Global Women Who Ride on American Motorcylist

I wrote a guest column about Global Women Who Ride for the November issue of American Motorcyclist magazine. Here it is for those of you who aren’t subscribers.

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Global Women Who Ride on American Motorcylist

Global Women Who Ride on American Motorcylist

 

Motorcycle Film Festival 2015: Movie Shorts

The world of big budget movies has traditionally had very little to offer motorcycle enthusiasts. Since the inception of cinema, there have been little more than a handful of movies that told our stories or represented motorcyclists accurately. This is why it is so exciting to see that access to affordable cameras, editing software and online distribution has finally driven motorcycling related film making out of the confines of Hollywood studios and into the hands of people who ride and build bikes and understand motorcycling best. We have seen an explosion of independent movies that capture all that motorcycling has to offer.

The Motorcycle Film Festival in New York was started three years ago by riders and film enthusiasts who wanted to showcase these movies and bring the community together for three days of high quality movies, interviews with film makers, and an opportunity to meet other riders in the city. This year’s selection of 35 films featured everything from slick productions with significant sponsor backing to amateur garage flicks. It was especially thrilling to see movies made by and featuring women and people of color, hitherto almost non-existent in popular motorcycling culture.

The 2015 Motorcycle Film Festival (Image depicts a row of motorcycles parked on the street in front of a building with a sign that says Motorcycle Film Festival)

The 2015 Motorcycle Film Festival

 

These are some of my favorite films from the festival.

THE COAST TO COAST RELAY

The Coast to Coast Relay is a five minute gem of a film about two men riding across England on completely inappropriate vehicles – Montesa Cota 315 trials bikes with 3-liter gas tanks, a top speed of 30 mph, and of course, no seats. They ride from Newcastle upon Tyne to the Irish Sea through rough single track trails, logging roads and frozen snowscapes with minimal gear – handlebar mounted packs, backpacks, and a homemade selfie stick.  They take in their stride the various mishaps they encounter, ranging from overheated engines and flat tires to the inevitable running out of fuel.

The fun, upbeat score and the self-deprecating humor makes it impossible to watch this movie without a big smile on your face. By the time it’s done, you want to grab your bike and go have a micro-adventure of your own. Filmmaker Greg Villalobos truly knows how to say more with less as he hits the magic formula to portray the joy of riding and having fun with your buddies. The movie took home the prize for the Best Short Documentary, and deservedly so.

If you enjoyed watching that, check out this interview with the filmmaker Greg Villalobos, where he talks about the making of the movie: http://www.motorcyclefilmfestival.com/blog/2015/9/20/visiting-with-greg-villalobos.

Follow Greg Villalobos’ work at: http://gregvillalobos.co.uk

FIFTY YEARS OF KICKS

“Don’t assume that because people are older than you, they’re going to be slower than you.” This line from 50 Years of Kicks summarizes the message of this twenty minute documentary. The movie follows 60+ year old dirt riders Paul Rodden and Larry Murray from Oklahoma and Ontario respectively. Each of them have almost fifty years of riding experience and many enduro championship wins, which comes across when you see them tearing through ruts, sand, mud, water crossings and hill climbs on their KTMs. They fall, drop their bikes, pick them back up and keep going.

They reflect back to the old days when Husqvarna manuals dedicated half their space to physical conditioning in the rider, paving the way for good workout habits that stayed with them for a lifetime. Habits that served them well in one of the most physical demanding sports there is, especially as your body ages and you lose core strength and balance. During one sober recollection, they talk about a close friend who died of a heart attack while riding on the trails with them. And of that being the best possible way to go – with a smile on your face minutes ago while doing what you loved best.

Motorcycling media tends to focus on young riders as their core target demographic. This leaves us bereft of older role models. It is harder for us to envision riding when we hit a certain age because we see nobody else doing it and doing it well. That’s what makes this movie especially important. It drives home the fact that we don’t have to give up our passion as we age. Here’s hoping that 50 Years leads to more positive representations of old folks riding their bikes and showing the youngsters how it’s done.

