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Monday, August 30, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 4, The Rain in my Brain

The family on the Harbor Cone, with the Pacific behind.
As I write this entry, we've been here three weeks. The newness of Dunedin has begun to wear off, and the feeling of ordinary life is returning. But now-and-then, when the sun is shining, I get a view of the ocean or of this beautiful city from on-high and it all comes back that we're here, a dream come true.

The rainy winter weather and early darkness begin to "crack the shell". When we arrived, it seemed that summer wasn't so far away, that we could keep riding our bikes on the trails right into the season we'd just left in Montana. But we hadn't seen the socked-in days of rain and winter. We're in that now. We were warned about the rain in Dunedin. Summer isn't as near as I'd hoped.

As great as an adventure like this is, there are times when it's not easy, when the doubts and fears make racket, when gloomy weather seeps into your brain, when you miss home and wonder why you put yourself and your family through such change, when the whole thing is still out in front of you waiting to be experienced.

Whew! That's some gloomy stuff. Luckily, the clouds break now and again, like last Friday evening, when we made it out to the Peninsula again and hiked the Harbor Cone. Damn this place is beautiful!

Ever-present sheep and Otago Harbor in the background.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 3, Getting a Car & Getting Out

Dunedin from Flagstaff mountain

Contrasting our New Zealand experience, so far, with our year in Finland in 2006-07 (something we find ourselves doing a lot), Dunedin feels much closer to what we're used to in Missoula. I'd even go further and say that our existence in North Carolina in 2002-03 feels further from our Missoula way-of-life than does our life here in Dunedin, though it is still early in the game.

In some ways, this is a disappointment, because, looking back, it was the significant differences between Finnish and American culture (language included) that made our year in Finland so stimulating and rewarding. On the other hand, the reason you visit New Zealand is for the place itself. Similar to Montana, New Zealand is a place that requires getting out of town and seeing things, where having a vehicle is a part of the lifestyle. Thus one of the first things we did when we got here was to start looking for a car.

After several days of searching, we found what seems like a good deal on a 1996 Toyota station wagon. We just got the car this past Saturday and have already been out on a few excursions. The first was to a short track (the NZ word for trail) up to a waterfall on Nicholls Creek on the outskirts of town. Then on Sunday, we took a trip out to the Otago Peninsula and hiked to Victory Beach. And finally, on Monday, Jen and I hiked up Flagstaff Mountain. So far so good.

Driving on the left side of the road and on the right side of the car is definitely strange, but I'm already getting used to it. What's more difficult to deal with is the general beginner feeling that Jen and I both have as drivers, especially when entering a busy intersection with cars going every-which-way.

Alex, thoughtful at Victory Beach

Ellie with a cool shell.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 2, Our House

Our house with Ellie on the porch swing.

Our new home is plenty big -- four rooms, a large kitchen with a great view, and a living room -- and is in a great location, but it's also a throwback to our student rental houses at Montana State University, when I was working on my PhD: industrial carpet, linoleum, white walls and old wall paper, 60's era appliances, etc. We all like the place; a funky, outdated home for a long stretch will do us good.

Although Dunedin is about as far south as Missoula is north, it is on the ocean and so its climate is relatively mild. A typical winter day reaches about 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the temps at night typically hover above freezing. As a result, most houses don't have central heating, just a wood stove and wall heaters. This means that by Montana standards, the houses are cold in winter; when our place is heated up, I still need a sweatshirt and cap to be cozy. And due to the cold nights, electric blankets are standard.

Every morning I wake up in the cold dark and start a fire in the stove in the kitchen, make coffee, and sit and read or write. After the first couple of days of this, I set the rule of no technology during this early morning time; email, or even a proximity to it, seems to raise my blood pressure. With this plain ritual, I have felt a sense of peace return that has too long been elusive.

A quirky fact about our home is that we live on Baldwin Street, which locals claim is "the steepest street in the world". (There's even a Wikipedia sight if you want verification.) What's strange about this is the large number of tourists that come to see it; why it's a must see sight for so many is beyond me. The steady tourist traffic through the day is a bit annoying, but it also means some good people watching.

Getting settled in a new place is a challenge. Here's a list of some of the necessary things we've accomplished in our first days and in order of appearance: find a grocery store, find the skate park (Alex's first bike spot), find a bike shop (we like Bike Otago, owned by pro downhiller Justin Leov and his parents), visit the kids' schools, find a department store, get a bank account, get library cards, find a car, get a cell phone, go for a ride ... you get the idea. Fortunately, the list is shrinking.

