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The New Year

Greener Pastures

Our trip back from Queenstown was a bit difficult. It would be a real disservice to imply that John and I had relocated around the world without any stress. It would also not be fair to say that we have found everything perfect here. Lots of our American friends questioned the wisdom of moving somewhere we had never been. Interestingly the Irish friends didn't think it that odd. We certainly weren't the first to make such a big move to a new place, unseen. After all many folks moved to America, without visiting. This had been John's dream for many years. We had done so much research and we had talked to so many folks. No one ever said a negative word about the place. And of course everything we read about the cycling was incredibly positive.

New Zealand is a hikers paradise. There are places to hike everywhere, and the scenery is incredible. There is an amazing hut system in place, so it is possible to hike all over without a tent. The huts vary in level of facilities and price. The most expensive huts are found on the great walks, and have gas cooking facilities, coal stoves for heating, flush toilets, and bunkrooms with mattresses. These huts must be prebooked, so you are guaranteed a bed when booked. An annual pass gets one access to all the other huts, which are a bit less well equipped. When do walks other than Great Walks, it is necessary to carry a stove, and a thermarest might come in handy if all the mattresses are taken.

And have I mentioned the scenery? Riding offroad is also pretty awesome. We've found wonderful quiet gravel roads through forestry areas, and truly remote lands. There is a lot of single track, although we are just finding some of it, we are assured there is plenty more. The emphasis on mountain biking in the immediate area is definitely on the mountain - many of the trails are outrageously steep - up and down. There are a lot of folks into downhilling in the area, and thanks to all the logging and forestry here, firebreaks provide some pretty good downhill routes!

The roads here are wide by Irish standards, but are still mostly 2 lanes. As they cross the mountains, they are quite twisty and make for great fun on a bike, with one exception. They are major highways! These same roads that should be ideal for riding are the ones the trucks use to haul logs, and petrol, and milk, and furniture, and everything else, and the same ones that tourists driving rental motorhomes use to access some faraway place, and the same ones that locals in a hurry use to get anywhere. And the speed limit on open roads (anywhere outside of a city) is 100 kph - regardless of the appropriateness. So the twisty mountain road has a speed limit sign indicating 100 kph speed limit. Now the road code says you are supposed to drive appropriate for conditions, but you won't get a speeding ticket for driving 80 kph when it is only appropriate to do 50, because the speed limit is 100! And folks here drive fast, and many drive recklessly. One of the truly sad sights along the roads is so many roadside memorials for some loved one killed on the road. Many of the accidents involve just a single car and are likely excessive speed. The newspapers here are filled with stories about the road toll, and amazingly they don't seem to get why it is so high!

So we have discovered one of the downsides of a low population density is less roads, and less roads mean sharing with high speed traffic - since there are no alternatives for us or them. The other issue for us is lack of loops. To do a loop, we might need to ride 300 km! We've found a couple of small loops around here, but we were a bit spoilt in New England with so many possibilities. We could do a different medium length loop ride every day for a couple of weeks! John is adjusting to the idea of out and back rides, but there are a limited number of those too. And then there is the scale. It can be 100 km between points of civilisation. It's very important when driving to pay attention to the fuel gauge, because it really can be 100km to the next petrol station. For a poor cyclist, who likes stopping at cafés, this can be hard. So while we love hiking and offroad riding, we are road cyclists at heart, and the road cycling here is just not ideal. So here you have it. Our paradise is missing something. Greener Pastures and all that.

As we travelled around trying to decide where to live, we realised it was going to be about compromise. The places with the best jobs didn't have the best weather or riding. We did not come here to advance our careers in the software industry. We came, as so many do, for the lifestyle. So there was really very little question of living in a place with good jobs, but not so good conditions for play. So it really was pretty easy for us to pick the place with the best weather, but we were starting to worry about paying bills down the road, and if we'd ever again be able to afford to travel overseas. And since the road cycling isn't ideal here, we'd likely want to go to places where it is good!

So this has been bubbling up from time to time, and each of us has tried to suppress our dissatisfaction. This was such a big dream and such a big move that we had a hard time dealing with the possibility that it might not work out so well. And we were homesick. We missed many of our favourite rides and destinations and mostly our friends. We've been trying to stay in touch, but it's not the same.

