A quick update

So, I do want to write a little more soon about the end of the South Pole season and what we’ve been up to in Christchurch (not much, really), but we have both made it back to New Zealand and some of our friends from Pole have rented a house in Wanaka–we’ll be leaving Christchurch tomorrow morning and camping for a night before meeting up with them.

A few things we’ve been working on in the past few days:

Our trip itinerary. We’re leaving New Zealand March 4th-ish for South Africa, and heading later to Victoria Falls, Tanzania and Zanzibar, Mauritius, Turkey and perhaps a bit of overland travel through Eastern Europe, depending on our energy level and ability to be strict about our budget before that point. This trip would have us landing in Minneapolis in early May. I will post our full itinerary with dates as soon as the tickets go through.

Packing. We really want to do a better job packing this year and we’re bringing our tent and a few other odds and ends for camping that we didn’t have last year. We both have a smallish backpack–mine is a 35Litre framepack and Daniel has a normal backpack–and a messenger bag. We’ve managed to fit the tent inside the backpacks and left the sidebags mostly empty for daytrips and food.

Our “tans”. I got in on Monday night, and we went to Sumner beach the next day (amazingly beautiful, by the way) and promptly got incredibly sunburned. It is now Friday and our skin is starting to fall off.

I’ll write more soon. Take care!

Antarctica, the Beautiful

I celebrated my 25th birthday differently than any other year, waking up at 5am, slightly jetlagged, to catch a pre-arranged shuttle to the Christchurch Clothing Distribution Center. All of the people in my training group, plumbers, electricians, bakers, power plant operators, IT staff and manual laborers such as myself, were presented with two worn orange duffel bags filled with loaner extreme cold weather (ECW) gear, washed and folded. Our project for the day was to try on each item and make sure, for comfort and safety, that everything fit well.

(Click on images to enlarge!)

Inside the bag was a pair of off-white rubber bunny boots, awkward but very insulated Cold War Era footwear so named for their rabbit’s foot-esque appearance; a heavy red parka with a faux fur-lined hood; Carhartt overalls and work jacket; slippery windpants; multiple pairs of expedition-weight long underwear; polar fleece pants and jacket; fluffy gray tube socks; balaclava, fleece hat and neck gaiter; huge leather bearpaw mittens; work gloves, and a few other odds and ends. Once it was all tried on and any misfits exchanged for different sizes, we repacked everything, leaving it in the Center until our morning of deployment.

Daniel in bunny boots

We flew to the continent in a commercial airliner, which afforded us an amazing view on arrival, veins of cerulean and navy blue ocean, striking through cracks in the sea-ice. The stewardesses transitioned from their skirted, nylon’d and heeled uniforms, to soft fleece pants, to black overall snowpants and chunky Sorel boots.

Flight path screen
Sea Ice and Clouds
Mount Erebus
A seat with a view

All of us, craning towards the windows to see the ice, the land, steaming Mount Erebus—like giddy kids on a school bus, sitting backwards in our seats, climbing over each others’ laps to see outside. We landed on the ice runway, McMurdo in the distance like a construction town during a Minnesota winter, dirt churned up in the snow.

 

Daniel looking out the plane window
Kiell getting ready to disembark
Ivan the Terra Bus, our ride into McMurdo

We walked to New Zealand’s Scott Base one morning, about a mile away. As we crested the ridge dividing the stations, the wind picked up, stinging our faces in the gaps between our balaclavas and snow goggles, making me feel like a kite in my huge jacket. Walking down the hill toward the frozen shoreline, textured by pressure ridges where the ice crushes up against the earth and vaults up a bit, the wind blew snow past us, slithering like smoke on the road. An American mechanic was kind enough to give us a ride back against the headwinds, all ten or so of us piled in the bed of the pickup like red marshmallows. I took my hands out to take a photo, and by the end of that minute, my bones were aching and my hands were so stiff I nearly lost my mittens to the gust as I tried to put them back on.

 

Kiwi Scott Base

We climbed steep Ob Hill, spectacularly overlooking the town and the ice runway, struggling up in our ECW gear, crab walking and sledding down on our bottoms in the parts that were too slippery to walk.

 

View of McMurdo from Ob Hill
Russell the Electrician and Kiell on Ob Hill, with McMurdo town in the background (about 10 pm)

 

Kiell sliding back down

Walking back from Hotel California, home to the infamous 24 bunk male dorm room not-so-affectionately nicknamed “Man Camp,” near midnight— the sun glaring brightly, everything was silent but the wind, straight line and brutal, playing with power lines and handrails, sounding a bit like a boatyard in a storm. People struggled by with their parkas cinched up around their faces. I drank hot tea in the galley, getting ready to fly to the Pole in the morning.

