Chapter 2: The Irish Loop

If it’s all about the destination, then take a bloomin’ flight…We’re going nowhere slowly, but we’re seeing all the sights!

wp-1497176203635.jpg

So many songs have been in my head this week, ranging from Oasis “no one saiiid it was gooooing to be eeeassy” to Wicked’s “you and III, we’re defyyyying gravity” and James Taylor “I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain”. A big mix of emotions, but we’re now 318km in so I feel it’s more allowed.

wp-1497176756542.jpg

The Irish Loop has taken us south around the Cape Race peninsula, as seen by the black line on the map above. We set off from Sherry and Kenny in Bay Bulls on a cold, but dry Tuesday morning and had Ferryland in our sites. Kenny had cooked us up some bacon and eggs before setting off and my tyres were still inflated, so we were feeling raring to go. The iceberg in Bay Bulls even gave us a farewell flip before we set off, which was very cool to see happen! The coast coming around Whitless Bay, Cape Broyle and Ferryland is wild and rugged and resembles Scotland in some ways, except for the icebergs in the bays. It was a very hilly cycle, although we were both starting to feel stronger and could stay on the bikes longer. The hill coming out of Cape Broyle was brutal, with a pick-up truck even stopping to offer us a lift. I proudly declined, saying it was good for our legs to keep going… to which Kirsty was a bit annoyed!

wp-1497176281498.jpgwp-1497176252310.jpgwp-1497176290961.jpgwp-1497176259349.jpg

The Irish Loop is so named because of the massive Irish influence and immigration along the coast and in this part of Newfoundland. We were amazed at how strong the accent has stuck through generations of families living here, and sometimes we struggled to understand locals as we would in rural Ireland. We managed to get south of Ferryland to Aquaforte without too much trouble, but as we struggled to find somewhere to set up camp we ended up asking a quiet BnB if we could set up in their garden. As she didn’t have any guests staying she kindly said yes, so it was nice to be somewhere sheltered and safe for the first evening out on the road.

On Wednesday, we set off from Aquaforte, this time with Biscay Bay in our sites. We’d had a dry night but it was still chilly so we aimed for coffee. We’d seen a sign for a cafe the evening before, so were expecting one in about 12km. We rolled in to Renews and were delighted to come across Merrymeeting, a perfect little arts and craft centre run by a man called John. He came out to greet us, wanted to hear our story and let us listen to local music, which sounded like traditional Irish folk music. He offered us fresh crab caught from the harbour, chilli he had on the stove, water with iceberg ice and fresh coffee. Combine all this with the wood burning stove he had on and it was kind of perfection. We reluctantly left after over an hour, and John gave us his card, telling us to call if we had any trouble around the peninsula.

wp-1497176234441.jpg

The cycle south from there flattened out a bit and we cycled through some amazing barron lands. The trees disappeared and we were surrounded by lots of ponds with fishing huts alongside. We had a nice tailwind for most of the way, only really noticing the wind when we stopped for a snack.

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

We had a really enjoyable roll downhill for about 10km in to Portugal Cove South, I genuinely don’t think I pedalled at all! We wasted some time in the Interpretive Centre there, learning about the incredibly old fossils at Mistaken Point and staying out of the wind. The ladies in there even gave us a free coffee. We set off to find somewhere sheltered to camp and got a spot on the hills about Biscay Bay hidden away from the road. It was a beautiful spot but the ticks were a bit rampant.

wp-1497176171245.jpg

We started to get in to a good little routine; setting off around 9.30, cycle for an hour or so, find a cafe for a coffee and some wifi, then cycle the rest of the day ’til we find camp. So on Thursday we set off from Biscay Bay and made our way round to Trepassey. We stopped in for coffee but stayed for a burger and chips! Which was kind of lucky because once we left there we had 40km of headwind through some more barron lands. This was a mission mentally and physically, the wind didn’t let up at all and we didn’t really stop or speak. Kirsty did a slow motion fall along here which had to be the highlight of the day… cycling along at 10kmph, drifting out of concentration, hitting a pothole and ending up on her side. Lucky no vehicles and only a couple of scrapes…plenty of giggles! We stopped for a rest once we came back in to a community and ended up setting up camp as we had ran out of energy. The fog rolled in quickly and the temperature dropped too, we saw some seals jumping and playing in the water and had a chat with a man who was walking his cat. I decided to sleep with my spanner next to my pillow… just in case 😉

wp-1497176193195.jpg

wp-1497191741975.jpg

Friday was a great cycle day. The fog had cleared when we woke up in St Vincent’s and we set off with a tailwind, which we certainly appreciated after the day before. John at Merrymeeting had told us to stop in and see Orla at the postoffice, but unfortunately she was off on her holidays. We carried on to St Mary’s where we stopped in at the Claddagh Inn, a beautiful converted nunnery which was run by a couple who’d previously worked at Machrahanish airbase – such a small world. We also ran in to the couple from Montreal who we’d met on our first night at Cape Spear, so it was lovely to catch up with them again. We had coffee, freshly baked cookies and a shower here… it was amazing! We set off feeling brand new, if it wasn’t for our smelly clothes!

