Tag Archives: annual

The 2017 Letter – Just A Little Late

Predictably, the end of the year got busy – organising Christmas surprises is rather more fun and pressing than putting musings of the previous year through the keyboard. After spending most of the year, for various reasons, saying I was not coming home for consecutive Christmases, I got everything lined up and duly arrived in Oamaru for the festive season. Somehow I’d managed to keep the secret, and there was much surprise and many hugs – so much fun, although I don’t imagine I can pull off such a coup again.

Making a surprise visit does make it difficult to plan other activities for the rest of the stay – but it worked out well with lovely time with family, much food and drink and managing to get out bikepacking for a few days over various passes I’d had my eye on for a while – more on that in another post. Biking and traveling at that time of year does give plenty of opportunity to consider the year past and the one to come.

Looking back on 2016’s missive, 2017 did not have such momentous biking or family events – but it was still exceptional and with all sorts of wonderful things going on.

First bikepacking trip was whipping through the Alps2Ocean with Adele in two and a half days – ably supported, and ridden in parts, by Mum and Dad.

Living in Napier continues to be delight me. I enjoyed much time walking, biking and generally exploring the surrounds. With my house within easy walking distance of the city centre and many attractions, there’s never a shortage of places to wander and things to see. I particularly enjoyed my first proper taste of the Art Deco festival – even if it was curtailed a little by unseasonably wet weather.

A big dress-up party for the whole city for days – brilliant fun!

The odd local bikepacking overnighter kept my hand in, as did the occasional sortie on gravel roads out in the hills. There’s still plenty more to explore, many places left to bike. Somehow I ended up competing in the local winter cyclocross series – on my full-suspension mountain bike. It was even muddy. To my surprise, I did enough in the first three races to win the B Grade series (skipping the final race as biking in Rotorua is so much more fun!) – turns out big chunky tyres are useful in such conditions, who knew?

Seven thousand kilometres per year on various bikes seems to be the norm now, achieving that mark for the fourth consecutive year (2016 being bigger with the 3000 km Tour Aotearoa blip); well pleased to be able to spend so much time outside doing one of the things I love most. With the MTB park at work closed for a lot of the year after extensive storm damage, there were many rides up and down Te Mata Peak – always worth it for the ever-changing view. The descents are rather fun too.

If I can see this hill from my house, surely I can see my house from this hill??

I didn’t take a lot of leave from work during the year, preferring to save it for when I really want to take it. But two visits from family were definitely such times. Mum and Dad’s getting-close-to-annual winter visit was the most fun yet – the highlight getting away for a few days to the remote and hilly north-east Manawatu to stay on a big sheep station; the bike ride was pretty cool too. After two years, Adele and James finally visited for early-Christmas (I managed to get through that week without letting slip that I’d see them in less than two weeks) and it was a busy six days of biking, walking, seeing sights, eating, drinking and generally enjoying the company of loved ones.

Beach walks with parents – not so hilly.

I finally made it to Cape Kidnappers. It’s quite a long, flat, hard walk – but the views make up for it on a hot summer’s day.

Continuing to host the occasional cycle tourist through warmshowers, I got inspired early in the year to start hosting AirBnB guests. As well as bringing in a bit of extra money for home maintenance, it’s nice to sometimes have a bit of company in the house – as with the cycle tourists, it’s also great to hear accents from around the globe. Traveling abroad without leaving home in some ways.

I’ve enjoyed slowly learning various home maintenance tasks. AirBnB was very busy early on and helped to fund the major house maintenance and improvements of the year – a large scaffold for me to paint the north wall over two busy weeks and to have the window I’d been thinking about for two years installed. Well pleased with the result, & surprised that I rather enjoyed the painting (I did get to listen to a lot of audiobooks). I just have to wait for winter to see the real effect of the new window.

Yes, it is a house. But it’s in better condition than it was before.

Consistently challenged and inspired towards small steps of self-improvement in a way I didn’t expect made for an interesting year and opens up all sorts of things. The most unexpected was the difference making my diet a lot healthier had on my bikepacking. I signed up to the Mega Grind keen to do 800 km of bikepacking in an area of the North Island that I’d spent little time – despite being so close to where I grew up, and not far from my first job. It certainly delivered in that respect with fantastic North Island hilly terrain, coastal view and gravel roads.