Alex at the bottom of Baldwin Street.
Our kitchen and the view.

We finally make it to the beach.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 1, Leaving Montana

The difficulty of leaving, and of major change in general, is one of those things that we humans easily forget. This makes sense, since a willingness to tackle change and new opportunities is certainly a trait that has helped the human species get to where it is on the tree of life.

After two weeks of solid effort on the house, getting it ready to hand over to our renters, I was burned out and cross eyed, wondering what I'd gotten myself into, and why I didn't remember it being as difficult when we moved to Finland. See the previous paragraph.

After handing over the keys, we spent the following week on a final Montana adventure: the Butte 50, a trip to our land on the Dearborn River, and then back to Missoula for a send off party at Kadin and Melissa's new place and some last minute chores. It was a great final week, seeing family and friends especially, but it also served to increase the feeling of a never-ending run-up to, and preparation for, the move.

In any event, by the time we finally loaded up the truck with our bikes and bags and set off for Spokane, it was with a tremendous sense of relief. Little did we know, more drama was in store.

First, we found out that despite assurance to the contrary, shipping our bikes on the plane was going to cost $200 per bike, or $600 total. Given the general shoestring nature of this trip for us, the news was a blow, but we quickly shifted; we'll certainly get our money's worth while we're here. And it's worth noting that the first thing Alex did when we got to our new place was put his bike together and go riding.

Next was San Francisco, where we rented a car and went into town in order to productively pass a seven hour layover. We walked downtown -- what a hip city San Francisco is -- then drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, whose towers were shrouded in fog, and finally, took a brief walk on Fisherman's Wharf to end our excursion, or so we thought. Our GPS, which had been so helpful up to that point, took us on a heavily trafficked detour, which lost us about 45 minutes. Needless to say, it got pretty tense in the car, but we made it back to the gate just as they were starting to board our flight -- clearly too close for comfort, but it could have been much worse.

We all breathed a deep sigh as we sank into our seats on the big trans-Pacific plane, and from that point on it was smooth sailing all the way to Dunedin.

Still packing the day we leave for Spokane.

At the Golden Gate Bridge.

Fisherman's Wharf with Alcatraz behind.

Ahh, we made it!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mount Evans, Anaconda-Pintler Range, Montana, July 2010

Mt Evans from a distance.

With less than a week to go in our odyssey to move out of our house and set off to New Zealand, and with about 10 days of packing, cleaning, and carpentry work under my belt, I was feeling the need to get out of town and into the high country. People say, "There'll be mountains in New Zealand to visit." But we'll be heading down in the dead of winter, and I am deeply connected to some places here in Montana, particularly the Pintler Range, up near our ski hangout, Discovery Basin. So on a whim, I headed out of town yesterday and 9:30 am (too late really) and made it up to the Twin Lakes trailhead by 11:15am -- closer than you might think.

Since the backpack I did with the kids last fall up in this part of the Pintlers, I have wanted to bag Mounts Howe and Evans. On this trip, I opted for Mount Evans because it would take me to a new lake basin, containing Lake of the Isle. Mount Howe will have to wait.

The hike up on a logging road through clear-cuts to Twin Lakes is a bit dull, but the day was "blue bird", and it was nice to have unobstructed views of the peaks. At Lower Twin Lake, a faint trail heads left and up to Lake of the Isle. This little visited lake is a classic alpine gem, but I didn't have long, so I scooted past it up to the upper (no name) lake, and then up to a saddle on the connecting ridge to Mount Evans. To this point, it was three non-stop hours of hiking at a good clip, and the last steep-and-loose bit to the saddle coupled with the still-long and technical ridge walk to the peak gave me pause to consider turning around. But I persevered and headed up, one more hour, to the peak.

On the way down, the going was loose, which made me nervous, and low-and-behold, I slipped and slammed my knee on a sharp rock. This didn't hinder my hike out, but I ended up needing 10 stitches and a trip to the emergency room when I got back to Missoula.

Looking at Mt. Howe from Mt. Evans.

From Mt. Evans looking east along the divide and the way I hiked up.
Looking west toward West Goat Peak, the Pintlers highest.