wp-1497176177179.jpg

We cycled for another 5km or so and came across a pub serving lunch, we couldn’t say no after the terrible headwind the day before so we stopped in for “the best fish and chips on the Irish Loop”. It was definitely delicious, and after we got talking to some workmen in there, one gave us $20 to “get ourselves some beer along the way”, and another left his phone number on Kirsty’s bike.. on the back of a cigarette packet.. more giggles for sure.

wp-1497176243022.jpgwp-1497176186963.jpg

We stopped in some woods just outside St Catherine’s for the night around 4pm as we’d already done over 50km without really thinking about it, and didn’t have anywhere to be in a hurry. We’d heard the rain was due to come in so we were keen to get set up before that happened. We got set up in plenty time, but the wind and the rain overnight was horrendous! Kirsty nearly lost her shelter, and the noise of the rain and the wind kept us up all night. One of my bags was pushed against the side of the tent so let in some water, and I was generally not very happy when I “woke up” on Saturday morning.

We’d planned to hide out in our tents ’til the weather passed as it was meant to clear up, but I had serious cabin fever so cycled off in search of cafe options for the morning. I discovered the local one didn’t open til 12, but there was one a 20 minute cycle up the road, not in the direction we were planning to go, but as we were desperate for a warm hideout we headed that way.

Over a coffee, sandwich and sweet potato fries, we decided to change our plans for the next few days as we couldn’t face heading south in to the head wind again. This meant we’d be missing out on the bird colony at Cape St Mary’s, but we were both relieved that we had the same thoughts that heading north would be a nicer option. We also remembered that Stephanie’s parents lived on one of the harbours in that direction, so were so delighted when Stephanie said we’d be welcome to stop in there for the night.

18953364_428772770825821_3525618510650354871_o

We cycled north with the wind at our backs and our moods definitely lifted. We stopped in at Salmonier nature park, the province’s sanctuary for injured animals. It was free to wander around and we saw a snowy owl, caribou, moose and arctic foxes. Not quite as cool as seeing them in the wild, but at least we now know what to look for! The wind turned once we crossed the highway, and we had a beautiful (but hilly and headwindy) cycle around to Conception Harbour. We were greeted with smiles and lasagne, and were so happy not to be setting the tents up in the wind. We’ve taken the opportunity to wash our clothes, and are actually staying on for a second night as we couldn’t say no to a family barbeque this afternoon. Our plan is to set off with fresh heads in the morning, exploring some more of this northern peninsula, before heading south to Placentia where we have organised a Workaway on a bee farm for a few days.

It’s easy to focus on your negative thoughts, telling yourself the challenge ahead is too big for you, and it would be oh so much simpler to just catch a flight home and cosy up on the couch. But, really, we’ve had it pretty easy so far and with a bit of reflection the “challenges” don’t seem so big. The positives have been huge, meeting some amazing, kind people, experiencing beautiful coast lines and eating delicious fries with dressing and gravy. The journey ahead is still daunting, but I plan to make the most of the adventure, and continue to cycle with the wind at my back and sun on my face.

DCIM100GOPRO

Advertisements

Chapter 1: Newfogland

It’s been less than 60km of riding and it’s already super hard! I’ve had a big dose of reality sent my way, and have (hopefully, finally) learnt to properly change a tyre.

We had a very smooth start leaving the airport, the task ahead seemed big but mostly exciting and the upcoming adventure softened the sad “see you soon”s. Getting the bikes on the plane was simple (and free!) and leg one went without a hitch. We had to pass through immigration during transit in Halifax, and as there were two Kirsty Blacks on the system we were slowed down a bit. We missed the luggage carousel to put our bikes on, so had to go back through oversized luggage. The bike boxes wouldn’t fit through the scanner so we had to unpack them for inspection, but even that went super smoothly and we weren’t in a rush so there was no stress at all.

Leg two to St John’s was also very smooth, and setting up the bikes in arrivals attracted us some good attention. Everyone was amazed at what we were setting off to do. We cycled out of the airport (on the right hand side of the road) and made our way to Dom and Stephanie’s house. Dom used to work with my brother Robbie, and had very kindly said we could stay with them for a couple of nights to get ourselves sorted. Kirsty’s chain fell off the derailer at the first intersection, and my front wheel was more than a little wobbly when we pulled up at their door, but all in all it was pretty good.