Filmmakers: Anthony Kerr and Dallas Shannon
Follow Motojournalism at: http://motojournalism.blogspot.com/

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Motorcycle Movies: Dirtbag II: The Return of the Rattler

The premise of The Return of the Rattler is simple. Four men decide to participate in the Dirtbag Challenge held annually in the San Francisco Bay Area. The challenge involves building a chopper in one month for less than $1000. It needs to be a rideable machine that can run at least 100 miles without breaking down. They have a Yamaha XS650 to work with – the Rattler from the title – but they are complete novices to building choppers, with no prior experience with welding or fabrication. What could go wrong?

The movie is a riot of laughter as you watch the bike evolve from design to final assembly. Our protagonists cuss and laugh their way through all the unanticipated problems they run into. You laugh with them as they mess up, but you also see them learning from their mistakes, thinking through problems and asking for help when they are stuck. Somewhere down the line, you realize that they have passed on to you the secret to creating anything new.

Film maker Paolo Asuncion likens the process of building the bike to his own journey of questioning the belief system he grew up with. “I was put together a certain way but the stock parts didn’t work for me anymore.” he says. As with the Rattler, he had to figure out which parts of that system to keep, which ones needed to be swapped out with something different, and which ones needed to be created from scratch. Moments of reflection like these are interspersed throughout the movie, breaking up the laugh-a-minute ride and keeping it grounded.

You also get to see builds from other participants in the challenge – a Honda CM400 with modified beer bottles for headlamps, a 750 Monster with a girder front end – and understand how much the end vision can vary between builders. The one thing they have in common though is that they want their bike to be like nothing else out on the road. They talk about how satisfying it felt to build something real and tangible, and to ride something that they built with their own hands. Their firm belief is that “Anybody can do this.” By the end of the movie you start to believe them.

This is a movie with soul. You laugh, you learn, you grow, and you come away thinking it’s time to go get a project bike and start wrenching. All you need is a vision, a garage, and a buddy or two by your side.

 

 

Read an interview with film maker Paolo Asuncion: http://www.motorcyclefilmfestival.com/blog/2015/9/15/paolo-asuncion

Motorcycle Movies: L’équipée en Himalaya

This is a story of four French women who fly to India and ride across the Himalayan mountains on rented Royal Enfields. Women riding across the Himalayas is not a new thing – the Indian all-women motorcycling group Bikerni last did it in 2010. Riders from various countries have done it over the years. For those of us who haven’t yet ventured out there, this film is quite thrilling to watch for some of its incredible footage of gorgeous scenery and the dizzying roads the group traverses.

The movie begins with the four women starting their journey wearing three-quarter helmets, flowing scarves and regular street clothes – no real motorcycling gear between them. You wonder if you’re in for a very short movie because they’re probably going to bite the dust any minute now. As they climb in altitude, you see them adding more layers to keep warm, to a point where one of them is wearing seven t-shirts underneath her flimsy jacket. You wonder to yourself – “Did they just wake up one morning and think – ‘I think I’ll go ride the Himalayas today'”. Yes, that is a Legally Blonde reference.

After the first 45 minutes, you get over their poor clothing choices when they start traversing some incredibly difficult roads. You see them riding down rocky roads with sheer cliffs that make you dizzy even from the safety of your theater seat. You see them dealing with altitude sickness, freezing weather, rockfalls, and some of the most challenging roads in the world. All you can think is – respect!

By the time the credits roll, you know what kind of person you are – the kind who can’t wait to book a plane ticket to India and rent a Royal Enfield, or the kind who is happy to live vicariously through the people who thrive on this kind of adventure. Our ladies have earned some solid street cred and you can’t wait to see what their next adventure is going to be.

