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Friday, December 31, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 21, More Gratitude in 2011

At Murdering Beach

As the year comes to a close, I look back and am relieved to have gotten to this point without significant dereliction of duty. It was a year in which many things came together, in which there was seemingly more reaping than sowing, and I feel tired -- as any farmer must after harvesting a bumper crop -- and glad that every year isn't so full.
Just as our year in New Zealand isn't over, neither is the To Do list empty; many things still need to come together for the painting of this year's picture to be complete. Thus I find myself looking to the next item on the list, wanting to check it off, rather than basking in the glow of a job well done, and feeling gratitude for all that's come my way.
I've realized this year that the old adage is true: more achievement does not lead to more fulfillment. As Andre Agassi wrote in his biography, Open (one of my favorite reads of the year), "Winning changes nothing." Gratitude, on the other hand, has the power to transform.
I'm reminded that gratitude is a habit that must be cultivated, and I'm out of practice. So if I have a New Year's resolution it's that I bring gratitude into my life more fully in the coming year.
Happy New Year every one.  

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 20, Summer Solstice at Christmas

The Bardsley, December 17, 2010, Glenorchy, New Zealand.

Yesterday was summer solstice, down under. We stood out in our backyard with our neighbors at 10pm, still twilight, shorts and t-shirts, and watched the lunar eclipse.
You all know the glow that the air gets at twilight on a clear summer night. Well, it's here now, and I'm finding it hard to get into the Christmas spirit. My body says it should be the 4th of July.
Two nights ago, I went on a ride from 9-10pm, and it wasn't too dark for it, though I got home just in time. High on Upper Junction Road, looking east over Otago Harbor, I was struck by the light and the colorful clouds and how similar the view was to an eastern sky at twilight on a clear summer night back home.
And it's not just the weather that keeps the Christmas spirit at bay. It's being away from family and friends. Several times over the past couple of weeks, even in the midst of beautiful summer days, I've wished we were home for the holidays. As great as this adventure is, it's those connections that are most important, and this is the time of year to celebrate them.
Happy holidays to all of you.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 19, Queenstown

The view of Lake Wakatipu from our condo on the last night.
Several months back, when we arrived in New Zealand, we booked a condo in Queenstown for mid-December. We just returned from our week there, and it was action-packed indeed.

We left on a Saturday morning and on the way, stopped in Naseby for a mountain bike race. We’ve been hearing about the great trails in Naseby since we arrived, so it was nice to finally get a chance to sample them, even if while in the red zone. The riding was reminiscent of (and every bit as good as) the single track in Helena, Butte, and Missoula.

The race was also the Junior XC and Single Speed Otago Championships. The single speeders were a nutty bunch, dressed in costume and required to drink a beer with every lap. Given the heat, the thought of combining beer and mountain bike racing sounded appalling to me, which is a sure sign that I’m too much of a wimp to be a single speeder.
Single speeders awaiting the start. Note the guy in the skin suit.

Having attended two mountain bike races here in NZ, I’m struck by the relative lack of elitism in the competitive branch of the sport. At mountain bike races in Montana, the long course can only be ridden by Expert Class racers, which constitute Montana's elite. Here in NZ, on the other hand, you choose the distance you want, and all levels race together. In my opinion, this is a better way to go, both for the organizers, as it attracts more participants, as well as for the racers, who have more choice.

The two hour drive from Naseby to Queenstown was longish after the race, but when we arrived, we were buoyed by the remarkable beauty of the place. Our week was filled with activity. Jen and I went on three early morning rides. All were good, but two of them – Moke Lake and Skipper’s Canyon – were outstanding. We also rode the 7 Mile trail network as a family, and throughout the week carted Alex around to the world class Gorge Canyon Jump Park and Waynard Freeride Park so that he could test his free ride skills. Off the bikes, we went on a family hike from The Remarkables ski field to the top of The Remarkables mountain range for awesome views of Queenstowns, Lake Wakatipu, and the surroundings. And Jen and I went on several outings with Ellie – who enjoys shopping and hanging out in the condo more than hiking and biking – wandering the shops and cafes in Queenstown and nearby Frankton.

