Thursday, December 30, 2010

December 29, 2010: Hamilton, New Zealand

Bug 'art' from a sculpture garden outside Hamilton

ABOVE: Flower is from a lake in Hamilton

BELOW: Little girl is in a fix while feeding the birds as she is driven to the picnic table for safety.

White flower ring on native canoe from museum in Hamilton and a carving.
Very graphic... the states would have issues with all the jiggly bits. :-)

Mountains, below, are outside the New Zealand desert.

Hamilton, New Zealand - Dec. 29 - Slept in a jail cell in Hamilton last night.

It wasn't actually a jail cell - I've yet to accomplish that; it just felt like a jail cell - or an iPod.

There was a weather warning issued for Tuesday; rain the entire day with extremely strong winds. I was safe at the Rainbow Springs Backpackers Hostel in Taupo, but felt the need to push along.

Hopped a bus to Hamilton and found the Waikato Museum, which had a fantastic collection dedicated to the stories, art, history and culture of the Tainui community.

There were fabulous carvings and a life-size Tainui canoe complete with rings of white feathers.

By the time I left, I found a hostel for $29 for a single room. The guy who owned the facility tried to get the most use out of all his space and that's me being nice. I knew it would be interesting because the cubby-hole office was such a mess and he wasn't in it.

We climbed the narrow stairway - sideways; by the time we got to the top I thought we'd discover stalactites. The rooms were sectioned off into pods A and B; there was a shared bathroom. The shower was like climbing into a high school locker; washing up sounded like you were wrestling a bear in a beer can.

I had pod A and felt like Alice in Wonderland after eating a piece of cake. There was enough space to do the Hokey Pokey, so it would do for the night.

I'm not complaining, not much anyway.

I figured New Zealand was an adventure and this was part of my combo-platter of life.


New Zealand is stuck in the 80s, at least as far as music and movies are concerned.

I think I've seen about every Tom Cruise film ever made. Turn on the TV and it's Tom-Cruise-something flipping a bottle of booze or giving a Top Gun windmill high five..

I asked if he died and this was some sort of tribute to his work. Sorry to say but Nicole Kidman really settled there for a while, didn't she?

As far as music is concerned it's Annie Lennox and Eurythmics, Bon Jovi and Cory Hart is still sporting his sunglasses at night.

There are also CD deals in the paper; sale ads for 1980s CD's for only $14.99. Seriously, who doesn't have that music, and who wants it NOW?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010: Taihape, New Zealand

Taihape, New Zealand, Dec 26 - Happy Boxing Day; it's a New Zealand tradition much like Black Friday. HUGE after-Christmas sales, only I really haven't seen many shops open. Matter of fact, the sporting goods shop in Taihape kicked me out; my darn bike was to blame. Let me quote the store owner - "Out, out, out! Get that bike out of my shop!" I took that as a casual suggestion; I tried to explain - briefly... and the second time he was even MORE loud and clear. Think drill sergeant.

That's too bad because I was going to buy a sh**load of stuff.

Since getting kicked out of the Catholic church on Christmas day, and now this, I don't think New Zealander's are too keen on the spirit of the holiday.


Bicycled 75 kilometers from Marton to Taihape today and it was tough, everybody said so. Lot of hills, it was overcast and chilly.

Pulled into Taihape around 2:30 p.m. and tanked my plans to make it another 30 kilometers up the road to Waiouru. I actually thought Taihape was only 48 miles; for some reason I'm having trouble reading my book map. The city I want is always located on the NEXT page, but it is never the next page, it's always, like, three pages away and I need to look in the reference to figure it out.

Found a backpacker's hostel rather quickly; The Gretna. I must be tired, I didn't even try to dicker when the clerk said one night was $30.

I searched out a laundry with some urgency; I pinned my ripe clothes as the source of my nausea. Returning to backpacker's headquarters I found my room and its only window opened directly across from the tavern on the first floor. There's a guy in there that laughs like Dracula. He seems to be having a super time.

My room is quaint; not the historical feel like HotelClub from last night - just convenient, with charming character.

At least that's what I call it.

The bed is less than sturdy - think hammock. I'm glad there's somewhat of a siderail, it only took me three elephant heaves to get out of the bed hole the second time.

The hallway smells like we're right above the greasy kitchen exhaust and there's a crack in the seam of the old wooden door of the communal bathroom. I suppose it's convenient, that way I know if somebody's in there or not, but the door doesn't close all the way anyway..... so there's that.

