Rat Race Dirty Weekend

Finally got around to writing about the recent Dirty Weekend. Not, not that kind of dirty weekend (tsk), this was the Rat Race Dirty Weekend event at Burleigh House in Stamford earlier this month.

20 miles, 200 obstacles. They claim it’s the ‘world’s biggest obstacle course’ and invite people to come and show whether they’re hard enough (similar to that other type of dirty weekend really). I’d heard about this event a couple of years ago when Vic B had suggested we do it (I think we’d not long done the Wolf Run). I think I remember telling her she was a twat and to sod off, like how the hell could I run 20 miles, let alone with 200 obstacles. So, it was with bemusement that I found myself standing in the starting pen for that very race this year, asking myself not for the first time, what the hell I was doing.

When I took someone’s ticket in about October last year it was far enough away to promptly forget all about it. Back then, it sounded like a fun weekend that loads of people from BMF were off to and I’d get FOMO. I basically just wanted to join in the after party really, but I know I’d also not be able to stand by and watch everyone else go running. And besides, I do actually really love throwing myself into mud and over walls. No really, I do. When I used to watch the Krypton Factor as a kid, I’d always want to do the obstacle course. That and the film where you’d have to look out for difference and stuff. Observation round – that was it! Sod the shape sorting thing, get me outside. Me and my brother made various obstacles when we were younger but never a whole course. Think we ran out of spare wood.

Anyway, winter skipped along. Christmas came and went. I went on holiday. Spring started. Work project went live. Easter brought chocolate. My birthday happened. Then, all of a sudden, that weekend was a week away. I think all of us from BMF who were doing it collectively thought “Fuck!”. It crept up, the sneaky little bastard. So, with training consisting of runs when I could, hikes, hitting gym classes and trying to BMF the shit out of the week I was as prepared as I could have been.

First things first, this is not just an obstacle race, this is a weekend. Friday to Sunday with pre-parties and after parties and everything in between. It’s brilliantly organised from start to finish, so hats off to Rat Race for making everything run like clockwork (or at least seem like it). From the booking process online all through the email comms, then parking, registration, facilities, race and marshalls, finish, after party and clear up, it was top notch.

I’m not going to go through everything because that would a) take AGES and b) probably be dull for you. So let’s try and keep it in a nutshell-cat-page . The dirty weekend started on Friday with a ROAD TRIP. Everyone knows a road trip has to involve SHOTGUN and the worlds ROAD TRIP in capitals. We did this with Adam being a sore loser about shotgun, Sian slating my music choices, me trying (and failing) to work Ben’s SD card media thingy and Ben just trying to make sure he’s going the right way.

Arriving in good time (but still later than we’d thought) we parked up and skipped off like four eager beavers to find registration and the campsite, only to realise how fucking far away the car park was. For people that were planning on running 20 miles the next day this seemed unnecessary energy wastage. We got through registration, felt sick marvelled at the last obstacle (5 shipping containers high) and found the BMF campsite at near full capacity. So with some fence manoeuvring we claimed our corner patch with the same triumph as I imagined Christopher Columbus felt when discovering America.

Most of us had our tents up before Adam had even got his pole out so had time to figure out where all the most important facilities (toilets, showers, bar, waffle truck) were. Elena arrived hoping to smash the record for the smallest tent in the world and actually smashed the quickest tent erection record. We never did try the ‘most people in the smallest tent in the world record’. Next time. Next to the smallest tent was the Mansion Tent, still put up before Adam had finished whatever he was faffing around with. Surprisingly, Bev was not on the cider at this point, preferring to abstain, but we made up for her and had a good luck beverage. Not as many as the Dutch Mud Men and Mudstacle groups though, who presumably had read a study about how getting smashed and staying up late (and being LOUD) the day before a 20 mile ocr is excellent preparation. I’m not sure my body could handle that amount of preparation.

Race morning comes, and we had to get up at something like 6am for our start at some time around 8. I never actually knew what exact time we were starting, instead choosing to do what I normally do at BMF and rely on someone else to know what is going on. It was an exciting morning for me, as I got to try out my new Trangia mini camping stove for the first time to cook my porridge. This was important as this is the stove I’m planning on using if (when) I go on a bike adventure, and needed to test out whether I could work it without setting fire to myself, my tent or someone else. Test passed, hurrah!

Lucy brought out the camo paint for the obligatory BMF stripes. Harry, founder of BMF gave us words of encouragement (and a t-shirt). Ibuprofen taken, snacks prepared and various body parts were strapped and taped up. Sian’s head was not complete without the camo buff and Toby got into the beo-uff spirit by making his into horns. Pre-race joviality amongst the slight nervousness (yes, Adam actually admitted he was nervous, but shhh, don’t tell anyone). For anyone who doesn’t know, these races have ‘waves’ where a certain amount of people start the race at the same time. This mean that we are all herded into pens where we all wait, the air tight with anticipation and impatience. There was a pre-race warm up where there is a extremely attractive BMF instructor; which distracts the nerves of most of the women for a short while. And then all of a sudden, there’s some incomprehensible words shouted into a microphone! Some music! A countdown! Air horn! Flares! AND WE’RE OFF! Reach and jump to touch the inflatable start line. Why? Because. That’s. What. You. Do. Running! Into a throng of people, flare smoke, cheering, spectators. And so it begins. “Do not think about it’s 20 miles. Do not think about how tired you are already. Do not think about how little sleep you have had.” says the little voice.

And so you don’t. Not for a while anyway, you try and keep up with the rest of your group and have a laugh jogging, climbing, jumping, crawling and admiring the views. Helping your friends and making sure everyone is through each bit. Making sure Bev is OK when she hits her back and head on a trampette after slipping. Congratulating Elena when she jumps off the top bit of the water jump (it was bloody high, involuntary scream-type high). Cheering Rich on for going on the monkey bars over the water while having a bit of a boogie to the singer. Being helped onto the water platforms by Toby, and helping him through the tyre birth canal. Jogging with Linda on the long stretches and all having a laugh at the food stops, especially the one with crisps where we were all shovelling them in like we’d not eaten for weeks (believe me, the 6am breakfast was a long time ago by that point). We had a combination of serious running, clambering and jumping and then a bit of dicking about. Toby and I enjoyed a gentle float and splash about in the reservoir (while Elena and a friendly chap from Belgium made sure Bev got safely across). I enjoyed doing somersaults over the bars in the forest pretending I was 8 again.

Mile markers were measured against Bev’s garmin, and each time it came out different, but at least it gave us something to talk about and distract from the fact that we were still only at 3 miles. We were carrying a BMF flag, that became as precious to us as a newborn baby, cradled and carried the whole 20 miles (although you probably wouldn’t throw a newborn baby over some of the obstacles like we did).

The weather was pretty fab too. Because YES, weather is important. Not too hot, but warm enough that you didn’t get hypothermia as soon as you hit any water. Sunny enough for strange tan marks and that “been outside all day” look. This also helps conversation afterwards when you’re running out of things to say because you’re tired or drunk and so can just point to body parts instead, and that person knows exactly what you mean.

Elena and I ended up splitting from the rest of our group at some point. Not sure exactly where, but it was before the 13 mile mark, as this was the point you could finish at a half, or carry on for the full 20. There was no question what we would do, but this point was marked with some weirdly shaped box things to clamber over. I tried one but had run out of a energy as it was just before a food stop, so I ended up being pulled up in a most ungracious fashion by one arm and one leg by some Dutch bloke. I ended up sprawled out on the top shouting “thank you” while him and his girlfriend shouted “no problem”, already leaping over the next one like gazelles. The Dutch preparation was clearly working well.

Elena and I made our way over the next 7 miles getting to know each other a bit more, chatting to strangers and realising our previous lives had more in common than we thought, like a secret club no one actually wants to be a part of. Before we knew it, we were on the last mile! That 19 mile marker got a whoop-whoop. We arrived smiling at an obstacle where the incredibly enthusiastic marshall told us there was only one more obstacle to go. Hurrah we thought! But no! That cheery-faced cherub WAS LYING. There was at least 3 or 4. With some last surges of energy (and a rather painful mishap where I fell off one of the obstacles and slid down the wooden battens and onto the floor on my back like a comedy sketch) we emerged down the final straight, running head first into The 5-Storied Beast. That final wall/cargo net/slide. We looked at each other! We could do it! Off we shot, like rockets (as fast as rockets go that have already been let off 20 miles previous), reaching the top like triumphant adventurers. I imagine it was rather the same feeling as Roald Amundsen must have had when he was the first man to reach the South Pole.