On a peak on the Remarkables ridge with Lake Wakatipu and Queens town behind/below.
Ellie found a personal-sized car in a Queenstown parking garage.
As many of you now know, Alex wrecked at Gorge Canyon and had to spend some time in the hospital. Here’s what happened. After three days of honing his skills on the jumps in Gorge Canyon, Alex was able to negotiate all but the most difficult of the jump trains. The airs were big, making this a heady place to be for a 13 year old. However, after too many hours in the saddle on day three (a misstep on my part) his shorts caught in his seat (another lesson learned) and he crashed while landing a jump. Most of the force of the landing was taken by his hands and stomach on the handlebars, at least this is my theory. He also cracked his helmet after hitting the ground. The result was sprained wrists and a bruised kidney. Jen took him to the hospital and the doctors wanted him to stay the night to be sure all was on the up-and-up. We had plans to continue the trip, but opted to head home instead so that Alex could more quickly recover.
Alex at Gorge Road Jump Park
Jen and the kids, Remarkables ridge, looking toward Arrowtown.
Jen riding on the Moke Lake ride.

Friday, December 10, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 18, Alex

Alex and his school mate Johnnie
It's interesting how kids become individuals, while inheriting much from their parents. Studies of identical twins separated at birth suggest that the nature/nurture split is about 50/50. Thus it seems inevitable that we become our parents, and yet there's much that's individual.
Alex and I are kindred spirits in some ways and not in others. We're kindred in our love of physical activity and outdoor-adventure-sport: cycling, skiing, and now surfing. We like to push the boundaries and flirt with a bit of risk, albeit calculated and in small doses. And we're prone to obsession: we've been waking up early several mornings a week, and driving the 10 minutes down to St. Clair beach for some surfing before the school/work day begins.
Surfing is a tough sport to learn, especially around here, as the conditions are rarely ideal. We've been catching waves in the white wash,  where the surf breaks a second time, as the waves are smaller and it feels safer there. The good surfers go "out the back" and catch the waves when they first break. The goal is to get out there too, because the surfing is better and we'll get less beat up, but in due time. Progress is incremental, though the increments are larger for Alex it seems.  

St. Clair on a calm day, which we've yet to experience.
In college, I learned to kayak with a fellow named John Amtmann, and all of the experiences we had learning to boat on the rivers of Montana and Idaho made us great friends. To have that same kind of opportunity with Alex is a true blessing, and I'm very thankful for it.

The last day of school for the kids was yesterday. We're pulling them out a week early and taking off on a trip to Queenstown and Central Otago. Both kids are disappointed to be missing out on the "funnest week of the year".

Alex is graduating from Dunedin North Intermediate (DNI), and the experience for him there has been a breath of fresh air, especially after last year at C.S. Porter, which was his most difficult yet. It seems that he's big man on campus at DNI, both literally, because he's begun maturing earlier than most, and figuratively, him being the tall, dark, and handsome American kid with a diffident air. You can tell that he enjoys the situation. I'm glad for the confidence boost it's given him.
Alex running the relays at Otago Champs.

Sis and Bro at Otago Champs. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 17, Birthday Journal

Look east from Heyward Point. Jen and I hiked there this week. Picture from the internet.
It's hard to believe that another birthday is here, and even more so, that I am 37 years old. I'll be 40 before I know it; the thirties are going so quickly.
Although I write this journal on my birthday (Dec. 5), yesterday felt like my ideal day: bike ride with Jen in the morning while the kids were at athletics (track), then a trip to Brighton Beach in the afternoon for some surfing and laying about. And finally, out to dinner at Paasha, which is probably our favorite Dunedin restaurant, with great Turkish cuisine.
Jen and I have a new favorite bike ride: along Otago Harbor, first on cycling/walking track, then on side roads, to Sawyers Bay, just before Pt. Chalmers, and finally up-and-over the hill to the North East Valley, where we live. It was one of those rare perfect days here in Dunedin, so the views along the harbor, and up high on the hill, were stunning.
And then at the beach, the weather held. It was a summery Saturday, so there were lots of folks out, and the swell was huge -- the lifeguards said it was the biggest they'd seen it all year -- so the waves were big and the surfing was fun. 
My body is making the transition to surfing more slowly than Alex's.  I've dealt with extreme soreness in my lower back and, more recently, my hip flexors. Yesterday, every attempt at standing up on my board hurt, while Alex kept going and going and is now getting up on his board and getting in good rides at every go. Still, once on Friday and then again yesterday, I got in a good solid ride, so there's been improvement, albeit incremental; surfing is a challenging sport.
At dinner at Paasha, I could barely hold up my head. It's the most tired I've been for a while. I think that the heavy dose of sun that I got at the beach put me over the top. The sun is intense down here.
Today will be a day of rest. We'll watch movies and Jen's making me a choice dinner -- a happy birthday indeed.
Another Heyward Point shot, this time looking west. Picture from the internet.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 16, Ellie

Ellie at the Dunedin Saturday Market
At the kids' current stage of development, I feel that I am entering a new stage of parenting: one in which flexibility (not one of my strengths) is increasingly valuable, while stubborn willfulness (something I have in spades) becomes increasingly less effective, especially with Ellie. Needless to say, I am learning about myself, and hope to make some improvements in the course of the year. 

