Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A little on the late side

So, I never quite made the time to compose a Christmas letter. This will have to do as some sort of missive for me to sum up the year & wish you all happy holidays. 2011 was separated into distinct thirds for me. The first of those was the end of my year living & working in the Canadian Rockies. That spur of the moment decision to go & bike & ski in the mountains for twelve months still rates as one of the best of my life - I had a great time with fantastic friends; the snow was good too & my skiing could do nothing but improve with all those consecutive weekends on the hill.

The middle of the year - the end of a long winter & the first of summer - saw the completion of a long held dream. That was, a roadtrip around the West (USA) with a bike in the trunk/boot visiting many of the famous riding spots & national parks. My aunt, Valerie, joined me from Australia & we managed 22000 km (almost 14000 miles), 13 states & 2 provinces and an awful lot of quality mountain-biking (for me). Scenically, the highlights were Bryce Canyon & Crater Lake National Parks. As always when I visit the States, spending time with old friends & making new ones stays on top of the many memories.

Naturally, it was tough to leave close friends & the beauty of the Bow Valley; the last part of the year sees me finally starting to get around to what I left home for two and a half years ago. That is, to get a job & settle in the UK for a while and take full advantage of the proximity to Europe. I'm back process engineering for the first time in four years at a small rubber factory on the edge of the New Forest (not far from Southampton at the south of England). Mum's been over here for the last three months at university, so it's been great to see her every so often. The hospitality of extended family (some of whom I'm still only meeting now) helps to lessen the distance from home - as does Skype & 1p/min phone calls.

That's this year - 2012 will not be nearly as well planned out or active for that matter. I'm down to have surgery sometime on my shoulder (to tighten it all up - two dislocations this year), so that will curtail the biking & skiing a lot. That will just mean I have more free time to explore this part of the world. I've finally got an invite to a wedding (first since leaving), so I'll be back in NZ for a couple of weeks near the start of September for what will be a flurry of visiting much-missed family & friends.

Best wishes for the new year.

Monday, December 12, 2011

London trips

For the first time in my life, I've finally been able to start biking to work. But a five kilometre round trip is not all that much & is especially helped by it being a lot flatter than it seems in the car - which is quite the reverse of what I was expecting. So it may be closing in on the longest day of the year, but if it's not raining & I get up early enough to get organised, a ride to work (even if it just one or two degrees above freezing - thanks Canada for not making me avoid the "cold") is a nice little start to the day.

Last weekend was a trip up to London for Levi & Marki's Christmas party. Always good catching up with them & there was plenty of food too. Also pretty fun catching up with a buddy from high school who I hadn't seen about twelve years - I thought I'd got away from Canadians telling me to watch Trailerpark Boys, but it turns out Jeff is a bit of a fan too. There was no playing football on the deck with an offcut from the woodwork shop, but then the deck at the apartment is a little small & had more important duties as the beer fridge. Somehow I managed to walk out (just managed to walk onto the last train too, thus avoiding my first ever night-bus) with a huge ham - apparently I was the most worthy cause as Levi & Marki weren't going to get the chance to eat it with travelling on the cards.

A photo of me in it not on a bike
Around Sidcup on the weekend was pretty relaxing, on the way to visit Ray & Jill on Saturday morning Trish & I paid a visit to Rudolph's buddies & their spindly looking antlers.  I'm sure they would still do a bit of damage.

Even after a big sleep in, Sunday was looking pretty grey so Trish & I decided to head out to another little Kentish village - Westerham - to check out Quebec House. After a nice lunch in one of those great English pubs that look like they're doing a commendable impression of a drunk trying to stand up, we strolled through the village to check out the house. It was the birthplace of General Wolfe - who was apparently the first English military figure to be a popular hero. The name of the house comes from the name of the victorious battle that won him his fame & took his life. All very Nelsonesque - except Wolfe pre-dated him. I'd learnt a little about the battle that saw the British defeat the French in the war for control of Quebec City & Canada when I was at Buckler's Hard a couple of weeks ago - some of the ships built there sailed to Quebec before the battle. Always interested to get a bit more Canadian history, the museum above the coachhouse had great displays & was very informative. The house was pretty dark inside, but had some interesting period pieces - muskets are pretty heavy it turns out.

