Returning to New Zealand for a summertime trip would be the cherry on top of our 2018. Our love for the South Island and its inhabitants grew even fonder through this visit. The natural beauty of this blooming island paired with the Kiwi spirit for the outdoors you understand how the passion for adventure lives here.
Our route to the Southern Hemisphere would give us a brief 12-hour layover in Hong Kong. There was no way in hell we'd be spending twelve hours in an airport after a 12-hour flight and before another 12-hour flight, we took a quick shower, dropped our bags, drank some Fivebucks, and jumped on an express train into the city.
Hong Kong and China would be firsts for us. We were excited to see the new and the strange but quickly understood we were the strangers here. The sleep deprivation was already setting in when we met our guide for an afternoon walking and food tour. Thankfully our guide kept the pace fairly quick so not to give the two space cadets following him any reason to pass out in their soup.
We ate pretty safe on the tour. When the guide initially asked if we eat "anything" we quickly responded yes. With a little more thought we realized how silly that must have been coming from westerners. The snake soup, cold chicken feet, and other delicacies will have to wait for another time. Our appetite was a bit limited by our state of delirium so the Dim Sum, noodles, and soy desserts would have to suffice. The food portion of our tour didn’t pan out as the Food Channel episode I had dreamed it to be. I had imagined this grand sampling of the city's best food, but I had grossly mismanaged my expectations. Live and learn.
The more significant portion of the tour gave us a quick and dirty view into the lifestyles of locals living outside the perspective of a tourist like me. We used every possible mode of public transportation in Hong Kong to explore the wildest markets and cramped living situations in the city. The sights, sounds, and smells around every corner had somehow twisted our senses. I would confusingly stare over and over again at the scene of cages, tanks, and hooks until it would finally dawn on me that I was looking at a tongue, stomach, leg or pile of frogs. Eye catching to say the least. By the time our tour had wrapped up, the effects of jet lag had taken over. We were grateful to have had the time we had in Hong Kong, it was the prefect way to see the city and eat up a long layover. The moment had come to make our way back to the airport for another refresh before boarding our next flight at midnight.
The feeling of nostalgia came over us as we flew over the west coast of the south island and directly over Mt. Cheeseman on our final approach to CHCH. Returning to New Zealand always seems to bring on the feelings of excitement and anxiety. The excitement of knowing what good times are ahead of you here while the anxiety quietly builds knowing you'll have to leave this place behind once again. We’re not really good at goodbyes.
New Zealand was having a slow start to summer, so we brought the sun with us and arrived on a gorgeous bluebird day in CHCH. Cam and his son Joe welcomed us at the airport where we caught up as old friends do and made our way to the apartment we'd rented for the next few days.
Those next few days were a blur of jet lag, nagging colds, and mist. Not a figurative mist, a literal, it's not raining, but I'm soaked mist. We had a delirium induced pity party ride right off the bat on Christmas day. At the end of that first ride, the trail would probably have been described as uphill the entire way, wet, cold, hard, stupid, and dumb. Had we come all this way for nothing? I think we were tired and New Zealand wasn't going to give up the goods that easy. We practiced some patience and adjusted our attitudes with one more day of lift-served riding at the Christchurch Adventure Park before making our way into the Craigieburn Mountains.