On Friday morning, we headed to the local bike shop (Canary Cycles) as we’d arranged to pick up some spare parts. We had originally planned to cycle across the whole of Newfoundland, following the East to West spirit. However, Flora and Don in the bike shop quickly told us how miserable this would be as we’d be cycling along a motorway for two weeks, just surrounded by trees and swamps. They suggested cycling around the perimiter of the Avalon Peninsula instead, which brings in a more scenic journey and takes us to a different ferry which lands at the same spot in Nova Scotia. So we’re doing that. We booked on the first available ferry, which “unfortunately” isn’t until the 17th June, so we had two weeks to cycle about 400km.

After a great sunny drive around St John’s and the surrounding areas with Dom and their beautiful toddler Seth, we stocked up on more camping gear and tried to get our heads in the game for setting off on Saturday. We went for a trip up Signal Hill and checked out the Terry Fox memorial, both very cool on a sunny evening.

IMG_20170602_135245472_HDRIMG_20170602_132335074_HDRIMG_20170602_13372415218838398_10158941382545226_311238874_oIMG_20170602_205319623_HDR

Saturday rolled around and Kirsty and I worked together to change my new tyres… and one hour later we were done. We cycled to the supermarket to stock up on food for biking and camping, then said some sad farewells to Dom, Stephanie and Seth.

The first cycle off was a mission. Kirsty was more mentally prepared than me, but I was taken aback by how wobbly the bike felt with all the weight. It was near impossible to cycle uphill, and pushing it wasn’t much easier at all. Downhill through the city was terrifying too, so we pretty much walked our bikes out of St John’s. We were aiming for Cape Spear, the most easterly point in Canada (and North America) and our official starting point. It was 18km to get there and felt mostly uphill. We both had to walk the majority of them, and the mammoth size of the task ahead hit me like a brick. 12km in and my back tyre was flat…I’m still so proud that I didn’t actually cry. Thank goodness for Kirsty and her positivity to keep me from booking a flight home then and there. (Over-reactions much!!) We managed to get it changed on the side of the road, with a couple of cars stopping to offer help – one of them even offering his house up the road if we needed it.

DCIM100GOPROIMG_20170603_205758421

We managed to cycle on until we reached the lighthouse.. not that we could see it through all the fog. We did see a coyote in the car park though. We camped up at Cape Spear for the night, cooking dinner in the rain and listening for coyotes. We woke up on Sunday morning raring to go, officially starting the East to West journey. It was foggy, damp and cold, and I had to keep focusing on the next 5 minutes only as I panicked if I even thought about the next hour, never mind the next day. “Be In The Present Moment” was my mantra for the morning.

IMG_20170604_085237512

We both felt heaps stronger than the night before, and could cycle up more and more hills. I learnt that it was actually easier for my body and mind to stay on the bike rather than getting off to push. After about an hour, we reached Petty Harbour where we came for lunch on Friday with Dom and Seth. We stopped in for a coffee at the Watershed Cafe to escape the fog and rain, and were greeted by the friendliest staff and customers. After hiding in there for over an hour, we had a list of camp spots from another customer, and a free cookie from the owner. While in there, we also had a text from Stephanie to say she had a friend in Bay Bulls, and when we messaged Sherry to say about stopping to say hello she immediately invited us to stay.

The cycle south from Petty Harbour to Bay Bulls was pretty good, the only scary thing was getting used to being on busy roads as drivers on Newfoundland aren’t too used to bikes. Most gave us plenty of room though, and we just had to concentrate hard to stay in a straight line. We came in to Bay Bulls as the sun was coming out, and after a little explore of the harbour and awing at the resident iceberg we made our way over to Sherry’s. And just as we were arriving my tyre went flat again… WAH

IMG_20170604_142634209

We were shown more Canadian kindness and were given showers, washing machine use and a warm bed for the night. The rain came in a lot so we were very thankful not to be in the tents. I repaired the tubes and tried pumping them up again, but sadly they were flat again within a couple of hours. As the tyre and rim were good as new, I guessed I was doing something wrong when changing the tubes.. so sadly made a plan to go back to the bike shop in the morning. We went over to the neighbours house, where they had an outdoor fire inside a gazebo overlooking the harbour, pretty beautiful.

And now it’s Monday. We woke up to heavier rain than yesterday, and it hasn’t stopped yet. We headed back in to St John’s in Kenny’s car (another Canadian kindness) and got the tube sorted pretty easily. The bike shop man (Don) confirmed it was catching when I was changing them, so gave me some advice to stop it happening it again. As the rain still hasn’t stopped, Sherry and Kenny have offered for us to stay another night to stay dry. So we’re repacking, oiling gears and pumping up tyres! Getting ready to set off with fresh heads (and dry gear!) in the morning.

350km to the ferry and 11 days to do it…although it feels like a slow start, I am certainly grateful for this forced time to iron out all the creases and get used to the bikes.