What I was not expecting was the profound difference losing five or so kilograms of unnecessary mass would do to my biking. Previously, I’d been pleased with my ~180 km/day average on the Tour Aotearoa . Suddenly, with no real difference in preparation, bike or gear carried, I finished the event averaging 250 km/day! What in the how? Carrying less mass, and being able to bike stronger for longer was a revelation that quickly had me pondering what else I may be able to achieve. I’m excited to find out. Also, I’m no longer content with a sixteen day finish on the TA – I may have to go back sooner than previously anticipated.

Just a few days later I was back in Rotorua for a completely different kind of bike event – the Singlespeed World Championships. Really it’s just a big fancy dress party of five hundred people on mountain bikes with only one gear. And beer. What’s not to like? A complete blast with friends old and new.

Which rather leaves this year to consider. Excitingly, there are plenty of new things to learn, develop and be challenged by. With a few visits of family and friends on the cards, I’ll be happy to mostly stick around exploring home and the vicinity – with perhaps just one or two forays further afield. There’s plenty more strength to be gained, all in the name of riding slightly further and a little faster to explore more new places; I’d really like to do a different bikepacking event of over a thousand kilometres. With none of those on offer in NZ this year, that may take me to one of a few abroad I’ve got my eyes on to really put me outside my comfort zone.

Most definitely excited to find what this year holds, I hope it’s great for you too.

The Christmas Letter 2016

Once again, I try to look back on the year. 2016 has definitely been momentous in many ways and on the whole, another excellent year. I’m still loving life in Napier, my work is great overall, having my own house is fantastic and I’m riding bikes plenty (with twelve days to go, I’m rapidly closing in on 10,000 km for the year – easily my biggest year ever; half of that is commuting to work).

The year started off with a couple of overnight bikepacking trips as some form of light training. This one riding the gravel road from Wairoa past Lake Waikaremoana towards Rotorua.

I also persuaded Steve to join me on a great local ride to Everett’s Campsite for another overnighter. The hills back there are well worth seeing and riding.

That and commuting to work was basically my preparation for my Tour Aotearoa attempt. Mum & Dad came up to Napier and dropped me off at Cape Reinga – the goal being to ride 3000 km to Bluff self-supported on a new route that was a mixture of as many cycle trails and backroads as possible (two-hundred odd others were also doing this). It was a grand adventure and I was thrilled with all I saw, the experiences I had and how I rode – finishing two days sooner than I needed to, in sixteen days, overcoming some horrendous weather and slight illness to do so.

Crossing the Hokianga to Rawene – I was feeling far less than brilliant and rested/was sick for a couple of hours in the heat. I got better.

The Timber Trail in the Central North Island was a highlight, even in the early morning mist. I must return.

Much to my surprise, my favourite day was through northern Manawatu. So close to where I went to university – yet I’d never been there, the rural landscape was sensational. The hilly gravel roads were excellent too.

Another highlight was staying overnight in the remote old gold mining area of Big River; even better because best-sister Adele joined me for a couple of days.

The West Coast Wilderness Trail is also on the must-return-to list, as it’s supposed to be beautiful – but it sparked the start of about four-hundred kilometres of rain for me, so I didn’t see much.

After freezing riding up the Cardrona Valley, being blown by a storm to Mossburn and then battling the same storm (reduced to pushing my bike alongside a flat highway into 120 km/hr winds) I was well pleased and satisfied to finish in 16.1 days.

It took quite some time to recover from that; I kept riding to work, but I was eating five meals a day for weeks afterwards – on the ride, I lost about four kilograms that I didn’t really have spare!

My winter break was a week down in Central Otago for Adele & James’s wedding. A fantastic time of family, friends, celebration, beautiful scenery and good food. I loved it.

Perhaps my only bikepacking event for this season, was a very enjoyable four days on backroads around Rotorua. It was fascinating returning to an area near where I grew up and seeing it from the different perspectives that a bike and being older give.

Still recovering from 550 km of riding in four days, came the sudden (but ultimately unsurprising) news of the passing of my grandfather (the last of my grandparents to go). Thus set in motion a whirlwind November. One weekend I was in Sydney for the funeral (it went as well as could be expected), then back to work for a blur of a week, before being back in Australia the next weekend for a long planned trip seeing best-friends from Canada (who were back for a family wedding). A month after all that, it still looms large.

We stayed at Arapiles, where Adele joined me for the renowned rock-climbing (it was quite a family & friends month). I almost popped my other shoulder and swore off rock-climbing forever. I didn’t sleep much camping in the west-Victorian weather, but it was a great trip.

I did, of course, take a bike and managed a great day’s gravel riding in Grampians National Park.