Ellie is doing well here in Dunedin. She's attending North East Valley Normal School (NEVN), where the classes are small and the pressure is light. The New Zealand school system is recognized worldwide for its ability to educate a broad range of students, from the least to the most talented. As a result, the curriculum moves more slowly here; both kids are finding school to be easier than it was back home, with little homework and pressure.  There seems to be more space for them to be kids, and as a result they are happier at school. However I do worry -- especially for Alex as he heads into high school -- that the transition back to U.S. schools will be difficult.

At NEVN, Ellie stands out. She's a good student, is self-possessed and confident, is taller than most of the other children, and has come into her athleticism here in NZ. She's particularly proud of the fact that she's the fastest kid in her school, and her interest in track has prompted us to put her and Alex into a local track club.

Ellie is also very social and has had a rich experience in friendship in the short time we've been here. She's confident and joyful, is a natural leader, and has been fortunate in that she's made many friends on our street. While Alex loves physical activity -- biking, surfing, skiing -- Ellie loves to hang out with friends, and resists our tendency toward hyper-activity.

The Baldwin Street clan of kids is currently building a big fort up at the top of the street. After many hours of work on the fort yesterday, Ellie said that it was the 'funnest day of her life' and pleaded that we leave her behind rather than force her to go to the beach on a blue bird day. So you see what I deal with. Needless to say, I increasingly find myself humbled by my kids, and Ellie in particular.
The Baldwin Street crew at the fort.
Ellie and one of the local cats on Halloween.

Running the 800 at the Otago champs.
Ellie playing touch rugby.

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 15, Some Things I Miss

Kaikora Beach sunrise in early October. A benefit of uncomfortable sleeping arrangements.
I've kept up the practice of reading poetry in the mornings, more or less. Lately, it's been Gary Snyder, who writes about things that are sacred to me: the mountains, deserts, and empty places of the Western U.S., wonder, compassion, community, friendship.
There's a feeling that I can't explain tying me to my home and to the wild places I've visited there: the Dearborn River and her headwaters in the Scapegoat, the Bitterroots, the Pintlers, the Wallawas, the Sawtooths, southern Utah and the great American desert, to name a few. My concept of home grows.
And then there's our community and extended family in Missoula, Helena, Butte, and beyond.
And there are places I've yet to see. For example, did you know about the 4000+ year-old bristle cone pines in Great Basin National Park, eastern Nevada, Earth's oldest living beings? I must make a pilgrimage.
Below is a poem of Snyder's from a remarkable book of his called Mountains and Rivers Without End. Somehow, it calls forth several of my dearest held values and makes me miss home.

for Carole

Cross-legg'd under the low tent roof,
dim light, dinner done

drinking tea. We live
in old dry west

lift shirts bare skin
lean      touch lips--

old touches.
Love made, poems, makyngs,

always new, same stuff
life after life

as though Milarepa
four times built a tower of stone

like each time was the first.
Our love is mixed with

rocks and streams,
a heartbeat, a breath, a gaze

makes place in the dizzy eddy.
Living this old clear way

--a sizzle of ash and embers.
Scratchy breeze on the tent fly

one sip tea, hunch on bones,
we two be here    what comes.

At Split Beach near Aramoana

Friday, November 19, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 14, Surfing It Is

First trip to the beach.
One of the things that I had hoped to be able to do while I was here -- a long standing dream of mine actually -- is learn to surf. However, after being here a while, the reality of our situation forced me to reconsider. But dreams, if powerful enough and if shared with a 13 year old boy unconcerned about the bottom line, loom large.
Last weekend, we went to a local sport shop that was having a sale on all stuff water related. Our plan was to buy wet suits for the family so that we could enjoy swimming at the beach; the ocean is cold this far south, even in summer.
Over the past couple of months, I had shopped around a bit for surf boards and had found the one that I thought would be good for us to learn on. But the investment was going to be sizable, and so, I had decided that we weren't going to surf, that there was plenty else to do, that surfing would just have to be one of things that I wouldn't get to do.
After all, isn't one of the hallmarks of adulthood realizing and accepting the fact that you're not going to get everything you want in life?
When we walked into the sport shop looking for wetsuits, the price for the boards that I wanted was one-third off retail, just for that day. So I impulsively decided to buy two of them.
I write this about one week after the purchase, and we've been out four times and will go out again today. Alex is so excited that he's actually willing to get up early to go out for an hour before school. And we also have two body boards, so going to the beach is now an exciting family affair.
We're all true beginners on the ocean: big waves, rips, we've been having our asses handed to us. But I know from learning many other sporting things that it'll all gel eventually; new neural pathways take time to form. You can teach an old dog new tricks, it just takes longer.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 13, Classic Coast and the Coastal Classic

