Syd Schulz is a 23-year-old recent college grad, heading out to travel the world, race mountain bikes and write about it. She and her boyfriend Macky Franklin both race for Santa Fe Brewing – Pivot Cycles Pro Mountain Bike Race Team and are currently working to balance competitive athletics with full-time travel. They live out of a car and don’t shower nearly as much as they should. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Syd and Macky biking their way through New Zealand!
8:30am: We wake up in a tent on the front lawn of a house in Queenstown, New Zealand.
It’s a rather nice front lawn, to be fair, with a view of turquoise Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountain range off in the distance. But still, a lawn which happens to be the front lawn of a house owned by a bunch of college-aged mountain bike racers. Which stings a little bit, because Macky and I are older than everyone else in the house and we’re sleeping in the yard. But it’s free and there are certain advantages like flush toilets and four burner stoves and the boisterous morning exercise of trying to catch a loose mouse with your cereal bowl.
9am to 2pm: We eat pancakes and do work (aka stare at our computers) and then realize we have no food and run to the grocery store and forget coffee (AGAIN) and then come back and make sandwiches.
2pm: Prepare for a photo shoot with German photographer Jens Straudt. This involves cramming three mountain bikes, lots of camera gear and three people into a Toyota Corolla.
3pm: Realize we STILL haven’t left yet. Become concerned.
3:15pm: Finally leave.
3:16pm: Realize Jens forgot his pedals.
3:20pm: Actually leave.
4pm to 7:30pm: Ride for 30 seconds. Stop. Review photos. Repeat.
7:35pm: Run out of daylight. Continue riding down canyon.
8pm: Trail ends at bottom of canyon. Car is at the top. We start riding up the road.
9pm: Arrive at car. Load bikes. Drive back to Queenstown. I talk about food the entire drive and annoy the other two but I can’t help myself because I am STARVING.
9:30pm – 11:30pm: Make pasta. Add extra cheese. Review photos. Wash dishes. Chase another mouse. Take showers.
After almost a week of “trying,” We finally leave Queenstown. A process that, naturally, takes all day.
7 pm: Everything is more or less packed. It starts to rain. We say our goodbyes and get into the car. It continues to rain.
8:09pm: We arrive at grocery store in Cromwell. Grocery store closed at 8pm. Dammit.
9:30pm: Eat toast with jam at a picnic area. Debate camping in said picnic area but decide not to mess with the law and continue on to Lake Pukaki. At least then we’ll have a good view Mt. Cook.
10:30pm: Set up the tent in a free campground next to Lake Pukaki. Bedtime.
7am: Fog rolls in. No sign of Mt. Cook. It’s cold and threatening to rain. Where did New Zealand summer go?
8am: Start driving. Stop for coffee and a brief internet fix in Tekapo. Get so involved in work that I fail to notice our cafe has huge glass windows facing out over Lake Tekapo. The fog has lifted and it is gorgeous. This is the problem with working and traveling – sometimes you forget to wrench your eyes away from the screens and just take it all in.
9:30am: Get back in the car and head towards Christchurch. It’s pouring rain again.
2pm: Arrive in Christchurch. Stop by a friend’s house to pick up a package. No one is home so we sit in their driveway and poach internet for a few hours, answer some emails and Skype with family. The torrential downpour continues.
5pm: Accept that we will not be going on a bike ride today and drive out to find a free campsite slightly outside Pukaki. More rain.
6pm: Accept that we will not be cooking dinner tonight in the torrents (why does rain in New Zealand always go sideways?) and head to find the nearest fish n’ chips.
7pm: Stuff ourselves on greasy fish and chips in the front seats of the car and then head to bed to read and try to stay warm.
8am: Roll out of bed. Did we really just spend 12 hours in the tent? It’s still raining. We start to get frustrated with the weather. Head into Christchurch to find a library and put in a few hours of work.
1pm: Of course, it’s Saturday so the library inconveniently closes at one, leaving us halfway through what seems like a million projects. On the bright side, it has finally stopped raining so we make some sandwiches by the car and head up to Victoria Park to get in a quick training ride.
6pm: Finish ride and do a circuit training workout in the park. My attempts at push-ups elicit stares from other park patrons.
7pm: Cook burritos in the park and bemoan the lack of real salsa.
8pm: Get back in the car and start driving to Craigieburn National Park.
11pm: Pitch a tent in a free campground in Craigieburn. Jump into sleeping bags ASAP to avoid freezing to death. It’s cold here…again, what happened to summer?!?
8am: Wake up and make french toast. It may be freezing out, but we’ve still got this “glamping” thing down.
11am: Get on our bikes and head out for a ride at Craigieburn. Get miserably lost and end up riding “up” a “down” trail. But we still have fun.