I was back in London three days later for yet another appointment about my bung shoulder. So I'll get keyhole surgery sometime next year - I asked for after-February so I can go skiing at least once this winter. As it's been three months to get this far, I'm hoping that's a safe request. I'll be out of action for a while (six weeks in a sling) with no driving & definitely not biking - but it'll be nice to get it fixed up & hopefully avoid the agony of the last dislocation repeating. So 2012 doesn't look like it'll be so active - but perhaps I'll finally get around to seeing some more of Europe, which I think was the whole idea of leaving NZ two & a half years ago. Oops.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Buckler's Hard

With a couple of days to recover from my last rotation of shift work for some time, yesterday was spent lazily resting & watching DVDs. Today wasn't a lot more productive, but I did pop out this afternoon down the road in the wind & rain to Buckler's Hard. It's just down the river from Beaulieu (where I visited various museums last week). The Beaulieu River is one of the few privately owned ones in the world, something dating back centuries to when the King gave the area to the monks of Beaulieu Abbey. Buckler's Hard gains its fame from its time as a shipbuilding centre from the mid-eighteenth century until iron ships took over from wooden ones - being close to the sea, a large supply of oak & elm in the New Forest and the enemy, France.  The strange name comes from there being a natural hard side to the river even at low tide - the Buckler's part is a family name.  I also found that the Inclosures dotted around the New Forest (there are two close to my home - Dibden & Fawley) were planted to provided lumber for building a navy that ruled the world.

There's a great little museum that does an excellent job detailing the village's history, shipbuilding & touches on the great naval battles of the Napoleonic wars. Nelson's favourite ship, Agamemnon, was built here; as was 'Nelson's Watchdog' Euryalus - which reported the position of the French fleet at Trafalgar to Nelson, as well as relaying his famous signal "England expects...". After Collingwood lost the masts of his ship in the battle, he assumed control of the fleet from Euryalus & sent news of the victory & Nelson's death from her. Another ship of note in naval fiction, Indefatigable, was also laid down here.

Timing my exit from the museum with the end of a tremendous downpour, I wandered out in to the small hamlet. The main thoroughfare was closed to traffic decades ago & it really did feel like I was strolling through a village in an Austen or Gaskell novel (there was no one else around this late in the afternoon).

I proceeded down to the river & looked over the outlines of the historic slipways, imagined the hulks of ships of the line being released in to the river to be towed to Portsmouth for fitting & told myself I must come back in the summer on my bike & picnic in the quaint setting - or just go to the Master Builder's House Hotel for a pint.

As the evening closed in (and I had my first Ordnance Survey map in hand), I went for a little tikitour west down skinny country lanes. I got a little bit of a surprise as I went over a rise & almost drove into the Solent - the lane just ended & the Isle of Wight & Yarmouth sat opposite me.

It may be flat around here, but the area is going to be a delight to explore on a bike during long summer evenings.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

South Downs Way & Winchester

I parked just outside of Winchester this morning to get on the South Downs Way for a portion of it just to get out & enjoy the thinly clouded day. The route runs east from Winchester a hundred miles to Eastbourne on bridleways & some road - I imagine it's very popular in the summer, but I only saw a couple of walkers & one other rider while I was out.

The first couple of miles were climbing on narrow roads, before getting to the east end of an MOD firing range & heading off the seal & starting to cross the fields on the top of the down. With all the hedgerows & green fields it was pleasantly English & the views improved as I climbed a little (there wasn't really much climbing in the part I did). I was pleased to not get very muddy at all, I was expected the chalk soil would have different ideas - but it was mostly just damp & not wet, sloppy mud.

Back towards Winchester

It's a little odd riding these sorts of trails in England - you never feel very far away from anywhere. That's sort of nice when you're by yourself. It was also very strange riding through some farmer's fields & then suddenly being turfed in to the middle of a farm's working buildings. There were dozens of pheasants scrambling out of the hedges & undergrowth, which was amusing.