 

This post is dedicated to the four French workers who died in a helicopter crash in Antarctica the day we arrived on the continent. My heart goes out to their families.

Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand (February 2010)

Our last trip in New Zealand was to Arthur’s Pass, a small town located in the middle of the impressive Southern Alps. We left Christchurch early Friday morning, and on the bus ride after passing by many cattle, llama and ostrich farms, were able to get our first good view of the mountain range with the sun coming over the ridge. We arrived at about 10am, and after having a quick cappuccino (drip coffee is pretty uncommon in New Zealand, most people drink instant coffee at home and espresso drinks are the norm at cafes, to our tongues’ delight and our wallets’ dismay), we walked to the visitor’s center down the pass road.

Originally we had intended to camp at one of the huts that are a part of the country’s extensive camping system, but the trailheads to both of the closest hut paths were at least 15 kilometers in either direction–and that was before beginning your ascent into the mountain to hike to the hut. Not having a car and not being very experienced mountain trampers (ahem–not experienced at all), we decided to camp at the flat, open site between the main road and the train tracks, which left a little to be desired and made us marvel at how great Minnesota’s state park system is.

We set up the mini tent in the softest spot we could find and in no time we became acquainted with the Kea that live in the park– the world’s only alpine parrot, which can only be found in NZ’s south island. They have dark green feathers mostly, apart from their brilliant fiery orange underwing feathers, and a long, loud call. The Kea are smart, strong, and comically brave and inquisitive–they have been known to destroy tents with their hooked beaks merely out of curiosity, according to the signs in the information center. A little Kea and a big, fat, disheveled-looking Kea landed at our site, and the smaller one jumped up on Daniel’s bag and stuck his face right in, emerging with a toilet paper prize. Before leaving for a hike, we Kea-proofed our tent as best we could (we were rewarded with only a smallish hole in our water bag).

We hiked for hours both of the days we spent in Arthur’s Pass. On our first day, we tried what we thought was the shortest-looking hike, the Avalanche Peak trail. In raw distance it was probably fairly short, but we never made it to the end; a serious trail in New Zealand is much more vertical than horizontal. We turned back before it was too late, and returned to ground level to enjoy some of the “flatter” hikes out to the Devil’s Punchbowl and Bridal Veil Falls, both of which were beautiful.

Day two was much more exhausting. We decided to attempt Avalanche Peak again, only this time along the more reasonable Scott Track–where we could have descended from the peak if we had made it all the way up the Avalanche Peak trail. The overall amount of climb and estimated time was the same though, 1000m of altitude gain to the top, and a 4-hour trek one way. The first half of the hike, from 700m altitude where the road lay to the bushline at approximately 1300m, took us through narrow avalanche paths of fallen rock, over natural stairways of exposed root systems of beech trees overgrown with plush moss, across waterfall-fed streams and under some dangling feathery lichens that seemed to be right out of the pages of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. When we got to the bushline, where the trees and plants receded behind us the farther we hiked, the wind kicked up and the hike became a little more challenging. We scrambled over rocky paths on narrow-ish ridges with a precipitous drop in either direction, and we climbed high enough to be level with the line of snow on a nearby ridge. After a few false sightings of the peak (we could see it and it was so close, but then coming over the ridge would reveal more, steeper path) and coming to a point where the path looked much more daunting, we decided to have a snack and head back down: another four hours or so, which gave us an awesome view of a waterfall across the road, possibly one we had hiked to the day before, with a brilliant rainbow in its mist. We camped again that night and slept a little better having left our bags with our non valuable stuff in the shelter nearby, which made it possible to actually lie down in a straight line, sort of.

The next day we wandered around on the main road for a bit, and found some nice tourists from London who had rented a camper van who gave us a ride back into Christchurch. We stayed at Foley Towers, a sweet little garden-y backpacker with awesome rooms and staff (and also lots of little references to the show Fawlty Towers, which was amusing). We flew up to Auckland and had two relaxing nights with Nicole playing Zioncheck (Daniel’s family’s traditional Thanksgiving marathon card game) and Shanghai (Nicole’s family’s version of a similar game), and got to see the city Auckland at dusk with the streetlights coming on from the top of Mount Eden, where the air smelled like honey and we were surrounded by huffing and puffing mountain joggers. We took the bus to the airport on Wednesday afternoon, and began our journey to what was the first city entirely new to the both of us.

