Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Last Hurrah

And just like adventure is pretty much over.
Nelson Lake
I'm back in the States and easing very, very slowly back into reality.  I'm currently hanging out with my family in Ohio for a while and will then head back out towards Chicago, slowly but surely rebuilding a real life and getting back to work (in multiple regards).  I initially intended for my trip to be a bit longer, but there was apparently a hole in my wallet (or, I just didn't live quite as frugally as I could or should have and chose to settle in very expensive destinations).  Possibly more to the point, it was just time to be done. 
Last ride
Nelson Lake

I have lots and lots of thoughts and reflections, both on my trip, my experiences, and my future, but that's a bit boring and frankly, I haven't quite sorted my head out enough to put together a coherent wrap-up post.  No need for now, anyway, because I still have pretty pictures and what not from the end of my trip.
 Breakfast view
I spent my last couple days in Nelson doing a bit more of what I'd been doing the days before....eating amazing home-cooked breakfasts, riding my bike and trying to keep my heart rate up even with frequent photo stops (couldn't help myself), running on trails, hiking and exploring the region.
Amazing breakfast concoction by Lis
Then, I started the epic journey home.

First, I drove about six hours from Nelson to Christchurch through some of the most beautiful terrain I have seen in NZ, stopping every once in a while to snap pictures, not stopping every once in a while and still snapping pictures out the window, and thinking a lot.  I thought about New Zealand in general, I plotted immigration schemes, I got just a little misty-eyed a couple times when I turned a corner, saw a beautiful vista, and had to deal with the reality that I was leaving all of this behind.  Melodramatic, sure, but I never claimed to not be a drama queen.

A quick overnight in Christchurch, then to the airport at 6AM.  Flight to Auckland.  Almost 8 hour layover.  Flight to L.A. (12 hours).  3 hour layover (including a minor minor meltdown, it wouldn't be international travel without it, but I have nothing, absolutely nothing good to say about LAX Airport or its incredibly unhelpful employees).  Flight to Chicago.  1.5 hour layover.  Flight to Columbus.  And 37 hours after first leaving my accommodation in Christchurch, finally home.  All of those flights, except for the last one, sitting in cramped middle seats.  Quick naps here and there, but no real quality sleep.  It was, in one word, brutal.  
My eight-hour layover in Auckland was, by far, the highlight of that massive travel block.  Get ready for a little self-congratulations here.  I had a couple workouts scheduled for my travel day, and I decided that I wasn't going to let a little international travel get in the way.  Before my travels, I did a little googling and found a pool within 5K of the airport.  I got off the plane in Christchurch, loaded a little backpack with my swimming gear, changed into running clothes in the bathroom, dropped all of my luggage in storage, and took off on foot.  I got in a good 45 minute run, just exploring, turning down random roads, letting myself get lost, and stumbling on this:
Expected industrial parks, not horses and mountain views
Nor did I expect to find a trail.  Only in NZ
Then, when I was done, I walked through a somewhat dodgy neighborhood to the pool, swam for an hour, showered, walked back to the airport, retrieved my luggage, checked in for my flight, and still had time for dinner and a beer.  As I wrote in my TrainingPeaks log, my shoulder was a bit sore from all the patting of myself on the back I did for getting those workouts in. 
Just another random pool, but it gets picture mention because it was the only pool, of the 37 I've used, with free entry.
Re-entry has not been quite so outstanding.  I put a lot of effort into trying to figure out how to get my body to adjust to the time change (stay up late, work out during the day, take sleeping pills in an effort to get some sleep on the plane) but that was generally a complete failure and my body is so very confused.  I went to bed last night at 1AM (7PM in New Zealand), figuring I'd just sleep in really, really late.  No luck, I was up at 7AM (1AM in New Zealand), which makes no sense whatsoever.   I felt great all morning, almost hyper, super productive, ready to tackle the world.  I got a badly needed haircut (I convinced myself that I was rocking some sort of surfer casual chic look in New Zealand but I was, in reality, a split-ended disaster), dealt with some financial stuff, scheduled some doctors' appointments.....

And then came this >.< close to a complete melt down in the grocery store when I just couldn't find the chicken broth.  I wandered around, completely zoned out, confused, on the verge of tears (over chicken broth!), suddenly so exhausted that I wasn't sure I was going to be able to complete this shopping expedition.  I contemplating curling up for a nap in the produce section.  It took me about 20 minutes to find that damn broth.  When I got home, I slept for almost 4 hours.