 

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Motorcycle Movies: Road Less Travelled

Dirt bikers and brothers James and Steven Beatty ride off-road across the Trans-America Trail – a different type of classic American road trip. They ride 5,000 miles from Tennessee to Oregon before reaching their final destination at the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, they ride across forest service roads, gnarly single track trails, slippery water crossings, and get caught in quicksand. They deal with crashes, injuries, getting lost, and breakdowns. This is a must-watch for those who hope to do the Trans America trail someday.

In one breathtaking shot, one of the riders narrowly missing a wild horse that runs across the trail. Another scene shows James working on his bike and getting indirectly zapped by lightning.

The movie does have its weaker points. The first hour is an entertaining narrative that focuses on the riding and the scenery and brings the viewer with them. Towards the end though, it breaks down into reality TV style melodrama, taking the focus away from the riding. The protagonist’s struggle to deal with his father’s death and seeking to expunge those demons during the ride frequently struck a false note, something that could easily have been remedied with a better voice actor. In spite of all this, the movie is worth a watch for the first hour alone.

Filmmaker: James Beatty

Winding down…

This morning I rode through Whangarei to a little town in the north of Auckland to return the bike to the rental company. The ride was mostly over the motorway and pretty dull. I started off feeling pretty gloomy that the dream was finally over. I filled the gas tank up before I dropped it off. My suitcase had been sent over from Christchurch, so I quickly packed up.

They gave me a ride back to Auckland where I had booked a spot at Base Backpackers where I splurged and booked a private room for the next two nights. I spent the next evening and day exploring downtown Auckland. It was so much livelier on a normal weekday. There were lots of cute stores where I could buy some presents to bring back home. I also found some great cafes and Asian restaurants which were a welcome refuge from the days spent on the road subsisting on deli food and homemade sandwiches.

And that’s it. It’s done! I will post a summary of the entire ride soon.

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All done!

 

Russell Road and Whangarei

This morning, I headed out of Paihia to Opua and caught a ferry with Fiona – a local rider – and crossed over to Russell. We got some coffee and hung out and then rode Russell Road – a beautiful twisty road winding through farmlands that you could just throw the bike around. It was a brilliant couple of hours!!

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The ferry from Opua to Russell.

 

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The bay off of Russell.

We rode to her place and got some lunch, then rode back out to another friend’s place near Whangarei.

Tomorrow would be the last day of my ride. :(

Cape Reinga and the Bay of Islands

Today I rode to the northernmost tip of New Zealand where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. The ride was pretty but not remarkable. I made good time and reached Cape Reinga before noon. From there it was a short walk to the lighthouse. A ton of tour buses must have made it there before me because the place was swarming with tourists – an odd sight since the ride itself had been so remote and unpopulated.

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The tip of New Zealand where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet.

 

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The lighthouse at Cape Reinga.

 

From there I rode south to Paihia in the Bay of Islands. I was going to spend an extra night there to make up for doing an uber long ride. Paihia also turned out to be so touristy though that I scrapped that plan and stayed just one night.

 

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The Kauri Road

Auckland to Kaitaia today! It was going to be a long day, made a bit more stressful by the fact that I had no idea if Kaitaia would be my final destination or whether I’d need to hunt around to find lodging. Bad planning FTW!

The ride from Auckland on the motorway was full of cars and borrrrrrrrrring. It finally got better after the road forked off onto Highway 12. One of the highlights was going through the Waipoua Forest with its endless tight turns surrounded by beautiful trees.

Towards the end, there was a ten minute ferry crossing from Rawene to Kohukohu. The final stretch took me back on Highway 1 but it was nice and twisty this time.

I managed to find a really overpriced room in Kaitaia but it was the last one they had and I was grateful to get it.

Coromandel to Auckland

Today I rode from Whitianga to Auckland in one shot. The latter half of the Coromandel Loop was as fantastic as the rest of it with lots of tight corners and beautiful views. The rest of it, from Thames to Auckland was dull and passable. The line of cars backed up going towards the Coromandels on the other side of the road for the long weekend was a little horrifying and I was glad to have missed it.

