Saturday, December 31, 2011

Going snowhere fast: NZ day 8

After a very restless night, I fell into a deep slumber just before dawn.  By the time I awoke at 9am, I was feeling surprisingly refreshed.  I ambled to the kitchen for some breakfast, and noticed that all the noisy high school students were in the process of checking out of the hostel.  All was peaceful as I sat there by myself eating my muesli, staring out the window.  It had been snowing a lot overnight, and it was obvious that my plans of bushwalking around Mt Cook weren't going to eventuate.  The outlook for the day was bleak, and I felt pretty melancholic.

The view from breakfast was a white out, or to be more precise, a dark grey out

After breakfast I bumped into Jer, who had just arrived on the bus from Lake Tekapo.  He looked completely exhausted, and was unsure if he was going to continue on the journey.  He headed to the room to unpack his gear and have a lie down, I headed out to the garage to do some maintenance work on my bike.  The garage was wet and cold, and my hands weren't working in the freezing cold.  I noticed I had a badly bent spoke, presumably from some flight damage, and managed to straighten it up reasonably well.  After much skinning of knuckles and crushing of fingers I headed back inside to see what Jer was up to.

Snow business
Jer seemed in higher spirits after a bit of a chance to unwind.  I was feeling a lot better too, now that we were both back in the same location.  The weather appeared to be unchanging - heavy grey skies with constant wet snow.  It wasn't the most appealing conditions to be out running around - I hadn't bargained on it snowing at Mt Cook in November, so we were hardly prepared in terms of our clothing.  Still, Jer had never seen snow before, so we wandered out into the cold to see what it was all about.

As soon as we got outside Jer said "I've got to do this" and excitedly ran over to the snow...

...where he made a snow dick and balls.  Classic humour presented in a new medium

After the obligatory snowball fight, Jer seemed a lot happier, and we went for a walk around Mt Cook village.  It was clear that we were very much in a tourist resort type of place, with little to do on a snowed in day, unless we wanted to spend bulk amounts of money at cheesy attractions and overpriced restaurants.  Fortunately, we found a cafe  that had reasonably priced coffee, and watched the world go by for an hour or so.  From there we headed over to the Department of Conservation information centre.  This excellent facility really took me by surprise - it's free of charge to enter, and we spent a couple of hours wandering around the vast displays looking at all the artefacts and information from mountaineering adventures of days gone by.

Venturing up to Mt Cook village in the wet snow

With a light dusting of snow, the valley took on a different feel, quite unexpected in November

Lots of great quotes around the information centre, this one seemed particularly topical

Jer peruses the memorial books for the mountain, something like 200 people have died here in the past 100 years, including recently. Living in Australia, we had no real appreciation of just how brutal alpine environments can be

From the information centre we plodded back down to the hostel, with the snow and weather now significantly heavier.  We sat around in the kitchen, staring out at the snow piling up.  At this point Jer told me he had made up his mind to get a bus to Wanaka, about 200km away, and wait for me there.  I was still keen to try and ride out tomorrow to the town of Omarama, then over Lindis Pass and into Wanaka the following day.  I had it in my head that Lindis pass was going to be a real cycling highlight of the trip, and there was no way I was going to miss it.

We would definitely be leaving Mt Cook tomorrow, so for lunch I ate the rest of my food, before heading out to watch Jer work on his bike.  He had been reflecting on his saddle sores and problems, and realised that in the week before leaving Australia, he had swapped out the stem on his bike, and was now running much more aggressive geometry.  Looking at it in the garage, it looked to be set up more like a time trial bike than a tourer.  After a little adjustment, he had the bike set up much more sensibly, and was feeling a lot better about riding it again - and I was pleased he was no longer talking about abandoning altogether.

I test rode Jer's bike in the snow for about 20 seconds.  For the first 15 seconds I thought "this isn't too bad", then I realised it was actually freezing, wet and horrible

The Brazilian
We were sitting around quietly in our room, just watching the snow fall.  As the day progressed the hostel became progressively busier, much more so than the previous evening, and I was starting to feel claustrophobic and anxious again.  Up until Mt Cook, all the hostels we stayed in were part of the BBH chain, and had a friendly, quiet, relaxed vibe.  This place was part of a different chain, a big international chain with perhaps more of a party / young person feel to it, and something about it just wasn't working out for me.  In fact the whole of Mt Cook had a vibe that just wasn't sitting with me at all - for me cycle touring is largely solitary, and all about seeing things and experiencing things in your own way and at your own pace, and getting off the beaten track.  Here in this hostel and in Mt Cook, I felt like I was being crammed in to some experience where I wasn't free to just do my own thing, I had to play the same game as everyone else, and it was making me very aggravated.  I discussed this with Jer and he felt the same way - we agreed we needed to get away as quickly as possible, back on the bikes, and get this tour back on track.  We decided that in the morning we'd get the bus to the town of Twizel, about 60km away, and ride from there to Omarama for the night.  That way we'd be out of the snow, away from this place, and we could try to reprogram our newly acquired negativity on the 50km ride in the afternoon.