Stopping for a quick photo shoot13179260_10154081316726341_5012695865979688295_n and look around, we threw ourselves down the last water slide with more gusto than you’d expect of people that had just ran 20 miles. Easy to do when you know you’re nearly done.

And that was it. We’d done it. YAY!

A more civilised photo shoot later, with medals is the requisite proof that the event was actually completed, in case you wake up and think it’s all a dream.

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Race done, first up was a quick chat with the guys who’d already finished, but most importantly it was then time for a shower. This simple daily task that most people take for granted suddenly takes on the same importance scale of what you’re going to name your first born. It’s one of the Best. Feelings. Ever. Especially if it’s warm.

Then, all dry and cosy (especially if you have a DryRobe) it’s time for food and BEER (or just beer, but I wouldn’t recommend this – see below) and a chat with fellow survivors team mates about all the best bits, how great it was, who fell off what, who completed what and any funny bits along the way. All this while also shouting congratulations to all the people coming in, looking weary and muddy and tired but deliriously happy. Probably at the thought of beer and that they don’t have to climb over another bit of wood (for at least a few hours until they get drunk and forget there’s an entrance to the campsite).

Then, the party extends to other groups of people (either the wider BMF group or Sian and I infiltrating Mudstacle). Then the Party becomes the Official After Party where we head to a big tent to drink more drink, dance like mad loons (because we are all surprised our legs still work, and feel the need to show this with various high-knee type dancing, facilitated by the Reverend telling us to “fookin bounce”) until it gets late and we are thrown out of the Big Tent and we head back to the campsite where it’s like the race is actually a weird futuristic society-controlling drug that has put everyone into a coma by 12pm.

And so we wake on the Sunday morning, bleary eyed and weary but triumphant, each one remembering what we have achieved, both as individuals and as a team, proud as punch.

We move slowly to pack up, both to enjoy the sunshine some more and also because of stiff legs and sore heads. And after hugs and fond farewells, the road trip back home begins. It is no longer in capitals. There is no shouting of shotgun, just a slightly subdued journey (me with my head out the window but that’s more because of the amount of beer imbibed). The sense of achievement does not need to be spoken about (mainly because speaking takes effort) but is known amongst us all, waiting to be taken home to be shared with loved ones.

As a post on Facebook says [something like] “This was not just an obstacle race. This was a Dirty Weekend”.

As this is a kind of review (it’s not really, but nevermind), here’s a few handy tips for if you’re thinking of doing it next year:

  • There are plenty of snacks at the food/drink stops so there’s really not much need to carry extra with you, especially in a running bumbag which either cuts you in half or bulks up underneath a t-shirt making you either look odd or pregnant in photos. It is NOT flattering, although this could just be me. I have yet to find ANY race photos I’d actually confess they were me. Maybe carry gels if you like them, they can be stuck down socks/pants/bras/arse cracks. Apparently. I’ve not tried them but I have tried similar ‘sports’ bar type things when doing London to Paris which well, let’s just say, it wasn’t good. I’ll stick to the bananas.
  • The camping is miles away from the car park. Take a wheeled contraption to take over the million and one things you will need for camping. Prepare to completely forget where you park your car, even if it’s right near the front gate.
  • Stick with your mates or find someone who is interesting for at least the second half. Towards the end you will need someone to talk to to distract you from the countdown of miles (“seriously, how is it STILL only 17 miles?”) and hallucinations of beer you get from about mile 15 (“mmmm is that beer? Oh, no, it’s a rabbit.”).
  • DO NOT forget ibuprofen. It’s useful for EVERYTHING.
  • Eat something after you finish, preferably with protein and carbs. The temptation to just hit the beer is overwhelming and WILL result in a massive crash in the days afterwards. I have tried and tested this many times, so take my word for it. These kind of events take so much more out of your body than you realise, even if you feel OK. Be kind to your bod and give it some TLC after, it’s the only one you get (unless your shares in cloning or human robots come to fruition at some point in the future).
  • But DO take more booze than you think you’ll need. There is a somewhat frivolous atmosphere requiring a high level of celebration.
  • DO speak to as many random strangers as you can. They are interesting and funny and make for a fully rounded experience. Hug them if you can, especially if they are foreign and don’t understand you. They WILL love it.
  • Go for a shower as soon as you can after you finish. That shower will feel amazing and having a beer knowing that you’re not sitting with mud up your arse is pretty special.
  • Take lots of pictures but don’t forget to stop and look around and up every once in a while. Remember the smiles and look of satisfaction on the faces of the people around you, the constant positive energy of the marshalls, the bright lights of a party done well and the stars in the sky once it’s all over and the world is quiet.

Don’t just take my word for it, oh no. Watch Ben’s most awesome gopro video of the weekend here. It’s bloody AWESOME, has great music and just sums up the whole weekend.

All this is more than just running around outside and getting muddy. It’s about trying something new and pushing yourself. It’s about facing fears and doing it anyway. It’s about seeing what your body is capable of. It’s about doing something different with your weekend and not watching the world through someone else’s screen. It’s about maxing the shit out of life, if this is your idea of fun. But most of all, it’s about the people you do it with. The people that help you over that fence, old friends, new friends or strangers. The people that help you on that water jump. The people that keep you going when you think you’re fading. Being part of a team, a collective. The people that make you laugh. The people that share their prosecco or big tub of rice. The people that you make memories with.

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That’s what BMF is so great at. It provides you a ready made team, a set of buddies to do crazy shit like this with. Full of friends from the off, whichever park you’re at.

Give it a go, what you got to lose?

 

 

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Day #150 29.05.16

The weather was like this ALL day today. Much relaxing and sitting/laying around drinking sloe gin and elderflower (tremaze, new fave summer drink) and beer listening to music.

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New Zealand road trip: part four.

Queenstown back to Christchurch, via the West Coast and North.

Another couple of nights in Christchurch where I had a “welcome back and cheer up” Thursday night with Marsha and a few Friday night drinks with Steffi. Leaving Queenstown for the very last time, I set off on the last leg of my road trip. I was sad to leave; it’s a beautiful place and I have many happy memories there (yes, the ones I can remember when alcohol wasn’t involved) and made a brilliant friend in Marsha. The last morning I was there she sat up in bed and said “don’t go, stay here and we’ll get a house and live in Queenstown”. Haha. I suspect she was still drunk from the night before but well, if I could have, I’d have been tempted. She’s a good friend and I miss her already 😦

I set off to drive up the West Coast, the first real stop to be the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. The drive through the Haast Pass was stunning, again all windy roads with mountains and lakes as the backdrop. This one was a little bit different though, and gave an idea how the landscape was going to be changing as I moved north. Lots of trees and green (and a bit of cloud and drizzle). The road was also full of Ferraris coming the other way, but I suspect this wasn’t an every day occurrence though. Looked like some kind of weekend cruise for an owners club. Reminded me of when I was part of the Lincs Mini Owners Club and we’d go out in convoy. A bunch of minis pootling along Lincolnshire country roads isn’t quite the same as a bunch of red (and the odd yellow) Ferraris racing (this is not an inaccurate description) around the winding roads of New Zealand, but, well, I know which car I’d rather be in (and it doesn’t begin with F).

After a day of stopping at waterfalls, beaches (with the most amazing driftwood), swamps and lagoons along the way I ended up at a DOC campsite somewhere on the West Coast (they all started to merge into one after a while, and just became somewhere to stop). Daylight savings had kicked in so it started getting dark at about 6:30pm. When you’re on your own in a tent with a torch that I don’t know how much battery was left, there’s not a lot to do at night so night’s were pretty uneventful after the previous week’s camping. I’d set my tent up, eat something then read for an hour or two before falling asleep. I’m pretty sure I was asleep by 8pm one night. Not a problem per se, until I kept waking up at about 10:30/11pm and thinking I’d had a full nights sleep. It was quite confusing. At least I wasn’t also waking up wondering where the hell I was, it’s quite clear when you’re in a tent.