I found my only window is also directly across from the tavern jukebox. This evening's clientèle of dedicated drinkers prefers a mixed tape of Don Ho and old country with a lot of warbling crooners.

An update, Dracula laugh has a wife - they must have been separated at birth and then found each other again. It's offensive in a joyous way.

I'm so tired nothing really bothers me at this point; but note I can still hear them with my fingers shoved in my ears.

One other bathroom note, you're squatting at an angle. At first I thought it was just fatigue, but there's a definite slant to this operation and a bit of a Wallenda factor. Like sitting on one of your dad's old lawn chairs he should have gotten rid of a long time ago. There's a convenient wall for stability, that definitely reduces fear of falling off the perch. And maybe I was too quick to judge the crack in the door - it could be for safety purposes.

Sometimes I wonder why nobody wants to come on these trips with me.

December 26, 2010 - Picture Pages - New Zealand

HotelClub in Marton

Windy day - children were reportedly being blown away from parents on this day

Bridge into Bulls.

Zac (7) next to fence of sandals.
He came running out with a Christmas gift of 'lollies'.

Margaret and Finn - wonderful hosts who welcomed me into their home

Overlooking the sea... VERY windy as I make my way to Paekakariki

Atop the hill in Wellington.

December 25, 2010 NEW ZEALAND



Dec. 23, Paekakariki, NEW ZEALAND

Dec. 23, Paekakariki, NEW ZEALAND - Flew from Christchurch on the south island to Wellington on the north island today.

Prior to my flight I ran into Nancy, a senior attendant from Air New Zealand. Originally from the midwest, Nancy gravitated to California and made the leap to New Zealand more than 10 years ago.

Nancy had a black-belt in multitasking and was good in any situation, like a Swiss army knife.

Nancy also picked up the torch on my lost luggage situation.

"Well, they certainly have quite a file on you," she said, paging through the computer. I'm not afraid to complain - a lot, which is being nice. Nancy set me up with a box for my bike so I wouldn't have to lug one six miles from town to the airport.

She also let me sleep in a secluded corner of the airport and flagged the rest of the staff not to bother me. With three hours wait of my departure, Nancy wrote me a pass to the Koru Club Lounge - it's the luxury box of the airport. A hot breakfast bar with Akaroa smoked salmon and capers, sun-roasted tomatoes, raisin wheat toast, homemade raspberry jam, and a series of refrigerators held a vista of juices and beers. Free Internet, morning paper and Amanda the barrista could whip up any five-adjective coffee.


Prior to leaving Christchurch I was notified by the airline I'd have to file a claim on my luggage. I'd need to print the form off the computer and fax in the final copy. (Good thing I'm carrying my office on the back of my bike - hardee-har-har....) Another small thing, the paperwork has to be notarized by a Justice of the Peace.

I never thought my first search for a Justice of the Peace would be so he could autograph my report card on missing luggage. I managed to locate the Justice in the Yellow Pages.


Landing in Wellington, I took off directly north; the coastal city reminded me of Seattle with fishing boats and shops lining the pier. A strong headwind limited my mileage to 50 kilometers; I tracked down Margaret at her home in Paekakariki. Known to have the biggest heart in town, she took me in for the night. Her place was comforting, like the smell of Mrs. Grass's soup.

Margaret is 77 years old and lives with her American Labrador, Finn. "He's got a big head, that's why I know he's an American lab," she said.

Upon my arrival Margaret was in the midst of making a chocolate cake - from scratch. "It's Jesus' birthday cake," she said, reading instructions from the cookbook Quick, Thrifty, and Simple.

Margaret was from England; she moved to New Zealand in 1964 with her husband and worked as a teacher for children with special needs. "We called them spastics back then," said Margaret, stirring the batter. She stopped, looked out the window and said matter-of-factly, "We've come a long way since then."

Margaret talked about church, living by the sea, her husband and, of course, Finn. "He turned 12 last week," she said, setting the empty mixing bowl down on the floor for Finn. It seemed like such a normal thing, like giving a child a cake beater.

"I'm better at throwing together a fruitcake, but this is for the children at church," said Margaret. "I'm making it a day ahead; if I mess up I have time to try again."

Margaret had gray, curly hair, purple sweatpants and a collared orange shirt that was fraying in the back. She was a dedicated recycler with a teacup of eggshells on the kitchen windowsill and glass bottles full of water scattered around the house. She also had a wonderful garden; her backyard full of lemon trees, grapefruit, ugli fruit and flowers.