As for the driving, left-side, right-side thing.  They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, and I had more than that in New Zealand to get used to left-side driving.  I did OK today with the switch back to right-side, had only one wrong-side! moment, and that was in a parking lot so no harm, no foul.  But I've had to focus REAL hard.  I've accidentally turned on the windshield wipers instead of the hitting the turn signal multiple times.  And here's the funny all of my time in New Zealand, the one thing I could never get right was approaching the car on the correct side, as in the side where the steering wheel sits.  I lost count of the number of times I tried to climb in the passenger side.  But now that I'm home, I'm still screwing it up, trying to get into the car on the side where the steering wheel would be in New Zealand.  I am so, desperately, in need of sleep.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Kiwi Ramblings

And now, some more random New Zealand observations/ stories, done in the lazy, bullet-point manner and sprinkled with some pictures that may or may not have anything to do with the words, since I don't have a real theme for this post and life hasn't changed all that much since last night (holy unprecedented blog posting frequency, Batman).
  •  Today, I explored the Golden Bay area, and did a few shortish hikes. Before starting one of those hikes this afternoon, I was accosted by an elderly couple who seemed concerned that I was daring to proceed.  "You need to be quite fit to complete this track," warned the man, looking at me skeptically (OK, I know I've been taking it pretty easy with the training lately, but do I really look that out of shape?).  "And you need sturdier footwear," he continued, looking pointedly at my neon pink Newtons.  (Yes I threw my hiking boots out in Auckland in the interest of being able to close my suitcase, but these should suffice.)   "There's a very frightening cable bridge, as well," chimed in his wife.  (Am I coming across as a huge scaredy cat?).  And when I made indications that I was going to go ahead and give it a go, they just shook their heads.  But I completed that hike just fine, thank you very much, and did so in less than an hour, with picture stops.   I just walked away from that conversation with my ego a tiny (lot) bit bruised. 
I still don't know what slips are and I was informed that my footwear was insufficiently sturdy, but I did have the required mindset to proceed.  Phew.
  • That hike did have a pretty intimidating cable bridge which would certainly freak out any person even remotely afraid of heights, but I'm not afraid of anything except triathlons.  And pennies being dropped off of skyscrapers and landing on me.  And baseballs or softballs hitting my head.  Oh, and bird attacks.  But that's it, really. 
I guess I was fit enough to get across the cable bridge
You can see right through the bottom and down 15 meters or so
  • To add to the list of things that I'm guessing everyone else but me knows: it is common for vineyards to fire large air guns at random intervals in order to scare off birds.  This is information that I may have appreciated before my recent early morning bike ride, when I was fairly certain I was being fired upon as I rode through a rural area.  I didn't have a heart rate monitor, but I wish I did, as I suspect the data would have been pretty entertaining. 
Wainui Falls
  • There is a species of bird here whose call sounds exactly like R2D2.  
Golden Bay
  •  I am going to be a complete menace to society when I return to the States, or at least a menace to anyone sharing a road, pool, or bike path with me, as I've really gotten amazingly good at keeping left.  It feels natural to drive on the left hand side of the road, and I've noticed even when I'm hiking totally solo, with no one around, I stay left on the trail.  I am considering grounding myself from driving for at least 48 hours after I arrive home and am still exhausted from travel.  I think that'll be best for everyone.
  • I've been working on my Kiwi accent for almost three months, and all I've been able to master is the word "no."  Kiwi's say it more like "noy," but a little softer, and I think I've got it down.  I also have a few phrases that I've managed to pick up by accident.  For example, I do find myself telling people that I'm on "holiday" [vacation] without even thinking about it.  And the other day I asked some one if it was "meant to rain?" which is Kiwi for "supposed to rain."  I'm practically assimilated, now. 

  •  Speaking of accents, I wasn't aware that I had one until I got here.  I've had multiple Kiwis guess that I was from Chicago after hearing me speak.  That bewilders and concerns me.
  • Because New Zealand is triathlon-obsessed, they have excellent TV coverage of big events.  The other evening, I stumbled upon the broadcast of Ironman New Zealand.  I debated moving on-- I was still being a little pout-y, it was a rough day for me and I wasn't sure I wanted to re-live it.  Then I realized that was dumb, because it wasn't a rough "day," it was a rough two hours, and I had almost nine hours that were awesome and that I  totally would want to re-live.  Plus, being in New Zealand has made me fairly familiar with all the Kiwi pros, and I wanted to see how the big Bevan-Cameron-Terenzo showdown played out, having only witnessed bits and pieces while I was on the course.  So I watched.  Good thing, too, because lo and behold, I got almost 6 whole seconds of footage!  I was running, and actually looking pretty decent.  I guess I'm pretty much famous in these parts, now. 