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One slightly rainy night with loads of sand-flies later, I hit the road again to get to the glaciers. Just a word on sand-flies, in case I’ve not mentioned them before (can’t remember whether I have or not). I thought I didn’t like mosquitoes until I got here. Sand-flies are the only bad thing about New Zealand. They’re relentless and EVIL. Well, the female ones are, because they’re the ones that bite. If only they were different colours, you’d know which ones to swat away when a MILLION land on you and start chomping. The tiger balm I got in SE Asia that’s amazing for insect bites came out again. Because sand-fly bites itch. LIKE HELL. Camping is tricky, because they get into your tent and it’s hard to stop them. At least it gave me something to do that night after dark; find and get rid of the little bastards. I didn’t fancy them thinking they’d got a all-you-can-eat buffet for the next 8 hours or so I was in there.

The glaciers are pretty. They’re not quite as I pictured though. I expected nice shiny blue/white ice, all glistening and pretty. In reality, they’re covered in soil and rocks that have fallen on it from all the movement of the ice and mountains and you can’t get too close because they’re pretty darn dangerous. You can go ice climbing and walking on there and stuff, but it’s mega expensive and relies on the weather. The day I got there started well when I walked to Fox glacier but gradually turned cloudy and rainy. I walked to the Franz Josef glacier in pouring rain and got soaked, but there was no way that I wasn’t going to walk all the way to see it. Was it worth it? Yes, because I would have regretted it if I didn’t, but I did think that Fox was better. Both beautiful walks though, through the valleys where the glaciers used to be (not sure valleys is the right word but not sure what they’re actually called) with different coloured rock, waterfalls and a bit of a barren, stark beauty.

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Glaciers down and a cheeky drizzly walk around Lake Matheson. Then, another night, another pretty DOC campsite.

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The next morning I drove the short distance to a small town on the coast called Hokitika, where I spent the morning carving my own bone and shell pendant with Don King. Well, not actually Don King, but Steve, the shop owner, sure did look like him. A great way to spend a rainy morning, much fun and I’m pretty stoked with my piece of jewellery, which is actually supposed to be two bird wings in the shape of a heart. Whether you think that’s what it is is up for debate, but that’s what it started out as from a sketch by the lovely Dan.

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Unfortunately the rain didn’t really stop much, so I had a drizzly cloudy drive through Arthurs Pass, but it was still pretty amazing, even in the mist. The only thing not amazing was the crisps I bought in Arthurs Pass village for $5.50. Daylight robbery, they are $1.50 in the shops anywhere else! That’s what you get from a shop in the middle of a mountain pass I guess. And, I could have just not bought them, but I had a serious craving for salt and vinegar crisps and I just HAD to have them.

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Another night, another DOC site and a drive through Springfield (complete with pink doughnut) and I got to the seaside, whoop whoop! This time on the east coast in Kaikoura where I had an hour or two strolling along the top of the cliffs watching the sea, marvelling at the sky and the flocks of birds flying in the shape of a dolphin (yes, REALLY). Incredible. Followed by watching seal pups play in a waterfall and stream. Mum, again, you would have LOVED this.

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Another night, at a beachside DOC site this time. After a beautiful sunrise and being given breakfast from a lovely couple from the North Island in their campervan (which doesn’t sound like a lot but when your normal breakfast is a banana, or sometimes a banana and a cereal bar, a bowl of cereal and bit of warm toast with jaaaaaaam is like a veritable banquet fit for a king), I drove up to Picton and across along Queen Charlotte Drive towards Nelson through the Marlborough Sounds.

A beautiful drive but, like Arthurs Pass, a bit obscured by low cloud and drizzle. Still, it’s fun to drive round incredibly twisty blind roads in the mountains near the water (hmm, no wonder my injured arm is hurting). I was also kept amused by all the post boxes. As they’re all little boxes on the side of the road rather than letter boxes in doors, some people decide to go to town and have all sorts of stuff. Little houses, animals, stick men on horses, vehicles, fish, you name it, they had it. My favourite was the mini campervan. An exact replica, in mini size. Wasn’t able to stop and get a picture though unfortunately, you’ll just have to trust me on that one.

I stayed in Nelson for two nights, but didn’t really see anything. Two reasons. One, I had a load of admin to do, having not had internet for ages and two, it got stormy. Proper gale force winds, heavy rain and flooding. Luckily, I wasn’t camping, I’d treated myself to a hostel for a couple of nights. I couldn’t have timed it better, although looking back, I should have stayed another night, but I was getting cabin fever and needed to get back out on the road. It carried on raining and flooding on Good Friday and my plan was to drive up to Golden Bay and Farewell Spit (and Abel Tasman National Park), right at the north west corner of the North Island, but I didn’t manage it. It was raining and flooding so bad the roads were being washed away. And yes I had a ute, but I’m pretty sure Mike wouldn’t have appreciated me trying to go all Indiana Jones in his car. So, after about an hour and a half of driving and it getting worse and worse, I turned round and headed back, and ended up in a DOC campsite in Nelson Lakes National Park. It was still raining when I pitched up, so I spent the night in the back of the truck. There was no way I was pitching a tent in that. When I went to sleep I was the only vehicle in the whole campsite, but when I woke up there was a campervan right next to me. Like, about 2 feet away. The rest of the site was empty. Why? Strange people. That’s like blokes taking the next urinal when there’s other empty ones, or someone sitting right next to you on a bench when the other end is free. We Brits just don’t do that.

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The weather got better the next day. The rivers were still high but the rain had stopped and rainbows were out. The clouds started to lift and by the time I got to Hanmer Springs the sun was out and it was a beautiful Autumn day, perfect for scrunching all the leaves and climbing to the top of Conical Hill.

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And then, just as quick as it started, I was back in Christchurch and my road trip was over. Safely back in one piece, nearly 4000km later, I’d had the most amazing 6 weeks.

Incredible scenery and time out to spend by myself. To be at one with nature and the outdoors. Yes, I know it sounds wanky but it’s true. When I was at the top of Mount John or the Sealy Tarns with no one else around, it was so peaceful and so good for the soul. You should try it sometime. I’ve always liked and needed my own space, and loved the outdoors, but this was just something else. I’ve decided mountains are good for me, it’s just a shame we don’t have that many in the UK.

I met some truly brilliant people along the way, and had so much fun. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in a while, and I’ve learnt so many things (mainly being that I just can’t drink on consecutive nights, or that if I’m going to drink shots I need to prepare myself for a hangover the next day, REGARDLESS of how much water I drink and how many burgers I eat at 3am).

I’ve experienced that kindness and generosity of strangers yet again, and been surrounded by people who are open, friendly, positive and enthusiastic. Whether I’m in a travellers bubble, or that’s just New Zealand, I’m not sure. Maybe a bit of both, Either way, I’m not complaining.

I can’t end of course without saying one last thank you to Mike, for the loan of his truck and Jennie, for her amazing hospitality. They’ve been the backbone and launching pad for my adventure and I’ll not forget it.

South Island, it’s been a total pleasure.

New Zealand road trip: part three.

Queenstown to Milford Sound (and back again). Via Glenorchy.

After another night in Queenstown, recovering from the night before after a couple of beers turned into a Big Night Out, I finally headed out towards Glenorchy for the next bit of my roadtrip, this time with a bit of company with Johnny, the Irish guy I’d met in Wanaka and then again in Queenstown. Him in his campervan, me in the ute.

Driving to Glenorchy is pretty special. A road that hugs the side of the mountains along Lake Wakatipu, snaking in and out and round and round. You can’t go particularly fast, but you wouldn’t want to, because you’d miss it all. There was a bit of low cloud when we were driving up so we didn’t get the full in-your-face-blue of the lake, but I quite like it when the cloud hangs around the top of the mountains. It’s pretty and reminds me of my Dad telling me to make sure I take lots of pictures of the land of the long white cloud for him.

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Glenorchy itself is a tiny little village with not a lot there. People go there for all the walks around and nearby (it’s the start of the Routeburn track). We did the Glenorchy walkway to see the black swans (they seem so much more exotic than white swans), then spent a few hours just sat on a jetty in the sunshine staring out at the lake and the mountains. Just doing nothing but talking about everything and anything; like you do when you are getting to know someone. It was a most wonderful few hours and one of those moments where there was nowhere else I would have rather been.

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We headed up to a DOC campsite at Lake Sylvan. I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned the DOC (Department of Conservation) campsites before. If I have, then sorry. Great little places, cheap as chips (About $6 a night) and always in some of the most beautiful scenery going. Not a lot of facilities, but that kind of enhances the experience. Makes it more authentic. And really makes you appreciate the small things.