I had a nice long descent down to the village of Exton, pity a lot of it had been rerouted a while ago (the signs said temporary, but they looked old) on to the road. Some nice big manor houses & deprecatingly named 'cottages' around here to look at while I snacked before turning around & heading back up the hill. Apart from the first part of the return, the riding was a lot easier than I expected - the GPS confirms I was very gradually climbing for a lot of the way out.

The River Meon flowing through backyards in Exton

I probably would have fitted, if my Sat Nav had have sent me down here.
All in all a pleasant two & half hours & forty kilometres spent; nothing exciting as far as singletrack goes, but I imagine this will be a great route to bikepack during the summer. I must remember & come back & see if I can ride to Eastbourne.

Since I had parked at the Park & Ride lot, I could hardly not take the bus in to Winchester to see this historic town.  A cathedral town, it was once the capital of England & the seat of King Alfred the Great.  Lots of nice rambling streets & buildings doing their best to stay upright, it was pleasant strolling around.  

Winchester Cathedral - Jane Austen is buried here

This 18ft diameter, 1 ton piece was originally a (round) table & depicts Arthur & his twenty-two knights.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Top Gear Challenge Cars

As promised, here are a few pictures of various cars that will be familiar to any regular Top Gear viewers. Brought back many memories of laughing much too loudly in the company of good friends.

Of course, the Cool Wall was there too.

Beaulieu Museums

Happily for me, the National Motor Museum is a short way down the road from home in the New Forest at Beaulieu.  With rain on the forecast, I set aside the afternoon to go & check it out.  It turns out that there is not just a large car museum to look at.  But that didn't stop me spending most of my time in there.  There's many notable cars to gaze at, including quite a few that have set land speed records at various times - Sunbeam & Bluebird come to mind.  Slightly less speedy cars, but more recognisable these days, include Mr Bean's Mini, Arthur Weasley's flying Ford Anglia & the Trotters' van.

There are strange looking contraptions from the late 1800s, cars that really are just carriages without horse & an engine bunged in the bottom somewhere, a 'Blower' Bentley (that's for you Geoff), all manner of Rolls Royces & so on.

The museum building must be going on forty years now - strangely it has a monorail running through the top of it. Said monorail looks like it was once transport for henchman in a Roger Moore Bond flick. Outside of the main building there's a small Bond car exhibit - most interesting there is the submarine Lotus Espirit from The Spy Who Loved Me. Also of note is that AMC that performed the spiral jump in The Man with the Golden Gun. Apparently there's a much bigger display of Bond cars planned. I'll have to come back & make use of my free entry for a year. Nearby is the World of Top Gear & the Enormodrome filled with cars from various challenges that have featured on the show. But that deserves another photo post for those who may actually be able to identify them.

Further through the extensive grounds & Victorian gardens is a small exhibit detailing the role Beaulieu Estate played in housing SOE operatives during WWII. Being on the south coast of the country, this whole area has a lot of war history - more of which I'm sure I'll discover in the months to come. Just past this is Palace House which is the ancestral house of the Lords of the Estate & still the home of Lord & Lady Montagu. Parts of it were originally the gatehouse of the nearby abbey, but it was extended in the nineteenth century. A small part of it is open to visitors & mostly filled with portraits. All the captions were written in the first person by the current lord of the estate - they were much more personal & easier to read.

Just around the corner are the remains of the Cistercian Beaulieu Abbey that didn't survive the Dissolution after three hundred years of existence. The refectory still serves as the parish church of Beaulieu; there's a big exhibit on the life of the monks, but by then it was getting dark & damper & I'd had enough of looking at old things & wandered back out through the grounds.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Settling In

Somehow, I've found myself back doing twelve-hour shifts, two days, two nights & four days off. At least this time, it's only for a couple of weeks just to get familiar with the finishing plant. Alas, there was no fifty percent pay increase this time. My first week at work was spent mostly meeting all sorts of people around the company & learning what they do, as well as reading a lot & trying to get my head around the polymerisation process of making SBR (styrene-butadiene rubber).

