To celebrate my birthday, Kay and Louie joined Jack and I to climb to the highest peak on the North Island, Mount Ruapehu (2797m), still white with snow and dappled with skiers and snowboarders. En route to the top, we learned how to use ice axes and crampons, how to carve steps, and to self-arrest. Self-arresting means using your ice axe to stop yourself from sliding down a slope and plummeting over the edge of a cliff. We practiced jamming our ice axes into the icy-snowy surface after launching ourselves down the hill feet first, headfirst facedown, and headfirst on our backs. From the top of Mount Ruapehu, we looked over the North Island with views of Mount Taranaki, Mount Tarawera, and into the crater of Mount Ngauruhoe. We dined at the crater lake, which last erupted September 25th 2007, then tobogganed back down the mountain.

As part of a class project, my cousin's daughter, Angie, sent us a drawing of herself called "Flat Angie" and asked that we take photos of her touring around New Zealand. We took Flat Angie to the top of the South Island to the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds. Many of the amazing trails in NZ are dubbed “Great Walks”, but for us this would be a “Great Bike.” A boat dropped us off at the start of the track, picked us up at the end and ferried our packs and gear from campsite to campsite in between. This left us to tackle the trails on our bikes with just the basics. The track was shared by trampers and bikers with steep uphills, muddy sections, spectacular ocean views, tricky rocky bits, and long downhills. It rained the first day, but fined up for the last two. We spotted dolphins from the boat and passed sheep, cows, chooks, goats and many happy trampers and bikers. 

Jack's company closed down suddenly, so he's been doing some contract work and exploring new opportunities while we await our permanent residency approval. 

As newlyweds, we attended a marriage preparation course. It turned out to be a great opportunity to learn about each other and ourselves. We had a couple of wacky instructors. One introduced herself as having an anger management problem so we were a little wary of getting on her bad side. She also revealed her husband’s marriage-long nightly ritual. Each night a he undresses for bed, he takes off his underwear, kicks it up from the floor, then head butts it.

We’ve been doing quite a lot of bike rides in preparation for our 160K ride around Lake Taupo. Race day turned out to be perfect with sunny skies and light winds. The course itself was rolling hills with just a few big ones to keep things interesting. Jack rode the whole course without changing gears and passed 200 people going up one of the big hills. He actually counted. We were treated with fantastic views of the mountains and the lake and were totally inspired by the other 10 000 participants. The New Zealand Air Force was even out to support us, Canadian snowbird style. In NZ, there aren’t many options for backroads and detours so the race took place on an open main highway. The safety catchphrase of the day was “Left is right, Right is skull”. (Recall that Kiwis drive on the left side of the road). There were relay teams, hand bikes, recumbent bikes, tandem bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes, and kids attached to parents. There were even unicycles! The best part was crossing the finish line hand in hand.

Now time to prepare for a Xmas holiday of adventures!

Addendum: Jacek’s Bike Woes – A Happy Ending

When biking the Queen Charlotte Track, Jack’s hired bike gave him no end of trouble. The chain was fed the wrong way through the derailleur causing the chain links to flake off. Once he figured out the source of the trouble, he broke the chain and repaired it as best he could with the correct pins missing from the repair kit. The hanger was also bent and ended falling off completely. He then converted the bike to a single speed machine. But alas, the chain snapped again. Jack ended up riding his bike skateboard style the last few kilometres of the track.

The difficulty continued in our training ride for Lake Taupo. This time on his road bike Jack suffered with unspecified gear changing and brake troubles. The severity of this difficulty was brought to my attention when his front brake flew off his bike on a long down hill and hit my in the foot.

With this recent history and Jack’s generally excessive track record in the flat tyre department, we were expecting the worst for Taupo. Amazingly, we got through the whole race without any mechanical trouble. Hopefully, we have broken the curse.