Like a shower.

This campsite was pretty cute, some great walks on the doorstep and of course, this being New Zealand, mountains in the background (forget land of the long white cloud, it should be called land of the many mountains).

After a little walk to the lake (renamed Dead Dog Lake due to a piece of wood that looked spookily like a, erm, dead dog) and making friends with a bird called Ray, we had the first night of cooking on the little stove that Johnny got in his campervan. Well, when I say cooking, I mean Johnny heating up a tin of beans and making a cup of tea for us. But, as it was more than either of us had done so far when on the road, I’d say it counts as cooking (pretty much like the time Marsha ‘cooked’ tea for me in Queenstown – definitely counts).

This was probably my favourite night of camping. I’m not sure why, but as I sat there eating my bowl of beans and drinking tea with no milk, it just felt like a pretty perfect evening.

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A lot of the area around Glenorchy was filmed for Lord of the Rings, and the area on the right as you drive up to Lake Sylvan is actually Isengard, not that I’d be able to recognise it mind you. But still, nice to know I’ve actually been there. After a sunset over the mountains, it was back for a night and a beer or two in Glenorchy then onwards to Te Anau to start the drive to Milford Sound.

It takes a couple of hours to drive along Milford Road from Te Anau to Milford Sound but it’s recommended to take your time as there’s loads of places to stop, and DOC campsites galore. We had another perfect night at Henry’s Creek campsite where we played our made up game (sticks and stones) on the edge of the lake until the sun went down then laid and star gazed at the amazing New Zealand night sky for hours. Anyone that’s been to NZ will know about the stars. You can stare at them forever yes? One of life’s simple pleasures. This whole week was about enjoying the moment and the simple things in life. No wifi, no TV, not many other people. Wonderful.

Mirror Lakes, Mistletoe Lake, Lake Gunn nature walk, the three-tiered Humbolt Falls, the Homer Tunnel and The Chasm were all stop offs on Milford Road. Marvels of nature; more massive mountains, waterfalls, forests, weird rocks, and wildlife. The drive was just incredible, my favourite driving day for sure. It was just spectacular.

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The end of a days driving was Milford Sound, and the heart of Fiordland. The best way to see it is from the water, cruising through in between all the amazing mountains and sheer cliff faces, waterfalls metres high tumbling out of the rock to get out into the Tasman Sea and back again. We saw seal colonies sunning themselves on the rocks, and dolphins gave us a show a few times, even swimming along with us in front of the boat for a while, just 10 feet below us. A rare treat and it felt really special to have experienced it. Beautiful, beautiful creatures, I was close enough to be able to see all the different markings and how they glided along in the water, jumping out every now and then. Mum, you would have absolutely loved this.

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Another stop at the Totara DOC campsite on Milford Road (purely because it had my name in it) where we saw the most amazing sunset over the river that ran through it.

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A fitting end for the last night of our roadtrip together before Johnny went onto Wanaka and I went back to Queenstown for a few days before the last part of my roadtrip.

A bit of a ‘this is what we did, where we went and what we saw’ blog post but, well, this week has a lot of personal memories that I guess I don’t really want to write down and share. It was one of the best weeks on my road trip with a fab person to spend it with and I have a whole host of wonderful memories that I’ll cherish forever.

 

New Zealand road trip: part one.

I’m writing this in Christchurch, having finished my little drive around the South Island. I didn’t blog at all along the way, mainly due to either a) no electricity/internet b) being hungover c) didn’t have time d) no motivation. So it’s all in my head now, waiting to be written. I’ll get there. Handily, my trip naturally split itself into different parts:

  • Part one: Christchurch to Queenstown
  • Part two: Queenstown and Wanaka
  • Part three: Queenstown to Milford Sound (and back again)
  • Part four: West coast to Christchurch, via the north

A total of nearly 4000 km (just over 3000 miles) in 5 weeks.

But before I start on part one, I’ll tell you about how it came about. I met a guy called Mike in Hong Kong last September. We first met when I insulted him by asking where in Australia he came from. Back then I couldn’t tell the difference in accent. Now I can. Luckily, he’s a laid back guy and didn’t get offended, and we hung out for a couple of days before I flew to Thailand and he moved on to China. I happened to mention to him that I was going to New Zealand in 2014 and he offered to lend me his ute to drive around in. At the time I thought what an awesome offer but it was a long time to go until I would be in NZ so lets see how things go. Fast forward and we kept in touch, and lo and behold, Mike was a star and not only lent me his truck but also camping stuff AND arranged for me to stay with his mum while in Christchurch. Amazeballs. Just one more example of how great and kind strangers, especially in the travelling world, can be. Restores your faith in humanity somewhat, especially because there is no agenda, no reason for it other that just be be bloody nice. Sometimes you can never pay these acts of kindness back, all you can do is pass it on. And pass it on I will.

So, after a few days of sorting the car out (getting it re-registered, warrant of fitness etc) and picking stuff up from Mike’s house (and scaring his cousin’s partner half to death by appearing to be, on the face of it, a burglar), I was ready to rock and roll.

I hadn’t driven in over a year.  For a fleeting moment I wondered whether I’d remember how to do it, but then reminded myself not to be so stupid, I’ve nearly been driving as long as I’ve not been driving so forgetting how to drive would be similar to forgetting how to speak or dress myself (although you’d maybe question these two things if you’ve seen me at 3am after a night of tequila). I did get confused with the handbrake in the ute though. It’s a pull out lever thing, not a stick. Luckily, I got shown where it was. Pretty sure I’d still be trying to figure it out now if I hadn’t.

So, one Monday morning, 5 weeks ago, I set out from Christchurch with the sun shining, music on the stereo, a map and the open road. Just me, the ute and a tent in the back. There’s something pretty special and liberating about travelling alone, but even more so for me when I was driving myself around. I could stop anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted. I made my own route with no time scales, no dates to be anywhere, no pressure.

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The first bit of the drive was through countryside that looked fairly familiar to Lincolnshire. Yep, if I shut my eyes I could have pretended I was back at home. Obviously didn’t do this, what with driving and all. But it didn’t last long, we don’t have mountains in Lincolnshire, and it soon started to get a bit hilly, and the scenery started to look like what I’d imagined the South Island to look like. I still remember the first photo stop I did. I don’t know exactly where it was, but it was a river that was stunningly blue, flanked by hills and trees. I thought it was beautiful. I soon learnt I hadn’t seen anything yet.

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My first proper stop was Lake Tekapo, where I camped for a couple of nights. Lake Tekapo is beautiful. Hang on, before I go on, let me say this: the whole of the South Island is beautiful. It’s more than beautiful. It’s stunning, amazing, incredible, inspirational, breathtaking, varied, different, outstanding, welcoming, magnificent, awe-inspiring, exquisite and fascinating. I, and all of the people I met along the way, regularly ran out of words to describe it. On more than one occasion I was speechless (yep, it does happen occasionally). So, I’m just putting them all out there right now, in an attempt to not repeat myself in the rest of these posts. It’s safe to assume that all the places I’m going to write about are covered in one of the words above.

Lake Tekapo: a turquoise lake surrounded by mountains, with lots of walks. Which is pretty much how I spent a couple of days here. It was the first outing for my new tent, which I put up in the rain. Amazing how quick you learn what goes where for an unfamiliar tent when it’s raining and your bed for the night is in danger of being waterlogged (maybe a slight exaggeration, it was only drizzling).

I climbed to the top of Mount John, where the world famous observatory is (Lake Tekapo is said to be the clearest place in the world to see the stars. I didn’t go up there at night, but on my second night the sky did indeed put on a pretty good show), sitting at the top for over an hour just admiring the views. My first time being almost overwhelmed with what nature had laid out before me (and well worth the bloody hard slog up the hill as my rib was still pretty painful at that point, making breathing a little bit difficult). I saw the Church of the Good Shepherd (maybe the church with the most picturesque view in the world) and walked around the lake in the morning eerie mist, with clouds shrouding the whole mountains and lake, making me feel like the only person around for miles.