4pm: Return from ride, eat lunch and head back to Christchurch.
5pm: Go grocery shopping in Christchurch and then head north towards Kaikoura. Tomorrow we’re going swimming with dolphins, which apparently is the thing to do in Kaikoura. I’m very excited about this, although perhaps bit apprehensive because I forgot to buy Dramamine. When we booked our trip, they warned us about the possibility of wind and large waves. My history with boats is less than stellar. (This fall I survived a whale-watching trip without vomiting but that was a first.)
The phone conversation went like this:
Dolphin guide: Are you prone to motion sickness?
Me (Lying because I really want to swim with dolphins): No, not really.
Dolphin guide: Well you should probably buy some seasickness medicine anyway, because it’s going to be rough out there.
7pm: Arrive at a free campsite halfway to Kaikoura and cook some more pasta.
4am: Wake up and fret about vomiting everywhere and ruining the dolphin trip for everyone else.
6am: Get up, pack up tent, make some coffee and start driving. We have to be at the boat at 8:15.
7:45am: The drive along the coast to Kaikoura is stunning. We watch the sun rise up over the mountains and burn off the fog.
8am: Arrive just in time to stop by the grocery store and search for some Dramamine. Of course, they don’t have any, so I snag some homeopathic seasickness tabs and begin to eat them like candy. Mantra: I can do this, I can do this.
8:16am: Arrive at Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura. On time, for, like, the first time in our lives.
8:20am: Find out tour has been canceled due to 50-knot winds and huge swells. Feel a mixture of annoyance, disappointment, relief (at least I’ll get to keep the contents of my stomach) and wealth (now have extra 170nzd!!). Soothe all of these emotions with a large flat white at a local cafe.
10am – 4pm: Spend the rest of the day catching up on emails in Kaikoura and driving up to Picton, where we will be taking the ferry to the North Island tomorrow.
5pm: Arrive at our campground in Picton and spend a few hours in the tent doing some writing and reading. It rains. Then it hails – stupidly we had left the doors of the tent open for a breeze so now there are lots of ice balls in the tent. Awesome. A pukeko (think cross between a chicken and a dinosaur) scares me out of my pants when it croaks just inches from the door of the tent.
7pm: Cook scrambled eggs in the rain. Bleck.
8pm: It’s still raining. Bedtime?
7am: Wake up and pack up. Ferry time. I start eating seasickness tabs. They actually do kind of taste like candy.
8am: Arrive in Picton. Ferry has been delayed an hour due to high winds. This is NOT good.
9am: Board the ferry.
10am – 11am: I sit at the prow of the boat, filled with dread, as the ferry traverses the relatively calm Queen Charlotte’s Sound. The announcer is kind enough to remind us, every fifteen minutes or so, that even though it looks sunny and nice we are about to get THRASHED the moment we hit open seas. Okay, he doesn’t say that exactly, but that’s the implication.
11am: It begins. For the record, this is a HUGE boat, yet it is still being pitched up and down forty, fifty, sixty, I have no idea how many feet. Ugh. I stare at the horizon and drink ginger beer.
11:45am: This strategy fails and I succumb. After puking up everything I’ve eaten in the last three weeks, I limp out to the deck and cling to the railing, relishing the subfreezing wind on my face. Even Macky, Mr. Stomach-of-Steel-I-Never-Get-Seasick is looking a tad green.
2pm: After four hours of misery, we arrive in Wellington. I decide that I will never get on a boat again.
3pm: Macky goes for a bike ride and I sit in the front seat of the car, wrapped up in my sleeping bag and trying to get some work done. I make a cup of tea under a picnic shelter (did I mention it’s raining again?) and start to perk up.
7pm: Still raining. We can’t bear another night of soggy scrambled eggs so we splurge on Asian noodles at the Noodle Canteen, then head up towards a free campground in Upper Hutt.
8:10pm: Arrive at campground. Apparently this is one of those campgrounds where they lock the gate at night. Gate was locked at 8pm. We begin to despair. It’s still pouring rain and now it’s dark too. We are out of options, so we park the car in a ditch and climb over the fence with our tent and sleeping bags. By the time the tent is erected, everything, us included, is sopping wet, but somehow the situation has bypassed depressing and become hilarious.
And that’s the thing about traveling the way we do – just when you think things couldn’t get much worse, they do. And then, suddenly, you’re able to see how funny and completely ridiculous your life is. And so, here we are, damp and chilly and parked illegally—but laughing ourselves silly. We go to sleep with smiles on our faces.
Syd and Macky are enroute to Peru for a race, then to Chile. Follow their adventures (and disasters) at Nomadically Inclined.