A widow for seven years, Margaret talked freely about her husband. "He was in the service and injured," she said. Her husband initially suffered a superficial leg wound. "When they sent him back to service, people from the small town wrote the Queen Mother and said they felt it unfair to send an injured man back to battle," said Margaret. Her husband was more seriously injured on D-Day when he took artillery to the back. "He spend months in the hospital," she said. Finally discharged, the couple moved to New Zealand so her husband could work as a carpenter. "He ended up building huge buildings with cement block. "It's not exactly what he wanted to do, but we got along."

In his mid-70s, Margaret's husband had a severe fall while climbing a ladder to their second floor. "Doctors said he fractured his head in three places," she said. Margaret cared for her husband at home. "I had a nurse come in and help me."

"One day we were lifting him out of bed and the nurse had him piggyback, and he looked over and winked at me," said Margaret. She said she was a little flustered, thinking he was getting chummy with the nurse. "Then he rested his head and the nurse gently said 'Margaret, he's gone.'"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Found Kurt in Christchurch. He hailed from Madison.
Was with the military and in New Zealand for a month. Tough assignment.

Me at Canterbury Church... used to be a university,
now it's an art gallery.
Did I mention Christchurch is recovering from a HUGE earthquake?
Happened Sept. 11, 2010.
Since, there have been 2,000 aftershocks.

Me doing my best Maori impersonation.

Me and a wallaby.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sunday, December 19, ARROWTOWN, NEW ZEALAND

Dec. 19, Sun. ARROWTOWN, NZ -
Arrowtown is an old gold mining town surrounded by mountains. The Main Street is about 10 blocks long and made up of shops resembling buildings from the miner's heyday in the 1860s.
A candy store, This Remarkable Sweet House, was open early. Shelves that stretched to the ceiling were covered with colorful jars of candy. Rum balls, rhubarb and custard pips, sarsaparilla drops, pink smokers, sharp red bottles of Dracula’s milk and chocolate hokey pokey which was honeycomb covered with chocolate. "Lots of memories for adults and children," said Mimmi busy making fudge behind the counter.

In 1862, miners Thomas Arthur and Harry Redfern harvested several pounds of gold with a butcher’s knife in Arrowtown. The pair agreed to keep it a secret. Within two months, word was out and diggers were coming from all over the world. In the second half of the 19th century, 10,000 Chinese men arrived in Arrowtown to search for gold. They brought with them the opium trade.

It had to have been the drugs that spurred the Wallenda-style entertainment: The Wonderful Performing Fleas. Black and white posters screamed "MARVELOUS PERFORMANCES" and pictured sword fighting fleas playing leap frog, and manning a chariot with a whip.

"We practice no deception - every item of this act performed or we will forfeit $50 to the Charities."

"Do not let the small charge of admission detour you from seeing these WONDERFULLY EDUCATED FLEAS."

- I'm earning my street cred
; managing well; however, on a bike with limited gear. Marcello from Sport Cycle in Rotorua is a Kiwi transplant who once hailed from Madison. "So you're from the mistake by the lake," he said, referencing Milwaukee.

Marcello lived in New Zealand going on 12 years. He visited and stayed, lured by the bike shop, liberal vacation, sound health insurance and economic stability.

Marcello listened to my adventures, noted the biker in me, my fingernails black with chain schmutz. He also advised I treat my luggage situation with a good dose of "wait and see."
Making me feel at home, Marcello reached out and set me up with a series of Allen wrenches, should I encounter a bike-repair emergency. He also brought out a pair of used bicycle shoes. "Some guy was going to throw these away. They've been sitting in back for a while; I think they're your size."

Tools and shoes - in my low-maintenance lifestyle it felt like he had given me a ring.

- Rotorua postal delivery woman Diane took me in Wednesday night. She lived with her son Jackson, 7, and husband Paul. She volunteered to drive me to the Rotorua airport Saturday at 5:30 a.m. It was her day off.

Diane was a spitfire and 35-years-old when she had Jackson. "I was ready for him by then," she explained with the rasp of someone whose friend in youth was "Par-tee". "Named him after Michael Jackson," she said of her son. "I know all the moves."

Diane knew my name, but constantly referred to me as Buddy. It took me a while before I realized she was talking to me.

Jeannie and Sing literally pulled me off the street Monday evening in Templeton. It was past 7:30 p.m. and I was weary and still tracking down a place to stay. I stopped the couple on their bikes to ask for directions; they adopted me on the spot. The pair were originally from Malaysia; they lived in New Zealand since 2002 with their quiet daughter Rachel, 15, a self-proclaimed bookworm, and caffeinated son Josh, 13.

