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32 things – a recap

So another birthday has come and gone and it’s time to reflect on the year of 32 things.

1. Bike the Great Divide
So, the grand plan was to take 4-5 months off work and bike the ~4500 km with the boy along the length of the Rockies.  But life kinda got in the way and it all got a bit complicated and I couldn’t get enough time off work to make the trip worthwhile.  But I did buy the book.  Surely that has to count for something, right?!  This trip looks like an amazing mission and is definitely still on the to do list.  It might just need to wait a couple of years until we can both have the time to cycle off into the sunset.

2. Compete in the 12 hour Spring Challenge
So the Mighty Midgets had done the 6 hour Spring Challenge a couple of times and, despite being super-scared, we decided it was time we sprung up to the challenge of the 2011 12 hour event. We trained hard all winter and had some awesome missions.  We were fairly nervous but confident we would survive as the morning of the race dawned.  It was an amazing day, with a nice smattering of rafting, mountain biking, bushbashing and rogaining to keep us occupied.  We had a fabulous support crew (thanks Ash, Nomes & Graham) who fed and watered us and even tied our shoelaces.  It’s not very often that we push ourselves to see what we can achieve but the Spring Challenge is an excellent opportunity to do this and it was extremely satisfying to cross the finish line after 15 hours and still be smiling.  In fact, we could have kept going for longer, which might imply that we didn’t go hard enough!  Thanks to the Miniest Mighty Midget Michelle and the Mightiest Mighty Midget Maaike for being awesome team mates!

3. Put my clipless pedals back on my mountain bike
Ok, so they are on there.  But it doesn’t mean i like them!  I’m still a wimp and bought pedals that are flat on one side, so I can indulge my wimpiness but they are technically on my bike.  Now I just need to ride the thing.

4. Run 500 km
So I just went back and looked at the excuse that I wrote for not completing this on the list of 31 things and it was pretty lame.  Unfortunately I think this year’s excuse is probably even worse and I’m pretty sure that I didn’t even run as far as I did last year.  I kinda lost my running mojo this year but I’ve just bought a new pair of shoes (although I’m not entirely sure how I wore out the old pair!).  And this spring weather is making me more enthused about the whole running idea, so maybe next  year.  Although I feel I may need to scale down the distance somewhat!

5. Compete in a triathlon
Similar problem to item 4.  A combination of laziness and a distinct lack of triathlons after my return from the ice.  Oh well….

6. Photograph a snow petrel
These funky little birds hang out in Antarctica and are snow white and very cool.  I would love to get a picture of one, only they don’t really hang about for very long during the season and, when they are actually there, you get a 30 second glimpse of them as they glide past.  This year I think I saw one for about 20 seconds.  Not even enough time to register in my brain that I should grab my camera before it was gone again.  Maybe next season??

7. Publish the remaining whio papers
I seem to be writing up a list of excuses!  There really isn’t any excuse for not having done these.  I did do a bit of work when I was in Perth but it’s hard to find the motivation to do work when I’ve already spent 8 hours at work doing maths.  But it would be really helpful to have these papers out there, so I really just need to pull finger and do them!

8. Complete a half marathon
Refer to item 4.

9. Go cycle touring
I didn’t really go cycle touring per se but we did do an overnight mountain bike trip which I like to refer to as tramping with bikes.  So not really cycle touring at all since there was very little cycling actually done.  But entertaining nonetheless.

10. Make Albert Monkey
Finally something I can cross off! Albert Monkey came into being in October and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.  First to Auckland where he took in the sites of the rugby world cup.  Then off to Raoul Island.  He must have had a fabulous time and been super busy because he never even sent a postcard.

11. Publish an Antarctic paper
It’s close.  Well the finishing of the analysis and the writing of the paper bit.  The actual publishing bit will be totally dependent on whether the third reviewer is having a nice day when they read it.

12. Compete in a road bike race
I bought a new road bike this year and it seemed like it was time to actually do a race.  So a group of us headed up to do the Grape Ride, a 101km race from Blenheim to Picton and around the bays.  It was a little on the damp side and super windy, which made the Blenheim to Picton leg less than fun.  But the return trip was awesome.  I rode with my sister’s future father-in-law for a while before he had a mechanical and our team of girly awesomeness left him behind to lament his poor bike maintenance record.  We were pretty awesome as we flew along the road, passing people up the hills and being passed by a dude with panniers on the downhill.  We rolled across the line in just over four hours which made for three happy and tired girls, having each just completed the longest ride of our lives.

