Valoria II: Seats and fitting

I ride my recumbent a lot, and I ride it wrong.

When I’m not doing tight maneuvers, I rest my arms way up on the handlebars. That means I position the handlebars way closer than normal.

To get the same setup on my new bike, I had to get a longer steering riser tube. After much discussion with Zach, we concluded that the easiest thing to do was ask Bacchetta to send us a riser tube meant for their Bella long-wheelbase bike. That worked beautifully except it was too long. So, it was time for another crude do-it-yourself adventure:

Marking how much I need to saw off.

This is a pipe cutting tool. You stick it on a pipe and spin it around. Pretty smart design!

Bacchetta’s handlebars are now really wide, like most other recumbent designs. It’s like steering a plow. Does this mean I have to get used to them?

Nah. I can just swap handlebars.

New bike in front, old bike in back. The alignment is almost the same. Now to swap the handlebars…

New bike, old handlebars. To keep the new shifters and brakes I had to swap them between bars, which meant removing the bar grips. They are very sticky. I’m still struggling with the one on the right!

Bacchetta’s seats no longer include the eyelets for directly attaching an under-seat rack. Does this mean I have to give mine up?

Nah. I can just swap seats and keep using my old one.

New seat on the left, old seat on the right.

Look at that crusty old thing! But it’s so comfortable…

The bolts connecting the support struts to the seat of a Bacchetta recumbent, after 20 years of use.

Top set: 20 years old. Bottom set: brand-new.

While I’m moving parts around, I might as well replace that worn out seat clamp on the old bike with a nice new one…

20-year-old seat clamp on the left, brand new seat clamp on the right.

I can’t transfer the stickers from my old frame, but I can put equivalents on the new one:

Chococat in the lead!

Doin’ a lot of work on this bike… Things are starting to get messy!

You know what? I’m putting my arms on the same bars, and putting my butt on the same seat, so I’m basically riding the same bike. This bike isn’t “Valoria II”, it’s still just “Valoria”, but fancier.

That’s cool.

NZ Day 25: A last day of riding

Fun fact: New Zealand has more cute roadside ponds per capita than any place else in the southern hemisphere.

(Note: Today’s Fun Fact has not been peer-reviewed.)

We slept in late, and checked out of the Plateau Lodge even later. The 12-mile mountain hike we did yesterday was probably slowing us down. What a surprise!

Nevertheless, we were in good spirits. It was all downhill to Taurmaranui and the weather was fantastic. Plus I was all stocked up on dark chocolate:

In the photo you can see the New Zealand flag attached to the bike. It was part of my fabulous plan to boost our visibility to drivers, but in retrospect it was mostly a nuisance. If it was smaller I could have attached it to a pole like recumbent riders usually do. Oh well… Wisdom for the next trip.

Knowing how much we obsessed about weight, it’s odd that I didn’t just discard the flag somewhere along the way. But on the other hand, when you’re visiting a country, you shouldn’t throw their flag in the trash – that’s just rude!

During the chocolate break I looked back to the east and saw Mt Ngauruhoe – free of clouds for the first time in a week. The weather wasn’t that clear yesterday when we hiked it. It’s true what the locals say: The mountain makes its own weather system, and it’s only sometimes related to what goes on around it.

Looking to the north I saw what looked like a smaller, flatter version of Ngauruhoe.

In the evening I got obsessed and spent an entire hour on the laptop, browsing around topograpic maps trying to identify the plateau. My best guess was that it’s Mt Komokoriri?

Since it was the last day we would be riding cross-country, I decided to do what I did for the first day, and record some video. This time I attached the camera to the front of the recumbent instead of my helmet. “Now it’ll be nice and steady!” I declared. Nope. Every single tiny ridge on the pavement made the camera jitter like crazy. It looked like I was riding a bicycle with square wheels.

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About halfway through the ride we stopped to chat with some outdoorsmen walking along the road.

The guy on the right is Mark Watson, a nature photographer and fellow cycling enthusiast. I barraged him with questions about photography equipment and techniques, which he answered gracefully.

Stopping for photos of a mountain and seeing smoke in the air

Second video:

Checking in: I’d grown quite a beard.

Odd sockets and switches:

NZ Day 22: I Can’t Believe We Made It. Canoe?

Ahh, another fine morning on the Whanganui!

