Sunday, December 21, 2008

Well, that's it. A great trip. Hope you enjoyed. This'll be the last post.

As always, I/we can be found on my own blog of random weirdness....


Check it out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nov 17 to 19th Canada

OUR own bed!!! Ahhh.

Our friends had been given keys and asked to drop in now and again. Thanks, y’all.

The house seems really big.

Now, the tough part. We’d flown our two dogs to Edmonton while we were gone, now we had to go get them. Why not fly them back? Well…

The American side said it was just fine to put two dogs in one appropriately sized crate. Canada wanted two separate crates. The primary reason, though, was temperature. Since they fly as cargo, it can get cold at 40000feet. A month earlier when they went, it was warm enough. So, into the car we hopped.

Google says it’s 915 miles. One way.

Typing in the backseat, trying to find the elusive combination of comfort and being wedged against the cars’ motion.

Caffeine only helping so much, Denise drove the first 400 miles of freeway drone. We crossed the border without incident, the border patrol palpably nicer anywhere away from the huge choke point of Blaine.

Finally made it into Edmonton, after creeping the last 100 miles in dense fog that kept my speed to 40 mph. Alone on the road but for truckers this early in the am, already having had a deer encounter, I crept along until a semi passed me, then tucked in behind so their huge chrome bumper became my “cowcatcher”.

It was 5am. We reached the inlaws. The dogs went crazy. Just getting up, we chatted for a bit, then I crashed on the bed and Bob(2) headed off to work as the girls continued to gossip the way only sisters can.

I awoke just as Bob(2) was returning. Sleep is good.

We went to a local sports bar for dinner, hearing about the poor service endemic in Edmonton, as the oil sands pay well, even for menial jobs, so there’s a chronic shortage of waiters/fast food guys/etc.

Decided to leave that very night, as I was rested and truthfully I just wanted the travelling to be over. Plus, I like driving late at night, where the cars are fewer, distractions are less, and you can usually just set the cruise control.

Rolling away, not looking forward to the next 16 hours, we merged onto the huge highway heading south. Running through a few miles of light slush, the roads were otherwise in excellent shape.

Made it just south of Calgary when the weather had a few tantrums. The highway was three lanes in each direction, virtually arrow straight here in the prairies. Leaving the vestiges of the suburbs behind, the light pollution receding, alone with our headlights.

Odd how being a city dweller precludes the need for high beams, driving with them on for miles is actually a bit surreal, especially since a light snow had started falling, creating the “space warp” effect in the windshield.

Starting to stick now, the snow obscured the lines on the pavement, I navigated by estimating a central position by trying to remain between the ditches. It was getting thick, the 4WD getting a workout as the tires scrabbled through the thickening layer of snow. Again down to 30mph.

It was dark. DARK. No oncoming traffic, and I only saw two other vehicles, one pulled over and one pickup truck blasting through at 30 mph over my speed. Hope he made it.

Just as I was starting to run through the options about hunkering down until morning, the snow lightened.

The roads gradually became clear again, we were able to resume normal speed. Whew.

Then, it happened again. Bare roads, to 4-6 inches deep, back to bare. Then again.

I was tired. The stress of peering through a flake-filled windshield, keeping it on the road, catching lots of tiny slides hour after hour had gotten to me. I could feel the tension in my neck.

Reaching the T intersection in a sleeting rain that would lead us up and over the pass, I was worried that it might be impassable, since if there was snow down here on the flats, there could be a blizzard raging at higher elevations. Not something I’d want to attempt in the dark, alone at 4am.

Right was the pass. Left, Lethbridge, a town where we’d probably find a hotel.

We turned right. It was roughly 100 miles to the pass, My reasoning was that these next 100 miles would be my barometer as to whether we sought shelter or continued on.

It was clear. Amazingly clear. Not a cloud. Dry roads. A bright moon lit the whole mountain.

Made it over the top, then wound down the other side, crossing paths multiple times with several trains who were also descending.

I was creeping down the mountain, because unfortunately the clear night brought out the deer. Saw four in a short section, having to brake to avoid one particularly stupid specimen.

Coming around a corner, I saw a semi pulled off, a lump of mangled carcass under the wheels and one of the headlights pointing crazily skyward, a dark trail of blood delineating his trajectory as he came to a stop.

The driver was ok, out surveying the damage, and already an oncoming truck was pulling over to help, so on we drove. That was the wake up call, though. I hadn’t been paying the proper amount of attention to the road the last few miles.