13. Knit/crochet a jersey
So I started a knitted vest when we got stuck by snow in Queenstown last year and nearly had it finished when, true to form, I decided I didn’t really like it and I frogged the entire thing.  The wool then languished in the stash for quite some time until I found a pattern for a felted crocheted vest with crazy  multi-coloured stripes.  This seemed more my style, so I’ve been busy crocheting away and it is nearly done.  I don’t think this one will get unravelled but I don’t have a good record for keeping jerseys intact (all four knitted thus far have been unravelled), so I had better felt it soon before I get the chance!

14. Compete in a mountain bike race
Every mountain bike race that I wanted to do seemed to be on a weekend when I had something else on.  At least, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.

15. Climb a grade 17
I did it once.  And have never managed it again.  I am enjoying climbing though, even if it is only inside – there being a distinct lack of outdoor rock to climb in Christchurch, what with it all being shaken of the hillsides and all.  Hopefully I will be able to climb something real in the coming year.

16. Buy a macro lens
I didn’t buy a macro lens but I did accidentally buy a new camera.  So maybe they cancel each other out.

17. Ride a century in a day
Refer to item 12

18. Spend a night at the Sign of the Packhorse
This has to be the longest standing item on the list, having started out on the original list in 2007.  But it finally fell this year with an excellent election weekend escape with some friendly resident poms.

19. Sew an item of clothing
In a fit of sewing crazy, I constructed an infinity dress, a reversible hooded dress and a reversible skirt, all without the benefit of a proper pattern or in some cases any pattern at all.  In hindsight, patterns may have been a good idea.  To date, there have been limited outings of the fore-mentioned items, so a distinct lack of photographs.  But there is a hint of spring in the air and a slightly mad scheme afoot that will see this predominantly trouser-clad lass breaking out the skirts, so hopefully you will get a peek soon.  More on this in the list of 33 things….

20. Organise a clothes swap party
It is completely coincidental that this follows on from item 19!  To be honest, I’m not sure there would have been many takers either.  But I have now been to two clothes swap parties which have been an excellent way of cleaning out the closest and gaining a few new items.  I’m now planning a stuff swap to clean out the rest of the crap that I’ve accumulated over the past 6 years.

21. Present a paper at ICCB 2011
Four mins of petrels and I was outta there.  Easiest conference talk ever.  And not a bad conference either, even without my organising committee hat on.

22. Empty out my storage shed of crap
When I went to Antarctica in 2010, I moved out of our house of 4.5 years and put all of my crap in storage.  Then I came back and got out a few boxes and the rest languished in storage for a ridiculously long time, costing me a ridiculous amount of money, because I was too lazy to move it and I didn’t really have anywhere to put it at the new house.  I slowly managed to pawn a lot of it off onto unsuspecting friends until I was left with a couple of boxes of unknown contents, a desk, washing machine and a broken rat trap and little motivation to actually shift it.  But the storage shed o’ crap has finally been emptied, the stuff sort of sorted and I’m working on ways to hide in the back of various family member’s garages as I get ready to set off on another adventure (more on that soon).

23. Buy knee-high boots
They are red.  and awesome.

24. Make bagels
Antarctica is a good place for experimental bread making, given that we are given a bag of flour and some yeast and we have plenty of time.  The rising conditions for yeast are less than ideal but it is possible.  This year we feasted on a wide variety of breads, including bagels, naan and beer bread.  I swear I had a picture of the bagels somewhere but you will have to make do with some bread instead

25. Go back to Antarctica
A second stint in Antarctica was calling and so I set off to pester some more penguins with Dad in tow as my field assistant.  Many people expressed some concern about being cooped up with my Father in a confined space for eight weeks. Indeed, it could have gone horribly wrong.  But we happily spent our time poking penguins with needles, baking bread, swimming at Christmas (in Santa hats), excitedly examining comb jellies and sitting about reading the dictionary without too much drama. Good times.

26. Have a hot pool party
We tried.  This was the infamous tramping with bikes expedition where the tramping part took so long that people who were sans bike were faster than we were.  Which meant we ended up staying at a different hut from the one we intended and never made it to the Hope hot pools.  I realise that this was in October and there has been plenty of opportunity to try again but (here come the excuses) it never quite happened.