After spending a while mopping up the unexpected puddle in the kitchen, Francis made a huge stack of gluten free pancakes. We all gathered around the kitchen table and ate heartily. We weren’t well-rested, but at least we were well-fed!

I had a little time to wander and snap photos, then we hauled gear down the steps to the riverbank. We were the last group out of the campsite again – perhaps because most of the campers ate a cold breakfast, or none.

We had lots of flat rowing, and then an incredibly windy area on top of the flat where we were blown upstream if we didn’t row. We had to row hard, then take breaks in the lee of the rocks on the riverbank, or just drift into the shallow water and plant an oar in the muck. Good thing we had plenty of practice!

We were grateful for every rest break!

And, of course, we enjoyed the lush environment, even in our zombified state. Here’s a video of the walk down from the break area back to the boats:

And another video much farther down the river, when it widened out considerably:

We also hit some awesome rapids – three long ones – and rowed like hell through all of them.

Just after the last one, we saw the boat ramp ahead of us, with the transport van already parked on the connecting road. Houses were scattered across the hillside, complete with power lines and driveways. We were back in the real world. Boo! We drifted over to the ramp and stumbled out, grinning and stretching and yawning, and talked excitedly about the experience.

“Super awesome,” I said. “I only wish it was longer, so we could use our skills now that we’ve developed them. I think it took an entire day for me to learn how to steer the boat without slowing it down.”

“Yeah,” Kerry said, “and the rapids were really stressful at first. It got a lot better when we learned how to communicate.”

I nodded vigorously. “For sure. There were some pretty tense moments. And we couldn’t really pull the canoe over and talk. Most of the time there was no place to pull over!”

Kerry turned to Francis, who was trying ropes down over the trailer. “Do a lot of couples get into arguments in the canoes?”

“Yeah, uh…” He looked across at his manager, standing by the door to the van. “We sometimes call them ‘divorce boats’.”

We laughed pretty hard at that.

The shuttle driver plowed along the steep gravelly roads with obvious impatience, forcing us to grip our seatbelts to avoid smacking into each other, but we still managed to pass around phones and cameras and show off pictures gathered from the trip. Sebastian and I exchanged contact information so we could trade photos later. We also devoured the few remaining snacks from the dry barrels, though I ate lightly to keep my stomach from rebelling. Looking back, Kerry and I agreed that this was the highlight of the trip so far, eclipsing even Hobbiton and the Waiotapu thermal park. New Zealand just keeps impressing us!

Back in National Park, we collected our bicycles from the garage and found that some critters has been investigating them:

Then we changed our hotel reservation to a different room, since the smaller one was tiny and had shared bathrooms. Dragged our gear inside and exploded it all over the floors and couches, then did a bunch of laundry, showered, and rode over to the restaurant where we stuffed ourselves.

Good thing we have a day off tomorrow! We would totally fail the Tongariro Crossing in our current state…

NZ Day 21: How Far Canoe Go?

We got up early – no point in trying to sleep longer – and helped Francis get the gear packed and loaded. Then we lingered over breakfast, so our group was among the last to leave. Kerry and I were moving slowly, fighting sleep deprivation.

I couldn’t help wandering around with the camera a bit before we took to the river. Every square foot of land was a cauldron, a wrestling ring, a fireworks show of plant life. Trees and moss and parasitic vines, roots and shoots, fighting tooth and nail. I imagined that if I could see this terrain in fast-forward, with each hour compressed into a second, it would be literally writhing – and if I stood still, watching it that way, I would soon be covered in branches and sucked into the ground.

Shoooop! I think it would make a sound like crinkling paper, and in the last moments, it would be quite painful. Hungry plants…

Some of these plants – like the ones pictured above – grow up and through the trees, eventually climbing over and smothering them.

Others – like the ones pictured below – start as drifting seeds, landing on the tops of trees and taking root directly in the bark, going through an entire life cycle without actually reaching the ground.

That’s the sort of strategy you can evolve when you’re a plant in a forest that’s been extremely dense for eons, with no grazing animals to thin it out and shift the advantage towards grass.

And then there’s the lichen:

Lichen is a composite organism, made from algae or cyanobacteria – or both – living among filaments of a fungus in a symbiotic relationship. Believe it or not, lichen is not actually parasitic, like the plants I described earlier. Lichens don’t put roots down into the trees they perch on, they just anchor to the surface, using them to gain altitude and better access to sunlight for photosynthesis, as well as better access to minerals filtering down in mist or rainwater, from decay happening downwind or farther up in the tree.