Me on the way down to Tunnel Beach
We  had a couple of outings this past weekend. First, on Saturday afternoon, we finally made it out to Tunnel Beach, which has been closed for two months for lambing season.  This is another amazing spot within minutes of Dunedin; I think it only took us 30 minutes to get there, from the other side of town.
The story is that the farmer who owns the land dug a tunnel through stone so that his daughters could have access to a beach. Now that the City of Dunedin takes care of the track, the tunnel is perfect with steps and all. But, I wonder what it looked like when it was first finished.

Jen on the way to Tunnel Beach
Alex and Ellie at Tunnel Beach

On Sunday, Jen and I did a mountain bike race down in Taeiri Mouth, about 50 minutes drive south from our house. The race was mostly logging roads, but also on some farm track. It was a good time. Jen did the 10 mile competition and I did the 25 mile. We got muddy, got our competitive juices flowing and had a good day, though I must admit to feeling guilty for making the kids be spectators for a change.

Jen at the end of the race.
Me at the beginning.
Finally, just today, Jen and I went out for a ride on the Otago Peninsula. It was another glorious day of weather and riding. The route was really nice: along the Pacific side of the Peninsula, then up and over to McAndrew Bay on Otagor Harbor, awesome views all the way. 
Me with the Otago coastline and Sandymount behind.
Jen and Alistar, a fellow we met along the way, St. Clair beach behind.

Jen descending into McAndrew Bay.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 12, Sticking Close to Home

A show of 13 year old strength on Murdering Beach
We've been back from our big trip for more than two weeks, and it feels good to be here. Getting away and seeing things is great, but I also enjoy letting a place sink into my bones, and that takes good stretches of normal living: weekends close home, the farmer's market, the library, dinner with friends, bike rides, a drive to a nearby beach for a barbeque.
One of the things that I love about Dunedin is that it's so easy to get out of town. With the Otago Peninsula, the ocean, the harbor, and all of the hills, you can drive 20 (or bike 40) minutes and feel like you're in a completely different place. But then, since the city is close, you'll come across a nice cafe in which to linger for a while.
One such place is Port Chalmers, which is Dunedin's port, about a 20 minute drive from downtown toward the mouth of Otago Harbor, though the fastest way for us is to go up-and-over the hill. My favorite cafe is on the main street there and the town's location on the Harbor is stunning by any stretch of the imagination.
On Saturday, weekend before last, while Ellie enjoyed a sleepover with a friend, Jen, Alex, and I drove through Port Chalmers on our way to Murdering Beach to barbeque some sausages and catch the sunset.

Then just yesterday, Jen and I rode a loop, up and over Mt. Carghill Road to Blueskin Road and around to Port Chalmers for some biscuits and tea at the cafe mentioned above. And finally, back up-and-over the hill to home. During our ride, Jen said, "These people live in paradise."
It's "local" experiences like these that make me feel more like I'm really living here, which I find very satisfying.
Jen on Mt. Carghill Road with Port Chalmers below.
Jen in Port Chalmers
Riding into Port Chalmers.

Friday, October 22, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 11, The Tongariro Crossing

Jen and Mt. Nguaruhoe (Mt. Doom)
On our last morning at the condo in Turangi, we woke up early and hit the road. The weather on the Tongariro Crossing looked good for the first time in a week, and so we decided to give it a shot. The Crossing is a one day, 19.5 km track up and over the saddle and volcanic area between two of the big peaks in Tongariro National Park: Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Nguarahoe (Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings). The track is billed as New Zealand's best one day walk, and it lived up to its reputation.
Alex and I on Red Crater.
I was nervous about bringing the kids on such a long excursion in imperfect weather, but it turned out to be a great day. The hike was awesome indeed, with so much variety in topography and geology, and so much beauty: there were steaming vents, snow capped peaks, volcanic craters, and big views north over Lake Taupo.  Although it took us seven hours without much stopping, the kids both thought it was mentally easier than the first 13 km day on the Abel Tasman Track.
Emerald Lakes
The Crossing was probably the best single day of a great trip, and left us high as we began the long drive south to Dunedin.  The next day, we stopped off at the national museum in Wellington before catching the ferry back to the South Island, but otherwise drove our butts off back to our New Zealand home in still-cold Dunedin, exhausted and ready for a break from travelling.
Ellie and Emerald Lake
Jen, Alex, Ellie, Lake Rotoria, and Lake Taupo in the distance.