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On the morning I left, I chatted to an older chap called Anthony, an extremely well spoken older gentleman in the wine trade, who had just been for a chilly dip in the lake. It was a most pleasant conversation, only made slightly odd when he proceeded to change out of his swimming trunks into his shorts and t-shirt under a very small towel, all the while holding a conversation with me. Not forgetting the part where he’d got out of his trunks and said he’d ‘drip dry’ for a bit. Awkward? Not really, I’m starting to see it all while travelling. Literally.

I headed onward to Mount Cook National Park. A pretty spectacular drive along blue Lake Pukaki, snow capped mountains in the distance. This is what I imagined it to be like. This is what took my breath away.

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Another couple of days here, just walking this time. There’s not a lot here; a very basic DOC (Dept of Conservation) campsite and that’s about it, but it’s all about the walking. I did the Hooker Valley glacier walk (so very pretty), and the Sealy Tarns walk, 2200 steps up the side of a mountain. Amazingly hard work as I was still suffering breathing issues due to my broken rib but totally worth it for the view and the chat with Tim from Shropshire. Lovely chap who had come to NZ on his own, his first solo trip and was loving it. One of those people that you can just chat with for ages, about all kinds of things, and I had a lovely dinner with him and Oliver from Germany that night. It beat the night before where I ended up packing my tent up at 2am in the rain and howling gale force winds because if I hadn’t, my tent wouldn’t have lasted much longer. I abandoned sleeping outside and slept in the back of the ute, which was swaying about in the wind all night. Not the best night’s sleep I’ve had, but, while travelling, I’ve not had a proper good nights sleep in over a year now. I can’t remember the last time I slept the whole way through since I’ve been away. Well, apart from any night where tequila’s been involved anyway. See, tequila has it’s uses. Good tequila.

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Mount Cook to Arrowtown. Probably two of the most different places I’ve been to. Mount Cook: remote national park with huge mountains and snow and stuff. Arrowtown: small historic mining town that’s straight out of a country and western movie. Honestly. It’s like a film set. I actually loved it here, and ended up staying 3 nights. Spent the days walking, eating and just lounging about. Lovely little place to do it, especially as the sun was out (although, bizarrely, I had my coldest nights in the tent here). I also nearly ate myself into a sugar-induced coma due to the creme brulee fudge they sold in the sweet shop. Also, anyone thinking of coming here, get a pie from the bakery. Del-ici-ous. Just maybe don’t follow it with a huge block of fudge. Although really, as I’m on holiday, there’s no calories right? No wonder I have a nice little layer of travelling fat. I did try and make up for it by going on a little jog.

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Arrowtown is only just down the road from Queenstown, home to all things adrenaline; all those things I couldn’t do thanks to that drinking session in Sydney. Queenstown deserves it’s own post as my time there was certainly adventurous, although not in the adrenaline sense. That’s part two.

I’m still here.

Just in case you were wondering. Yep, still here, just not had much internet. I’ve been in New Zealand about 5 and a half weeks now, and most of that has been on a road trip around the South Island. I’ve been spending a few weeks camping in remote spots, climbing mountains, getting drunk, eating Ferburgers, walking in the rainforest, being hungover, watching stars, driving a ute with my favourite tunes blasting out, making friends, making jewellery, enjoying a cuddle or two, playing sticks and stones, getting sprayed by waterfalls, cruising with dolphins, watching seal pups play in the river, sitting on the beach, seeing a glacier up close and getting soaked in the rain.

It’s been a blast, but there’s still a few days left of my road trip. I’ll blog in more detail when I get a bit of downtime, but in the meantime, here’s a few photos. I have many, many more where they come from. Seriously. I have about 3 million photos of mountains, lakes and streams.

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Touring Tasmania….on a pushbike.

Well, I said I wanted a challenge. And f*ck me, did I get that. With bells on.

Just a few things for you to consider before I start. 1) Tasmania is Australia’s hilliest state. 2) There was a record-high heatwave the first week I was there. 3) I’ve not biked anywhere near these kind of distances. 4) I’ve never done anything like this before. 5) I’ve never biked fully loaded with panniers full of gear/a tent etc. 6) I’m not that fit at the moment.

So, as you can see, I was totally fully prepared and ready to bike hundreds of kilometres. Not. My plan was to cycle from Launceston to Hobart, along the North East/East Coast of Tasmania. All in all, around 600km, just me, a bike and a tent. Yep, it’d be a breeze. Right?

HA! Nope. Although, I can look back now and think “hey, it wasn’t that bad, it was quite easy actually.” That’s due to the huge Dame Edna-style rose-tinted spectacles I’m wearing. Funny how once you’ve done something your mind can trick you about how it actually was. That’s why I deliberately made sure I thought about how I was feeling as I was going around (although, some days I didn’t have a choice, it’s all I could think about) and made sure I wrote notes every day. To avoid RTS syndrome.

That’s not to say it was bloody awful either; it was one of the best things I’ve ever done and I enjoyed every second of it (even the really, really hard tough bits). If I were to describe it in a few words, it’d be a mixture: Incredible. Amazing. Tough. Fantastic. Hot. Hard work. Gruelling. Relentless. Rewarding. Magic. Fun.

Oh, and if you’re wondering where the idea came from, I’m not entirely sure. I think a mixture of wanting to visit Tasmania, to do something a bit different, feeling quite unfit and wanting a challenge. I’d been inspired about bike rides by a couple of people along the way on my travels so hey presto, the idea came together and voila!

If you’re interested, let’s start with a few biking facts and stats. Oh, just to be clear, these are just my biking days from the day I set out to the day I finished. I had a bit of time in Launceston at the beginning and a while in Hobart at the end with no biking.

  • Day 1: Launceston to Low Head: Total distance biked 66km (41 miles), top speed 55kph (34mph)
  • Day 2: Low Head to Bridport: Total distance biked 65km (40 miles), top speed 49kph (30mph)
  • Day 3: Rest Day (plus a slight hangover)
  • Day 4: Bridport to Derby: Total distance biked 55.5km (34 miles), top speed 57kph (35mph)
  • Day 5: Derby to St Helens (aka Gravel Hell Day): Total distance biked 76km (47 miles), top speed 47kph (29mph)
  • Day 6: St Helens to Lagoons Beach (via Binalong Bay): Total distance biked 70km (43 miles), top speed 53kph (33mph)
  • Day 7: Lagoons Beach to Coles Bay; Total distance biked 69km (43 miles), top speed 44kph (27mph)
  • Day 8: Rest Day
  • Day 9: Coles Day to Swansea: Total distance biked 28.5km (18 miles), top speed 38kph (24mph)
  • Day 10: Swansea to Orford: Total distance biked 62km (38.5 miles), top speed 54kph (33.5mph)
  • Day 11: Orford to Richmond: Total distance biked 56.5km (35 miles), top speed 68kph (42mph)
  • Day 12: Richmond to Hobart: Total distance biked 30km (19 miles), top speed 48kph (30mph)

So, there you have it. In 10 days biking I cycled a total of 578.5 km (359 miles) and reached a top speed of 68kph (42mph). I’m not normally one for shouting about stuff I do but I’m bloody chuffed with that. I’m sure there’s people who have done way more (like Valerie, the girl I met in Hobart who had biked all the way from Adelaide to Darwin alone – 3000 km in two months. Hats off to you girl!) but for me, this is a huge personal achievement.

I set out in a bit of naivety really, not really thinking about whether it would be difficult or not, knowing it would be hilly but not realising what that really meant (like what it would actually feel like) and being a bit blasé (oh it will be easy peasy) about it all. Well I got my reality check! Although, all the way through I did it with a smile on my face and still thoughts of, well, just how bad can it be? And there was never any question about whether I could do it or not. Ever since I decided to do it I knew I could. I guess the questions were how long it would take and how hard it would be. I guess it helps I have endless optimism and a bit of determination. That ‘mind over matter’ grit. Which came into play endless times. Like when my legs were so tired I had to force them to keep going. When my knees felt like they might pop out of their sockets from pain. When the hill seemed never ending and the sun was relentless. When I ended up on that gravel track, miles from anywhere in the baking heat, only able to go about 5kph and knowing there was another 40km to go. When my shoulders and back were so cramped up from having 10kg hung off them. When I knew I still had two big hills to go before I could stop. You get the picture.

So. Where to start? So much to tell. Hmmm. Ok. Let’s start at the beginning.