I reached Auckland mid-day and stayed at the YHA downtown. The place was a ghost town with all the shops and malls closed and lots of confused tourists hanging out, not quite knowing what to do with themselves.

The Coromandel Peninsula

This morning I left Matamata to ride the Coromandel Loop. I wanted to do the entire loop in a day but it was a bit tricky to do all of it and still get to an interesting place to stay the night without doing a ton of kms. Also, it was going to be the Easter weekend soon, which meant that finding a place to stay would be a big hassle, if not impossible. I ended up finding a place in Whitianga for that night, and the next day I would ride all the way to Auckland, where spending a night would not be difficult because everyone would get out of the city for the long weekend.

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Leaving Matamata

 

The ride to Whitianga was gorgeous and it wasn’t difficult to see why this was the go-to ride for Auckland motorcyclists. It’s fun, twisty, gorgeous with fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean, and the entire loop is do-able as a day ride.

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Stunning ride all the way.

 

This time I was determined to do more things than just ride so I marked a couple of hikes to do on the way. The first hike – if you can call it that – was going up to Mount Paku to see a 360 degree view of the surrounding bay. I rode pretty high up, parked in a parking lot, and walked the remaining 15 minutes to the viewpoint. It was a bit steep going up but nothing too bad.

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Mount Paku summit.

 

My second hike was to see Cathedral Cove, a natural rock formation in the form of an arch right on the ocean. The hike was 45 minutes one way and had some gorgeous scenery. I’m so glad I did it!

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When the beginning of the hike looks like this, it looks promising. :)

 

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Cathedral Cove

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Visiting the Shire

Visiting the Shire was a real dream come true. I’ve been a Hobbit and Lord of the Rings fan ever since I first read the books. I didn’t care very much for the Hobbit movie (okay I loathed it with a fiery passion) but the idea of seeing the Shire brought to life was brilliant for a Tolkien geek like me.

You cannot just go park and wander around Hobbiton by yourself (because how else would they make money on it?). You need to sign up for a tour at the Matamata Visitor Center, get taken there by a tour bus, where a guide walks you around and talks you through the making of the set. It was interesting but not a $75 value. They know they can charge that much because which Tolkein fan who has spent a bunch of money flying to New Zealand would not pay that to see the Shire?

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The Shire!

It was a great day for it and the Shire looked lovely. I’m really glad they didn’t tear down this movie set. It would have been extra cool if the hobbit holes were actually furnished, even if they just did Bilbo’s house. The only furnished place was the Green Dragon Inn where we got a complimentary drink at the end.

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Bilbo’s house is right at the top.

 

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Rotorua – geothermal wonderland!

Rotorua was incredible!! I had almost decided to skip it because I’d heard that it was a tourist trap. In the end I’m glad I decided to go because it was easy to avoid the tourists. I spent most of the day walking around town to see all the geysers and hot pools. I saw a boiling lake!! It had milky looking water on account of the sulphur in it.

This was yet another day of seeing sights that I had never seen or imagined before! I really wish that I had more time to go around and explore more of the geothermal pools in the area.

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My first geothermal pool!

 

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This place was simply stunning!

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White Island – visiting an active volcano

At the best of times, I would have really enjoyed this trip. I mean how often do you get to walk around on an active volcano? Unfortunately the boat ride from Whakatane was really rough, with waves reaching heights of a meter. Apparently they can get up to 10 meters but 1 meter was bad enough. I was violently sea sick throughout the ride and super queasy even after we disembarked. The island was stunning. We wore masks to protect us from the strong sulphuric acid smell. Looking into the volcano itself was a little bit disappointing because it didn’t contain lava, but also exciting because active volcano!!

The boat ride back wasn’t a whole lot better but I managed to sleep through most of it. It took me the rest of the day to recover. I was supposed to go to Rotorua that evening but unfortunately I had to extend my stay in the shitty hostel to recover from the dehydration.