The most fascinating thing about lichens, from my point of view, is that they behave like a single organism but they do not actually have any traceable genetic lineage, because the bacteria and fungus that compose them can intermix with other bacteria and fungus on their own terms. So, every lichen everywhere is a hybrid.

Anyway, enough poking around. Time to get back on the river! Here’s a little video of Francis, Katerina, and Sebastian, rowing along.

We went through lots of little rapids today. They were fun, but Kerry and I were both very tired and had trouble communicating our intentions with the oars. I was seated in back, so it was my job to steer, but I also needed to tell Kerry which side to row on and how intensely to row, based on a strategy for passing through each of the rapids. Sometimes I couldn’t come up with a strategy in time so I didn’t know what to tell her. Other times she disagreed with my idea and rowed whichever way made sense to her, trying to steer us from the front. We had a few tense silences, until eventually we worked out a pattern: I would warn her far in advance what the plan was, and give her a number between 1 and 5 for how intensely to row.

“Okay, right side for this one. We’re gonna aim straight for the middle of that wave, then pitch out to the left. Gimme a 2 to start with…”

After sailing through a particularly devious sequence of rocks, waves, and upwellings, Francis drifted up to us and said, “hey, good job working that out. That’s one of the biggest rapids on this part of the river, and most people just stop rowing halfway through it because it’s like being on a bucking bronco. You guys kept rowing the whole way through. I’m impressed!”

Kerry and I felt a little better about our skills after that!

At the next rest stop we had more chocolate, cheese, fruit, veggies, and sandwiches. Kerry flopped down onto the shore and barely moved. I wandered up and down our little elbow of land, trying to get some heat into my feet, which had been cold ever since we stepped in the river to launch the canoes in the morning.

We saw a big jet-boat go roaring up the river, stirring up long rows of waves that slapped against the cliffs. I was surprised the Department Of Conservation allowed it, but Francis explained that the boat was essential for rescue operations and moving large amounts of gear.

“Many years ago, there were a lot more boats on this river, including a steam-based paddleboat service that ran for 70 years,” he said. “We’ll be passing one of the old mooring stations tomorrow and I’ll point it out.”

“Why did the service stop?” I asked.

“Well, eventually the railroad extended to the southern coast, and the ferry service got out-competed. So they decommissioned the ferry boat, and it sat parked on the river for years getting older and older until it just sank.”

“And that was it? No more boats?”

“Oh no, plenty of boats still. Just not that big. For a while there were lumber companies moving cargo on the river. Then there were raft races, and jet boat races, but those stopped in the 1980’s. Then about 15 years ago, some people got together with some money and raised the original riverboat up, restored it so it looks great again, and started up a little bit of the original ferry service as a tourist attraction.”

“Wow! Pretty cool!”

“Yeah. And couple years ago, another riverboat service started with a newer, smaller boat, and you can take rides on that too, pretty far up the river. But personally, I think canoeing is a much better way to go. Of course.”

“Of course!”

We loaded into the canoes and paddled for another couple hours, moving through easy rapids, chatting with each other, staring curiously into the shadowy channels that snaked into the cliffs on either side, and having a good time. I promised myself I would come back with a kayak at some point, and explore some of those channels — but there’s so much more to explore I doubt I’ll keep that promise.

Eventually we zig-zagged into a tributary of the river, and tied the canoes up near a trail that was the side-entrance to the “Bridge To Nowhere” hiking area. The ascent was treacherous and muddy, and we had to cling to knotted ropes for some of it. Whoo!

As we walked the main trail, Francis told us about how the earlier settlers managed to drive cattle here, trying to get their ill-fated farming claims established. They played “sideways rugby” on the hills for entertainment, since it was impossible to find flat ground for a field.

Here’s a hyperspeed video of some of the trail we walked:

Pretty twisty, huh?

And all this walking, sandwiched in the middle of a full day of rowing, after two days of poor sleep! We’re pretty tough!

Eventually we emerged on the side of a steep ravine, with a tributary of the river at the bottom.

Then we crossed a small bouncy rope-and-chain bridge, and came upon the object of our quest: The “Bridge To Nowhere”.

