Crazy Yak on a Bike

In a dramatic departure from what constitutes routine here at Little Yak, this month has found me cycle-touring New Zealand’s beautiful South Island. My humble apologies for the sudden shift in hemispheres, as well as the long break between posts, but these things happen… Tomorrow, I’m heading (by bus, I’m not mad) to New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook, from where I will set out, downhill and with a fierce tailwind [mutters prayer to weather gods], on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail. Yesterday I picked up a promotional leaflet for the trail. It sets out some helpful guidelines for Safety in the Outdoors. I had to laugh when I discovered that I’d unwittingly broken most of them already: 1. Plan your trip This I have done – with a misleadingly precise spreadsheet that I put together one afternoon in Hong Kong. I’ve even managed to creep a day ahead of schedule, thanks to some judicious pedalling, although there was (and still is) a definite chance that The Plan will turn out to be hugely overambitious (see #4). Two weeks down, only eight more to go! Eek…

Day 1 Road, NZ

Off to a good start… © Jo James

2. Tell someone where you’re going Do you think whatsapping Mr Yak after the fact counts? 3. Be aware of the weather I’ve made several rookie errors that could be filed under “ignoring the weather conditions”, chief among them disregarding the prevailing wind directions and turning a deaf ear to seasoned farmers’ storm predictions – never ignore seasoned farmers! These errors have had various unpleasant outcomes, generally involving me getting wet and cold, although I suspect that that’s par for the course in this neck of the woods at springtime.


Weather about to happen © Jo James

I feel that a point should be added here: Beware of place names. On my first day, I found myself battling a headwind that had me pedalling at top speed just to go slowly downhill, even on a fully-laden bike. The winds climaxed at “Windy Point”, and a particularly ghastly uphill drag that had me thinking longingly of rental cars turned out to be named “Doubtful Valley”. Luckily the weirdly predictive place names stopped there, otherwise I’d still be stuck at Halfway Hill or similar… 4. Know your limits It is important to know your limits, I agree, but sometimes it’s hard to know where said limits are ahead of time. My only experience of cycle-touring prior to this trip was reading Dervla Murphy’s excellent books and my friend Nirwan’s Crazy Guy on a Bike blog, so I had very little idea of how it would all pan out once I got here. I fancied cycle-touring somewhere, and New Zealand seemed like a decent place to try it; since then I’ve just been learning as I go.


Devil’s Punch Bowl Falls, Arthur’s Pass © Jo James

5. Take sufficient supplies My god, yes. This is particularly important here in under-populated New Zealand, where all the “villages” on my map have turned out to be deserted farms. One morning I set out for an 80km ride through the mountains with a couple of short hikes en route. My food provisions? Two bottles of water. Late that afternoon, as I hungrily approached the final tearoom-free mountain pass of the day, I stopped by a little roadside information panel to see the following:

You are here.

See what I mean about the place names? © Jo James

But all that said, I’ve had a brilliant start to my trip here. I’m really happy to be doing most of it by bike. My point is that even if you don’t know what you’re doing, even if you’ve never done it before, and even if you make loads of mistakes along the way, sometimes it’s worth having a crack at it anyway. You might surprise yourself – just make sure to follow the guidelines… 😉 x Written in Lake Tekapo YHA, humming the chorus of Mark Ronson’s Bike Song


Sheep on Mount John © Jo James

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