit of the almighty dollar.  I have always worked for money as little as possible, but I don't think anyone could ever accuse me of being lazy, that's just not my style.  Some people obviously enjoy their careers/jobs, but for many it is a meaningless grind.

There were lots of these nice little fishing huts dotted along the shoreline.
So with this in mind then, you might think I was vehemently opposed to capitalism, but you'd be wrong.  It, in its purest free-market form, is without doubt best best solution out there, but the problem is that government has meddled with it so much that it has forced most people to be dependent on soul-sapping jobs and very little choice in their lives.  If you want to have a family, you are going to be forced to sacrifice your soul for a all too significant portion of your life (obviously there are exceptions) and this is now true for men and women, whereas as in the past most families only needed one bread-winner.

I won't go into details, after all this is not an economics blog.  Cycle touring, for me, is a way of escaping this reality somewhat.  I can survive on working 10 hours a week, and I will be looking at discovering ways to do even less, so that I have the freedom to explore life's possibilities and learn as much as I can in my short time on earth.

The view of Dunedin from the Otago Peninsula.
It seems to me that building a conventional life, i.e. buying a house, raising a family, etc, is becoming more and more difficult, and not just difficult, stressful.  I have always disliked children, and perhaps when I return to England many of my friends (who now have them) might be inclined to think that I have flippantly brushed-off the thought of having kids and that I haven't thought about the possible negative effects on my life - especially later on - and the joy and meaning they bring.  I mean, what will I do in my old-age?

On the contrary, I think about this stuff a lot, and I take very seriously the idea of raising a family, especially as I watch a fair amount of stuff from Jordan Peterson, who is a strong advocate for having children.  Problem is though, I am not encouraged by what I see around me.  Men, in particular seemed doomed to wage slavery in order to provide for their family (this problem is compounded in Far East Asia where they even have to provide for their parents as well, perhaps a major reason for the low birth rates there), while at the same time being completely unappreciated by wider society - and in my experience, their wives and girlfriends - for their efforts.  The lack of freedom government laws and regulations allow - not to mention popular culture and it's restrictions - you in regards to raising children is also worrying, especially in my country of birth.

I had the pleasure of staying with a couple earlier in this trip that home-schooled their children.  In my country this is not only illegal, but if you take your kids out of school in term-time for a trip somewhere, you are prosecuted.  No way am I going to put up with that.  On principle, I would never have a child in a country with such pathetic and damaging laws, especially with a stultifying atmosphere in schools with a pinch of questionable moral (and sometimes overtly political) teaching, which I think shouldn't be a part of the classroom.

So the combination of not liking kids, the inevitable stress that comes with it (not of the raising of children itself, I might add, but the expense and the amount of work that entails), and the fact I probably wouldn't see them anyway and having to leave them in the hands of people with questionable motives, turns me off.  Parenting has always been difficult, just imagine raising kids a few hundred years ago when you had to slave-away for them only to watch them die or be killed in war.  The world is never perfect, but I think liking them and seeing them sometimes is probably a good idea.  My hats-off to people who take on the challenge.

I digress, but yeah, I am a freedom-loving kinda guy, perhaps more so than anyone else I know.  This is why I am drawn to self-sufficient traveling, being in nature, and particularly mountains, as mountains ooze freedom out of every crevice.

So with this split between a world-wandering, anti-money, childless hippie and a free market, low-regulation, self-reliant (not a fan of welfare), conservative-minded free-speech absolutist, I feel like I can dip a toe into both the right and the left of politics and have a fairly balanced view of the world, which it doesn't seem is reigning supreme in world affairs right now.  I can't help but notice that it is all going a bit crazy.

But back to the trip.  Ever since I had made it to Cromwell, the weather conditions had become more unreliable, with high winds, rain, and cold regularly putting in an appearance between some short spells of good weather.  During my stay on the Otago Peninsula, all 4 seasons were certainly evident and this made for an awkward stay.

I like campsites for working; they are cheap and there is usually somewhere you can hide away to do some online teaching.  However, the wind was raging and the rain came down heavily at times, so this meant working outside or in the tent was off the table.  The campsite was also quite busy, so I had to rush from place to place to find some privacy, making for a stressful weekend of work.  I hadn't experienced this at any other time in New Zealand, which on the whole has been very stress-free when it comes to work.