Well, actually, let’s start with a thank you. A big, huge, mega THANK YOU. To Bob and La, who lent me a bike, all the bike bits and camping stuff, along with a heap load of help and advice. They have been just truly awesome and this bike trip may not have gone ahead without them. Or if it had, I doubt it would have been even half as successful. I owe them so much. So a big thank you guys, from the bottom of my heart.

So my trip didn’t start out particularly smoothly. I got to the airport and realised I’d forgotten the bike helmet I’d borrowed. As it’s law to wear a helmet over here, it meant I would have to buy one when I got to Tasmania. It also meant I couldn’t really put my bike together at the airport and I’d have to figure out a way to get a dismantled bike in a box into the city. Top tip: When you write a list of things to remember to take, it’s helpful to actually read the list before you go. The next important lesson I learnt was that bikes in boxes usually weigh around 25kg. I got told this by the helpful lady who pointed out that I was 5kg over my 20kg allowance. I might have remarked that it might be helpful to put that on their website for people who had never flown with a bike before and had no idea how much it would weigh. Luckily, she was an actual helpful lady and offset the weight of the bike with my carry on and I only had to pay an extra $30 rather than $60. Top tip: Pay the extra $4 or whatever it is when booking baggage allowance on a flight to get a bit more than you think you need.

I also found out that Tasmania is a lot smaller than I maybe first thought. Or, that there’s a lot less people there. Oh, and shops and other places shut early. I got into Launceston just after lunchtime and most of the shops shut at lunchtime. I wandered around the streets (minus my bike box – I’d left it in a Mountain Designs shop) and it was like a ghost town. On a Saturday afternoon. Prime shopping time and nothing was open and there was no one about. I was on the search for a bike helmet and I knew if I didn’t get one now, then I’d be stuck in the middle of the city with a bike in a box and no shops open until Monday. Luckily, I managed to find probably the only bike shop that was open until 3pm and they hit me up with a nice shiny white helmet. I trotted back to Mountain Designs and started to put my bike together in the back op the shop next to the rucksacks. Oh, let’s be clear, I didn’t just start unpacking my box in the middle of the shop, the manager did actually say I could. I think she felt sorry for me. This was the first of many acts of kindness I experienced on my trip.

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In my first few days in Launceston before I started my biking, I’d already managed to compile a little list of do’s and dont’s. I’m not sure whether these will help anyone but me, but, well, you never know.

  • Do walk around a gorge for hours in a heatwave without water. You won’t get mega thirsty and be praying for a water fountain to appear at all.
  • Don’t look in a mirror when applying sun cream. Of course you’ll manage to rub it all in and most definitely won’t have any streaks of white on your face for the entire day.
  • Don’t take flip flops with you. This way you get to walk around on stubby grass in bare feet or have permanent grass-covered socks.
  • Do pitch your tent as far away from the toilet/shower block as possible. Especially up a hill and in full sunlight with no shade.
  • Do leave your tent flap open – you’ll enjoy sleeping with ants.
  • Do decide to walk to the supermarket to get food rather than going to Hungry Jacks. It’s only about 5km away and you won’t want to eat your own hand with hunger by the time you finally get back with some food.
  • Do go to McDonalds to get wifi. You most certainly won’t look like a weirdo lurker outside and it will work perfectly. (I must be the only traveller who has never been able to get MaccyD wifi to work. In any country.)

I had a couple of days to have a wander round the beautiful little quaint city (it is technically a city, but it’s so tiny it really doesn’t feel like one) of Launceston (pronounced Lon-ses-ton), and the wonderful Cataract Gorge. It was beautiful and I wondered what the rest of Tasmania would be like after this. I was getting an idea for the hills here and also starting to wonder what I’d let myself in for. I really enjoyed Launceston but I was itching to get going out on the bike. Once I’d had a broken spoke fixed (reckon it got broken on the plane coming over) and my assembling skills checked out (turns out I didn’t do too bad), I was ready to hit the road. So, off I went. For about 100 metres. Then, in traffic, my chain came off. Good start. I think it was the bike just letting me know not to get too cocky.

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So, first day of biking wasn’t too bad. It was hot, and I started to realise just how far I’d have to bike, and just how long it would take me. I’d never spent 5-6 hours on a bike before, and after I’d been biking for about an hour I really did think I should probably have got to where I was going. I got a little lesson in managing expectations here. I also thought it was hilly. Ha. How wrong I was. That was actually flat compared with what was to come. By the end of my trip I had discovered the real meaning of the Tasmanian hill scale:

  1. Flat – quite few hills
  2. Not too bad – quite a few big hills
  3. Hilly – mountains

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I got my first glimpse of the Tassie scenery that first day, cycling alongside the Tamar river through wine valley country. Very pretty, with cute houses overlooking the river which was as blue as you could probably get. I got to bike over the awesomely-named Batman Bridge, and rolled into a place called Georgetown only to realise that everywhere (apart from the one supermarket) shuts at 5pm. I came to realise that this is normal for most places on the East Coast. At this point I’d done about 60km and my left knee was complaining quite a bit. After another (slightly uphill, quite hot) 5 or 6km I finally arrived at a caravan park in a place called Low Head right at the top of the island. Not a lot here, just lovely views over the river (especially at sunset) and Bass Strait and an awesome couple called Colin and Linda who gave me a chair, a beer and some bacon & cheese cheddar things as soon as I rolled into camp. Very much welcomed. How friendly and generous? I know. And no, they weren’t some kind of weird swingers or running a sex cult. Just, nice, friendly Aussie travellers.

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Already now an expert in tent setting up and taking down, I was ready in a jiffy the next day to trot onto Bridport. Well, trot wasn’t quite the speed I went at. Not surprisingly, my legs were a bit achy. So would yours be if you’d just cycled 65km without any practice or build up. Also, my left knee was pretty much in agony. It was REALLY painful. More than I’d expected. It felt similar to how my knees felt when I first started running, but much worse. Deep down I knew it was just a ‘getting used to the riding and repetitive exercise’ pain, so I soldiered on, but, bloody hell. It hurt. The only way I kept going was to think in a few km blocks. Like, “I’ll see how it feels after 5km”. Luckily for me, after about 10km the pain went away. Just like that. And I had a pretty uneventful day, although a few things stood out for me on this bit of the journey: 1) There were no villages or towns or anything to pass through. Just rolling fields and bush. So no shops or cafes. Luckily I’d already figured out to always carry a bit of food. 2) It was really hot, as Tasmania was still in the throes of the record-high heatwave. It was like riding a bike in a sauna. I guess people pay good money for that kind of workout. 3) There was a lot of road kill. Tasmania is known for it, mainly because there’s loads of animals here, most of which like to go and play on the roads between dusk and dawn, so it kind of figures. What’s not so great is riding past all this roadkill (some quite big (wallabies) and most that aren’t quite, well, whole any more) in temperature that’s in the high 30’s at a slow speed because you’re on a bike. I was reminded of the smell of DEATH. Which funnily enough reminded me of my childhood in the country. 4) Logging trucks are actually quite big compared to a bicycle. And they don’t give you a lot of room on the road. I was living on the edge. Quite literally, on the edge of the road.

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After stopping to buy cherries from a guy on the side of the road (there’s a lot of that here. Proper Tasmanian cherries, and oh my word they are good. So dark and so sweet) I rolled into Bridport, my right knee now hurting just a little bit. But only a little bit, so I figured it was all good. Actually at about this point I thought that if I had to stop cycling now, it would be OK because at least I had tried it, done a couple of days and experienced what it was like. But I thought I’d maybe be OK. I’d decided to have a rest day here in Bridport before setting off again; I had plenty of time and no need to be rushing off and injuring myself in the process. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Bridport is a fairly big (by Tasmania standards) seaside town. A few cafes, supermarket, shops and a beach. That’s pretty much it. I was getting the impression that this was what I should expect for a big town in Tasmania. I’m guessing this is why it’s so laid back. It was a bit like stepping back in time. No wifi, no unnecessary tat shops, no fancy restaurants, no fuss. Just a place with a nice beach full of friendly people enjoying the summer. It was still hot and I must have looked pretty knackered when I rocked up at my pitch, because the couple next door looked at me with pity and then forced me to sit and drink beer with them. Paul and Debbie from Canberra. I remembered their names as I instantly thought of Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee. Not that they looked anything like them. But they will forever be known as Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee to me.  Wonderful people, I spent a fab evening with them at the local pub where we ate good food, drank two rather spiffing bottles of Merlot and chatted about all sorts, including work stuff, as they own a computer consultancy company (who actually provide IT project managers etc), which actually, was much fun to swap stories. And realise that IT project management seems to be the same on the other side of the world.  When the time came to leave I found out they had already settled the bill and wouldn’t let me pay. Again, such amazing hospitality and generosity. Especially when we headed back to carry on drinking. I think we drank their alcohol supply dry, as the next thing I knew I woke up the next morning in my tent, no sleeping bag, still in my clothes (they were clearly not swingers or sex cult people either as I’m sure I probably would have woken up in either a) someone else’s tent or b) naked), surrounded by cracker crumbs (I’d obviously got the munchies). I have a vague recollection of trying to unzip my rucksack but not succeeding, mainly because it was already unzipped. I think it took me a good 10 minutes before I figured this out. Yes, I was that drunk, and I’ve not been that drunk for a loooong time. My rest day in Bridport turned into a hangover day. Have you ever tried to sleep off a hangover in 35+ heat in a tent? It’s not pleasant.