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Looking down into boiling pools of sulphuric acid inside the volcano


 

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Riding the East Cape

If I had to pick the one ride which was the highlight of my entire trip, I would probably pick the East Cape ride. Oddly enough, it was the one that I was a little apprehensive about because it was a lot of kms to cover in one day and was also reputed to be one of the most remote with very little civilization on the way. In the end, this turned out to be the most appealing part of the trip. My route went from Gisborne to Whakatane via Te Araroa. This meant I would have to bypass the direct route via the gorge which is also supposed to be a good ride. It would have been a perfect loop if I’d had more time.

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Gorgeous remote route the entire way.

The route that I did pick was lovely, quiet and serene, and full of twisties! I was probably the only person on the road going north, which meant that I could just stop the bike in the middle of the road and take photos for once. I made a couple of stops in Tolaga Bay to see the longest wharf in the southern hemisphere, at Tokomaru bay to get lunch, and Te Araroa for some coffee.

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Tolaga Bay – the longest wharf in the southern hemisphere.

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Tons more amazing roads to ride!

In Te Araroa, the heavens burst open and it poured down rain. I stood outside the café until the downpour subsided, unsure of how long it was going to last. It wasn’t the most exciting place to stop at for the night so I decided to push through the rain and keep going. Luckily, the rain stopped in a few minutes and the sun peeked out again! Good decision made! The rest of the ride was fantastic too. Waihau Bay was stunning and a sweet place to stop and fuel up. Then all the way to Opotiki which had mostly shut down by then. Whakatane for the night in a bit of a shitty hostel. I booked a spot on the crossing the next morning to White Island – an active volcano off the coast.
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Napier to Gisborne

This morning I left Napier for Gisborne. It was a relatively short ride of around 200 km, although I took the inland twisty route which meant that I was riding for a good four hours. Today’s ride was one of those where I truly felt like I was riding through the Shire in Middle Earth with all the lush green rolling hills for as far as the eyes could see. The inland road also had the advantage that there was almost no traffic and I rarely saw more than a car of two in the space of a half hour. The road was a cornucopia of colors –  hedges and meadows in every shade of green, copses of white and silver trees, leaves tinged with red and gold heralding the first signs of autumn. And the road… it undulated, climbed, descended, a motorcyclist’s dream with mostly perfect pavement. I also saw quite a few animals – sheep, sheep dogs, cows, horses, deer, hawks, little black birds with white tipped wing…

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Sometimes mystical looking forests….

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Sheep everywhere!

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Napier

This morning I left from Wellington and hit the road after a two day break. The ride started off with a bit of a hitch as I realized that I hadn’t correctly downloaded the section of the map that covered all of the lower North Island. I managed to pair my phone to my Sena and got directions from my Maps app instead. *whew* It wasn’t really needed after I had gotten out of Wellington since the directions were pretty much – take Highway 2 all the way north.

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Leaving Wellington

It was a bit jarring to be on the freeway after so long. Luckily it ended quickly and I was soon in the Rimutaka hills. As usual, my fear of heights kicked in and I rode absurdly slowly on those really cool roads. Ugh…

Then some mostly good riding in beautiful rolling hills country. At times it felt like riding through the Shire. No photos unfortunately.

At about the 200 km mark, I started to get exhausted as usual. My stamina really really sucks. I stopped at a cafe and got some coffee and took a bit of a break. These breaks really help a lot because when I got on after, I felt pretty refreshed and ready to go faaaast.

After days of riding in the South Island with almost no traffic outside of the touristy areas, it was a bit strange (and annoying) to be stuck behind trucks and slow moving cars and having to keep pass them. Some of the semis pull over to let traffic go past them but many do not, which is really annoying.

I reached Napier at around 3:00 PM and checked in to a YHA right on the beach. The downtown area had really cool art deco architecture. It was also really warm and sunny and a really lovely afternoon to be outdoors.