I ironed my cape especially

Guest post featured on “Runstoppable”

When you find yourself surrounded with inspirational people, you often have to step up your game. Which is why I found myself ironing my yellow, starry superhero cape last Saturday evening. It was the night before China Round the Bays in Wellington, and Achilles International New Zealand is the main charity for the third year running.
For those who don’t know, Achilles is an international organisation which provides running support and training opportunities for people with any scope of disability. One of the organisation’s main goals is to get those with disabilities involved in mainstream running events. Cigna Wellington Round the Bays is a landmark event for Achilles International NZ and athletes and guides from all around the country gather in the capital for the event.

The weekend started with a pasta party hosted at the Southern Cross bar in Wellington. It was a great opportunity for all the Cigna and Achilles team to get together, mix and mingle and talk strategy for the next day. Saying that, I’m pretty sure I saw a couple of athletes at the bar drinking French martinis and others reminiscing about the recent New York marathon very enthusiastically, so I’m not sure how much strategy talk was happening.

Cigna Round the Bays was celebrating it’s 40th year this year, and as usual there was a 21.1km, 10km or 6.5km that athletes could choose to run, walk, hop, wheel or hand cycle. I was taking part as a second guide for blind runner Ali, along with her number 1 guide Matt. Ali is totally blind so requires a tether to run with a main guide giving instruction on any obstacles or direction. A second guide is helpful at busy events such as this to help clear the way and allow the first guide to concentrate on the terrain.


Race day came and I’m lucky (?) to live 4km along the course from the start, so as I walked/jogged my way round in the morning I was greeted by troops of Cigna staff, volunteers and army cadets setting up the first few aid stations. Pretty early start for those guys! They’d also be out until the last entrant came through, likely 12 or 1pm, so a long day too.

I arrived to a swarm of yellow (Achilles) and blue (Cigna) t-shirts at the  VIP tent, made a beeline to the coffee stand and started to get pumped for the event. The organisation was so smooth and everyone so relaxed. It was also great to meet a few more Achilles members from around the country, and catch up with some familiar faces.

It wasn’t long before we were rushing from the toilet queue to the start line, making it just in time for a head to toe “feel good” check before the horn sounded and we were off. There were 0000 people doing the half marathon, so it took a little while to cross the line. It was Ali’s first half marathon, so our main goal was to get to the finish line but we were hoping to get there in around 2 hours 15/2 hours 20. We weaved in and out of the sea of runners, me acting as body guard and Matt pulling Ali left or right … All the while giving the opposite direction verbally. You’d think knowing your lefts and rights would be a prerequisite to guiding, but Matt has seemed to get away with it for quite a number of years now.


We found ourselves pushing forward at a decent pace, conscious though that we didn’t want to go out too fast. As we came up behind a busy section of runners, I did my best to make some space for Ali and Matt to pass through, all the while trying not to disrupt anyone’s rhythm. We only had a couple of times where we were ignored or cut off by other runners, but a strong word from Robin here soon sorted that out 😉 (“term, excuse me Batman…”)


We carried on towards point jerningham, surrounded only by the echoing sound of hundreds of feet pounding the pavement, everyone in the zone getting their head in to the race. As usual, Keo Bay residents were on form, ready with the balloons, flags and hoses to keep everyone cool and motivated. As we kept on  round the  Bays,we continued to keep a steady pace and were all feeling good. We got heaps of support and chat from other runners, and it was really the perfect conditions for a run around the Bays.

We reached the 5, 6, 7km mark with no hassle, arriving at the Miramar junction without really noticing. Ali was running like a machine and the pace was going well. As we turned to go up scorching bay, we began to muse about how the front runners were doing, and just a km or so later the first one flew past. The next few followed and the steady stream of those on the way back got busier. Soo many people shouted encouragement to us, no matter what level of pain they were in. This highlights the community of running that Achilles has stemmed from, everyone just loves to see others out there doing it. 
We pushed along the mildly undulating trip round the Bays towards Scorching Bay, the kilometers slowly but surely ticking away. Matt managed to knock one of the safety pins on his number off around half way, so I took over the tether for the rest of the run. Matt was a much better body guard than me anyway, the cape hadn’t helped as much as I’d hoped. 

We began to catch up with another couple of Achilles athletes from out of town, and pass some others who were on the return stretch. It was so great to have so many athletes taking part, and witness everyone pushing hard and achieving amazing things. A couple of overtakes later and we were at the turnaround point, heading back toward Kilbirnie and with about 7km to go. Ali still running amazingly strong. We then had the joy of saying hello to everyone who was behind us, giving a great perspective of how we were doing in the race.

The rain started spitting around 16km, and my cape got a bit wet and heavy on my neck. The path was mostly clear for us to run through though and we continued with our steady pace, climbing places as we went.

Matt sneakily quickened our pace, but Ali kept up without any trouble. All of a sudden (?) There was only 1km to go. We sped up a little bit more and tried to give Ali a picture of how we were ticking off the last few hundred metres.