  • I'm on again/ off again gluten-free, and the time I've been in New Zealand has been mostly off again.  Which is a shame, because this country is so remarkably healthy.  I think I've seen gluten free options offered in every restaurant I've been in except McDonald's (or Macca's, as it is called in these parts).  Kiwis are also crazy about organic, and today I had a fruit juice that was not only organic, it was also biodynamic.  I didn't even know that was a thing, but it is.
Very entrepreneurial
  • Most of the roads here, aside from in the bigger cities, are two-lane, country roads.  Given the regularity with which I am passed on those roads, I think it is safe to say that I am the slowest driver in New Zealand.  
Not the birds that sound like R2D2 (I don't think) but they look vaguely penguin-like
  • They don't seem to get worked up about a whole lot of things here in New Zealand, but they are apparently really, really concerned about Didymo  (remember Didymo Dave in Taupo who made us dip our wetsuits before getting in the water?).  I still haven't quite figured out what exactly Didymo is, but I'm gathering that it's really, really bad, along the lines of national emergency bad. 
The dangers of the mysterious Didymo
  • Also a national emergency that I've heard quite a lot about-- there was a massive shortage of marmite, and the stores were all wiped out.  Marmite finally started to be re-stocked this week.  It was on the front page of the newspaper.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Triathlon Heaven

I'm now in the midst of a six-day stay just outside Nelson, New Zealand, a coastal town on the north end of the South Island. And, I'm pretty much living in my own personal paradise.
Backyard view
I wrote some time back about how as I've traveled around New Zealand and Australia, I've spent a lot of nights in motels and backpackers.  For this phase of the trip, I decided to do things a little differently.  I'm staying in an amazing bed & breakfast called Cat's Pjamas, located a little outside Nelson on beautiful land overlooking water and mountain, and owned and operated by Lis, the most hospitable person I have ever met, and Chris, who just so happens to have done six Ironmans (one on each continent save Antarctica which doesn't have one) and is, from what I can tell (he is, unfortunately, out of town for business), as obsessive of a triathlete as is out there.  In a good way, of course.  Lis seems to be supportive-triathlon-spouse extraordinaire, so she's more than a little tuned into the sport, too. 
What this means in practical terms is that I am staying in an absolutely stunning house, enjoying organic and healthy breakfasts filled with ingredients grown by Lis in her garden, and have my own personal guide to the region.  Every day, Lis helps me plan out my sightseeing and my training, pointing me in the direction of good cycling and running routes, and then greeting me when I get back with protein shakes and conversation.
Potato fritatta, tomatos, avocados, bread...just a normal (amazingly delicious) breakfast around here
And, oh yeah.  There's this.
That's Chris's pain cave, which I've been given access to.  A Computrainer, a treadmill, weights, a shelf full of triathlon books and magazines, a sauna if I wanted to heat train (I don't).  Oh, and let's not forget the endless pool outside. Did I mention I'm in triathlon heaven?  Did I also mention that this only costs marginally more than I'd be paying to be in a motel?

Of course, I'm still easing (slowly) back into training and my fitness is, well, pretty much completely gone, but I can't really think of a better scenario for getting started again than what I've got here.  I'm trying, for now, to keep the swim-bike-run stuff as low-key and fun as I can, while still getting it done.  That is working out quite nicely because this little triathlon heaven happens to be located in one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand that I've seen, right near Abel Tasman National Park.  So while I have a Computrainer and treadmill I could be using, I'm choosing instead to incorporate my training into my sightseeing. 
Yesterday, for example, I had a little run to do.  I drove out to Abel Tasman National Park, took a water taxi 17 kilometers down the coast, strapped on a Camelback, headed to the trail, ran the first 6K or so, and then hiked the remaining 11.  I've never actually run with a Camelback, and the extra couple pounds from that thing on my back, combined with the extra "couple" pounds on my body from my little triathlon hiatus/bender, the hills, and the tricky footing of a singletrack trail, made for a challenging run, indeed, but it was also among the most enjoyable runs I've had in a long, long time.  It didn't feel like "training" when I was out there.... it felt like "exploring."  I liked that.   The amazing views didn't hurt.
A particularly tame section of my little trail
Then today,  I'd heard there was a great farmers' market in Nelson, a couple towns away, so I forgot about any notions of aerodynamics, put a backpack on and rode my bike to the market, where I took a little rest, indulged in a toffee and banana crepe (most definitely not in the fuel plan), shopped around, bought some art, and then pedaled my way back home.  I didn't look at watts or cadence or heart rate or anything, I didn't care....I just wanted to enjoy my ride.  And I did.