27. Apply for a post-doc position
I applied for a post-doc.  In Brisbane.  I went to Brisbane for a day for an interview.  It seemed like a nice place.  So nice I spent an extra day there (not voluntarily.  Never fly with me to Australia – I think I am cursed).  I didn’t get the job.  But they put me in touch with a guy in Melbourne.  He offered me a job.  Which apparently, I learnt today from the lady who needs to order me a computer, starts on October 1.  Although I haven’t seen a contract yet, so not counting chickens just yet.  But, yup, hopefully moving to Melbourne.  In a month.  Boy, have I got some stuff to do between now and then. (Hence the blog updating and other sundry procrastinatory activities).

28. Publish the shrub paper
It’s on that list of things to do before the end of September.

29. Lecture in a university course
Three riveting lectures in Biology 112 on things ecological, courtesy of my PhD supervisor swanning off somewhere exciting.  This year I didn’t get in trouble for showing Green Porno videos.  Bonus.

30. Do some volunteer work
Allegedly I did this – I crossed it off on my list on the desktop of my computer.  But I do remember it being somewhat tenuous at the time and I have absolutely no idea what it might have been, so I’m leaving this unchecked.  Slacker.

31. Learn to jugular bleed penguins
How to have fun with needles and penguins – stick them in them blindly in the jugular.  While it sounds horrific, and seems awful the first few times you do it, it is by the far the fastest way to extract blood from a penguin.  And is infinitely more “fun” than trying to bleed them from the foot.  Definitely my preferred vampire method.

32. Go on an outdoor adventure at least once a month (SONDJFMAMJJA)
Lots of outdoor trips this year, although the term adventure is perhaps somewhat debatable for some of them.  We started out with a hiss and a roar with the Spring Challenge in September, then tramping with bikes up the Hope in October, November was up Sign of the Packhorse, followed by two months in Antarctica.  February scraped in with a camping trip to Lake Taylor while March and April were spent camping in the wilds of Western Australia.  May just caught a quick blast up Scott’s Saddle, while June was ice climbing and other adventuring at Fox Glacier. July hosted Laura’s annual birthday tramp to Lake Daniell’s, while August was graced by a short jaunt up Mt Oxford (& hopefully cross-country skiing this weekend).

and other fun stuff

33. Sleep in my new tent
It’s light and small and you need to be short.  And a little on the damp side, being a single skin and all.  And clearly pitched outside a perfectly good hut but it was full of children.  Now I just need to make sure I get in the right one!

34. Buy a new road bike
It’s light and small and you need to be short.  But it’s carbon and fast and a really nice ride.  I just need to actually ride it more.

35. Go on a Western Australia roadtrip
South-western Australia has been given a cursory go over and places to revisit properly have been duly noted.  Middlish western Australia also revisited.  It was good times.

So all in all, not a bad year.  There are a few lingering things on the list that should really have been crossed off (but they are mostly the boring work-related things).  The list of 33 things is currently under construction but should be ready for general release soon.

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Tramping with bikes

With the memory of a successful mountain bike mission to hotpools freshly in our minds, it was decreed that Labour weekend would be an excellent time for another expedition by bike.  More hotpools were high on the priority list, so we decided to venture one valley north and head up the Hope River in search of the hotpools above Top Hope hut.
Now, before you do a trip, you should always do some research, right?  Make sure you understand the lay of the land, how far it is and how long it might take.  So, being good young technologically-savvy folk, we googled the expedition.  And found Patrick’s blog.  Now the title of his blog post Mountain B-Walking to Hot Pools should perhaps have been a warning about the suitability of the track for biking.  But it was only 3 or so hours of pushing bikes.  How hard can it be?!  And besides, Steve assured us that is would be fine*.  So four intrepid adventurers set off for a long weekend of biking and hotpools.

The first challenge was taking the bikes across a swingbridge.  Now I’m quite happy to stroll across a swingbridge, pack on my back and admiring the scenery.  But taking a bike across a swingbridge is a completely different story! The easiest way is to flip the bike up on its back wheel and push it across while holding the handelbars.  Sounds all nice and happy, yeah?  In theory, this isn’t bad.  Except you now have no hands available for holding onto the bridge and, inevitably, your handlebars are wider than the supports on the bridge, which means that every metre or so you have to do a complicated wiggle of the bike to make it fit through the gap.  This leads to a greater swinging of the bridge than before, the back wheel of the bike ending up in some awkward position, and a terrible buckling of the knees as the whole thing becomes way to much for the brain to cope with.  This feeling of complete and utter terror intensifies with every step until you finally reach the far side and sink into the solid ground with great relief.  And then remember that, in order to get back to the car at the end of the trip, you’re going to have to do it all again!  Argh!

