Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Change of plans

Last minute change of plans: I'm headed for Kohukohu instead, following the scenic route south of Kaitaia. It's longer than I'd planned for the day - 70km - but there aren't many hills.

I'm on the road now, so you can use the links on the right to follow me if you care to track my progress.

Postcards update

Okay, so I've got the nitty-gritty behind the postcard scheme (is 'scheme' a bad word? maybe 'program'?) set up. Go here for all the details and instructions. Act in the next half hour and I might be able to send you something from Kaitaia!

As a reminder, here's the elevator pitch: Contribute $25 or more towards the Ride to Conquer Cancer, which benefits the Chris O'Brien Lighthouse, and I will send you a postcard from a scenic town in New Zealand, to anywhere in the world. You can nominate the town you'd like me to send it from - anywhere on my planned route - and specify the message you'd like on it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Day 1: Videoblog

Here's the videoblog entry for day 1 of my trip. This is the first time I've posted any sort of video blog, so feedback is greatly appreciated.


Somehow I forgot to mention one of the more significant events of my first day: the flat tyre. Little more than 10 minutes out of the Cape Reinga parking lot, going down a hill at speed, the trike started fishtailing alarmingly. I pulled to a stop, and a brief check showed the rear tyre was almost completely flat. I'd had trouble with the valve on that tyre since I assembled the bike, but I thought the leak was slow, and that maybe I'd even resolved it, but it appears not.

So 10 minutes into my first day of touring, I find myself changing a tyre already - and it's the rear one, to make matters worse. Argh.

I'd only changed the rear tyre once before, when I was putting on the Marathon Supreme tyres, but it was actually pretty painless. I had all the right tools and knew what to do, so all up it probably took me no more than about 15 minutes. Good practice.

I've had no further trouble with tyres or tubes since. I'm thinking about starting a 'flat counter' in the corner of the blog to keep track. 1 day since last flat tyre!

Day 2: Pukenui-ish to Kaitaia

Distance: 47.6k
Distance so far: 109.8k
Speed: 18.9k/h
Runkeeper logs: 1, 2

Following the advice of commenters and my own inclination, I decided to start where I left off rather than cheating and starting from Pukenui. After a bit of a sleep-in and a delicious breakfast at Pukenui, I got a lift back to where I left off and got started.

As I observed yesterday, the road between Te Kao and Pukenui was a lot flatter than the road down from Reinga, and that trend continued today, getting even flatter. There were very few hills, and they were all pretty mild and easily conquered. The road, too, was nice and even - very unlike the first few km out of Reinga. Little to no shoulder most of the way, though, making me glad of the wide berth motorists tend to give me.

25k saw me through to my first and only stop of the day, at Waiharara, where I stopped for a short break and a trumpet (NZ's version of a Cornetto):

I resisted the temptation to try a "Hangi in a Pie":

Continuing on, the scenery continued to be gorgeous, and the road uneventful. I stopped briefly for a look at the Waipapakuri memorial, the site of NZ's northernmost airstrip, and our first line of defence against invasion by Japan during World War 2.

Further on was Awanui. Here, State Highway 10 branches off from State Highway 1, and for the first time in my trip the country is wide enough to support more than one major road. I'm still in the Far North - that's the name of the region - but I don't think this counts as the Far Far North any longer.

Not much further on was Kaitaia, and the end of my journey for the day, for which my legs - still a bit tired from yesterday - are grateful.

Tomorrow I plan to make for Whangaroa, a distance of a little over 70k, though I may change my mind on that depending on what the elevation profile looks like - I'd like to take things easy for a bit while I get into the rhythm of my tour.

Finally, a quick reminder for anyone who hasn't read it already, you should read my postcard post. This is your last opportunity to get one from Kaitaia!

I'm on the road!

Check out the runkeeper links on the right to track my progress in realtime!

Fundraising and postcards

While on the road, I've been brainstorming a bit, and I think I have an idea that may interest all of you.

I've been considering whether or not to commit to doing the Ride to Conquer Cancer, a 3 day ride in New South Wales later in the year. Participants agree to raise a certain amount of money for charity as sponsorship for the ride. It seems like an awesome event, but I was unsure of how I'd go about raising the money. Which is where my current trip comes in.

Here's the deal: A $25 donation to sponsor me for the Ride to Conquer Cancer buys you a postcard from a scenic town in (probably) rural New Zealand, with a personalized message - if you want one - sent anywhere in the world. All of your donation goes towards the charity; I'll cover the cost of the postcard and postage as my contribution, though if you'd like to add an extra $3 to cover it yourself, I won't say no.

If you've got a particular town on my route that you'd like to get a postcard from, nominate it and I'll do my best to send you a postcard from there. If I can't, I'll send it to you from the next suitable spot on my route. If you've got a particular message you'd like, you can request that too.