We crossed the finish line in just over 2.05 ish, smashing our original target. Well done to all runners, walkers and wheelers for competing in this year’s Cigna  Round The Bays, I know everyone at Achilles is already looking forward to next year!!

Attempting to Take on Tappy

A year or two ago I was on an early morning flight from Wellington to Auckland. It was a cloudy, dreary day in Wellington, but as the plane popped out above the clouds in to the sunshine, I looked south and could see the tops of the Kaikoura mountains poking through. I immedietly imagined what it would be like to be sitting on top of the highest peak instead of in my aeroplane seat, and so began my longing to get to the top of Tapuae-o-Uenuku, or “Tappy” for short.

A bit of research taught me it was a bit of a mission to get to, a 22km hike up a river before reaching the base of the mountain.. most write ups recommending 3 or 4 days to climb. The track is also not marked, and some navigation and climbing skills are required, although many said it was doable for the moderately experienced.

I initially pencilled in a trip to Tappy for the start of my South Island trip, coinciding when a running friend (Mark) who had been up the mountain 7 times already might be in the area. However, since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake which shook Kaikoura badly in November, road closures made it look more difficult and the mountain fell off my radar for the time being.

It was fortunate then, when my brother and I found ourselves heading north from Wanaka with a few days to spare before we had to be in Nelson. A relatively short time googling, calling the land owner and getting advice from Mark, we found ourselves in Bivouac buying a Topo map, new compass and hiring a PLB. During this googling, I also learnt that Tappy was Sir Edmund Hillary’s training ground before he climbed Mt Cook (and then on to Mt Everest), so it became even more exciting.

After camping at Hanmer Springs, we drove for 3 hours in the rain along an unsealed road. The weather forecast had promised clearing in the north east, and we really hoped the river was going to be passable. As we arrived at the track head, we met Allan the farmer. A very friendly man who seemed to know the mountains extremely well and whom you must get permission from before climbing, as the start is on his land. He warned us that the river was high, but not impassible and it wasn’t meant to rain any more. He also warned of the wind forecast and that it might be cloudy tomorrow.. but off we set.

After an hour or so of walking along farm tracks, we found the marker suggesting we climb down the bank on to the river bed. We were instantly wet, and continued to be so for the next 5 hours. Neither of us had a lot of river experience and the water was flowing fast and dirty, so our first few crossings were slow as we tried to learn to pick the best paths. It was so thrilling (mountain geek alert) to know we were following the same footsteps as Sir Ed, especially as it is likely the valley still looked very similar to when he was passing through.

It was a hard slog up the river as we had to constantly be thinking about where to cross and where to put our feet on the rocks. We also had to keep an eye on the map and our progress, but Diain’s watch was able to give us GPS coordinates of our location which was super helpful.. if not a little bit disheartening when we weren’t quite as far along as I’d hoped. We also pased a few new bits of rockfall which apparently had happened in the November earthquake, making me more than a little anxious about what-if-theres-another-one and what-if-we-get-stuck. But we’d come this far now.. After about 3 hours, we were directed off the river bed to climb up and over an impassable waterfall. It was a sketchy climb up some goat tracks and Diain lost his footing on the way back down, sliding a way before a combination of a rock and his shin slowed him down to a stop. It was quite a chunk out of his shin, and I had to flick away a bit of fatty/dermal tissue nonchalantly before plastering it up enough to get to the hut.

Luckily we only had one more crossing of the river before we spent some time getting lost bush bashing then following the bank towards the Hodder Huts. The first sight of the huts was glorious, and as we got close we disrupted quite a big deer, who proceeded to bound off in to the distance. I was totally exhausted when we arrived, realising we hadn’t stopped or really eaten for 6 hours. It felt like we had already been on a massive adventure, and we were only at the 1600m base of a nearly 2900m mountain. The chance of us getting to the summit and back out again the next day was becoming more unlikely, and as people were expecting to hear from us before a certain time and we weren’t sure of the long range weather forecast, we had to be sensible. It was great to read all the stories of people’s adventures in the hut book, about 50% of them reaching the summit successfully, most spending at least 2 nights at the huts.

We survived a windy and slightly earthquake-y night in the hut (only one small one, but fun for Diain’s first!) And woke up to cloud covered mountains, and still a bit of a breeze. We decided to wait til it was light then head up for 2 hours or until we reached the cloud, whichever came first. We followed a well trodden path along some scree then up staircase stream, before heading in to the lower basin between Tappy and Mt Alarm. We climbed a little, before we couldn’t see much more than cloud so decided to turn around. At about 2100m we were about 1.4km as the crow flies and almost 800 vertical metres to the summit. Disappointing but no point risking it with wind, cloud, an unknown forecast, a damaged shin and a broken shoe (my sole took a beating on all the river crossings). I felt like we’d still had an awesome adventure and I’d got to use my hiking poles on the climb up which was great practice for Nepal.