Looking ahead at the weather, it appeared that I had a weather window of 3 days before the heavens would open big time on me.  This combined with the remote area I was going encouraged me to try and make the 315Km or so I needed to get to the next major settlement, Invercargill, in the 3 day period.

I knew this would be difficult, but at just over 100Km a day, I thought I had it well-covered.  I wasn't, however, banking on the harshness of the roads or the weather conditions.

I left the Otago Peninsula with the intention of getting-up high so I could get the perspective over the top of the peninsula.  Trouble was that this was a 400+m climb up an extraordinarily steep road.  It was well-worth it as the views were spectacular, but it did some early damage to my legs and energy reserves.  What followed were a series of 100-200m climbs through to the outskirts of Dunedin to eventually hit a flat coastal road and a serious headwind.  This was going to be one of those days.

Each climb was brutal in severity, causing me to get off and push the bike on various occasions.  I can now say with certainty that Dunedin is the steepest area I have ever cycled; I have never had to jump off my bike and push with such frequency.

After the headwinds on the flat coastal road, I had another 400+m climb, again of ridiculous gradient to join the main road towards an area of New Zealand known as The Catlins.  My joy at making it over yet another nasty ascent was short-lived as the headwind was even stronger on the flat 40Km to a town called Balclutha, where I would spend the night.  At only 103Km, it wasn't the furthest I had ever cycled by a long-shot, but it will be remembered as one of the hardest days in the saddle ever.

Florence Bay in the Catlins.
This was then followed by two more ridiculous days cycling. The next day I strived to make it to Curio Bay, another very hilly 127Km away with a view to getting up early to see the penguins, but I had no luck and didn't see any, although there was a nice coastal view.  The next day I only had about 80Km to do, but I was incredibly tired from the previous two days and I had a strong headwind to contend with.  I considered stopping early because the wind was killing me, but then saw the weather for the following day was just a deluge of heavy rain, so I had no real choice but to get to Invercargill and duck inside a hostel for the day and head for cover.  I remember sitting in a little cafe in a state of despair looking at the weather and knowing I had not choice but to flog an already tired body for several hours into the wind.  I guess it is my equivalent of waking up on Monday morning and realising I have a week of mind-numbing and stressful work ahead of me.

After a whole day of doing nothing except having a haircut and a shave (the first of both in New Zealand), I felt great (and guilty) the next morning so did a 10K run and went to a local gym to do some weight training (also for the first time since being in New Zealand).  Then in the afternoon I cycled 40Km to Riverton.  The following morning I then did 14K of trail running.

I think all of this combined with the previous few days of hard cycling blew me out quite a bit.  All of a sudden I was waking up tired, which is something I rarely do, even though I was sleeping absolutely fine.

I was actually very fortunate to be offered a night's stay on a dairy farm in a very swanky little separate building by the chap who was in charge of the local squash club, who I had contacted looking for a game.  This was very handy as it was a perfect place to sit down and work for the day.

My room at the dairy farm.
Rarely do I feel lazy when compared to others, Andy and his wife really worked hard.  Up at 3.30am and working most of the day.  They only stopped for lunch and dinner and to watch the All Blacks narrowly scrape by England in the rugby.

I left the dairy farm the next morning a little later than usual as I only had about 70Km to do to get to a free campsite, so you'd think I'd be feeling pretty good after a sound night's sleep.  I wasn't at all though; despite having a slight tailwind for most of the day, I just felt exhausted.  All the past week's efforts had caught up with me.

Gemstone beach, so named because it washes-up an array of smooth coloured stones for some reason.
I got to the very picturesque camping area at about 4pm and then settled-down in the tent and listened to a podcast at about 5pm and very quickly fell asleep, even with the sun shinning bright outside.  I then woke up at 7pm, brushed my teeth and then went straight back to sleep, finally waking-up at 5.30pm the next morning, basically a whopping 12 hours sleep.  I clearly needed a rest.

A great campsite all to myself right next to the Clifden suspension bridge.
I felt much better the following morning and had quite a comfortable day's ride into Te Anau with clear skies above.  I had spent some time in Te Anau a couple of years before waiting for weather to clear for two major trips, one into Milford Sound and the other to Doubtful Sound in a kayak.  This time I had only one trip planned, a dive to the depths of Milford Sound.  It was to be a predictably beautiful and eventful couple of days.

A nice spot for lunch in Manapouri, about 20Km south of Te Anau.