I've settled into a nice big room (lodging locally) with plenty of storage for bikes, skis & other necessary items. It's an arduous two-minute drive to work (I will bike when I finish shift work & get organised) & the New Forest is a few hundred metres away in the other direction. I'm also interested to find the history of the kiln of Lime Kiln Lane, off which my street runs. My first weekend here I went for a little explore on my bike in the forest. With a stack of trails off the net on my GPS I just headed out to see what I might find. Pleasantly, I bumped into some local riders & tagged along with them. So I got to find some of the better trails (it's all pretty flat, but more than enough to amuse me mid-week), avoid the steers, ponies, donkeys & the trained falcons. Somehow my intended two hour explore ended up well over fifty kilometres, four hours & all the way to Brockenhurst & Lyndhurst.

That afternoon I popped down to Hythe to take the little ferry across to Southampton to have a look around - rather, to finally get a decent phone. The ferry takes about fifteen minutes - which is almost as long as it would take to walk the length of the pier (one of the ten longest in the country). But it works out well that there is the oldest pier railway in the world to get you to the end. It is a rather rickety ride down the pier in cute little carriages pulled by a tiny little electric engine. The ferry ride itself is also interesting as Southampton is a big port & there are usually cruiseliners & other big ships around.
I really didn't take many photos - there is pier there somewhere
The local MTB club had their fortnightly ride the day after, & feeling a little tired I dragged myself off north of Ringwood to Braemore. It was a very pleasant drive through the countryside, crossing into Wiltshire & then back into Hampshire. It turned out to be a big group - about forty riders - that split into four groups to keep things moving on. Once again, it was a flat ride & we managed about thirty kilometres of bridleways & the odd connecting road. Although it has still been quite the mild & dry autumn, the ride was an exercise in getting covered in mud. The worse part was the half a mile or so of road outside a pig farm. The road was just one ordeal of riding through sloppy shitty mud. That caused all sorts of chain-suck problems for me for the next few miles, but they eventually disappeared. All in all a nice little ride to get out & meet some locals.

My return appointment to get the results of my MRI was last Tuesday, so I spent the day up in London. As expected, the front of the capsule in my shoulder is torn. I was given the choice of surgery or not; it could well be OK if I sat still for the rest of my life. But the desire to go riding, skiing or do other interesting things isn't likely to abate - so I chose the surgery option. Now I just have to see the shoulder specialist & then wait for the operation. So that could be a good three to six months away - which makes it a little hard to plan trips as I would be wingless for at least two weeks afterwards.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Last London day & the move south

With the possibility of a brief return to my previous typical London day, on Friday I went in to London to potter around one last time before moving down south. The heavy rain seemed to miss the city centre completely & carrying a raincoat around all day seemed to be adequate to ward off any precipitation whatsoever. A bit early for my appointment in Putney, I strolled around Trafalgar Square, up Haymarket & then down Waterloo Place (here I found where Sir Keith Park's statue had been relocatoed), St James Park, Admiralty Arch & then back along to Embankment & the rickety District Line. Further west the Thames was looking good with a few interesting boats on it & thousands of golden leaves lining it. My shoulder is immeasurably better after a quick adjustment - now just have to see what the specialist thinks next week.

Less that three-hundred days until the next Olympics

Back in the city, I (shock horror) went clothes shopping, for the second time that week, on Oxford Street. It was crazy busy, which was a good incentive to make quick decisions & then scarper. I spent a bit of time recovering by people-watching & reading more of my book. More aimless wandering took me under Marble Arch to Hyde Park, further around the West End & then north all the way to Regent's Park to kick leaves around. More reading until it got too dark & then back on the tube to head up to West Hampstead to meet Micah, a uni classmate, for a couple of pints. Great to hear how he & Hayley are doing - not to mention the places they have been around Europe recently.