"My room has been declared a disaster zone and is totally off limits," said Josh setting his boundaries early.

After an hour and a half of get-to-know-you conversation I retired to my bedroom - a mattress with a three inch cushion on the living room floor. Sleep was like a 10-hour coma.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 18 - Picture Update

My rag-tag gear on the back of my bike;
luggage consisting of garbage bags and bungy cords

My view out of my bedroom window in Queenstown

Queenstown, New Zealand

Maori natives canoeing down river in Rotorua

Me with a Maori girl

Dec. 18 Saturday, Rotorua, New Zealand

Dec. 18 Saturday, Rotorua, NZ -

Flying from Rotorua to the South Island and Queenstown; however, fog has "socked us in."

With the delay, the airline opts to put passengers on a bus to the Auckland airport. "It's only a two-and-a-half hour ride and you'll have heaps of time to make your flight," said the agent at the counter.

The bus ride lets me catch up on the newspaper; nice representation from the States as a Wisconsin postman has made the news in New Zealand with his wacky naked delivery.

A bus ride later, as I'm flying over the South Island, I can see why everybody says the visit will be worth it.

Mountains and hills of green; picture Julie Andrews and the Sound of Music. The small airport in Queenstown is on the edge of a very rural community. Crystal blue lakes surrounded by green hills and mountains, their peaks trimmed with white clouds.

Queenstown is a tourist hotspot; think the Streets of San Francisco swallowing the Wisconsin Dells. It's touted as the Adventure Capital of New Zealand. Everything has an edge and Queenstown is looking to push you over it; skydiving, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting and zip line cables that clip along the treetops.

I got a bit of a feel for the area from Dwayne. The 20-something attendant at the local backpacker's hostel looked like he could be on the cover of a Harlequin romance; short, curly hair, a Disney-prince jaw line and a cleft in his chin that resembled a baby's butt. Our conversation ran the gamut from biking and travel, to the States. On a scale of one to Justin Bieber, Dwayne put the Bieber to shame.

I asked about neighboring Arrowtown. Dwayne said it was about 30 minutes north by bus. A quiet town of 5,000 with a historical society, shops and carriage rides. I thought it sounded great."Yeah, it's where my parents like to go," said Dwayne. I thought I'd forgive him that one. Then Dwayne referred me to another youth hostel. "This one gets kind of loud; I think you would be more comfortable on the other end of town." I felt like he was sending me and my bike to the old spokes home.

At that point I was done with Dwayne - he was losing his muchness.


Retired minister Keith Robertson and his wife, Margaret, took me in for the night. The pair were in their 80s; retired teachers, married 55 years. When life became boring, Keith would opt to get another college degree. He had four; his tendency was history. Margaret was hard of hearing, and that's being nice.

The two had chairs set in the living room; think Archie and Edith Bunker. His was oversized compared to the rest of the furniture - plush. A briefcase and Atlas were within reach.

Margaret's chair matched the rest of the furniture. She had a cushioned backrest and a colorful, striped afghan thrown over the top of the chair. A cardboard box filled with magazines and Sudoku puzzles leaned against the side, an easy grab.

It was like staying with your grandparents; five bookshelves, rabbit ears on the television, and lots of short, barking conversation. "Keith William," yelled Margaret. "I have to call him Keith William to get his attention..." And within that brief moment, Margaret lost her train of thought. "Crumbs.... it must not have been important." With that, she doppled off to muss about the kitchen, her slippered feet shuffling along the linoleum floor.

The pair had longevity and an evident rhythm of relationship. Keith spoke knowledgeably about every topic, like a university professor. Margaret often and conveniently, took out her hearing aids.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dec. 17, Friday, Rotorua, NEW ZEALAND

Dec. 17, Friday, Rotorua, NEW ZEALAND - Spending a couple days in Rotorua before flying out to the south island and Queenstown.

Rotorua is a community of about 60,000 known for its thermal springs; a kind way of saying the whole city smells like feet.

The neighboring body of water is Sulphur Bay, a primary feeder for the olfactory system.

In the 1880s, crafty settlers decided to turn the thermal springs and accompanying stink into a tourist attraction and thus created the old Rotorua Bath House.

Wealthy people traveled 42 days by boat to get to the "Great South Seas Spa" to "take the cure."

The medical facility (a loosely used term) provided highly acidic baths warmed to steaming temperatures.