We hung out there for a while, enjoying the weirdness of a solid, modern-looking bridge in the middle of a dense forest along a dirt hiking trail.

A nearby sign told us some history:

“An opportunity to nowhere!” It looks as ominous as it sounds. We were standing in a huge expanse of near-trackless forest that had completely swallowed all evidence of the attempted farming from decades ago, except for some broken-down farming machinery and the bridge, which was obscured by dirt and vines and missing its railings and most of its top surface when explorers found it years later.

Eventually we turned back towards the boats. First we crossed back over that bouncy rope-and-chain bridge:

“It’s like a free bouncy house, but over a cliff!” Kerry said. “Or is it a ravine? Or a gorge? Or a canyon?”

That prompted a long discussion while we attempted to define each of the words. Our usual solution – look it up on the internet – didn’t work because we were a long way from any internet service. So we just walked and talked, while the forest buzzed and chirped around us.

I posed Kerry beneath a fancy-looking tree:

We got so engrossed in walking and talking that we missed the turnoff for our canoes, and had to walk back up the trail quite a ways to find it.

Back in the water, we paddled along. My feet were wet from launching the boats – again – and this time I got attacked by a horde of sand flies. Aaagh! I had to pause in my steering to slap angrily at them, but I only squished maybe five out of a hundred of the little bastards. I ended up with specks of my own blood all over my feet.

Francis, meanwhile, had his feet bare the entire time, and the flies didn’t even notice him. Just another example of his Super Outdoorsman Powers.

In a little while we arrived at the second cabin site. We beached the canoes and hauled everything up the hill, and Francis set about making another fine meal in the common area kitchen:

Then Sebastian, Kerry, and I went stalking about with our fancy cameras. Of course!

We said hello to the other tourists, and chatted with a few of them. They ran the spectrum from friendly and energetic to exhausted and surly.

Here are two of the super-friendly ones! Sorry, I can’t remember their names…

The sunset made for some gorgeous backlit shots of the foliage.

This is the view across the river near sunset, at the campsite. If it looks a bit like farmland gone to seed, that’s because it is. The owners have switched to tourism, and opened a lodge on their property with access to the river.

Eventually I walked back inside to check on Francis. He was almost done cooking! Near the kitchen area I discovered a wood-burning stove, and with permission I set about building a fire. Sebastian rigged up a drying pole across the front of the stove using an old broom, and we all hung our wet socks along it.

Aah the comforts of civilization!

Here are the happy campers, enjoying dessert provided by Francis: A merengue with condensed heavy cream, traditionally eaten with kiwi fruit or peaches. Can’t beat that classic combination of sugar and fat! Kerry made me some hot cocoa, too.

We stayed up late talking about travel ideas and making jokes, until someone came in from the tent area and told us we were keeping everyone awake. Sebastian and Katerina decided to sleep outside and Francis offered them his tent, which he wasn’t using since he planned to sleep in the kitchen area. The stove had warmed it up nicely. Kerry and I went back to the bunk room, and crawled into our borrowed sleeping bags.

Unfortunately, shortly after Sebastian and Katerina settled in, their tent filled up with bugs, driving them inside with Francis. Then, as the hours passed, the sink slowly overflowed because someone had left the plug in it. Francis woke up in the morning with his blankets soaking wet — and somehow, he was still cheerful!

NZ Day 20: Canoe Believe How Awesome This Is?

We didn’t sleep well – perhaps we took too many naps the previous day – but we didn’t want to miss our adventure, so we dragged ourselves onto our bikes and rode to the Adrift Outdoors depot and transferred our gear to the dry barrels. The manager said we could park our bikes in her garage while we were on the river, and she led us around to her house which was a few blocks away.

With that taken care of, we climbed into the van and began a long bumpy ride down to the put-in point on a tributary of the Whanganui river. My stomach felt a bit floppy from the twists and turns, but that didn’t stop us from chatting along the way with our river guide, an even-tempered and experienced young man named Francis. We also got to know the people who would be piloting the other canoe in our group, a friendly young german couple named Sebastian and Katerina. Five travelers total, in three canoes.

Down at the river, we watched as the touring company ahead of us slowly unloaded their boats and launched them one at a time. Francis offered to assist but was turned down. One unlucky pair of men immediately capsized their canoe on a rock before they even made it around the corner. We all clapped and yelled “hooray!” at their misadventure, as they pushed their canoe upright and gathered their oars.