I'll set up a system of some sort to get this organized in the next few days. In the meantime, if you're interested, leave a note in the comments. If you'd like to join in, say so, and I'll take it on trust until things are sorted out.

Oh, and last of all, thanks to Jayce for giving me the idea!

Update: If you'd like to do this, go here for all the details and to donate!

Day 1: Cape Reinga to Pukenui-ish

Distance: 62.2k
Distance so far: 62.2k
Avg speed: 14.4k/h
Runkeeper log: here

My original plan on getting up this morning was to aim to ride from Cape Reinga to Pukenui, a distance of a shade under 70 kilometers. Seeing the hills between Te Kao and Cape Reinga on the way up put paid to that idea - or at least, I thought so - since the terrain changes from fairly gentle rolling hills to lots of steep slopes, a pretty intimidating looking first day. I decided to aim for Te Kao, where I could get a lift to Pukenui for the night from the person acting as my road support for the first few days (my Mum), and resume where I left off the next day.

With that in mind, I set off from Cape Reinga, later than I'd hoped, around 2:40PM.

The road was very rough initially, a fairly worn chip-and-tar that had me rattled to my bones going down the slopes at 60k or so. The rear suspension helped greatly, but the shocks still transmitted through the wheels to my feet and my hands. Things smoothed out after a bit, and I was able to enjoy racing downhill without having to worry my eyeballs would pop out.

The downhills were fun but short, interspersed with interminable climbs in my very lowest gear, doing little more than a walking pace. The very low gearing on the trike made that fairly comfortable, at least initially, just glacially slow. The excellent weather and the gorgeous scenery made it less of a chore than it would otherwise be, though.

Eventually arriving at Te Kao at 5:55PM, I took 5 minutes to stretch before confidently strolling the door of the convenience store for some of their "world famous" ice cream (or so the sign says), only to discover they close at 6. Which they had, bang on the dot. Damn.

Since there was no sign of my road support to pick me up, I sent a message and decided to continue on until we met on the road. Thus began the saga...

The hills were much gentler after Te Kao, but I was pretty knackered. I bore on towards Pukenui. And on. And on. No sign of the road support. I was wearing pretty thin at this point, but the only course of action seemed to be to press on for Pukenui.

Finally, with the last of my endurance flagging, we met up about 5k out of Pukenui, both going in the same direction. It seems through some cruel chance of fate we passed on the road - an unbelievable fluke, since there's only one road and I was on it the whole way - and my mum had gone all the way to Reinga and back looking for me.

Despite being only about 5k from Pukenui, I opted to take the lift the rest of the way. Those hills up to Te Kao had done me in.

Tomorrow, then, I need to decide how much I value my integrity. Do I get a lift back 5k and resume from where I left off, or finish the trip being able to proudly announce "I biked the length of NZ, except for 5k just outside Pukenui"? Cast your votes now.

No photos or videoblog today, since 3g coverage is nearly nonexistent, and the motel wants $10 an hour for wireless internet that mostly doesn't work. I'll endeavour to upload both tomorrow.

Friday, January 27, 2012


So what does one take on a bike trip?

I'm going to be doing what's often referred to as 'Credit Card Touring' for this trip: that is, I'll be staying the night at backpackers', hostels, B&Bs and other places that provide such luxuries as a roof over your head and a warm bed. New Zealand's pretty well equipped for this, because it's hard to find a place where you're not within cycling distance of at least one town with a warm bed for let.

As a result, the list of things I need to take with me is substantially reduced. I don't need to take a tent, or a sleeping bag, or a bed roll. I don't need to take cooking gear either, nor do I need to take more food than I need for the day. This makes it practical for me to pack pretty light - in fact, I plan on fitting everything I need into two standard size bike panniers.

I still don't want to weigh myself down with a bunch of stuff I don't need, though, because everything I take I'm going to have to lug the length of NZ, up and down hills and through the rain and all. Also, bag management is going to be an issue, so every extra item is one I have to pack, unpack, organize, reorganize, lose, find, curse at, and cram into a corner of the bag. I'd like to keep all that to a minimum if I can.

This leads to a few sensible directives on what I pack:
  • Everything has to be quick-dry travel/sports gear where practical. I'm going to be washing each night, and it needs to be dry in the morning.
  • Not a lot of clothes. Two changes of clothes plus some 'civilian wear' for when I'm taking a day off should be all I need.
  • If a piece of clothing can serve more than one purpose, that makes one less piece of clothing I have to take with me. Clothing I can wear on and off the bike is perfect for this.
  • Take everything I need, but nothing I don't.
I've been picking up in bits and pieces the stuff I needed since I decided I was doing this trip, and I got a large part of it in post-Xmas sales, which made everything a bit more affordable. Finally last night, I took the opportunity to lay out everything I'm taking neatly and take stock of it.