The thermal pools were hailed as cures for ailments like arthritis, eczema, epilepsy, and sexual impotence.

One popular treatment was vibratory massage. Strapped to a chair, a person was placed in a large bath and vigorously shaken. The treatment was said to cure constipation and obesity.

It took 50 years for people to realize the bath treatments did nothing. There was another minor issue - the building was falling apart.

Years of acidic steam and warm baths caused massive corrosion; plaster swelled, pipes leaked and in disgusting fashion the combination of moist air and hydrogen sulphide turned the white walls lead paint to a moldy black.

The Bath House, soon referred to as a "decayed monster", tanked.

Other venues occupied the building, including a Maori concert hall, Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society, a nightclub and disco. (Doesn't this sound similar to the old Eagles Club / The Rave in Milwaukee.)

In the 1970s the city finally took over the facility and opened the Rotorua Museum of Art and History. Exhibits include traveling art displays and tours of the old Bath House.


The Kiwi like to tout the kiwi in New Zealand; the bird - not the fruit.

I managed a behind-the-scenes tour of Rainbow Springs; a public park and purpose-built kiwi hatchery that helps supplement the near-extinct population.

The hatchery spends $2,500 per egg to raise the bird to maturity.

Seriously - there is no cuteness factor with these birds.

Standing approximately 12-inches tall, they have a Gilligan-like erratic sense of movement. Long narrow bills, cone shaped body, and big feet; they would be the last one picked on the playground.

If the females had a say, they would have pulled the plug on the species centuries ago. Three words - eggs like cannonballs. It's one of the heaviest eggs in the world in relation to the bird's body weight. Putting it in people terms, this equals a woman birthing a 35-pound baby.

One of the other birds on display is the Kea; a parrot, protected by law, and many wonder why. Similar to a destructive teen, a gang of birds can pick apart and destroy a car in less time than it takes to complete a Sunday service.

At Rainbow Spring, Jenny the Kea was on display. Dull gray feathers, a good mimic, and Houdini-like skills. Keepers had to change to an electronic entry system after Jenny picked the lock on her cage and escaped.

As part of the breeding process, the sanctuary introduced two males to Jenny. They were found dead the next morning and not from exhaustion, nor with smiles on their face.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Monday, Dec. 13, Te Kuhai, New Zealand


Today's marks one week since I've seen my gear. I've dubbed the lost luggage Baby Jessica - similar to the 1987 situation in Midland, Texas. I fear my gear has fallen down the well of lost luggage and I'm waiting for its rescue.

E-mails from a newly assigned specialized search agent with the airline leave me with flagging hope as each memo continues the drumbeat of bad news.

Mon. Dec. 13, Te Kuhai, NEW ZEALAND - Paul Christensen lives on a small family farm about 10 miles outside Hamilton.

His wife Roz did say it was okay to bring me home and son, Drew, 9, said my visit "made them clean house."

The Christensen's felt like instant family.

Along with precocious young Drew, there was Ryan, 14, an avid bicyclist, talented soccer player and a young man with genuine hospitality and manners; not something that would impress the 'tween girls just yet, but it sure did make his parents proud.

Ryan was a true gentleman.

Nicole, 20, was the hard-working daughter who was debating a career with the police or health care.

We all found common ground within minutes of my arrival while discussing musical tastes like Pink, Katy Perry and Nicole's favorite, Justin Bieber.

"I can't stand him," said Nicole, who tempted whiplash as she flung her head to the side mocking Bieber's hair toss.

We dined outdoors on the back patio as Paul barbecued chicken kabobs and steak on the grill. Roz laid out a decorative salad, potatoes, meringue with strawberries and ice cream for dessert.

We managed a gender-specific game of soccer after dinner. Drew soon jumped ship on the boy's team and then gravitated to whichever side was winning.

The game was soon replaced by an evening visit to all the animals. Roz and family used to run a petting zoo and they still owned a small pony, chickens, and a black bull.

The Christensen's were a unique group. Obviously tight knit and helpful, they jumped in the mix upon hearing my luggage fiasco and made it a team effort to at least get to the bottom of the situation.

It was an impressive attempt - two phones working, Ryan monitoring the 'on-hold music' as Roz pushed to speak to a supervisor on another line.

This whole process has really become a big time suck, and now.... it's making my teeth hurt.

The next morning we were back at it; the Christensen's working behind the scenes as I relayed my case to yet another clerk based in India.

It was like the Amazing Race and we were in it to win it.