We pulled off the West Coast Highway and through the Mt. Cheeseman Ski Area gate when all the emotions and memories start. It felt good to be back and to be having more adventures in this special place — especially adventures on bikes. Heidi's chest cold, jet lag combo was restricting her breathing and wearing her patience thin. Meaning the grind to Middle Hut from Texas Flats would typically only be a dozy for me was now a double dozy. At the top, a gentleman I had seen earlier riding down the trail was now making his way back toward the trailhead where we were preparing for our descent down Cockayne Alley. He passed asking if we'd ridden this trail before and made it clear it was steep. I judged. His bike was in my opinion not equipped for an "expert" trail and I shrugged off his warning. Besides, the other rider who we pedaled up with didn't say anything about the trail being unrideable. We set off down the trail loving the speed and flow of the trail. After a quick stop for a stoke check, I pedaled off making a smart comment about the steepness of the trail and with two more pedal strokes had immediately regretted talking shit. The lack of summer weather and the abundance of rain had done us wrong. The wet dirt and roots had turned every surface you'd use for traction getting downhill into a greasy slip n' slide down the mountain. Yes, a steep slip n' slide. The mud quickly caked into our tire tread rendering an essential part of traction control useless over the wet roots. Our shoes now acting as skates made walking the steep, narrow terrain a test of will. The downhill progression shifted into survival mode; we left some blood and tears out on the hill that morning. At the bottom when we both laughed at the hilarity of our latest folly (dumb idea), it was all worth it. Tomorrow would be a better day.
The best of the best from Cheeseman had rallied up to Skyline Lodge for an evening of dinner and catching up, so we hustled up the access road and down memory lane. The night was a perfect homecoming surrounded by people we love the most from this special place. We had been here before, this same scene, and it felt good to be back around the stove or standing in the kitchen shooting the shit with the chefs. It was a textbook night at Cheeseman, minus the dancing and cheese toasties. Next time. We love you all, thanks for a great time!
The sun was out, and we were feeling good about our next ride in the Craigieburn. The weather had shifted more into summer the last couple of days, so our attitudes were also brightening. We climbed the Craigieburn Valley access road to the Edge trail where we'd meet the Luge trail that would lead us back to the car. The Edge was a rad 4 km traverse across a single narrow track with steep rock gardens/debris piles peppered in for good measure. From the Edge, we pushed up to the start of the Luge and found it to be the most fun we'd had yet. Somehow the damp dirt and dryish roots were the perfect combos for allowing a high-speed descent down a reasonably rugged trail. Feeling good about our riding and being a bit more in tune with the time change we drove over Arthur's Pass towards the sleepy but wild West Coast.
The Old Ghost Road would be the highlight of our trip, and with the company we had along, potentially one of our best complete riding experiences to date. We'd ride for two days to finish the 85km trail. Day one would be a 30km climb to the Ghost Lake Hut where we'd sleep for the night. Day two would be a 55km effort (generally downhill?) through the most exciting and stunning singletrack anywhere. It was that classic battle between wanting to stop and soak up the views versus nonstop charging down the hill. Bike riding would win this battle again!
It's hard to imagine the colors, plants, and views that make this ride so unique. The shades of green and yellow under the forest canopy are stunning, your focus on riding was being challenged with every turn. When suddenly around the next corner, you'll find yourself riding over a suspension bridge that's carefully situated high above the Mokihinui river cutting through the valley floor. It’s simply a magical experience for anyone who loves riding bikes.
The 3300 meters for climbing was taking it’s toll on our bodies but our spirits were high as we finished the second day. Dreaming of nachos and cold beer were the only things that got me through the last 3km of the ride. As the buzz wore off during the long shuttle back to our cars it would be decided that this was one for the books.
Nelson is a mountain bikers paradise. It's worthy of its popularity for a few good reasons. The trails system is superbly organized, the trails are built for everyone to enjoy no matter how rad you are, and the trails overlook the coast. It doesn't get much better. Cait and Brad live in Richmond just outside Nelson, we like Brad and Cait and like spending time with them. So for the final three days of our trip, we spent the days riding our bikes, sailing the high seas and enjoying the great company of friends. Our time in Nelson helped re instill our love for life in the mountains and the passions we seek in the hills, but ultimately our time in Nelson was significant because we were sharing it with people we love, doing the things we love to do in our lives. This trip to New Zealand was a great reminder of how vital surrounding ourselves with positive, kind people who share similar passions in life is essential to our happiness. Cait, Brad, you’re the best, thanks for being who you are!