Later this week I head south for two weeks with my family – I’m really looking forward to it. While generally quiet, which is how I tend to like it, 2016 has proved to have its share of momentous occasions and has been one of the best yet. I’m eagerly looking forward to next year and seeing what it holds. There are no fixed plans, but it promises to be another great year in Hawke’s Bay, exploring a little further afield, work will be busy and challenging, and I sure hope for plenty of riding, in different places, with whoever will come along for it.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – do come and visit Napier if you’re so inclined.

The Christmas Letter 2015

Looking back at this year, I can safely say it’s worked out better than I imagined it would when, in last year’s Christmas missive, I wrote: “I’ll slowly start looking for a job in the new year, hoping to find one that means I can live in a large town/small city that has easy access to good mountain-biking – I think then there would be a chance I may be able stay still for a while and not spend so much time and money on travelling…”!

As it turns out, I did rather slowly, in fits & starts, look for a job at the beginning of the year. I was rather picky in what I was applying for, so I had plenty of time to spend time with family, ride bikes, visit friends and travel a little around NZ. Highlights before starting a job were:

My first brevet – the Kiwi Brevet – 1150 km of self-supported riding around the top of the beautiful South Island. I was pleased to finish in a few hours short of seven days.

A bit of time in and around Wellington catching up with friends and family – with some bikepacking thrown in to keep the legs happy/wrecked. The photo above from an excellent day’s ride around the coast from Wellington to Martinborough – a spectacular coastline so close to the capital.

A few weeks further up the North Island meant a bit more easy bike touring visiting friends and family, a quick trip over to Sydney to see family (particularly my aging grandfather) and an excellent wedding of family friends over Easter.

Two trips to Westport to visit Adele in her home-for-now were of course filled with plenty of adventure: caving, hiking, and more biking. This picture from the spectacular Old Ghost Road trail – which has since been completed, I’m very much looking forward to riding it in its entirety.

This photo from the other memorable ride from those trips – the Heaphy Track. It’s spectacular! Disappointed not to be able to ride the whole thing due to weather at the first attempt, the two-day Heaphy-Double James & I did was great fun and slightly-epic.

During the second Westport trip I’d secured a job as a process engineer again – it ticked all my most important boxes: in a plant that makes something, a good small city (Napier) to live in, some mountain-biking and a feasible bike-commute. So after quite a few months enjoying staying with Mum & Dad in their new home and exploring the area, I moved north to become a North Islander again.

Just like that I’ve settled into a strangely normal non-wandering life. I’m liking the work (it’s still novel after five months); disturbingly quickly I bought a house; this city is great with its climate, history and beautiful art deco; the local produce and wine is exceptional – along with the Farmers Markets; there is mountain-biking next door to work and plenty of gravel roads to explore in the hills. Much to my surprise, I found Italian language lessons locally – so that’s a complete bonus. I’m still a little amazed it’s worked out this well so far.

Arranging the purchase of my first home-of-my-own and then moving in and furnishing it has taken much of the last few months. Well worth it though – I can have visitors!

A few pictures from around home:

Probably the most astonishing news of my year is that which sees me now own a road bike. It’s great for the commute, but I’m still to be won over for distances longer than that. I only really post it here so Grandad may see it, although I may have left it too late for him to comprehend; not that I’ll ever get to his standard of extreme road adventures.

That’s about my year. Not too much on the horizon for next year (except one ride I signed up for without really considering the consequences of doing so) – still enjoying having a place to call home and not having a great desire to travel some distance at every opportunity. Assuredly, there will be bike adventures to be had and I’m hoping for at least a couple of trips south.

Merry Christmas to all (although I’m struggling to believe it’s actually Christmas) and all the best for the coming year. If it happens to bring you to Napier, get in touch.

The Christmas Letter 2014

It’s that time again when I try to remember where the year has gone and what I’ve been doing. Once again it’s been a rather varied year – with only a couple of lows in between numerous highs.

As the closure of the synthetic rubber factory where I worked for almost three years in the south of England loomed, the first half of the year was rather quiet on the travel front as I tried to save money for the approaching unemployment. While I was never too concerned with how I’d cope with losing my job (other adventures & parts of the world beckoned), it turned out to be very difficult seeing the demise of a plant that had been going for over fifty years and about one hundred and thirty people lose their jobs. The last few months after production ceased were particularly tedious – but I enjoyed throwing myself into my study of the Italian language (which I’d started learning at work at the end of 2013).