We headed back down towards the huts for a snack and a cup of tea. On doing so we realised we only had one tea bag left, another sure sign we had to head off the mountain! We were hoping it would take us less time going downstream, but even though the water was clearer and our confidence with river crossings was growing, it still took a solid 6 hours to get back to the car. As we reached the end we both admitted our anxieties that we had along the way; mine of an earthquake and avalanche, and Diain’s of being unable to cross the river and getting stranded in the mountain. Quite cool to share an experience where we were both pushed towards the limits of our comfort zone.

We didn’t see another human the whole time, and it was pretty special to be on an unmarked route, sharing it only with hares, mountain goats and a couple of deer. Not to mention the many adventurers who had trodden the way before us. I learnt a lot about crossing rivers, and gained map and compass skills.. not to mention the importance of a properly stocked first aid kit and the reassurance of a PLB.

So Tapuae-o-Uenuku has to stay on my bucket list a little bit longer, but I feel I know the mountain a little better. And after seeing it in all it’s glory on our drive out, the desire to get to the top is even stronger. Just yet another reason to return to New Zealand I guess.

Fiordland Great Walk Goodness

Fastpacking: Going slightly further, faster and lighter than tramping.

gopr2829_1486429275682_high

New Zealand has such a vast and varied landscape that they have 9 “Great Walks” highlighting the best they have to offer. These are amazingly well maintained by the Department of Conservation and are hugely popular with kiwis and tourists alike. Over my 4.5 years in the country I’d ticked off 4 of the 9 and was keen to do some more before I headed off.

Three of the ones I was missing are all in the Fiordland National Park, tucked in the south west corner of NZ – kingdom of the sandflies. Each one was advertised as a 3 or 4 day walk, so thus came the challenge of trying to fit them in to a shorter (but still enjoyable) time… A week maybe?

Video of the trip: https://youtu.be/MuJ6f6ThS6s

Day 1 – 53.5km

The Milford Track was the most logistically challenging. DOC have the lottery on when people arrive at the track by boat, and the earliest they could have us get there would be 2 or 3pm… Not really long enough to run 53.5km and catch our boat at 6pm. So after a bit of research we found Wings and Water, a float plane who would happily take us to the track as early as we liked. Awesome.

As our pilot Ivan said, looking at the floats we were a bit heavy each with our 10kg bags full of 3 days of supplies. But after a bit of effort and sweet talking from Ivan (to the plane) we were off and away. Such an exciting way to start a week of running.

img-20170209-wa0005

The Milford Track is spectacular. Starting by winding along side a river through the bush, before opening up in to a valley with massive glacial mountains towering above us. We all had to keep remembering to stop and look up, and every time we did we were awe struck.

gopr2655_1486064042175_high

There’s a solid climb up to the McKinnon pass, named after the first explorer to track the tourist route in to Milford Sound in 1888. After the climb we were rewarded with amazing views over the whole valley, who knew white clouds and grey mountains could be so beautiful.

As we came down the other side we started to catch up with more walkers who were all stunned we were running the track in one day. The clouds parted and the blue skies made the mountains even more spectacular. It was quite tough running down hill here so a bit slow going, and we were all kind of knackered by the time we reached the third hut. We had 18km to do in 3 hours to catch our boat.. should be doable.

I ran with my brother for the most part, but I don’t think we actually said more than 5 words to each other the whole way. My eyes in the picture below reveal the pain I was in I think. I had totally ran out of energy, the 10kg packs making the 50km a whole new challenge.

img-20170209-wa0001

We made it to Sandfly point just in time and enjoyed the 5 min Rossco  boat ride in to Milford Sound. We’d booked in to the backpackers at Milford Lodge so all enjoyed indulging in local beers, hair washing and a hot dinner.

Day 2 – 7.5km

After all sleeping for about 10 hours we had a very slow and chilled morning drinking coffee and playing cards. We were relying on public transport to get us to the start of the Routeburn Track and our traknet bus wasn’t until 2.30pm, a welcome rest after yesterday.

The rain cleared by the time we reached The Divide and we had a sunny 3.5km wander uphill to Lake Howden hut where we were going to stay the night. We arrived in good time so decided to drop our packs and have a run up and around Key Summit. The views up there are amazing and it felt so fun to be playing around without our packs on.

DCIM100GOPRO

Day 3 – 29km

We were again relying on public transport, so we had to finish the rest of the Routeburn and catch our bus at 2pm from the shelter car park. We started early, and although it was dark and rainy the trail was still really fun to run. We were all grateful for the lack of wind which would have made it a lot more unpleasant.