Much more catching-up to be done when I met, Te Puke & school mate, Levi in Covent Garden. As I knew it would be my last chance to get something resembling poutine for a while, we headed for the Maple Leaf. Disappointed that I couldn't have a drop of Rickard's Red, I was appeased by the poutine (although some proper cheese curd wouldn't have gone amiss), the wings, ribs & proper onion rings. More good stories, Marki turned up & the night progressed to some other bar near Tottenham Court Road tube before I had one last walk back to Charing Cross & just managed to grab the second-to-last train of the night home (the last one is never much fun as the proportion of intoxicated passengers is quite high).

Saturday was supposed to be set aside for packing, but between my book, the Four-Nations rugby league test & the new season of Chuck it was just as well that it didn't take as long as I expected. Trish went to great effort for a farewell dinner, Ray & Jill joined us & said their farewells. More goodbyes as I left Sunday morning, yet another home to leave behind & miss. The day cleared nicely as I neared my new home, things looked good & I was pleased. More mundaneness of moving - unpacking (but I do have my room just so) & that first big grocery shop. My first day at work today was pleasantly short to ease me back into it & I met an awful lot of people of course (I shouldn't go too wrong if I'm stuck for a name just going for John - it felt like I met plenty). Now to sort some lights & mudguards for my bike so I ride the short distance & the car can stay put.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chislehurst Caves

They're not actually caves, but old chalk mines underneath the nearby suburb of Chislehurst. We'd been meaning to visit for a while, as I'm leaving to go south for work this weekend I was pleased when Trish reminded me that we hadn't been yet. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting, perhaps just a few big caves with stalactites & stalagmites. But it was a huge network, 22 miles worth, of mostly-short interconnected tunnels - pretty low & skinny in places - with a very interesting history. The network was divided in to three sections - Druid, Roman & Saxon - named after those that had allegedly dug each section.

As it was mid-week, our guided tour was only four strong. Our knowledgeable guide, with a wonderfully warped sense of humour, gave us a couple of hurricane lamps & off we went descending to about 40 metres below the surface. The most famous part of the caves' history is its use as a WWII air-raid shelter for local families. There were up to 15,000 sleeping in triple-bunks; some families had to stay there for years as their houses had been destroyed. There were facilities (kitchens & bathrooms) on the surface. Underground there is a still consecrated chapel (just one birth & christening underground - the unfortunately named Cavena) & as well as the remains of the hospital. The network of tunnels is incredibly stable & there were no collapses. It was incredible wandering around thinking of the thousands trying to get a good night's sleep in such cramped & damp conditions.

It was strange wandering around a tourist attraction that had absolutely no electric lighting, but our guide knew his way & soon had us completely disoriented by all the tiny side tunnels that interconnected. We saw a few altars that were allegedly used by the Druids for animal sacrifice & then we spent a fair amount of time by one discussing how often there might have been human sacrifices there. It was at this time that we were herded in to a small alcove, the guide took our lamps & we closed our eyes as he wandered off down the tunnel counting down from ten. The echo in the place was just fantastic, it went on & on (on & on, on & on, on & on...). When the counting was over, we opened our eyes & the darkness was incredible. I kept waiting for my eyes to adjust, but there was no hope of that with absolutely no light around. In the meantime, our guide had given an almighty whack to an old steel water tank - if the speech echo was loud & prolonged, this was another level completely. We were pleased to get our lamps back.

Other interesting parts of note included the old ammunition store used during the first war - storage of munitions from nearby Woolwich Arsenal, it took them two years to empty after armistice. Close to this was a small concrete stage that was used for what was literally an underground music venue. Some quite big names played here in their early days - David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones & Jimi Hendrix (before he was 'Hendrix'). From the '50s on there was also a challenge to sleep overnight alone next to a small pool (it was mostly filled in to stop sheltering kids falling in during the war) that was supposed to be haunted. Of the 270-odd that tried, only one guy managed it. In the '80s two employees of the Caves tried to do so, separated by a couple of caverns - they didn't make it through the night. One guy screamed & the other found him unconscious on his bed - he was carted off to Queen Mary's Hospital & had a badly dislocated right shoulder. I thought I'd end with a personal link. Sorry for lack of pictures, but there wasn't much opportunity.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bike Build - On-One 456