Ryan filled my water bottles and packed my maps in plastic bags. Roz cobbled together a bag of snacks including two oranges, some granola bars and fruit snacks and Paul found some spare tools in case I suffered a bike breakdown.

I can usually manage a crabby hope in these situations, but lately I've just felt crummy.

The Christensen's warmth and cooperative effort made me feel I'm not in this alone.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Picture Treats

Outside a church about 40 miles from Rotorua - it's a town full of corrugated art.

Here's a view outside of my bedroom window on Tuesday morning.


Dec. 12, Sunday TE KAUWHATA - Started the day at 4 a.m. with jet lag and little sleep but was determined to pick up some biking miles and drilled south to Hamilton - a distance of 95 kilometers.

Made it as far as Te Kauwhata and met Linda Plant, the minister at the local Presbyterian church. Her salt-and-pepper hair was cropped short. She wore thin rectangular glasses with a partial red frame and was relaxed about everything ... including housework.

Linda outright hated housework; she had a 'what-you-see-is-what-you-get' attitude and welcomed me into her home with open arms.

Her three children were grown and out of the home, her parents lived in town and all were coming over that evening for tea - which smelled a lot like dinner.

The buffet-style meal ran the gamut from sizable cuts of fish, hearty shrimp, rolls, potato salad, and greens.

We sat out back at the picnic table, fed our hunger and took turns dousing ourselves in spray to try and fight off the mosquitoes.

The next morning, Linda and I had more time to chat about New Zealand, the trends, culture and food.

It was then she made me try Marmite. "It's a spread you put on bread or toast," she said.

Marmite looked a lot like chocolate spread or prune butter. "You have to spread it on very thin," said Linda.

The Marmite label read, 'New Zealand's original yeast spread. Meat free product.'

The name sounded like a vermin; something run over with your car or found dead in a trap in the basement.

I tried it with mature spirit and ate the rest out of politeness. I'm sure it would have been inappropriate to yak at the table and use a napkin to wipe Marmite off my tongue.

"It's an acquired taste," said Linda.

With watery eyes I changed topics to the Maori culture.

Linda said the natives in New Zealand, especially the women, demand respect. Mary, a long-time Maori woman in Te Kauwhata, went to the hometown grocery store that was recently purchased by some people from India. Her children brought home ice cream cones and Mary thought the servings were less than adequate.

A large woman, Mary stormed the store like a bulldozer, strongly lectured the owners about their lack of respect for the Maori and then pushed herself behind the icebox, flipped the lid and served up healthy Eiffel-Tower scoops to the children.

Those kids always got their money's worth after that.


The roads in New Zealand have already done a number on my wheels. I'm riding on a two-inch gash in my back tire.

I haven't had a blowout yet, but the meaty gravel covered with a thin spray of black tar is chomping at the bit.

I try to ride or at least 'think' light. I channel an elephant in a pink tutu gliding over a surface of balloons.

The concentrated attempt is short lived and I soon fall back into my pattern of stone on fencepost, dragging my dinosaur tail of supplies.

My rucksack now consists of a garbage bag and a colorful array of bungee cords.

I feel I'm getting closer to earning my scout badge for 'successful transient.'


I meet Frank at his bicycle shop in Puhete, on the north end of Hamilton.

We work on a new rear tire and bicycle pump since mine seems shot.

Outside the shop, while working on my tire, I chat it up with Paul Christensen. He's stopped to retrieve his bike.

We talk about my tour, the weather, and I quick hop in side to settle my bill with Frank.

Back outside, Paul is waiting. "I called my wife and she said it was okay if I brought you home."

It was the worst pick-up line I'd ever heard.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Monday, December 13 - Hamilton, New Zealand

Monday, Dec. 13, 2010 HAMILTON, NZ - The 13-hour VAustrailia flight from LA to Sydney, Australia was made tolerable by a 12 x 10-inch personal television with selections that included current movies, TV programs, and music.

I fed off the programming like a drug. I didn't learn a lot about the woman sitting next to me but managed to watch the new Eclipse, a bunch of Glee and Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carell.

Transferred from Sydney (whose airport is much like a Chicago mall) and took a puddle-jumper, 2-hour flight to my destination of Auckland, New Zealand.

I was worried the airline would lose my bike. At every stop and transfer point I made the airline check that my bike was still on board. I paid Delta Airline $200 to make sure my bike and gear travel with me.

Got to Auckland Airport about 5 p.m. Saturday and there was my bike in a box just as expected.

And my gear, it was safe... in L.A.

Not a problem, but my pedals and tools and axle for my front wheel were with my gear - as were my clothes.