We reached the first saddle without too much effort but were surrounded by thick cloud, only giving us teases of the mountain vista we could be having. We pushed on along the ridgeline to Harris Saddle, enjoying the terrain and atmospheric surroundings.

img-20170209-wa0004

It was rewarding to reach the shelter below conical hill, and we met a couple of local runners here who were stoked we were enjoying the track. After refuelling on the standard salami sticks and pretzels, we pushed on down the hill to make sure we caught our bus.

DCIM100GOPRO

The sun came out as we turned in to Routeburn Valley and the views were pretty incredible. Cue a few staged shots for my video 😉 we wound our way down the hill, meeting a few day walkers and running in to some friendly faces from Wellington.

gopr2757_1486171157880_high

After bandaging up a fellow runner who’d fallen on some rocks and cut his hand, we reached the bottom and as usual I totally lost motivation to run along the flat. We had 90 minutes or so to do the 7 or 8km so I slowed right down and enjoyed the forest. The Routeburn is such an awesome day run and I reckon the race (Routeburn Classic) would be such a cool event.

Day 4

We had a decent bus trip back to Te Anau from the Routeburn, not arriving at the camp ground til after 7pm. So after a celebratory BBQ and beers, we all crashed out and enjoyed a lie in the following day. We’d planned a rest day to restock and recover, so spent it reading, playing cards and eating pies from Miles Better Pies in Te Anau.

img_20170204_204822359

Day 5 – 32km

Time for our third and final Great Walk to complete the Fiordland Adventure. We had booked in to Iris Burn hut on the Kepler Track, pretty much exactly half way along. This meant we could choose which direction to run depending on the weather.

As we packed up the tent in the rain, we all agreed we should run through the bush on the first day, and save the tops for the better weather forecast on our final day.

We had (another) slow start and set off along the track around midday. We decided 60km wasn’t enough and walked to the control gates from the camp ground, adding an extra 7km or so round trip. It rained pretty consistently til we reached the hut, but again no wind meant it wasn’t too unpleasant. There were some fun switch backs up and down, but in general just some standard, beautiful NZ bush. Perfect place to be on a rainy day.

Day 6 – 28km

We didn’t have a bus to catch, but some of the others had real life to get back to so again we set off for an early start from the hut. From Iris Burn, there’s a steady climb for about 4km until you come above the bushline. Reaching the ridge in the early morning sun was pretty special, especially having the track to ourselves for the first few hours.

img-20170209-wa0003

We took it slow, soaking up the sunshine and the views and taking it all in before it would too quickly be over. The 15km or so along the tops of the Kepler Track has got to be one of my favourite ever runs; amazing mountains and lakes, glorious single track trails and smiles from everyone along the way.

gopr2823_1486429275682_high

After Luxmore Hut we said goodbye to the mountains and headed in to the bush again. My running style became more and more penguin like as the 150kms with a 10kg pack caught up with me, but the smile wasn’t fading. We all gathered at Brod Bay campsite before the last 5km back to the control gates to finish off the week.

Holy moly, what an experience. New Zealand is such an incredible country and now I’ve definitely got a little corner of my heart reserved for Fiordland. Thanks to the Department of Conservation for looking after the trails (and the trampers and runners) and to the boys for keeping me company this week!

g0012790_1486429275682_high

The road goes forever on and on.. but where to next??

11 Days on the Road

So far on my 2017 adventure, I have learnt 3 things.

1. You can do it cheap, but there will always be unexpected expenses.

2. Planning is a waste of time, the weather always wins.

3. Sandflies really do suck.

I was lucky to start my South Island trip by flying in to Nelson, having fish and chips on the beach with three great friends, then setting off for 9 glorious days with a university friend (Caroline) who I see far too little of.

On the flight over I was stung with a $60 fee for a heavy bag (2kg of tent poles) … small price for a portable home, but still annoying. Nevertheless, I was stoked to be on the South Island and officially at the start of the Unknown Year.

Caroline was leaving from Christchurch in just over a week’s time, so we planned a little summer tour around the north/east part of the island. We set off towards the Nelson Lakes with a plan to head up to Angelus Hut so I could show Caroline the amazing view. See previous running post here… https://lorrylovestorun.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/mt-angelus-1st-january-2016/

Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. After a night battling sandflies (that feeling when you think it’s been raining all night but it was actually a swarm of sandflies banging against the fly of your tent 😳), we headed to St Arnaud to be advised against heading up in to the hills. Unless of course we wanted to be crawling along the ridge with hail in our face and not see any view. Hiya summer holidays.

img_20170116_195024409_hdr

So we decided not to bother, and headed East where the weather was meant to be better. The rain followed us most of the way through Lewis Pass, but we stopped in a dry valley for lunch and stumbled across a beautiful (and quite scary) swing bridge.

img-20170117-wa0011

We’d planned to stop and stay in Hanmer Springs later in the week, but planning doesn’t work so we arrived there on night two. We stayed in an awesome campground just out of town, got lost running on about 10km of beautiful single track trails then soaked the night away in the hot pools.