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Cool art deco


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Picton to Wellington

Today I wound up my travels on the South Island and got on the ferry to Wellington in the North Island. My ferry was at 1:15 PM and we were instructed to get there at 12:15 PM. I decided to go a bit earlier and got there at 11:45 AM. This worked out well because I was at the front of the line in a big group of motorcyclists who were returning from a rally in Queenstown, and not so good because the ferry was running late and I had to stand there for almost an hour.

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Waiting in the InterIslander queue.

 

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Securing our bikes

 

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All tied up.

 

When they signaled to us, we rode towards the ship and were guided to park in special motorcycle parking. This involved wedging the front tire into a triangular metal structure and using tie-downs to secure the bike on both sides. I didn’t  have any but one of the riders lent me one of his, and the ferry provided another one.

Bike secured, I walked up to one of the decks and found a spot to sit down. Since securing the bike took so long, I wasn’t able to snag a window seat. I was also super hungry exhausted by this time so I missed most of the interesting part of the ferry crossing as it wound its way north through the Marlborough Sounds. By the time I felt well enough to go outside, we had already crossed into the ocean. In the distance I could see mountains with windmills on them.

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Out on the deck.

 

About 3.5 hours later, we docked in Wellington. Then ensued a bit of a scramble to get to the bike.

I rode off and was met at the docks by my host Jeff Vickers who had come to pick me up on his wife’s GSXF. I followed him out of the docks and for a moment felt overcome by a pang of deja vu and homesickness as I felt like I was exiting the downtown Seattle ferry terminal but in reality I was in a totally strange city! They both looked so similar…

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To Picton

This morning I left Nelson and rode back to Picton. I was really looking forward to Queen Charlotte Drive and it did not disappoint, even though it was sprinkling a little bit. I got held up by an a**hole Sprinter van once which was rather annoying but outside of that, most vehicles either moved aside to let me pass or I was able to pass them in the straights. I also got to take a couple of good photos of the Marlborough Sounds to remember the place by.

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Epic view of the Sounds.

 

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Another view of the Marlborough Sounds.

 

I got into Picton around noon, checked in and spent the next few hours walking around the tiny town. I kind of wished I had planned this better and just booked today’s ferry instead of spending the night here. There really isn’t a whole lot to do and after the past couple of days of being cooped up in Nelson, I’m a little fed up of sitting around and wasting time on the internet, rather than being out riding.

Tomorrow I catch the 1:15 ferry to Wellington. I’ll probably spend a couple of days there since I’ve heard that it’s a pretty interesting city with much to do.

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Somewhere above the hill looking down on Picton.

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You can see the mountains from everywhere in Picton!

 

To Takaka (or not)

So Takaka did not really end up happening. I got as far as Motueka and a little beyond when I was stopped by a queue of cars stuck behind a police car parked sideways across the road. A cop appeared to be talking to each driver. When I reached him, he informed me that the road (the only road to Takaka) was closed on account of a milk tanker flipping over. He said that they wouldn’t be able to open the road for at least 3-4 hours more I later found out that the tanker had spilled 19000 litres of milk on the road. Only in New Zealand?!!

I did a little scenic loop to Kaiteriteri and back, which was fun.

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By Kaiteriteri Beach

 

Then I returned to Motueka, found a café with wifi and proceeded to wait it out until the road opened. I followed the State department’s updates but there was nothing new for the longest time.

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The best Eggs Benedict I’ve had in a long time. 

It gradually dawned on me that it was going to take a long time to clean up the mess and even if the road did open in the evening, it would be gridlocked with all the people trying to get to Takaka. Plus I would reach there pretty late in the day and then get rained on the next day. So reluctantly, I decided to go back to Nelson and stay there for the next couple of nights. :( Sad. I guess I’ll have to experience the thrill of riding Takaka Hill and seeing Golden Bay another time. It’s part of travel though. Nothing goes your way all the time.