WEDNESDAY, APRIL 16, 2008
Haast to Fox Glacier - About 60Km - BEFORE Lunch
Yeah, that’s right. We skipped the biggest hills and let Brooke do them for us, but we still had our share. We also squeezed in a nature hike at Ship Point where Alison explained a lot of the local flora and fauna. I went down to the beach at the Tasman Sea to rinse my hands in the ocean, but ended up in water up to my calves. Unintentional, but refreshing nonetheless. Afterwards we drove to tea further up the coast.
From there we cycled 49K over gently rolling hills past pastures full of cows and over creeks such as Quad, Windbag, Kia, Kiwi, Hostel and many many others. Because the Aussie couple headed out first we all thought they were in front and when the Coloradans passed me, Rachel stayed behind to make sure I made it there. Though I had my doubts, Rachel kept encouraging me, giving me the updated Km left to go regularly. At one point she had a jelly type candy that runners use to get instant energy on the run, called Shock Blocks, and I wolfed it down and a granola bar with water. I would have sworn she had a little motor in her pannier - I’m huffing and puffing and there’s Rachel whistling to the birds calm as can be. It was brutal, my arms almost died, I need to find blister pads for my butt and I’m thinking of drastic measures - stealing the hotel pillow to cushion my poor posterior!! At the end of that ride was lunch at a very very picturesque beach, Bruce Bay. Lovely as it was, all I could do was crawl into the van, lay flat, and breath deep and slow. All this time I’d been trying to catch up to the Aussie couple, and here they had gone off the road and stopped for a tipple at the local fish farm. We were all tying to catch up to them and were very impressed at their speed. Little did we know that they were well behind us. After much encouragement to eat something, I made a plate of the lovely salads that Alison had prepared and bolted back to the van.
Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones enjoying the beach. Sandflies, which like to come out just before storms, were swarming everywhere. Sandflies bite like mosquitoes and the itch lasts longer, driving you crazy if you are unfortunate enough to be bitten. Usually a bit of breeze keeps them away, but it looked like rain was in our near future.
Not being a glutton for punishment, the Aussies and I rode the rest of the day in the van while Brooke and Pam rode on. We all finally reached Fox Glacier around 5PM.
Dinner was at Cook Saddle Café & Saloon, a local pub with old time photos and artifacts of the gold mining days. Can you decipher this sign that was on the wall?
THURSDAY, APRIL 17, 2008
Fox Glacier to Franz Josef
Water- Liquid and Solid
The weather had been iffy the day before and we were afraid that it would be cloudy in the morning, but true to our luck it was clear. We arose very early and drove to Lake Matheson, otherwise known as Mirror Lake. We were just early enough to see the mist rising and the sun shining on the lake, casting a mirror image on the water’s umber smooth surface. We walked around the lake, which has a hospitable path and platforms at key spots for viewing the mirror images. When we got to the most well know viewing platform there were already several photographers there, so we all jockeyed for position on the small platform then hurried on to the next event. Breakfast!
Most days we had continental breakfast in our rooms - cereal, toast, coffee, juice and most days yogurt. Believe me, if you don’t eat it all, you will be hungry and weak after the first 10ks and dipping into your stash of granola bars and “lollies”, a sort of Juicy Fruit. Sugar seems to be the drug of choice for serious bikers. And keeping sugar levels stable over long periods is the way they conquer mountains.
This hotel also had the best Internet connection - $5 for as long as you want. I could send email the night before, go to bed, and get the answer the very next morning when it was evening stateside. I furiously typed away, getting the answers I needed for acquiring a new passport. The good news: I could indeed get one, as proof of my existence could be couriered down to me relatively easily. The bad news: actually getting the passport could take up to a week. Grrrrr,…….I begged my new Auckland friends, Don and Jude to take me in and fortunately they agreed. Whew….at least the Girl Without a Country would have safe harbor from the storm. Hooray! So now as long as my documents arrive in Christchurch before Sunday, when I fly back north to Auckland, I’ll be somewhat set. No worries, mate - at least not at the moment.
Off to the next event. The town of Fox Glacier has……….a glacier. And of course an optional tour to allow us tourists the opportunity to experience it. We donned hiking boots, heavy wool socks, woollies, jumpers (sweaters) and gloves and hiked up the hillside - approx. 400 steps - to the face of the glacier. As we climbed the stairs you could see people walking on the glacier, but they were so far away they just looked like specks on the blue/grey surface. The walk was so steep, we lost a few in our tour group, either to fear of heights or inability to climb. Once we were ready to go onto the ice we put on crampons to grip the slippery surface. Our guide was a former Sherpa in Nepal and he was full of insights into hiking and the glacier. He carried a pick ax, which he used to chip away some of the ice on the ice stairs to make the surface easier for us to grip. We learned that the guides take turns spending the day grooming and cutting away at the ice stairs used as paths. They do it with the pick axes. Just imagine spending 8 hours a day chipping away at ice on a slippery, irregular surface in 30-40 degree weather. No desk, no coffee, and worse yet - where’s the bathroom? The nearest one is a 10 minute bus ride away, after climbing back down the mountain for half an hour. And if they miss a day of grooming, the ice paths will disappear.
One misstep and you could slide into a crevasse. The guides must pass a test whereby if someone falls into one of these cracks they have to unload their backpacks, drop lines down the crevasse to you and haul you back up within one half hour. Our guide said he hadn’t been able to pass it yet. I’m extra careful where I step. No crevasses for me.
We hiked past holes in the surface where glacial water pooled and then to a spot where there was a deep pit, about 12’ down, the size of a room. We scrambled down the ice stairs and looked around this marvelous room with a waterfall and deep sculptural cuts. On our way back to terra ferma we passed ice climbers as they picked their way to the top of a glacial wall. Apparently, the town of Franz Glacier has an indoor ice climbing wall. How cool would that be to try on a hot summer day?
Well, enough ice, we’ve got pavement to hit, and although it’s only 25k to Franz Josef, it isn’t flat! Not by a long shot. In fact the description of the ride is “Short but Grunty”
You can say that again! After all the hiking of the morning, the Aussies and I ride in the van to the top of the peaks in the road and cruise down hill to the next uphill, where we again catch a ride downhill. (We’re beginning to catch on the the downhill concept)
This was a really fun descent - fast and deep. But these roads are narrow and have hairpin turns so the risk of being bumped off the road is real. I was a little unnerved to know that there was a car on my tail following behind me as I wound on down the hill to a very sharp hairpin turn that led to a one lane bridge. At 40-50kph, one misstep can have you careening off the bike and into the mountainside. Ouch! Just at the point of the hairpin turn into the bridge the “car” passed me. It was an ambulance. No siren, just lights. Another thrilling day on the mountain.
By the time we ate dinner we were all already dreaming of bed, so dinner was somewhat of a blurr with painfully slow service. It happens.