The wind was slightly insane overnight, and only forecast to get worse so we were glad to be staying in an AirBnB in Mt Lyford on day 3. We headed out to Kaikoura for a look at the  Earthquake damage (and try to spend some money there) before heading on the inland road back to our “Log Chalet”. It was a mission to find as Mt Lyford seems to be a secret village which comes alive only in ski season, and the steep gravel roads were worrying as we were running out of petrol.. but we got there in the end.

The inland road back towards Hanmer the following day was so beautiful, and we kept heading south (following the sun) on the inland route towards Christchurch. Our next planned spot was Lake Tekapo, so as we made a B-line for there, both of us were getting Eager Feet for some hill action. We decided to stop on the way for an overnight tramp around Mt Somers. We arrived early afternoon but the weather was closing in already. Forecast for day 5 was great so we decided to do a short 3 hour up the hill on the first day, and a big 9 hour mission the next day.

We were hailed on during the walk up, and were glad to arrive at Pinnacles Hut just before it absolutely started pouring. We woke up early the next day to find snow on the hills, clear blue skies and a beautiful sunrise.

We set off towards Woolshed Creek Hut and stopped there for breakfast after about 2 hours of walking through an awesome mountain valley. The rest of the hike was beautiful and challenging, although towards the southern face of the mountain got a little bit boring. It was a great 2 day hike, but a good one day option would be to head between the two car parks and huts as you’d see the best scenery of the track … but would need two cars. We skipped the summit as the clouds were rolling in and time ticking on, and headed to Geraldine for the fish and chips we’d been fantasizing about all day.

We headed closer to Lake Tekapo, stopping at a DOC camp ground on the way only to be woken up by wild boars in the middle of the night. Sadly the weather really closed in when we reached Lake Tekapo, it was cold and misty and there was no view of the majestic Mt Cook. We had a really cold night in the tent but luckily I was with this one so spirits remained high.

img_20170121_164857218

From there we spent a couple of days catching up with friends and family in Timaru and Christchurch, thankfully keeping warm in very comfy beds. Unfortunately the Mt Somers adventure had caused the death of my trail shoes, so we also had to do some shoe shopping in Christchurch.. another unwanted, unexpected expense. I do quite love my new shoes though! All of a sudden it was Caroline’s last night, but we managed to have a BBQ and a hot tub at my friend Steph’s place, so not at all bad!

img-20170123-wa0000

I did a little friend swap at Christchurch airport, dropping off Caroline and picking up Max. Max and I then heading West toward the mountains of Arthur’s Pass in search of some sunshine and running. The drive was awesome and I was so excited to be heading somewhere I hadn’t seen before. I instantly fell in love, and could happily spend a week there running new trails every day.

DCIM100GOPRO

The people in DOC were so friendly and helpful, aided by the fact they were runners too. We’d hoped to experience some of the Coast to Coast mointain run and head to Goat Pass hut, but we were advised against it because of the (more) heavy rain forecast which could make the rivers impassible. Instead we enjoyed running along the Arthur’s Pass walkway, up to Temple Basin skifield then finally up Kelly’s Creek to spend the night at Carroll’s Hut. Even though it lacked a fire, it was a great shelter from the storm for the night.

DCIM100GOPRO

fb_img_1485415678925

Day 10 was a highlight. As the sky was blue we decided to hang around Arthur’s Pass another day and did a run along O’Malleys track to Anti-Crow hut. I usually think views only come from running up mountains, but this run taught me that valleys are just as beautiful. 16km of single track, grassland and river bed … Bliss.

img_20170125_160615145img_20170125_165334904

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

And thus, brings day 11 and a whole lot of rain. We headed west out of Arthur’s Pass (wah!), stopped at Hokitika and then made our way to Fox Glacier. More rain means another night not in the tent.. but my Eager Feet are raring to get back in to the hills tomorrow.

Not all those who wander are lost.

I caught up with three great uni friends last night who I hadn’t seen for about 18 months. As I told them about my rough plans for 2017, Jillian asked if I just felt like I needed a break from work for a while… And although that surely is a motivator, I realised that travel is just what I want to do with my life this year.

I’m from a small town on the West Coast of Scotland and have been living in New Zealand since August 2012. I’ve spent the last four years working, studying, running and falling in love with the country. I quit my job in December and have decided to spend some of 2017 on a bit of an adventure. Starting on the 16th January I (roughly) will be running up and around some hills in NZ, trekking in Nepal then backpacking through Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before hopefully arriving in Canada around July.

I’m 27 and spending my savings on plane tickets and trekking poles. I moved to NZ at 22 but have never really done any solo travel or lived out of a backpack. I’m not sure what I’m going to be doing this time next year. I’m pretty excited, and more than a little nervous!

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – Bilbo Baggins