One source for a lot of my clothing has been Icebreaker. They're a New Zealand company that makes excellent thermal clothing from Merino wool, and they have a variety of stuff that's exactly what I need for the trip: warm, breathable, lightweight and quick-drying.

Here's what's in my packs:
  • Microfiber towel. Not all hostels provide one, and this is small and dries fast.
  • Softshell cycling jacket. Doubles as a good off-the-bike windbreaker.
  • Short-sleeved shirt and long-sleeved shirt. Loose-fit t-shirts from Icebreaker. These work as 'civilian' clothing as well as for cycling.
  • Cycling shirt. A standard cyclist shirt. I'm not even sure I need this with the other t-shirts packed.
  • Ultralight Daypack. This backpack scrunches down into a tiny bundle that zips up and a thin foam pad I can stick in the back of the pannier. When I'm taking a day off, I can un-scrunch it for use as a walking pack.
  • Toiletries. Ultra-concentrated shampoo, shower soap, and washing liquid, along with the usual supplies.
  • 'Stuff sacks' - lightweight drawstring sacks for organizing all this in my bags.
  • Jeans. Just regular jeans for day-wear.
  • Cycle shorts. After much looking I found some decent sports shorts made from a technical fabric that have zippered pockets, which are pretty essential for riding a recumbent. A quick visit to the tailor got them modified to have drawstrings around the legs so I won't get unexpected insect visitors while riding.
  • Thermal underpants. From Icebreaker.
  • Arm warmers. Also from Icebreaker. I'm not sure I'll need these.
  • Underpants. Also from Icebreaker.
  • Socks. Yes, also from Icebreaker. Specifically designed to be comfortable when cycling.
  • Balaclava. Icebreaker. No, this is not a paid ad for Icebreaker.
  • Thermal tops. Not from Icebreaker, remarkably.
  • Cycling Gloves.
  • Cycling Shoes.
  • Rain gear - a rain jacket and pants, both made from Gore-Tex breathable fabric.
  • First aid kit - because it'd be irresponsible not to.
  • Parts & Tools: Spare folding tyre, spare tube, tyre patches, multitool, pump, duct tape, chain links, brake pads, tyre levers.
  • Sunscreen. This is NZ we're talking about.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Technology: Laptop & Charger, Kindle, USB cable, USB charger
That's pretty much the lot of it. I'm pleased to say that it all fits into the panniers without any shoving - in fact, with a bit of room to spare.

There's also a few accessories that'll go on the bike itself:

  • Solar Charger. This has an internal battery big enough to charge my phone 4 or 5 times over, as well as a solar panel to recharge during the day. More about this rig in a later post.
  • Front light - a ridiculously powerful 450 lumen rechargeable light.
  • Rear light - a 'fiber flex' fiber-optic rear light.
  • Bike lock - I don't want to have to end my trip early with no bike.
  • Camelbak - because I need to stay hydrated.
  • GoPro Camera - so I can videoblog.
  • Gorillapod - so I can mount the gopro in unusual places.
Tomorrow my flight leaves for Auckland, so I'll be on the road on Monday. Look out for my first on-the-road update then!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Welcome to Laid Back Touring!

Welcome to Laid Back Touring.

I'm Nick Johnson. I'm a geek by trade, but I'm taking the next 8 weeks off work to do something totally different: I'm going to do a muscle-powered tour of Aotearoa (New Zealand), and I'm going to blog and video blog about it right here. Expect posts, photos, video blog entries, and even live tracking information so you can see where I am right now.

I'm not taking an ordinary bike, either; I'll be touring NZ on this recumbent trike. Compared to a regular bike, I'm hoping it will be more comfortable, more fun, and more unusual, if a little slower when it comes to climbing hills. But I'm not in any hurry.

A little bit about me: I'm originally from Christchurch, New Zealand, but I've spent the past four years living overseas, first in Dublin, Ireland, and for the last year or so in Sydney, Australia. I work at Google, most recently on the Google App Engine team as a Developer Advocate. I'm moderately well known for my main blog, where I mostly talk about tech stuff, App Engine, and Damn Cool Algorithms.

I'm looking forward to my tour as an opportunity to decompress a bit, do something different form my usual day job, and see more of my home country at a more relaxed pace than I have in the past. My ultimate goal is to ride the entire country, starting at the northernmost point, Cape Reinga, and ending at the southernmost part of the mainland, Bluff, following anything but a direct route along the way. Going the quick way, you could do this on a bike in as little as 14 days; I plan to take a lot longer and see a lot more.

The tour starts January 30, 2012. Tune in then for the first installment!