Kaikora Beach sunrise, on the morning of the final push to Dunedin.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 10, The North Island

Otaki Beach

The ferry ride to the North Island was uneventful; the seas were a little rough, but not enough to get us sick. Just yesterday we met some Germans who said that on their crossing the seas were so rough that a semi tipped and was leaning against its neighbor.

I write about a week into our time on the North Island, and so far things have been uneventful, at least compared to our South Island camping adventure, where we didn’t stay in the same place during any two consecutive nights. The kids have enjoyed holing up with TV in our condo in Turangi, on the mighty Lake Taupo, which sits in the crater of a massive volcano. Turangi is a very quiet town on the banks of the Tongariro River, which is famous for trout fishing.

Jen hot springing in Kerosene Creek

We’ve had only two day-long excursions while we’ve been here. The first was to Rotorua, where the kids drained our bank account doing extreme activities: a wind tunnel, and the Zorb. They had a grand time doing these activities, and on the way to and from Rotorua, we hit some nice natural (and free) hot springs, making for a great day.

Alex in the wind tunnel

Ellie in the wind tunnel

The Zorb

Our second major outing was a trip to Tongariro National Park, where we did a couple of day hikes around Whakapapa (pronounced Fakapapa – my new favorite word). Tongariro is a beautiful and pristine national park; it was the world’s fourth. Our hikes took us to a couple of gorgeous waterfalls.

Jen, Me, and my mustache (now gone) at Teranaki Falls, Tongariro National Park

What we’ve really wanted to do in Tongariro, however, is the Tongariro Crossing, which is a 19.5 km trek up and over the saddle between two of the three big volcanoes in Tongariro National Park. It is billed as New Zealand’s best one day hike. The track has been closed, as the winds have been high all week, but it looks like there’s a weather window on Friday. If it holds, we’ll give it a shot.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 9, On the Road Again

Family shot on an Abel Tasman Park evening. Jen talked me into the new stash ... not sure about it.
On the first Tuesday of the kids’ two week spring break – the day that I wrote my last post – we took off on a twenty-day road trip. I now write, nine days in, from a campground in Picton, where we’ll leave today on a ferry for the North Island.

Thus far, the trip has been great. Getting out of Dunedin was a necessity. Living out of a car, sleeping on the ground, cooking on a camp stove, are a challenge but are good for the soul, especially in early spring after weeks of crappy weather. And this beautiful country, with endless great places to camp and explore, doesn’t hurt matters.

We left Dunedin on the tail end of a spring cold snap I’ve heard locals call the coldest on record. On the first night, after perusing the Moeraki boulders, we found a great stealth camp spot on the coast an hour north of home. Also camping there was a young Canadian couple one month into a several month road trip.
Ellie and I posing on the Moeraki bolders.
During the next two days, as the wet spring weather settled in, we put on the miles, hitting hot springs along the way. We spent the night at the nice, but uninspiring, Hanmer Springs. Then the next day, after driving over Lewis Pass in pouring rain, we stopped at Maruia Springs, which successfully combines some of the best aspects of developed and undeveloped hot springs.
Jen at the Japenes inspired Maruia Hot Springs.

By day’s end, we found ourselves camped on the coast again, north of Nelson, less than an hour south of Abel Tasman National Park, at a campground with a friendly middle-aged care taker, at the job fourteen years, living in a tricked out old trailer/bus, something we’ve seen a lot of here.

The time that we spent in Abel Tasman has been the highlight of our trip thus far. First, we spent the night in Marahau at the funky Old MacDonald’s Farm Campground, run by some pleasantly alternative folks. The next morning, we set out on a three day, 17 mile trek along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. We had perfect weather and the hike took us along some of the most beautiful and pristine coastline I’ve ever seen. We stayed in Department of Conservation huts along the way, which like overnight train travel, was better in the imagining than in actuality. On the other hand, we met travelers from places around the globe: Germany, England, Holland, USA, and France. On the last day, before the boat picked us up to take us back to our car, we hiked off trail and got close to a fur seal colony, maybe a little too close. As we left the park that day, and the area the next, we all felt the desire to return again; this far-north region of the South Island is a special place indeed.

On the way from Abel Tasman to Picton, via Nelson, we took a detour to remote Mistletoe Bay, on the Queen Charlotte Sound, where we found another pleasantly off-the-wall place, had a good night’s camping and some sea kayaking in the morning before heading to Picton to wait for the ferry.
On the Abel Tasman Coastal Track

The kids at Tonga Quarry with Tonga Island behind.
Abel Tasman colors #1

A fur seal, Alex's hat brim, and me.
Able Tasman Colors #2