Our dorm room was getting pretty packed now, with about 6-8 guys staying in there.  They were all pretty quiet and kept to themselves, until suddenly this guy bursts into the room, dressed in about 5000 layers of the latest snow and rain gear.  The guy darted across the room straight to the window - swoosh swoosh swoosh swoosh - and stood there gasping wide eyed, with his hands over his mouth, looking on the verge of tears.  This continued for about five minutes, right next to my bed.  Then he exclaimed in a strong Brazilian accent "IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL! IT'S SO WHITE! IT'S LIKE HEAVEN HERE! I'M IN HEAVEN! I NEVER WANT TO LEAVE! IT'S NOT LIKE THIS IN BRAZIL!". He went on and on like this for at least 15 minutes "THERE IS SO MUCH SNOW! IT'S BEAUTIFUL! I HAVE TO FLY BACK TO BRAZIL ON THE 15TH OF NOVEMBER, BUT I'M JUST GOING TO STAY HERE FOR THE REST OF THE TIME! IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL! EVERYTHING IS SO PERFECT HERE! I WANT TO GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY IN THE SNOW! BUT I NEED TO EAT!  LOOK I AM SHAKING! IT'S JUST SO BEAUTIFUL!" His rambling went on, and on, and on.  Maybe he was just an excitable fellow, but he was annoying me a lot - he wasn't speaking to me in particular, just having a full volume monologue.  Jer and I ventured back into the snow, and back to the cafe to wait out the rest of the day in relative peace.  We had a few coffees there, then dinner - it was expensive, but worth it just to have a little bit of solitude.  As we sat there, the snow got heavier and heavier, and we both agreed it was the right decision to catch the bus out of the worst of the weather on the following day.

Ever wondered how tall I am compared to the life-size Sir Edmund Hilary? Well, now you know

Our view from the cafe window all afternoon - the snow piling up.

I do not like it
We eventually left the cafe and headed out into the heavy snow.  We really weren't dressed properly for the occasion, we were freezing and wet in our canvas street shoes and jeans.  On the way back, Jer made the discovery that snow on roads is awesome for doing skids, and we ran all the way through the village back to our hostel to stay warm.  As we got back to the hostel the Brazilian guy was wearing all his snow gear, standing around in the middle of the road looking stunned, with only his eyes poking out from all his clothing.  He said "ARE YOU OUT RUNNING IN THIS?  YOU ARE CRAZY!"  I said "nah mate it's freezing, trying to get indoors", to which he replied "YOU ARE CRAZY!  CRAZY AUSTRALIAN BIKE RIDERS! IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL! LOOK, LOOK AT MY HANDS! I PUT THEM IN THE SNOW, AT FIRST IT WAS COLD, BUT THEN IT FELT LIKE BURNING. IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL!!!" ...Indeed.

Apparently this was unseasonal weather for Mt Cook in November.  It did seem pretty intense

A cold man with wet shoes finds his way back to the hostel

My bed was the one with the bidons next to it, the Brazilian guy was in the bed opposite. Close quarters with a strange man

Back in our room, I packed my panniers and sorted my gear for a quick getaway in the morning.  Our bus was arriving at about 10am, and I was keen to be totally ready to get out of there.  I hopped into bed, with the snow was still falling heavily outside.  As with the night before, I pulled my blanket up over my head and tried to sleep.  That hostel was so noisy, I could hear every conversation and sound through the whole place it seemed.  Coming to Mt Cook had been a last minute addition to the tour, when I suddenly had a few extra days up my sleeve due to a flight change.  Lying there under my covers, I was pretty sure I hated the place - it looked like a beautiful paradise, but seemed all strangely wrong and sterile.  In hindsight, I still don't like the place - I concede that Mt Cook and I got off on the wrong foot with the weather and everything else, but my mind is made up.  Still, I'm glad I went there, I certainly had some insights about myself that will no doubt benefit me at some point in my life.

Jer inside the dorm room. Looking at this photo brings back all the feelings of anxiety and claustrophobia I had in that place

I just want to go to sleep
Of course, our Brazilian friend wasn't finished yet.  I was in bed, under the covers, almost asleep, when he walked in with all his snow gear on.  Swoosh swoosh swoosh swoosh.  He started talking to Jer, on the top bunk above me, giving it plenty of his "IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL!" routine.  He then proceeded to change out of his snow gear, which made the hugest racket, like something from the movie Transformers. Zip swoosh zip zip crinkle rip zip zip zip ziiiiiiip crinkle rustle swoosh swiish clip swoosh. He said to Jer "IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL!  LOOK AT THE SNOW!  IT'S HEAVEN HERE!  I'M GOING OUTSIDE, TO PLAY IN THE SNOW!!!".  He then put all his snow gear back on - swoosh clip swiish swoosh rustle crinkle ziiiiiiip zip zip zip rip crinkle zip zip swoosh zip. I heard him to say to Jer (referring to me) "DOWN THERE, HE IS ALREADY ASLEEP! SO BEAUTIFUL!".  I almost was asleep weird Brazilian guy, I almost was...


  1. I feel anxious just looking at the technicolour beds! WTF?!

    Great reading though Leon. Keep it coming.

  2. Haha it was intese, I can tell you!