Over the pass, out of the snow danger zone, I was done. Exhausted. Denise hadn’t slept either, so having her take a turn behind the wheel wouldn’t work either. I found a quiet pulloff spot, and we both tried to get some sleep in the waning darkness, awakening to sporadically run the trucks heater when we got too cold.

Awoke to bright sun, the small puddles glazed over with a thin ice layer. Back protesting, off we went again. The sun and nap rejuvenated me, all was good with the world.

The border crossing was a stressless, pleasant affair, we continued home without any issues, the dogs curled up and appearing happy to be back.

Got home late afternoon, immediately heading to bed to fall into yet another long dreamless sleep.

Home at last.

Thursday, December 4, 2008



As you've probably noticed, we've been slacking on the blog updates. Honestly, we're only now getting over the haze of no true rest for weeks, and unfortunately the blog has felt the impact.

There will be a few more updates, though, and I'm going through the photos and video now, so I'll be posting up new stuff for y'all in the near future.

Hope you enjoy.

Nov 15/16 Auckland downtown to the twilight zone

Awoke at sunbreak, as is customary now that we’ve adjusted to camper time. Brewed some coffee. Decided to do a little walking/shopping. Refound the cool shirt shop, DJ Station. Guy makes his own shirts, the entire back half of the store is full of tables, patterns, and fabric rolls. Really nice stuff. We’d been there a month ago and he said to stop back as he was making some larger shirts that might be a match for me.

Constant problem, big chest and shoulders from the gym mean I need a large/XL shirt, but off the rack big shirts are made for big bellied guys, so I end up with enough extra material around my abs that I look pregnant. “Slim fit” shirts have the right profile/cut, but invariably even the large/XL sizes are still tiny overall.

The guy remembered us, and pulled out a couple of funky items. They both fit great. Sold. So, if you’re ever in Auckland, check out DJ Station on “K” road. Walked further, picked up a nice little suitcase at a tiny luggage shop. Plastic, fairly sturdy. Just the thing.

Walking around in my cool but not supportive shoes was getting old. Back to the hotel, but not before stocking up on books and magazines for the trip back. Dreading the transPacific leg. Decided to pay for a half day in the am so we wouldn’t have to run out of the hotel at checkout only to spend the day sitting at the airport. Also arranged the shuttle service. All set.

Back out to explore a little more as the sun was sinking, got a seat at a tiny little Italian place basically under the Sky Tower. Good food, good beer. Back to the hotel with a full belly and a smile. Read for a while, luxuriating in the sheer space of the apartment, then drifted off.

Awoke a bit later than usual, still had plenty of time to pack. We’d been conscientious of what we were aquiring during the trip, but it still was a tight fit to stuff everything in. Hopped in the shuttle, and our tiny little driver proceeded to actually scare me with his driving. Me. He sat bolt upright, seat pulled so far forward that his arms were bent almost double, talking on his cell in Notenglish and careening through the tangled mess of streets leading to the airport. Wow.

Dropped off at the International terminal, paid the impressively reasonable fare, and got out of there.

Our ticket agents weren’t even manning the desks yet, we sat around waiting for them to open. Noticed a luggage scale, tossed the bags on. Oops. My bag was 26-27kg.

I couldn’t figure how. Denise noticed a sticker on the bag’s side that said 4.2kg . No way. The bag alone weighs ten pounds!

Did the shuffle, ended up balancing the bags and putting the heavy books in my carry-on messenger bag. Ok. 22-23kg each. No problems.

Now to get ready for 24 hrs of airports/flights/time travel. Through security, we chill in the airport bar until
our time nears.

Auckland, NZ to Fiji… 3hrs, pretty thunderstorms, wet tarmac showing beautiful spray patterns from the jet exhaust, slight turbulence and a small delay from having to wind around the thunderheads looming outside, but no big problems.

Fiji to L.A….. Oh no.

Firstly, it‘s a BIG plane. 747. Two decks. Over 400 people. Fiji is a TINY terminal. WHY do people feel the need to stand around the gate? They load us in steps for a reason. 400 people slowly shuffling down a 12 foot wide hallway, cattle like, hoping to get on. You have assigned seating. You’ll get on. Grrr. One of my peeves. A truly well designed load would have seats load from the rear, seat by seat, everyone in the proper place in line, no elbowing through the throngs. Maybe it‘s just me.

Get on, meet our seatmate. Pleasant, Conversational without being overly talkative, no funny odors, not 400lbs. Excellent. Settle in.

We taxi into position, then all 875, 000 pounds of metal and flesh are thrust into the sky by the four huge engines. I love takeoffs, especially in something that really seems like it just shouldn’t fly.