I think these extensive instructions would be helpful in Chicago on the Lakefront Path

This would be how I rewarded myself for riding easy for a whole 2.5 hours

Overall, my little bonus week in New Zealand has thus far proven to be a great success.  I'm seeing the sights, I'm slowly getting my groove back when it comes to triathlon, I'm ending my trip on my own terms and leaving happy (which is not to say I won't cry a little when my plane leaves New Zealand soil, don't want to leave).   Now, we just need the midwest to warm up a bit before I get back there.

Normal fall morning in a Nelson park.  First, we see cricket...

Then a child randomly dressed as a tiger (there was also a pig and a cow and a bunny)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

South Island....Again

I had a flight back to the States booked for March 18.  It's now March 21st, and I'm not in the States.  

I wasn't ready to leave New Zealand yet.  I've made no secret of the fact that this country has stolen my heart, and there was still so much of it that I wanted to see.  Plus, I've really become quite a weather wimp, and all the emails and updates on Facebook reminding me of what a horrible winter y'all are having has done nothing to incentivize my return.
How can you leave these guys (hanging out in a park in the middle of Auckland)?
Yeah, I should get back at some point and get back into structured training, get some ART done on my unhappy leg, start eating well again, blah blah blah, but to be honest, my mid-season break from triathlon was much needed and possibly too short.  I still feel a little bit like I'm in a fight with triathlon, we haven't really made up after my last race, and until I'm really, truly mentally ready to get serious again, I'm not going to force it.  I'd rather do a little riding and running in new and beautiful places, just enjoy the surroundings, and keep my fingers crossed that the motivation will return, than to jump right back in when I'm not really chomping at the bit to do so, and end up quickly burnt out. 

And yeah, I do need to get home and start working again, and I will, but what's another week in the grand scheme of things?

Having thought these things through, I shelled out the many hundreds of dollars required to change my tickets and book accommodations, and I headed back down to the South Island of New Zealand to check out new areas, namely the Marlborough region and Nelson, on the north coast.

On the drive to Blenheim.  If you look really close, there's a seal
A funny thing happened while I was in Australia.  Summer ended in New Zealand.  And it took me completely by surprise.  It's been nice having summer-like weather since January, but in my mind, hot weather in January and February's not that strange.  I mean, we all went to warmer places during the winter for vacation, right?  I knew those places existed.  But it really never dawned on me that some of those warmer places, namely those in the southern hemisphere, will eventually get colder in March and April.  That is backwards, and Autumn-in-March is messing with my mind.

A lovely fall March
This is also my explanation for why I brought approximately zero warm clothes down to the South Island, and absolutely panicked when I stepped off the plane in Christchurch and felt temperatures in the high 40s.  Yes, I know for you midwesterners, high 40s sounds nice right now, but imagine a girl with a bag full of tank tops and only one thin jacket who has been living with temperatures in the 70s and 80s for 3 months. It was a shock.

Which is not to say I haven't thoroughly enjoyed running and cycling in this autumnal weather.   It's like heaven, except for the frozen toes.
Early morning frozen toe ride
The first part of my trip has involved a good deal of driving.  I flew into Christchurch, and drove north along the coast to Blenheim.   Blenheim's in the heart of the Marlborough Wine Region, which is absolutely my reason for selecting it as a stop.  It's been almost two weeks since my last wine tour, and that is two weeks too long.
For reasons not entirely clear even to myself, I decided to do this wine tour by bike.  Sounds like a recipe for disaster, huh?
Panniers specially made for wine bottles
I don't think a wine tour like the one I did would ever be allowed in the litigious United States.  Basically, we were all picked up, driven to the start point, given cruiser bikes, helmets, and maps, and sent on our merry way to imbibe to our heart's desire, traversing between stops on roads that were, often, heavily trafficked.  The owner's instructions: "it's self-guided.  Go to as many wineries as you can, just get back by five."  Game on.
So I went to about 7 wineries.  And unlike in the Hunter Valley, where LSF and I were a couple weeks ago, Marlborough wineries are not stingy with their pours.  In a way, it's good that I had some cycling to do between stops (sometimes up to 5 kilometers), it helped me to sweat out the alcohol, otherwise I would have been in bad, bad shape by the end of the day.  But, I can't look back and say that that was a safe day, in any way.  Absolutely enjoyable?  Yes.  Safe?  Not so much.

Yet I made it home, a little sunburnt, a lot exhausted, and mostly, even more in love with New Zealand.  It's amazing how, for such a small country, there is such a wide range of terrain and landscape.  Marlborough is gorgeous.  I'm glad I delayed the return to reality a little longer.
Moved on to a little town called Picton for the night