I've never been the 'lost-baggage person.' I knew this would be a new challenge.

After a mere five minutes with baggage claims customer service, I wished this was happening to somebody else.

Simply put, there was no accountability. Matter of fact, the airline determined this was all my fault.

"Did you have travel insurance," said the clerk, who had just finished tracing the bar code on the bag to L.A.

I didn't have travel insurance, but to clarify I responded, "Did I pay $200 extra to correctly fly my bike and bag to New Zealand or did I pay $200 extra to only fly half my gear?"

I was not in the mood to play.

A woman standing next to me also lost her bags. She flew out of Canada to L.A. to Sydney to New Zealand and was shy her luggage with a wedding dress she was wearing in two days.

"I have travel insurance," she said.

The clerks eagerly flitted to her like birds chasing bread crumbs.

The clerks proceeded to hand the woman an encyclopedia of forms to fill out. "The insurance carrier will notify you in four to six weeks with a decision on your claim," said the clerk.

That woman was on the doom-line express and, sadly, I was riding shotgun.

Baggage Claims said my gear was apparently on stand-by for a flight Sunday morning.

I was directed to the empty 'help desk' for assistance to the closest youth hostel and as I left the clerk said, "You can't leave your bike here - you'll have to take it with you."

Mind you my bike was in a box the size of a recliner. I'd put it together, but I have neither pedals nor a pin to attach the front wheel. Think pushing a wheelbarrow and carrying the wheel.

Apparently, since I now claimed the bike, I would have to pay the airline to store it.

Have I mentioned they lost my bag?

Storage was $15 a day.

Testing my patience and my survivor skills I grew a thick skin and challenged myself to remedy the situation that was all my fault, for under $100.

I cut a deal with the storage guy; I would pick up the bike the next day guaranteed, if he could just store it for one night for free.

Then $5 went to a shuttle to a youth hostel for $30; the room was probably the best money spent so I could shower, sleep and come back with my game face on.

The Youth Hostel had a giant kiwi bird peering over the top of the building, like it was stalking food.


The clerks at the youth hostel were Indian, so it felt much like America.

I had been in my clothes for three days at this point; I spent another $7 on toothbrush, paste, and razors or shavers, as they're called in New Zealand.

Another $2 for Internet and the Youth Hostel made an attempt to reach out, generously throwing in two medicinal beers at no charge.

My next step was to find a bike store, buy pedals and an axle, get back to the airport, put my bike together and wait on my gear.

I got up at 4 a.m. and the manager of the Youth Hostel gave me directions to the bike shop in Onehinga. "But you can't go now, they don't open until 9 a.m.," he said, with a heavy Indian accent.

I planned on walking the 6 miles to the shop. "You can't - that's not possible......" (I think that's what he said as I pushed out the door.)

Temps were comfortably in the 70s. The sun was coming up and I was walking with all my personal belongings.

I felt like Caine in Kung Fu - a sleeping mat slug over my shoulder and a bamboo stick for protection.

Actually my gear was a bike bag with a camera, small computer, and a book by Anne Lamott, spare inner tube, notebook and radio.

Not exactly a comfortable pillow to rest a weary head, and all growing primarily useless considering my recharging cords were with my gear, which was safe in LA.


Clipped off the six miles to Hedgehog Bikes and determined walking is too slow a form of world travel; I desperately missed my bike.

I had a nice two-hour wait until the bike shop opened, but it was all made comfortable by Chris and Heather. The couple arrived early to open the neighboring bar and restaurant.

"Can I made you a cup of coffee?," asked Heather, as I sat on the ground outside the shop looking miserable.

It was the nicest someone had been to me so far this trip.

Heather was in her late 40s and managed the bar. She had short, straight hair and wore a one-piece black dress with sandals and smoked Horizon cigarettes.

Her boyfriend, Chris, was a tough biker dude with a red, four-inch beard; think if Metallica swallowed Easy Rider.

Heather was also the one who came up with the plan to volunteer her boyfriend to drive me to the airport, pick up my bike and return to Onehinga. It would save time and be easier than juggling the airport on foot, again.

Chis, with some tough-guy reluctance, agreed.

Once on our way, Chris turned teddy bear. Make that rebel teddy bear, since he talked about his visit to the States, Sturgis, and something about being arrested and a gun.

I felt, however, he had my back.

Grabbed my bike, got fixed at the cycle shop for $55 and I was on my way. Happy to be moving and somewhat relived that my gear was safe in LA.