Back on the road again, I biked from Bridport to Derby (pronounced Derr-bee), stopping to have lunch at Scottsdale, where I got some impromptu advice from a Tassie local about getting a bike mirror from the shop round the corner so I could see the trucks behind me. I didn’t get one, but I guess it was nice of him to be concerned. It was pretty hot and pretty hilly again, but I’d started to get into a routine and it certainly didn’t feel as much as a slug as the first couple of days. I’m guessing the day off/hangover had helped in some way. And the stop to eat a trail bar in a graveyard.

Derby was a cute place. Tiny, tiny village. No shop but a couple of pubs, some B&B’s, cafes and a tin mine museum. I camped in Derby Park for freeeee and chatted to John and Nerryl who were on holiday from Adelaide. They fed me cups of tea and actually apologised that they didn’t have enough food to invite me for dinner. Sweet. I was alright with my tin of tuna and bit of bread though. Decided to go for a walk to the other end of the village to see what was about. It took me about 10 minutes. As it was about 6pm, of course everything was shut. Apart from the pubs. Heard voices coming from the one nearest to the camp site so I decided to go for a beer (yes, the hangover of the previous day was miraculously forgotten). Ever see it on TV where someone walks into a bar and the music stops, everyone stops talking and turns around to stare? Well, that happened. Apart from there wasn’t any music playing. But, if it had been, I swear it would have stopped. There was a handful of locals who clearly weren’t used to outsiders strolling in, cheerily shouting hello in an English accent. Mouths had actually dropped open and I got a bit of a steely stare from the landlady (who I later found out was called Betty) behind the bar, who, when I asked what beers they did, sarcastically pointed to the [one] draft pump. Boags of course. I ended up having a great night; getting to know the locals, finding out all about Derby and the pub’s history, and being bought drinks by Terry, the local ex-rocker who, after every drink, was ‘just leaving’ (and who was still there when I left….). The couple of young lads there invited their mates and everyone found it hilarious that I was biking around, let alone about to bike the two massive hills the next day, and wanted to know all about my travels. It was the kind of pub where you left your money on the bar and your glass just got filled up and money taken, no need to order or pay for a drink. I’m surprised Terry had any money left on the bar, the speed in which Betty would whip his empty glass away and refill. The kind of pub where you had to go behind the bar to get to the ladies toilet. The kind of pub that if Betty was out the back you just filled your empty glass up from the pump and put the money behind the bar. Proper local, honest and full of characters. In the space of an evening I went from being stared at to hearing cries of “No, don’t go” when I got up to leave. All in a day’s travel. This night is one of my fondest memories actually.

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More stranger kindness (honestly, I could write a whole blog post on it’s own about this. In fact I will. Soon.) followed the next morning as I had packed up camp, ready to tackle those two massive hills. A chap walks over with a box of Coco Pops in his hand and asks me if I’d like to join them for breakfast. Who could refuse an offer like that? Soon I was chomping on Coco Pops (not had those for YEARS) with Derek, Margot and Ruth. They even gave me a little chocolate bar to take with me for energy on the way (and unbeknown to me at the time, I needed it!). I also had a separate guy some over with some water as he’d seen me filling up my water bottle from the untreated water tap. Little did he know I have a Travel Tap which means I can fill up my bottle pretty much anywhere and it will filter all the nasties out. Even the Brayford Allister, although I never did try before I left the UK.

Derek also offered me a lift as they were going the same way. I knew I had two massive hills to get over. It was tempting. But, I decided that might be cheating. So, I told them that when they passed me later, to ask again. But, fate decided to intervene. Or maybe not fate but roadworks and bad road signage. This was probably the worst day of biking for me. It was the hottest and sunniest day yet (maximums of 35/36; pretty unheard of for Tas). I ended up on the wrong road (I’m still not quite sure how, as I didn’t actually leave the road. But still. One of life’s mysteries.) and only realised when I was about 10km downhill. Now, here’s the choice: do you a) go back 10km uphill to get back to where you’d come from and know that you still have two massive hills to climb, or do you b) see an alternative gravel road route that will take you to the same end place without really going out of the way? Looking back, I’d choose a). But of course I didn’t, I chose b). It seemed the best idea at the time, but then I’d never biked on Tassie’s gravel roads before. Now, it would have been OK if it was just a little gravel road, say, 5km? IT WAS 40. 40. 40km. That’s nearly 25 miles. 25 miles of rough, massive, bumpy, slow gravel roads. In 35 degree heat and no shade. With no passing cars and just state forest all around. Let’s just say I felt very isolated right then. And because it was such slow going (averaging 5kph) I was there for a LONG time. I actually didn’t know whether I’d get to the end of the road. Not in a dramatic “I’m going to die” but more a “shit, will I get a puncture or will the bike break it’s being shaken around that much” or “I’m going to have to camp out here in the forest” or “I wonder whether I’ll get heatstroke” or “I wonder if I should have taken that little road back there as I don’t know whether I’m going in the right direction” or “Have I got enough food”. That kind of thing. I can say the day that will forever be known now as ‘Gravel Hell Day’ certainly reminded me of Mind Over Matter. When you’re out in somewhere like that, only yourself for miles around, having to push on even though you’re running out of energy because it’s so hot and the road is so bumpy and hilly (oh yes, I avoided the two big hills but had to content with lots of [slightly] smaller ones), losing more fluids than you’re drinking, knowing that you’ve still got at least 6 hours more biking to go and no apparent end in sight, you have to dig deep and just Get On With it. So I did. There might have been a time when I told the sun to Fuck Off (sorry for the language Nan, but I was pretty hot and a bit irritable at that point!) but I pretty much managed to keep smiling. When I got to the end of the gravel and saw the tarmac, I very nearly got off my bike and kissed the ground. Nearly. What I actually did was laugh and pedal manically, rejoycing at how easy it seemed. Until I got to a hill and realised I had naff all energy. Cue the little chocolate bar I’d been given that morning! Gave me the sugar boost I needed to do the last 20km to St Helens before I collapsed in a heap at a hostel in a proper bed rather than a tent (only because it was cheaper to stay there than it was to pitch a tent – Tasmanian summer madness).

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St Helens is a bit of a funny place. Quite big, but not a lot there. A few shops and cafes (thanks Cafe Banjos for the free wifi) but not a lot else. Oh, I did get a guy with a 70’s porn moustache and a cowboy hat walk past me at night and drawl “Howdy” with a slightly creepy smile. Bit weird. Felt like I had biked through a portal and ended up in Southern USA. Not that I’ve been to the deep south but, it’s kind of what I imagine it’s like.

St Helens is more a launching pad for the beautiful Bay of Fires, which is actually lots of different bays which are stunningly pretty, especially in the sunshine. I had a ride up to Binalong Bay the next day before carrying on. Unfortunately for me, the weather decided that after nearly a week of record high sunshine that the day I bike to Binalong Bay was the day it would cloud over and be a bit drizzly. Thanks for that. Still, it was beautiful, even in the rain. And it gave me a good excuse to go to the cafe there and eat a chip mountain (literally, I am NOT KIDDING) and half a cheesecake (again, NOT KIDDING).