So we spent most of the drive home and a few days after that hashing out all of it. Well, I'm happy to report that our relationship has survived this test. And we've decided on a two to three year plan. We are going to see and do everything we can - concentrating on the best New Zealand has to offer (so probably lots of mountain biking and hiking). And in a couple of years we will reassess, and maybe head home to New England. Of course, it may be a very different world by that time, so we'll have to see what happens.

Oh yeah, home to New England may surprise some, who heard me say prior to coming here, that if it didn't work out, we'd likely go somewhere different. Well there is nothing like not having something to make you appreciate it even more. Well we've really come to appreciate all the great things we left, and even though neither of us is a native New Englander, we have realised that it is home. So to all our friends back there, please take good care of it for us, and don't fail to appreciate all it has to offer.

Now, all that said, we do not regret coming here. And we've come to the conclusion that we still might have made the move even with a prior visit. There is an awful lot that you don't see on holiday, that you find out in day to day life. Any married couple will tell you that life after marriage is different from when they were dating. And I still advise folks who have similar dreams to take the leap!

Ah but enough of this philosophical stuff. We are seriously out of shape, and have a big hiking trip coming up soon. Our first visitor is coming in a few weeks. When we told various friends of our plans to move around the world, many said they would come visit - and we have set up a guest room - so we expect folks to come. Well, Susan Lowery, decided to make the trip before we'd even left! We decided to do a couple of tramps together. Tramp is kiwi-speak for backpacking. Susan actually didn't just come to New Zealand to see us. Her main purpose was to climb Mt. Aspiring. Seeing us was just icing on the cake! And the tramps were to help get her in shape for the big climb. Well we needed to get in shape for the tramp. Fortunately, this place is a walker's paradise. We had heaps of great walks to do out our front door, so we started trying to do more long walks, since we only had two weeks left to get ready!

We rang in the new year hours and hours before any of our friends. Here in the southern hemisphere, of course, it is summer, and we sat out on our deck, and toasted a new life in a new world, in shorts. And then of course I had to send email, gloating about it! The next day, we went for a walk up the Grampians Hill. It's one of the highest nearby points and has a television mast on top, as well as an incredible view. There was a concert going on in a park down in town, so we had musical accompaniment all the way up! We actually got back into town just as a bike race was finishing up in the centre! We'd totally forgotten. Oh well, next year!

We also took advantage of our new van, and did a few rides with remote starts, as we explored the Queen Charlotte Drive, and the road out to French Pass. Both are areas we want to get back to for several days for much more exploring, and we will soon, but we need to walk more now.

There are several routes up the Grampians, so a few days after our first time climbing it, we did a long hike to go up from the far side. It is like a totally different world there, as it is more rainforest like from that side. We managed to do a few more walks up various hills around town to try and break in our hiking boots as well as getting into shape.

In between walks, we worked on the shed...

Our house is too small - plain and simple. In Chelmsford, we had a giant basement, where we kept all the bikes, skis, outdoor stuff and tools. We have no basement here. And while we have the same number of rooms otherwise, they are smaller. So part of our time has been spent trying to find room for everything. We do have a giant deck, and kept bikes and assorted thing on it for a while, but decided it wasn't the best idea to leave the bikes on the deck while away for a couple of weeks. For Christmas, we piled them all in the kitchen, but this is not a good long term solution. So we built a shed in the carport. And I should let John describe the ordeal of building this shed, but I'll just say that it is a steel shed that is pop-riveted together with no less than 3,000 rivets. And the instructions, while likely written by a native English speaker, left a bit to be desired. Lots of energy and swearing, and drilling went into this beast. And on more than one occasion, we had to drill out rivets, and start over! We got the last bit put together just before heading out to meet Susan.

And when not working on the shed, or walking, I was actually doing a little work. Back before Christmas, I stopped in a local shop asking if they needed Christmas help. Turned out they wanted a website - so I built one for them.

So with the shed built, and bikes locked inside, we caught a flight to Queenstown for two weeks of vacation! Be sure to read about Tramping with Susan.

Christmas