And yes, I realize that's such an oxymoron.

New Adventure..New Zealand!

Maoiri totem pole just outside Auckland.

Flowers and bike/Auckland

Chain store, Burger Wisconsin.... It's in NZ, but not in Wisconsin, as far as I know

Friday Dec. 10 ... or is it Saturday?? I've reset my watch three times ... always turning the clock back, but for some reason I've lost a day; it currently remains unaccounted for.

For the most part, things have been smooth. Flights on time, nice people, and managed to find my way around LAX with little problem.

Disappointed I haven't once yet had a stranger ogle my pillowy-white lady parts as part of a security check in.

It did, however, take nearly two hours to check in at Delta Airline in Milwaukee and all because of helpful ticket agent No. 116834.

I'd give you her name, but her name tag was buried under a stack of name tags swinging from a cord around her neck. She reminded me of the lunch lady.

If my dad could have made up a name, he would have called her Dandy. Used in a sentence - "She's a Dandy, Huh!"

"That'll be $200 to check your bike," said Dandy, kindly.

Seriously, the bike isn't even worth $200 and the most I've ever paid to fly it is $80.

But she swiped my credit card and called VAustralia to see what charge she could tack on, on their behalf.

Persistence was Dandy's strong suite. "VAustralia says it won't cost anything to fly your bike from LA to New Zealand... that can't be right"

I cheered the news. No. 116834 stewed and hit me with another whopper.

"Let's see your VISA," she said. I passed her the credit card again and she clarified, "Your travel visa."

I knew I didn't need one and she adamantly told me I did. "You can't get into Australia without a visa."

I explained that Australia was a stopover on my flight; a transfer point to Auckland. I wasn't staying.

"And you're not going, either, without a visa," she said.

My heart was in a vicegrip from the stress. I carefully plan these trips.

Okay, I know I don't know where I'm staying when I get to Auckland, nor do I know the bicycle route out of the airport, but I did know I didn't need a visa.

Dandy silently, in business-like fashion moved to another computer. A woman checking her bags stood in front of her and No. 116834 totally ignored her.

I asked to use a phone and called my travel agent. He, too, said I didn't need a visa, but Dandy wasn't buying it.

I threatened to cry and have a heart attack. "Please, don't do that - not here," said Dandy with as much compassion as Glee cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester.

"Oh, wait - are you staying in Australia longer than three months?," she asked.

To be clear, again, it was a stopover as I transferred planes.

"No, I guess you don't need a visa," said Dandy, scrunching up her face, flashing a weak "my bad" smile. Her half-hearted wink didn't cut it.

Hoping to wrap it all up and move along, Dandy posed another delay. Apparently she didn't want to wait on anybody but me.

"Let meee cheeckk onnnneee morreee thing," she said, like she was trying to fill a 10-minute speech with two pages of copy.

"I can't believe that other airline doesn't charge anything for a bike."

You've got to be kidding me. I could already smell myself sweating and felt sorry for the person seated next to me... if I made it to the plane at all.


At the Minneapolis airport I met Adam, a 30-something who resembled glam rocker Adam Lambert.

I noticed Adam when he checked in at boarding with his iPod. "It's actually my cell phone. You call up the ticket and then it comes up like this," he said, flipping through the palm-sized computer with ease.

"Give me your phone and I'll show you how to do it," he said.

Blank stare.

"It's easy. Who's your carrier?" I told him AT&T, but then outted myself and said I had no cell phone, just a land line at home.

"I didn't know they made those anymore," he said.

For the first time I felt smarter - in a tangled 30-foot-yellow-cord kinda way.

I explained my technology-challenged lifestyle, biking and reporting from the road, using WiFi at the public library and tapping stories out on a mini-keyboard and computer screen. I gave him my business card and numbers and such.

"I can't believe you do all this without a phone. That's actually pretty amazing."

I felt impressed with Adam's opinion of my low-tech status.

By the time we boarded the plane, Adam turned and while taking his seat said, "I've bookmarked your web site and sent you an e-mail so you can get a hold of me."

Well, I'll just get right to that when I arrive at my next library. It'll be like a little gift awaiting my arrival.

The Australian Airport is enormous and looks more like a shopping mall than an airport. There are genuine full-fledged stores, not kiosks. Shoe stores stocked with furry Ugg boots. Must-have trinkets, i.e., a wombat in a can, didgeridoo, or boomerang. A Wiggles store dedicated to everything Wiggles. Fine chocolate, men's clothing, jewelry - good shopping if you won the lottery.