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And I can’t complain about the drizzle. After a week of nearly melting while riding, it made a nice change to have some cooler weather. Pretty sweet actually. Not so good to set up camp but as I was an expert tent setter-upper at this point I had it done in approximately 10.8 seconds*. *could be a slight under-estimation

More stranger kindness at the Lagoons Beach campsite. Trish, Richard, Barry and Molly (the self-named Grey Nomads) not only gave me beer when I arrived, they brought me a plateful of steaming hot chicken, potatoes and veg. Room service to my tent. Followed by chat, tea and homemade chocolates in one of their nice warm campervans (very welcome on a chilly damp night). How amazing is that eh? Australian’s are so damn friendly and generous, and these guys were just lovely and great to chat with. They also offered me a lift but again I said no. This bit is the flat bit so it definitely would have been cheating!

It was about now that I started bumping into old friends. Colin and Linda from Lowhead drove past so I had a quick chat with them. In a bakery in Bicheno I met up with Marc, a fellow cycle tourist from Canada who I met back in St Helens. Then Colin and Linda joined us in the bakery. Small island. This day I learnt about the phrase ‘on it’s last legs’. I was. Literally. You ever heard about the ‘Toxic Ten’? I first heard this when I started running. It was used to describe the first (and sometimes last) 10 minutes of a run where it would be really Hard Work. Well, I had the Toxic Ten and more. It was a nice day of riding but for the last few km my legs hurt. Really hurt, and it was such hard work to get to the end. I got to the campsite at Freycinet National Park and pretty much collapsed. My legs honestly felt like they couldn’t go much more. My last legs. That night I thought about walking up to Coles Bay to go and get some food but I just couldn’t face it. It was only just up the hill, but my legs really didn’t have any strength left in them. I’d already planned the next day as a rest day, which it would have been no matter what, because the next morning I just couldn’t face getting on my bike. I wasn’t going anywhere. The start of the walk to the famous Wineglass Bay lookout was about 5km from the campsite and I couldn’t even face getting on my bike for that, so I hitched a lift with a passing car.  Good job, because the walk up to the lookout and then down to the bay (which, by the way, is beauuutiful) and back was bloody tough. Some rest day eh. Obviously I rewarded myself with a snooze on the beach and two massive bars of Milkybar.

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Stranger kindness again? Yes, in buckets and spades here. I met a couple of families from Tassie on their annual holiday to Freycinet and they took me under their wing and invited me to dinner on both nights. I met Sue, Terry, Lesley, Sandy and Erica and, like everyone else, were just so friendly. They really welcomed me in and made me feel part of their family for a couple of days. I later stayed with Sandy, Lesley and Erica again in Hobart but that’s for another blog post.

Coles Bay to Swansea should have been a long ride back, along 30km of the same road because there’s only one way in and out of Freycinet. BUT. I was sneaky. I had achy legs, it was a mega windy day and I just couldn’t really face the thought of riding 30km along the same road back again. So, I diverted about 10km out of Coles Bay to a place called Swanick, which is just across the river from a place called Bagot Point, which, once you’re there, is about a 15 km ride to Swansea (rather than having to go all the way round and down again). Luckily for me two guardian angels appeared and after a quick chat, offered to give me and the bike a lift across the river in their boat. I will forever be grateful for that. My legs were so grateful, only 30km instead of a 70km ride. BONUS. Plus, the river and the ride along Dolphin Sands was so pretty. AND FLAT. With the most beautiful sky.

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Here’s a few random things I learnt along the way. 1) Everyone waves. I’m not sure whether it was because I was on a bike, but car drivers, lorry driver, pedestrians, farmers and everyone in between waved and smiled at me as I went past. Some also beep. It took me a while to realise they were just beeping and waving to be friendly, rather than beeping because I might have a wheel hanging off or something. 2) The spork that comes with the John West tuna lunch pack will hold you in good stead for a camping trip. You can (and will) use it for EVERYTHING. Of course, it might be easier to remember to take cutlery, especially when your friend offers you some from their camping gear. But, if you happen to forget, this makes a good tool and you’ll be very inventive with it. 3) I found biking alone for hours a day to be a bit like meditating. Lots of time to think, with random (and often strange) thoughts popping into my head. It was great to have that time and space though. And apparently I am not odd to make up games to play or start talking to the animals, other cycle tourists do it too. 4) It was inevitable I would fall over. But, it only happened twice. Once, as I stopped the bike and realised there was no ground to the left where I was leaning, so, plop, over I went. The other was when I was trying to put leggings on, over shoes, while standing up. Yep, I fell face first onto my tent, arse into the air. Top tip: Don’t be lazy and take your shoes off.

There’s loads of wildlife in Tasmania; I saw and heard plenty of it when I was there. Echidnas (very cute small spiky anteater thingys), wallabies (like kangaroos but different), possums (one tried to get into my tent one night), kookaburras (sound like monkeys), crows (sound like they are laughing), loads of different birds, including some birds of prey, and many many more that I either can’t remember or don’t know what they were. One of the great things about biking is how close you can get, and how you see, hear (and smell) all these things. Like the laughing crows. Probably wouldn’t have heard them in a car. They made me smile and laugh every time I heard them. Mainly because it just sounded like they were laughing at me cycling along. Either that or I had got sunstroke and had gone a bit delirious.

Swansea was a cute little seaside town, with a beautiful walk around the headland looking out over Freycinet, and the bike ride to Orford was really nice. Passed Spiky Bridge (an old bridge made by convicts) and some odd things like post boxes made out of toilet seats, and fences made out of trainers. Orford was a bit of a nondescript place, and I got there quite late so didn’t do much. I guess the only thing of note was that I stayed in a free camping place that had no toilets, and the nearest public toilets were a 15 minute walk away. Lets just say I had to strategically plan my evening and didn’t drink much. I’m pretty sure you’re finding this level of detail fascinating. Sorry, I felt the need to share. There might be people who are thinking of biking round Tasmania who may need this vital, important information.

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Onward to Richmond was only a tiny ride of only 30km. It felt like it was over before it began, it was that quick! Although, it did have the fabulously named Bust-Me-Gall and Break-Me-Neck hills which were pretty hard going upwards, but bloody good fast fun going downwards! Got to the bottom with no broken galls or necks. Another bonus. Richmond actually reminded me of a little English village, with lots of old stone Georgian-style buildings, rolling hills, meandering river, Australia’s oldest bridge and a couple of pretty little churches. And a bakery that did an amazing vegetable quiche (yes I like quiche now Mum, who’d have thought it? I also appear to like mushrooms and nuts.). But the most random thing about Richmond was Harmony. Harmony was, quite clearly, a man dressed as a woman, who was driving around Tasmania. Harmony told me that she (he?) had healing hands and proceeded to have a good look at my legs, have a bit of a prod/stroke around and tell me that I had a bit of a dodgy left knee at the back. It wasn’t far off where I had a poorly knee at the start of the biking, so maybe there was something in it. Either that or she (he) just wanted a feel of my leg. Either way, I seem to attract them. Remember my spiritual healing encounter in India?

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From Richmond I had my last day’s biking to Hobart. A great last day’s biking, with a couple of big hills which by now had become, dare I say it, easy. OK, maybe easy is a bit flippant, but I’d definitely say manageable. Bearable. I think my legs had got used to it. I think I had got a little bit fitter. A bit stronger. I’d found a rhythm and got used to getting somewhere when I got there, taking however long it would take. I no longer felt like crying when I saw a hill coming up.

Hobart felt like an assault on the senses when I got there. Loud, noisy and busy! It’s actually a very small city (population of just under 215,000) but compared to the places I’d been to it felt like a metropolis. It didn’t help that I ended up on the main dual carriageway into the city. There’s only three bits of dual carriageway on the whole island, and this was the busiest. For my friends back in Lincoln, it was like the Lincoln bypass. Yes, that’s a major road in Tassie!

I ended up spending about a week and a half in Hobart and fell completely and madly in love with the place. I could have stayed much longer. It reminded me of a mix between Lincoln (for the small, friendly feel where everyone knew everyone) and Cape Town (for the sheer beauty of the place, and the fact it was looked upon by a mountain and had the most beautiful harbour). I’m going to write about my time in Hobart in a separate post. There’s too much to say, and this post is too long already, and I’m sure you’ve either a) stopped reading or b) fallen asleep by now.

So, I guess I should wrap it up now. But I actually can’t think how to. I think I said it all in the beginning. So, I’ll leave you with this.

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