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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.