Francis wisely decided that we would put in our boats farther downstream from the evil-looking rock, and as soon as the other company cleared out we launched without incident.

Francis gave us a few quick lessons on steering and rowing as we drifted in the calm, wide area of the tributary. I was glad that he chose to do this, rather than lining us up along the shore and delivering a long, warning-heavy lecture, like the other company did. It was easier for us to learn in the water, with Francis giving us live feedback to adjust our grip and movements. In retrospect I think the other company didn’t do this because they were used to bringing over a dozen people along, all at once, and didn’t have the manpower to give them personal attention on the river – so they did a drill-sergeant routine beforehand. I’m grateful I chose a company with a more intimate attitude – though I did so by accident. I never saw anything online that reported the ratios between guides and clients, or even explained why it was important.

It only took a few minutes of floundering before we could steer and row in tandem, and then we pushed out into the main river.

Holy cow. The terrain was amazing. Like nothing we’d ever seen in person. As soon as I had a break in my steering duties, I hauled the phone out of my dry sack.

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The river was wide and steady, giving us plenty of time and space to maneuver, which was important because we spent at least half our time staring in awe at the high canyon walls, which were thick with hanging vines, moss, ferns, protruding rocks dripping columns of water, and a maelstrom of branches and roots from uncountable trees fighting for access to the sun.

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I could not have imagined a place so verdant, with air smelling so fresh, and the sound of insects and birds so intense. Sometimes the chirping of insects seemed to drown out the river itself.

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It was not easy tearing our eyes away, but we did have to pay some attention to the river. Francis guided us around and through the rapids, giving directions and then leading with his canoe, which was loaded down with most of our food and equipment. Along the way he kept up a narrative, mixing local legends with facts and figures about the river and the plants and animals along it, drawing from biology and geology, a bit of geography, and recent conservation efforts.

Partway through the day we drifted ashore and took a lunch break. Francis unpacked one of the dry barrels and handed out fresh vegetables and cheese, suited for someone with a wheat intolerance like me, and made sandwiches. I nibbled some chocolate from my own stash and ran around snapping pictures – and cursed myself for not bringing along the Garmin Virb, which was back in the garage with my bike. The river ride would have made some excellent fast-motion videos.

“If I do this again,” I thought, “I’m bringing along a portable drone!”

Yeah I’m a bit of a gadget freak.

Here’s a shot of our intrepid guide, Francis. He is living the dream, and it shows. He’s an enthusiastic, cheerful, knowledgeable, polite, and dedicated guide to the outdoors.

Eventually we arrived at the first cabin stop, and pulled our canoes ashore. Here’s Katerina, stretching after being seated for three straight hours.

Here’s Sebastian, enthusiastically hauling one of our coolers up the long slope to the cabins. Just how long was that slope? Here’s a video!

A long trek, but worth it. Because we were big spenders, we all got our own benches inside the cabin. Most of the travelers had to bring their own gear and set it up in the camping area.

The cabin, or to be more accurate the John Coull Hut, was bustling with tour guides and helpful guests, unpacking and cooking food. Kerry and I rested and chatted for a while, then joined the crowd inside to help Francis get dinner ready.

This map was posted on the cabin wall. It explains the local efforts to reduce the number of possums, stoats, and rats in the preserve, all of which are unwelcome invasive species brought to New Zealand by man.

On a more practical note…

Heaps of them. Like, you don’t even know.

That’s why the cabin is surrounded by traps, like this one.

The invasive mammals also smuggle diseases along. This season the camp water supply was determined to be “suspect”, so it needed boiling to be drinkable. In better years you can just drink it right out of the bucket.

After dinner Kerry and I went exploring with our cameras, and we found some glow worms right alongside the footbridge to the cabin. Awesome! I didn’t have my focus-assist lamp, but Kerry’s camera had one built in. On the other hand, her image sensor didn’t seem to be as accurate. After a bunch of fiddling with manual controls and propping the camera on a stick, I got a pretty good photo.

There were a zillion stars out too, of course. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been in a place with less light pollution than the middle of this preserve…

Kerry and I were completely exhausted from all the rowing, and the sights and sounds and the sleep deficit from the previous night, so we fell asleep quickly. Unfortunately the bunks in the cabin were rather stiff and cramped, and the air was stagnant, which made for a difficult night. Such is the price of adventure!