The grin is not happiness but more a terrified grimace and relief at almost being at the end of the bridge ordeal

After a few minutes to steady the nerves on the other side, we set off along a nice piece of 4WD road.  It climbed up a couple of steep-ish terraces out in the open and we made pretty good progress.  And then we got to the bush edge.  Now I guess that I should acknowledge that the track along the northern bank of the Hope River is a tramping track.  It was never designed for biking.  And it’s not really suitable for biking.  It started out okay.  A few tree roots here and there, the odd treefall, that sort of thing but you could easily go several hundred metres at a time before having to get off to get past an obstacle.  And then it slowly deteriorated.  A nice clear section of track would reveal a fallen tree 10m around the corner.  A rooty but bike-able section would end in a gnarled tangle of roots that were dificult to walk over, let alone ride.  A tinkling stream would be nestled in a steepy, slippery gorge that threatened to suck you and your bike into a dark abyss.  Now, we had done our homework and were mentally prepared for some sections that were unrideable.  You simply get off your bike and haul it up a bank, throw it over a tree or push it over the nasty, rooty, muddy bit.  A bit of a hassle but part of the fun of mountain biking.

This type of riding inevitably leads to some spills, with the best fall of the trip once again being awarded to Steve, who ended upside down still attached to his bike.  This had unfortunate consequences for the yogurt!

After MANY hours of pushing bikes interspersed with the odd bit of riding, we reached an excellent spot for a late lunch.  I think by this point we’d been going about 4 hours and were a little weary of the bike pushing.  But a quick consultation of the map suggested that we had another 1.5 km or so of nasty track before we hit the river flats and easy riding.

Well, I reckon that that was the longest 1.5km of my life!  There were giant river boulders, nasty gutty creeks, steep banks, enormous roots, tangled treefalls and much mud.  But it did eventually end and spit us out onto a nice grassy riverbank with only the odd matagouri bush and cow to contend with.  A couple of kms of sweet, beautiful uninterupted riding.  And then another swingbridge.  Thankfully this one was on the shorter side, so didn’t generate quite the same terrifying swing. But was still terrifying.  It was quickly over though and after a quick push up a nasty slimy cliff, it was back to nice riding along a 4WD track again.  Yay for nice riding.  A few kms on and we reached Saint Jacobs hut.  We stopped for a breather, were immediately mobbed by sandflies, and set about deciding what to do next.  The Top Hope hut, our intended destination, was another 7km of, theoretically, nice riding up the valley, with the hotpools another 40 mins walk beyond.  It was about 6pm and there was plenty enough light to get there but enthusiasm was on the thin side.  After much umming and ahhing and slapping of sandflies, it was decided to stay the night where we were and make a quick dash upstream in the morning to check out the hotpools.  Bikes were dropped, gear unpacked and de-yogurted, bodies washed and feet, aching much more than they should have been, put up.  A quick chat with a resident tramper confirmed that walking the track would have been far more sensible than biking it when it turned out that she had walked it an hour faster than we had “biked” it.

I had recently bought a new tent, so shunned the hut in favour of more salubrious accommodation outside under nylon.  Dinner was an extravagant affair of tomato (slightly yogurty) couscous, washed down with port.  And was followed by an excellent (if not slightly damp in my slightly condensatory tent) night’s sleep.

The morning dawned bright and clear but still with little enthusiasm for biking up to the hotpools.  Admittedly, there was little enthusiasm for “biking” home again as well. Now, there is a farm track along the southern bank of the river but, having not asked permission to use it, we were reluctant to take the easy route home.  But we were more reluctant to take the hard route home.  So we cheated.  And we got caught.  And were made to go back the way we came.  But, oh the glorious non-stop riding we did before we got caught.  The farmer was very courteous and we were very apologetic and he did say that we could ride the track when he didn’t have cows in the paddock but we had better ask permission first.  So, when there are no cows and we are allowed, we plan to bike this glorious piece of rideable farm track and zoom into the hotpools in a ridiculously short period of time.  It shall be fabulous.

But it was with heavy hearts that we crossed back across the river (by foot, not terrifying swingbridge) and set off back along the track.  There was more frustrating pushing of bikes but it did seem a little easier on the way out, perhaps because it was slightly downhill and therefore easier to ride.  It did still take forever and end in a swingbridge.  But wasn’t entirely an unpleasant day.