Bike camping in Motukarara and Little River, New Zealand (February 2010)

Day 1
We started off pretty slowly in the morning, true to how we normally get on the road at home, sort of unprepared. First order of business was to stop at the travel agent’s office as he had called the airlines to get everything set for our round-the-world ticket and figured out all the flights as well as Daniel’s credit from Raytheon for his trip home. After meeting with Richard the travel agent and paying the largest sum of money either of us has ever spent on anything in our entire lives, we had to decide where we were going that day.
We had an extremely general idea of where we wanted to go–South, basically– and having heard from locals that you can pretty much camp wherever you like and that it’s normal to bike on the highway, we just had to get a map. We went to the office of the Department of Conservation, and the woman at the office told us about something called the Rail Trail, a bike path built onto the old railway.
We had biked most of the way down highway 75, which had some pretty awesome views: the rolling mountainous farmland and lots of cows and sheep, but which was also kind of scary as the shoulder of the road had turned from bike lane to nothing. When we were most of the way to Motukarara where we were planning on camping that night, we figured out that the reason I was having such a hard time biking was not only a cheap bike and having everything I own on my back, but also the brakes on my bike had gotten stuck on, somewhat permanently. We didn’t have any tools to work on the bike with, and I was pretty ready to get where we were going, so we just biked the rest of the way to Motukarara and camped in a park right next to a horse racing track, where there was a race going on. We managed to build a fire from found wood (we were pretty proud of ourselves, as we did not have the benefit of either fire starters or Peter C. and his machete), and as we were boiling water over the fire for dinner, a man named Mark wandered by, got excited about the fire, and went to get some sausages to share. We had a short dinner with him, and when we were done eating, we set up camp. We had optimistically purchased a large one person tent (we couldn’t turn it down: it was on sale and only weighed one kilo) and had a rather cramped and chilly night.
Day 2
In the morning, we decided to try to find an allen wrench, and after coming up empty-handed at the caretaker’s office and at the cafe down highway 75, we started to walk the bikes back to the Motukarara camp site, very frustrated and without a plan. A driver slowed down on the highway and asked if we needed help, to which we said yes please, and he happened to live just on the other side of the property adjacent to where we had camped that night. His name was John and he also happened to be an avid biker and know exactly what to do to fix the brakes by adjusting the cables on the spot and adding grease to the caliper springs–this was much better than our original plan which was to take off all the bolts and see what happened. He also lent us a whole set of tools to take with us on the next leg of our trip and gave us a tour of his property (he and his wife Heather oversee an accomodation/halfway house for people in the community and surrounding area).
Having two working bikes and half a day left, we set out to reach shelter and water before nightfall. Our eventual destination was Little River, a small township on the Banks Peninsula which marked the end of the Rail Trail, and the beginning of the volcanic mountains which surround Akaroa. After a quick false start we found the Rail Trail, a gravel-and-rock path that wound its way through the creeks and inlets nearby. Much of the trail itself is on the coast of the Kaituna Lagoon, which connects to the much larger Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora, in Maori), which is itself split off from the Pacific Ocean just barely by the Kaitorete Spit. The ride was beautiful, the sun was shining, and even though the path was rocky (without bike shorts, “a bit rough on the bum,” as John put it) the view and the environment made it worthwhile.
We stopped and had a snack at Birdlings Flat, a tiny town with a pebble beach on the Pacific. After we noticed the sun getting low we hopped back on our bikes, realizing that we both definitely wanted somewhere indoors to stay the night. We rushed through the last leg of the path, sadly missing some fantastic photo opportunities of the sun setting in the hills, and arrived just in time to find the one guest room still available. It was a little out of our budget, but beautiful; halfway up a hill, with a view of the surrounding hills and a giant garden covering the property. Without any light pollution from the city, the view of the stars from the trellised and flowery patio was fantastic. We took showers, did some laundry, and went to sleep in a bed that was decidedly softer than the ground by the racetrack.
Day 3
We took our time heading back and enjoyed the path through Birdlings Flat since we knew there was a place to stay and water to drink in Motukarara. We took some great panoramic pictures along the way (we will post these soon), and had plenty of time to moo at the cattle and slow down for the sheep who were grazing alongside and in the middle of the rail trail path. We made great time and were able to stop at the restored railway station mini-museum, and signed the guestbook. We were the only people from Minneapolis in it!
John had offered to let us camp on his land when we came back to return the tools he had lent us, and he and his wife kindly set up a mattress in the back of their camper/customized half-semi truck bed, and offered us use of the toilets and shower block that was a part of the property. They were so kind to us, complete strangers from out of town, and we are very grateful to have met them along our way.
Day 4
Rather than taking the most direct route back to Christchurch (ie., highway 75) we decided to take a westward detour through Lincoln and Prebbleton, where another section of the rail trail was laid (you can check out the rail trail at www.littleriverrailtrail.co.nz). John and Heather had asked to to return a library book for them since we were going through Lincoln anyway, and after finding the library, we had a quick iced coffee and got back on the road. This section of the rail trail was sealed, which was a pretty exciting surprise for our sore seats. We made it back to Christchurch’s city center with plenty of sun left in the sky and we are now staying at the Foley Towers backpacker which is Northeast of Cathedral square. We only have a week left in Christchurch and are gearing up for the next leg of our trip–Bangkok!