I got the good news earlier in the week that my broken frame will be replaced under warranty by GT in New Zealand. That does, however, leave it in NZ & I wasn't all that keen to wait for it be posted over & indeed to pay a few hundred dollars for that to be done. Considering I'm not really going to need a full-suspension bike down in Hampshire, I looked around a bit for a second hand hardtail to buy. John & Rich had last week recommended On-One's steel 456 frame, so I was pleased yesterday to find one a few miles away for fifty quid. I picked it up yesterday, it's got a few chips in the paint & a small dent in a chainstay (chain suck) - but is in good enough condition to be useful for quite a few years yet.

So today was spent taking all the parts off my broken frame & then putting most of them on the 456. I had to buy a new headset (last one was had it), seatpost (different size), & cable outers. So all up, I'm back with a nice little bike for a shade under a hundred pounds. Score.

I've gone 1x9 too (that's a single chainring in the front); when I get paid I'll probably convert to singlespeed & maybe get it repainted.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Well, it's had a good life.

Looking back through more than four years of photos, it's pretty clear just how much my little bike has been involved, how much it's been used & how much it has travelled. Apologies for the gratuitous photo dump - but I'm feeling nostalgic & really don't care. But after over five-thousand kilometres, five continents, fourteen countries (including ten US states & two Canadian provinces that are bigger than most of those countries), many great friendships made & strengthened and more memories besides - I think I can be excused. (The frame cracked badly on Monday & that bike is no more, in case you're wondering.)

Brand spanking new, June 2007

With British riding buddies, John, Rich & Andy - Craters of the Moon, Taupo

Many, many days at the Redwoods - Rotorua

Four day weekends were good for travelling - with Luke, Craigieburn, Central South Island

Also with Luke near Oxford, Central South Island

Near Pokhara, Nepal - February 2008

With Luke again at the end of the 42nd Traverse, Central North Island

One of a few 24 hr relays - this one a muddy Moonride - Rotorua, May 2008

Packed up for another plane trip - off to UK & Europe, June/July 2008

Three countries in one day - Switzerland, Germany & France

Road-trip around the UK with Mum & Dad

Glentress, south of Edinburgh

Exmoor National Park, SW England with John, Andy & Rich

Back in NZ making a splash on the Wires Track

End of Luck at Last - one of many rides with Pukekohe riding buddies Mark & Roger

After a late Christmas, hitting Coronet Peak near Queenstown

I still maintain this is the best ride I've done - Queen Charlotte Walkway, Easter 2009, top of the South Island

Two & a half years since I left NZ - exploring San Diego

I met many riding buddies online for California riding - this friendship still going strong, cheers Chip

9am & it was already 40ºC/110ºF - riding near Las Vegas, June 2008

Cannell Plunge, CA - still on of the top rides I've done in the States

Joining thousands of cyclists taking over Central London for the Mayor's Skyride - over Tower Bridge

Visiting Adrian - Kenya, November 2009

A bleak, wet & freezing ride on Exmoor - right at the end of 2009

Somehow I ended up moving to Canada - it was a lot rockier & the riding was fantastic, May 2010

Minnewanka Trail, Banff National Park

Visiting school friends in Kelowna, BC

Razor's Edge - just out of Canmore & one of my favourites

Last Canmore ride of the season before the snow came & took the riding away for six months, October 2010; the end of a great summer riding with Alex

The snow was beautiful, but it wasn't good for riding on this bike

It was good for snow-bike-angels

After the riding hibernation, what better return than a three-month riding road-trip in the west-USA?  The world famous Slickrock Trail, UT, May 2011

I rode around the top of the Grand Canyon!  Well, a little bit of it.

Emma & Brent (Kiwi mates) were doing a similar road-trip in reverse; we met up near San Luis Obispo, CA

There was a little bit of snow still at the start of the Downieville Downhill, but what a ride!

McKenzie River Trail - central Oregon.

Definitely looking forward to the next bike, whatever that may be. I just hope it's soon.