Now, it may seem that I have made this out to be a horrendous trip.   I must admit that it wasn’t an ideal place to take mountain bikes, particularly if this is your first mountain bike trip as it was for poor Elizabeth.  Luckily, she has yet to learn fear, so rode things that I was sceptical about.  But overall, it was a fun trip.  However, do not believe anyone who tells you it will be a nice ride.  It might be a nice tramp but is better if you leave your bike in the shed.  Consider this a cautionary tale.

Sunday night was spent consuming enormous burgers and watching NZ narrowly beat France to win the Rugby World Cup in a random pub in Hanmer.  That is, we were in a random pub, not the All Blacks.  And then a quick blat around the mountain bike tracks in Hanmer on Monday.  Oh what a novelty to be able to ride more than 100m before being forced off by some obstacle.  It was fabulous.  Then back to Christchurch for a superb dinner of experimental homemade pizza with Patrick and Maaike.

*We talked to the third member of Patrick and Steve’s trip and his response was “Why would you want to go there?  It was horrible!”. Interesting how different people remember trips.  

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Hurunui hotpools

This year we actually trained for the Spring Challenge which was a little bit of a novelty.  It also meant that we got out on some sweet trips, including a great overnight ride to the Hurunui hotpools.

I’d never been on any overnight mountain bike trips before, but after some careful packing to ensure that we all had matching bikes and packs, we three intrepid Mighty Midgets & a Mighty Midget’s Man set off into the sunshine.

It’s a relatively easy ride around the side of the lake and would have been quite pleasant if it hadn’t been for the strong headwind.   But it was good practise for drafting and we set up a pretty good paceline to keep us zooming along.  The track was a combination of gravel and 4WD road, with a pretty rideable surface.  There quite a few gates to throw bikes over though and during one of these brief interludes, I somehow managed to flick a tendon out from under my ankle bone.  Not really sure how – I didn’t actually do anything.  Got off my bike, lifted it over a gate, got back on my bike and it hurt.  Weird.  Luckliy doesn’t seem to have done any lasting damage but was not particularly pleasant for riding.  Because of this, we decided to take a “shortcut” along the walking track to the hut rather than crossing the river and biking along the flat before crossing back again.  Shortcuts are never a good idea and this certainly wasn’t.  Very little of the track was actually rideable and there was a lot of swearing as we pushed and carried our bikes over particularly nasty sections of track (think treefalls on the side of a muddy hill scattered with possum carcasses).

The training plan was to try and do a 10 hour day: 3 hours or so of biking and then an expedition up the valley on foot, culminating in a soak in the Hurunui hotpools.  I decided to call it a day when we got to the hut but the others continued on up the valley like good little things.  I lazed around in what was left of the sunshine and read and reread the meagre pickings of reading material in the hut.  I may have closed my eyes for a second or too.  Maybe. 
Despite my injury, I was feeling pretty smug about our efforts.  We had biked about 20km offroad with relatively packs without much difficulty.  Then Jackson arrived.  On his bike.  Having come 150km from Christchurch.  With another 3-4 days of biking in the pipeline, including a fairly hefty pass over which he planned on carrying his bike.  That kinda put our efforts into perspective.  The rest of our intrepid bunch returned after soaking in the hotpools with a meteorological jellyfish to decorate the hut and we quickly demolished a hearty meal of blue cheese and mushroom pasta before retiring to bed.

The next day dawned in glorious sunshine and, with a relatively happy ankle, we set off.  After a short pleasant ride down the way we should have come up the day before, we were confronted with the first obstacle of the day: a river crossing.  Nothing like starting the day with cold, wet feet.  But it was quickly over and we were on our way again.  

Until we got to the next river crossing.  Michelle decided she didn’t want to cross the river again and had some fun fighting with the swingbridge. I was quite impressed that she actually got onto the bridge – it was mighty steep!

The ride home passed relatively quickly after that, with some amusing moments to pass the time. 

Steve was very helpful demonstrating riding techniques, particularly how NOT to ride through mud.

Poor Bike!  And then he cleaned it by riding into the lake  (You should watch this with sound to hear the cackling girls as he goes over the handlebars for the third time that day).

It was a shame not to actually make it to the hotpools but at least I have a reason to go again and perhaps achieve #?? on the list of 32 things.  I’m starting to like this mountain biking business, particularly long trips.  Which is probably lucky, considering #1 on the list.  But more about that some other time.