Getting ready (February 2010)

Thursday evening. We are sitting on the deck at the backpacker we have been staying at for the last week, eating cheese and butter sandwiches along with sauteed onions and steamed broccoli and spinach. The last few days have been busy; we’ve managed to set our itinerary for our big tickets with the travel agent, lose (and subsequently find) my credit card, go out dancing with some fellow Polies (we learned the Lindy Hop, and what we lacked in skill we made up for with jumping), and bought two cheap bikes and a tent. That’s our plan for the next week or so, to bike around the South Island at whatever pace we want, and set up camp whenever we’re tired.
I packed up the last of my leftover South Pole stuff and sent it off via the APO at the Clothing Distribution Center here, so we’re now down to our traveling weight – a backpack each, and a mostly empty shoulder bag. Kiell went to the Centre of Contemporary Art for the day, a gallery with modern local art packed closely into sliding metal frames. It’s been drizzly and damp here, so we’ve been hoping that things will clear up in time for us to head out by bike tomorrow. We’ll wake up early and head over to the travel agency to buy our tickets, and then we’ll be off!
We’ve put up an album of pictures from Christchurch, you can view it here: http://picasaweb.google.com/mradyfist/Christchurch#

Christchurch, New Zealand (February 2010)

We have been relaxing a lot and spending most of our days wandering around the Cathedral Square area of Christchurch, the center of the city from which all the streets seem to extend like spokes on a bike wheel–having coffee and pints and fish and chips, and running into Daniel’s friends from South Pole. In the square during the day there is a smallish market where you can buy roasted nuts and Souvlaki, greenstone jewelry in traditional Maori shapes, commercial alpaca and sheepskin clothing, and All Blacks rugby accesories. It’s a pretty hippie-friendly city and there are street musicians, jugglers and fire-throwers performing in the city center, as well as lots of tourists from all over the world. We’ve met people in our hostel from Germany, Sweden, Argentina, Ireland and Canada.
Daniel and I spent our first full day together visiting the Botanic Gardens– a very large free garden that, according to the guidebook, has over 10,000 species of plants. There are some beautiful, ancient-looking cypress trees, Cinderella colored hydrangea puffs and lots of great smells. Coming from frozen Minnesota and even-more frozen Antarctica, the flower scented air is a very welcome change, and it’s not just in the Botanic Gardens, but all over the country as far as I can tell from the places I’ve smelled so far. The next day we napped on the bank of the shallow Avon river, eating cheese sandwiches, getting slightly sunburned and watching the suspendered punters push their tourist filled, flat-bottomed boats up and down the river for hours.
Daniel, Maggie, Nicole (a friend of Maggie’s from UMD who now lives in Auckland) and I spent the weekend together. We visited the Christchurch Art Gallery, home to some great Kiwi and international art, as well as the impressively large Canterbury Museum which had a really great section on Antarctic history and some very interesting artifacts from past explorers. We spent Valentine’s day on the beach. It was a little chillier and overcast than we had hoped, but still beautiful, and we still got to wade in the ocean and wander out onto the New Brighton pier. On the pier we watched recreational crab fishers pulling up their catches, and we accidentally crashed a wedding photo shoot before getting back on the bus to return to our backpacker in the center of the city.
We are hoping to acquire bikes and head out to go camping in Akaroa in the next few days to see the countryside.