The exception to the difficult first seven months of the year with little happening (except riding bikes – I was still doing that, of course; the highlight was finally riding the South Downs Way) was May. Mum visited for almost six weeks and Adele was also over for three weeks of that. There were plenty of little trips here & there, as I tried to show Adele a bit of Europe and a holiday that didn’t include some sort of extreme adventure. Highlights were a long weekend with Mum in Barcelonafive days in Paris with both Mum & Adele; a rushed weekend showing London to Adeletaking Adele up to Scotland to visit a friend and do a little bit of hiking; and finally, a fantastic family wedding in Tuscany – with plenty of enjoyable time with extended family, some sightseeing, great food & wine and some hiking in the Chianti hills.

Tweed RunWe came across the Tweed Run in London. It was all rather odd, but looked a lot of fun.

Glasgow – I was pleasantly surprised to be so impressed.

Ben NevisOn top of the UK – most of the way up Ben Nevis was really nice, it was only a little bleak at the top.

San GimignanoBack in San Gimignano.

Work finally finished at the end of July – I promptly moved back to (the ever dependable and hospitable) cousin Trish’s in London the following day and took ten days preparing for three months of bikepacking (backpacking on a bike – minimal luggage carried compared to traditional cycle touring to enable more off-road riding) of west-Europe, with two months touring Italy being the main goal. I had hoped to do a big cycle tour of Europe in 2015 before moving back to NZ, but with work being what it was the timing changed.

In the end I only managed three weeks and two-thousand kilometres of touring, as I found the wet August and mud in Belgium was not much fun – after a week of that I was getting tired of solo-touring. Having said that, there were plenty of good times and highlights – including some of the people I met along the way; visiting a huge old ironworks in the Saarland (sad, I know); my birthday spent in Strasbourg; the Jura mountains (in France, near the Swiss border) and best of all: crossing the Alps into Italy over the same pass my grandfather rode over on his Euro cycle tour sixty-five years before me – that was a very special & memorable day.

All ready to leave.

I quite liked what I saw of Antwerp.

Another night, another forest, another wild-camp-site.

Strasbourg.

On the shores of Lake Geneva.

Pretty happy to be at Great St Bernard Pass – four hours of steady, but rarely difficult, climbing.

I’d organised (about a week beforehand) to stay a week working on a vineyard in the Aosta Valley (the most north-west province of Italy, in the Alps bordering both Monto Bianco & Monto Rosa) – in exchange for my labour, I would get food & board. I enjoyed the food (so much pasta, cheese, wine, grappa & all manner of things from the garden); the work (it was harvest season – so we mostly picked grapes and I learnt to make wine); trying to practice my Italian speaking; mountain scenery & lifestyle; hiking in the Alps; and most of all, the wonderful people I met and got to know. Although I left to see more of Italy, after a day by myself it seemed rather pointless leaving such good friends (& food) to have to worry where I was going to put my tent each night as the autumn weather deteriorated – so I returned to the vineyard. I ended up staying almost four weeks in total.

A day spent looking at Monto Bianco while we hiked.

If I ever got bored of the work in the vines, the scenery was always worth looking at and appreciating.

All of sudden October was free – so I hastily arranged for another visit to East Africa and close friends Adrian & Carmen, as it’s so much easier & cheaper to visit from London than NZ. Biking around Kilimanjaro was fantastic and we went up to Kenya to visit friends – the camping trip was unusual. I’m still not sure what scared me more – camping with ten children under the age of five or the injured lion we had resident in our campsite for much of the weekend.

Our lion friend for the weekend.

Back in England for November, it was a mixture of winter cycle touring saying goodbye to friends & family in the south & south-west and trying to pack my life up to move back to NZ. It was great to see so many people that have been a big part of my life for the last five or so years, sad to say goodbye of course.

As of December, I’m back in NZ – hopefully for good. For now, I’m enjoying the sudden change from northern winter to southern summer (if you think twenty-four hours in a plane counts as sudden), being with family – especially for Christmas, getting plenty of riding in (it’s easily been my biggest year on a bike ever – approaching 7000 km on my mountain-bikes [of which, I now only have one left – the big heavy touring one]), and generally reacquainting myself with life in NZ.

I’ll slowly start looking for a job in the new year, hoping to find one that means I can live in a large town/small city that has easy access to good mountain-biking – I think then there would be a chance I may be able stay still for a while and not spend so much time and money on travelling…

Thanks to all that were along for the ride (literal or figurative) this year – whether providing food, a bed, travel opportunities, quality mountain-bike rides or simply time. Merry Christmas & a great 2015 to all.