The next ten hours dissolve into fitful sleep, a movie, multiple food sessions, reading, and simply staring off into space. The seats are no bigger than a regular domestic flight, the armrests don’t lift, and the kneespace is nonexistent. What a miserable way to cross an ocean.

Finally open the shade to be greeted by the morning sun, descending down over the Channel islands just outside L.A. What a fun 10 hour flight.

Landed to a dusky golden pallor outside, at first I thought it was simply a bad smog day, but came to realize the fires were what was giving the whole city a hazy smokescreen. Big change from crystal clear New Zealand skies.

Through customs, and of course our work visas are scrutinized, then we’re told we have to surrender these and get new ones right now as we’ve gone outside the U.S. Great. Filling out the paperwork, questioning the “wisdom” of the customs agents, as each one seems to have a different idea of the rules and regulations, having to play nice because it only takes one guy in a bad mood to ruin your whole day.

Old visa’s gone, new ones in hand (why? I still don’t know, ours were clearly stamped multiple entry.), we pick up our luggage, wait in a monstrous line and roll through security. 1000 people, 5 guys. Efficiency in action. Again. Down to a science now, I wear no belt, carry no change, watch is in the carryon, shoes completely untied with tucked laces so they’re essentially slipons.

We do the dance required to “ensure our freedom“, and away we go, walking outside to the next terminal over, where our final plane awaits.

Or should await. It’s late.

The only food choice is a fast food place, we grab a bite as we wait for news that our plane is coming. The terminal is full, every seat taken. We find a corner, I pull out the laptop and do some pic editing and typing, preparing for the next few blog entries. On and on and on.

L.A. to Seattle…. Late, overbooked. I’m done. I think I actually slept most of the way, but I’m so far beyond tired there’s no good sleep tonight. To the world, thanks to the dateline, the whole trip has only taken 2 hours, but in reality we've been up for over 24 hours. Still, touching down at Seatac airport 3 hours after takeoff caused a sigh of relief.

Collected the luggage, we walked to the taxi stand and stretched out in the wide soft backseat of the cab.



Friday, November 21, 2008

Nov 14 Miranda to Auckland

Woke, packed, cleaned. Getting the van ready for return. The company had a shuttle service, we asked to use the phone in the campsite office to make the call. Nope, sorry.

The drive to Auckland was uneventful, back to traffic and more than one lane in each direction. A bit of a slowdown as we hit some construction, but no problems.

Drove to the same bikeshop where we’d bought the bikes, as they said they’d buy them back. Unfortunately the original guy we’d dealt with was off, so we had to go through an extended process involving two clerks and an unseen “boss”. As we were going out of country, they wrote us a company cheque and gave us directions to their bank. Got 40% of the value back, not too bad, we just felt we didn’t have the time to utilize them as we should. They spent the majority of their time bungeed together in the back of the van.

Drove to the bank, showed the I.D., explained the situation. The teller looked up the account, and… the shadowy “boss” who signed the cheque was NOT on the list of approved cheque-signers. Great. I’d kept the original receipt, though. With phone number in hand, it was sorted out and I got my cash. Why they couldn’t simply credit the credit card or hand me cash there and then is a little odd, but not a huge hairy deal.

Denise had rented us a room for the next two nights as we were going to be vanless/homeless in Auckland. Turns out the room is actually a small apartment, complete with kitchen, laundry even a dishwasher. 7th floor, overlooking downtown. Nice place. We stopped here to check in, and unloaded some of our acquisitions, as at the campervan office we’d only left two pieces of empty luggage and we were unsure if everything would fit.

Drove north to the Kea HQ. We picked up our bags, packed them with the remaining provisions/clothing/electronica, happy we’d offloaded before. Noticed a bag has a large tear. Luggage shopping placed on the agenda for tomorrow, as I didn‘t think it‘d survive another Pacific crossing. An agent checked out the van, noticed we’d missed cleaning the microwave(fixed on the spot), but otherwise it was an easy handoff. I let her know about the oil leak/warning lamp.She noted it in a margin. We got our insurance deposit back, the shuttle driver dropped us back at the apartment. Done.

Final stats…

6470km driven (3882miles)
$981.77 in fuel costs
Highest diesel price $1.49 per liter (1st day)
Lowest price $1.23 (near the end)
Average 27-28 mpg

Not bad. We’d planned on spending roughly 2-3 times as much.

Oh yeah… 9 gigabytes of photos.

Tired from the long day of running around, doing things on someone else's
schedule again, we decided to sped a quiet night in. We made a small trip for food and picked up a few DVD’s at a vending machine (cool idea) in a nearby corner store, but the promise of a real bed and all the space meant we were soon asleep.

The movies? N.Z. a little behind us, i.e. Wall-E is in theaters now. We rented The Hulk (better than the former) and The Mist (Yet another Stephen King story that stinks, no…reeks on the big screen). Had promise, but the poor acting, cheesy virtual effects, and stilted characters all made this a chunk of poo. When the director/producer/writer goes on and on about this movie being shot fast, cheap, and on a tight time schedule, the supposed spin is this all somehow works. Reality is that it just looks slapped together. Denise couldn’t finish it.

Here’s the IMDB page….

The Mist


No pics for today, but here's the skyline from someone else...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nov 13 Hot Water Beach to Miranda

Got out of the nasty R.V. park without showering. It was so old and thrown together that the sinks had no drainpipes, the water just flowed out the bottom and ended up on the floor, where a groove cut in the concrete carried it outside. Classy.

Since we’d checked the tide tables, and low tide wasn’t until 1:30pm, we elected to go exploring Cathedral cove, a cool collection of caves and features being eroded away by the sea.

Don’t know what this trailside foliage is, I just know I don’t want to fall into it…

After a long walk down to the beach, we ended up in a series of coves, sea stacks and small islands jutting out of the surf. Pretty….

Denise modeling on the sand…

Found a tiny little cave, had to wade through the surf to get in…

This colorful guy was waiting for the tide to come back in nearby…


New green ferns everywhere. New camera has a “super macro” feature…

Enough. We hiked back, drove to Hot Water Beach. Wow. Little different than yesterday…


Guess we should have come earlier to find a spot and dig. The early people had some expansive holes created above the surf zone, they relaxed in the steaming water as the rest of us tried to reinforce our sand castles before the next big wave.

Impressively hot in places, I actually burned the bottoms of my feet a bit by staying in one place too long. Not much fun with the high waves, endlessly having to dig as the waves would destroy any progress. But, we did it. Sat our butts in a natural hot tub. Kind of cool.

Back to the van, we changed and ate, then continued around the peninsula. Great drive. Peaks, sand dunes, rocky outcroppings, twisty roads, narrow lanes, beautiful greenery. A fellow biker recommended the Coromandel, he was right. Beautiful.

I like this sign. Simple, direct, fluorescent…

Saw a mailbox I liked, too fast to get a pic, but it was an old outboard motor mounted upright. Neat idea for a cottage on the bay.

Completing the loop around the peninsula, we stopped off at Miranda, a motor home park with it’s very own natural hot spring…

Parked, plugged in, and went for a swim. Ahhh. Slightly sulphurous, but warm, almost hot. Small openings in the bottom of the pool allowed HOT water and bubbles to creep in. I could sleep here. Very nice after a long day’s driving and digging.

We were a little sad, though. We had to give back the van tomorrow, meaning our vacation is winding down. Only 100kms to Auckland. We tidied and packed a bit, hoping we’d have enough space for everything we’d collected over the last month. One last dip before bed in the mineral laden spring, and,


Nov 12 Waitomo to Hot Water Beach

Left Waitomo early in the am, there was lots of driving to do. Across the island to the Coromandel Peninsula. Mail carriers on bicycles here, fluorescent vests and bags. Must get a good workout.

Also noticed that the more severe corners are grooved, nice touch.

Made it across to the other ocean, came out at Mt Maunganui in Tauranga. Sandy beach, pretty. Surfers, flowers, sun.

Continued north to one of the spots Denise wanted to see, Hot Water Beach.

It’s a hot spring in the surf zone. During low tide, people dig depressions in the sand, and relax in the warm water. Neat.

Thanks to Google, here’s the place…

Basically it bubbles up through the sand between the shore and the small rock. Look close, you can see the remnants of holes…

Unfortunately it was high tide.

Here you can see some yellow sulphur in the foam…

Tried digging a hole anyway, but no luck. It’s actually a fairly small area that’s affected, and it’s completely underwater.

Big waves, played in the sand, saw some surfers, but no hot water. We drove to the “town”, and got hooked up with the crappiest campervan park yet. Aladdins. Why? Crazy fast internet. The slackjawed kid that was “running” the place just looked at me blankly when I asked if they left the router on after office hours. After distilling it down to, “Do you shut off the computer at night?”, I had my answer. We stayed. Got lots of updates done.